In part one I started with the question to myself. What do I actually believe and what do I not believe? I explored Sangha, Core Systems of Practice, The Dharma, Buddhism as a Religion, Rebirth, Karma, The relevance of Buddhism in Modern Life, Basic Doctrines, Meditation and Ritual.
So, after some considerable thought, this is what I believe.
1. Sangha. Absolutely vital and in my view the most important of The Three Jewels. I know this is controversial but to practice the other jewels without a Sangha is quite difficult. I have expanded on this in a previous post, see 'Sangha The First Jewel'
2. Core Systems of Practice. I have written quite a lot about this in part one but essentially think that even though we choose to practice under this or that tradition we should remain open to other traditions. Indeed we should also remain open to the truths in other spiritual paths. If you study Buddhism you will see clearly that all schools of Buddhism take and build from each other.
3. The Dharma. Once the truths of the basic teachings are heart fully believed and underpin our meditation I am not sure that there is much point in endless study. Some folk like to be scholars and that is fair enough. However I truly believe study can only take you so far. It is worth remembering that The Dharma was not written down for some 400 years after The Buddha passed away.
4. Buddhism as a Religion. I don't believe it is. The Dalai Lama himself said " My religion is kindness" perhaps this is the best definition of Buddhism.
5. Rebirth and Karma. I am open to the possibility of past and future lives as detailed in the twelve links of interdependent origination. However for me the jury is still out.Rebirth is the one thing I haven't been able to test yet. When I do will let you know, perhaps!
I prefer to consider rebirth as a metaphor for a higher state of consciousness in this life and as for Karma the results of our actions in this very life are very obvious, both good and bad.If Karma in this life affects the future life then all well and good.
So can one be a practising Buddhist while not sure about these concepts? I do believe so.
6. Is Buddhism relevant in Modern Life. Absolutely. In fact it is even more relevant today than ever.
7. Basic Doctrines. The Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path, Impermanence, Nothing exists independently, Non Duality, and Emptiness. This is enough. The basic doctrines are quite profound in themselves.
8. Meditation. I believe this is the vehicle that will take you to a higher state of consciousness. I am leaning more these days to The Zen approach, that is to say the direct realisation of reality through meditation. We all have moments of elevated consciousness and I sometimes think this is enlightenment itself. Another metaphor maybe? Meditation I believe leads to a joining up of these moments so that we are mindful more often and in a higher state more often. So should we confine ourselves to the meditation techniques taught within our tradition. No, meditation is a creative process and we are continually refining our exploration of it. Nothing should be prohibited. Whatever works for us should be cultivated. This is not a rejection of the tradition we are practising in just the maintenance of an open mind.
9. Ritual. This comes principally from the Tibetan Vajrayana school of Buddhism and certainly connects with the emotions for some people. I quite like it but would not say it has the power of meditation. It is nice to practice in the Sangha.
So I believe the journey is different for all of us. Don't get stuck in narrow concepts. Test everything. Ask questions and above all be open. Your heart will know what is true.