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Why I Don’t Dig Buddhism

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I’ve been brooding over Buddhism lately, for several reasons. First, I read that Steve Jobs was a long-time dabbler in Buddhism and was even married in a Buddhist ceremony. Second, a new documentary, Crazy Wisdom, celebrates the life of Chogyam Trungpa, who helped popularize Tibetan Buddhism here in the U.S. in the 1970s. Third, Slate magazine, for some reason, just re-published a critique of Buddhism that I wrote eight years ago, and once again Buddhists are berating me for my ignorance about their religion.

I’m a sucker for punishment, so I thought I’d try to explain, once again, my misgivings about Buddhism, in this heavily revised and updated version of my Slate essay (which was put through an especially tortuous editing process). Here it is:

In 1999, a flier appeared in my mailbox announcing that a local Japanese-American woman would soon start teaching Zen at my hometown library. If I believed in synchronicity, this flier’s arrival would have seemed a clear case of it. I had just begun researching a book on science and mysticism, and I had decided that for the book’s purposes—and my own well-being—I needed a spiritual practice.

Superficially, Buddhism seemed more compatible than any other religion with my skeptical, science-oriented outlook. The Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman once told me that Buddhism is less a religion than a method for fulfilling human potential, a method as empirical in its way as science. Don’t take my word for anything, Buddha supposedly said, just follow this path and discover the truth for yourself.

So I started attending meditation sessions in the basement of my town’s library, a castle overlooking the Hudson and finally the chapel of a Catholic monastery (where some of my classmates were nuns, who seemed much nicer than the ones I remember from my youth). I learned more about Buddhism by reading books and articles, attending lectures and conferences and, most of all, talking to lots of Buddhists, some famous, even infamous, others just ordinary folk trying to get by.

Eventually, I stopped attending my Zen sessions (for reasons that I describe in detail elsewhere). One problem was that meditation never really tamed my monkey mind. During my last class, I fixated on a classmate who kept craning his neck and grunting and asking our teacher unbearably pretentious questions. I loathed him and loathed myself for loathing him, and finally I thought: What am I doing here? By that time, I also had serious intellectual qualms about Buddhism. I concluded that Buddhism is not much more rational than Catholicism, my childhood faith.

One of Buddhism’s biggest selling points for lapsed Catholics like me is that it supposedly dispenses with God and other supernatural claptrap. This claim is disingenuous. Buddhism, at least in its traditional forms, is functionally theistic, even if it doesn’t invoke a supreme deity. The doctrines of karma and reincarnation imply the existence of some sort of cosmic moral judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with nirvana or rebirth as a cockroach.

Those who emphasize Buddhism’s compatibility with science usually downplay or disavow its supernatural elements (and even the Dalai Lama has doubts about reincarnation, a philosopher who discussed the issue with him once told me). The mystical philosopher Ken Wilber, when I interviewed him, compared meditation to a scientific instrument such as a microscope or telescope, through which you can glimpse spiritual truth. This analogy is bogus. Anyone can peer through a telescope and see the moons of Jupiter, or squint through a microscope and see cells divide. But ask 10 meditators what they see, feel or learn and you will get 10 different answers.

Research on meditation (which I reviewed in my 2003 book Rational Mysticism, and which is usually carried out by proponents, such as psychologist Richard Davidson) suggests how variable its effects can be. Meditation reportedly reduces stress, anxiety and depression, but it has been linked to increased negative emotions, too. Some studies indicate that meditation makes you hyper-sensitive to external stimuli; others reveal the opposite effect. Brain scans do not yield consistent results, either. For every report of heightened neural activity in the frontal cortex and decreased activity in the left parietal lobe, there exists a contrary result.

Moreover, those fortunate souls who achieve deep mystical states—through meditation or other means—may come away convinced of very different truths. Shortly before his death in 2001, the Buddhist neuroscientist Francisco Varela (a friend of Trungpa) told me that a near-death experience had showed him that mind rather than matter constitutes the deepest level of reality and is in some sense eternal. Other Buddhists, such as the psychologist Susan Blackmore, are strict materialists, who deny that mind can exist independently of matter.

Blackmore looks favorably, however, upon the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, which holds that the self is an illusion. “Where, exactly, is your self?” Buddha asked. “Of what components and properties does your self consist?” Since no answer to these questions suffices, the self must be in some sense illusory. Meme theory, Blackmore contends in The Meme Machine (Oxford University Press, 2000), leads to the same conclusion; if you pluck all the memes out of a mind, you will have nothing left. She even rejects the concept of free will, holding that there is no self to act freely.

Actually, modern science—and meditative introspection—have merely discovered that the self is an emergent phenomenon, difficult to explain in terms of its parts. The world abounds in emergent phenomena. The school where I teach can’t be defined in strictly reductionist terms either. You can’t point to a person or classroom or lab and say, “Here is Stevens Institute.” But does that mean my school doesn’t exist?

Then there is the claim that contemplative practice will make us gentler, more humble and compassionate. In Zen and the Brain (MIT Press, 1998), the neurologist and Buddhist James Austin proposes that meditation and mindfulness erode neural regions underpinning our innate self-centeredness. But given the repulsive behavior over the past few decades of so many gurus—including Chogyam Trungpa, who was an alcoholic womanizer and bully—you could conclude that mystical knowledge leads to pathological narcissism rather than selflessness. Instead of shrinking to a point and vanishing, the mystic’s ego may expand to infinity. Did Buddhism deflate the ego of Steve Job?

I’ve had a few experiences that could be called mystical. In The Faith to Doubt (Parallax Press, 1990), Stephen Batchelor, one of my favorite Buddhist authors (see my profile of him here), described an epiphany in which he was suddenly confronted with the mystery of being. The experience “gave me no answers,” he recalls. “It only revealed the massiveness of the question.” That was what I felt during my experiences, a jaw-dropping astonishment at the improbability of existence.

I also felt an overwhelming sense of life’s preciousness, but others may have very different reactions. Like an astronaut gazing at the earth through the window of his spacecraft, the mystic sees our existence against the backdrop of infinity and eternity. This perspective may not translate into compassion and empathy for others. Far from it. Human suffering and death may appear laughably trivial. Instead of becoming a saint-like Bodhisattva, brimming with love for all things, the mystic may become a sociopathic nihilist.

I suspect some bad gurus have fallen prey to mystical nihilism. They may also have been corrupted by that most insidious of all Buddhist propositions, the myth of total enlightenment. This is the notion that some rare souls achieve mystical self-transcendence so complete that they become morally infallible—like the Pope!  Belief in this myth can turn spiritual teachers into tyrants and their students into mindless slaves, who excuse even their teachers’ most abusive behavior as “crazy wisdom.”

I have one final misgiving about Buddhism—or rather, about Buddha himself. His path to enlightenment began with his abandonment of his wife and child. Even today, Tibetan Buddhism—again, like Catholicism—upholds male monasticism as the epitome of spirituality. To me, “spiritual” means life-embracing, and so a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexual love and parenthood is not spiritual but anti-spiritual.

Buddhists often respond to my carping by saying, “You didn’t give Buddhism enough time! If you truly understood it, you wouldn’t say such stupid things!” And so on. String theorists and Freudian psychoanalysts employ this same tactic against their critics. I can’t fault these supposed solutions to existence until I have devoted as much time to them as true believers. Sorry, life’s too short.

Some of my best friends are Buddhists, and I enjoy reading and talking to Buddhist and quasi-Buddhist intellectuals, including all those I’ve mentioned above. I admire the open-mindedness and pacifism of the Dalai Lama. I sometimes drag visitors to my hometown to a nearby Buddhist monastery, which features a 40-foot statue of Buddha surrounded by thousands of mini-Buddha statuettes. A porcelain Buddha smiles at me from atop a bookcase in my living room. I like to think he’d grok my take on the religion that he founded. Remember the old Zen aphorism: If you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

John Horgan About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. slowcal 10:55 pm 12/2/2011

    Eeep. You must’ve had some not-so-great Buddhists in your life. The supernatural is a vestige from when the historical Buddha taught in the context of contemporary religion. The really good Buddhist teachers (mostly Zen I feel like) don’t pretend to have witnessed the supernatural. Good Buddhist teachers will point out that much of ‘scripture’ is probably baloney, but still has a good lesson.
    Love the quote at the end. You should apply that to all the bad experiences you had.
    Oh! And any Buddhist teacher who doesn’t teach you that enlightenment isn’t mostly bs isn’t a teacher worth listening to.

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  2. 2. kpskkpsk 11:15 pm 12/2/2011

    Sir, I enjoyed reading your article. It’s really a piece worth reading, something that just didnt popped up over night. I will be like you too if hours of my efforts to see myself failed miserably. In deed researches about benefits of meditation is somewhat premature and too limited to be conclude as solid evidence. And after I’ve watched ‘Crazy Wisdom’, same as you, I felt uncomfortable. So most of your points have their merit, but there’re bits in there I like to object.

    First, I object that Buddhism in the west is’nt really in its true form. To me, its more like something toned down especially for westerners like you. Originally, Buddha emphasized on three practices: sīla, samādhi and paññā. It seems to me that sīla, the first step for enlightened beings has been completely ignored there. I dare say that masters with personality like Chogyam Trungpa’s wouldn’t last a second in SE Asia where this principle is heavily emphasized for any religious person.

    Its reasonable to question your practice, and it is necessary to seek second opinion. Thats what the sanghas are for. You’re not the first person to try and failed. even during the time of Buddha there are many who turned around because of years of failures. There is a story of a monk who was so thick that he cant even remember a line from the Sutta, but become enlightened overnight with the right teacher. So to me, its just that you hadn’t find the way that is YOURS yet.

    You last point is downright shallow. Will you call Sir Edmun Hillary a bad guy because he abandoned his wife and child when he went on trying to be the first person top of the everest? Put yourself in prince Siddartha shoes, when you realized that everything around you is crumbling, and things are burning, will you try to hold your family and died together or will you run and try find the way out to save both you and them? How will you call the guy who do that?

    Why did he left them in the castle? Simple, you are venturing into the unknown, the road is long and difficult, you can die for nothing so its ok to left your beloved ones there in the castle.

    It seems to me that, like your practice, you didnt reached the bottom of the story yet. The Buddha didn’t left wife and child. After prince Siddharta became The buddha, he did came back to save his family. He ordianed his only child as a novice, took him to his temple, and later on his wife ordianed as female monke too. Hadn’t he did so, both will be died in the soon following wars between tribal lords in the area.

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  3. 3. Letmethinkaboutthat 12:36 am 12/3/2011

    I am a Soto Zen Buddhist.
    For me meditation is time to still the body and attempt to still the mind.
    For me Buddhism is a philosophy of sorts, not a religion.
    By practicing Buddhism in my life I attempt to avoid rash thought and action and keep universal compassion as my ideal.
    Moments of astonishment sometimes come to me when I seem to be completely aware of the statistical near impossibility of my apparent presence as a sentient being in this fleeting moment. I take this as an understanding of my essential nothingness and find it a comfort.

    In his book on the Heart Sutra the Dalai Lama criticizes Buddhism for the fact that unlike Christians, Buddhists are not known for their charities. Certainly it can be a self-involved philosophy, but it doesn’t have to be.
    I became interested in Buddhism when I noticed that the Emergency Department in the hospital where I worked was calmer and more efficient and more cheerful than it had been. I found out that many people on the staff at that time were Buddhists.

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  4. 4. scymn 3:18 am 12/3/2011

    Perhaps Buddhism, which you seem to have rather arbitrarily selected to try, is not the right spiritual path for you, Mr. Horgan. The reason there are many religions in the world is because there is need for many different spiritual paths. Living where you are, and considering who you seem to be, I suggest you might be interested in checking out the path of Universal Sufism as brought to the West from India by Hazrat Inayat Khan in the early 1900s. It just so happens that the home of the Sufi Order International is in New Lebanon, NY, which is conveniently quite near you. Pir Zia Inayat Khan is the current head of the Order.

    It is the view of the Sufis that there are as many spiritual paths as there are beings. It may be that we can find companions with which to travel, yet each of us must ultimately make our spiritual journey alone. The task of the Sufi Guide is not to lead, but to help point the way so you might be able to more efficiently and effectively traverse it for yourself.

    The Sufis have no set beliefs. Instead, each being has his/her own highest ideals which provide inspiration and toward which one can aspire. Yet, as one progresses along one’s spiritual path, one’s vision changes and one’s ideals and goals evolve according to one’s accomplishments along the way.

    Sufis recognize that the ego/personality/small self are hindrances when they dominate one’s life, yet they are neither to be abolished nor denied. Instead, they are to be brought under control, to submit to being of service to the essence of one’s true being, which can be described as the soul in one’s heart. A strong ego working in service of the heart enables one to be an effective force in one’s life and in the world.

    Sufis also recognize that every religion has brought forth great and wonderful insights and lessons into the world, and they openly embrace practices as well as revelations and clarifications of Reality from all spiritual traditions, including Buddhism. At the same time, it is recognized that humankind has evolved spiritually over time and much of what may have once been believed to be true may no longer necessarily be appropriate and helpful. Likewise, old traditional practices may not be particularly helpful. Sufis practice meditation, but it is recognized that there are different types of meditation and no one type is necessarily appropriate for everyone. Sufis also work with sound practices and with movement, some of which are old and many of which are new. One role of the Guide is to help determine which practices might be most appropriate for the student at any particular time.

