As my churchlessness has evolved, I find myself interested in a steadily smaller portion of the spiritual landscape. I used to devour writings by (and about) Rumi, Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, and various Hindu/Vedanta mystics.
Now, I mostly nibble at Buddhist and Taoist teachings when I feel the need for some "what's life all about?" philosophizing that isn't annoyingly religious. Only problem is, even with these offerings I have to be careful what I put on my reading plate.
In the Buddhism category of this blog I've written about what I like and don't like about Buddhist meditation. Basically, I'm turned on by Buddhism's practical focus on the human condition: how do we deal with the distress and stress of everyday life?
And I'm turned off by the religious'y side of Buddhism: veneration of the Buddha as a divine being, prayer wheels, unfounded faith in past lives, reincarnation, and other supernatural dogmas.
Not being a Buddhist scholar, it's been difficult for me to pin down exactly where Buddhism goes wrong, and why. Thankfully, those with wiser understandings, such as Stephen Bachelor, are able to enlighten me as to why enlightenment isn't what religious Buddhists consider it to be.
Now I can add Glenn Wallis as another experienced Buddhist practitioner who can cut through the dharma crap and get down to the essence of what Buddhism is all about.
The more time I spend regarding Buddhism, the clearer it becomes: the basic teachings of the Buddha are in dire need of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation: to return to health, to restore to a former healthy condition, to return to normal. Re-habilitate from habilitas, ability; so, re-enable. Gotama’s teaching, like the human face of the teacher himself, is vanishing. It is disappearing behind the Oz-like curtain — as shimmering and alluring as a Tibetan prayer flag fluttering in the sun — of religious Buddhism.
...My overarching premise is this: Gotama was an unsurpassed scientist of the real. He expounded with lucidity and precision (1) our human situation and (2) an effective means for awakening to that situation with clarity and equanimity. Gotama, as Emerson said of Plato “knew the cardinal facts.” He is the arrival on the human scene of an uncanny precision and intelligence; he accurately divided and defined the categories of human existence. And like all good scientists, he kept it simple.
The 13-page "Buddhist Manifesto" is well worth reading.
Wallis talks about how supernaturalism isn't part of Gotama's core message, and indeed is at odds with it. Meditation is the main way Gotama advised us to come to grips with the cause, and hopefully eventual cure, of our distress (a.k.a. suffering).
I found a shorter version of Wallis' thesis on his website in the form of a 6-page journal article, "Gautama vs the Buddha."
I have given up on the Buddha. That is to say, I have given up on the Enlightened One, the Blessed One, the omniscient Lord of people and gods who works miracles, knows unknowable things, and continues to exert his power from beyond. When I ask Buddhists to explain why I should accept their revered sage as a modern-day life-adviser, I am typically offered only articles of faith (claims to be believed in or rejected) and rarely good (that is, examinable and testable) reasons.
...But along the way, something unexpected happened. I met one of the world’s most gifted teachers. He is Gautama, the human figure behind the fanciful facade of the Buddha. Like the Stoics, Epicureans, and Platonists in ancient Greece and Rome, Gautama instructed in the manner of a philosopher, a lover of wisdom. He taught and modeled a viable way to human flourishing, and did so rooted firmly in everyday life.
There's nothing wrong with religions that can't be made right by stripping religiosity out of them. Of course, in most cases what's left is pretty thin gruel, not enough to satisfy.
Remove Christ from Christianity, or Allah from Islam, and what do you have? Nothing substantial. With Buddhism, though, it's the opposite. That's why kill the Buddha is an adage that makes sense to Buddhists like Wallis.
Also to me, though I don't consider myself a Buddhist. (I do have a $1.99 Zen Timer iPhone app, which shows my commitment to enlightenment through Apple technology.)