What Makes You Not A Buddhist is structured around four main chapters, each of which explore the four main truths of Buddhism (Chapter 1: Fabrication and Impermanence, Chapter 2: Emotion and Pain, Chapter 3: Everything Is Emptiness, Chapter 4: Nirvana Is beyond Concepts). Sandwiched in-between these are an interesting and insightful introduction and conclusion (for a change). In each of these chapters, the Buddha's teaching about the nature of impermanence (annica) is set out and explored, as well as how this affects our understanding of everything else. One of the nice things about this book is that unlike many other books on Buddhism I have read, although the story of Siddhartha's quest for Enlightenment is once again included, it is done so within the context of a wider discussion of the Buddha's teaching. One learns about Siddhartha's family, his desire to find truth, and his becoming the Buddha at the same time one learns about what it is to be and become a Buddhist... and the really nice thing about this is that it is done in an interesting and engaging manner, not in a dry text-book fashion as so many other books on Buddhism I have read have tended to do. This really is a brilliant short little introduction to 'Buddhism'.
The range of ways the truth of impermanence is discussed in the book is impressive. For instance, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse reflects on how morality changes, how our craving for moral, scientific and religious certainty is due to a fear of the unknown (grounded in a fear of uncertainty), how any belief in immortality is based on false notions of a permanent self, how we can overcome depression and despair by realising that everything can and does change, why we will never be truly happy (as this can never last), and how killing another life for the preservation of or sake of our own, is the ultimate expression of misguided self-importance. In the end, we are led to see the world as Siddhartha did, whilst he was seated under the tree at Bodh Gaya - this being that nothing is permanent, and that everything we know of ourselves and the world is merely grounded in appearances.
'Ultimately one must abandon to path to enlightenment. If you still define yourself as a Buddhist, you are not a buddha yet.' (p.106)
This is an amazing little book, and I am so glad that I read it; no more so than because I now realise the paradox of actually writing about the notion of 'Buddhism' - for this can only be done if there is something permanent called 'Buddhism' (and 'Buddhists'). However, this is also where I struggled with the whole aspect of 'Buddhism' itself. For if there really is no permanently existing thing, then what is this book about, and how can we speak of the centrality of the four truths? Although this book concludes that the only permanent thing is impermanence, this is surely undermined by the relativity which inevitably accompanies it? I just hope that Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse adds a further volume to address this matter further...