Sunday, February 26, 2017

Why I Am Not a Buddhist



Think of the history the West Coast, and ask yourself this question: When did the West Coast begin its slide toward radical leftism? The answer is, of course, the 1950s. The catalyst was Buddhism.  

I am a poet, and while I do like some of Allan Ginsburg’s poetry, especially “Howl”—I also realize that the Beatnik Movement, which preceded the Hippy Movement was the decisive moment at which the West Coast began its descent into hell.

Ginsburg was a profoundly devoted Jewish convert to Buddhism. I’ve even heard that at one point he bowed down and worshipped a man in Central Park because he recognized this man as a Bodhisattva. Ginsburg was so devoted that he co-founded Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. You don’t get much more liberal than that.

But what did the Buddha actually teach? When asked whether a human is a self he said this question must be set aside.  He also taught that all phenomena are impermanent. Thus, he said there is merely suffering, but no one to experience suffering. There are deeds but no doer of deeds. There is only movement, but no one in the movement. However, we know that no matter how much we change we can only become ourselves.  No matter how many times I step into the Tennessee River it is always the Tennessee River because of its specific geographical location. Each life has a social context, which lends, or should lend, a kind of permanence to my life. My life consists of sensations and component impressions, but the whole of my life is greater than the sum of its impressions, because, as Aristotle noted, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  No wonder we are taught to believe that a grasshopper is simply a machine, because a machine has no individual awareness and is simply the sum of its parts. And how would someone recognize any part of life as unsatisfactory unless he had some point of satisfaction to compare it with, some ideal that stood apart from the parts?

The Buddha taught that the cycle of death and rebirth is without beginning, but he also taught that one should not accept something as truthful unless he sees that it is truthful, never mind that this kind of apprehension can be tricked and that philosophy is more than a matter of “seeing.” He taught that the stream of consciousness is without beginning, never mind that it is impossible to “see” an infinite regress and that, if there is consciousness outside the brain that still hasn’t been conclusively proven. And every stream has a source.

The Buddha says (to paraphrase)—truth is a raft one uses to get to the other side of a river. Once one gets to the other side, he leaves his raft behind. He overextends this metaphor. Truth is, indeed, a raft one uses to get across a river. But this is where the metaphor ends. The central obsession of Buddhism is letting go of attachments. So we are told to let go of truth. But in reality we retain truths in our minds. Letting go is not always the proper response. The Buddha taught that concentration is an act of single-point focus on a thought without “clinging” to the thought. This is called Right Concentration. But as non-Buddhists we know that concentration often involves holding onto a thought so it can be examined. But this is not the kind of concentration the Buddha taught. So he taught what fit with his ideology.  

So why is there such a rush on the West Coast to embrace Buddhism. It is because Western white Buddhists believe that because “all component things are impermanent” that morals are also wishy washy. This is strange given that most Buddhists in Japan are usually cultural conservatives. Could it be that Westerners are just jaded? Whatever the case, Aristotle is a much more solid ground for ethics than the Buddha. But so is Confucius, who said, “The archer is a mature person in that when he misses the mark he finds the fault in himself.” China is, first and foremost, a Confucian culture, but so is all of the far east. In Japan, Buddhism is separated from the indigenous religion of Shinto. This is how they have dealt with the influx of Buddhism. The Buddha taught that since a person is simply the sum of his parts, “There is pain but no one to perceive the pain.” But Confucius will not allow the person to escape his personal responsibility by denying the offending self.

Joel Fry



Source: What The Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula.  All the facts pertaining to Buddhism can be verified in this text.

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