Monday, May 4, 2009

The Problem with Buddhism

I just discovered this 2003 Slate article by John Horgan: Buddhist Retreat: Why I Gave Up on Finding My Religion. Here are some of the highlights...

"Four years ago, I joined a Buddhist meditation class and began talking to (and reading books by) intellectuals sympathetic to Buddhism. Eventually, and regretfully, I concluded that Buddhism is not much more rational than the Catholicism I lapsed from in my youth." Why?

"The Buddhist doctrine of
anatta...holds that the self is an illusion...our perception of our minds as discrete, unified entities is an illusion foisted upon us by our clever brains..."

"Much more dubious is Buddhism's claim that perceiving yourself as in some sense unreal will make you happier and more compassionate...To someone who sees himself and others as unreal, human suffering and death may appear laughably trivial. This may explain why some Buddhist masters have behaved more like nihilists than saints. Chogyam Trungpa, who helped introduce Tibetan Buddhism to the United States in the 1970s, was a promiscuous drunk and bully, and he died of alcohol-related illness in 1987. Zen lore celebrates the sadistic or masochistic behavior of sages such as Bodhidharma, who is said to have sat in meditation for so long that his legs became gangrenous.

"What's worse, Buddhism holds that enlightenment makes you morally infallible... Even the otherwise sensible James Austin perpetuates this insidious notion. 'Wrong' actions won't arise,' he writes, 'when a brain continues truly to express the self-nature intrinsic to its [transcendent] experiences.' Buddhists infected with this belief can easily excuse their teachers' abusive acts as hallmarks of a "crazy wisdom" that the unenlightened cannot fathom.

"But what troubles me most about Buddhism is its implication that detachment from ordinary life is the surest route to salvation. Buddha's first step toward enlightenment was his abandonment of his wife and child, and Buddhism (like Catholicism) still exalts male monasticism as the epitome of spirituality. It seems legitimate to ask whether a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexuality and parenthood is truly spiritual. From this perspective, the very concept of enlightenment begins to look anti-spiritual: It suggests that life is a problem that can be solved, a cul-de-sac that can be, and should be, escaped."

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