Home > Spirituality > Why are Buddhists such assholes?

Why are Buddhists such assholes?

I had some particularly troubling experiences surrounding Buddhists growing up in Boulder, Colorado. I had trouble avoiding contact with Buddhists, as many of the most interesting cultural events in town were put on by the Naropa Institute (now Naropa University), and they sometimes got involved in the wildlife community. I remember hearing that Buddhism was about kindness, compassion and suffering, but got confused when I encountered a lot of seemingly rude, cruel and disrespectful behavior on the part of these “Buddhists.” I also (wrongly) thought Buddhism was about giving up material possessions and so was very confused by all the gold, Volvos and nice suits I saw on people from Naropa. I mean really, nobody in Boulder wears a suit outside of city government (and not most people in it, even then).

English: Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

English: Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The question kept coming up: why are Buddhists such assholes? I’m not the only one to ask this question: Stephen T. Asma, author of Why I am a Buddhist writes that a lot of Buddhists he’s met are grumpy “brown rice eaters who wake up and say ‘no’ to life.” This clearly was not the Buddha‘s intention when he taught the Dhamma.

I want to be clear about a couple of things: the problem I’m talking about addresses why I didn’t give Buddhism a fair shake when I was growing up, around those people. Hopefully things are different in Boulder now for people who are interested in Buddhism. I don’t know what your experiences are, but I hope they have been better than mine. I also want to be clear that I’m talking about “convert Buddhists” here. Convert Buddhist is code for “white Buddhist,” but a more proper definition would be someone who didn’t learn Buddhism from his parents, i.e. not an Asian (I know plenty of Black Buddhists). I have a reason to expect your experiences might be different as a “cultural Buddhist” (code for “Asian”) under my primary hypotheses, but please let me know. What I do know is that the reflective process inspired by the Buddha’s teachings is particularly tough for people brought up with Judeo-Christian backgrounds because the first thing we tend to associate with self-reflection is guilt. I’ve been told this is even true for some Westerners whose parents were converts. Last point to clarify: what I mean by “asshole” is someone who is deliberately cruel. I do not mean someone who is unintelligent, forgetful or unfashionable (only assholes use those definitions).

The Symptoms

Let me give you an example of what can happen to people when they try to take up the path of self-reflection. When my next-oldest brother Michael turned eighteen and was a senior in high school, he started dating a girl who lived in downtown Boulder, went to a different high school from he and myself, and came from a family of convert Naropa Buddhists. Unbeknownst to our Christian family my brother was meditating and taking part in some other Buddhistic stuff. Well known to our family at this time was he acted like a complete asshole. He would scream and yell at my dad, who had the annoying habit of getting up and getting things after we’d sat down for dinner; suddenly I was a horrible person for using paper towels; he insisted that the words “Buddha” and “Buddhism” were pronounced with the first syllable rhyming with “wood.” His girlfriend was totally arrogant too, lecturing me on everything from how to conduct conversations to my relationship with my girlfriend. What the hell was going on? Why had hanging out with Buddhists turned my brother into an asshole?

A less personal example of assholiness I encountered was self-identification: (three seconds into conversation): “I’m a Buddhist, so…” Most often I came away feeling like people were saying “You better not piss me off.” It’s presumptuous to think that I know enough about your choices in life that I would know well enough how not to piss you off. I’ve even seen self-identification on cars: recently (not in Boulder, in Durham) I saw a car whose back side was completely covered with self-identifying stickers: “Metta,” “Kindness is my religion,” etc. Every slogan I’ve ever heard was stuck to the back of that car. Mission accomplished: I knew that I had something in common with the driver right away. The problem I have is what if you accidentally cut somebody off? The next time the driver of the car behind sees or hears “Kindness is my religion,” they’re going to have a hard time buying it. I would hope that the driver that got cut off was also “into kindness” and would mindfully recognize that it was just an accident, but I’m going to be realistic about his or her attitude in such a frightening situation. I worry that if you put “I’m kind” on the back of your car, the results could be enabling (encouraging?) cynicism for the people behind you.

Buddhists attack other Buddhists. The most common attack is that whatever form of Buddhism one person practices is The Real Thing, and everyone else’s form is a terrible bastardization. People fond of Theravada Buddhism will often charge Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism of being corrupt, power-structure-inviting perversions of the Buddha’s message. Mahayana Buddhists will say that Theravadins are following the “Hinayana path” and the Pali Canon was deliberately dumbed down by the Buddha out of pity. Vajrayana practitioners, I won’t mention any names, but someone like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, will claim that their form of meditation is superior to others; I’ve heard other Vajrayana monks and nuns say things like “mindfulness isn’t everything; you need mindfulness to stab somebody.”

Dalai Lama

So what the hell’s going on here? Why would people who supposedly value kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity be so good at turning people off? Why would people who are trying to let go of the defilement of anger seem so angry? Why is it that when people hear “kindness is my religion,” they just don’t buy it? If Buddhism is about compassion and generosity, then why do some Buddhists seem so damn snooty and self-indulgent?

The Problem

If you’ve suffered any assholic behavior from self-identified Buddhists, then allow me to let you in on a few little discoveries I’ve made. My first hypothesis has to do with what Buddhism itself entails, and the devastating personality effects this can have for people who grow up in a guilt-focused culture. The basic instruction of the Buddha is that if you want to find the root of your suffering, look inward. This is tough. When many people look inward, they don’t like what they see. I think we in America are taught to be movers and shakers, and if we’re not, its our own damn fault. So self-reflection to a lot of people just means guilt. Many people report that after they start meditating they get pissed off because they see how angry and self-deceptive they are. Then they’re pissed off because they’ve been told that meditation makes everything “better.”

