Since there are two groups of people who identify themselves as such, I'm referring to this definition:
Many of us, easterners and westerners, have been profoundly influenced by our study of Buddhism, and yet do not find ourselves attached to any one particular sect or interpretation of Buddhism. Further, many of us, especially westerners, find the fundamental ideas of Buddhism deeply meaningful, but cannot, without being dishonest with ourselves, accept certain other ideas usually associated with Buddhism. This leaves us with a somewhat ambiguous sense of who and what we are.
For example, many of us are unable, or do not desire, to attach ourselves to one or another of the monastic traditions. And we are often unable and unwilling to take certain beliefs literally. The many gods and demons, heavens and hells, that some traditional Buddhists accept as real, are things that strain our credibility. And rebirth strikes many of us as a metaphor rather than a literal reality. Because of these things, to some traditional Buddhists we are just not Buddhists at all.
We are heartened by the fact that Buddha himself seems to have considered arguments about cosmology and gods and the reality of life after death as irrelevant to the more immediate concern, which is the practice of the eight-fold path. It is, of course, a little presumptuous to say which of the many sutras are the ones we should pay attention to, and which should be considered some kind of later addition or modification. We will never know exactly what the Buddha said and did not say. We can only be "lights unto ourselves" and do the best we can.
This by no means suggests that we look down upon other Buddhist orientations or that we have a better or purer understanding of Buddhist life. We only want to acknowledge our debt to the teachings of the Buddha. For this reason, I would like to recommend the term Navayana Buddhism ("new vehicle of awakening") to all those who wish to so identify themselves.
May 1, 2002