Is Buddhism Only The Type Connected with Religious Self-Centeredness? Definitely not!
May 11, 2020
A handful of years ago the journalist and creator John Horgan wrote an report about his personalized exploration of Buddhism, and the unfavorable check out of Buddhist practice and philosophy that he had “regretfully” arrived at. Mr. Horgan, who as a author specializes in masking the globe of science, is also effectively-versed on the topic of religious enlightenment, obtaining written an outstanding e-book on what cutting-edge science has to say about the quest for transcendental experiences. Getting study a pair of his books, and possessing a high viewpoint of him as both a author and a particular person, when I lately chanced on his post on Buddhism I was naturally keen to discover what impression he experienced formed.
Even however I will not really wear the label “Buddhist”, my considering and non secular practice has a excellent offer in typical with specific Buddhist colleges of believed. And I’ve usually experienced the optimum regard for focused Buddhist practitioners. So I felt a small unhappy and defensive when I go through some of Mr. Horgan’s essential thoughts. It truly is not that his views, per se, took me by shock. Some of his pet peeves from Buddhism are in fact rather basic criticisms. Criticisms that chauvinistic and racist Western opponents of Japanese religions very first began to voice way back in the late nineteenth century. But Mr. Horgan is not a racist, a cultural imperialist, or a shut-minded fundamentalist sort. The fact that he can nevertheless entertain such vital sights about Buddhism signifies that they need to be taken severely, and thoughtfully tackled by both “card-carrying” Buddhists, and sympathizers this sort of as myself.
To just take on that activity right here, I’ll touch on each of the points he helps make in opposition to Buddhist beliefs and apply, in the order they occur in his article. The very first stage that he helps make is that Buddhism is “functionally theistic”. That the doctrines of karma and reincarnation indicate “the existence of some cosmic decide who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness” to decide our next incarnation.
Even though, personally, I will not subscribe to the doctrine of reincarnation, I uncover this 1st criticism to be reasonably weak. Looking through a perception in a gentleman-upstairs sort of deity into the theories of karma and reincarnation is obviously a end result of our tendency to anthropomorphize, to interpret the impersonal as individual, to believe in terms of humanlike individuals performing as agents behind natural forces and processes. Of course, the tendency to think in conditions of a massive-man-in-the-sky God who micromanages the universe from the outside is also a legacy of two thousand several years of Western spiritual training. Mr. Horgan appears to be subject matter to these two tendencies. But the Buddha, and many Buddhist denominations are certainly not.
What is much more, it basically does not logically and automatically stick to from the idea of karma that there have to be a supernatural “cosmic choose” who tends to make certain that karmic regulation always serves up justice to us. I am not going to go off on a digression listed here, and analyze the considering of wonderful Hindu and Buddhist philosophers who’ve endeavored to describe how karma might possibly work without the micromanagement of a judgmental Jehovah. It will have to suffice listed here to say that some outstanding Jap minds have in simple fact supplied alternate explanations.
So, Buddhists are not in fact guilty of dodging the “theistic implications” of their belief in karma and reincarnation. A Buddhist does not require to be intellectually dishonest with her/himself to avoid these supposed implications. She/he merely demands to subscribe to a single of the alternate explanations.
Mr. Horgan subsequent offhandedly reduces nirvana to the Buddhist counterpart to the Christian Heaven. This is a remarkable reduction, taking into consideration the multitude of obvious distinctions amongst the Buddhist notion of a blissful point out of liberation, and the Western religious hope of “pie in the sky”. Mr. Horgan does mention that we never have to die to enjoy nirvana, but he totally glosses above the rest of the distinction between the two paradises. Webster’s defines heaven as “the dwelling spot of the Deity and the blessed useless”, and “a religious state of eternal communion with God”. Nirvana matches neither definition. It is not a supernatural location or realm, exactly where 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 merely a transcendentally tranquil and contented way of going through truth that we graduate into by diligently training the inner discipline that the Buddha taught. It’s the supreme inner stability, energy, and serenity that outcomes when we entirely emancipate ourselves from our drug-addict-like enslavement to the cravings and calls for of the “ego”. Unnecessary to say, this is not specifically what the Christian church buildings understand by the phrase heaven!
