Saturday, September 17, 2011

Buddhism as religion

A lot of people may view Buddhism as one of the world's great -- or anyway major -- religions. I am not one of them. After 40 years of galumphing through the halls of Buddhism, I will say no, I am not one of them.

For anyone seriously interested in spiritual endeavor, my view is that religion is too divisive to be fruitful over the long haul. In the short run, it may provide some encouragement, but in the long run, its divisiveness injects spiritual life with a corrosive and doubt-prone venom. There may be excuses aplenty, but the divisiveness remains both undeniable and sad.

Better to heed the Dalai Lama's oft-quoted nudge, "My religion is kindness."

When the time is right, I hope that anyone might just leave religion to the temples and classrooms.

Sing, laugh, cry, dance, die, breathe ... isn't that enough?


  1. If you wear the robes of a duck, sit like a duck, and chant like a duck, then chances are that you are probably a duck.

  2. Many of the people I know who joined the Buddhist ranks did so because they were worn down and unconvinced by the world of "probably."

  3. I find noodlings such as this very annoyingly tiresome, dear sir.

    I prefer my noodles hot in a bowl with a little soy sauce, ginger, garlic, some vegetables and sometimes, fish, chicken, or pork topped with a few drops of sesame oil.

    What one may call a religion another calls a "Way" of life, another calls a "Path" and then another comes along and calls it "bullshit." What one practices as sincerely as he or she can, another dismisses as out of hand.

    What is religion? What is Hinduism? What is Buddhism? What is Judaism? What is Christianity? What is Islam? What is Islam? What is Philosophy? What is Paganism? What is the occult? Do you dear sir really know? Have you studied them all deeply? Really?

    Every time I do a search or pick up a book on one of these subjects, there is something of value, sometimes great value. When I have sincerely prayed, there was something of value. When I have chanted Om, or the Heart Sutra, there was something of value.

    To me, any systematic or even quasi-systematic consideration of the fundamental whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys and hows of life exhibit the stirrings of science, of philosophy, of religion and of mysticism. This could be in a comfy chair, or a bench or a cushion. Go left it may may just be superstition, go right it is a holy religion, go straight ahead it is science, go down it is philosophy, go up it is mysticism. Go off at some angles and it's mixed up half fantasies, go off at others and its flimflam con men, yet others are delusions, hallucinations, psychoses. So yes, a certain amount of clearheadedness is essential.

    Are Christians who practice kindness following the way of the Dalai Lama or Christ? Are Buddhists who spend year meditating but do not engage in social activism following the path of Satan? What about Trappist monks?

    What about ethics? Morality? Law?

    Do human beings who enter a church or a temple and don a robe and express a commitment to certain things ducks? Oh please!

    In my opinion, for anyone interested in spiritual endeavor, I say intentionally explore. Follow your interests and see where they take you. Consider the value of sticking to one thing for some extended period of time to get sense of the depths of the ocean of human inquiry instead of just the surface waves. Listen to your family. Listen to the nay-sayers. Listen to your body, your heart, your "inner voice". just make up your own mind keeping a cool, clear head, but there is value to keeping your feet warm.

    Do let yourself be deceived by others, at least not for long.

    Now let me finish my Sunday early afternoon coffee.

  4. Your point is well taken, Genkaku. Nevertheless, quack!

  5. Tarot's Fool, your tolerance and kindness are commendable and perhaps, God willing and the creek don't rise, you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever and ever. Whether or not this occurs, I appreciate your effort and your view.

    The etymology of the word "religion" is largely a crap shoot, so I suppose you could pick your fave and I might pick mine. ( What intrigues me about it is the sense of separation many of those definitions rely on ... much as the practice of many religions do ... separation of man from god, man from his community, man from his true nature and so forth. These separations are separations that religion may claim to heal. And perhaps, from a belief standpoint, they do ... binding the community to itself, binding man to god, etc. The presumed rift and filled in and soothed. OK.

    I never was much more than a dilettante about religion. True, I was hip-deep in the Vedanta of Hinduism for four or five years; I studied bunches of Buddhist texts for a much longer period; and in between I did one of those obligatory segues into ecumenism ... reading Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox Christian, Hindu and other texts ... being gratified and wowed by turns. Really, it was quite touching and quite informative. As I say, I was a dilettante ... but a fervent one. And I certainly wouldn't want to deny anyone a similar pleasure and even joy.

    But so much, if not all of these and similar adventures are based in belief -- the intellectual and emotional meanderings of the seeking heart that alights on religion as a place of potential peace and release. I will admit that I think of religion as relying on belief and it is in that belief that, I would say, doubt expresses itself ad infinitum. Belief, like religion, separates under the veil of healing and bringing what was separated into alignment. The question I would ask is, "By what means can you prove such a separation? Is such a separation actually possible?" If emotional and intellectual answers are satisfactory, then of course belief and religion will do. But if emotion and intellect sufficed, we'd all be living in clover. If religion and belief were enough, why would uncertainty and doubt linger and nag?

