My churchlessness must be heading into even deeper irreligious territory, because lately I've been enjoying criticisms of some minimally churchy spiritual systems -- such as Buddhism -- that I used to identify with.
The problem I'm having with Buddhism is that it really doesn't deliver on the promise I often have heard from Buddhists: "You don't need to believe anything; just study your own mind and observe what is experienced in meditation."
Well, that sounds good. But actually there's a pretty extensive list of preconceptions in this supposedly conceptionless faith.
Reincarnation or rebirth. Karma. Non-existence of the self. The four noble truths (including "life is suffering").
Buddhists aren't genuinely open-minded about what they'll find when they look within their minds. Expectations about what will be learned through meditation are quite narrowly bounded, not expansive.
For example, it's unlikely that one's satori will be recognized as valid if the big realization is:
Today I came across a piece by John Horgan about why he gave up Buddhism. I could resonate with much of what Horgan said. Such as...
Horgan has written widely about mysticism and religion from a properly skeptical scientific perspective. Check out his web site. There are links to some interesting articles on the right side.
One is "Why I Gave Up Zen." It describes how he became disillusioned with Buddhism in a different fashion from his other essay. I could identify with this bit of rebellion against self-discipline:
More and more, it seems to me that no organized spiritual practice is going to lead anywhere other than where we already want to go.
Meaning, we search out a religion, meditation approach, mystical system, or metaphysical philosophy that matches up with what we believe to be true. So long as our beliefs remain in sync with the teachings we've embraced, all is well and good.
But when our experience doesn't dovetail with dogma, we refashion the teachings to relieve the discrepancy. If the gap gets too large, then we say "Adios" to the organization and seek a faith that does a better job of validating us.
But why join a group in the first place, if all we're looking for is validation of what we already believe?
Horgan discusses this nicely in "Keeping the Faith in My Doubt." He ends with:
"But what troubles me most about Buddhism is its implication that detachment from ordinary life is the surest route to salvation."
Yes, and whats more is this whole concept of self-realization. Its all about self, all about going within and navel-gazing.
What troubles me is if a person is already of a contemplative nature - a thinker predisposed to wondering about the meaning of it all - whether such further bias on self is healthy.
Perhaps balance is needed. Some of the happiest lives are led by ppl who don't think too deeply for meaning or answers.
Ignorance is bliss as it were versus the unexamined life is not worth living. Difficult to know the way to proceed really.
Posted by: George | June 10, 2009 at 03:30 AM
This reminds me of something a friend of mine was intending to do a few years back (haven't talked to him in a long time; so not sure if it happened) but he intended to start his own religion. His idea was him as central priest with a group of women (in filmy gowns) as priestesses to help him worship (Yes, he had suggested I could be one).
He had been influenced, not by an existing religion but rather by a long ago reading and belief that the ultimate book and lifestyle (at least for men) could be found in 'Stranger in a Strange Land'.
Since I like to read books that someone says they based their life principles upon, I read that one. It was quite clear after finishing it that he was trying to base as much of his life as possible on the book anyway-- a religion could have been a next step. Not sure if he got sidetracked from his goals or not as he and I lost touch. His name for it would have incorporated his name though as was suggested above :)
Posted by: Rain | June 10, 2009 at 08:53 AM
George says, "Difficult to know the way to proceed really."
--Of course I don't know the 'way' for you George, but it may be helpful to 'empty'.
By this I mean that most of us spend much of the day in the realm of ideas and concepts whether we are pilots, mechanics or stock brokers. Many live in a world of chatter and distractions and spend little time just being in the moment, just being in awareness.
We can't 'will' the stopping of the mind but we can practice non-conceptual awareness. This is simply allowing whatever comes into awareness to just be there without analysis, without thinking about it. However, if analysis comes up that's OK, it will pass. This can be done anywhere; a train station, city streets, the porch at your house, in a park or in the wilderness.
This is a non-doing without strain or the idea of some goal or for something special to happen. It is just being as you are free of judgements and concepts. Just let the appearance of life flow by "within you and without you".
It is interesting to see how life becomes homogenous, One and different at the same time.
Posted by: tucson | June 10, 2009 at 09:27 AM
Rain, that guy's "religion" makes great good sense to me. Especially the part involving women in flimsy gowns worshipping me. Oops, just realized that you said they would "help him worship."
Guess my variant on the religion would involve the women practicing devotion to me (with all that entails, oh yes!), rather than me being devoted to some divinity.
Posted by: Brian | June 10, 2009 at 10:01 AM
Brian, have you ever tried practicing Buddhism? or Nondualism?