There’s another aspect of this: after you’ve seen that things actually do feel better when you have performed some self-reflection, you start seeing unmindful behavior not only in yourself but in others. I used to really not be able to sit still. If I was sitting still I was worried about what was happening because I was sitting still. This keeps some people from starting meditation. But after you really sit down and get used to it on a daily basis, you start to notice that it’s really nice to just sit down. Just to sit down and enjoy things, or really focus on what you’re doing, is a joy. At the same time, seeing people not doing this can be maddening! Going back to the story of my brother, I am pretty sure that what had happened was that he just wanted to mindfully sit down and enjoy dinner, and seeing my dad get up to get the salt and pepper, sit down, and then get up to get the parsley, sit down, and then get up to get himself a drink was probably even more annoying than it had been before. One of the benefits of practicing mindfulness is that you will eventually remember to bring the salt and pepper to the table. In the meantime, however, it’s hard to put up with normal “deluded” human behavior. This is, in fact, the Buddha’s First Noble Truth: the way we all do things does drive us mad and to behaving like assholes.

Seated Buddha with flower

Seated Buddha with flower (Photo credit: BaboMike)

My second potential explanation is that perhaps the chain of causation is reversed: maybe people are Buddhists because they are assholes, not assholes because they are Buddhists. My first idea explained that the reflective process of the spiritual path can indeed inspire assholey behavior. Now I’d like to ask why people take up that path in the first place. Simple answer: they’re angry, unkind, selfish, spiteful, cynical, anti-social and self-destructive. “So what?” you’re saying. “So’s everybody else.” The difference is that these people notice. Someone who takes up a spiritual path usually does so because they notice the pain and suffering that they and others are enduring.

When I tell non-meditators I’m anxious or depressed, they say “Yeah, whatever, so’s everybody.” They are not mean about it, but they don’t seem to think it’s a big deal. When I tell my Buddhist friends, it’s the start of a dialogue about why we (not just me) are anxious and depressed and what we can do about it. These people notice their pain and suffering, they study it, they give it real attention. They don’t just say “Everybody suffers, let’s go get a beer,” they say “Everybody suffers: what can we do about it?” Why do we suffer? What would it look like not to suffer? How can we change our lives to create less suffering?

My point is that if these “Buddhists” have gotten to the point of saying “I’m going to change my life because I see my suffering,” then that is a pretty huge change. Enlightenment doesn’t happen overnight, however. What I’m saying is that if any self-identified Buddhist deliberately hurt you, my experience tells me that they know it and are probably guilty about it, as opposed to a regular asshole, who is a lot less likely to even notice, much less care. I’d like to have enough faith in people to think that every person who behaves in a cruel way does at least notice, but my experience tells me that most of the people who notice are working hard to fix it.

A third minor hypothesis states that when someone self-identifies as “Buddhist” or “spiritual” or even simply “kind,” that is an idea. It’s a great idea, but it’s not how you actually manifest in the world. Even though your aspiration may be toward these things (and that’s great!), the problem is that you will forget, and you might just forget while you’re driving, while you’re buying a house, or while you’re interacting with someone at work. You might forget for weeks or years at a time. If you didn’t ever forget, you would be done with your spiritual path; you’d be a Buddha.

A Greco-Buddhist statue, one of the first repr...

A Greco-Buddhist statue, one of the first representations of the Buddha, 1st-2nd century CE, Gandhara. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know what people are after when they attack forms of Buddhism other than their favorite, but it seems to stem from (surprise!) ignorance. Ignorance about history: Buddhism spread mostly by oral tradition along the Silk Road, before the creation of the internet, much less public libraries; ignorance of culture: wherever Buddhism goes, to Afghanistan, China, Tibet, Japan, or the United States, it will take on aspects of the local culture. That doesn’t mean it isn’t “pure.” The only question the Buddha asked people to consider was “Do you want to be free from greed, hatred and delusion?” He didn’t say “Do you want to be free from greed, hatred and delusion in a particular way that seems like the right kind of ‘Asian’ to you?”

The Solution

My own story is that despite the assholification of Buddhism that I’d seen in Boulder, I managed to discover that Buddhism was much more diverse than I thought. I was only exposed to (splattered with?) a particular offshoot of Tibetan Buddhism in Boulder. I’m going to be contentious here and say that the form of Buddhism I encountered in Boulder was deliberately contrived to be palatable to the people who I encountered as particularly asshole-rific. However, there’s really a form of Buddhism for anybody, from hardcore anti-religious people (so-called “atheists”) to hardcore Christians (some believe that Amitabha Buddha was either Jesus or Zoroaster; others believe Jesus was a Buddhist monk). There are forms of Buddhism that emphasize meditation (Zen and Theravada), there are forms that emphasize ritual and ceremony, there are forms that de-emphasize meditation (e.g. Nichiren), and there are forms that only emphasize generosity and ethics. Even within something that most Americans consider monolithic, like “Tibetan Buddhism,” or “Zen,” there is a huge diversity of practices, teachings and ceremonies. Evolutionary biologist perspective: the current diversity of Buddhism is the result of over 2500 years of development, with many forms in complete isolation with one another. I doubt the Zen masters of thirteenth century Japan were having Webinars with Theravada monks in Sri Lanka.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Jon Kabat-Zinn (Photo credit: Mari Smith)

I rediscovered Buddhism by way of mindfulness in modern psychotherapy. After meditating for a while I decided to find others, although I still didn’t want to call myself a Buddhist, and wasn’t looking forward to trying to find a meditation group. I thought I would find a bunch of ego-driven jerks! What I found instead were some of the nicest, most welcoming people I’d ever met. That group itself is diverse, with some people who primarily meditate for its psychological benefits, and others who call themselves Buddhists because of their interest in the Dhamma. They don’t shove it in anybody’s face, however. If you saw my friend Eddy, you wouldn’t think “There’s one of those Buddhists who’s going to tell me how to feed my dog.” Instead you would just see a smile.

