When people ask me about my religion, it always gets me thinking as how I should announce to another person that I practice Buddhism, should tell that I am:

  1. A Buddhist
  2. Follower of the Buddha
  3. Practicing Buddhism

Or an alternative to these?

12 Answers 12


The way I was taught Buddhism: identifying oneself with anything is a fetter. Self-identification is a form of clinging, and as such it inherently leads to conflict between "this" and "that", hence suffering.

Ego is a box made of stuff we identify with. Ego is not just being selfish, it is what makes us tremendously vulnerable.

Externally, avoid defining yourself, except jokingly or if required by circumstances. Internally, have no idea who you really are.

Do not identify yourself as Theravada, Mahayana, Democrat, Republican, Russian, Ukrainian, Man, Woman, Buddhist, Programmer, Human, or Spontaneously Self-Existing Luminous Unity of Emptiness and Form.

Thus, to all dharmas not getting stuck, not getting caught into traps of abstractions (aniketacari), not clinging -- he attains Awakening of the Lucky Ones.

  • I agree, it makes sense. I have to admit to be guilty myself with identifying with such thoughts (not for the last one though haha). Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 14:32
  • Would it be possible for you to make the distinction between a lack of knowing who you are and a lack of knowing one's self? I assume that these are two different functions Commented May 18, 2016 at 10:06
  • 1
    The above answer is "one who follows Dharma" because one is following the dharma of not identifying with anything. It is crucial to identify oneself with something because otherwise one will identify with anything which is not good and one will represent ignorance to others and be unable to find people that are on a similar quest as oneself (for friendship/community). Also it is hard to connect with people if they do not identify with certain truths--even temporarily. It is however important not to attach to whatever role or truth we are temporarily identifying with.
    – Ahmed
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 15:12
  • Also, ego is not entirely bad. The Buddha himself said that you must have a strong ego/desire before you can let go of it. The raft across ocean analogy.
    – Ahmed
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 15:13

In a way it's up to you how you self-identify. For a long time I struggled with calling myself a Buddhist. I come from an atheist background so identifying with a religion of any sorts was a struggle. These days I would call myself a practicing Buddhist if asked. For me Buddhism only makes sense to the extent that I practice it. It isn't a set of beliefs that I subscribe to. Rather it is a set of practices that I engage with. So to this extent I am a practicing Buddhist. If one day I stopped practicing then I wouldn't describe myself as a Buddhist at all.

Generally for me, it is important to nail my colours to the mast and identify with Buddhism. When I didn't do this I used to shift uncomfortably when asked about religion and mutter something non-committal. Even though I still find Buddhist an awkward term (my stuff) I think it's a good practice for me to identify as such. It is useful short hand for people so they have an idea about what is going on with you. Without this I found that I was almost lying to people about it (not quite). If people want to ask more than fine. If they don't then at least they've got some idea what is important to you and why you might be acting as you are acting.

  • 2
    Great to hear a very similar experience to mine, being atheist and having trouble identifying with any religion actually - especially spiritual. You're right, pragmatism is the key, I wouldn't call myself a Buddhist of any kind without practicing either. Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 14:09

This is not really important, Buddha was not a Buddhist, so if you believe in Kamma-Vipaka, if you understand the 4 noble truths, if you follow the noble eightfold path and if you try hard to tame your mind, you are in a very good position in the path.

Of course it is a beautiful and useful commitment to call oneself a Buddhist and follow all the practices from the refuge to the 8 precepts whenever possible, however the name is just a label, an inputation, practice is the key!

Calling yourself a Buddhist will not change anything, many people call themselves Buddhists (in some countries as Thailand they even register that in their ID) and do very bad things, it happens in all religions, the right understanding and most importantly the right practice ARE what really matter!


I think this might be a pedantic discussion. We say "Buddhist" in English because we use -ist as a suffix in English to denote a role. It's from the Greek ιστής. In Vietnamese one would say "Tôi theo Phật giáo." or basicly "I follow the Buddha." There's no -ist in Vietnamese because there's no Greek roots so no "Buddhist." IMO pick the one that works best for your language.


Asking what one's religion is a very western practice I think. When reading the suttas and the vedas, it seem that the eastern method of inquiry has been to ask, "who's teachings do you follow?", "who do you take as your spiritual teacher/guide?". It is not a mere labeling, like the latter. It also holds the teacher and the student responsible and accountable. Whereas when one says one belongs to such and such religion, apart from the original teachings, which are most likely corrupted within the religion, are the cultural, ritual and historical baggage.

Wouldn't it be nice if say the Christians in the Ireland just say we follow the teaching of Jesus Christ, based on compassion, forgiveness and love, instead of saying they are Protestants, Anglicans, Catholics, and then have to carry all the historical feuds. Likewise in Buddhism, Islam, etc. Sadly the old colonial mentality of asking for one's religion is still practiced in Sri Lanka where every form, e.g birth registration, marriage, school application, police report, voter registration, has an area asking for religion.

