When I was young, I used to fill “Buddhist” in the religion column of all official forms until I decided to call myself a “Free Thinker” coz I thought I was cool being “free” of a religion. After all, I did not even understand what a Buddhist is all about then.
I thought following my mother to the temple, light some joss sticks and candles, burn some papers, be on my knees and make some wishes while throwing two pieces of crescent shaped wood to confirm if the stick dropped from the tin is the wish number so to pick the numbered paper and get someone to decipher the meaning of the “reply” of the wish just wished; was “Buddhist”! Phew!! You thought so too??
Now that I am studying Buddhism, I know and understand that all of the above actions belong to Taoism! Nothing to do with Buddha’s teachings! Now I understand why there are so many different “gods” statues in the temples I have visited. Not forgetting all the rituals of going under the table, giving my t-shirts to be stamped with holy words, drinking burnt talisman water and even hitting some doll papers with slippers…. haizzz…
As long as we are ignorant, we will not know we have wrongly claimed ourselves as a Buddhist.
Even though we may visit a Buddhist temple during the Wesak (or Vesak) Day, without really learning the Buddha’s teachings, we are just a “Wesak Day” Buddhist or once a year Buddhist coz people who do it merely follow the crowd of queue to pay respect to the Buddha statue, to offer flowers, to get holy water, to be blessed by the monks, be given good luck strings to be tied on the wrist, burn some candles, give some money for charity and even donate blood. These actions are meaningless if we do not understand what and why we are doing them.
Buddha has never asked for his statues to be erected, never asked for flowers to be offered but has merely said, as found in many of the suttas (eg. Vakkali Sutta):
He who sees Dhamma, sees me; he who sees me sees Dhamma.
Truly seeing Dhamma, one sees me; seeing me one sees Dhamma.
Dhamma ~ A Pali word (the Sanskrit equivalent being Dharma) with meanings as diverse as ‘nature’, ‘teachings’, ‘justice’, ‘normal’, ‘truth’ and ‘good manners’. As the word is commonly used in Buddhism it means the teachings and doctrine’s of the Buddha. But these teachings and doctrine’s are called Dhamma because they explain and describe the nature of things, the way things are, the way they operate.
Hence, if you claim yourself as a Buddhist, do learn more about Buddha’s teachings to practise it so that you are a ‘real’ or ‘true’ Buddhist – in name, wisdom and nature.