This leaves me disappointed and guilty (okay, not really) about some of the interactions I had in Boulder. The father of my brother’s girlfriend was actually a nice guy, and he and I were both big fans of Philip Glass. Many times he tried to engage me in conversation about music (my favorite topic) and I just didn’t give him a chance. However, the point of my own spiritual path is that I can learn to let go of all that. And hopefully the next time I visit Boulder, I can greet people with a smile, even if they look really disturbed and grumpy. If any of you have experienced the dukkha of interacting with a self-righteous Buddhist, you can still keep an open mind.

  1. July 29, 2013 at 18:45

    Hmm. Funny post. My initial response is that assholes are assholes, and the especially pretentious ones are prone to self-identifying quite rapidly and erratically. I don’t have your experiences, but my guess is that these people call themselves Buddhists but do not actually apply any of the teachings, or at least not for more than 30 seconds at a time. They call themselves Buddhists for their own reasons, but they are in fact just assholes, by your definition. You could call them assholes. Not sure they’re Buddhist Assholes, though. They think they’re the former, you think they’re the latter, but almost no objective onlooker should conclude that they’re both.

    Just my white-guy-slight-fan-of-some-of-the-Buddhist-doctrines opinion. But like I said, very funny. Truly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 30, 2013 at 11:49

      Thanks for reading. I’m glad you mentioned “assholes are assholes” because that’s exactly why I took a long time to consider before writing this (as I said, I’ve been thinking about this question for years). Yes, I could have written “Why are left-handed Chicken-pot Pie bakers assholes?” but there’s nothing inherently contradictory about that form of self-identification. When someone insults me and then gets into a car with “Kindness is my religion” on the bumper, I get a little puzzled. Basically I’ve found out how unwise it was for me to condemn an entire religion based on the behavior of a few people, at specific points in time. Maybe certain assholes are just assholes, but I’m not going to hold them to that; I’d be an asshole to not give them another chance.

      As to whether they actually apply the teachings in their lives: even if someone is applying the teachings, how do I know what their aspirations are when I catch them on a bad day? Maybe most of the time they don’t treat people that way; or maybe they are incredibly depressed and just trying to take the first step toward living a life of kindness and compassion. I just can’t know that. At some point they will hopefully wake up.


  2. August 1, 2013 at 01:37

    Joel, you’re right, many new converts to any religion act like assholes. Buddhism, unfortunately, is no exception. But it’s especially unsurprising, when you consider the history of the Naropa Institute and its founder, and the craziness of the 60s it was born in. I’ll leave looking into the details of that as an exercise or the reader. American Buddhists were such a turnoff that I became a yogi instead. But authentic Buddhists don’t behave like that. The Buddhists I live with and around here in Sri Lanka are very sweet, well-behaved, non-fanatical people. So will be any Buddhist who actually get it.


  3. August 2, 2013 at 14:49

    I’ve seen so much assholification – Boulder or Buddhist or no – that the temptation is there to blame religion. But I’ve met with those asses in every other sphere of life, too, atheist and new age-hippie and nature conservationist alike (no war criminals as yet), that I’m voting for the ‘we are all assholes, but some of us are a little more asshole than others’ 🙂 Great post!


  4. stu
    August 28, 2013 at 08:46

    I love this post. One thing I find interesting: If I like it so much, why am I hesitant to share it with the other folks in my sangha?


    • August 28, 2013 at 11:56

      I wouldn’t recommend sharing it as an oblique way of saying “Don’t be a dick.” Hopefully you could share it just as a way of pointing out that our spiritual path is rocky, and sometimes we pick up those rocks and hurl them at people without realizing it. I hope to point out to non-Buddhists that when someone says “I’m a Buddhist,” they are not saying “I’m perfect.” Quite the opposite.


      • stu
        August 28, 2013 at 14:07

        Yea…The main value I get from it is the amusing picture it paints of my own behavior. (I asked my wife this morning, ‘you haven’t encountered any assholic behavior for any self-identified buddhists, have you?’) I’d like to share that joy with others…But then laughing at oneself isn’t a joy for everybody.


  5. August 30, 2013 at 20:56

    Found your post through WP search. Nice article and true enough even outside Boulder. Not a new problem, though. Swift mentions this mental phenomenon in Gulliver’s Travels with the big-endian and little-endian feud. You could substitute Mac versus PC, Mac versus anything or Theravada versus Mahayana. It is a quirk of our consciousness to think truth is absolute. Pilate asks Jesus “what is truth”. I don’t recall him getting a good answer back. Well done.