    Sufis embrace the path of science and see no reason for conflict with the spiritual path of the heart. Pir Vilayat Khan, the former head of the Order often said that “it takes intelligent people to be Sufis.” Nothing is to be accepted and believed simply because someone has taught it. Everything must be questioned, considered and evaluated for one’s self. We have intelligent minds capable of awareness, of curiosity, of logical reasoning, and of understanding our physical world. We also have hearts – not just organs that pump blood, but spiritual hearts – that are capable of intuitive awareness, of love, of knowing and understanding aspects of the world and of life that are other than material. This is not seen as ‘supernatural’ but an essential part of Nature; of the totality of how things are and how things work.

    It is true that when one begins to develop spiritually, to become more open and more refined in one’s inner nature, that one can became more sensitive to and perhaps more disturbed by various aspects of life and the world. This is not unusual, yet this is only a stage along the way, and there are practices which can help bring clarity, understanding, strength, balance and an inner sense of peace. As one becomes more open and relaxed, one can develop a sense of ease that opens the way to an increased capacity to deal with all that one encounters in life.

    Sufis also follow their spiritual paths while fully engaged in life. The ideal is that the more spiritually developed or evolved one becomes, the more fully and effectively one will be able to engage in life. In fact, life should be engaged in as a spiritual practice. We are spiritual beings immersed in a material experience and, in a sense, our materiality is as much a part of who we are, here in this world, as is our spirit.

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  5. 5. vivificat 6:10 am 12/3/2011

    Perhaps you should reconsider Catholicism, but that will require you to divest yourself from the illustrations they taught you in third grade CCD and of the ensuing caricatures you hold about God, and reembracing your childhood faith as an adult.

    -Theo,
    Blogmaster, http://www.vivificat.org

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  6. 6. cresteb 10:30 am 12/3/2011

    The Buddha said:

    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

    So, I don’t care the labels someone can put. You could label Buddhism to the fact of following the instructions of the Buddha to achieve the truth. If so, read the quote above again.

    I don’t like some aspects of Buddhism. In fact I don’t consider myself Buddhist, I don’t need any label. I search for the truth and happiness and I have found within Buddhism many useful tools for that purpose. Many more than in any other religion, because according to Buddhism, you can achieve enlightment using those tools by yourself, without any dogma.

    The goal of Buddhism is to become enlighted not to become a Buddhist. So it doesn’t matter if you consider yourself Buddhist or Christian or whatever. Just pick from the Buddhism the knowledge that is useful to you and continue your path.

    Best regards.

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  7. 7. sandoz76 10:50 am 12/3/2011

    This article makes me really wish I could be a middle-aged man. I don’t mean this to be rude at all, but only they would have the steal to write an article with the premise 1) I wanted to like something 2) I totally didn’t get it so I don’t like it 3)Everyone blasted me for not getting it and I didn’t listen to them so instead…3)I’ll go ahead and republish my misunderstanding of it.

    Well done sir. Keep rocking that privileged. I will covet from afar.

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  8. 8. Bodhi 11:49 am 12/3/2011

    I’m a Buddhist and a rationalist. When I look at the Buddhist tradition I see much that is valuable, and some things that are obviously the product of superstition. We have no way of telling, given the long oral history of the Buddhist tradition, what the Buddha believed, but it doesn’t much matter to me. Being a rationalist, I go with what’s compatible with reason.

    I’m afraid that the arguments John Horgan uses above seem rather weak. Let’s pretend that he is a fundamentalist trying to undermine science, and see how the arguments stand up:

    - I tried a science experiment once and it didn’t work. (OK, so you tried meditation and you found it didn’t quiet your mind. There are a number of things you could consider. Perhaps the instructions you were following weren’t clear or complete. Perhaps you’d misunderstood the instructions. Perhaps you didn’t notice change that had actually taken place — after all, how did you measure your level of thinking? Was your instrumentation sensitive enough to register, say, even a 10% decrease in random thinking? I’d suspect not, and yet a 10% decrease in random thinking would be a successful outcome from the experiment.)

    - the laws of thermodynamics imply some kind of cosmic moral judge who moves energy around. (Of course it doesn’t. Neither does karma. Karma is a simple principle: the kind of thoughts and emotions you encourage in your mind will affect your level of happiness and wellbeing. Mind is a dynamic system that in certain respects is predictable. Think hateful thoughts and this will lead to unhappiness in a variety of ways, including feedback from human beings around you. Of course karma is often misunderstood, even by Buddhists, but this is my rationalist interpretation of karma, and it’s an interpretation that I think is consistent with the earliest scriptures. As for reincarnation, as a rationalist I think its vanishingly unlikely that consciousness can move from one body to another — on the other hand quantum entanglement wouldn’t have struck me as likely, either — but the Buddha said in the Kalama Sutta that it makes perfect sense to practice his teachings even if you think we only have one life.)

    - Your third argument, John, isn’t event an argument — you veer from saying that Buddhists downplay the supernatural to saying that meditation ins’t a scientific instrument because people experience different things when they meditate. Yes we downplay the supernatural, because it’s not essential to Buddhist practice. There may be gods and spirits in the early Buddhist scriptures, but a belief in their reality is irrelevant to actual practice. Early scientists believed in all kinds of things we now regard as nonsense — phlogiston, etc — but as rationalists we don’t defend those notions, we simply acknowledge the historical error and move on.

    - Research into climate/nutrition/psychology/whatever reveals conflicting results. One minute we’re being told salt’s bad for us, then the next minute it’s OK. Some scientists disagree that the world is warming. (This is a classic case of trying to muddy the waters. The human mind is a very complex system — like the climate — and it’s therefore difficult to study the effects of a mind-based system such as meditation. How do you know people are even doing the meditation techniques you ask them to do? But experiments broadly show that meditation creates helpful changes in the brain, increasing positive emotion. Anecdotally, I find that happening when I meditate, and I hear others reporting the same thing when I teach them to meditate.)

    - People using the scientific method may come away convinced of very different truths. Some believe in string theory, some say string theory’s a load of bollocks. (Of course people, in exploring what it is to be human, are going to come up with different ideas of what’s going on and what “it” all means. Just as scientists will, in probing the universe. Nothing is an exact science — not even science! We’re busy probing the unknown, and in Buddhist practice we’re using wobbly tools, and having to figure things out as we’re going along.)

    I won’t give the same treatment to everything John says, although I could.

    I do have sympathy with some of his observations. Spiritual traditions are full of frauds preying on the gullible, and full of superstition and irrationality, held to by the gullible. This is a reminder that people are, well, gullible. But let’s take what rationality we have and carefully distinguish between the baby and the bathwater, rather than throwing both out of the window.

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  9. 9. naya8 1:22 pm 12/3/2011

    Very interesting writing, I enjoyed reading it. I agree with you John about every thing you said about religion,but I did not meet Boddhism in my life, so I can’t juge it.I agree with Blackmore when rejects the concept of free will. science calls “self” as an emergent phenomenon; do you know why? because science can not explain it until now. I think that we can explain “self” in reductionist terms, if we examine our brain’s function at micro-level.So “self” is the “ego” of the brain, then humans are slaves of their brains,then they are no more than biological robots, and religion make people more robotes than they are.

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  10. 10. ThePeakOilPoet 5:08 pm 12/3/2011

    I’ve been brooding over Buddhism lately, for several reasons. First, I read that Steve Jobs was a long-time dabbler in Buddhism and was even married in a Buddhist ceremony. Second, a new documentary, Crazy Wisdom, celebrates the life of Chogyam Trungpa, who helped popularize Tibetan Buddhism here in the U.S. in the 1970s. Third, Slate magazine, for some reason, just re-published a critique of Buddhism that I wrote eight years ago, and once again Buddhists are berating me for my ignorance about their religion.

    Pop: As a Buddhist I can tell, from just this that any supposed study you have made of Buddhism must have been incredibly shallow. I will elucidate as I go on.

    I’m a sucker for punishment, so I thought I’d try to explain, once again, my misgivings about Buddhism, in this heavily revised and updated version of my Slate essay (which was put through an especially tortuous editing process). Here it is:
    In 1999, a flier appeared in my mailbox announcing that a local Japanese-American woman would soon start teaching Zen at my hometown library. If I believed in synchronicity, this flier’s arrival would have seemed a clear case of it. I had just begun researching a book on science and mysticism, and I had decided that for the book’s purposes—and my own well-being—I needed a spiritual practice.
    Superficially, Buddhism seemed more compatible than any other religion with my skeptical, science-oriented outlook. The Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman once told me that Buddhism is less a religion than a method for fulfilling human potential, a method as empirical in its way as science. Don’t take my word for anything, Buddha supposedly said, just follow this path and discover the truth for yourself.

    POP: As any Christian scholar might tell you your above words indicate one thing quite clearly: you are a very typical 70’s style “New Age Christian”. Your values and world view are Christian yet you feel that you need to cherry pick what suits you so that you might convince yourself that you are following your spiritual path for good reasons defined in every way by you. Very self deluding.

    So I started attending meditation sessions in the basement of my town’s library, a castle overlooking the Hudson and finally the chapel of a Catholic monastery (where some of my classmates were nuns, who seemed much nicer than the ones I remember from my youth). I learned more about Buddhism by reading books and articles, attending lectures and conferences and, most of all, talking to lots of Buddhists, some famous, even infamous, others just ordinary folk trying to get by.

    POP: For a start, you can not learn any “Buddhism” from books – you can only learn about people’s perceptions of Buddhism. Even reading the whole of the foundation doctrine documents will not teach you anything about what Buddhism is. Even asking Buddhists is likely to take you a long way from the path because as Buddha might have explained to you had he had the time or inclination people vary enormously in their ability to understand the way. Hence Buddha’s teachings, like those of other great leaders like Jesus, were aimed at different levels of education, intellect, tenacity, age, background etc. For example, the 8-fold path is not so easy to understand even if you read many explanations because it is not made, like the 10 commandments, of negatives – of “don’t”s – it is made of positives: “do”s. This was for so very many of those who came to listen to him just far too hard. He simplified things for those: the rules of Silla which are all “don’t”s.

    Eventually, I stopped attending my Zen sessions (for reasons that I describe in detail elsewhere). One problem was that meditation never really tamed my monkey mind. During my last class, I fixated on a classmate who kept craning his neck and grunting and asking our teacher unbearably pretentious questions. I loathed him and loathed myself for loathing him, and finally I thought: What am I doing here? By that time, I also had serious intellectual qualms about Buddhism. I concluded that Buddhism is not much more rational than Catholicism, my childhood faith.

    POP: Again, this proves a point made above – you never left the path of Christianity. You were trying to prove to yourself that your acceptance of your true faith was based on the thing that you have come to doubtingly believe should be the basis: rationality. This screams to me your Catholic upbringing – it’s is archetypical of a Catholic. You were fooling yourself – classic cognitive dissonance – on the one hand you wanted to keep the faith that the world around you was telling you was flawed and therefore not worth following while on the other you wanted to prove to yourself that whatever you chose based on this imposed necessity for rationality would be sound in your own judgment – in other words you were pretending to yourself that you find the “truth” knowing full well that the only truth you would ever accept would be the one you have locked away in your heart so that your very confused mind would not tear it apart. It’s call “conflicted”.

    One of Buddhism’s biggest selling points for lapsed Catholics like me is that it supposedly dispenses with God and other supernatural claptrap. This claim is disingenuous. Buddhism, at least in its traditional forms, is functionally theistic, even if it doesn’t invoke a supreme deity. The doctrines of karma and reincarnation imply the existence of some sort of cosmic moral judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with nirvana or rebirth as a cockroach.

    POP: Here is now the proof of what I have said above. You see you overly attack the thing you have been led to believe is the basis for why you should abandon your Christian faith – you call it clap-trap (I am not in any way saying it is or is not clap-trap). This is the crux of the matter. You desperately want your Catholic faith but you, being the coward you are (and not different to many), will not allow yourself to defend you faith because you need it to be “rational” and if it is based on “God” then it can’t be rational. Here’s some news for you from a student of ancient Hebrew – the “God” you have painted a face on (thus breaking the second commandment) is not the “God” that Moses taught about. So, instead of trying to understand the “clap-trap” you had been led by the very same mixed-up popular (ie lowest common denominator) to reject (being the fickle, lazy coward you are), you instead and of very clear purpose went out to shoot down every other version of “God” you could find. What’s more, your investigations there were even more shallow than the investigations you made of your own faith’s foundations. Then you have the gall to try and lead your readers to believe that you have actually studied. What a totally dishonest spiritual investigator you are – and I mean that with all the love a Christian might offer.

    Those who emphasize Buddhism’s compatibility with science usually downplay or disavow its supernatural elements (and even the Dalai Lama has doubts about reincarnation, a philosopher who discussed the issue with him once told me).