Posted by: Todd Chambers | June 10, 2009 at 11:43 AM
Todd, ever since my college days I've devoured books about Buddhism, mostly of the Zen variety. Ditto, more recently, with nondualist teachings. But I've never seriously practiced either faith (just went to a few Buddhist sessions in San Francisco's Chinatown when I went to San Jose State).
My wife used to belong to a Buddhist group. I hang out with Buddhists in my Tai Chi class. I've talked quite a bit with people who have attended intensive Buddhist meditation retreats, like the one mentioned in one of Horgan's pieces (where you sit for many hours each day and don't talk to anyone).
I find Taoism more appealing. Buddhism strikes me as excessively serious and downbeat, with all that "life is suffering" stuff. The emphasis on needing a teacher to make progress also rubs my churchless soul (which, according to Buddhism, doesn't exist) the wrong way.
So I find that Taoism fulfills my lingering need for an "ism," and nicely fits in with my Tai Chi endeavors. Buddhism, not nearly so much.
Posted by: Brian | June 10, 2009 at 12:33 PM
yeah, just as I figured. I sometimes wonder if guys like you and David Lane haven't been slightly "ruined" or perhaps jaded by years of Sant Mat, and are now looking at nondualistic teachings through "armchair-seeker" eyes, going through books instead of doing intensive meditation retreats, seeking out Buddhist & Advaita masters, etc.
Posted by: Todd Chambers | June 10, 2009 at 01:14 PM
Todd, like I said, I'm quite familiar with Buddhist and nondual teachings. Why would I want to dive into the practice of a faith that I have doubts about?
I mean, where would I stop? Wouldn't I also have to practice Christianity, HInduism, Islam, Judaism and such to know whether I wasn't just making an "armchair" judgment?
I practice Taoism, I guess, in that I do a lot of Tai Chi -- the physical embodiment of Taoism in many respects. So I don't feel the need to seek out Buddhist or Advaita masters. But thanks for the suggestion.
Posted by: Brian | June 10, 2009 at 01:39 PM
Actually, that is a good point about Tai Chi. I've done some of that myself. And it is a purely taoist practice, I think.
Posted by: Todd Chambers | June 10, 2009 at 01:54 PM
I thought the whole point of nondualism is that there were no teachings, no path, no meditation, its simply about being in the here and now and recognising there's only this (or is it that?).
thats an interesting approach, which seem to neither partake in life or think too deeply about it, simply let life pass one by as it were. so even if someone runs over your favourite pooch, one simply lets it flow through you?
there is so much beauty in life, why would one want to be ambivalent or apathetic towards it, or treat is as a life of suffering from which one needs salvation, surely you have to suck the very juices out of life or as much of it as one can?
Posted by: George | June 10, 2009 at 04:13 PM
George, you wrote: "thats an interesting approach, which seem to neither partake in life or think too deeply about it, simply let life pass one by as it were. so even if someone runs over your favourite pooch, one simply lets it flow through you?...there is so much beauty in life, why would one want to be ambivalent or apathetic towards it, or treat is as a life of suffering from which one needs salvation, surely you have to suck the very juices out of life or as much of it as one can?"
--George, You misunderstand. You are putting the ambivalent/apathetic spin on this. I said nothing of the kind.
In the awareness of non-doing as a doer, there is still doing and living. There is not a feeling of apathy but rather a thorough involvement in the moment and what it brings. If anything, life is felt more intensely from this perspective not less so. Sympathy will be felt for the pooch and help will be sought or administered. It is not about being callous and unfeeling at all. But here is less of a tendency to react according to conditoning, habits and ego and more of a tendency to spontaneous interaction according to the situation as it presents itself as it is. It is enlivening not deadening. It is about being fully 'there' in the moment and not lost in egoic constructs that blunt fully experiencing the reality of any given situation.
Posted by: tucson | June 10, 2009 at 05:08 PM
> The problem I'm having with Buddhism is
> that it really doesn't deliver on the
> promise I often have heard from
> Buddhists: "You don't need to believe
> anything; just study your own mind and
> observe what is experienced in
In order to throw away beliefs and study your own mind and observe experience, you've got to personally do it. That is, the responsibility is entirely on you, how you keep your own mind in this moment.
No one else will do it for you. And certainly no word or idea will do it for you. "Buddhism" is a word. How can you expect a word to accomplish this task, to "deliver a promise"? Words and ideas may point in a direction and supply encouragement, but that's all.
Having opinions one way or the other about words/ideas like "Buddhism" is besides the point. To put down beliefs, return to doubt and direct perception... just do it. Use any words/ideas if they're helpful as pointers to yourself and others... but don't confuse words/ideas with the practice, the "doing it."
> Well, that sounds good. But actually
> there's a pretty extensive list of
> preconceptions in this supposedly
> conceptionless faith.
