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.
Which isn't the Buddha, as Wallis says in his "Buddhist Manifesto." It's Gotama, the real man behind the mythical "Buddha."
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.)
BUDDHISM ALWAYS LEAVES AN IMPRESSION ON ME , MAY BE I AM A REACTIONARY --- DON'T KNOW
Posted by: Account Deleted | November 12, 2010 at 02:29 AM
Taking up your 'stripping out religiosity' point: Buddhism is basically a multi-meme complex. Gautama's insight is the opposite of what constitutes a meme - it's an ever-fresh living encounter.
A religion's value lies in that which can be found beneath its memeplex (if anything!!)
Posted by: Rob | November 12, 2010 at 11:37 AM
I liked this,
"......________instructed in the manner of a philosopher, a lover of wisdom. He/she taught and modeled a viable way to human flourishing, and did so rooted firmly in everyday life."
---Now the fun shall begin.....
Posted by: Roger | November 13, 2010 at 08:11 AM
"There's nothing wrong with religions that can't be made right by stripping religiosity out of them."
But surely this is exactly the problem of all religions and spirituality, which is that they are open to interpretation.
If the Buddha's teachings included concepts like reincarnation and karma - then interpretations that discount these concepts are a different religion.
Moreover, Bachelor is doing exactly what I believe accounts for the creation of religions. People seek meaning behind things. Some supposedly 'original' teaching or revelation undergoes a continual process of modification as people interpret the teachings to suit their own time and conditioning. So they all end up squabbling over the 'Truth'. What is worse, there is no way of knowing if the 'original' teachings are actually original at all, or also merely draw on previous influences. All that could be said about the Buddha's teachings, is that he saw the world through his own personal lens or perspective.
Ultimately though how can we know which truth is correct?
Posted by: George | November 15, 2010 at 12:14 PM
How do we know which religosity is to be stripped? How can one strip religosity from religion? Who defines what is religiousity or not?
Posted by: George | November 15, 2010 at 12:26 PM
George, by "religiosity" I was thinking mostly of supernatural beliefs which aren't capable of being evaluated via demonstrable evidence of a scientific sort.
For example, Buddhist beliefs involving immaterial consciousness would be religious. But Buddhist meditation practices aimed at making the mind/brain calmer, more focused, and compassionate can be investigated via the methods of neuroscience -- brain scanners and such.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | November 15, 2010 at 02:48 PM
beautiful article. The False Buddha to me is a communion of a 'society' that are having a sentimental journey. Instead of being Sentiel Being we may have become Sentimental Beings. The Passive Buddha is like saying: All is well,when it is not. This Well is not a well of abundance. It is a whishing well that is not a real blessing, but throwing a materialistic coin into a well, as a ritual to then hopefully Be Well.
In society we often take away moral responsability of those who suffer. Addiction for example is said to be an illness. That illness needs to be treated. And it gets treated by false candies such as alternative toxins. We live in a Toxic Cult of Sentimentality. Our true healthy Mind (heart of the Matter) leaves out judgement. For we have learned that judgement means that we accuse someone of a certain behavior. But we can judge a situation. Then we can give back the moral code and responsability to the other person or situation and not fall into the trap of an Observer that can only collect this false resonponsability because he fears that he is shut out by society, when he/she says No I am not going along with this.
For me the false buddha is like a false priest or con man or a false parent. Cutting the false umbilicous of sentiment to me is indeed killing the false buddha. (not even going to place this name in big letters). That only collects false power in it.
Posted by: Eleonora | July 29, 2020 at 07:44 AM