    POP: Again, this is so very shallow. You have defined Buddhism by your own need to be something really simple so that you can hang your tortured spiritual need on. There’s no investigation of what the facets of Buddhism might be, it’s history, the various levels of practice based on such obvious factors as education, demographics, proximity to source doctrine, nature of Buddhist doctrinal establishment (the list is long).
    You are demanding that “the thing that people follow for a multitude of reasons starting with upbringing” MUST be rational IN MY JUDGEMENT before I can accept it as worthy of being followed by me. Sir, you will never satisfy this need. Consider this simple truth – for all of religions it is the same – to find “salvation”, though in all followings it is a path of unending hard work, it is but like stepping through a door to start. It is that simple. You sir are standing outside in the corridor having left the room of your own faith because YOU allowed others to convince you it was unworthy of a “rational” being and are now kicking at various doors and deciding they too are flawed based on the very reasons you allowed yourself to believe your own is flawed. Shallow. Cowardice. LAZY.

    The mystical philosopher Ken Wilber, when I interviewed him, compared meditation to a scientific instrument such as a microscope or telescope, through which you can glimpse spiritual truth. This analogy is bogus. Anyone can peer through a telescope and see the moons of Jupiter, or squint through a microscope and see cells divide. But ask 10 meditators what they see, feel or learn and you will get 10 different answers.

    POP: As you will get 10 different answers to anything you ask of 10 people – consider the old story of the blind men and the elephant. If you are asking others what the elephant looks like you are not experiencing the elephant for yourself.

    The Buddha and all of his most advanced followers ever since his time will tell you that for the most of us meditation is a goal to try and achieve but we will never achieve it – the best we might do is give opportunity for our children to learn it – maybe one will have what is necessary to become someone who gains depth in this direction but for the most of us the practice is just way way too hard and too demanding of our time and frankly, because we do not get wiz-bang instant gratification from our attempts, very unlikely to survive many attempts. This is as true for those in Buddhist countries as it is for us except at least there the average lay person knows that there is merit in the attempt just as there is merit in the attempt to be a good Christian in our cultures.

    Research on meditation (which I reviewed in my 2003 book Rational Mysticism, and which is usually carried out by proponents, such as psychologist Richard Davidson) suggests how variable its effects can be. Meditation reportedly reduces stress, anxiety and depression, but it has been linked to increased negative emotions, too. Some studies indicate that meditation makes you hyper-sensitive to external stimuli; others reveal the opposite effect. Brain scans do not yield consistent results, either. For every report of heightened neural activity in the frontal cortex and decreased activity in the left parietal lobe, there exists a contrary result.
    Moreover, those fortunate souls who achieve deep mystical states—through meditation or other means—may come away convinced of very different truths. Shortly before his death in 2001, the Buddhist neuroscientist Francisco Varela (a friend of Trungpa) told me that a near-death experience had showed him that mind rather than matter constitutes the deepest level of reality and is in some sense eternal. Other Buddhists, such as the psychologist Susan Blackmore, are strict materialists, who deny that mind can exist independently of matter.

    POP: And here, you look for the one seed of Buddhism that you think might be worthy of your conflicted Catholic acceptance and based not on personal experience but cherry picked “data” you finally give Buddhism the coup de grâce. Yes you are the wise Soldier of Christ decked out in your sword of the cross and your white robe. Oh please (Catholic) God, see what I have done in your name – I have slain the heathen – please welcome me back to the fold. Son, the door has been ever open to you.

    Blackmore looks favorably, however, upon the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, which holds that the self is an illusion. “Where, exactly, is your self?” Buddha asked. “Of what components and properties does your self consist?” Since no answer to these questions suffices, the self must be in some sense illusory. Meme theory, Blackmore contends in The Meme Machine (Oxford University Press, 2000), leads to the same conclusion; if you pluck all the memes out of a mind, you will have nothing left. She even rejects the concept of free will, holding that there is no self to act freely.
    Actually, modern science—and meditative introspection—have merely discovered that the self is an emergent phenomenon, difficult to explain in terms of its parts. The world abounds in emergent phenomena. The school where I teach can’t be defined in strictly reductionist terms either. You can’t point to a person or classroom or lab and say, “Here is Stevens Institute.” But does that mean my school doesn’t exist?

    POP: This is worthy of little comment other than it might be paraphrased as “look, I really did research this” and “look, gee, this is as confusing to me as quantum physics so just in case I might look like a fool I better give it a few words”

    I snip out the lashon hara that follows and jump to the final nasty little dishonesty of yours:

    [snipped]

    I have one final misgiving about Buddhism—or rather, about Buddha himself. His path to enlightenment began with his abandonment of his wife and child. Even today, Tibetan Buddhism—again, like Catholicism—upholds male monasticism as the epitome of spirituality. To me, “spiritual” means life-embracing, and so a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexual love and parenthood is not spiritual but anti-spiritual.

    POP: And here we are finally, you not only have kicked in the Buddhist door of your corridor trap and put your foe to the sword but now you have to claim the moral high ground and twist the knife. Sir you are a cad of the lowest form. Your dishonesty and your Christian warrior bravado are not worthy of a true Christian. You break so many commandments of both Moses and Jesus here that I do not know where to begin. Judge not lest ye yourself be Judged.

    Buddha was a man and all men are flawed. When you have walked in other’s shoes then you have the opportunity for compassion not the right to judge.

    The rest has also been snipped – it is of so little worth except for the last quote:

    “If you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him.”
    The proof of my assertions rings so clearly here – you, the warrior of Christ did meet Buddha on the road and you duly slew him.

    Sir, the man you met on the road was the last vestige of goodness that might have been in you – you did slay the child that might have found the wonder of something beautiful.

    I doubt that you will ever be spiritually happy – you will hang about outside the door of your own besmeared faith refusing to go in and you will find fault in all other men’s faiths for this reason or that. There is a saying that “you can not find the bull riding on its back” but you my dear friend have not only leapt off the bull but have castrated it and yourself and then slain the bull and flung its entrails on every path leading to the scene of your crime.

    I’d recite for your some Buddhist doctrine but what would be the point?

    The Peak Oil Poet

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  11. 11. ThePeakOilPoet 5:23 pm 12/3/2011

    Frustrated by the limitations of this comment editor (or my inability to fathom how to use it properly) i have posted my comments on my blog.

    you can find it here http://thepeakoilpoet.blogspot.com/2011/12/why-i-dont-dig-buddhism.html

    or by googling “The Peak Oil Poet”

    pop

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  12. 12. abraunw 9:34 pm 12/3/2011

    Hello John,

    You might enjoy John Carse’s description of religions as poetry and Ken McLeod’s conjecture that religions are long term conversations about questions that matter.

    http://books.google.com/books/about/The_religious_case_against_belief.html?id=oIetfHS6IVIC
    http://gelconference.com/videos/2010/james_carse/

    http://umquotes.blogspot.com/2011/07/religions-as-conversations.html)?
    http:/www.unfetteredmind.org

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  13. 13. satichef 10:23 pm 12/3/2011

    Whoa, John! You’ve really whacked the hornets’ nest on this one…

    I venture to say that I have never seen a tamer, more civil “Comments” section following an article anywhere on the web, especially one that attempts to take a knock at a specific religion. My hunch is the comments would be a bit different had you picked just about any other religion, though I personally regard Buddhism as a philosophy more than a religion.

    As a practitioner I was interested to read your article. I agreed with some points and it has been interesting to see the recent hubbub about Buddhism brought on by the death of Steve Jobs. There have been other well written pieces illustrating the disconnect between some of his behaviors and Buddhist practice. But, alas it is that, just a practice.

    I expect my final thought about your piece might not be so different from other practitioners. It’s unfortunate you didn’t have a good experience with Buddhism and so now you don’t “dig” it. There are many paths. Hopefully you find one that you do dig.

    Metta.

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  14. 14. Bodhi 8:25 am 12/4/2011

    Yikes. I read your blog post, John, about your original “Zen” teacher. She sounds like a complete charlatan, and I’m not surprised that you were put off. To continue my science/Buddhism comparison above, it’s like you had a really crappy high school science teacher. That would be an unfortunate thing, but it wouldn’t invalidate science itself.

    If you do ever decide to try meditation again, there are very good instructors out there. You could look for any retreat at the Insight Meditation Society led by Joseph Goldstein, for example.

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  15. 15. Mumon 11:35 am 12/4/2011

    Mr. Horgan:

    What the other Buddhists are saying. And I say this as a Zen Buddhist with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. Also, I figured that my own blog response would do better justice to you than what I could fit here, so here goes: http://mumonno.blogspot.com/2011/12/john-horgans-back.html

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  16. 16. DanDavis2002 11:40 am 12/4/2011

    It seems to me sir, that you have learned a lot from what the Buddha taught. Buddha never said to be a Buddhist, in fact that word was coined long after he died. Buddha never said to follow him or follow anyone, what he said was to “be a light into yourself.”
    I rather also think that anyone who learned a single thing about dis-attachment, shouldn’t be so attached to Buddhism, or even meditation for that matter.
    Buddha never said to be extreme in anything… he taught a middle road… When hearing a man on a boat playing a stringed instrument, he came to an understanding that if the string is too tight, it’ll break, and if the string is too loose, it won’t play.
    You sir, in your questioning, have learned more from the Buddha, than anyone I know who calls himself a Buddhist.
    Congratulations!

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  17. 17. doctordeetz 12:06 pm 12/4/2011

    You call Susan Blackmore a materialist. However, she’s more a non-dualist. To say that mind depends on matter is not a materialistic viewpoint if you also believe that matter depends on mind. Without either one of these the other could not exist. This is not materialism but non-dualism, in which mind and matter are not the same or equal but they are mutually dependent.

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  18. 18. togeika 1:58 pm 12/4/2011

    John, many atheistic/materialist come to Buddhism because it has been promoted to them as atheistic. This is probably due to the fact that in the beginning, buddhism was introduced to the West by college professors, drug taking musicians and beatniks. Actually Buddhism welcomes all people and requires no profession of any creed, beyond the 4 noble truths and the 8 fold path. Actually, what shocks materialists, is that Buddhism is the opposite of materialist. Buddhism says all is movement and change. There are no things. Only the process of change.
    Sitting meditation doesn’t work for everyone. Some folks find Tai Chi, yoga, Chi Kung, other moving meditation or various movement and art or craft meditations.

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  19. 19. Vipaka 4:40 pm 12/4/2011

    Mr. Horgan, If you’re writing is any indication then your Zen practice was as shallow as your overall understanding of Buddhism. I read “why I gave up on zen” and it astonishes me that you didn’t sit down with the teacher and discuss your misgivings. You talk about being annoyed by the people around you and having all these negative thoughts but then you don’t seem to understand how that is the point of the practice.

    You are obviously one of those people who who shows up at the dharma center for a few nights and then quietly disappears never to be heard from again. Which is fine, no one is saying that you have to be a Buddhist. However, you seem to think that makes you competent to critique Buddhism and you don’t see how demeaning it is to people who have dedicated years of their lives to study and practice.

    If you’re going to continue bashing Buddhism, do us a favor and at least have a competent understanding of basic concepts like Karma. Wikipedia is your friend.

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  20. 20. PWBailey 7:03 pm 12/4/2011

    I suggest that with your exploration of Buddhism you have been chasing God.

    To find Him, perhaps you could retrace your steps.

    He has been looking for you.

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  21. 21. nickribush 11:03 am 12/5/2011

    John, interesting thoughts but I think you may have been talking to and reading the wrong people. For a start, there’s no way HH the Dalai Lama has doubts about reincarnation.

    http://www.dalailama.com/messages/tibet/reincarnation-statement

    Your conclusion, if that’s what it is, about Buddhism being theistic is also incorrect:

    “One of Buddhism’s biggest selling points for lapsed Catholics like me is that it supposedly dispenses with God and other supernatural claptrap. This claim is disingenuous. Buddhism, at least in its traditional forms, is functionally theistic, even if it doesn’t invoke a supreme deity. The doctrines of karma and reincarnation imply the existence of some sort of cosmic moral judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with nirvana or rebirth as a cockroach.”

    Karma and rebirth do NOT invoke a supreme deity any more than Newton’s third law does.

    I think that one of your favorite Buddhist authors, Stephen Batchelor, a friend of mine for nearly forty years, may not always be correct. You’d be better off reading Alan Wallace, a former colleague of Stephen’s and similarly a decades-long friend. Check this out:

    http://www.nowwherewasi.com/?p=186

    And talk to Bob Thurman in more depth.

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  22. 22. MarkP 11:31 am 12/5/2011

    You’ve been studying Buddhism through modern scholars, not the Masters, which is not a good way to go about it.

    Try Studying Chi-i at http://tientai.net and you’ll find a much more rewarding experience than wasting your time with Theravada and Zen. Chi-i was the most intellectual of all the Great Masters and his works such as the Great Calm Observation which has within it the theory of ‘the One Instant of Mind in Three Thousand Existential Spaces’ is absolutely ground breaking in Buddhism.

    If you want to see how Science co-exists with Buddhism, that is the place to go.

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  23. 23. MarkP 11:43 am 12/5/2011

    to address one more concern.

