Why Buddhism at all?
As far as things without an essence go, what is the essence and sine qua non of Buddhism?
These are related– if not Buddhism, what else? Maybe Hegel or romance novels or pints of ice cream? And what are the parts of Buddhism that Hegel, romance novels and pints of ice cream can’t deliver?
0) It’s a club. A party of just me isn’t much fun for me.
1) Critical mass. A religion of 1 isn’t especially impactful on the world.
2) It isn’t an Abrahamic Religion or the progeny of medieval scholastics. While maybe has more god, gods, and soul than I’d like, it is relatively devoid of Abrahamic religious doctrine and polar reactions against it. Instead, it has it’s own peculiar admixtures: Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, which both are far less likely to be a problem for a convert like myself, since Zoroastrianism and Hinduism never were a substantial influence on me in the first place.
3) Of the religions with critical mass, it’s the only one that can be followed non-devotionally in a practice oriented way and has within it the mechanisms for independence–from institutions. Pratekyabuddha’s for the win!
0,1 can’t be delivered by ice cream or Hegel.
Buddhism’s sine qua nons- are a bit of non yet supported conclusions and premises with unworked-out consequences. The Mahayana Buddhists have a mean ahimsa & vegetarian & animal rights streak– the right conclusions. The pali texts have the right premise– the naive self isn’t what we think it is, it’s this eddy in a stream, a collective conscious, a thing that is hard to summarize… and harder to figure out what the consequences are.
And that is the starting point we have to practice with. We practice until we are dead. And then the project is carried on by the living. Until we are all at peace with being alive.
Anyhow, heterodox relative to institutional Buddhism, but still recognizable Buddhism.