If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.

November 15, 2009

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you know that I have been studying Buddhism.  There is much to love about this practice for a heathen scientist, but it is tarnished with myth and a willingness to fall for anything just like other religions are.  It’s not supposed to be a religion, yet it has adherants who worship the Buddha rather than following the teachings of Siddhartha the human buddha.  And the writings of the human Buddha are rife with the influence of the age and place in which he lived.  How could they not be?  We learn by interactions with our environments. 

Mindfulness and meditation have made a huge difference in my life in the short time I’ve been practicing them.  I’ve been disillusioned by the beliefs of so many learned Buddhists that some guy was really and truly born out of a lotus flower, and that we can all become clairvoyant as we ascend to nirvana and other such nonsense. 

What mindfulness can really offer is the ability to observe one’s life better and stop running away from reality– the exact opposite of most religious practices.  And that’s pure science. Instead of distracting ourselves with doing acts because we are told to by mythical or historical characters who threaten us with rebirth as a toad or with hellfire and damnation, we can do things because we observe and figure out what the antecedents and consequences are for our actions. Once we know that we can adjust them to improve our lives and that of those around us. That’s behavior analysis.  That’s real. Meditation and mindfulness help us get there.

In my last post I wrote that I’m not really a Buddhist.  I am studying Buddhism, but I don’t want to be defined as a Buddhist any more than I want to be defined as a Christian. Both faiths are enmeshed with superstitions I choose not to embrace.  I embrace evidence.  When contradictory evidence comes along, I adjust my beliefs.  People aren’t born from Lotus flowers, nor are they born from virgins.  I know lots of folks who have edited their Christianity to exclude the silly stuff and include only the good stuff, like “turn the other cheek” and all that. But you’ve got to keep in mind, in the Christian scriptures, Jesus cursed a fig tree to death when it wouldn’t give him fruit, and God refused to save his only son when he was being crucified.  These aren’t stories that comfort me.  They make me nervous.  They make it okay to kill those who don’t serve you and to walk away from the one person they are supposed to love most.  If I had to worship a god, it would be one that whisked his kid off the cross, healed his wounds, and said, “Yo, People!  I’ll do the same for you!” 

Which is why the Buddha was originally so appealing.  He was born wealthy, but when he saw how the rest of the world was, he gave up his wealth and tried to figure out what was up with all that.  He finally determined that The Middle Way is the best way.  Not extreme asceticism… which makes me confused about why Buddhist monks are supposed to support themselves by begging.  Not extreme wealth… which makes me confused about all the gold encrusted Buddha statues and offerings.   But the Middle Way.  Moderation in all things. I think the Buddha has been skewed just like the Christ has.  But I also think I’m going to have a hard time with a guru that existed in a time when fact-based science and equality were hazy at best.

I found this article online and all the way through I was thinking, Yes!  Yes!  I’ve copied some quotes, but please go to the source, the Shambala Sun, to read the entire article:  http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=2903Itemid=247

“Given the degree to which religion still inspires human conflict, and impedes genuine inquiry, I believe that merely being a self-described “Buddhist” is to be complicit in the world’s violence and ignorance to an unacceptable degree.”  Sam Harris, author of Tne End of Faith in the Shambala Sun.  [Harris was commenting on the general idea most people have of Buddhism as a religion.  Among the people who hold this idea are some practicing Buddhists.]

Harris continues, “…there are ideas within Buddhism that are so incredible as to render the dogma of the virgin birth plausible by comparison…Among Western Buddhists, there are college-educated men and women who apparently believe that Guru Rinpoche was actually born from a lotus. This is not the spiritual breakthrough that civilization has been waiting for these many centuries.”  [Indeed.]

Harris:  “For the fact is that a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence… In many respects, Buddhism is very much like science.”  [Wow.]

Harris:  “…the methodology of Buddhism, if shorn of its religious encumbrances, could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity.”  [Yes!]

“Why is religion such a potent source of violence? There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments.”  [Yes, yes!]

“Religion is also the only area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give evidence in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet, these beliefs often determine what they live for, what they will die for, and—all too often—what they will kill for.”  [So true!]

“…once we develop a scientific account of the contemplative path, it will utterly transcend its religious associations.” 

A scientific account of the contempletive path.

This makes me want to go back to school and conduct mindfulness research. 

Good Karma,

Meditator Tot


4 Responses to “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.”

  1. That stuff about being born from a lotus is just cultural accretion and probably specific to a particular tradition.

    The basis of most (all?) traditions of Buddhism are the Four Seals http://seanrobsville.blogspot.com/2009/11/four-seals-of-dharma.html

    If Buddha is the doctor, the The Four Seals are his diagnosis of the causes of our shared delusions. However the treatment may vary according to the patient http://seanrobsville.blogspot.com/2009/11/doctor-buddha.html

    • Thank you Sean. As you can see from the blog, I’m new at this approach… still having trouble with sitting regularly and still fighting stuff in my brain when I know the idea is to stop striving and release attachments. To the extent I’ve been able to do that, it’s been good. On the days I practice zazen even when the act wasn’t that satisfying, my life works so much better.

  2. A study in mindfulness, now that would be great! I think you already did it though. Focusing on what you see, here and now is what your CAT is all about.

    Not judging, just looking. Or one could if one were of a religious mind say witnessing. Then, taking action on what one sees in front of them right now.

    No prior constraints. No future worries. Just what’s right here in front of you right now.

  3. Thank you. Due to my crazy life of the last year I’m way behind on writing the CAT book, and more and more I think of it in Zen terms. Be here now. This is how I teach at work, and it’s SOOO hard to explain it to people. People work so hard at being somewhere else now and all the time.

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