Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I don't think Buddhism - at least the Zen variety - is really like this...

There's another article in the Huffington Post today on "How religion changes lives," by one Eileen Flanagan, author of "The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change -- And When to Let Go."

From the first paragraph...uh...there's issues.

I have a friend who describes herself as "a controlling type of person," a single mom who tends to worry about money and germs. A practicing Muslim, she says that fasting during Ramadan helps her to feel more peaceful, despite the physical difficulty. Self-denial, daily prayer, and heightened compassion for the poor change her. "It's a very intense period," she explains. "If you don't grow spiritually from that, you have to reevaluate what you're doing because you should feel different. You should think differently. You should have a peace about you, a patience." Ramadan, she says, is gradually making her a less anxious person, giving her the confidence to think about changing from a clerical job to a more service-oriented career.
She needs Ramadan to make a career choice? Well, good for her.  But in telling others what Ramadan should do for them, well, I guess that woman has more Ramadans to do, if that's what's helping her.

Flanagan goes on to talk about how religions are reputed to quell anxiety; I'm not sure this is true in general.  I feel somewhat un-anxious myself, but that's because I think there's things in Buddhism that are unique within religious traditions for doing this.  Specifically, I need no leaps of faith in order to quell whatever anxiety I might occasionally feel, because it's all dang impermanent anyhow, and this is, on reflection, as obvious as the nose on my face.

And then...Flanagan goes on to talk about how it's all about "fear and loving" a deity that makes religion "work" so well. I wish you could have seen my mother in her last days, Ms. Flanagan. Fear and "loving" a deity did not do much for her anxiety at the end. 

And Ms. Flanagan notes that we Buddhists don't have a deity.  But! We have! Reincarnation!

Although Thich Nhat Hanh makes it sound simple, Buddhists recognize that there are different levels of practice, and reaching total peace will take many lifetimes. The role of reincarnation in change is another difference with the Abrahamic faiths, but when we look at the hoped-for effect of spiritual transformation, we find again the idea that we need to become less anxious about our own wants and more concerned with the needs of others.
 Ms. Flanagan still wants something. And the biggest want seems to be a way to ultimately cheat death.  I think the wish to maintain the denial that death wins in the end is the real source of the anxiety of which Flanagan speaks.  

Buddhism, as I apprehend it, is not like this, but it is providing comfort by seeing things the way they are, and understanding that our lot is what it is, and that all existence on earth, one way or another, must go down a pathway that is similar.

There's no deity to "fear and love,"  and the only people coming to save us are already here.

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