Is Buddhism Just a Form of Spiritual Self-Centeredness? Not!

A couple of years in the past the journalist and writer John Horgan wrote an article about his private exploration of Buddhism, and the unfavorable view of Buddhist observe and philosophy that he had “regretfully” arrived at. Mr. Horgan, who as a author makes a speciality of protecting the world of science, can also be well-versed with regards to non secular enlightenment, having written a wonderful e-book on what cutting-edge science has to say concerning the quest for transcendental experiences. Having learn a few his books, and having a excessive opinion of him as each a author and an individual, once I not too long ago chanced upon his article on Buddhism I used to be naturally eager to be taught what opinion he had fashioned.

Regardless that I do not really put on the label “Buddhist”, my considering and non secular observe has an important deal in frequent with sure Buddhist colleges of thought. And I’ve all the time had the best regard for devoted Buddhist practitioners. So I felt just a little disillusioned and defensive once I learn a few of Mr. Horgan’s crucial ideas. It isn’t that his ideas, per se, took me unexpectedly. A few of his pet peeves in opposition to Buddhism are literally fairly traditional criticisms. Criticisms that chauvinistic and racist Western opponents of Japanese religions first started to voice manner again within the late nineteenth century. However Mr. Horgan is just not a racist, a cultural imperialist, or a closed-minded fundamentalist kind. The truth that he can nonetheless entertain such crucial views about Buddhism signifies that they have to be taken severely, and thoughtfully addressed by each “card-carrying” Buddhists, and sympathizers corresponding to myself.

To tackle that job right here, I will contact on every of the factors he makes in opposition to Buddhist beliefs and observe, within the order they happen in his article. The primary level that he makes is that Buddhism is “functionally theistic”. That the doctrines of karma and reincarnation suggest “the existence of some cosmic choose who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness” to find out our subsequent incarnation.

Though, personally, I do not subscribe to the doctrine of reincarnation, I discover this primary criticism to be pretty weak. Studying a perception in a man-upstairs sort of deity into the theories of karma and reincarnation is clearly a results of our tendency to anthropomorphize, to interpret the impersonal as private, to suppose by way of humanlike individuals performing as brokers behind pure forces and processes. In fact, the tendency to suppose by way of a big-guy-in-the-sky God who micromanages the universe from the surface can also be a legacy of two thousand years of Western non secular coaching. Mr. Horgan appears to be topic to those two tendencies. However the Buddha, and plenty of Buddhist denominations are positively not.

What’s extra, it merely doesn’t logically and essentially comply with from the notion of karma that there have to be a supernatural “cosmic choose” who makes certain that karmic legislation all the time serves up justice to us. I am not going to go off on a digression right here, and look at the considering of nice Hindu and Buddhist philosophers who’ve endeavored to clarify how karma may presumably work with out the micromanagement of a judgmental Jehovah. It should suffice right here to say that some sensible Japanese minds have the truth is offered alternate explanations.

So, Buddhists should not really responsible of dodging the “theistic implications” of their perception in karma and reincarnation. A Buddhist doesn’t have to be intellectually dishonest together with her/himself to keep away from these supposed implications. She/he merely must subscribe to one of many alternate explanations.

Mr. Horgan subsequent offhandedly reduces nirvana to the Buddhist counterpart to the Christian Heaven. It is a exceptional discount, contemplating the multitude of evident variations between the Buddhist idea of a blissful state of liberation, and the Western non secular hope of “pie within the sky”. Mr. Horgan does point out that we do not have to die to take pleasure in nirvana, however he fully glosses over the remainder of the distinction between the 2 paradises. Webster’s defines heaven as “the dwelling place of the Deity and the blessed lifeless”, and “a non secular state of eternal communion with God”. Nirvana suits neither definition. It isn’t a supernatural place or realm, the place a deity resides. And, as Horgan concedes, you do not have to be deceased to get there. Neither is nirvana a state of communion with an otherworldly God.

