Nerds and Buddhism

Originally posted on Essays in Idleness:

The Buddha's First Sermon

(Sometimes it’s just better to be quiet and listen…)

Recently I had a small epiphany about Buddhist “culture” in the West, especially convert (non-Asian) Buddhists.

Buddhist communities online and some communities I’ve seen in person remind me a lot of Star Trek conventions or UNIX system-administrator meeting: You meet a lot of white, nerdy, type-A, obsessive people who argue and debate petty intellectual stuff, and some of them have big egos. I work in a large, global IT company so I work with nerdy, type-A, obsessive people daily. When they argue about network security, or other computer discussions, it reminds me of the same discussions I see online discussing Zen Buddhism or just arguing on Wikipedia. It’s the same people.

Being a fellow white nerd, who spends his days blogging about Japanese waka poetry, this was all perfectly normal until I changed departments and started working with lots of…

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Getting Back to Buddhist Basics

Originally posted on Essays in Idleness:

Shakyamuni and the 500 Arahants

After recent encounters, I took a break from Buddhist stuff for a long while (that, and I was super busy with work lately). I was somehow burned out from my last visit to a temple, and just needed time away.

Then I got some encouragement from an unlikely place. My daughter goes to a Japanese preschool every Thursday afternoon,1 and the teacher is very creative and makes all of her own teaching material. The teacher made some pretend monsters with special powers, like in popular card-trading games. Some of these “powers” are silly, some are helpful. One character was a Buddha-like character who’s special power was that he didn’t move. He listens to people, but doesn’t do anything.

I found that character kind of inspiring actually. It reminded me that Buddhism isn’t about superstition, favorable rebirth, good fortune, etc. Yes, that is a part of Buddhist culture, but…

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I am now officially an Atheist… Apparently

Or so say a few family members. Let’s dig into this particular path of reasoning, shall we?

For the record, my family is Buddhist.

I don’t enjoy going to temple. Nothing wrong with the temple or the monks or anything with the atmosphere.  In fact the monks were more than kind and inviting and were very sympathetic to my situation. I just despise the people going to temple with me. Which I do know, also goes against Buddhist principle.

The Buddhist temple I go to (I would rather not disclose a specific name) in New York is frequented by ugliest, most petty, jealous, busybody and wretched creatures I’ve ever had the displeasure of encountering. Oh they look wonderful on the outside. But on the inside, they’re as putrid as rotting corpses. Many of them are also fellow Sri Lankans (I somehow doubt this is a coincidence).

As one monk put it succinctly. “If they insist on sinning here, they might as well stay home.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Now I have an, admittedly, terrible flaw where I rarely succeed at preserving someone’s feelings when it comes to pointing out an obvious error upon request for correction. I was asked to say “what’s wrong”. When I replied, I could have sworn, I turned into Hitler incarnate. Or so it would have seemed at the expressions I was getting. I am by far the perfect Buddhist, but I do make a point to be as honest as possible. Sometimes I may, unintentionally, be rude. But I’m trying, damn it!

When being asked the question “is she married to an American” (which, incidentally, has no bearing whatsoever on what we were there to do), pointing out that “marriage to one’s own race isn’t a prerequisite in Buddhism” shouldn’t evoke such hatred. It was a perfectly reasonable and restrained response. Or so I thought.

Well this bear trap eventually got into a theological discussion that culminated with the following statement. “You’re an Atheist!”

I’d like to evaluate this assumption.

a·the·ist [ey-thee-ist] – noun
A person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.

In that regard, I’m technically an atheist as I count on myself for everything. But we all know this label isn’t applied technically. It’s a blanket label for anyone who rejects the supernatural, based on lack of evidence, in everyday use. Well then, I’m obviously not an atheist as I believe in such ridiculous notions as reincarnation and karma (at least from an atheist’s perspective). But why is it considered such a stigma? Why has it become an insult?

Fear.

Fear of truth, fear of those who search for the truth, and fear of those who reject anything based on flimsy or contrived evidence. The latter sends chills down the spine of religious adherents because it implies everything they belive may be all for naught.

So?

I have not now or ever taken much of anything at face value. I didn’t become Buddhist (or rather reaffirmed my moral center and philosophical doctrine) because of stories of the Buddha, of his followers or those who follow the same path. I’m a Buddhist because of the lessons in those stories.

Lord Buddha lived 2500 years ago. Of course his words would have been tampered with, as would have happened to many other religious or philosophical teachers in antiquity. It’s entirely possible that everything that has ever been written about him and his teachings are false. If that’s the case, then one must shed all of those teachings for true Buddhism does not fear truth. This is, however, unlikely as most of Buddhism is based on grounded sense and objective reasoning rather than specific doctrine.

That came later with the creation of different sects.