There are, nevertheless, a couple of ways in which nirvana does actually loosely resemble the Christian Heaven. For case in point, like creating it into Heaven, nirvana is an excellent non secular objective to aspire to. And just as we have to be virtuous boys and women to get to heaven, training good ethical conduct is an essential part of the Noble Eightfold Route to nirvana. But this is in which the similarities conclude. There is tiny else to justify dissing nirvana as merely “Buddhism’s variation of heaven”.
Obtaining disparaged the aim of Buddhism by evaluating nirvana to Heaven, Mr. Horgan then proceeds to consider to discredit the psychological self-control Buddhists use to get to their religious objectives. He details up the fact that you will find scientific research that phone calls the positive aspects of meditation into question. He grants that meditation can decrease stress, but emphasizes that it can also occasionally worsen medical melancholy and nervousness.
Sure, meditation is a strong resource, and as is the situation with any electricity device it can result in damage. Especially in the hands of people who have minor coaching in how to correctly use it. But the efficiency of meditation as a indicates to achieving each inner peace and enlightenment is supported by loads of what researchers dismissively get in touch with “anecdotal evidence”. What scientific researchers pooh-pooh as “anecdotal evidence” of the price of meditation is what non-researchers would call remarkable illustrations that go to show that when completed accurately meditation is effectively value any pitfalls that may possibly be concerned.
As for Mr. Horgan’s declare that meditation is no a lot more helpful for lowering anxiety than just sitting down and stilling ourselves, apparently he will not recognize that just sitting and getting nonetheless is the essence of some forms of meditation. And that the stress-minimizing influence of sitting quietly may possibly then, fairly ironically, actually go to prove the price of meditation for our psychological well being.
Mr. Horgan then segues into questioning the religious insights rendered unto Buddhist meditators by their contemplative methods. In specific, he has a problem with the doctrine of anatta. Anatta is the Buddhist view that there is certainly no such metaphysical item as a “soul”. No such point as the individual, sound, central psychological entity referred to as the “self”. Anatta is nothing at all significantly less than the Buddha’s elementary inspiration that the “self” is just a procedure, the ongoing byproduct of the conversation of various psychological activities. As opposed to what is actually referred to as a “homunculus”, a teeny, very small tiny guy in our heads who does all our pondering and experiencing.
Horgan points out that modern mind science does not specifically support the denial of the existence of a self. This is really real. But if we are heading to depend on what science has to say on the subject matter we can not aggressively dispute the doctrine of anatta, both. Due to the fact despite the fact that contemporary cognitive science does not endorse anatta, neither can it currently disprove it.
And, even though science is admittedly often fairly great at what it does, I do not share what seems to be Mr. Horgan’s implicit place, that materialistic science is the only valid way of attaining knowledge of our deepest nature, and of the greatest mother nature of truth. Perhaps for Mr. Horgan it truly is a must that unmystical scientific approaches verify an insight ahead of he will undertake it as his personal. But then this indicates that he willfully harbors a bias, against mysticism and in favor of scientific materialism. A bias that ironically disqualifies him from getting scientifically goal on the entire topic! (BTW, I propose that everybody read Huston Smith’s exceptional ebook on the blatant materialistic bias of modern day science, Why Faith Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief.)
Yes, there is such a thing as scientific dogmatism, even however it’s hypocritically at odds with the supposedly neutral spirit of science. And lamentably this dogmatically scientific mindset has no much more use for the perennial religious insights of Buddhism than it has for some of the outdated theological beliefs of fundamentalist Christians and Islamist extremists. So I for a single am not inclined to reject a bodhic notion just because it hasn’t nevertheless been rubber-stamped by the scientific group.
Horgan then clarifies why he thinks that the doctrine of anatta doesn’t actually make us good Samaritans and citizens. His thinking is that if you will not feel in a self, if you never imagine that individuals have that ole “homunculus” (little man or woman inside their heads) who’s emotion all of their discomfort, then you might be not likely to care about the struggling of other individuals. Though this line of reasoning has the ring of sensible thinking, that ring is not actually extremely strong. Logically talking, that we will not have a central self, that our self is really a process rather than a being, does not make us mere illusions, whose suffering does not subject! Pies And Quiches would point out to Mr. Horgan that his reasoning is each “invalid”, and “unsound”.