Nirvana is just a transcendentally calm and contented manner of experiencing actuality that we graduate into by diligently working towards the interior self-discipline that the Buddha taught. It is the supreme inner stability, energy, and serenity that outcomes after we totally emancipate ourselves from our drug-addict-like enslavement to the cravings and calls for of the “ego”. For sure, this isn’t precisely what the Christian church buildings perceive by the phrase heaven!

There are, nevertheless, a few methods wherein nirvana does really loosely resemble the Christian Heaven. For instance, like making it into Heaven, nirvana is a perfect non secular purpose to aspire to. And simply as we have to be virtuous girls and boys to succeed in heaven, working towards good moral conduct is a crucial a part of the Noble Eightfold Path to nirvana. However that is the place the similarities finish. There’s little else to justify dissing nirvana as merely “Buddhism’s model of heaven”.

Having disparaged the purpose of Buddhism by evaluating nirvana to Heaven, Mr. Horgan then proceeds to attempt to discredit the psychological self-discipline Buddhists use to succeed in their non secular targets. He factors up the truth that there’s scientific analysis that calls the advantages of meditation into query. He grants that meditation can cut back stress, however emphasizes that it may additionally typically worsen medical melancholy and anxiousness.

Positive, meditation is a robust instrument, and as is the case with any energy instrument it may trigger harm. Particularly within the arms of people that have little coaching in correctly use it. However the effectiveness of meditation as a way to reaching each inside peace and enlightenment is supported by loads of what scientists dismissively name “anecdotal proof”. What scientific researchers pooh-pooh as “anecdotal proof” of the worth of meditation is what non-scientists would name spectacular examples that go to point out that when finished appropriately meditation is nicely value any dangers that is likely to be concerned.

As for Mr. Horgan’s declare that meditation isn’t any extra helpful for lowering stress than simply sitting and stilling ourselves, apparently he would not recognize that simply sitting and being nonetheless is the essence of some types of meditation. And that the stress-reducing impact of sitting quietly could then, considerably satirically, really go to show the worth of meditation for our psychological well being.

Mr. Horgan then segues into questioning the non secular insights rendered unto Buddhist meditators by their contemplative practices. Specifically, he has an issue with the doctrine of anatta. Anatta is the Buddhist view that there isn’t any such metaphysical merchandise as a “soul”. No such factor because the separate, strong, central psychological entity referred to as the “self”. Anatta is nothing lower than the Buddha’s elementary inspiration that the “self” is only a course of, the continued byproduct of the interplay of various psychological actions. Versus what’s referred to as a “homunculus”, a teeny, tiny little man in our heads who does all our considering and experiencing.

Horgan factors out that trendy mind science doesn’t precisely help the denial of the existence of a self. That is fairly true. But when we will depend on what science has to say on the topic we will not aggressively dispute the doctrine of anatta, both. As a result of though modern cognitive science would not endorse anatta, neither can it at present disprove it.

And, though science is admittedly typically fairly good at what it does, I don’t share what seems to be Mr. Horgan’s implicit place, that materialistic science is the one legitimate manner of gaining data of our deepest nature, and of the last word nature of actuality. Possibly for Mr. Horgan it is a should that unmystical scientific strategies verify an perception earlier than he’ll undertake it as his personal. However then which means he willfully harbors a bias, in opposition to mysticism and in favor of scientific materialism. A bias that satirically disqualifies him from being scientifically goal on your entire topic! (BTW, I counsel that everybody learn Huston Smith’s wonderful e-book on the blatant materialistic bias of contemporary science, Why Faith Issues: The Destiny of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief.)

Sure, there’s such a factor as scientific dogmatism, although it is hypocritically at odds with the supposedly neutral spirit of science. And lamentably this dogmatically scientific mindset has no extra use for the perennial non secular insights of Buddhism than it has for a few of the outdated theological beliefs of fundamentalist Christians and Islamist extremists. So I for one am not inclined to reject a bodhic concept simply because it hasn’t but been rubber-stamped by the scientific group.

