We all have these amazing egos that like nothing more than to accessorize life. Just like getting a new, expressive case for our new phone, the ego tries to make the self more solid by dressing it up with all kinds of characteristics. We are born into certain characteristics and we choose others. We are each born into a family and we have a body with a race and a culture, which often includes a religion. We are each given a name and we learn to associate all of those characteristics into our sense of who and what we are, our self.
We tend to strongly identify with those characteristics, which we think are permanent, such as our facial features, our ethnicity, our gender, or our race. Religion is one of the characteristics that sits near what we think of as the core of our being. In society, all of these various roles come with behavioural expectations. We start to suffer when we notice that these core identities and associated expectations are in conflict with our experience. When we suffer, we start scrambling to change ourselves and associate new characteristics with our sense of self. When we begin the task of aligning ourselves toward a more comfortable truth, we often look to a new religion. It seems that we can become a whole new person when we toss out one set of expectations and take on another.
Buddhism is a great religion for people seeking happiness, but there is no need to become a Buddhist. Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist, he was just Buddha. He was a Hindu and a prince and intensely uncomfortable with the expectations associated with his identity. As you seek a new identity, you start right where you are, with your present identity and associated expectations and suffering. You are just like Buddha. If you follow the path of Buddhism, you eventually learn that you are Buddha. There is no need to become a Buddhist as you explore your identity. You only need to be Buddha, which you are.