    “There is no contradiction between one’s spiritual life and one’s worldly livelihood to sustain oneself, and one’s thoughts and speculations about Bodhi as was previously taught in the Sutra.”
    Chi-i

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  24. 24. MarkP 3:59 pm 12/5/2011

    Let me explain ‘no self’ in terms that a scientist can relate to since this is ‘The Scientific American’.
    When we speak of no self, what we are referring to is that humans, and all life for that matter, are born with the conditions of heredity, instinctual behavior, and temperament. Everything else that constitutes a persons perception of self comes from conditions of the society, from the family unit on down to the society in general. That is why cloning, with the transfer of the self is impossible, because the conditions are always different. You can get the hereditary and instinctual conditions with cloning, but not the temperament and individual perception. Absolutely not possible, and cloning will never achieve transfer of memory because there is always present and past action that is unresolved. For cause and effect to work over continuous lifetimes the mind must be clouded with conditions that prevent clear observation. Hence the delusion of life.
    The ‘Observer’, which is the scientific term, relates more closely to life than any other term, because that is what we are, the ‘Observer’. There inherently is no self attached to the observer because it is the conditions of each observer that define the self. No two are alike because the conditions are not alike. Even in the case of twins, where the conditions are close, there is separation of self.
    The Buddha taught no self in order that he could teach of true self, which is Buddhahood. The Buddha, at the time of his enlightenment was able to perceive all of the lives that he had lived, from that of a butterfly to lives as human. This is what it means to become eternal in nature, not that you don’t die or are not reborn, but to have the memory of past lives.
    Without the karma of past action the mind clears and true observation is possible. With karma, the mind is deluded by conditions that perpetuate the retribution of past action, and true observation is not possible.

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  25. 25. MarkP 4:30 pm 12/5/2011

    It is the causes that create the conditions, and the conditions that create the perception, which then creates the causes, ad infinitum.

    To break the cycle there is the wisdom of the Buddha!

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  26. 26. anterosolutions 6:51 pm 12/5/2011

    What do you want for Nothing? If you are waiting for religious experience to make rational sense then you may just want to default to atheism now. All religions are rife with happy horseshit. If you want to apply science to mysticism I suggest going quantum where IsItTrue=YesNo.

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  27. 27. Andrei Kirilyuk 5:10 am 12/6/2011

    Buddhism or not, but the true Satori and related (new) Way is terribly missing to the modern world, especially its “developed” parts. There are only “generously supported” word plays either for or against another useless doctrine, where nothing can bring the badly needed positive change, even for those “chosen” communities of believers and adherents or their not less chosen critics. So finally a great truth seeker like John Horgan, and with him that entire “developed” world, is left with his biological life aspects, sex, children, eating, drinking… I’d say slightly lost, the great leaders of humanity.

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  28. 28. tlmorrison 10:01 am 12/6/2011

    Well, judging from the comments, I have learned at least 2 things: Buddhists are long winded and boring.

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  29. 29. jgrosay 11:03 am 12/6/2011

    I’ve read somewhere, but been unable to retrieve the reference, that the image of a bald, fat, smiling man most of us link with the name Buddha -no connection with the Vishnu avatar having a similar name – is not of Buddha, but it links to an spirit, that people in India call to obtain good luck from it,named Chanrai, the Buddha was a prince, and as some of the prince’s task in his time were connected with fighting, those people just can’t allow themeselves to be fat. For some in our culture, Buddhism is some kind of a religion without a god, but having priests, nuns, ceremonies and temples; just some Buddhist schools having links with Tantra, a derivative of the India cult to Shiva, the destroyer, the destroyer of love, do consider spirits in their practices and daily living. May be Buddhism is just a meditation or mind rule technique to preserve your mind from harmful accesses from others or from the material world, as any attachment stablishes a bond hard to break, and some interactions with others is somehow destructive, as it can introduce guilt or submission, this feelings acting as a self-destruction commandment ?. People in other cultures, specially christians, that do have a different personality and soul build-up, may be not in the situation of understanding the nature and goals of Buddhism for the people in Asia that practice it, being in a quite different world.

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  30. 30. MarkP 12:24 pm 12/6/2011

    “that the image of a bald, fat, smiling man most of us link with the name Buddha”

    Is a Confucian, not a Buddha. There’s no such thing as a fat Buddha.

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  31. 31. undrgrndgirl 3:14 pm 12/6/2011

    seems to me your beef isn’t with buddhism, but with yourself and your inability to force buddhism into your world view instead of the other way around.

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  32. 32. alanborky 4:31 pm 12/6/2011

    See, this’s where I find myself slightly confused.

    You mention all these different types of Buddhism – with their different emphases, approaches and techniques – but instead of considering the possibility these’re merely Buddhisms equivalents of the many different emphases, approaches and techniques to be found throughout all the sciences, (otherwise every experiment’d be exactly the same and no progress’d ever be made), you merely play them off against each other, claiming the fact they ‘contradict’ each other somehow invalidates them.

    If you took the same approach with the sciences THERE’D BE NO SCIENCES.

    THERE’D BE NO NOTHING.

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  33. 33. MarkP 5:01 pm 12/6/2011

    Understand that all truth is Buddhism! The truth of science, all forms, are all just people seeking the truth, and these truths all fit into the model of Buddhism once you understand that people just have to have Gods no matter the religion so that they can understand these facts.

    The understanding, based on deities, does not prevent the truth from being published, which then clears the delusion of deities. It is from the basis of learning and understanding the true nature of all things that we can finally understand the true nature of our own lives.

    Science is one of the biggest blessings we have in the modern world! It is just a work in progress.

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  34. 34. waltond 10:15 pm 12/6/2011

    As I understand it the heart of Buddhism lies in meditation, whose task is to empty the mind so that it might comprehend a deeper reality. Various devices are suggested, breathing being one. By concentrating on my breath I am able to think of nothing else for extended periods of time. I find this very relaxing and beneficial, but deeper insights have been conspicuous by their absence. I might add that I am an experimental physicist, and my conception of reality may present an insurmountable block

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  35. 35. MarkP 1:41 am 12/7/2011

    The deeper insights come from both study and practice. In order for any practice to lead to insight you have to have something to think about, and the best place to find the deeper subject matter is tientai.net. Some Buddhists may object to this, but I find it the best way to gain insight, and I also practice active meditation chanting to an Object of Devotion instead of passive meditation.
    Chi-i taught observation of the mind and he pretty much towered over his predecessors and contemporaries alike. His theories I think are completely inline with physics, especially the quantum type, so it may be a perfect match for you. :)

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  36. 36. MarkP 2:05 am 12/7/2011

    BTW, the Buddha studied meditation from meditation masters before he awakened and said it wasn’t the way. After that he became an Acetic and said that wasn’t the way either.

    The Buddha practiced Observation of the Mind, and so he was thinking about something while he was meditating, not just clearing his mind and breathing right.

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  37. 37. kottke 3:52 pm 12/7/2011

    “Some studies indicate that meditation makes you hyper-sensitive to external stimuli; others reveal the opposite effect. Brain scans do not yield consistent results, either. For every report of heightened neural activity in the frontal cortex and decreased activity in the left parietal lobe, there exists a contrary result.”

    I would love references to some of the better standards of contrary studies. I’ve only seen positive ones so am definitely curious…

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  38. 38. ????? 12:45 am 12/8/2011

    What is the sound of one obvious troll blogging?

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  39. 39. Donzzz 2:49 pm 12/8/2011

    You have to separate God from religion – never take religion too seriously no matter what religion it is (maybe its inspired by our “Creator” – maybe not – who knows).
    Isaac Newton and other science philosophers have come closer to the true “word of God” then any of the religious prophets. I believe there is a “Creator” out there who created the “laws of nature” and thereby brought the universe into existence. He revealed his power to mankind by giving us a very powerful imagination. We can accept him or not I don’t think he cares one one way or the other but I prefer to believe he does care because he did reveal himself and some of his wonders only to mankind on this planet anyway. http://novan.com/god.htm

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  40. 40. hybrid 3:10 pm 12/8/2011

    Suppose we become physically but not mentally aware that we are all part of a field of pure energy hitherto unsuspected? Wouldn’t our attempts at interpreting it to others appear awfully like any and all formal religions?
    Is hot and cold mental or physical? Are epiphanies mental or physical? I like the crude statement that Buddhism is like an erection, the the more you think about it the harder it becomes. Treat it like one of the many many poor attempts to describe the indescribable and forget the so called truths and proofs approach. —- “I am your father” is the ultimate koan.

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  41. 41. bobwatson 3:37 pm 12/8/2011

    I missed your statement of: what you are looking for or expecting in Buddhism?

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  42. 42. charlesbellis 4:05 pm 12/8/2011

    Here’s why I don’t dig Buddhism. It’s asking questions I don’t need answered. I’m not concerned about karma, reincarnation or, in the sense I understand it, enlightenment. An endless cycle of rebirth doesn’t loom ahead of me according to what I know.

    Could I be wrong? Sure. But then again I don’t believe in heaven or hell either. Could I be wrong there, too? Sure. But, as with karma and reincarnation, I doubt it.

    I also affirm samsara. This veil of tears is, again in my opinion, what we have. I call this perspective existentialism or, from another point on the kaleidoscope, paganism. I mean, the world, this buzzing, blooming confusion of which we all must partake while alive is all we’ve got.

    Maybe, in the end, I’m a Schlitzhite, that is, I’ll only go round once in life and I want to grab all the gusto I can.

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  43. 43. Laird Wilcox 1:09 am 12/9/2011

    I’ve been around a lot of “believers” of various kinds most of my life. Most people who adhere to an unusual religion have no deep understanding of it, the simply enjoy thinking about some of the sentiments that it represents. I don’t think you could count the number of people who have attended medication classes of one kind or another and came away thinking they were Buddhists. I think humans have a natural affinity for some level of mystical and supernatural thinking.

    In its milder forms its probably relatively harmless and little more than a waste of time. Occasionally someone, or even a large group of people as in the case of radical Islam, find that it explains some social disadvantage they are experiencing and pursue it as one might a political ideology such as Marxism-Leninism (which is really a kind of quasi-religion itself).

    The AGW movement shows some of the characteristics of a millenarian religious cult, complete with a predicted great flood, demand for a change of consciousness, path to salvation and a promised utopia.

    It’s a bummer, but it seems to be how most of us work. I wish we didn’t, but that’s not the case.

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  44. 44. kgillespie@mindspring.com 10:41 am 12/9/2011

    Mr. Horgan,
    Loved your piece. One of the reasons being that it very closely matched my own experiences with Buddhism. I was a practicing Buddhist (Zen) for a number of years at two different Zendos. There were moments while meditating (staring a brick wall about 12 inches from my nose) that were transcending but, of course, ineffable. The cause of my leaving the practice was similar, I think, to your experience. It entered my mind that for me the Asiatic accretions were inauthentic. (Stephen Batchelor is also one of my favorite Buddhist authors by the way.) I needed a stripped down version of Buddhism without the needless and distracting pseudo religious trappings. I came to a point where I began to understand that when everything is boiled away, the Buddha taught one thing and one thing only:(Every thing else is bs that was added on later after his death.)suffering and an end to suffering. (see Steve Hagen’s: “Buddhism, Plain and Simple” if you haven’t already.) I came to understand that Buddhism is Understanding. That’s all that “enlightenment” (what ever that word means; I don’t know.) is. Like Batchelor, I have serious doubt’s about Karma, re-birth, etc. Like him, I don’t think that holding such beliefs is necessary at all. Central to this way of looking at things, I think, is that one has to come to the belief/realization that the self is an illusion. And holding (grasping) on to the idea of the self is the cause of all suffering. The hard part is coming to believe/understand truly that your self is not real. Does meditation help in this regard? Like you, I think the jury is still out on this. Is there another way to achieve this understanding without resorting to meditation? Like my Scottish ancestors would say: I dunno. If you find it, let me know. Thanks again for the article. I found it so interesting that I just ordered “Rational Mysticism”. Looking forward to reading it.

    Ken G (NYC)

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  45. 45. kirtic 11:24 am 12/9/2011

    I found this article amusing. Buddhism is not an intellectual exercise; its a path. One does not have to believe in rebirth or the law of karma. The first requirement or precondition is that one is unenchanted with the world as it seems and what sensory & intellual gratification it provides. The author has not reached that level. His commentry is like finding the worth of a book by its weight.

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  46. 46. FOOZLER8 12:22 pm 12/9/2011

    As a psychologist of 5 decades I still experience wonderment as just how insecure even the most intelligent people can be – how we seem to need gurus, Ann Landers types, messiahs and all the rest (physicians, stock brokers, drug dealers and many, many more) to tell us how to live. Why do we believe ancient Jewish fiction (old and new testaments)? Why do we believe in totally irrational beings – angels, gods, devils? Insecurity. Needing to blame something else for our faults – even needing to credit something else for our good points. We are badly in need of more evolution. We are great toolmakers. Period.

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  47. 47. kpskkpsk 8:08 pm 12/10/2011

    @tlmorrison, hey we would rather be lengthy and boring than misgivings people. And we wouldn’t be bashing the guy, had he came up with worhty criticisms.

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  48. 48. gnomricon 12:07 am 12/12/2011

    It’s hard to point to one buddhism just as it’s hard to point to one christianity, but putting the mysticism aside, there’s a genuine truth that persists throughout. When you take away all the pieces of the mind, there really isn’t anything there. You’re just a collection of opinions. When you ponder it, that’s a huge, life-changing perspective right there.

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  49. 49. staudenmaier 5:30 pm 12/13/2011

    Given that Buddhism is a journey of self discovery and a system for thinking objectively, perhaps John has been turned off by observing the way OTHER people see it and should just look at Buddhism head on.

