Post 1: Introduction on Buddhism as The Sacred and The Profane

Introducing Buddhism, Blasphemy, and Blackmail


Disillusioned words like bullets bark,
As human gods aim for their marks,
Made everything from toy guns that sparks,
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark,
It's easy to see without looking too far,
That not much, Is really sacred.

-Bob Dylan, from "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

Last week both Burma and Sri Lanka, in a hysterical and dictatorial move, banned issues of Time Magazine's July 1st issue, which has as its cover story "The Face of Buddhist Terror" by Hannah Beech. The article highlighted the recent rise U Wirathu, a horrifying, sneering Buddhist monk who's uses his leader status to instill and galvanize violent hatred of Muslims.

Simultaneously, while spending time together over the 4th of July weekend, my extended family got into a discussion of reincarnation. It turns out that a few out of the bunch are sympathetic to the ideas of an ancient or Eastern solution to some of life's so-called "big questions." And so it came up that the doctrine of reincarnation, particularly the Buddhist conception of such, seemed more than credible to a few of us.

Further, the superiority of Buddhists in terms of mental and spiritual "enlightenment" and the fundamental goodness of the faith were a foregone conclusion.

When I spoke up to challenge the reincarnation doctrine, on philosophical grounds (which grounds will be discussed below) I was reproached as if I had just simultaneously kicked a puppy and blasphemed against a true religion.

This terrified me, but it didn't surprise me. I have grown accustomed to a familiar script playing out if I try to have a discussion that is even lightly critical of Buddhism. This sinister verbal Jiu-Jitsu clouds the issues and obscures the truth.

So, I can't bring myself to swallow the bitter pill of twisted words when I hear Buddhists claiming that their beliefs are wholly scientific, or that their Buddhist philosophy is simply a methodology or a metaphor.

Out of this, I feel strongly that I must fight against the claims that I have often heard from my Western Buddhist and non-Buddhist compatriots, who, through insisting on a series of vagaries and leveraging a sort of ethical catch-22, elevate Buddhism to a level above criticism and reproach.

To carry out this fight, I have prepared a ten part series listing the fallacies and the uncomfortably familiar moral blackmail regarding Buddhism which I think are particularly pernicious in "The West." Over the course of the series, I will address the what I believe to be the particular problematic examples in the cultural discussion about Buddhism.

I will break this analysis into sections based around the themes of: Buddhist history, current events, linguistics, the words and actions of The Dalai Lama, the superstitious belief in reincarnation, philosophy, and the relative status of Buddhism to other religions.

Here goes...

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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