No labels, no judgement…

Recently, it was mentioned to me, one of the most important things is to be myself/ yourself. That means not putting on extra layers, masks, etc. It made a lot of sense, and is something so complex and profound, yet simple and as straight forward as can be.

We, some of us at least, get so wrapped up in worrying about the “me” and “I” or other labels. Many within the Buddhist realm tell us there is no “self”, thus inducing the idea there is no label to be had, but we still do it. The fact of the matter is, regardless of what name we call it, we are judging it, putting it in a box or throwing it from the box.

Labels are unnecessary. Are you a Buddhist? Really? How can you tell? Do you look like a Buddhist? Do you eat like a Buddhist? Do you drive your car, or do your work at a job like a Buddhist? What is a Buddhist anyway? If you are/ were a Buddhist, does it really make a difference? Does it help you, or others in any way what you call yourself?

When you are cooking dinner for your family, are you just a cook? Or are you a Dad? A husband? When you use the restroom does this mean you are a urinator?

None of this really helps, at least it hasn’t for me. For years I called myself a metal head. With that label came that lifestyle, full immersion. Than I moved to this label, immersed, this label, immersed… You get the idea from there.

Shedding a label that confines us, not defines us, allows us to truly grow. We are not pigeonholed or constrained in any way. We are free to be, free to breathe, free to do whatever we want without living under an umbrella of judgement.

I don’t know what the self really is, or whether it exists, but I know that labeling it is not the answer. I think the best way forward is to just be. To just breathe, not be an air breather. To just meditate, not be a meditator. And to practice the best I can, without the urge to call it something it might not be.


  1. Along the same lines … Jesus was not a Christian, either. I think it’s important not to label other people, especially with words that carry a negative connotation to the mind. It’s not the word that causes harm, but the judgment behind it.

  2. For me, it’s a bit like taking vows.

    Being ‘Buddhist’ helps to hold me to a commitment to working on things, working on the Buddhist path. It is a label, but just like the label on the jelly jar, it helps me to see that I’m putting strawberries on my toast and not poison.

  3. It seems to me that there is a middle way between complete rejection of labels, and total clinging to our labels, and that it’s in the middle that is were we need to be. It’s not that labels have no use — ever try to communicate a complex idea to someone without the use of labels? — it’s that labels are approximations, they are tools, they have no inherent “I” in them, neither their own “I” (representing some essential nature) nor our “I” (naming them does not make them part of us). An aversion to labels is just as problematic as over-identification with them. They’re tools: shouldn’t we just recognize that and get on with life?

  4. I completely agree. Labels are unnecessary. And yet, people and the world insist on using them. Which is why it’s necessary to keep on unpacking them, over and over and over (a Sisyphean task, no doubt).

    I remember Joanna Macy once saying that the Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist. That has always stayed with me.

    If being buddhist (with a little b) means anything to me, it means simply not causing harm, trying to alleviate suffering for all beings (including myself), and being kind. The rest is a distraction.

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