And contrary to what Mr. Horgan’s reasoning would lead us to assume, one of the chief moral values of Buddhism has of system constantly been compassion. Certain, Buddhist societies and practitioners have not constantly lived up to the Buddhist emphasis on compassion, just as Christians have not often practiced some of the noble morals they preach. But is this failure of Buddhists to entirely actualize their popular compassion thanks mainly to the doctrine of anatta, or far more to the basic trouble that humans have regularly residing up to their greatest moral ideals? At any price, undoubtedly no Buddhist sect has ever actually taken the situation that since we don’t have a self or soul compassion is unnecessary. In the actual entire world, and in the historical past of the Buddhist faith, the idea of anatta basically does not perform in the harmful, compassion-undermining way that Mr. Horgan logically fears.
Horgan also thinks that Buddhist enlightenment is morally dangerous because it places enlightened folks on a moral pedestal, above distinctions between proper and incorrect. He fears that you will find a true risk that individuals who fancy on their own to be enlightened will shed the feeling of appropriate and mistaken completely. That they will appear to feel that they are ethically infallible, that they genuinely can do no wrong simply because they are so darn enlightened. And that they will commence to operate accordingly. He cites a pair of examples of Buddhists behaving badly, these kinds of as the alcoholism of the Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa, and the “masochistic actions” of Bodhidharma.
Ok, possibly some “enlightened” Buddhist masters were not fairly properly enlightened, possibly they nonetheless experienced from sufficient egoism for their “enlightenment” to give them a swelled head. Maybe this is a real pitfall of the quest for enlightenment. One that we must cautiously guard from. But does it invalidate the quite notion of enlightenment? Does it really comply with that there is no reputable enlightenment to be attained by training the Buddhist path? Since not all reportedly enlightened people have been excellent, does this mean that enlightenment is a lie? As soon as again, the logic of the critics of Buddhism and religion is not as great as they’d like to feel.
Mr. Horgan also has his concerns with the Buddhist path’s emphasis on intense renunciation and detachment. He even criticizes the Buddha himself for coldly deserting his loved ones (glossing more than the tiny truth that the Buddha was a prince who left his spouse and kid in the lap of luxury, not in a skid row homeless shelter!). Horgan thinks that reckoning the self to be a fiction, and cultivating nonattachment from specific facets of the self’s experience, is not actually conducive to higher pleasure, and is really “anti-non secular”.
If this had been correct, then I suppose that Jesus Christ, who told wannabee disciples that they required to totally free by themselves of all their worldly prosperity, and their attachment to their households, was not really religious possibly? He certainly isn’t going to come off sounding like a “loved ones values” oriented kind of religious existence-mentor. But authentic spirituality can certainly occasionally alienate you from the people in your lifestyle. And it will adjust how you prioritize the elements of your existence. You never achieve enlightenment by continuing to consider life the way you always have!
And the enlightened condition of mind, in which our attachment to our moi-self, and its egocentric enjoys, has been conquer is definitely significantly less plagued by anxiousness and depression. Significantly less prone to heartache, despair, and bitterness. The external entire world no for a longer time has the exact same energy to inflict melancholy and miserableness on the enlightened head. The expertise of a lot of enlightened individuals bears sufficient witness to this fact.
Mr. Horgan then cites a Western Buddhist who admits that his Buddhism may probably be superfluous, a contact of pointless window dressing on his fundamentally secular humanist worldview. But are we meant to conclude that due to the fact Buddhism could at times be spiritual window dressing that secular Westerners set on their values it really is incapable of getting a genuine-offer sort of progress-oriented spirituality? Have all the devout Asian Buddhists who’ve practiced it in a genuinely spiritual spirit (in spite of its metaphysical distinctions with other entire world religions) been fooling themselves for the final two-and-a-fifty percent millennia? Has it truly just been a way of dressing up secular attitudes for them as well? Are modern Western Buddhists as well spiritually shallow, or deeply materialistic to adapt Buddhism to their wants with no demoting it to a little bit of phony religious ornamentation on their lofty ethics? Have they just located a new way of becoming holier-than-thou?