  • that's interesting thanks. fwiw, i'm british and don't think of the buddha as a (spiritual) guide, personally feel that the religion has evolved enough to warrant the claim that any living teacher is
    – user2512
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 18:49

One should not get attached to the self image one creates as a Buddhist at more advance stages of the practice. When you start though you need views and identifying yourself with the right views, value and moral system to keep you on track, tough you have to abandon it later.

What exactly you should call your self is more linguistic in nature and should change according to the context it is used also considering the audience.

You can be considered a Buddhist from the point you develop some level of faith to try out the 3 fold practice. You can consider your self a practicing Buddhist when you start your 3 fold training.

  • i think i may have had some or a basic enlightenment type experience (real or fraudulent), while still quite ignorant of anything but the basic philosophy of nagarjuna. so anyway, the point of this diversion is that i didn't call myself a buddhist then merely because i thought "buddha" was a better word, for anyone who accepted basic teachings! weird really, looking back
    – user2512
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 18:52

You could speak of your spiritual practice. It depends on how much you are identified with a particular sect of Buddhism. Maybe it is better to be cautious - why expose your jewels to someone that may be just trying to nail you up against the wall.

In the office everyone asks how are you, but no one really wants to know. So I tell them fine and they feel they have fulfilled their obligation.


What is Buddhism? The name Buddhism comes from the word 'budhi' which means 'to wake up' and thus Buddhism is the philosophy of awakening. This philosophy has its origins in the experience of the man Siddhata Gotama, known as the Buddha, who was himself awakened at the age of 35.

So you could say you belong to the wake up religion.

http://www.wordhippo.com/what-is/another-word-for/wake_up.html other words are revive so you are part of a revival religion. Of course that is close to Christian revivals.

so maybe I would say I just say I practice on my own.

The choice is yours, but watch the results next time it happens.


I prefer practicing Buddhas teachings because technically that's what I try to do. I am not ordained not born into a Buddhist family. Rather I was born into a Hindu family and now I practice Vipassana so I have to face this question quite normally living among Hindu friends and family. It doesn't make much difference to me now as it used to since I first started out. I think the sara(essence) of all the religions is the same. It's the outer crust such as clothes, looks, theology, rites and rituals that people get stumped out on. Every religion teaches you to love but it's the recent age practitioners that have given society the image of a particular religion. Your question seemed to have a certain background hence the diversion. But nonetheless practice matters most. Doesn't matter what you want to call it.


You can call yourself a Dhamma follower or Dhammānusārī in Pali. Please see this answer for details.

The term is used by the Buddha himself in the Kitagiri Sutta (MN70) and the Okkanta-samyutta (SN25).

In the Kitagiri Sutta, a Dhamma follower is defined as:

"And what is the individual who is a Dhamma-follower? There is the case where a certain individual does not remain touching with his body those peaceful liberations that transcend form, that are formless, nor — having seen with discernment — are his fermentations ended. But with a [sufficient] measure of reflection through discernment he has come to an agreement with the teachings proclaimed by the Tathagata. And he has these qualities: the faculty of conviction, the faculty of persistence, the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration, & the faculty of discernment. This is called an individual who is a Dhamma-follower.

In SN25, a Dhamma follower is defined as:

"One who, after pondering with a modicum of discernment, has accepted that these phenomena are this way is called a Dhamma-follower: one who has entered the orderliness of rightness, entered the plane of people of integrity, transcended the plane of the run-of-the-mill. He is incapable of doing any deed by which he might be reborn in hell, in the animal womb, or in the realm of hungry shades. He is incapable of passing away until he has realized the fruit of stream-entry.


Housholder, interested,

faithful follower of the Buddha, those who have abounded to feel ashamed of what should be not ashamed for, when asked whom they follow, would tell that they follow the Buddha, his Dhamma and the Sangha of his good following disciples.

There is no fault at all, but the opposite, in declaring to be a follower, there is no fault at all to declare what ones does follow, and there is also no fault in declaring to have found a refuge, and no fault to declare any attaining and make shares toward the same, as long not done for the sake of honor and gains in the world and if done when asked after it.

There is off cause no need to speak out in cases which would harm ones ways to walk on the path of liberation, but even in such cases one should not lie but possible seek for ways to distract another interest if he/she might be after harm. Maybe a counter-question can release from such situations.

Or are you practicing the Uposatha of the Jains?

(Note that this gift of Dhamma is not dedicated for trade, exchange, stacks or entertainment but as a means to make merits toward release from this wheel)


One need not attach to a label while utilizing it for practical purposes.

One need not attach to any word while utilizing them for communication with others.


Why not simply say you are devoted to non-attachment? Which, to my humble understanding, is the crux of "Buddhist" thinking. Why must we feel so compelled to answer these crude and absurd questions in the first place? Why is it anyone's business?

  • 1
    Perhaps people are just curious about one's religious practice. Doesn't necessarily mean they're questions are crude and absurd.
    – Orion
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 23:35

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