    • September 3, 2013 at 10:26

      Yes, the real problems are black-white thinking and fault-finding 🙂 That Gotama fellow was on to something…


  6. Tenzin Chodron
    December 29, 2013 at 01:25

    Well done. I’m a monk and I’ve been consistently perplexed by the sort of behavior you described. When I was first ordained 14 years ago, I remember meeting cranky, mean Buddhists who had been practicing longer than I’d been alive (Western converts, obviously) that made me despair for the human race and question the benefits of practice. I still love my tradition and plan on remaining ordained until I die, but I wish some Buddhists weren’t such jerks because they scare people away from Buddhism.


  7. April 25, 2014 at 00:32

    The sense of wrong is simply to see where something fits into a pattern. We cannot have the good without the bad, the black without the white. By holding onto these “assholes” yourself, you are prevented from being free of them. There is a very good story I’ll poorly translate here for you – two monks are walking along a path when they come to a river that has become very deep from floods – and a girl is struggling to cross it. The monks both cross the river, and one instinctively lifts the girl up as he passes, puts her on his shoulders and helps her to cross. Then the monks and the girl continue walking in different directions. After quite some time, the monk who did not lift the girl, who is clearly agitated, looks at the other and says, “you know, just then you broke your oath by touching that girl” the other monk says, “I left her on the other side of the river, it is you who is still carrying her”


    • April 25, 2014 at 11:21

      Thanks for reading and communicating with me. My motivation for writing was not that I am still upset over the behavior of these people, in fact quite the opposite. I find that when I tell certain people I am following the Dharma, particularly when I use the words “I am a Buddhist,” they tell me stories of bad interactions they had with people who self-identified as Buddhists. The other reason was that I’m finally getting over the confusion inspired by getting insulted by someone who might have “Kindness is my religion” written on their t-shirt. Don’t you think that’s a little confusing? If people go around talking about living a kind life, but any break from that conversation is a rude insult, that seems a little contradictory. I thought I would try to help ease the confusion. Not everyone who says “I’m a Buddhist” is ideal, in fact no one except an arahant could even hope to be in daily life.


      • June 3, 2014 at 08:00

        Is the asshole percentage among people that claim to be Buddhists higher than among people who don’t?

        Buddhists are people too. Not everyone of them is a perfectly enlightened Buddha.


      • June 3, 2014 at 15:07

        This is a good point to bring up. I certainly don’t make any claims as to statistical relationships between unkind behavior and religion. However, I did encounter more people than I ever expected who would say rude, inconsiderate and disrespectful things to me right before or after saying “I’m a Buddhist.” I found it confusing.

        In my own judgment, it’s unwise (at the very least) to wear a sign saying “I’m in favor of kindness,” because, as you say, nobody’s perfect, and someone’s interpretation of your behavior might not agree with your own. There are people who do wear such signs that are not Buddhists. However, when such people are advertising themselves as Buddhists, other Buddhists (or Buddhism in general) get the blame for the confusing events. I myself, for example, was turned off from Buddhism from childhood, and only gave it a chance as an adult.


      • December 13, 2015 at 08:33

        I don’t think the percentage is higher, perhaps it’s lower. The problem is that the people who behave in a rude manner and call themselves Buddhists make everyone look bad. Just labeling yourself, or putting a sticker on your car, doesn’t make you a kinder person. If you do these things in an obnoxious way then it’s even worse.


  8. June 3, 2014 at 07:48

    Interesting points.

    I think that the reason that buddhists often are assholes is that the assholes don’t understand what it is all about. True wisdom. True compassion.




    • June 3, 2014 at 15:00

      Do you mean they don’t understand the value of kindness to Buddhist practice? The Simile of the Saw emphasizes this quite forcefully.


      • June 3, 2014 at 17:04

        I mean they haven’t understood the whole idea about Buddhism and only practice parts of it (which isn’t really Buddhism at all) or not at all (like only praying to Buddha to get the good stuff. How would that even be possible?! Buddha was an ordinary man achieving something extraordinary!), or they have come a little way along the road.

        I know I was so glad to have found Buddhism when I first started to practice what I thought was Buddhism. Really, I was just an asshole calling myself a Buddhist! 🙂

        But we all have to start somewhere, don’t we? Too bad we sometimes are so stupid we don’t realise we are Buddhist practitioners at all – yet!

        There is no Buddhism without either wisdom and compassion. Think of it: the one without the other will not lead to a more wholesome life.


      • June 3, 2014 at 17:05

        I agree about the sign wearing.


      • June 3, 2014 at 17:08

        And of course nothing is perfect.

        …we are not Buddhists at all – yet, is what I meant to write.


  9. June 6, 2014 at 19:18

    I think many of them perhaps haven’t even read the “Simile of the saw”


  10. June 12, 2014 at 06:54

    i was recently in a forum, unrelated to this but on the topic of Buddhism, and I had said that i was just researching it because well, I’m free to do as I please. I’m white and American and was cyber-attacked by two “asians” claiming to be Buddhists, about why the hell white people are so interested in Asian philosophy, and was constantly defending myself but in the end was called a “disgusting cracker”. So I’m a 30 year old female, and have had my first run in with racism as a white person. it hurt. So yeah, I agree with this article about “some” of these people being complete bitches and assholes. i thought we were all supposed to learn love, tolerance and acceptance.. Idk… my hope is going down the tubes.


    • June 16, 2014 at 16:10

      One reason I specified that I was writing about “convert Buddhists” is that Buddhism means something very different to Asian people who grew up with it than it does to (mostly white) Americans who learned about it from friends or books. The funny thing about Boulder is that many of the teachers are Asians who grew up with it, but the students are not. That’s how lots of things (music, food, African dance classes) are in Boulder.


