Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Buddhism and "Buddhism" and 'Buddhism'…

Crude has a typically winsome and articulate post up at his blog, and I was going to leave the following as a comment there, but I feel it's too large for a combox. Statements which frame my reply thus far are these:


"I've always had trouble taking Buddhism too seriously. Partly because it seems that Buddhism doesn't take itself too seriously, and the Buddhists I've run into don't take Buddhism seriously.

There's a few aspects to that. First, Buddhists in general seem allergic to definitive statements or rational discourse, to the point where their whole religion seems very fideistic. I've run into very little in the way of defending or even explaining buddhism philosophically, etc, certainly in a definitive manner. Oh sure, there are some core principles - the four noble truths, the eightfold path. But beyond that?" …

I'm thinking here of a specifically western, niche version of Buddhism I've read of - basically a kind of Buddhism matched with radical materialism, devoid of reincarnation, of mind, etc. Naturally, actual Buddhists and monks from overseas seem to regard it with utter horror. As for me, I can't take it seriously at all, since "Desire is suffering" + "There is no reincarnation or desire upon death" would = "Gun in mouth, now" for anyone who was serious. Or even "Gun in everyone's mouth, now".

"Crude, you hit the nail on the head with your comment about the gun in the mouth. Buddhism is the worship of death. And that holds true regardless of whether it's atheistic or whether it believes in reincarnation. Even under the reincarnation scheme, the whole goal of Buddhism is to die permanently. And to aid yourself in dying permanently, you're supposed to die a little bit more each day by intentionally making yourself miserable and pretending that your misery doesn't matter."

My reply:

Talking about "Buddhism" is about as unwieldy as talking about "religion" or "humanity," not the least because the former is one of the most primitive impulses in humanity's religious mindscape. Thus it's best to get acquainted with the strong and weak points of each general "brand" of Buddhism so one can engage "Buddhists" on a case by case basis. For example, for hardcore, egophobic, egocidal, "metaphysical Buddhists," it's best to target the inconsistencies of preaching selfless selfhood, or, for that matter, denouncing selfish selflessness. Then again, for 'atheist', "homemaker Buddhists," for whom the Boddhisatva embody incarnate love as figures who left Nirvana just to aid lower souls so they may also escape the karmic wheel, it's good to focus on the implications of taking Love as the highest order of the world… yet without there supposedly being a Person ordering the world (or, for that matter, how plausible ultimate love is for selfless agents). For pantheistic, "green Buddhists," it's frutiful to pit a humane, genuine love for the world, on all sentient levels, against the Buddhist proscription of desire, attachment, affection, and ambition. And so on, case by case.

In all events, it's delicious to cite, e.g. the (ahem) 'current' Dalai Lama's stern injunctions against abortion, among others supposedly "Western" moralisms. I have a draft of a post at FCA about mainstream Buddhism's opposition to abortion, and its not too bashful anthropocentric hierarchy of sentience, but need to work it into a readable form.

Two final things to consider:

1) Buddhism passed to China via Tibet and Tibet's fundamental worldview still rests in The Book of Life and Death, viz. in a mindscape obsessed with the fitting consumption of life by its blind mother, Death and the Nothing. This is why Buddhism is much more austere and noble in Japan, which is a land with its own longstanding ethos of death and its own increasingly cartoonish paeans to nihilism.

2) When Buddhism hit China it spawned two things: kungfu and folk piety, i.e. Chinese-style "happy/hearty" Buddhism. The Chinese are too sensible and earthy a people merely to sit back and get slaughtered like glass-eyed "real Buddhists" or, by the same token, to forego the happiness of friends, family, food, and fortune just because Prince Buddha got a bad conscience on his first trip outside the palace.


Crude said...

Articulate! You flatter me. Or you hide your sarcasm well.

I'm glad you weighed in on it, though, and I did try to stress that there's a wide variety of Buddhisms, or at least "schools of Buddhist thought".

I notice over at the Wikipedia, under the Anatta entry, there's mention of a fairly recent development in Thailand which denies "non-self" and instead remakes Buddhism into a pursuit of the "true self". So, add that spin to this mix.

That's one of my problems with buddhism. It just isn't self-explanatory!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...