Horgan then explains why he thinks that the doctrine of anatta would not actually make us good Samaritans and residents. His considering is that in the event you do not imagine in a self, in the event you do not imagine that folks have that ole “homunculus” (little man or lady inside their heads) who’s feeling all of their ache, then you definitely’re not going to care concerning the struggling of others. Though this line of reasoning has the ring of logical considering, that ring is just not actually very robust. Logically talking, that we do not have a central self, that our self is definitely a course of fairly than a being, doesn’t make us mere illusions, whose struggling would not matter! A logician would level out to Mr. Horgan that his reasoning is each “invalid”, and “unsound”.

And opposite to what Mr. Horgan’s reasoning would lead us to anticipate, one of many chief moral values of Buddhism has after all all the time been compassion. Positive, Buddhist societies and practitioners haven’t all the time lived as much as the Buddhist emphasis on compassion, simply as Christians haven’t all the time practiced a few of the noble morals they preach. However is that this failure of Buddhists to totally actualize their well-known compassion due largely to the doctrine of anatta, or extra to the final issue that people have constantly residing as much as their highest moral beliefs? At any charge, actually no Buddhist sect has ever really taken the place that as a result of we do not have a self or soul compassion is pointless. In the true world, and within the historical past of the Buddhist faith, the speculation of anatta merely doesn’t work within the harmful, compassion-undermining manner that Mr. Horgan logically fears.

Horgan additionally thinks that Buddhist enlightenment is morally harmful as a result of it locations enlightened individuals on an ethical pedestal, above distinctions between proper and improper. He fears that there is a actual hazard that individuals who fancy themselves to be enlightened will lose the conscience altogether. That they are going to come to imagine that they’re ethically infallible, that they really can do no improper as a result of they’re so darn enlightened. And that they are going to start to function accordingly. He cites a few examples of Buddhists behaving badly, such because the alcoholism of the Tibetan trainer Chogyam Trungpa, and the “masochistic conduct” of Bodhidharma.

Okay, maybe some “enlightened” Buddhist masters weren’t fairly completely enlightened, maybe they nonetheless suffered from sufficient egoism for his or her “enlightenment” to offer them a swelled head. Maybe this can be a actual pitfall of the search for enlightenment. One which we must always rigorously guard in opposition to. However does it invalidate the very concept of enlightenment? Does it actually comply with that there isn’t any reputable enlightenment to be attained by working towards the Buddhist path? As a result of not all reportedly enlightened individuals have been good, does this imply that enlightenment is a lie? As soon as once more, the logic of the critics of Buddhism and faith is not so good as they’d wish to suppose.

Mr. Horgan additionally has his points with the Buddhist path’s emphasis on excessive renunciation and detachment. He even criticizes the Buddha himself for coldly deserting his household (glossing over the little incontrovertible fact that the Buddha was a prince who left his spouse and little one within the lap of luxurious, not in a skid row homeless shelter!). Horgan thinks that reckoning the self to be a fiction, and cultivating nonattachment from sure points of the self’s expertise, is just not actually conducive to better happiness, and is definitely “anti-spiritual”.

If this have been true, then I suppose that Jesus Christ, who advised wannabee disciples that they wanted to free themselves of all their worldly wealth, and their attachment to their households, was not very non secular both? He actually would not come off sounding like a “household values” oriented form of non secular life-coach. However real spirituality can certainly typically alienate you from the individuals in your life. And it’ll change the way you prioritize the points of your life. You do not attain enlightenment by persevering with to take life the best way you all the time have!

And the enlightened frame of mind, wherein our attachment to our ego-self, and its egocentric loves, has been overcome is actually much less tormented by anxiousness and melancholy. Much less liable to heartache, despair, and bitterness. The exterior world not has the identical energy to inflict melancholy and miserableness on the enlightened thoughts. The expertise of many enlightened people bears ample witness to this truth.

