Monday, December 8, 2008

Why Buddhism isn't sitting quite right with me

Mr. Trombley has been educating me in the ways of Buddhism and it sparked me to have a look around to see what else I can find. It does seem like a branch of the whole self-help thing pulls a lot from Buddhism and I'm beginning to think that it's those elements that just aren't sitting quite right with me.

Attachment leads to suffering. Or so the enlightened might tell me.

But what the hell is the point if you aren't attached to anything? Or anyone? Remove all attachments and you're just waiting for death (as well as being a Billy-No-Mates). That won't be long too if you remove your attachment to food and water.

Or is it okay to be attached to those things?

Let's have a look at the Four Noble Truths according to Buddhism from the Big View site. There are many other places you can find these but they seem to amount to the same thing.

1. Life means suffering.

And I thought I was negative.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

Okay, well there's a bit of sense here. If you are attached to something, not having it or losing it will lead to suffering. But... then having it will lead to pleasure. Satisfaction. So this is being a bit 'glass half empty' about it. A bit negative.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

Well that's more like it! A bit of positivity. Let's move forward and see what we can do to end suffering. Oh, you end suffering by "attaining dispassion". Yeah, dispassion. Apparently that gives you "freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas". Well, I like ideas for one thing but it also gives you freedom from fun, love, creativity and, by definition, passion. You know, like slipping into a coma. Coma patients have achieved this third point. Should those of us still awake, still alive, strive for "dispassion"?

4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

This point just seems to be a more long-winded version of point 3. Could have really wrapped it up in 3 points. The Three Noble Truths - that doesn't sound too bad, does it? But, in this, we have the word "progress", like striving for the coma-patient ideal is a positive move forward. Having evolved from single cell beings who seem to me to have achieved all of this already, I can't help thinking of it as a bit of a step backwards.

Yeah, this Buddhism thing just isn't for me.

It really sounds like somebody just got really down one day and wallowed in their misery for a bit too long. Like a teenager sitting in a dark room. Nobody loves me, so I'm going to shut myself away from the world and listen to Morrissey, as it would have been in my day. If I feel nothing, nobody can hurt me.

I would call that being ruled by fear. And those four (well, three) Noble Truths seem to be motivated by fear too: fear of suffering.

So I think my response to the Four Noble Truths has to be -

Cheer up, mate. It might never happen, eh?


Toole said...

All the pre Jewish religions are about composing yourself for your inevitable death in an unchanging cyclical universe.

Andy Latham said...

In my opinion, all these self-help things (and religions such as Buddhism) are looking for an ideal that just isn't there and cannot be there.

Wanting world-wide happiness is like wanting everyone in the world to be rich...impossible. In theory it might be possible for everyone to be of equal wealth, but that will give us all just enough money to get by, which is akin to us all being just content enough to not want to kill ourselves, but not neccessarily happy.

In reality we all fall in a statistical distribution of happiness, just as we do with, say, height. Most people will not fall too far from the average level of happiness, but some will be thoroughly depressed and some will be extatically happy.

Red Pill Junkie said...

Once upon a time, I was something of a troll in a Catholic discussion blog—you know, the annoying one defending the rights of gays to attend the seminar—there I found a very intelligent poster who before converting to Catholicism was a Buddhist. I was fascinated by this because it kind of went against the usual spiritual 'rebooting' of most folks —i.e. going from judeo-christian to New Age or Eastern traditions.

When I asked him why he decided to quit Buddhism, he told me that he realized there was a big paradox in the whole 'striving to leave all attachments and desires': that this striving was in itself... a desire!

Having said that, I think there are many great things to recover from Buddhism, like the idea that life is an illusion—a vision our modern Science has been confirming again and again!

I once read a book called 'The Key', written by Whitley Strieber —yes, he of anal-probe fame— in it there was a very interesting phrase:

'The christian seeks God, the muslim bends his will to God, the buddhist finds God'

I found it interesting because it may be a good idea to pick what's valuable about these 3 traditions, but not mind you, in the usual egotistical New Age custom.

Like I said, the idea would be to stop looking for the God outside, but start looking at God within; that of course goes counter to people who detach themselves from the suffering of the world, either by meditation, drugs or hiding in the desert like the hermits of gnostic tradition.

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir,

If I am not incorrect, then the Buddha would respond that the pleasure you receive from material things is false pleasure.

Upon further review, nowhere does it state that the suffering will necessarily be happening to you. Perhaps the Buddha meant possessiveness causes suffering in a larger sense.

I completely failed to mention the very important point that the Buddha always meant a middle of the road solution. In fact, Buddhist scholar Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai translates the "Eightfold Path" as "The Middle Way".

Of course, you aren't completely inaccurate in your observations on the depressing nature of Buddhism. Schopenhauer would agree (though he would include it as a positve), as would G.K. Chesterton. Considering Chesterton and Schopenhauer would not agree on much, this alone is a powerful argument in your favor.

Incidentally, what makes you think that homeless man is friendless?

One more thing, someone once told me that my favorite detective Columbo was very popular in Britain. Can you confirm or deny this?

Bitter Animator said...

Oh, I know he has no friends - I drew him that way.

Yes, Columbo was certainly very popular over here. Especially that one with Leonard Nimoy. But they were all pretty popular. Who wouldn't love Columbo?

On the Buddha's response, if he is to judge what is real pleasure and what is false pleasure, I'd have to ask: what's pleasure?

Red Pill Junkie said...

"what's pleasure?"

That is an excellent question.

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir,

I apologize, I thought it was more clear.

False pleasure is impermanent and ultimately brings more suffering to the world.

Real pleasure is permanent and does not bring suffering to anyone in any sense.

dermot said...

Well, hinduism does deal with the paradox of desire for no desire being a desire. There is the idea of "detachment", which is critical to achieving this state.

Watch this clip from the Peter Brooks adaptation of "The Mahabharata", where Krishna teaches Arjuna how to do this - without withdrawing from the world:

Red Pill Junkie said...


Wow! that was a great clip, unfortunately right now I neither have the peace of mind nor the time to reflect upon what Krishna was trying to teach Arjuna.

Although I do feel that yogic 'detachment' is very similar to something CastaƱeda wrote about in his books: the idea of 'controlled folly', which lets you act but have dispassion about the outcomes of your actions. Something CastaƱeda might have borrowed from both the Mahabharata and Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Once a warrior has made the decision to go into battle, he must wait for the right moment to charge, and once he has recognized the moment he must give into the fight with all his energy not caring about the outcome.

However, now we have another problem: how to recognize that we are doing the right thing in the fist place; maybe a lot of SS guards had a sense of cold dispassion about the brutal job they were doing in the concentration camps, they were soldiers following orders from a higher authority, weren't they?

Should we discuss the concept of 'Natural Law' then?