    My teacher once told me, "For the first four or five years (of practice), belief and hope are necessary. After that, they are not so necessary." Practice builds experience and experience trumps belief and hope and religion every time. You don't need to be spiritually inclined to have experienced this fact.

    Anyway, this is getting too long. My view is that religious springboards like text and temple, one -ism or another, are really very useful. But if they do not lead to a peaceful divorce -- setting aside with thanks all of the hand-me-down's of Buddhism or some other beloved and believable pastime -- then the hook is well and truly set and the delights of the past will turn sour, if not lethal.

    It's just my point of view. I certainly wouldn't insist on it ... though I reserve the right to mention it when it comes to mind.

  6. Anonymous -- Someone was bound to say "Quack!" and it might as well be you. :)

    I'm quite a fan of quacks.

  7. "Sing, laugh, cry, dance, die, breathe ... isn't that enough?"

    I guess it will have to be.

  8. ""Sing, laugh, cry, dance, die, breathe ... isn't that enough?""

    "It's just my point of view. I certainly wouldn't insist on it ... though I reserve the right to mention it when it comes to mind."

    A few hours after I posted this I thought you may have actually reacting to the religion atmosphere around you or some stereotypical attitude stemming from bad experiences with religion and not the wondrous world of potentiality of religion, philosophy, science, metaphysical studies, etc.. In a small sense some forms of religion are probably going to be completely useless, but it's not that religion is useless, or a given religion is useless, but an instance of a given religion may be "broken." Due perhaps to some tired & burnt out. emotionally ill-equipped or even corrupt clergy, or a hypocritical, prejudiced, or apathetic congregation, etc.. If that is the case you have my sympathies, but ask that you not criticize religion based on instances of erroneous religion.

    Also, you write, like some answer is all-so-obvious. Like you have it and the rest of us don't, but if all our suffering would end if we would just be sing old songs and do the "Bunny Hop" at some distant relative's wedding reception. Like the effort and the journey is neither worthwhile nor needed. Like it's just about the right for you to have an opinion. I hope not as that's just sad.

    You've some experience in Zen evidently, The tenth ox-herding picture is tenth for good reason, correct? Or are you saying you yourself jumped there from the first? Or have you forgotten the journey thinking that you've reached some plateau?

    I am more inclined to those form of expression such as -
    "If you say anything, you are stuck in the mud.
    If you say nothing, you are stuck in the mud.

    But then we really need to dig into that kind of thinking to express things like "the 'truth' that is beyond the four propositions and transcends the hundred negations.

    I also like answers like Fuketsu gave when asked how to deal with the limitations of both speech and silence responded, "I always remember the spring in Konan, Where the partridges sing; How fragrant the countless flowers!" Thus stating the truth without preaching or sugarcoating the answer. Still, even that lovely answer can mislead,

  9. Tarot's Fool -- OK, I am a bad boy and not even caring enough to keep pace with my chosen discipline. I told you I was a dilettante: Perhaps the evidence here will ease and please you.

    No, no specific religious atmosphere puts a twist in my tail. It is more how I (erroneously?) see religion in general ... which boils down pretty much to:

    To the extent that religion concerns itself with 'something else' -- some god, some heaven, some elevated or improved state, some bliss -- it strikes me as a pretty good intro to a wonderful joke ... setting the stage, pointing the way, soothing the bruises. Step by step, it can direct our uncertain footsteps ... seeking, finding, taming, returning and so forth.

    But 'something else' as a punch line on this wonderful joke is as profane as it is pernicious. A church or temple or teacher or teaching which may guide the footsteps of believers but can do no better than the lead those believers back to belief ... what a god-awful pity.

    The same door that says "entrance" on one side, says "exit" on the other. And if religion cannot or does not lead to the door marked "exit" while providing the determination to walk through it, what sort of snake-oil operation does it become?

    I am not suggesting that anyone skip anything. I am not suggesting that religious directions are without uses ... or, as some might say, merit. But like older cars, eventually the serviceable 'something else' model runs out of credible steam and needs to be traded in for something zippier ... something that is not 'something else' at all.

    I am not in a nyah-nyah-nyah mode here. Like all advice or observation, these are only observations I make to myself ... and occasionally blow my horn about here.

    If you find it indigestible or repugnant or wrong, try the French fries.

  10. Tartot's Fool -- And as a small PS that you may find relevant or ridiculous...

    I honor my Zen teacher in a number of ways, all of which he might find a bit silly, but one of the greatest ways is this:

    He left no Dharma heirs. Even if he had, I would never have been in the running or particularly wanted to be but ...

    He left no Dharma heirs and I cannot express the gratitude I feel.

  11. Genkaku --

    Three further points.

    I don't know what happened during your time with Vedanta but during my readings and practice of various forms of Yoga there was a teaching that was very popular across sectarian lines at the time. It was either an attributed or unattributed quote of a statement made by Mahatma Gandhi: 'Truth is one, paths are many.'