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  50. 50. WistKoan 10:24 am 12/18/2011

    So much in this piece will confuse the reader and misrepresent the Dharma. For instance, the Buddha did not, as you surely know, teach about reincarnation. Reincarnation was an accepted belief at that time in that place. The Buddha taught only suffering (roughly translated) and the cessation of suffering.

    Further, you seem unclear about the role of Dharma teacher. I am at a loss as to why you use the term “mystic” to denote Buddhist teacher and why you conflate “mystical” experience with epiphany or sudden insight. To my mind, there is nothing particularly mystical about a sudden insight. Also, to judge the Dharma by the teacher makes no sense. If your math teacher cannot make change, does that make math wrong?

    Equally confusing is your assertion that all Buddhists should react in a uniform way to the teachings and to meditation if the path is a valid one. I could go on.

    You wrote of your own experience observing someone while meditating: “I loathed him and loathed myself for loathing him, and finally I thought: What am I doing here?” Had you understood the Dharma you would have understood what an excellent teaching that moment was. You might have, without any mystical assistance, understood how to experience moments like these without loathing the other person, the experience or yourself. Surely that would have enlightened you.

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  51. 51. MarkP 3:54 pm 12/20/2011

    “Those who emphasize Buddhism’s compatibility with science usually downplay or disavow its supernatural elements”

    There are no mystical elements to Buddhism! The mysticism arises because people fail to understand the metaphors, believing in Hungry Ghosts and other metaphors for what really exists within the mind.

    “The observer and that which is observed are everywhere produced by the matrix of causality and conditions. In all that is produced by causality and conditions, there is emptiness of self.”
    The Great Calm-Observation, Volume 5, Part 3, Page 1

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  52. 52. Astrodude 7:41 am 12/25/2011

    Ugh, this guy is so missing the point.

    For instance, the fact is that being a “Buddhist” does not suddenly make one magically kind and compassionate. But rather, Buddhism teaches that to be happy and content, one needs to be kind and compassionate. Are megalomaniacs and alcoholic wife-beaters happy and content? Most likely, not. That is what Buddhism teaches against, to be angry and to be hateful and so forth. Buddhism teaches that to be completely happy, to attain enlightenment, you must eliminate all of your desire.

    I’m no expert on Buddhism nor am I really a Buddhist, but I find the teachings of the Buddha to be quite astonishing. I would say that the Buddha was one of the wisest persons ever lived, like Socrates, etc.

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  53. 53. budyo 5:22 am 01/12/2012

    Wow, this article is just brimming with inaccuracies about Buddhism. The author’s writing shows a lack of credible understanding about the subject. He is perpetuating misunderstandings. Just one example is his premise that Buddhism is a religion that he considers categorically parallel to Catholicism. There are many other aspects of Buddhism that he has just completely jumbled up and dumped together to write this article. I’ll just conclude by saying that the author has determined “Why I don’t dig Buddhism” – this is like licking a lemon and writing a similar Scientific American blog my thesis about: “Why I don’t like Food”.

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  54. 54. balaji 6:48 am 01/28/2012

    I read through this with interest because I came to Buddhism with quite as much, if not more skepticism that you did. But I came to a totally different conclusion, despite the fact that I am also an atheist and totally deny anything supernatural. Please allow me to briefly share what I feel was different about my experience.

    1. There is the basic assumption that we would like to be happy and free from stress. Alleviation, or complete cessation of stress is a good thing. Psychologists know today as to how detrimental stress can be to our normal life. So relief from stress was my goal. Your goal was perhaps something you imagined to be nirvana. What picture of nirvana you had in mind is hard to say. But the very core of the problem is if we have our motivations wrong. If people believe in God in order to go to heaven, we can see how their behavior is totally irrational. Believing in Buddhism in order to get enlightened or to attain nirvana is just as silly. They are inconsistent with the reasons for which the Buddha himself taught the Dhamma. In brief, what he taught was a means to relieve oneself of stress and suffering. There are three simple steps to do this effectively:
    a. avoid doing things that harm yourself and others
    b. do what is beneficial to oneself and others
    c. train the underlying subconscious tendencies and instinctive reactions of the mind to behave in a sensible manner when faced with situations where the simple rules of behavior in a) and b) above may not apply easily.

    2. You came to learn Buddhism with perhaps the intent of exploring a non-theistic religion. But if you don’t want a God, why do you need a religion at all? Why Buddhism? No need. In fact, I strictly maintain that religion is not at all needed for our life. In my opinion, the Buddha did not teach a religion; he taught a way to end one’s own stress. As one Buddhist monk puts it aptly, “The spread of Buddhism as a religion and adaptation and assimilation in different cultures, is not the same as the spread of the Dhamma.”

    3. Karma does not say that our actions will magically have a result. Instead all that the Buddha said was that there is a principle of causality: When one phenomenon occurs, another phenomenon that is causally dependent on it will also arise. When the said phenomenon ceases, the causally dependent phenomenon will also cease. This is a basic principle of causality. It is like saying “If there is a temperature difference, heat will flow from the hotter body to the colder one. When there is no difference in temperature, there is no heat flow.” Or perhaps “If a body exerts a force on another body, it is met with an equal and opposite reaction force from the other body.” Or perhaps “When a dueterium and hydrogen nuclei fuse they form Helium, releasing energy”. Or perhaps we could say “If natural conditions favor the survival of one physical characteristic over the other, future generations of the species will develop a dominant characteristic that are favored by the natural conditions. If these natural conditions cease to exist and conditions become hostile, those among the species that develop characteristics favored by the new conditions will survive, and others will perish.”

    Notice that not all principles in science are taken as examples, but those talking about a causal relation between two phenomena are included. What the Buddha did was only point out that nature is replete with such cases where one phenomenon leads to another one which naturally and causally depends on it. No God or being is needed to interfere in this.

    How this karma affects human action is a discussion that I will cover some other night when I am not so sleepy.

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  55. 55. balaji 6:50 am 01/28/2012

    And finally, I wonder if you are speaking the truth when you say you read a lot of books on Buddhism. I have a strong reason to guess that you did not read anything at all. And the reason is that you don’t speak at all about stress and suffering, which lie right at the heart of the problem that the Buddha sought to help resolve.

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  56. 56. nicolas.vandenberghe@gmail.com 10:48 am 04/7/2012

    Last week, as we were approaching Easter, my 8 year old told me that she estimated the odds of god existing as the same as the Easter Bunny Rabbit, which she placed at 40%. I reckon her intuition applies to Buddhism too.

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  57. 57. samuraibruce 9:51 pm 06/15/2012

    I am truly amazed, Mr. Horgan, that after all these years, you still do not know anything about Buddhism, despite your self-avowed claim of objectivity and rationality.

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  58. 58. kozan 7:10 pm 09/15/2012

    The fact that you experimented with one form of Buddhism and deduced from that one experience that all Buddhism is the same seems highly unscientific to me. But, it doesn’t really matter what I think. You get to go on living with your mind and the fundamental process of either suffering from it or coming into an optimal relationship with it, and that is all that Buddhism really is. You might be enriched from the writings of Stephen Batchelor, a former monk, who eventually decided for himself that no cultural forms of Buddhism were for him, that he was–in effect–an Agnostic Buddhist. He wrote a book called Buddhism Beyond Beliefs. My own perspective is that if you go back and explore the specific process of mental investigation of the Buddha, you will find the root of Buddhism is a psychology. The mystical “stuff” and high-ritual and occasional detours of into the weeds by various human teachers is, well, human…and simply other expressions of people avoiding the direct application of the psychological path that Siddhartha identified and put forth. And, yes, it is in fact a science of the mind.

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  59. 59. rdesuza 4:50 pm 10/27/2012

    Sorry to say, I found this post as if it is written by a teenager. Where is so called scientificness in this article? Does meditation work? What about the positive results of Jail meditation which have been experimented by Dhamma Brothers? Many Neuro-scientists are working in this field, and have found positive result! I agree with kpskkpsk in many points. I should say Sangha and meditation centers are not enlightenment factories. As all the students of sciences cannot become Newton, Einstein and Hawking similarly, similarly not everyone can be enlightened in stead of having potentiality.Everything is conditioning and so enlightenment is. I would appreciate more scientific approach than failed experience!

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  60. 60. dburress 11:10 pm 10/31/2012

    If a foreigner listed his individual complaints about Americans I would be interested, but if he assumed that they constituted some kind of coherent critique of what it means to be American, I’d be offended. There are just too many different sorts of us for us to usefully be boiled down like that. But then if he backed off and said he really only meant to criticize recent American foreign policy, I’d be willing to listen. It seems to me that “Buddhism” is an aggregate that is more like “Americans” than it is like “recent American foreign policy.” No one is in charge of “Buddhism” as a whole, and it does not take official positions. So I think Horgan’s individual comments are interesting, but taken as a whole they constitute overgeneralization bordering on bigotry.

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  61. 61. tonygalli 1:24 am 11/1/2012

    He makes some valid critiques of the *religion* of Buddhism, although he gets some basic facts wrong.

    For example: “The doctrines of karma and reincarnation imply the existence of some sort of cosmic moral judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with nirvana or rebirth as a cockroach.”

    That’s really a non-sequetor. First, he confuses Buddhism with Hinduism and other religions that teach reincarnation. Buddhism is pretty clear about the annatta doctrine and the lack of a deity that creates the universe or judges souls in its texts. Even in Tibetan Buddhism, there is no deity controlling the process or judging souls. All sects teach that rebirth is caused by desire, and Tibetan Buddhism goes into detail about how karma specifically drives the process between births (i.e. bardos).

    Further, why would rebirth necessarily require a deity? There could be reincarnation with a central creator God (as is true of Jainism, Sankya, etc.).

    I agree that it’s difficult to understand how a non-unified mind-stream can direct its own process in this way (and it is supernatural in the sense of being a mind unconnected to matter), and Buddhists themselves have debated this from early on, but it doesn’t require any outside supernatural being in order to happen (not that this makes it any more likely to be true).

    Zen Buddhism has little on rebirth doctrines, and some even sages have explicitly denied it metaphysically.

    Another: “But ask 10 meditators what they see, feel or learn and you will get 10 different answers.”

    Actually, there is quite a bit of research that demonstrates commonalities (Wilber himself edited a book on this) and shows that the traditional stage concept makes sense because it conforms, phenomenologicaly, to what people meditating experience.

    Furthermore, as per Buddhism, the experiment is supposed to lead to the transcendence of craving and a sense of happiness that is not driven by compulsions and neurosis. He’s flatly wrong that research is inconclusive on the latter point – even in the beginning meditation shows improvement for most people. (E.g. MBCT: http://www.mindfulexperience.org/evidence-base.php, http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/early/2012/08/07/bjp.bp.111.104851.abstract).

    He cites certain side-effects as though that proves there’s no evidence that meditation is helpful. That’s like saying that if a medication is contraindicated in some cases, or has negative side-effects, we can only conclude that there’s no proof that it’s effective as a treatment for any disease. In controlled studies, meditation is consistently found to work better than no treatment or placebo conditions, for depression and anxiety.

    The problem with many meditation studies is that they’re often conducted by proponents of certain religions or sects, so the pressure for selection/confirmation bias is strong. Further, there are *many* methods of meditation, and they don’t all have the same goal.

    But isolating something like mindfulness (e.g. focus on the breath) is useful, because it’s non-sectarian, and has been studied independently.

    Now, if brain-mind machines really can mimic meditation, and sitting meditation proves unnecessary to all those except those who can’t afford fancy brain-wave entrainment technology, I have no issue with that. Technology wins.

    “Blackmore looks favorably, however, upon the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, which holds that the self is an illusion. ‘Where, exactly, is your self?’ Buddha asked. ‘Of what components and properties does your self consist?’ Since no answer to these questions suffices, the self must be in some sense illusory. Meme theory, Blackmore contends in The Meme Machine (Oxford University Press, 2000), leads to the same conclusion; if you pluck all the memes out of a mind, you will have nothing left. She even rejects the concept of free will, holding that there is no self to act freely.”

    Free will is a philosophically incoherent concept (unless it means that the will, in order to be free, does not somehow need to be self-generated). There is good reason for most scientists and philosophers to doubt its validity.

    “Actually, modern science—and meditative introspection—have merely discovered that the self is an emergent phenomenon, difficult to explain in terms of its parts. The world abounds in emergent phenomena. The school where I teach can’t be defined in strictly reductionist terms either. You can’t point to a person or classroom or lab and say, ‘Here is Stevens Institute.’ But does that mean my school doesn’t exist?”

    Complete strawman. Buddhism doesn’t teach that parts that make up networks or matter or phenomena we experience do not inherently exist at all (see Nagarjuna, who denied *both* nihilism and absolutism). Rather, it teaches that the aggregates of the conscious self are part of co-dependently arising process (i.e. are emergent). The five skandas certainly exist (you focus on them in meditation) but they are not absolute units or monads in any supernatural sense, nor are they unconnected to an environment that gives rise to them, nor are they unrelated to prior causes and conditions.

    “To me, ‘spiritual’ means life-embracing, and so a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexual love and parenthood is not spiritual but anti-spiritual.”

