What I Think – Buddhism Edition

I was going to write, what I believe, but belief seems to be equated to wishful thinking. I believe everything I believe is provisionally true, falsifiable and true to the extent it is supported by reason and evidence. What I want to be true, my hopes, that is a different blog post.

I think we can understand the universe as a net of cause and effect.
I think there really is misery, stress and pain in the world.
I think that if you could get your mind in order, a lot of misery, stress and pain would go away.
I think that training your mind is part of the solution.
I think that ethics is in part about setting rules that make it easy to achieve your goals.
I think part of ethics is not just not doing wrong, but helping people reach enlightenment, too, which means helping people where they are now– poor, hungry, tired, and if they are lucky, well fed, rested, and interested in dealing with that nagging unhappiness that plagues them.
I think that retreat from society, say by joining a monastic order, is overkill and not pragmatic. A monastic order makes it easier to not steal, harder to behave well with respect to women and more difficult to be of service to others.

I think ahimsa (harmlessness) is a good thing and should be maximized. The perfect is the enemy of the good. It is better to eat less or no meat. It is better to favor a peace enforced by police and soldiers than to watch the bloodshed of warlords. I think that instead of holding out for utopia or giving up because our best efforts won’t be enough (i.e. growing grains kills worms, mice, etc.), it would be better to be as ahimsa as we can and always striving to be more so.

There are parts of Buddhism that are detached from what can be objectively demonstrated– I think they are false, but not necessarily worthless. A story can be instructive even if it is fictional.

I think that there is some merit to “skillful means,” which roughly means, you adapt what you are teaching for your audience. If one can, dedicating ones life to philosophy and gaining permanent happiness through PhD level study and contemplation. But if you are a child, have a career you must maintain to keep food on the table, etc, that’s what chanting and the Pure Land is for. It isn’t solely a matter of ranking- it’s about what works for you, what gets you on the path to permanent happiness.

I don’t think there is any link between the self aware part of one living thing and those of any that are born afterwards. Rebirth and reincarnation are fiction. When revolutionary ideas show up, their proponents often out of attachment or accident drag along their favorite ideas like Buddha and reincarnation and Martin Luther and transubstantiation.

I don’t think there are any supernatural beings [devas, demi-gods, bodhisatvas, parallel universes, pure lands, hells full of hungry ghosts, nagas (snake people)], but again, as fiction goes, these myths may be instructive and if for some people who only have time for faith, if it gets them on the right path, (see points about skillful means) there isn’t harm in it.

I don’t think there is any power in amulets, mantras, mudras, statues, printed copies of sutras except in as far as they may change people’s behavior & create a sort of self fulfilling prophesy.

I don’t think enlightened behavior is necessarily eccentric. Cults, cults of personality and borderline madmen should be called out for their behavior.

I don’t think you can spread enlightenment faster than people are ready. Monks used to have to really prove they were serious and wanted to join– in part to discourage malingerers and slackers who just wanted a free meal in return for sitting all day. The sentiment applies to the modern spread of Buddhism, you need to want to do it for it be of help. If Buddhism isn’t what people need, they probably have some other need. [Maslov's heirarchy of needs, with enlightenment at the top]

I don’t think there is anything of interest about the orthodox version of Buddhism. We only have a general idea of what the Buddha said, for all we know, we are getting Ananda-ism (Ananda being one of the Buddha’s disciples).

I think the similarities among world religions are striking, but I think they are not the same. I think science has a set of answers of the problems that lead people to religion and science is lacking. If math and chemistry (or even just philosophy of science) are your only hammers, you are unlikely to solve the problems of too much misery and too little happiness.

I don’t think there is any value to life long monasticism. I don’t think monasticism is required for enlightenment. I suspect the monastic life re-creates the same personal problems, but with smaller stakes. Instead of worrying about the mortgage on your house, you’ll be worrying about your sandals.

I don’t there is any point to renouncing householding (i.e. getting married, having a job, owning property, etc). It may have made sense in a reincarnation cosmology where monastic life was the last chapter before nirvana. Without reincarnation, renouncing house holding is excessive disengagement.

I think to the extent we learn the answers to the questions of religion, we are obliged to teach it to our children.

I think authoritarian religion is scam, (that ‘Do what the LORD tells you to do!’ stuff) to serve the bureaucracy. I think authoritarianism in Buddhism is bad, too. I think there is nothing special about unbroken chains of “authority”, I don’t buy the bit about guru-veneration– although I buy into an non-Buddhist idea that if you know you are biased on irrational in a given choice, you should get advice & be willing to follow it. I think that every historical personage in Buddhism, living of dead is a linguistic short hand for the ideas they represented. None of them our are boss that we should follow unquestioningly.

I think religious intolerance is disrespectful. Other religious systems and possibly even secular science may from time to time re-invent elements of Buddhism.

I think proselyzation is disrespectful and arrogant (both pro & anti-religious), but going so far as to be keep one’s religions leanings secret is bad, but I can’t put my finger on why– it feels like giving in to bullies that can’t accept others as they are. (Proselyzation has the same problem, refusing to accept people because they aren’t like you)

I think meditation is efficacious for something, but I’m not good enough to say what.

I think there is no particular magic in Tibetan, Japanese or Chinese or Pali or Sanskrit, except that sometimes meaning gets lost in translation. I’m fairly confident that given the stories are oral transmissions via memorization across hundreds of years– the oldest we have already lost something in translation. It sounds pretty, some choices of phrases are easier to chant and chanting can help stomp on all thoughts thoughts racing through your mind when you want to concentrate on something else.

I think people who say meditation is dangerous or causes madness are up to something and not trying to save you from danger or madness. (See section of respect, authoritarianism)

And finally, hopes. I hope it all works, I hope it works fast, fast enough that I can enjoy some enlightenment for awhile. I hope that everyone finds it, on purpose or by accident.

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