    For some reason that statement has resonated and continues to resonate in me. It make it more difficult for me to glibly dismiss other paths that think differently, but are nevertheless sincere.

    Separation? "Who is doing the separation?" And why?

    In some specific instances you may be completely right, but are you reacting to the real depth of the teachings of the religions you are railing against.

    I thought it was serendipity when I saw this article in my inbox this morning.

    OPINION | September 17, 2011
    The Stone: Why I Am a Naturalist
    History has shown that though science is fallible, it will do better than any other approach at getting things right.

    As for your joy over your teacher's lack of a successor, did you ever consider how he really felt about it? Or what was behind it?

    Once I pointed out to a Zen teacher that Joshu Sasaki seemed to have a rigorous practice with a rather sizable number of motivated students for many decades, yet he does not have even one heir. The teacher suggested that Sasaki might have some personality issues and it's not really about his student ability to do dharma teaching at all. More likely it was a control issue. I don't know enough to agree or disagree but it was an interesting perspective....


  12. Tarot's Fool -- "Truth is one, wise men call it by many names" comes from the Vedas, if I'm not mistaken.

    If you think that I am dismissing other paths in some way, glib or otherwise, I obviously have been presenting my case poorly and I apologize. The 84,000 (infinite) Dharma gates are not just some snazzy metaphor in my book. Anything is capable of taking anyone home ... or not.

    I concede that science stands a very good chance of getting things right, however flawed or bumpy the path, but I cannot help but remember the friends and acquaintances I have had whose scientific approaches begged the question, "If I'm so smart, how come I'm not happy?"

    And as to my teacher's view of his lack of Dharma heirs, I have no way of knowing. Maybe his approach was too hot, maybe it was too cold and, just conceivably, maybe it was just right. I can only say what I think about it, which is, "thank you very much."

    For some reason, this little to-and-fro puts me in mind of the mythological tale of the baby Gautama who, when born, was said to have taken seven steps in each of the cardinal directions and then, raising his right index finger to the sky and point his left index finger to the earth, proclaimed, "Above the heavens and below the earth, I alone am the world-honored one." Since the tale remains within the Buddhist lexicon, I'll leave aside the fictitious aspects of it ... someone obviously thought it was worth repeating.

    So what could this statement possibly mean? Did it mean he was an egotistical little twit as you or I may have been on occasion? Was he inviting others to plummet into some Jesuitical miasma of parsing and dissecting and finding obscure yet wondrous meanings? Was he saying something profound or something stupid? I honestly -- honestly -- don't know.

    But my sense of the observation is a little like walking down the street with a very good friend who mentions casually, without any particular emphasis, that the sky is blue. And sure enough, it's blue. How about them apples?

  13. ""Truth is one, wise men call it by many names" comes from the Vedas, if I'm not mistaken."

    I agree that the concept is certainly found in the Vedas. A quick internet search seems to reveal that that various people attribute the quote to various people including Gandhi. I've no expertise in this area you may be right.

    I guess there's some irony in our discussion. From my perspective you rail against religion thus practice separation to point to "no separation." I take a very generous attitude towards religion to point to the same thing. Perhaps these are too instances of "The Truth is One, the Paths are Many."

    Re" "the sky is blue"

    "How about them apples?"

    All I can do is chuckle and shrug my shoulders. I think it's highly mood dependent and context dependent. During a quick edit I blurted out "Duh!"

    Today I looked up and see the blue sky and think, "whatever." But I am glad it's not raining and that it's not hot and humid.

    But just imagine a scene occurring after three weeks of rain, cloudy, winds and dreary light; finally it clears up, and someone says, "Wow! Yay! The sky is Blue!" You know, it can almost can feel like rebirth.

    Or what about the first time a young child looks up and it suddenly dawns on her that the sky is blue. Isn't that a wow! moment, too?

    What about in the early origins in scientific thinking when some looked uo and though the clear sky is certain shades of blue during a long stretch of time between sunrise and sunset, what's up with that?

    Sometimes the obvious is just trivial, sometimes the obvious is profound, sometime the profound is obvious but not trivial.

    Yep, I'm pretty sure. The reaction to the sight of a blue sky is mood and context dependent.

    If the truth is not a matter of saying "yes," "no" or "silence," why get hung up in arbitrary separations that occurred in some paths practiced by others?

    P. S. Perhaps your unhappy scientists are not pursuing what they really want to pursue. I had a chance to become a scientist myself, but it soon became clear that the day to day realities of life of an employed scientist like pursuing grants and necessary narrowing of one's focus precluded much of the joy of scientific pursuits. It is not an easy path.

    But may be they just need some rather minor lifestyle changes -- to be reminded to get up from their stools to look at the sky, breathe some fresh air (sometime I think the a/c in labs is psychologically toxic) get some exercise, and do some meditation. I don't know....

  14. My brother is a scientist. In terms of happiness he's as normal as any religious person. But then maybe all the ecstatically happy religious folk have managed to hide from me. I wish they would show themselves. I'd be happy see them.