    • June 16, 2014 at 16:11

      BTW do you have a link to this discussion? I’d be interested in reading it.


      • June 16, 2014 at 19:28

        Thanks for the reply. The chat was deleted by the creator of the group itself but I would’ve shown you. Even a white girl from the states around my age attacked me and sarcastically said how close I must be to Enlightenment lol. I have since found my own spiritual path. Love and light to you 🙂


  11. Ben Plummer
    September 11, 2014 at 19:41

    The problem isn’t Buddhism. It’s Boulder.


    • September 17, 2014 at 12:46

      Yes, I’m just beginning to get a feeling for how true that is 🙂 My last visit showed me just how self-centered some people there can be. I’m just glad that I’ve discovered the Dhamma somewhere else and have been able to learn about it, rather than accepting the version of it offered by middle-school bullies.


    • October 7, 2014 at 11:11

      Even in Boulder the Buddhists had a particularly strong reputation for self-indulgence and rude behavior.


  12. Ev4043
    November 8, 2014 at 10:33

    Recently, my girlfriend has become more assholerific. Why? She started mindfulness classes. From an outsiders perspective, it feels like permitted selfishness and inconsiderate behaviour. …She avoids true understanding and reflection of issues in her life, she seems to think it’s enough to acknowledge the thought/issue/whatever it is, and then just let it go. With no cognisance. …
    Later I asked her what she’d learned or felt, about what she’d uncovered aboit her feelings, and how she is at giving and receiving love, how she fears it. She simply said, “nothing, I’ve just sat on it again. Mindfulness isn’t about opening things up or fixing them. It’s just about acknowledging the thought or feeling, and letting it go”. Personally I can’t see how a person would grow or evolve, by employing willful ignorance. … Doesn’t seem very mindful to me!


    • November 11, 2014 at 10:28


      Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your frustration. I hope that helped. I have edited your comment significantly so that we can focus on the issues I presented, and discuss some issues I’ve been exploring in mindfulness and Buddhism recently.

      Several teachers present this idea of “mindfulness” as harmful and a poor reflection of the Buddha’s teaching. Ajahn Sona, Ajahn Thanissaro, Ajahn Sujato and Bhante Vimalaramsi (all of whom you can see on Youtube) have spoken about this. The basic divergence comes from where the American vipassana teachers got their training, versus other teachers who teach from a different perspective. The “vipassana” or “mindfulness” teachers tend to be followers of Burmese schools of meditation, whereas others have come from Thailand or Sri Lanka. The difference is that the Burmese tradition, ironically, seems more prone to secularization and “psychological expedience,” i.e. changing the method so that it delives rapid results. These results are not necessarily positive, but they do impress the power of meditation on people.

      Here’s Bhante Sujato from Bodhinyana Monastery speaking about the schools that gave rise to the American vipassana lineages:

      Thanissaro has stated clearly that mindfulness means keeping specific things (the Four Foundations of Mindfulness) in mind. Mindfulness, according to Thanissaro, is antithetical to the “accept everything” approach that I’ve seen taught by others, including Thich Nath Hanh and Pema Chodron. These last two are Mahayana teachers, so there’s bound to be some confusion, but everything gets stirred together in America, and people call it all “mindfulness.”

      Ajahn Sona of Birken Forest Monastery in British Columbia tells the story that the Burmese King in the early twentieth century wanted to bring meditation to the general public. The King enlisted the help of several monks who developed the method of noting. Sounds like this was meant to be a casual five-to-ten minutes a day sort of thing, but it has turned into an overall meditation method, even used by lots of monks.

      The important thing to remember in all of this is that this particular “mindfulness” is not The Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha never taught such a method of “noting and letting go.” I was really confused by the scriptures when I first read them because it wasn’t there. I was thinking “where did this come from? All he’s saying is breathe in, breathe out.” And really, that’s it, but that’s one particular instruction for one particular kind of meditation. There are places where the Buddha said what to do with distractions, but it was hardly “note it and let it go,” and it wasn’t for the type of situation that the vipassana teachers apply deal with.

      I think the big mistake that people end up making is they confuse meditation and life: if you’re going to use the same technique in meditation as you use in everyday life, it needs to be metta, not noting.

      Do you think your girlfriend is just missing the point? Is there something these teachers are offering, and she’s not hearing them? Show her some videos of these teachers, or just ask her some simple questions: is she depressed? Has she given up things that really help her express her creativity? This is what some people do, and they get depressed, and angry. Getting depressed and angry is not the point. Remember that the Buddha was always an empiricist about these things (Thanissaro repeatedly hammers on this): if it helps rid you of greed and hatred then it is skillful. If not, then it’s not skillful.


  13. mel
    May 13, 2015 at 03:10

    As a converted white (aussie) Buddhist i can relate. I had to leave my sangha of 4 years due to actually after initial improvement realising no-one there was becoming a better person but increasingly arrogant and abusive.

    After leaving though and getting over the guilt and anxiety attacks related to it trying by myself and listening to other teachers improved my mind state rapidly such that ive never felt so good in my life.

    For me i was a militant athiest before buddhist with strong aversion to stupidity, uncertainty and low moral standards. Throw in deep moral dread of bad conduct and the suffering that follows and you get a highly strung busy body that thinks they know and its their duty to make sure everyone behaves properly.

    Meditating on ‘acceptance’ (not desiring for becoming or non-becoming) of dukkha was greatly releaving in this regard.