Holding or not holding a concept (karma, rebirth, whatever) is your own choice. These concepts exists because some people have found them helpful in certain situations. Whether you hold them in your situation is up to you. The responsibility doesn't lie in a word or idea or faith. It's entirely up to you, right now, what to do with such ideas.
> Buddhists aren't genuinely open-minded
> about what they'll find when they look
> within their minds.
What anyone else does or doesn't do is speculation (we can't see into other people's minds). More to the point, it's not our job to concern ourselves with whether others are open-minded. It IS our job to attend to our own minds. At any moment, at this moment, we can always look directly at our own experience. It's entirely up to us, our own choice, whether or not we cultivate some idea about what we find.
> Expectations about what will be learned
> through meditation are quite narrowly
> bounded, not expansive.
Different people have different needs, wants, and situations. You will ALWAYS be able to find people who cling to one concept or another. Why focus on speculations and judgements of others? Does that really have any bearing on our own job? To practice is to doubt and put down one's own expectations. Judging others is irrelevent.
Posted by: Stuart | June 10, 2009 at 05:08 PM
George, you say:
"whats more is this whole concept of self-realization. Its all about self, all about going within and navel-gazing."
-- Hopld on there, not so fast. Fyi, Selfrealization is not about "self" at all. Also, Self-realization is not about "naval-gazing at all. Self-realization means Self-knowledge. Its not about ego-self. Self-realization has nothing to do with the ego self. If you would like to better understand what it is really all about, I would suggest reading Sri Ramana. Its not what you seem to be implying.
"if a person is already of a contemplative nature - a thinker predisposed to wondering about the meaning of it all - whether such further bias on self is healthy."
-- Again, its not about "bias on self". The "Self" part in "Self-realization" does not refer to the personal ego self, the 'I' thought (ahamkara). It refers to the impersonal universal non-dual "Self", or Brahman the Absolute. You seem to be mis-reading and misintrepreting the meaning of the term Self-realization.
"Ignorance is bliss as it were"
-- Ignorance may seem to be bliss in some instances, but that bliss that derives from ignorance is conditional and impermanent, and more importantly, ignorance is also the root cause of suffering. So in the long run, ignorance is not bliss.
"I thought the whole point of nondualism is that there were no teachings, no path, no meditation, its simply about being in the here and now and recognising there's only this (or is it that?).
-- No nondualism is not "about" "being in the here and now", or about being or recognising anything.
"Tucson, [...] thats an interesting approach, which seem to neither partake in life or think too deeply about"
-- I am not sure thats what Tucson meant. I would say, imo, life is not to be avoided and/or not partaken of. Life is to be lived to the fullest. Why not? Life is not a problem. But avoiding life and not partaking in life, IS a problem.
"there is so much beauty in life, why would one want to be ambivalent or apathetic towards it, or treat is as a life of suffering from which one needs salvation, surely you have to suck the very juices out of life or as much of it as one can?"
-- That is correct. One need not at all be "ambivalent or apathetic" towards life. There is suffering, but life itself is not the cause, and life needs no salvation.
Posted by: tAo | June 10, 2009 at 05:14 PM
Excellent comments, points, and suggestions Stuart. I feel as you do, and agree with all that you have said.
Posted by: tAo | June 10, 2009 at 05:19 PM
Interestingly, virtually all these traditions (from Budhism to RS) seem to reject concepts as opposed to the actual practical doing or experience itself.
That is fine, except for two things:
i) Why is a teacher needed if concepts are rejected?
ii) If the concepts of these traditions should not be evaluated, must one simply accept them as all equally valid unquestioningly? Surely its useful to examine the concepts of any belief system before committing to the practice of it?
Understood, yours is a different well-reasoned view, had a laught at the pooch comment. However, statements like "non-doing as a doer" seem contrary and perilously close to the preachy dogma the churchless abhor.
You are right to call me up and your definition is correct.
Nevertheless i would argue that to realise the Brahman, as opposed to the ahamkara, the individual does so using meditation or some other introspective technique, know thysef, look within, etc, etc. It seems to be about isolating or cutting oneself off. Indeed, one reads of these sages/teachers who've had epiphany's after staring at the wall of a cave for 20-odd years.
Prisners are punished with solitary confinement and the effects of isolation in producing hallucinations are well known.
My point? Humans are a social species. Is it natural or desirable to isolate onself in such a manner, particular if one is already of a contemplative nature?
Posted by: George | June 11, 2009 at 03:07 AM
I liked and understand this statement,
"In the awareness of non-doing as a doer, there is still doing and living. There is not a feeling of apathy but rather a thorough involvement in the moment and what it brings. If anything, life is felt more intensely from this perspective not less so. Sympathy will be felt for the pooch and help will be sought or administered. It is not about being callous and unfeeling at all. But here is less of a tendency to react according to conditoning, habits and ego and more of a tendency to spontaneous interaction according to the situation as it presents itself as it is. It is enlivening not deadening. It is about being fully 'there' in the moment and not lost in egoic constructs that blunt fully experiencing the reality of any given situation."
