10 questions about Buddhism

Ten questions about Buddhism from christiananswers.net, and what comes up for me around it…

  1. If there is no personal God, and if one can attain nirvana only as a result of the destruction of thirst (tanha) / desire, therefore the destruction of attachment, therefore the destruction of existence–from whence, do you suppose, did personality (or even the sense of personality) ever come? Exactly what is it, and where does it go when one ceases to exist?
    • All of these questions is something we each have to explore for ourselves, in what is here now.
    • What I find for myself is that a sense of I and Other comes from beliefs (rigid identification with stories and identities, and a disowning of the truth of their reversals), and this is what creates a sense of a separate self, and of separation, which – for all its juiciness and wonderful gifts – in turn brings a sense of something missing and of dissatisfaction.
    • The human self and its personality does not really have much to do with all of this, apart from being something that we conveniently anchor this sense of a separate self in. It is an intrinsic part of the world of form, as long as it is around, inherently and already absent of an I with an Other.
    • Of course, we can also talk about a soul level, often experienced as an alive presence, which can pass from human form to human form through death and birth, and while the first part of it (ourselves as alive presence) is something we can notice here and now, the second part is more speculative and comes from a story.
  2. Without a personal God, on what basis can there ever exist any human moral standard or ethic–and therefore, in what sense do you mean for us to understand the terms noble and truth, i.e. The Four Noble Truths, or the term right in the eight-fold path of right views, resolve, speech, conduct, occupation, efforts, awareness, and meditation?
    • Good question! It is one that has many layers to it, and probably continues to unfold as we explore it through life.
    • No story has an absolute truth to it. It is always limited, and have a temporary, practical and pragmatic value only. It is a tool for our human self to function and operate in the world.
    • At the same time, when we bring in the heart, we naturally want to support life. This human self is part of life, and as it matures our circles of care, concern and compassion tends to widen to include more and more of life, until nothing and no-one is left out. And this heart is our guidance, telling us which stories and which actions in the world are most likely to support life, based on whatever experience and practical wisdom we may have gained through our life so far.
    • Since our heart is not always so open or available, it is good to have some more formal guidelines as well, such as the golden rule, the ten commandment, the various Buddhist precepts, and so on. There is no absolute truth in any of them, but they do have an important practical function in reducing suffering and increasing the likelihood of happiness for ourselves and others.
    • The four noble truths are also relative truths, since they are expressed in the form of stories, and they are noble because they reflect a direct insight that comes through awakening, and can also guide us towards that awakening. (When this awakeness here now awakens to itself, and thoughts are seen as just thoughts.)
    • The eight paths of the eightfold path are similarly right in a limited and practical sense. If you want to awaken, then they are useful guidelines to follow. If not, then they are not right for you. It all depends on your goals and motivation.
  3. If your teaching, which came on the scene in the sixth century B.C., alone represents truth and liberation–what provision was there for the millions who lived previous to the advent of your enlightenment and teaching? Why do you suppose that you, of all humankind, were the one to come on this insight when you did?
    • I don’t see Buddhism as alone representing truth and liberation. On the contrary, people from a wide range of traditions and cultures have expressed similar insights as those expressed in Buddhism, including many Christian saints and mystics. If Buddhism points to anything that is real and available to be discovered, then it is available to anyone independent of tradition or culture. There is no need to adhere to Buddhism to notice these things, Buddhism is just one of many collections of pointers and practices that can help you notice it for yourself.
  4. If, as you are reported to have said, nirvana is “beyond…good and evil”, then, in the ultimate sense, there is really no difference between Hitler and Mother Theresa, or between helping an old lady across the street and running her down–correct?
    • One answer is: yes, that is true. It is all expressions of life, of existence, of the world of form, which is inherently free from stories of good and bad, right and wrong, and so on.
    • The other, more practical, answer is: wrong, that is a misconception. In our daily life, it makes a big difference if you support or take life. It makes a big practical difference. One leads to suffering for yourself and others, and the other leads to alleviation of suffering and maybe even some happiness.
    • When the ultimate answer is realized in immediate awareness, it is liberation. But if it is merely believed in at the story level and used to justify actions, it becomes poison. That’s why ethics are so strongly emphasized in Buddhism, to prevent those confusions.
    • The ultimate answer is something we each can discover for ourselves, and it then becomes a new context for the more practical answer. And the practical answer stays the same whether we have realized the ultimate answer or not.
  5. Thich Nhat Hanh, bodhisattva (holy man) and author of Living Buddha, Living Christ © 1995 by Riverhead Books, attempts to homogenize Buddhism and Christianity. Though you never knew of Jesus Christ, it would seem that you too might suggest that one could conceivably be a “Christian Buddhist”. Yet how could that ever be possible given Christianity’s categorical differences with Buddhism on matters like the nature of sin, reincarnation, and salvation–to name just a few. Jesus claimed to be the Truth. The Christian Scripture says that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

