I received what I took to be a gentle rebuke--though it may have been intended as a stern one--in a response to my review of "Buddha's Book of Sleep," re-posted on my site at the Huffington Post. "Stop trying to sell the dharma," my critic wrote. "Buddhism is not self-help."
Point well taken. And yet, I wrote back, "side effects are surely permitted, no?" "Of course," came back the response. "It's not that they are bad in themselves. Some go a long way to help people deepen their practice. The issue though is when they are mistaken for an end in themselves and they can also be traps that some get caught in sometimes for many years."
I value the response and take it seriously. It reflects a continuing inner debate that has kept me puzzled for many years and has its roots, I think, in my distrust of "religion." Brought up a Christian, I do still very much honor the path that Christ laid out for his followers, and which has much in common with the one the Buddha prescribed. At its core is the spirit of compassion, a love and respect for ones fellow beings, a recognition that the good life ("happiness") requires adherence to a certain definable code of behavior based on these core values.
This is, perhaps, what hard-core, right-wing Christians fulminate against as "secular Christianity"--and perhaps, too, what concerns my correspondent above. But the truth is that there are many non-Chrisitans who lead far more Christian lives than the fulminators. And for me what is important is not the label I attach to my belief so much as the way I choose to lead my life. I suppose what it comes down to is something I also return to time and again: the issue of death and, in Buddhism, the belief in re-birth; in Christianity, the resurrection of the body.
My difficulty in making the "leap of faith" is what keeps me in the world of secularity. I do understand that "Buddhism is not self-help." But that understanding is what stands between me and the ultimate embrace of Buddhism as a religion. And by the way, sorry, what I know of the dharma does help me.