I’m not a religious person. Religions seem to only cause war, conflict and personal suffering. Sometimes they can cause people to be happy, but from what I’ve seen religion seems to only cause suffering, and seeks to control peoples lives.
But, sometimes I wonder….
One of the few religions, that seem to be closest to my own personal ideal of what a religion should be, is Buddhism. It’s main aim is for people to enlightenment, this is done through self improvement. This comes down to removing negative emotions, like anger, selfishness and so on, I appreciate this is greatly simplified explanation of Buddhism. I’ve speant a lot of time looking on the net for information and explnations, one of the best places to start is Buddhanet.net. One of the best features of this site, is also fairly well hidden, it’s the “5 minute guide to Buddhism“. There is more information in their “basic guide“.
I’ve also read a couple of books, one of the better ones was ‘The Art of happiness‘ by HH Dali Lama and Howard Cutler.
This book is a an interesting read for many reasons. Most importantly, it shows both sides of the coin, not only does it show the buddhist attitude towards situations, but it explains the reasoning behind the thinking. Further more, many of these situations are real world situations and deal with the problems of a modern life. A lot of the book was written by Howard Cutler and it details not only his audiences with the Dali Lama, but also how he began to change his way of thinking and attitude.
It also raises some interesting questions, at least in my mind ;-
- One of the ways to self improvement is to remove selfishness, one of the ways to do this, is to be kind and considerate to others. The question that springs to my mind is, If you’re being kind to someone in order to improve yourself, isn’t this, in itself, selfish? or at the very least doing something for an ulterior motive and hence deceitful?
- Another point is that there are many many teachings, handed down from Buddha, which followers should learn and understand. But I would have thought that following someone elses path to enlightenment is the wrong way to go about getting there. Surely it would be better to derrive your own set of teachings and learn from yourself rather than learning from others? I understand that knowledge is something that must be gained, and one way to do this is to learn from others. But, to my understanding, Buddhism is about improving yourself, not just accepting what someone says as the right way. Shouldn’t these teachings by treated as guidance rather than things set in stone ?
- There are also guidelines about posessions, clothing and food. Whilst a lot of these are aimed at stopping people from being selfish (ie. why do you need those designer trainers/jeans/50″ plasma TV?) how do they fit in with a ‘modern‘ world. I have a nice computer at home, a nice guitar and bass, but I don’t consider these items to be selfish or indulgent. More over, they help me have an outlet for my creativity. Enable me to communicate with others and even help others (e.g. The website design I did for IT Schools Africa).
- Also whilst I don’t consider myself selfish, I’m also no altruist. There must be a balance somewhere, I mean, if someone came up to my front door and demanded money or my TV, how would a buddhist handle this? I guess this goes back to the modern life thing. It’s something that could well happen (or maybe someone asking you in the street) and if you constantly give of yourself/possesions then you will suffer yourself.
- Another way of thinking, amongst these teachings that I find hard to understand is that, if someone does you wrong (e.g. kicks you in the head, steals from you) it’s because you did something wrong in this life, or in previous lives. To me this seems meerly like a way of stopping people from retaliating. Whilst I think this is a good thing (not retaliating), I really can’t accept that if someone hurts myself or my family (and hence, me emotionally) that I should just accept it because I’ve done something bad at some point in the last few millenia. You should be able to defend yourself, surely?
I welcome discussion on this matter, as I’d like to be able understand how these conflicts are resolved within Buddhism. I’m not saying it’s wrong, nor am I condeming it. If anything just the opposite, I wish to understand better. And, sometimes, to understand somthing it’s necessary to ask questions.