Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Dispelling a Few Myths about Buddhism

An "I don't want to be associated with Rick Warren" comment on a post on P.Z. Myers' blog grew into something odd yesterday. I had wanted to post there to make a point: namely that I abhor, as a nontheist practitioner of a religion being lumped in with Rick Warren either by Rick Warren or nonreligionists. I don't think it's an accurate characterization, and given the information, it cannot be particularly truthful.

I'm not one to proselytize Buddhism, although proselytizing sanity seems like a good idea to me. But I was more than a little surprised to see the lack of knowledge on the part of some of the posters on that board. Hopefully wasn't considered troll-ish to them, because I generally do sympathize with much of what they say (although for me, completly denying the metaphysical rather than bracketing it is an absurd position).

All of that said, here's my response to some comments there which I couldn't seem to avoid getting directed towards &alpha, as they say in Japan...

[Y]ou'd get along famously with Karen Armstrong; you redefine Buddhism much as she does Christianity...

I have found Karen Armstrong's work to be milquetoast; deliberately mild and inoffensive. I found her treatment of the historical Buddha to leave too much of the myth in, and too little of the reality that it's not Siddhartha's journey that we're making, but it is ours...

Seriously, what is Rebirth if it isn't reincarnation?

Reincarnation would mean that my essence, memories, dreams, experiences, etc. get plunked into another fetus/baby at some point in/after gestation.

Buddhists, as I noted previously on that thread, do not have the notion of an essential "self," so reincarnation in this case cannot be, the Dalai Lama notwithstanding. Rebirth, on the other hand, can be considered as a continuance of cause and effect from one life to another, and as an instance of Karma qua dependent origination or interdependence of all existants, rebirth can be understood with out appeal to the supernatural.

Now that might not have been what the Buddha thought, but it somewhat tracks Nagarjuna, even if informed by Sartre.

MikeTheInfidel said my phrase, "I think it's inherently useful that we try to live life peacefully on earth, and try to be generous, compassionate, and free from ignorance, and I think it's inherently useful to do this in a disciplined way." is a fantastic description of Humanism.

Buddhism is a form of existentialism, (see William Barrett's treatment of Sartre as reflecting Nagarjuna), and Sartre himself made a very powerful point that existentialism is a humanism, so I'm not surprised.

John Morales wrote:

Gnosis is considered to be a valid form of knowledge by adherents (i.e. non-epistemological (intuitive) knowledge), oxymoronic as it might seem to us rationalists.

I must admit, I'm not completely a rationalist. All things, especially things that involve sensation, perception, awareness, volition and the like are not approachable purely by reason.

I cannot rationally, in words, convey to you the feelings and perceptions of playing tennis beyond the top of your game. I don't consider it gnosis, or awareness of a deity, but I think it's in the same category of things. It is, as William James might have noted, in the category of things meaningful to the one having the experience, but of little or no truth value to others.

Anyway, there's probably other myths about Buddhism as well, and I think on the whole it is good to have these kinds of discussions.


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :)

Anonymous said...

You have to express more your opinion to attract more readers, because just a video or plain text without any personal approach is not that valuable. But it is just form my point of view