    • See another post on this topic.
    • It all depends on what aspects of the different traditions we emphasize.
    • If we take the typical theology of Christianity as our base, then we cannot combine the two, apart from maybe using some insights and practices from Buddhism as practical tools within a mainly Christian life. (Which can be very helpful for some people.)
    • If we take the Buddhist philosophy as our base, then Christ is seen as an awakened one, a Buddha, and we look beyond the theology to find shared insights and expressions of awakening. As in the previous example, we can also find insights and practices from Christianity very helpful within a mainly Buddhist context.
    • And we can also look at the insights of the mystics of Christianity, and find a close alignment between what they describe and express and what Buddhist teachers describe and express. At the mystical level, there is a difference in flavor, but a description of what looks like the same.
  6. How do you feel about the many variations of your teaching that have evolved down through the years? Please comment on Theravada (38%), Mahayana (56%), Tantrism or Vajranaya, Tibetan (6%; Dalai Lama), and Zen Buddhism?
    • I find it to be a beautiful diversity, formed by time and culture and what is appropriate to people in different cultures and different times. Buddhism is often described as similar to water: it can be poured into any vessel (culture, circumstances), and take the form of the vessel.
    • I have personally benefited greatly from insights and practices from Varjayana, Zen and Theravada traditions.
  7. Chuck Stanford says: “Like cloudy water, our minds are basically pure and clear, but sometimes they become cloudy from the storms of discursive thoughts. Just like water, if we let our minds sit undisturbed the mud and muck will eventually settle to the bottom. Once this happens we can begin to get in touch with our basic goodness. It is through this basic goodness that the Buddha discovered that we can lead sane lives.” But, Mr. Gautama, what if you are wrong about our being basically good? The Bible says that we’re conceived in sin. What if there is a personal God to whom we will all one day answer? What if your enlightenment (awakening) was really only a dream?
    • There are many possible answers to this.
    • One that made sense to me in my childhood (long before I got interested in Buddhism), and still does, is that to me, the main part is to live a life that supports life. If God has any problem with that, then too bad 🙂
    • Another answer, which only makes sense within a certain context, is that an awakening is to our timeless nature, which contains space & time and the world of form, and this world of form is no other than our timeless nature. Here, sin is seen as just an idea overlaid on this field of awakeness and form. But, as I said, this only makes sense when it is realized, and it is not meant as an argument at the level of stories.
  8. In the film Beyond Rangoon Laura’s guide says that the (Buddhist) Burmese expect suffering, not happiness. When happiness comes, it is to be enjoyed as a gift, but with the awareness that it will soon certainly pass. If the ultimate Buddhist hope is to just leave the present wheel of birth and rebirth and enter into the ineffable bliss of Nirvana, where is the motivation to do good, and to actively oppose injustice, in this present life?
    • Well, these days the Burmese monks certainly demonstrate a strong motivation to oppose injustice, in an active and engaged way, even to the point of sacrificing ones life for it.
    • The two are not opposed, and are, in a sense, intimately linked. The “escape” is only an escape from blind and unquestioned beliefs and identities, and actually allows for a more full and juicy embrace of our life, including opposing injustice when the situation calls for it. (See other posts for more on this topic.)
  9. How do we reconcile the Dalai Lama’s observation that “Every human being has the potential to create happiness”, with your own teaching that suffering is caused by desire? If one sets out to resist desire, why would one ever then entertain the desire for happiness, and thus work to create it?
    • Good question, again!
    • Teachings are aimed at different levels, and sometimes seem contradictory.
    • Also, Buddhism talks about the desire for awakening, and happiness and release from suffering, as the golden chain. It is still a chain (a desire coming from a mistaken identification), but it is a chain that can lead to a release from this chain.
  10. Personal Trivia: Did you really sit under that bo tree for seven full days–without ever eating any figs? Did your remarkably sensitive, compassionate, nature come more from your mother or father? How did your son, left to grow up without a father, feel about your “Great Renunciation”?
    • Well, I didn’t. But I can imagine into his situation.
    • One thing I imagine is that his family probably didn’t like it very much, and that Gautama Buddha felt a great deal of tenderness for his family because of it. It may even have been one of his motivations for deepen into his practice, and later his teaching. He would probably, I imagine, have been very open about this and not tried to explain it away. Sometimes we have to make hard decisions, and others would have chosen differently.
    • Btw: There seems to be a parallel with Jesus here. Didn’t he even encourage his disciples to leave his families behind? (Fortunately, this is not a requirement for neither Buddhist nor Christians today, unless we commit to a lengthy solitary practice.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.