It's interesting how my attitude toward Buddhism has changed during the course of my descent (or ascent) into churchlessness. I used to find Buddhism wonderfully non-dogmatic. Now, I see it as permeated with an uncomfortable amount of religiosity.
A couple of fellow Tai Chi students recommended "The Monk and the Philosopher" to me. With the subtitle, a father and son discuss the meaning of life, how could I resist making a visit to Amazon?
Last month I wrote about how when the Monk (Matthieu Ricard) and his Philosopher father (Jean-Francois Revel) discuss karma, I disagreed with the Buddhist notion that Tibetans brought upon themselves the Chinese invasion of their country.
Having finished the book, I have more quibbles with the Monk's belief system. I agree with the Philosopher's conclusion:
That's pretty much how I see it.
Buddhism's basic advice for us is pretty darn simple: lessen your desires; accept life as it is; embrace change; don't ruminate about what can't be thought.
The Monk liked to argue that if following Buddhist precepts leads someone to serenity, this shows that Buddhism has a correct view of reality -- which includes quite a few metaphysical concepts such as karma, reincarnation, and such.
Well, there are serene people who don't do a lick of meditation, or accept any Buddhist beliefs. And there are devout Buddhists who haven't achieved peace of mind after years or decades of practice.
Many Christians feel great by believing in Jesus. If a certain psychological state is proof of a metaphysical position, then every religion is right and every religion is wrong.
Studies of identical twins find that genetics explains about half of the differences in happiness between individuals. Some people are born with more of a potential to be happy than others.
Meditation and other techniques that change mental patterns can affect someone's happiness, but there seems to be a limit to our changeability. I suspect that certain sorts of people are drawn to Buddhism (or some other faith) because it meshes with their view of life -- which is different from the faith changing that view.
Another quibble: I agreed with the Philosopher when he said...
But in Buddhism there's no transcendent God, so what is monastic life or retreat from the world, directed toward? In a word, since Buddhism isn't a religion, why does it look so much like one?
I didn't find the Monk's defense of Buddhist rituals very convincing.
Such customs are useful outer supports allowing believers to communicate with an inner truth. I know from experience that when ordinary Tibetans offer thousands of butter lamps (the equivalent of candles) they're well aware that the light they're offering symbolizes wisdom dispelling darkness.
The prayer they'd be making as they offered lamps would go something like, "May the light of wisdom arise in myself and in all living beings, both in this life and in lives to come." Even very simple people are aware of the symbolism. The same goes when they're reciting mantras.
Not likely. The Monk ignores the great popularity of Pure Land Buddhism, which is religious through and through.
Like every faith, if you peel off the dogmatic, fundamentalist, religious aspects of Buddhism, from my churchless perspective you're left with something much more appealing.
The question is: isn't that "something" simply everyday life, lived honestly?