rupa and flowers

What is Buddhism?

When I first went to a Buddhist Centre to learn to meditate nearly 20 years ago, I was very surprised to find out that Buddhism wasn’t a religion as I understood such things. In many ways, I think it’s best to describe Buddhism as a set of personal development tools and models. These tools and models have developed over 2,500 years, and in a huge range of cultures so it’s a pretty extensive system, with an enormous range of approaches and practices.

At the same time, the Buddhist model has a genuinely optimistic and ambitious perspective on human potential. It believes that we all have the ability to become almost infinitely aware, creative, confident, friendly, perceptive, calm and content.

So, how do we fulfil this potential?

Put most simply, we can develop in all of these ways by learning to pay careful attention to our experience, to the sense we make of our experience, and to the choices we make. All of the different types of Buddhism, with their huge array of philosophies, practices, and perspectives are aimed at supporting people to work on themselves in this way.

So, what’s the catch?

In a way there isn’t one, it’s just that the process of getting to know yourself in this way takes consistent and steady effort over quite a long time, and at some point it inevitably involves having to accept things about yourself that you’d rather ignore. Although it’s easy to describe in principle, and incredibly fulfilling, most people find the process far from straight forward.