Some people consider Buddhism a religion. I don’t. I consider Buddism a perspective or a contextual reference, a framework within which one can try to understand one’s relationship with the world in which one lives.
I’ve struggled to understand why I find Buddhism so attractive, especially in light of the fact that I lack belief in a supreme being. I readily admit a bias that is anti-religion (though I try to tolerate religion and those who embrace religion) and anti-spiritual, though I sometimes wonder whether it’s simply my understanding of what others call spirituality that I find offensive. Buddhism, though, does not require me to accept a deity. In fact, Buddism does not require me to accept anything. Buddhism is simply a way of interpreting the world around me. It’s a cause-and-effect interpretation that I find, in many respects, quite attractive.
Buddhism requires nothing of me. It simply offers a framework for understanding the world. The more I read about Buddhism and the more I think about the context it provides for those who understand its simple foundation, the more I appreciate it. Though I do not accept in any literal sense many of the concepts of rebirth that some people equate with Buddhism, I finally have come to understand the idea that every beginning leads to an inevitable end and every end leads to an inevitable beginning. Life has a beginning and life leads to an end…death…that leads to another beginning, the beginning of death, if nothing else. And death leads to the beginning of survivors coping with that death. It’s a simple concept, but one that requires more flexibility of thinking than some people may be willing to accept.
It is surprising to me, a persons who considers himself a pretty decent writer, that I am unable to satisfactorily explain this “end is a new beginning” concept. It upsets me to some extent that my attempts at explanation appear uncomfortably close to mysticism; that is not at all what it is, but words sometimes fail me. Fortunately for me, the very essence of Buddhism offers some comfort to me, in that, through the kernels of Buddhism, I am better able to deal with the disappointments of my fallibility. That is a good thing, as I have quite a lot of it.
At this point, a person reading this post might think I consider myself a Buddhist. I do not. I do not define myself by the context of my life as I live it, whether that context is religious or not. Rather, I use Buddhism as a single reference point, a comparison, that allows me to contrast myself with others in the world around me.
Buddhism is not “the answer,” for me. But it does provide an anchor, however temporary, that allows me to think about life in ways that make sense to me and that do not rely on magic. I do not claim to be particularly knowledgeable about Buddhism; in fact, I know only bits and pieces about it. I know enough to know I can use it to help me explain and to understand certain elements of the human condition. And I know enough of it to know that I can abandon it and its framework if, at any moment, I decide there is a better one. I like that flexibility and that freedom to think. It’s a refreshing perspective, far more appealing to me than any “religion” that requires me to suspend my disbelief and far more appealing than what I consider “militant atheism” that expends its efforts to condemn religious beliefs instead of supporting freedom of belief (or lack thereof).
I hope I know enough about Buddhism to be able to use it to achieve the ability to focus on the here and now and to recognize that all I have, all any of us have, is today. Only today have I come to understand that yesterday exists only in today’s memory and tomorrow is only a dream or a hope or a fear. I understand I will not forget yesterday and I will not stop thinking about tomorrow (as Bill Clinton instructed in his campaign’s theme music), but I will understand that those memories and that anticipation are experienced through the lens of now.
And humor is OK, even when having “big” thoughts.
Back to the “big” thoughts. One of the many things I’ve read about Buddhism that helped me grasp some of its core concepts (the Four Noble Truths) was this, written by an American woman, Sylvia Boorstein, who now apparently makes quite a nice living from Buddhist thought:
- Life is challenging. For everyone. Our physical bodies, our relationships-all of our life circumstances-are fragile and subject to change. We are always accommodating.
- The cause of suffering is the mind’s struggle in response to challenge.
- The end of suffering-a non-struggling, peaceful mind-is a possibility.
- The program for ending suffering is the Eightfold Path.
I don’t begrudge Sylvia for her Buddhism-related income stream; she has helped me achieve a better understanding than I had heretofore. Nothing wrong with that.
Enough of this for tonight.
Very nice note here, John. I share a great deal of your presectives here as well. You’ve suceeded in writing a well rounded view of what I have thought for quite a while. I have nothing to add, except my being in agreement….well said….!!