As the old saying goes :

If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha
- Rinzai

The moral isn’t to commit or condone murder, but to remind us that enlightenment comes from within. Not without. Doctrine and scripture mean nothing. They are just words. What matters are the lessons carried within those words. The ultimate goal of any Buddhist is the attainment of truth in regard to the nature of existence. Once we “get it”, we will know how to correct all other aspects of our lives and need not return here. That is the nature of Enlightenment.

Now, back to the “atheist” epithet. This was all due to the mere rejection of a completely arbitrary and unfounded basis for relationships and hypocrisy combined with ignorance of a staggering level considering the age we live in. Something that deeply hurts us to a degree yet to be defined and, I believe, contributes to the conflict taking place in Sri Lanka to this day.

I think the term she should have used is “Apatheist“. As in, I really don’t care as it has no bearing on what it should mean to a Buddhist. Rejection of stupidity or silliness doesn’t necessarily make one an atheist.

Belief in reincarnation or karma doesn’t necessarily make one a Buddhist either.

Update 09/18/08

I found more evidence that online “assessments” are woefully inaccurate and, in the end, pointless.


You are an Atheist


When it comes to religion, you’re a non-believer (simple as that).
You prefer to think about what’s known and proven.
You don’t need religion to solve life’s problems.
Instead, you tend to work things out with logic and philosophy.

The Case Against Buddhism

Warning, will contain foul language and not for the thin skinned.

I had a good chuckle at it. Obviously, he had certain points mixed up, but I thought it was a good effort at explaining some of our own shortcomings.

Note to all Buddhists :
Don’t get offended or injured when someone criticises your beliefs or attacks any of your positions regardless of severity.  Forgive them and move on. If possible, try to educate them in a calm and well collected manner. Do not respond the same way his critics did. It reflects very poorly on our character.

We should find better ways to explain our beliefs or stay silent if unable. Above all else, remember we’re imperfect as well. Before correcting others, correct yourself. You might even learn a thing or two from your critics so don’t dismiss it all out of hand.

Try not to take yourself too seriously, or you’ll pull a muscle ;)

R.I.P Buddhism

Now it’s nothing but a fashion statement. It was good for the last 2500 or so years, but like all things adopted that early, it has become corrupted and mutilated into perverted rhetoric, mindless repetition, and blind faith. Not to mention a damn-good way to prove you’re “cultured”, since all true “cultured” individuals need to show everyone else their acquired culture (because they have none of their own) or it doesn’t count.

At least it isn’t alone in the commercialized knick-knack and other hippie stores. I’m sure the Buddha would be pleased, if he were here, that his image is being adorned at the end of the dining tables as glorified furniture. The man did nothing but preach the futility of adornments while he was alive.  I’m against the notion of image worship entirely, but I don’t mind a Buddha statue being where it belongs. In a bloody temple!

I can understand someone wanting to show their respects for giving them a new outlook and purpose in life, after all, Buddhist principles gave me a new outlook in life and I am grateful. But I don’t mean the worship Nazis who insist on prayer as a daily ritual (who, have no idea what they’re talking about, but do it anyway because that’s how it’s always been), I mean the people who live their lives putting up the extra effort of not being an ass.  Next time you feel like bowing for prayer, please take it outside.

And then, of course, are the Richard Gere types who, bless their hearts (har har), have decided to embrace it and managed to completely miss the point. 

Man, I hate hippies!

Buddhism has been turned into a bona-fide religion. And like all religions, it has a nasty tendency to creep into the very core of established civilization. Like, oh I don’t know… politics? What do monks and priests have to do with politics? What do they have to do with commerce? I find the whole notion that monks can advance through political connections to be disgusting and quite insidious. And it proves my point that Buddhism has become corrupted and turned into blind rhetoric.

Governing with Buddhist principles is one thing, but to be called a “Buddhist nation” is very dangerous. And in many aspects, no different than being labeled a “Christian nation” or “Muslim nation”. The whole concept of a religious nation, whatever religion that may be, is both terrifying and futile in the end. It stifles new ideas and prevents self-correction and thought evolution.

Last I checked adaptation, keeping what is useful and rejecting what isn’t, was a Buddhist principle. It’s wonderful principle to be used in Government and “culture”. But it should never become law or fashion. It should be accepted because it makes sense. Not because I, your parents, your teachers or anyone else, said so. And especially not for “culture”: That concept in itself is subjective.

Accept it, if it makes sense (think hard). Reject it, if it doesn’t (again, think hard).  Act when necessary, think practically, be aware and in control of your thought process, and do no harm. That’s all it takes to become a Buddhist. No extraneous nonsense required.

Update : 3:08 pm

This post has mysteriously disappeared off of the Buddhism tag index. Well, at least the hippies don’t seem to mind.

I didn’t realize the censorship sword was so sharp, here on WordPress.