The Buddhist Mark

April 12, 2010


When Archrya Moh Hardin was here earlier this year for a weekend retreat, in one of his talks he discussed the Buddhist Mark.  He said this is not a physical mark, but something that people can see, something that let’s them know you are on the path of mindfulness.  He told of someone he knew who was, on one occasion, standing in line to see a movie when a woman approached and said, “You’re a Buddhist, aren’t you?” and proceeded to inquire about details about some Buddhist gathering.  When she had answered the question, the friend said, “But, how did you know I was a Buddhist?”  She was just an ordinary person, dressed in ordinary clothes, standing in line to see a popular movie. 

“Oh, I can just tell,” replied the woman. 

For a long time I have noticed that each religion has it’s own facial expression.  Proper Christians are often beaming and beatific.  Republican Politicians who claim to be Christians have a mean, cutting gaze that isn’t loving at all.  Certain Unitarian Universalists have a tired intellectual look, and a college professor demeanor.  Which makes sense since a pretty good number are highly educated and if they aren’t college professors, they’ve spent their time with them.  

I didn’t know Buddhist’s had a “mark” until Moh’s talk, but if I had to describe it, it would be an expression that says, “I just woke up!”  It includes a slight hint of surprise.  Instead of making you feel like they think they have you all figured out, with a little air of smugness, which is how some Christians and some Unitiarians can make me feel, it just makes you feel like they’re paying attention to you right now.  Of course, they are.  Instead of making you feel like they have you all figured out, they make you feel like they are with you right here and now. 

This is not present in all Buddhists, and since I know only a few, I suspect there are a whole lot that don’t have that mark.  One Buddhist I know is more like a Unitarian and seems to think she knows pretty much all things Buddhist, including how I should interpret Buddhism and lead my life.  Unitarians are proud of their educations.  Some Buddhists make me feel accepted and welcomed, but I’m not sure how awake they are at any given moment.  I think like most people they struggle with distraction.  A very tiny few make me a little uncomfortable, but I don’t really understand why.  

The other day my husband said he didn’t really know how to say it but he felt that since I became a Buddhist I had changed.  When I asked how, he said, “You are easier.  You take things easier.”  I was surprised that he had noticed such a thing, although I suspect after 23 years of marriage change is tangible between two people.  And, indeed, I have noticed something like this about myself. 

I grew up in a family of people who like to be right.  I liked it, too.  I would argue points that didn’t really matter because I was convinced they did, I’d shut people down in conversation.  I would interrupt.  I am not saying that I have been cured of these practices, for sure.  But what I have noticed is that if I am truly being present with someone who is talking to me, I don’t have to be so right. There are so many things that just don’t matter, and if someone is talking to me about something that matters to her or him, what they need is for me to listen.  And if I shut up and listen, and remain mindful and present, I see things I didn’t used to have access to. 

I see their heartbreak and their pleasure and I can share it with them.  I see the answers they are looking for, sometimes, and provide a question that will help them find the answer themselves.  And I have the humility to ask the question rather than provide the answer, knowing that I might not be exactly right, but that if they answer the question themselves, they can definitely be right. 

There is a lot of power in just the simplicity of learning that the road leads to here.

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One Response to “The Buddhist Mark”


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