Mr. Horgan then cites a Western Buddhist who admits that his Buddhism could maybe be superfluous, a contact of pointless window dressing on his principally secular humanist worldview. However are we presupposed to conclude that as a result of Buddhism could typically be non secular window dressing that secular Westerners placed on their values it is incapable of being a real-deal type of growth-oriented spirituality? Have all of the religious Asian Buddhists who’ve practiced it in a really non secular spirit (regardless of its metaphysical variations with different world religions) been fooling themselves for the final two-and-a-half millennia? Has it actually simply been a manner of dressing up secular attitudes for them too? Are trendy Western Buddhists too spiritually shallow, or deeply materialistic to adapt Buddhism to their wants with out demoting it to a little bit of phony non secular ornamentation on their lofty ethics? Have they only discovered a brand new manner of being holier-than-thou?

No, to the entire above! What’s true for some is just not true for all. Positive, the Buddhism of some Westerners is a reasonably skinny veneer protecting an primarily humanistic outlook. However that is actually not the case for a lot of others. And in no way the case for many working towards Asian Buddhists. This one is maybe Mr. Horgan’s weakest criticism but. How do I show the depth and sincerity of the spirituality of Buddhists? Simply have a look at the actually non secular manner that so many Buddhists stay. You may know genuine spirituality by its fruits, in any case.

Mr. Horgan’s remaining detrimental statement is about faith generally. In Horgan’s view religions are little greater than perception methods that women and men invent to pander to their very own anthropocentric sense of man’s significance within the grand scheme of the cosmos. In accordance with this sort of cynical considering a faith is simply an ego-boosting worldview wherein the entire universe is meant to be “anthropic”, geared to and revolving round human beings. I quote, “All religions, together with Buddhism, stem from our narcissistic want to imagine that the universe was created for our profit, as a stage for our non secular quests.” Faith is simply manner too broadly besmirched and belittled right here as being merely a mirrored image of our self-centeredness as a species! That is hardly a formidable, not to mention an appreciative understanding of faith.

I’d humbly submit that maybe there is a wee bit extra to faith, and to why people preserve inventing religions. Extra than simply our human bigheadedness. Or our tendency to anthropomorphize, to search for human persona elsewhere in actuality. As a substitute, and on the contrary, possibly faith and spirituality are an outer manifestation of an inside consciousness of our personal depth. An consciousness that our deepest actuality and identification transcends our human narcissism. Maybe faith is definitely man’s ticket past his egoism, to profoundly better depth and self-transcendence.

Horgan additionally thinks that science is way more noble than faith, as a result of science is bravely trustworthy concerning the chilly meaninglessness and scary randomness of existence. As soon as once more, he appears to share the materialistic mindset of an important many trendy scientists, who contemplate science’s blindness to the values inherent in actuality to be an mental advantage. These of us within the “non secular” camp, after all, see science’s blindness to values as extra of a non secular handicap. We must always have compassion then on our radically skeptical sisters and brothers within the sciences, as they’re, in any case, ethically and spiritually-challenged.

Nevertheless, regardless of his scientific materialism, and delicate cynicism, John Horgan is just not one of many bigoted and ignorant critics of Buddhism and different spirituality. He and his criticisms can’t be simply dismissed as anti-Japanese faith, as anti-religion generally, as illiberal or conservative. This is the reason Mr. Horgan’s faultfinding opinions benefit such a prolonged response. Mr. Horgan demonstrates that it is altogether attainable for a contemporary particular person within the Western world to have and open thoughts and nonetheless severely misunderstand sure key “Bulu Perindu Religious Gadgets” ideas and strategies.

One other Western admirer and pupil of Asian inside sciences was Carl Jung. Regardless of his curiosity in “Oriental” thought, Jung held that it is merely inconceivable for Western minds to totally tackle board Japanese religions. Maybe he overestimated the problem of absorbing a philosophy of life imported from an “alien” tradition. But when the truth that a person of goodwill, corresponding to Mr. Horgan, can undertake an exploration of Buddhism and attain a detrimental verdict much like that of Western cultural and spiritual chauvinists is any indication, maybe Jung didn’t actually overestimate by a lot the problem of completely attuning our minds to international philosophies.


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