---One can embrace nondual....ism, and still engage in dualistic activity.
Nothing wrong with daily "doing and living" in a dualistic manner.
---So whats the "big deal" with all others talking and talking about nondual....ism?
Posted by: Roger | June 11, 2009 at 07:31 AM
i would argue that to realise the Brahman, as opposed to the ahamkara, the individual does so using meditation or some other introspective technique, know thysef, look within, etc, etc."
-- Perhaps. Yes there are various methods that are offered. But not all methods will necessarily accomplish that end. I would arge that no method will accomplish that end (ie: "to realise Brahman"). The truth, or that which IS always already the case, need not be sought. The search itself is endless and doomed to failure, because the search is the very problem itself. That is why Sri Ramana advised simple Self-inquiry (Atma-vichara) as the being surest, most natural, and most direct way in which to proceed, so as to awaken to that which is always already the case... to THIS.
"It seems to be about isolating or cutting oneself off. Indeed, one reads of these sages/teachers who've had epiphany's after staring at the wall of a cave for 20-odd years."
-- I strongly disagree. Some yogis may have supposedly spent years in such efforts of sadhana. But sages like Ramana did not do any such thing. Moreover, some yogis chose to "cut oneself off" from the world, but definitely not all. And those sages like Ramana (and several others) certainly did not engage in "staring at the wall of a cave for 20 odd years". Not at all. Awakening into/as Self-knowledge does not require any such thing. In fact, I would seriously question the need to do any such practices or austerities. Self-inquiry has nothing to do with "staring at the wall of a cave for 20-odd years".
"Humans are a social species. Is it natural or desirable to isolate onself in such a manner, particular if one is already of a contemplative nature?"
-- Again, no such isolation is ever necessary or even fruitful. So what gives the idea that isolation is suggested or required? Self-inquiry (Atma-vichara) demands no such isolation or anti-social behavior. It has nothing to do with any external arrangement.
Posted by: tAo | June 11, 2009 at 12:16 PM
I would suggest your spiritual outlook is slightly different from the buddhism of this article, for which i thought meditation was implicit (getting to know those pesky egos that cause suffering, etc).
However, in any event, i'd be interested in how this 'self-enquiry' is actually carried out? or at least how Sri Ramana proposes one performs Self-inquiry (Atma-vichara).
Posted by: George | June 11, 2009 at 02:30 PM
I took these notes years ago from a talk by the late Robert Adams, a respected student of Ramana Maharshi...
I feel sick. I feel happy. I feel depressed. I feel this way or that way. Who is this I? Where did it come from? How does it originate? What is its source? Find out. Dive deep within and find out where the I came from. A good way to do this is before you go to sleep say to yourself, "I am going to find my 'I' when I get up in the morning."
Just before you wake up, before you start thinking, the I presents itself as pure consciousness. Catch it then. That's the best time to catch it, in that split second before you wake up and start thinking. Before the thoughts come of the world, that is the absolute reality.
When you open your eyes you can ask yourself, "Where did the 'I' come from?" "Who am 'I'" "Who slept last night?" "Who has just awakened?" "Who am I that exists now?"
Robert said you can also think about these principles:
1) I understand, I feel, I perceive, that everything, everything -and emphasize that second everything- is a manifestation of my mind.
2) I feel and understand deeply that I am unborn. I do not prevail and I do not disappear.
3) I feel and understand the egolessness of everything, of all creation.
4) I have a deep understanding of what Realization is by what it is not.
This is pretty cool stuff to play around with.
Posted by: tucson | June 11, 2009 at 04:56 PM
The questioner asks: "What is the means for constantly holding on to the thought 'Who am I?'"
Sri Ramana Maharshi replies:
"When other thoughts arise, one should not pursue them,
but should inquire: 'To whom do they arise?'
It does not matter how many thoughts arise.
As each thought arises, one should inquire with diligence,
'To whom has this thought arisen?'.
The answer that would emerge would be 'To me".
Thereupon if one inquires 'Who am I?',
the mind will go back to its source;
and the thought that arose will become quiescent.
With repeated practice in this manner,
the mind will develop skill to stay in its source."
Posted by: Todd Chambers | June 12, 2009 at 11:30 AM
So Brian, on the subject of Tai Chi, I wanted to ask you if you could say which practice has seemed more rewarding for you: Shabda Yoga or Tai Chi? Or do you have a preference?
Posted by: Todd Chambers | June 19, 2009 at 02:09 PM