  14. Sean
    October 9, 2015 at 15:38

    This post made me laugh out loud repeatedly. Thank you for writing it. The path is messy and challenging and it is easy to lose focus. In the end we are all struggling to figure things out. I have found that in those rare moments when I stop struggling things seem to come together, and hopefully I am not so much of an asshole.


  15. brit
    November 28, 2015 at 21:10

    I’ve had similar experiences with middle-aged and older Buddhists, the group that came our of the Trungpa craze (now at Naropa, NKT, and other Tibetan Buddhist establishments), or those who were raised with parents from that commune. I

    ‘m starting to think there was something “in the water” with all those “crazy wisdom” teachings, where the more counter-intuitive the action was in relation to the goal, the closer it actually is to the goal; also the “law of inversion”, where vice is driven out by vice (attachment to alcohol can be driven out by getting shit-faced…wait, that might be true lol). It doesn’t seem like it was a grounded moral/ethical teaching at all, and could have caused some confusion from the start.

    No joke, I couldn’t even get them to agree that we should help alleviate poverty–they told me that poverty was just the result of people’s karma, and the only way they could reduce their suffering is to live through their karma (yes, stay in poverty) and “practice”. Also, they said that we would impede their path to liberation by helping them(!), since it would only be a “temporary solution”. They could go on and on about how they could give themselves hands-free orgasms though…I was really confused as to how a tradition that produced tonglen practice (basically metta) could also have followers who twisted teachings on karma like that.

    From more interaction with them and observing others from their tradition and generation, it seems like they were constantly on a hamster wheel to gain empowerment after empowerment from their gurus, while throwing out any concept of self-control and basic respect for human beings along the way. I had been following the northeast Asian Lotus sutra-based traditions (still am: pureland) for a while before encountering them, otherwise I too probably would have been completely turned off by Buddhism.

    To this day, I’m still very suspicious of Tibetan Buddhism/Vajrayana, and whenever the subject of the Dalai Lama (or lamas of other lineages) comes up, I prefer to keep a respectful, but cautious, distance.


  16. thequipojippo
    December 13, 2015 at 07:51

    In the west, Buddha is like Christ for those too hip to be Christian. It seems to exacerbate a tendency towards whiny solipsism. It is likely different in those places to which it naturally grew, but here it seems to smack of adolescent rebellion, Which made it a natural for the precocious Baby Boom set.


  17. tharpa
    January 5, 2016 at 18:52

    The basic reason is that Vajrayana Buddhism, the type of Buddhism taught and practiced by Chogyam Trungpa, the founder of Naropa, Vajradhatu and Shambhala, is not authentic Buddhism.


    • January 5, 2016 at 23:06

      Could you elaborate? Condemning all of Vajrayana seems sort of broad. I have my doubts as to whether Trungpa’s teachings are authentic Vajrayana.


  18. February 3, 2016 at 04:35

    I have been reading and thinking about buddhism a bit.
    It confuses me and often makes me angry.

    May I ask a few simple question?

    ( May I warn u beforehand about this! I am more than a bit frustrated about this stuff.. I think I do make sense though)

    Why do buddhist always state there is no-self?

    Meaning that everything is impermanent, that I consist of components, that when I look deeply into my own mind, what happens is that everything sort of dissolves into nothingness and a special kind of nothingness is what is left.

    Perhaps I am not poetic enough or perhaps I just dont understand the english language well enough or perhaps I am intellectually challenged…..


    If in the core of my being there is nothing – no -self – how can reincarnation than be possible?

    If nothing is there, the law of karma cannot be applied.

    Suppose I would be reborn and than the no-self that is me, would be responsible for actions another no-self has committed in another life?

    That makes no sense at all.

    There is so much in Buddhism that makes no sense………………….. at all.

    If there is no-self in me, how can I be held responsible for anything?

    The whole idea of personal responsibility is thrown out of the window when the concept of no-self is allowed to exist.


    Animals have no idea of good and evil, a lion is not evil because it kills and eats a deer. We all know a lion cannot live without killing a lot of animals ( causing a helluva lot of pain and suffering every day of his majestic just in order for him to survive) Still many buddhist maintain that rebirth as an animal is possible – they emphatically state that rebirth into any kind of animal, also the lowest kinds, is possible depending on the amount of bad karma that the person has acquired.

    So explain please, how can a lion acquire good karma?

    If I am reborn as an ant, what good deeds could I do to make me human again?

    Is the little brain of the ant, or the much bigger brain of the lion, capable of comprehending moral notions?

    Can an ant be compassionate?

    Can an amoebe be kind?

    It just makes no sense at all.

    There are literally thousands of these broken causal links and non sequiturs in the buddhistic canon.

    It all makes no sense me, which leaves me with the mystery as to why people do believe it.

    How can they stomach it?

    How does the Buddhistic solution to all problems – the fundamental kingpin of Buddhism, the central King of ideas, which is to stop craving and to stop – wanting – and to stop attachment – and to stop passion (!)………………………………………

    ……………………………… make me love my wife and child in a more sincere and honest way?

    So suppose Ill tell tell my wife tomorrow my next goal in life is to stop passion.

    How would she react?

    Tomorrow I will tell my wife that I have decided to become a more pure human being. This means that my ultimate goal is to stop passion and craving and attachments. Ill tell her to that Ill probably not reach this goal in one lifetime but will need many lifetimes. Perseverance is key.

    I need to follow the example of the Buddha.

    The Buddha himself walked away from his wife and child.

    All the Buddhist monks – figuratively speaking- walk away from woman and children.

    The Buddha is an evolved human being and the monks are on the right track right.