    Spiritual is a vague word, and I’d rather avoid it if I can. He’s using it to mean something like his love of normal life, and not its other varied uses in the language game (peak experiences, unitive mysticism with nature or unmanifest, transcendence of thought patterns, etc.). Many people define spirituality quite differently than he. From a transcendental perspective, his perspective would be called “anti-spiritual.”

    I find the debate silly, myself. I’m a naturalist, not a transcendentalist. I prefer the old Greek term “eudaimonia” (well-being, flourishing). States of conscious wellness are important, not whether someone chooses (*choice* being the operative word) to have children or not, or how much sex a person has.

    As a lapsed Catholic myself, and secular humanist atheist, I know projection when I see it. This critique of Buddhism (hyprocritically) often comes from Catholics (not to mention Jews, other Christians, Muslims, and some Hindus). They call it negative and say that it’s “anti-life.” Well, Buddhism doesn’t have a perfect human rights track record, to be sure, but compared to those religions, it’s been a lot more peaceful (with the exception of Jainism) and based on my own experience, Buddhists, both lay and monks/nuns, tend to be generally nicer, wiser, more accepting of life’s realities, and not in conflict with their environment (or the eco-system).

    That’s a generalization, of course. The important point is that he’s misinformed. Most Buddhists, even back to the Buddha’s own followers in his time, have been householders. In Japan, there is a sect where even priests are married and have families. Most Buddhists have never been celibate.

    I have no problem with a person who chooses to be celibate. I only have a problem with a person who coerces other adults to be so against their will (which happens in all religious communities, including Islam, which forbids monacticism and has a history of killing and persecuting peaceful monks because the Qur’an says Allah is against it).

    My perspective here is liberal, not religious. When people show intolerance and moral condemnation of sexual minorities — from asexuals to LGBTQ — it can be a symptom of what Eco calls “UR Fascism.”

    In fact, sex is not even a “sin” (if that word can even be applied here) in Buddhism. Lust and craving are the focus. Then again, I can’t imagine a person wanting to engage in sex without sexual desire, so perhaps that’s a moot point, just as I can’t imagine having a family if there isn’t bonding and emotional attachment, which inevitably does bring loss and grief when loved ones die or go away (and sometimes fighting, and yes, partiality and a lessening of focus on equal love towards all others).

    “I suspect some bad gurus have fallen prey to mystical nihilism. They may also have been corrupted by that most insidious of all Buddhist propositions, the myth of total enlightenment. This is the notion that some rare souls achieve mystical self-transcendence so complete that they become morally infallible—like the Pope!”

    Again, looks like his own Catholic projection at work. Buddhism in fact teaches the 5 precepts (no killing, no stealing, no lying or verbal abuse, no sexual misconduct, no using intoxicating drugs) for all, and hundreds of further strict rules for monastics.

    Chogyam broke all of them, which is why he is suspect to many other Buddhists. He in fact did all this when leaving his own monastery and coming to America. Fundamentalist Buddhists (often Theravadan) are absolute pacifists and tend not to make exceptions for the use of alcohol or violating sexual taboos like having affairs with married people, or breaking marriage vows. And no Buddhist, or good human being, that I know of thinks it’s okay to coerce another into having sex!

    With the exception of a few Zen schools, no sect that I know of teaches that full enlightenment automatically causes one to act morally. Rather, moral behavior is a necessary support until full awakening, and after, the precepts are just as relevant.

    “Belief in this myth [crazy wisdom] can turn spiritual teachers into tyrants and their students into mindless slaves, who excuse even their teachers’ most abusive behavior as ‘crazy wisdom.’”

    Yes, it certainly can. And the term “crazy wisdom” is tantric, not Buddhist. It’s not found in any of the original known sutras, and is part of a minority tradition within a syncretist form of Buddhism.

    I can only conclude that since he had trouble meditating (perhaps he’s unfamiliar with the 10,000 hour rule about practice?) he ditched Buddhism early on, and the rest is based on his lingering disgust for his childhood religion.

    I’m not very interested in the preservation of Buddhism the religion anyway. I’m interested in what works. Even if the rest of the metaphysics is jettisoned, I don’t see why any rational ethical person would take issue with its moral doctrines (save for, perhaps, its general strictness concerning recreational drug use, only violated by Zennists drinking caffeinated tea or alcholic saki). And meditation *is* useful.

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  62. 62. K.Song 11:25 pm 01/10/2013

    You must be tired of this blog. I just want to let you know that there is still a country has full version of Buddha’s teachings. :)
    There is ONLY ONE COUNTRY can still explain all the questions y’all have with Buddhist religion.

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  63. 63. niteowl 9:29 pm 01/14/2013

    Dear Mr horgan,
    as a buddhist original born in a christian family, I respect your right to have your own opinions. In the interest of a civil debate, however, I will have to point out that your article ultimately only tells us that you approached Buddhism from a very western point of view and therefore you were incapable of grasping even its most basic tenets.

    Many points in your interview show that, but I think that comes across most clearly when you claim, bringing risible arguments in your support, that Buddhism is actually a theist society, because, more or less in your own words, the concept of samsara, or karma, implies the existence of some kind of judge that evaluates your actions and decides what kind of life you will be reborn in.

    I’m sorry, but from the point of view of a real buddhist that’s nothing but the western obsession with a God as creator or judge, if not outright bigotry, or even simplemindedness.
    Some of the greatest and most revered buddhist thinkers have clearly described samsara as a wheel, or a river, or even wind…. in other words impersonal mechanisms that do not judge but merely “are” and while they’re not as easily described by science as, say, some laws in physics, ultimately govern the nature of reality.

    Let’s say water starts flowing from a glacier, on the way to forming what we would describe as a river, is there any “judge” that tells the river whether it’s worthy of flowing through green pastures or should be punished by flowing along rocky, desolate slopes?
    Certainly not, on the contrary water will simply flow where it can, which is in turn determined by the nature of the land surrounding its source. Its environment was also not determined by any judge, in fact we could go back to the earthquakes or other events that created that mountain. Those events, in turn, were caused by the very nature of the Earth, going back all the way to events like the process of diversification that structured it in layers.

    The idea of a judge would come in when you consider how nowadays we can build dams etc to alter our environment, but, like the ancient pyramids, they are works of men and as such they are transitory phenomena, and certainly at some point in the future, they will crumble to dust. The Mountains themselves, as it is, will slowly erode and eventually disappear. Nothing is permanent and every claim t hte opposite is illusion.

    I’m sorry MR Horgan, but you cannot understand buddhism by electing yourself judge and examiner, you can only do that by understanding that you, like all of us, are nothing but the product of a million different influences, from genes to the family environment, and that ultimately your own self, as the self of any other living being, is nothing but illusion… something that will never be possible as long as you insist on starting from a purely egocentric point of view.
    (the sutra of Lotus could be a good start)

    Here’s to hope some day you will be able to go past your Western hangups, and go beyond the childish assumption that human characteristics, such as our ability to “judge” and “create”, might have any absolute value when the nature of reality is questioned.

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  64. 64. jolon 12:38 pm 02/9/2013

    Thank the stars! Someone finally sees through the illusion of Buddhism. There’s not much difference between original sin and bad karma, etc… I won’t be long winded here as most of the defensive buddhists, who responded were…Just let me say that most of my friends, who have become buddhists are passive aggressive now and when I challenge them on it, they tell me I don’t get it because I am not buddhist so they get to be subtle bitches and claim it is their new spiritual path…Yes, boring how they go on and on with their intelectual masturbation when really it is so simple…Be here now, be kind, be honest, love.

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  65. 65. jolon 12:38 pm 02/9/2013

    Thank the stars! Someone finally sees through the illusion of Buddhism. There’s not much difference between original sin and bad karma, etc… I won’t be long winded here as most of the defensive buddhists, who responded were…Just let me say that most of my friends, who have become buddhists are passive aggressive now and when I challenge them on it, they tell me I don’t get it because I am not buddhist so they get to be subtle bitches and claim it is their new spiritual path…Yes, boring how they go on and on with their intelectual masturbation when really it is so simple…Be here now, be kind, be honest, love.

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  66. 66. elamz 3:18 pm 02/12/2013

    Okay, I read this article and then the responses…Jolon made some good points but was a bit weak in presenting them. I understand he didn’t want to be long winded so I will go ahead and do that for him. Being a father I remember holding my two children right after they were both born and honestly they were so pure and fresh and innocent, I don’t believe for a second that they were tainted with bad karma from another life or with original sin. Those things come later when one is domesticated into their family, culture, etc.
    I also understand Jolon’s comment about the passive aggressive nature of some Buddhists. I have witnessed this myself. Here is an example. A friend of ours, who is mentally imbalanced attacked me viciously one time. I was rather hurt by the encounter and as I was relating the incident to a Buddhist friend, he responded by telling me that when I was done being upset, he hoped that I could forgive her and have compassion for her. I was actually hoping he would have compassion for me and felt like he was saying I didn’t have compassion for this woman, which I do…
    When I brought it up to him at a later time, he gave me a long defensive lecture about how he was now a Buddhist and I wasn’t and we were growing in different ways and it was lengthy and boring and I think Jolon’s colorful description of this is perfect. Similar things have happened with other Buddhists friends. Honestly, I don’t count on them anymore.
    But let me also tell you that I have an older friend, who is Tibetan. He’s told me stories about how life in Tibet, before the Chinese came, was no picnic. Not that he or I agree with their invasion. He said the most of the Tibetan people were illiterate and extremely poor, that many of the meager resources from his village went to support the monasteries. He also said that it was common in some monasteries for the older priests to have sex with the young boys entering the monastery. He told me one of his cousins ran away from a monastery for that reason. He said that this has been kept hidden and he isn’t sure if it still happens or not. This all sounds like Medieval Europe under the power of the Catholic Church and the problem with priests (Catholic or Buddhist) having sex with boys comes when you institutionalize something unnatural like Celibacy. That last statement is my opinion, not his.
    Now he did say that the current Dalai Lama started working to change these problems before the Chinese invaded but he didn’t feel like the changes were happening very fast. So, I guess my point is this: putting Buddhism up on a pedestal is a bad idea. To me it is strange that Buddhism is hip to many of my friends but other religions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc…aren’t. I prefer to not be part of a flock. I personally don’t need a shepherd. If you do, try to use your mind and keep things in perspective.

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  67. 67. 71hd82 8:49 am 02/21/2013

    I just read your article and felt I needed to put out another perspective on what Buddhism could be. (There are many forms of Buddhism, just as there are many forms of Christianity and all other religions).

    I am a Buddhist. For me it’s a simple dual-practice of mindfulness and compassion with the aim of generating greater well-being in myself and the world around me.

    I don’t believe in enlightenment or nirvana. I’m not sure whether there is such a thing as absolute ‘Truth’ in the universe. Maybe there is. But it’s not important to me on the whole. For me, my kind of Buddhism is about recognising that there is suffering in the world, and that we can reduce this suffering through the practices of mindfulness and compassion.

    For me (again), mindfulness is about trying to be ‘awake’. I call myself a ‘Buddhist’ because I want to be as awake as I can in my life. That’s what ‘Buddha’ means to me: ‘awake’. But to what? Well, not so much ‘The Truth’. It’s more about noticing what’s going inside me: what’s going on in my mind in terms of thoughts, and noticing the corresponding feelings I have in my body; how it feels to be in my body right now; what’s going on in my behaviour, my habits, my character, the choices I’m making; my actions, my speech, my intentions, my livelihood, and so on… as much of my life as I can.

    Being mindful like this is like stepping outside myself. From there I feel I can more easily see if suffering is taking place and maybe understand a little bit as to how. I can also see if well-being is being generated and how. By being mindful, I feel I can choose to generate more well-being in myself and in the world and people around me through my actions, speech, livelihood and so on. Stepping outside of myself also means that I am less in the grip of any suffering that’s taking place. It seems to dissolve a little by itself.

    Then there is the compassion side of Buddhism. (Actually, I think mindfulness and compassion are quite interconnected, but I want to split them apart for hope of some clarity). So with my aim of trying to generate more well-being in myself and the world, I try to be compassionate: with other people, animals, the environment, and to myself.

    Compassion for me is meeting the world with kindness. As a practice it’s about trying to provide a space in myself (my mind, my heart) for someone else’s (or my own) perspective or behaviour, even if it’s difficult for me to accept, and give it some kindness: some attention and some love. Attention is the mindfulness part of compassion: to attend is in itself to be kind. The ‘love’ part of compassion might be for me to say: it’s ok; I see; I understand; I’ve been there. Or it might be: I forgive you, or I forgive me. Or it might be: I can’t forgive you or me, but I see how this came about. Compassion is about looking out for one another, because we’re all hear on this Earth together; because life can be difficult; and because a little bit of kindness can undo that difficulty and make things easier for all of us.

    Meditation is an important part of my Buddhist practice. It’s a pause. And in my/our increasingly busy world, it feels really good just to pause for a moment. In that pause I can do many things: I can notice what’s going on (be mindful); I can rest (very important for my well-being); I can reflect; I can dream; I can create. And I can be kind. Because when I am rested and reflected and mindful, there’s more space in my heart to be kind.

