A Day of Atheism and Buddhism

After all this Christmas Joy, I thought I would bring it down to the mundane for a post.

A quick nod to Progressive Buddhism for bringing these to my attention…

Godless Religion or Devout Atheism Part 1 of 14

Stephen opens the retreat asking, “What is Buddhism?” Is it devout atheism or a godless religion? Over the next few days, we will individually look at what the practice means to us. The West has begun to look at the different Buddhist traditions and scriptures in a way that has never happened before. We are fortunate in that we have a huge amount of information available to us. Martine discusses the practical set-up of the retreats, and sets the objectives for the meditations.

Interesting topic but a 14 part series will easily take all day.  I enjoy the sense created in the podcast and in the book (Buddhism w/o Beliefs) that Buddhism does meld nicely together with atheism, especially within the convert community.  Many, like myself, are skeptics that didn’t find much of a home in other religions.   Skepticism has a home in Buddhism (they snuggle nicely together…all cozy-like).  While other religions focus on holy “infallible” texts and creator god(s) or forces, Buddhism focuses on self-growth and the removing of obstacles as well as the questioning of practice and teaching.  And the reason why we remove these obstacles (the reason why we practice) are as diverse  as our own backgrounds.  

Some practitioners use these tools to become closer to their own religion (Christianity, Judiasm, Islam).  Others use it to achieve the Buddhist realization of Buddha-Nature or Nirvana.  And as the series alludes to, many utilize it to live fuller, happier and less deluded lives without any religious or supernatural additions or affiliations.  It is that aspect, I think, that appeals to atheists and agnostics alike.

We can argue over whether or not this is “authentic” Dharma but why bother?  When it is helping many people live their lives and allowing a few others to explore the Dharma more fully, it is serving a good purpose.  The danger lies when people insist that this is the correct way to practice the Buddha-Dharma above all other schools (many of which that are not as grounded in the mundane and prefer to take a much more transcendental view).  When the same skeptics insist that there is nothing to be learned from schools with a long and rich history and regulate it to regional or ethnic baggage is when the skeptic train flies far off the tracks!

Cheers and happy listening,

John

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14 thoughts on “A Day of Atheism and Buddhism

  1. I think it’s true that it is a high-wire act. There is no American Buddhist tradition so it comes to us via the main practices of Asia. What choice do we have other than to find the one that fits our personality as well as our young culture. The skeptic is a problem too because he yearns for a spiritual practice and ritual but cannot believe in the standard gods. Buddhism says: here, this is the path and ….. yeah… the rest IS cultural baggage of the tradition it came from. But because it has been so thorougly followed in each tradition, they all have something to offer by reading the adventures of this teacher or that.

    Avoiding the trap of exclusivity is very hard, especially if the one you are following is working so well for you. By persistence and time, I think, Buddhism in the West will find itself with its own flavor and solid tradition. It will be different than the big 4.

  2. “The danger lies when people insist that this is the correct way to practice the Buddha-Dharma above all other schools (many of which that are not as grounded in the mundane and prefer to take a much more transcendental view).’

    I think that’s a key point that too many in the West are missing. I just don’t understand what’s to be gained when someone says “this is the best/correct/superior/true way to practice the dharma” or something similar. Who does that help besides one’s one ego?

    • Nor do I but people do it all the time! When you are trying to sell something or gain attendees then I guess I understand the reason but it is far from the reason we practice. I love the diversity of practice out there and I am a true believer in the concept of “You get out what you bring in”. We all bring in our original Buddha-Nature and strive to realize it.

    • Largely I practice an eclectic combination of different schools. I primarily practice Zen as one of the few sitting groups in my area is a Soto/Rinzai fusion with loose affiliation with the Great Mnt. Zen Center in Colorado. But while I find that Zen is an adventure by itself, I also “fill in the blanks” with other practices from more esoteric schools of Buddhism. I see these as more supplementing my practice but I try to incorporate new methods for at least a year before deciding if it fits or not. Examples are nembutsu practice from Shin Buddhism, Visualizations from Shingon and even a more “practical” viewpoint of the Buddhism W/O Beliefs crowd.

      But largely the one tie that binds all these forms is the focus on self-growth and development towards the end “goal” of realizing our own inherit Buddha-Nature. I know that this is a largely Mahayana viewpoint but I am lacking in the knowledge to talk Theravadan practice. Although I am exploring that tradition as well. So, most Buddhist practice is a cultivating of our own abilities to realize Buddha Nature by removing the many obstacles that hinder it. Many “secular” practitioners stop there. Which is fine, whatever works but I think many also begin to explore past that “secular” approach.

      I hope that answers your question! Perhaps “self” is the wrong word to use but I hate when people start arguing semantics.

      sarcastic voice/ But I thought that Buddhism didn’t have a self /sarcastic voice

      Obviously I am not talking about growing the “self” but rather seeing past it. Perhaps I should call it Buddha-Self Growth. I could trademark it. LOL!

      Cheers,

      John

      • Of the three zen teachers I’ve studied with, two would have verbally punched me in the face if I said Buddhism focused on self-growth and with justification. So if I don’t experience self-growth after ten years, I’m doing it wrong?! Sorry, I don’t/won’t buy it. But I apprecitate your effort and post.