    Seriously guys.

    What total abhorrent and truly sickening nonsense is this

    How can anyone be attracted to such a religion – non religon.

    Yes I am simplyfying stuff here ( a bit, not even that much) and yes I am angry yes I am very angry.

    Forgive me

    If u think a little bit about different key notions of buddhism – they immediately start to unravel before your eyes.

    Last week I saw this documentary about a middleaged man wanting to study buddhism, so he went to a retreat in France. He wanted to become a monk. After one year, he left, totally disappointed.

    He was a great lover of music u see.

    To prevent attachment and craving, the monks in the centre had made him promise to stop listening to all music with one exception – the Tibetan buddhistic kind, which he could not stand.

    So what do we have here, a religion non religion that aks men to give up woman and children and sex and music?

    Why on earth are u guys attracted to such a body of thought?


    Could u explain this?

    I am really sincerely deeply and madly curious!

    Thanks for reading this.



    • February 22, 2016 at 11:50

      Hi Geert, it seems like the core of your question is that the Buddha asks us to renounce things that are enjoyable. This is a common misconception arising from a few sources. In fact, in my naive understanding of Buddhism, I couldn’t understand why the Buddhists in my hometown looked so wealthy and seemed so self-important and selfish. This is the core of the misunderstanding that I was writing about.

      The first thing to remember is that the Buddha had different guidelines for monks and for householders (the laypeople who supported the monks). It is very important to have both in the world. The monks would have nothing to eat if there weren’t somebody working to grow food, give cloth to the monks, etc. And the householders would be spiritually bereft if there were no monks. Often people confuse the suggestions for monks and the advice for non-monks. The Buddha did not say everyone should give up their lives and everything they enjoy.

      He did, however, say that you shouldn’t delude yourself about enlightenment if you want to hold on to your household life. Don’t think that you’re going to escape suffering completely if you’re holding onto everything. Everyone lives out the life that they are ready for, in a certain sense. There are people that are ready for homelessness and spiritual living. Most people are not in that position, and those people should do what they can to generate good karma by giving to the sangha, giving generously to their families and supporting their communities.

      In the west we tend to think of this as a “zero-sum game.” In other words, we think that if we give to the church or the sangha, we won’t have as much for ourselves. Therefore living spiritually or giving means giving up everything that we enjoy. This is not what the Buddha had in mind, in my estimation. If you have a lot to give, you will still have a lot to give if you give some of it up.

      The other thing to remember is the diversity of Buddhism. India and the rest of Asia went through a lot of changes right after the Buddha died. There were universities and other endeavours that changed the nature of monkhood and the place of monks in society. Then over a thousand years of societal evolution brought us to today, with our mixing of eastern and western values and wisdom. The Lamas of Tibet and Bhutan, for instance, are not just monks, they are rulers of their countries. The Buddhist establishment in other countries plays a large role in politics, so there are a lot of competing values, and nobody’s perfect. They have different roles to fill, and only a saint with perfect wisdom would be able to please everyone.

      I thought for a long time that Buddhism demanded that I give up things that I really enjoy, like books and music. After a while I realized that this was just a mistaken assumption, and I had never read anything that said I should do so. Plenty of monks love to read. It’s about being mindful, not just giving up everything you love. I can feel the difference between reading a book mindfully and being obsessed with it to the point where I can’t pay attention to anything else. Knowing what’s happening is the first step.

      Thanks for reading.


  19. Billy
    March 12, 2016 at 18:04

    There are assholes everywhere. Not just Buddhist ones. Many Christians are complete and utter hateful assholes and then so are some atheists. I guess we are all human and all prone to delusional behaviour.


    • March 12, 2016 at 18:16

      My point was not that Buddhists were the only assholes in town. They certainly were not. My point was rather that saying you are less of an asshole than those other assholes makes you more of an asshole. If you say your deassholifying method is superior to those other people, you sound presumptuous and you’re doing all your fellows a disservice, turning people off from your message.


  20. Suresh
    March 18, 2016 at 05:15

    It’s a bit of an aggressive non sympathetic write up. It does not agree with the Buddhas teaching of seeing things as they actually are without adding your own conceptualisation and mental proliferations on top. And why use the word asshole so often? Maybe ‘misguided’ is better suited? Just chill out dude – the Buddha provided many teachings and directions on purification of virtue. Don’t look at others look at yourself first and then try and help others without judgment or putting them down. Good Luck with your practice. With Metta.


    • April 5, 2016 at 09:02

      Based on your reply I’m wondering if you read the entire essay. I am specifically concerned that when people identify as Buddhists, as in “here I am, I’m a Buddhist and you’d better like it,” that is not good for Buddhism. Also, there are several things about practicing a mindful life that are really hard and can make you aware of all your problems.

      I used the word “asshole” because some of the people I encountered growing up were just plain mean and they used “Kindness is my religion” to justify it. Doesn’t that seem a little backward?


  21. August 20, 2016 at 21:54

    The problem here is concepts. A menu is a great concept, from it you can visualize a meal. But all concepts are frauds as many stop at the menu and never actually get feed. Mediation is the place after all concepts stop.Buddha mediated, he did not practice any form of Buddhism. There are a billion ways to mediate just like kinds of cars and it don’t matter what kind of car, it only matters you can drive it to the end of the road. Mediation is a tool, it is to take you somewhere past your concepts to the place of actual experiential connection with the spirit. The daily dharma of integrity is like a pre-wash cycle, just gets ride of as much BS while you are active so when you sit you have less clutter to walk thru. The battle happen to folks who now know they are hungry, who know the menus are not food and have yet to make it to the meal. You MUST wade thru hell to get to heaven, this is the eye of the needle one must pass thru. Few make it. Many are called. I have made it past the hells past the fear to the realm of spirit. Believe is a poor substitute for perceive. If you are willing to spend your life you may find a few crumbs of eternity. Meditation can only happen when nothing else is more important…. Ha though the path is long….. you start at the end…..