    As for the ego or the sense of self, I don’t think there’s much use of trying to completely deny them. Through my study of Buddhism I have come to understand that suffering can arise when we push things away that we don’t want to be near or to experience. Not wanting to have a self would be a form of aversion. At the same time, the notion of a self and the experience of having an ego can also cause suffering: egotistical actions may cause suffering for others, for example, and the notion that we are all separate selves may cause us to feel lonely or deficient in some way, or competitive with other so-called selves (potentially leading to destructive thoughts, emotions and behaviours). For me, the ego-self is just part of what’s going on. It’s part of a larger picture. I acknowledge that it’s there, and try to notice when my ego is causing me think, feel and behave in a particular way so that it doesn’t cause suffering to myself or others. I also try to understand why it’s there and be kind to it and allow it some space. (Maybe it’s trying to teach me something?) At the same time, I feel that there is much more to ‘me’ than just my ego. There is something larger that I’m just part of: a community, a society, humanity, the Earth, the Universe. These kinds of thoughts help me to disarm my ego when I feel it’s presence is causing some suffering to me or others.

    I am so sorry that people who call themselves Buddhists have brought suffering to others. As a human being, I am sorry for that. Buddhists are not higher beings by default. In fact, I don’t like the idea of ‘higher beings’ in the first place. For me, Buddhism is a very humanistic religion: to be human is to experience all the negative and positive emotions out there. To be human is to fail, to cause suffering, and to generate well-being as well.

    I will not excuse the actions of others that cause suffering. I would say, however, that if people (myself included) genuinely considered a practice of mindfulness and compassion for all beings, then these terrible things would be less likely to happen in our world.

    That’s why I call myself a Buddhist. I believe that the dual-practice of mindfulness and compassion found in Buddhism is the key to reducing suffering and generating more well-being in the world. That is my aim in life: to live well and to help others to live well too. That, for me, is Buddhism.

    May all beings be at ease.

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  68. 68. John Horgan in reply to John Horgan 7:02 pm 02/22/2013

    “That is my aim in life: to live well and to help others to live well too.” Hey that’s my goal too! And I’m not a Buddhist!

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  69. 69. luanau 8:07 am 02/26/2013

    Whenever I read about Buddhism and comments on it on the web I am always reminded of Buddha’s predicament. That is how could you ever explain to people a reality which they have never felt, never known, never experienced and even the conceptual vocabularies never existed in their languages and cultures. It’s like explaining colours and lights to creatures which don’t have eyes and don’t have sight.

    Before enlightenment we are those creatures!

    This brings me to another point. Why would someone be attracted to Buddhism while he neither understands the doctrine nor know anything about the reality Buddha wants him to see? I guess it must be his karma with Buddha and Buddhism for even in the town where Buddha lived there were many who never heard of him!

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  70. 70. Arun 12:08 am 04/13/2013

    “To me, “spiritual” means life-embracing, and so a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexual love and parenthood is not spiritual but anti-spiritual.”

    Why do we have to get married/find a partner, or have children to embrace life? We can’t be allowed to disregard those things if we so choose to, or avoid being labeled as some sort of life-hating outcast? Sounds like the reasoning of a religious person.

    And if someone isn’t interested in sex, they’re suddenly not life-embracing? Come on. All this time we spent evolving to get here, and it’s still just about genitals? If anything, reproduction itself is more about inviting someone into the world to eventually die, anyways. Conception is the first stage of death.

    I like Buddhism, and Jainism as well I suppose, because a good portion of the underlying structure is about discovering truth for oneself (be your own lamp, as they say). I can agree about the iffnyness of the mumbo-jumbo stuff, but hey, I think it’d be pretty cool if reincarnation and all that was real. I think there’s a position other than belief, disbelief, or neutral in regards to these sorts of things – a “damn, it’d be cool, though!” option.

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  71. 71. Rude Canadian 9:14 pm 05/10/2013

    Zen Master Joshu once said I hate the word Buddha.

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  72. 72. Rude Canadian 1:50 pm 05/13/2013

    I’m sorry, but the actual quote is Zen Master Joshu once said “I hate hearing the word Buddha”.
    One more thing. A lot of people take up Buddhism because they feel that it will help them see themselves. That’s not possible, one can only see what your not. Body, thoughts, sensations, memory, personality, one can loose all these. If one can see through all these things, what is one left with? It’s kind of what Sherlock Holmes says, “eliminate the impossible, and one is left with the truth, no matter how improbable it is”.
    Some Buddhist master said ” you are not something, but you are not nothing”. Confusing right, stay with the confusion and your well on your way.

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  73. 73. tyavchik 11:03 pm 06/6/2013

    Thank you very much, John, for starting the discussion. I have also tried finding aspects of Buddhism that I could incorporate into my everyday life, and did discover something interesting.

    I am a clear-headed atheist, so intentionally explored Buddhism as a philosophy, not as a religion. Just like a person who lacks an enzyme to break down lactose is unable to digest milk, I am unable to digest mysticism, dogmatism, veneration of historical relics and suppression of critical thinking. So I stay away from such aspects, and turn to things that I can value and appreciate.

    The aspect of Buddhism I set out to explore was meditation: I was interested in achieving robust and calm focus. After several trials of participating in educational workshops I was able to focus my attention on whatever I wanted almost immediately and could maintain this state for hours. I would soar through meditation sessions and feel happy and focused. But, I did have a “monkey” in the mind: the only meditation I could not take was guided “loving kindness” meditation. After millennia of misogyny (this applies to all religions I am aware of, including traditional Buddhism), my blood starts to boil when I hear someone related to a religious movement proclaim that people should treat each other kindly. I feel that this is a trap that blatantly takes advantage of people (mostly women, who are already biologically predispositioned to be somewhat too trusting and caring). I feel like screaming at the top of my lungs: Why, for thousands of years, didn’t you practice what you preach? Hence, guided loving kindness meditation irritates me so much, that afterwards I just have to admit to myself that I am not good at maintaining focus, at least not in the presence of this distraction.

    For several years I abandoned attempts to explore interesting aspects of Buddhism, but recently another talk by Matthieu Ricard caught my attention and I just could not resist admiring his calm and intelligent manner of talking and returned to the exploration mode. This time I was determined to answer a concrete question: do any Buddhist practices actually provide an effective method of being intelligently kind (that is being cooperatively kind instead of being self-sacrificingly kind)?

    Before I get into the concrete findings let me add a caveat. When it comes to morality I have a “no-nonsense” approach. “Nonsense” in this case is the frequently reiterated belief that being kind towards others will make others be kind too. This is clearly the case of wishful thinking (those that disagree could go back in time 500, 1000, 2000 years, become a caring woman or a kind slave and see how much love and kindness can help them get an education, avoid being abused or pursue an interesting professional or religious career). What Buddhists preach could be interpreted as this nonsense, but if one is willing to ponder on this topic a bit more and look “between the lines”, there is something else to be learned from their practices: the combination of ability to concentrate intensely on interesting internal thoughts while maintaining a habit to react cooperatively to even the most irritating external stimuli creates a cooperative and powerful human being! This does not exactly solve the cooperation problem in game-theoretic sense, but it does nudge the society to effectively drift towards a more cooperative state. The more people exhibit kindness while being emotionally independent of others, the more cooperative the environment in which these people operate becomes. Cultivating concentration and non-attachment helps emotionally vulnerable caring people become more introspective and emotionally independent. Goal-driven competitive people, on the other hand, can learn how to exhibit kindness without necessarily becoming submissive and vulnerable. Such thoughts, of course, can not be heard stated explicitly by Buddhist priests and are not voiced during secular meditation workshops. However, for those who are attentive and flexible, reading this message between the lines can in fact turn some Buddhist practices into an worthy intellectual practical undertaking instead of a mystical inexplicable experience.

    So, to conclude, what I personally try to take away from exploring Buddhist practices are teachings that focus on the combination of being firmly grounded in internal thoughts while being able to respond to the outside world in an intelligent cooperative manner. This is a challenging task, and I am happy that unlike other religious and philosophical movements, Western Buddhism does provide this interesting exploration opportunity for a pragmatic critical atheist.

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  74. 74. bucketofsquid 2:17 pm 10/23/2013

    As an ex-buddhist I can honestly say that you get out of it what you put into it. If you let someone else guide you then you become a pale shadow of them. If you go your own way then you lose the connections that make you human. That may make you very self controlled and compassionate but it may also make you an empty hollow shell of a person. Such unfortunates that lose their desires become haunted burnouts that drown their emptiness in drugs and fleeting sexual connections that just remind them of how little their life means.

    A great spiritual leader may posit the key to happiness but that doesn’t mean that anyone else is going to understand it. As soon as someone less great thinks they understand it they begin teaching a flawed version. I’ve also noticed that the vast majority of “great leaders” are just jerks that tell people that they are great leaders. There are enough pathetic people around that will believe them contrary to any proof that they have no trouble finding suckers to oppress.

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  75. 75. tjames35 9:14 pm 12/14/2013

    I married a budhist female from taiwan and have had several of the same roomates and they arent allowed to have feelings. Not having basic self respect they certainly don’t care about my feelings in a polite way of course but my wife never agrees to be friends and always says no of course she denies it. Is she a sociopath anihlist? I see no other excuse for her behavior because she means well but its deeply embedded in her brain she cannot be a true friend. What the hell is up with that? I feel like destroying her same she has done with me

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  76. 76. beingpad 10:33 pm 12/23/2013

    Buddhism 6 perfections in summary: give, love, forgive, do no harm

    Christianity 10 commandments in summary: give, love, forgive, do not harm

    So what is the problem? Do you have a better alternative lol. They both work.

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  77. 77. saurav 6:25 am 05/5/2014

    Firstly Buddhism is not about “Digging” life. Karma means you own up your deeds. It is frightening when you know you are going to be paid back for your deeds. Once you accept it, you will stop doing all bad things.

    Secondly sadly today in Buddhism, Meditation is taught in different ways by different people. One needs to study the scriptures (Tipitikas) before jumping into Meditation. The problem is that today Meditation is taught like a fashion to those people who have no clue about what Vipassana is and its purpose. Further Monks or Buddhist teachers who teach Meditation each have their own ways and often the techniques taught by them are not what the Buddha taught.

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  78. 78. saurav 6:41 am 05/5/2014

    Buddhism requires:-
    1. Hard work.
    2. Will power.
    3. Persistence
    4. Mind of Inquisitiveness
    5. Patience (Most important quality needed).

    If you do not have ANY of these 5 qualities then Buddhism is not for you.

    Further the reality of life is that the more pure you are, the more you will be attacked, mocked at. Buddhism in its history has been the attack of devious guys. People have founded different versions of the religions radically different from original Buddha’s words.

    Always go back to the Nikayas that is the source of true Buddhist knowledge.

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  79. 79. saurav 6:52 am 05/5/2014

    I agree with the above poster Arun.

    If you really see life (And I mean REALLY see life not through the prism of Greed, Hatred or Ego), you will realize that life is indeed Suffering.

    I know all this sounds wishful talking and maybe I am talking nonsense, but sometimes Nonsense is the truth.

    You marry, have kids. What do you do?. You throw in another life-form into this world of Suffering for no fault of that new life form(your kid). We all know how devious, cruel this world is. Any Intelligent person knows this fact. 99.99% percent of this world lives and dies on the concept of Money. They call it as Practicality of life.

    Well if you are one of those with the above views (practicality), then certainly Buddhism is not a practical religion.

    But the fact remains, Truth need not be practical.

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  80. 80. saurav 7:06 am 05/5/2014

    No matter what you say……Attachment is the root of all evil.

    Some people really dont understand this concept. I am not talking about the West but here in India , Parents are really Attached to their kids…..They live their life through their kids. Imagine the burden the poor kid has to carry all his life till his parents are alive for no fault of his. These parents decide the Education, career, goals, Even Life partner of their kids. The poor kid is not allowed to think of his own and if at all he starts deciding to think of his own the parents reprimand him.

    There are many facts which the Buddha has said. One has to just Open his eyes and see , you will notice it.

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  81. 81. Hirantha 3:39 am 06/2/2014

    Then you don’t believe Buddhism.Is it? Of course, It’s up to you to believe or not to believe Buddhism but it doesn’t necessarily mean that since you don’t believe it is wrong.However try to read more on Buddha’s Teachings on mind. It will help you to gain a better understanding of this valuable religious philosophy. Until that let me put one Dhamma Pada for your reference ” Not doing all demerits ( bad and wrong things which are harmful to one’s self and others), doing all merits ( Right and good things which are beneficial to one’s self and others) and purifying one’s own mind are the teachings of the Lord Buddha”. Hence first try to stop bad things you do, and then try to do good things. Only then you can purify your mind. Here if your scientific mind has no knowledge to decide what’s good and what’s bad to do again refer to the teachings of the Lord Buddha. May the Triple Gems Bless you!

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  82. 82. chaminda 7:47 am 06/5/2014

    Why don’t you dig Buddhism.do you know the real meaning of it . it’s a pain release system. do you know what is the real pain will you face. we all will have to face death.you like or not the day will come for your death.in front of the death you will be a small man. when you breath off you have to breath in immediately.it is happening automatically. you never thought about it.that is the point the trouble is going to start. the time will come you can not breath in. then you will face real pain. no one can explain that pain .why they all are in the hell.at that moment there are no one can help us without the knowledge of Buddhism.any doctors or any specialist of any part of your body are helpless. they will conform your death. but?????. with out knowledge of that pain release system you will have a darkest mind . the destination of that kind of mind very dangerous. when you can not breath in the o2 will not come to your blood. without o2 the cells of your body will die immediately.then you will have to face real pain.you can not open your mouth. you can not work with your arms , legs. i know that you need shout. but you cant. you need to tell authors but you cant.please learn how release your pain.