No, to all of the previously mentioned! What is correct for some is not true for all. Sure, the Buddhism of some Westerners is a fairly thin veneer covering an primarily humanistic outlook. But this is definitely not the situation for a lot of other people. And not at all the case for most working towards Asian Buddhists. This a single is maybe Mr. Horgan’s weakest criticism yet. How do I demonstrate the depth and sincerity of the spirituality of Buddhists? Just seem at the genuinely non secular way that so numerous Buddhists dwell. You can know genuine spirituality by its fruits, after all.
Mr. Horgan’s final adverse observation is about faith in standard. In Horgan’s check out religions are minor a lot more than perception programs that gentlemen and females invent to pander to their personal anthropocentric perception of man’s significance in the grand plan of the cosmos. According to this sort of cynical considering a faith is just an ego-boosting worldview in which the whole universe is supposed to be “anthropic”, geared to and revolving around human beings. I quote, “All religions, including Buddhism, stem from our narcissistic would like to feel that the universe was designed for our advantage, as a stage for our spiritual quests.” Faith is just way also broadly besmirched and belittled listed here as getting basically a reflection of our self-centeredness as a species! This is barely an extraordinary, permit alone an appreciative comprehension of religion.
I would humbly submit that possibly there is a wee bit a lot more to religion, and to why individuals preserve inventing religions. A lot more than just our human bigheadedness. Or our inclination to anthropomorphize, to search for human persona in other places in actuality. Rather, and to the contrary, possibly religion and spirituality are an outer manifestation of an inner recognition of our personal depth. An recognition that our deepest truth and id transcends our human narcissism. Perhaps religion is really man’s ticket outside of his egoism, to profoundly better depth and self-transcendence.
Horgan also thinks that science is significantly far more noble than faith, since science is bravely trustworthy about the chilly meaninglessness and scary randomness of existence. After again, he would seem to share the materialistic state of mind of a fantastic several modern day experts, who consider science’s blindness to the values inherent in truth to be an intellectual virtue. Those of us in the “religious” camp, of program, see science’s blindness to values as far more of a religious handicap. We should have compassion then on our radically skeptical sisters and brothers in the sciences, as they are, following all, ethically and spiritually-challenged.
Nevertheless, in spite of his scientific materialism, and delicate cynicism, John Horgan is not one of the bigoted and ignorant critics of Buddhism and alternative spirituality. He and his criticisms can’t be effortlessly dismissed as anti-Japanese religion, as anti-faith in common, as intolerant or conservative. This is why Mr. Horgan’s faultfinding viewpoints advantage these kinds of a lengthy response. Mr. Horgan demonstrates that it’s entirely possible for a modern day man or woman in the Western globe to have a good and open up mind and nevertheless significantly misunderstand specified essential “Jap” religious principles and tactics.
Yet another Western admirer and scholar of Asian internal sciences was Carl Jung. Despite his fascination in “Oriental” thought, Jung held that it truly is just impossible for Western minds to totally just take on board Eastern religions. Maybe he overestimated the difficulty of absorbing a philosophy of existence imported from an “alien” tradition. But if the fact that a male of goodwill, this kind of as Mr. Horgan, can undertake an exploration of Buddhism and get to a adverse verdict comparable to that of Western cultural and religious chauvinists is any indicator, possibly Jung did not actually overestimate by a lot the trouble of flawlessly attuning our minds to foreign philosophies.
It does look that Japanese suggestions constantly both get misinterpreted or thoroughly reinterpreted by Europeans and Individuals. Effectively, when you consider a perception out of its original cultural context it really is likely to endure some change. This is just unavoidable, and not always a fully negative factor, of program. But often it does guide to the misuse and abuse of “exotic” religious beliefs.
To give a reverse case in point of what I suggest, in nineteenth century China an Easterner named Hong Xiuquan twisted some “unique” Western beliefs that he had uncovered from Christian missionaries, and released an insurrection that could have cost much more than 20 million life! Admittedly, an intense case in point. But it demonstrates that transplanting beliefs is a difficult proposition. Transplanted beliefs can at times be downright dangerous to our physical and religious nicely-currently being. To the diploma that even progressive intellectuals, this kind of as John Horgan, turn from them. This is some thing of a tragedy, because these kinds of people, who are on the cusp of social and spiritual enlightenment, could potentially support humanity make excellent strides in its ongoing evolution. If they experienced not been soured on spirituality by some of its unfortunate distortions, that is.