  22. March 22, 2017 at 00:20

    Being a “convert” buddhist is a direct shortcut to cultural isolation, for some worse than others, and of course it’s hard to come to terms with that and _still want to be buddhist_. The bumper-stickers, the interjections into unrelated conversation, the lectures… I see these people as begging for someone to understand the way they’ve started to see, but which only exists in abundance somewhere unreachable or even undefined.

    The authenticity squabbles we all see only make that worse – the fear that you’re following the wrong path is already vivid, and then you see it all the way to the “top,” and then you question why you aren’t even a gnat to these people. Why you can’t go speak to them and tell them your insight, or even be slapped upside the head with some truth after you do.

    Or you feel connected to a religion that someone tells you lets you let go of the idea that there isn’t a god and focus on your own, and then you’re told that’s not “real” buddhism, and so there you are, isolated again with your petty militant atheist friends, wondering if you were just as cruel to “real” buddhists for perverting and “appropriating” their culture as they are just laughing at it on occasion. Then you get angry, because of course your intent was clear. You wanted to know what to do. You did the best you could given your resources.

    And you see the isolation in front of you. And you tell someone you’re Buddhist, because you want them to ask you what that means. Because you want to know too.
    [sorry if this is a double-post, not sure if you’re filtering comments or if gravatar broke on login. I’ll only try once =P]


  23. March 22, 2017 at 06:04

    What I don’t understand is how Buddha is worshipped as a god? He was just an ordinary man who went wondering and meditate. How did he become a God? Meditation has got nothing to do with a religion. It is just an exercise of the mind.


    • March 22, 2017 at 08:16

      He was not an ordinary man. He had worked toward his Buddhahood through thousands and thousands of lives. He descended from a Deva realm when the time was right for a Buddha to appear in the world. The idea that meditation had nothing to do with religion or that meditation is just a mind exercise is a way that meditation has been made palatable to Western, protestant-based culture. Real Buddhism is very much a religion, but it’s been called something else for the tastes of anti-religious people, many of whom want to turn away from their own culture. They end up keeping their parents’ religion and calling it something else.

      The Buddha is worshipped because Buddhism is very diverse. Some worship him, some totally dismiss him and put all their faith into what westerners (with a tradition of anti-superstition) call magic. If you want Buddhism to be what you describe in your comment, you can find it. Religion these days is like a food court. I think that’s sad because how do you choose where to eat?


  24. krktx
    May 5, 2017 at 22:42

    Reading the comments helps to understand why buddhists are assholes. Most of the ones I have had contact with have been closed minded, dogmatic, intolerant, money oriented (even the monks!) and holier than thou. What’s not to like?!?!? ha. Organized religion plus human nature = asshole, generally, in my experience. That is not to say all folks in organized religions are assholes. I have met some spiritually oriented folks from various religions that were very kind and walking in love and compassion. Anyway, I have no answers. I found this site by searching “why are buddhists such jerks?” I was curious to see if others had similar experiences. Thanks for addressing this issue!


  25. Jon
    October 22, 2017 at 19:40

    I’ve lived all over the place and done just about every kind of work. Out of every kind of population there will be some who act poorly. If we take this idea as axiomatic (and I think experience backs it up pretty well), we are faced with the reality that we have to overcome bad behavior to appreciate the place and time we’re in. We’ll have to look for the good in people. And maybe if we’re particularly adept, we can see that even “assholes” are humans capable of change for the better. Over long periods of time, even drastic change.

    I want to address one of your symptoms here:

    “He started dating a girl who lived in downtown Boulder… my brother was meditating and taking part in some other Buddhistic stuff. Well known to our family at this time was he acted like a complete asshole. He would scream and yell… lecturing me on everything from how to conduct conversations to my relationship with my girlfriend.”

    There is nothing about this person’s behavior that is Buddhist, plain and simple. Anger is a defilement, rudeness comes from defilement, and any serious practitioner would first and foremost be interested in self-development, not lecturing others, and especially not with this level of brutality that only caused suffering.

    I should address something else too:

    “Mahayana Buddhists will say that Theravadins are following the “Hinayana path” and the Pali Canon was deliberately dumbed down by the Buddha out of pity. Vajrayana practitioners, I won’t mention any names, but someone like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, will claim that their form of meditation is superior to others.”

    His Holiness has actually done more to respect the Pali tradition than any of his predecessors. Yes, “Hinayana” has an unfortunate connotation. But look at what he’s done. Pali recitations at ceremonies. Acknowledging the Tipitaka as the base of Mahayana. Citing the Mangala and Kalama Suttas. He may have pointed out that some methods are designed as shortcuts to realization, but my sense is that he had no intention of disparaging other methods. He’s not that kind of guy. He’s actually a really decent guy.

    Ultimately, the dhamma is not found in people, but rather in principles and their derivatives. The beautiful thing is when we find people who live by those principles. We don’t always see flowers in the forest, but when we do it’s a nice experience.


  1. May 26, 2014 at 05:59
  2. August 25, 2014 at 13:53

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