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  83. 83. jonsleeper 5:50 pm 06/15/2014

    John, thank you so much for a great article. It is very difficult to find any rational balanced arguments to challenge what, on the face of it, seems such a harmless and patently beneficial practice as Buddhism. Of course it’s really just “religion-light” and for any scientifically-minded materialist-naturalist the bottom line can only every be that all such forms of “spirituality”, “religion”, “higher power”, or indeed whatever else you want to call it are and always will be entirely bogus. In truth any “insight” that doesn’t come from a reputable peer reviewed journal is snake oil. Any “knowledge” that can’t be falsified or substantiated is false prophecy. Our sense of self is an illusion conjured up by the gabillion neurons in our brains. We are only that … and none of us is going to achieving anything beyond a spectacularly insipid vainglorious escapism – however much time we spend sitting in an uncomfortable position omm-ing ourselves silly. I’m sorry. It might feel good for some, but that doesn’t make it any less fake. Arguing for it, as so many have done at such length here, is either denial or facile or both. This is the twenty first century, after all. Thank you, John, for such bravery and honesty.

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  84. 84. Charbeanie 4:35 am 07/8/2014

    Blah, blah, blah. Chop some words, I mean wood, and carry some water.

    I have a Masters in Divinity from Naropa University, which is fairly interesting considering Naropa is a Buddhist inspired school, and over 20 years practicing and studying Buddhism. All the comments posted or neither correct, incorrect, nor both correct, — and!!! — nor both incorrect. (Homage to The Middle Way.)

    Just why doncha try to (dah?) chop some wood, and carry some water?

    The most important thing I learned from a master of meditation is that if you don’t chill out and relax, you aren’t gonna be present for whatever “It” that is supposed to happen.

    Who knows what transpired between the historical Buddha and his wife? Maybe she had a lover and told the Buddha to get lost. Maybe they had an “understanding.” Entertain yourself forever with mucking. Pour over dogma till the cows come home. Monkey mind quiets down when you realize you are damn well sick of it. (Or, if you are getting baked daily, alcoholically drunk daily, having tons of sex, getting your silly poetry published…too old to care…perhaps dead…and damn well sick of it.) Not before.

    Most masters say to babysit your mind until you get sick of that, too.

    You can’t kill the Buddha until you realize you’ve made him up.

    Finally, to rattle on about selflessness is moot. We have an ego. We aren’t going to get rid of it any time soon. So, in the meantime? Chop some words, I mean wood, and carry some water. A water bottle’s okay.

    I dedicate this comment to my first meditation instructor. I nicknamed him R.C. for Ruthless Compassion because he could chop wood into splinters with ONE big laugh. HA!

    If your brand of Buddhism ain’t fun it ain’t Buddhism.

    I owe major piles of money in student loans, and this enables me to make this statement, with 100% certainty.

    Meditation Monkey Mind? Just chop those words…or, drink some water, for Buddha’s sake! Everyone sounds dehydrated.

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  85. 85. Tseten 10:39 pm 07/13/2014

    Thank you for this excellent summary of your objections to Buddhism. I was hoping that all of your objections might turn on a single point. However, you appear to have a variety of objections, each having its own unique point of view. Consequently, I will address each one in turn.
    1. I fail to understand how you can say that karma and reincarnation are “theistic.” Karma is no more theistic that the law of cause and effect, the only difference in the Buddhist worldview being that mind is regarded as a sense faculty in its own right, in addition to the familiar five senses. Reincarnation is not a Buddhist doctrine, either. Reincarnation is the doctrine that there is an essential soul that survives death and is reborn. Buddhists believe in transmigration, which is nothing more than the continuity of cause and effect. It is true that this is an hypothesis, not dissimilar from the law of the conservation of energy. Every cause has its proper effect, and every effect is the result of a definite cause. However, not all causes have an immediate effect, depending on the conditions of the environment. Consequently, when one dies, the unexpressed causes are reconstituted in a subsequent rebirth. But there is no essential self that reincarnates, and no God is involved.
    2. I fail to understand why you a priori reject the concept of the “supernatural.” In fact, I am not sure what you mean by this word. However, it is surely unscientific to posit science as a limiting belief system since science itself is constantly expanding and changing itself. Consequently, science cannot reject anything. All it can say is that something is not yet proven. The “super-natural” is simply that which goes beyond our current understanding of the natural. Consequently, far from rejecting the super-natural, this is precisely what science is committed to investigate and probe.
    3. It should not be surprising that when different people meditate, they experience different things. People are different, and meditation is merely a device for activating the mind. Since each person’s karma differs, as they probe into themselves and discover different things about themselves, they will have different experiences. This does not disprove anything about meditation or Buddhism. In fact, when you read the great mystics of all times and climes, you do discover a surprising similarity in their doctrines. This is because, as they penetrate deeper into themselves, they come into relationship more and more with mind as such, and not merely their personal egoity. The differences you refer to in the context of advanced meditators, moreover, relate more to cognitive interpretation than to meditation itself. Of course, there are different interpretations of human experiences. Does this disprove, therefore, the reality of experience? I think not! There are even different interpretations of science too!
    4. Your analysis of the doctrine of anatta is extremely naive. The Buddha refers to self as frequently as he denies its existence. The difficulty is partly one of translation. The word atta (atman) refers to a specific conception of the self as a permanent, blissful, monad, rather similar to the Newtonian conception of the atom (except for the blissful part), which was held by traditional Indian religion at the time to be the absolute essence of the person. This is what the Buddha was refuting. In fact, Buddhism refers to the continuity of the person as the “mindstream,” and holds that this is eternally self-perpetuating. Therefore, to say that Buddhism says that the self does not exist is a gross simplification.
    5. It is also naive to say that because some Buddhists exhibit negative qualities, and these people practise meditation, therefore meditation is ineffective. The answer here is similar to 3. Meditation can be a very powerful psychological catalyst. One must work through many things before one becomes a perfect Buddha, and many of these things may involve intense difficulty, pain, suffering, negativity, etc. Even the Buddha has to endure a psychosis immediately prior to his enlightenment. This is found in shamanism also. It is not like waving a magic wand and, poof, we all become perfect Buddhas and bodhisattvas. So if some people manifest negativity as a result of their spiritual practice, this is not surprising.
    6. As to your final point, it is also incorrect to say that Buddhism rejects life. The Buddha said over and over again that his way leads to the realization of the Deathless, or Deathlessness. The opposite of death is life. What the Buddha rejected was not life, but the illusion of existence that we call life, in particular, desirous attachment, but this is really a pernicious delusion and source of unhappiness that is in fact destroying the world. Science itself is showing that the common sense, material view of reality is an illusion, and that the reality of the world is essentially energetic, mental, and something quite other than what appears. This is no different from Buddhism.
    I hope these comments help you and those who read this article to understand Buddhism better. Thank you.

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  86. 86. Charbeanie 6:02 pm 07/14/2014

    The historical Buddha did not even have the “appearance” of recorded “psychosis” before his enlightenment. This illustrates why using so many words is ineffective, and misleading. According to hagiographies of the historical Buddha, he was tempted by distractions (some more profoundly distracting than others) and in resisting he finally realized he had broken the bonds imposed by is own ego. He supposedly said something like, and I paraphrase, I have seen the builder of this house of cards…referring to the ego. I actually think it was reported he talked about tearing down the rafters and the builder would not be able to rebuild. It would be better if we made decisions IN THIS LIFE based on still having the appearance of ego.

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  87. 87. Tseten 8:13 am 07/16/2014

    Charbeanie, you are quite incorrect. You and I are referring to the Buddha’s experience of the asura, Mara, which occurred in the context of his enlightenment experience. To call Mara a “distraction” is a gross oversimplication. This experience refers to the universal archetype of the “dark night of the soul,” reported by all great mystics. In shamanism, the shaman undergoes a “spiritual crisis,” which we might call a psychotic crisis, before reintegrating the self. In the Western esoteric tradition this is called the ordeal of the abyss. I do not disagree with your statement about the ego, but ask any Jungian psychologist about what the disintegration of the ego entails, and you will discover that I am correct.

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  88. 88. Charbeanie 2:27 pm 07/16/2014

    At the point the historical Buddha encountered Mara he was near enlightenment. (Buddhism teaches our “dark night” lasts for lifetimes. The Buddha had already, at this point, re-experienced every single one of his prior lifetimes.) Truly, we do not know for certain whether or not the historical Buddha was in the final dumping of karma, or…was already in an enlightened state, and was simply going through the motions to set an example. I have little interest in a
    Jungian interpretation. This is what the Buddhists call putting a hat on top of a hat. What is the point, here? What did the Buddha advise about excessive rumination on the mystical or unanswerable? Google: The 14 questions on which the Buddha remained silent.

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  89. 89. Tseten 7:16 pm 07/16/2014

    The Buddha spent 45 years discussing and answering questions with and without the sangha. It is Wisdom (prajna) that is the salvific principle. This is clear from a thorough reading of the Pali Canon. But now we are living in the mappo, the degenerate age, when men and women are too naive, too ignorant, and too lazy to actually discover the dharma, so they content themselves with partial readings, naive pronouncements, and superficial practices, and so perpetuate the very delusion that they purport to have overcome. I thank you for this discussion.

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  90. 90. Charbeanie 9:42 pm 07/19/2014

    Ouch.

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  91. 91. Charbeanie 11:02 pm 07/20/2014

    The above comment is an example of someone trying to cause negative energy within the sangha or Buddhist community. These comments may have a place in private discussion, but, publicly, they could cause readers to be disturbed, upset, or confused. I have been reminded of so many basic Buddhist tenets while on this blog. Silence is golden. Too many words can confuse…and (ouch) hurt. I think to be known by one’s acts in real time may have more benefit than blogging about Buddhism.

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  92. 92. robertinventor 12:38 pm 09/17/2014

    Well the idea that there is anyone who judges us – that’s a hang over from Christianity. Some Western Buddhists may perhaps think that way.

    But in the Buddhist teachings it is just a natural process. One example. If you walk up a staircase to the third floor, then several consequences follow. First you can’t touch the ground. You can’t drive a car also. Also you may be tired. That’s all past karma, your karma of walking up the stairs has made it impossible to do those things and made you tired. No external judge has done that to you, it is just a natural process, in the Buddhist teachings.

    Also – when you talk about infallibility there I think you are talking about the idea of a guru.

    If so – it’s not really at all the idea that the guru is infallible. It’s rather – that if we do everything through our own effort, then it’s inevitably got the stamp of “me” on it. No matter how I try. So – you can get a long way without that mattering, but at some point, needs to be something other than “me” as I normally understand it, has to break through.

    So – that’s why you have teachers. But so far that’s not the guru, just someone external to you, can also be non human, some event in the world that is that trigger.

    But in the case of the Vajrayana rapid path, then they do practices that could easily boost the ego to a huge degree. So the way to prevent that is to make sure you have a strong connection with someone else as your teacher.

    But there are two important points here.

    1. No-one can ever say that they are your guru. That’s something you decide for yourself.

    2. Most Buddhists even in Tibet don’t have gurus. It’s only if you have an extraordinary level of commitment that you need a guru. Many Westerners also who think they have a guru don’t really.

    They may go to an initiation where they are told they have to do some practice for the rest of their life for instance, and think this means they have a guru. But that’s just part of the ceremony and Tibetans understand that you aren’t expected to follow this, it is just a ceremony that gives you a blessing type connection with the possibility of having a guru. You don’t have a guru yet at that point so don’t have to do it. And if you did have a guru, you’d talk to him or her to find out what it is you actually have to do – and might be told “It would be an idea to do that ceremony once a year or so” or whatever is suitable to your situation.

    3. No guru can ever tell you to do anything counter to the Buddha’s teaching. That is – well they can try, but if think what they say doesn’t accord with the Buddha’s teaching then you shouldn’t follow their advice. Rather talk over it to them and explain why what they said doesn’t seem to accord with the teachings of the Buddha.

    4. The aim of the guru, should be, is to get you to think and act for yourself. They are helping to open your wisdom and compassion. Not making you a slave to their own ideas.

    5. Before taking on someone as a guru, you would normally spend a fair number of years with them as student. During that time you get to know each other and find out if you work together okay and – the main thing is – is this person who is teaching me helping me to better understand the teachings of the Buddha and apply them in my life? Do I feel this is the person who can help me to follow the path?

    If you don’t feel that you shouldn’t take them on as guru. But – it’s an internal thing anyway. You need to have a connection yourself to them. You might want someone to be your guru, maybe because they are famous or just that you recognize their wisdom, their understanding of the dharma, compassion and so on. But if you don’t have that connection, they can be your teacher, but can’t be your guru.

    And the bottom line here is that most Buddhists, even in Tibet don’t have gurus. And same in Western Buddhism. Many Westerners think they have Tibetan gurus. But in actuality hardly any do.

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  93. 93. CPalliyaguru 1:34 am 09/30/2014

    Enjoyed reading the comments.

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