Meditation

Post 9: Finale, Finally; or, A Coda On Looking At Buddhism Relatively

All superstitions proliferate dogmatically, and all dogmatic assertions are by their nature fanatical. The only way to be respectful of Buddhism is to criticize it. Ultimately, there can be no blasphemy if there is no sacrosanct to blaspheme against.

Given the criticisms that I have levied in this series of posts, I have proven my belief that Buddhism is 1) a religion, and 2) guilty of all of all the vice that mortal flesh is heir to. You should join me in that belief.

That being said, I must admit that Buddhism is, for a religion, a remarkable one. Case in point, when I asked the three most educated Buddhism scholars whom I have the distinct pleasure of knowing to read a draft of this series and respond, each responded with kind words and amendments to my specific criticisms.

No doubt this is, in part, symptomatic of the same moral blackmail that I am railing against, and which is so easily summed up by the name of any given Catholic hospital ("Our Lady of Perpetual Suffering Catholic Hospital: where Science saves you, God gets the credit, and The Pope gets the money").

Nonetheless, the willingness of these three dear friends to self-criticize betrays remarkably broad minds and remarkably wide-eyes, especially in comparison to members of other religions.

I do understand that the pull of the religious is often an emotional appeal, and I respect that emotion, even as I identify it as dishonesty.

I do not know what to do with this information (and it certainly does not sway me towards the vain consolations of the superstitious) but know that eight of the ten people whom I regard as the smartest I know would self-describe as either Christians or Buddhists.

 

A lot of people seem unimpressed by the force of my claim that Buddhism, in nearly all its forms, has a dark side. This somewhat shocks me. I think it is a rather forceful one indeed. Maybe I have been especially extravagantly exposed to the casuistry and anti-intellectualism that surrounds non-scholarly Buddhist discussion in The West (specifically in America and Ireland, between which places I live).

But I doubt that very much. My points are modest in what they are trying to prove, or they would be if many people weren't entirely immodest in what they refuse to discuss.

People have made a character judgment of me simply for raising the question of whether The Dalai Lama is driven by the same earthly considerations that any religious leader is, or that Buddhists who are violent are nonetheless Buddhists, or that a psychological urge to retreat into oneself is both a motivating factor for sympathizing with Buddhism and A Bad Thing.

This is the supposed blasphemy I mention in the title of this series. This is the blackmail.

A lesson that I think history has taught us well is that the side which hopes to stop discussion before it begins by questioning the wisdom or the credibility of the speaker, rather than the one which hopes to see that discussion through, is nearly always the side that is lying, and nearly always to itself.

I meditate daily, yet cannot discuss it with many people who do the same, because they think that it is wrong for me to acknowledge that it is a completely neuroscientifically explainable phenomenon, even as I simultaneously maintain that it is often a beautiful and meaningful experience.

So this is all that I really want to say: Instead of discussing Buddhism only in tones of hushed respect, I simply suggest a different tone: Respect tempered by loud and well-argued criticism. If you already do that, then I am not talking to you, but thank you to the many in that category who have read and replied for humoring and honoring me with your time and your broad-mindedness. 

Those who would admonish me for criticizing Buddhism would do well to understand that learning and discussing its history openly and honestly can reduce fanaticism and increase truthfulness, while at the same time no less suggesting respect and intrigue.

In that spirit, after an appropriate amount of time, I will publish one final post in this series, aggregating and responding to the feedback from the posts.

 

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