        • So what did you learn from your face-punching teachers then? If there was no growth at all in your practice after 10 years, I would begin to wonder. What is Buddhism then? I’m all ears. My answer is by no means the best answer but simply it is what many focus on in their practice.

          You saw no tangible benefit after 10 years of practice? None? No growth as a compassionate person, no increased understanding of your self and its place in the skandhas? Hell, even after 2 years of practice I have seen some change (I by no means to state that “mine is better than yours”).

          What aren’t you buying again? I’m not asking you to buy into what I am saying but please expand on your comments if time serves you. Saying that I am mistaken (even with the appreciation of my effort) leaves me wanting.

          You obviously have a vewpoint and experience that is contrary to my own. I would like the opportunity to learn from it. That is why I bother blogging in the first place.

          Cheers,

          John

        • From my perspective, there are a whole range of problems with the statement about Buddhism focusing on self growth. The one that I’d like to address is the gaining idea inherent in that proposition. What is a person saw no tangible ‘growth’ from practice? Is their practice worth less than someone who does. Is self growth a valid reason for practice? Seeking ‘results’ is a cul-de-sac that I’ve driven around in many times. Not to say that there aren’t great side effects from practice but you’ll get stuck if these are looked upon as the point. I sit cause the bell rings.

          I cannot recommend working with a teacher enough. Having holes poked in your understanding of yourself, the world, and Buddhism is soooooo helpful.

          As an infrequent visitior, I’d also like to leave you with a little dharma combat from Loori that seems to apply to much of your blog:

          Student: but Buddhism is the truth and while other religions skirt around it.
          Teacher: You like vanilla, I like strawberry. Lay it down.

          • Lone Pine, I just lost the reply that I worked the last 30 minutes writing so I will sum up.

            Thank you for commenting and discussing this with me. I have no teacher, living where I do, so this aids me in my practice by “poking holes into” or supporting my practice. I appreciate it.

            I think looking for tangible benefits is not the “best” way to practice but it is what opens the Dharma doors for people. When I started, I was looking to prepare myself for some changes in my life (first child and new job) and the practice aided in that prep-work. But then I continued to practice and expanded on my practice beyond looking for tangible benefit.

            But self-growth I think is beyond a benefit. for most of our “growing” we rarely percieve that growth. It just happens.

            I like this explaination…

            There is a path to the end of suffering – a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely “wandering on the wheel of becoming”, because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.

            It is simple, direct and starts off a practitioner on the path, even if it presents a “goal”.

            Good luck in your practice and feel free to comment whenever you feel moved to.

            Cheers,

            John

            Ps. Love the Loori quote! I “lay it down” daily on this blog. Just like a bow, I write down these words with humility. I know that they are inadquate to explain the Dharma but I try my best and welcome the conversation. Also similar to the bow, I come back up refreshed and empty.

  3. There’s always someone waiting in the wings to latch onto a word. Words are just stand-ins for concepts, and when you are reaching beyond conceptual thought then language always falls short.

    The statement “I am trying to grow beyond my conceptual thinking” can be transformed into a more accurate statement by massaging (or, more accurately, torturing) the English language. It might read as something like, “This being is gradually removing barriers to development and the illusory thinking mind outside of the limited language of mankind.”

    See how accessible that is? No wonder Buddhism has a reputation for being prose of the impossible, an elitist system of mysticism, when it is anything but. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, when people get convinced that their preferred system is the ‘right’ system instead of just right for them.

    I don’t know, guys. It sure seems like there are enough of us for a united American Buddhist sangha. Don’t know how that would work, though. I started a Ning network for the purpose of bringing everyone together for open discourse on this topic, but I’m not sure what to do with it now.

  4. I am starting to think that organizing Buddhists in American is a little like herding cats. Why bother? All they want is a scratch behind the ears once in a while and a place to “sit” If they want to pile up according to color so be it, but don’t make them. >:-)

  5. Emily – I think your idea is an excellent one. I think there is more than enough interest for something like that to be of great interest!

  6. “Skepticism has a home in Buddhism (they snuggle nicely together…all cozy-like).” It’s true that many many of us left the religion of our birth because we couldn’t square the Book with our brain.

    And yet, we in the scientific-minded West receive a great deal of training in skepticism (our science if built on it) so we must be cautious with its comfort. I’ve found the need to look at what’s comfortable with as much suspicion as what is uncomfortable! : )

    While a powerful use of the mind, the Buddha taught skeptical doubt as one of the Five Hindrances of the path – anger, restlessness/worry, torpor/boredom, attachment to sense pleasures and skeptical doubt.

    Skeptical doubt wonders if this practice is “working” or if that teacher is full of shit. All this is thinking mind – an aspect of the mind which may be helpful when buying a car or if I am trying to split an atom, but which does not always tell me the truth. We must work to see its manifestations clearly.

    Great Doubt is essential to our practice. Great Doubt compels many of us to practice as we continue to come back to “what is this life about?”, “what is its purpose?” “who is this?”

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