Saturday, April 7, 2012

Buddhism for a Dummy

I’ve been reading some basic Buddhist writings over the last week.  There’s a certain warmth to it.  In No Death, No Fear , Thich Nhat Hanh describes many examples of life preceeding life.  One example is the cloud.  If one watches a cloud, it may seem to disappear with time.  But it hasn’t disappeared.  It has changed, falling to the ground in the form of rain, snow and ice.  From there, it performs many useful functions before ultimately evaporating to once again form a cloud.  Another example is of a flame on a match.  He describes looking at a match before striking it.  Can you see a flame?  You cannot see it, but it is there.  The conditions are simply not right for it appear.  Once the match is struck, the flame manifests for a short time before the conditions are no longer right (the wind blows it out, or I drop it into the sink).  In this way, the flame does not begin, and it does not end.  It simple manifests when the conditions are right, and disappears when they are not.

I can grasp some of the ways in which these analogies apply to people.  As science shows us, matter does not disappear.  It can be changed, or converted into energy, but it cannot be eliminated.  When our bodies die, a series of changes occur, and the whole of our body is no longer held together, but it is not gone.  The conditions are no longer right for it continue, so it changes.  We decay and become part of the soil, or we are burned and become part of the air.  We are different, but not gone.  I find a certain amount of comfort in this.

But this doesn’t comfort my desire to maintain my consciousness.  Likely I am a novice in understanding Buddhist thought.  I will try to improve.  But for now, while I can feel good about my physical presence never leaving this earth, I’m left to wonder what becomes of my mind.  Buddhists do not seem to believe in an eternal soul.  They point out that nothing in this world lasts forever as currently constructed.  And they are right.  Would it make me feel better if somehow upon my death, a new consciousness began elsewhere that was somehow a transference of my consciousness?  I suppose it would.  I wouldn’t have the memory of my current self, but at least I would still exist.

Having grown up with western religion, it’s difficult to think in these terms.  I want a checklist of things to follow, with a specific goal or reward upon completion of the list.  The idea of this world BEING the reward is strange.

Buddhism seems to be a very practical religion.  It focuses on how to eliminate as much suffering as possible in THIS life, not setting one’s self up for the next one.  I like this.  Western religion tends to pass off suffering as the cost of doing business.  It’s an acceptable component of the overall picture.  I don’t agree, and I don‘t think Christians are being wise when they teach this idea.  When the Bible discusses good teaching, it says (summarized) that good teaching will bear good fruit (Matthew 7).  This strikes me as a fair standard.  The acceptance of earthly suffering does not sit with me as being good fruit.  Many times Jesus focuses on meeting the physical needs of people before focusing on spiritual matters.  The more I read the teachings of other world religions without the spin of church being involved, the more there is a consistency in them.  Peace, love, acceptance of others, these things are present in all of them.  Hate, violence, divisiveness, there things are universally panned.

For now, I’m thinking through these basic Buddhist thoughts on the continuation of life.  I’m wrapping my head around the idea of no birth, no death.  There’s a well of knowledge available to me that I’ve never sampled before.  And whether these ideas are verifiable fact or not, I feel better about death having read them.

1 comment:

  1. Ryan, remind me to lend you Noah Levine's against the stream next time I see you. Buddhism from a punk rock pov. Totally valid, totally interesting.