Once I was seated on a plane in the middle seat of the middle row on a trans-Atlantic flight, and the sympathetic man sitting next to me made an attempt to be friendly. Seeing my shaved head and maroon skirt, he gathered that I was a Buddhist. When the meal was served, the man considerately offered to order a vegetarian meal for me. Having correctly assumed that I was a Buddhist, he also assumed that I don't eat meat. That was the beginning of our chat. The flight was long, so to kill our boredom, we discussed Buddhism.
Over time I have come to realize that people often associate Buddhism and Buddhists with peace, meditation, and nonviolence. In fact many seem to think that saffron or maroon robes and a peaceful smile are all it takes to be a Buddhist. As a fanatical Buddhist myself, I must take pride in this reputation, particularly the nonviolent aspect of it, which is so rare in this age of war and violence, and especially religious violence. Throughout the history of humankind, religion seems to beget brutality. Even today religious-extremist violence dominates the news. Yet I think I can say with confidence that so far we Buddhists have not disgraced ourselves. Violence has never played a part in propagating Buddhism. However, as a trained Buddhist, I also feel a little discontented when Buddhism is associated with nothing beyond vegetarianism, nonviolence, peace, and meditation. Prince Siddhartha, who sacrificed all the comforts and luxuries of palace life, must have been searching for more than passivity and shrubbery when he set out to discover enlightenment.
Although essentially very simple, Buddhism cannot be explained. It is almost inconceivably complex, vast, and deep. Although it is nonreligious and nontheistic, it's difficult to present Buddhism without sounding theoretical and religious. As Buddhism has traveled to different parts of the world, the cultural characteristics it accumulated have made it even more complicated to decipher. Theistic trappings such as incense, bells, and multicolored hats can attract people's attention, but as the same time they can be obstacles. People end up thinking that is all there is to Buddhism and are diverted from its essence.
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, What Makes You Not A Buddhist