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A Cynic’s View of Buddhism

21st September 2010

I first discovered Buddhism thirteen years ago, and have considered myself a Buddhist ever since then. I now know, after doing a ten-day introductory course at Kopan Monastery near Kathmandu, that I am absolutely, definitely . . . NOT a Buddhist!

At first glance it may seem to be all light and fluffy; full of universal love and compassion, and accepting of other's points of view - but when you get underneath the surface it's just like all the other major religions (although it claims to be a philosophy, not a religion) - "this is the only way. If you don't follow these rules, you are doomed to eternal suffering."

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good stuff too, and I go along with many of the main precepts, such as the equality of all sentient beings - well that is to say that I believe that humans and animals are of equal worth . . . and I guess I can go along with the Hungry Ghost realm too, but personally I think the God, Demi-God and Hell realms were meant figuratively. I don't think that the Black Thread Hell, the Oozing Blisters Hell, and the Shivering "achu" or "brrr" Hell (I'm not making these up, honest) were meant to be taken seriously, but maybe I'm wrong. I also do believe in re-incarnation, and have no problem at all in thinking of life as full of suffering.

I found the meditations where we had to think about how selfish we are, and dwell on all the evil we've done in this and all our previous lives pretty easy. "Think about this until you feel like you are full of poison, and have to purge yourself immediately. Remember that you could die today, and be born into yet another lifetime of pain and suffering" - no worries. Anyone who has suffered with depression is used to dwelling on death, and thinking about what a wicked and selfish person he or she is - it goes with the territory.

There is a purpose to all this negative thinking; it is to cultivate a sense of urgency for practising Buddhism. If we wait until tomorrow it might be too late - we could be dead by then . . . and with all the wicked things we've done, all the people and animals we've killed (each one of us has been a dictator in one life or another, you know) then we are sure to be reborn into the Hell realm. Also, if you intentionally kill an animal (and the animal realm goes right down to amoebas, and intestinal worms) and don't purify that action, then in fifteen days the negative karma is the equivalent of killing a human, because karma - good or bad - increases over time. Remember that next time you put flea powder on your cat, thinking you are saving it from suffering, you ignorant fool.

We have been lucky enough to be given a Precious Human Life this time around; it is a sin to waste it by doing anything other than practising Buddhism, for the sake of All Sentient Beings. That is the only way to escape the eternal suffering. Be aware though, that it is only the state of mind that you have at the moment of death that determines your next rebirth. If Mother Teresa had an uncharacteristic burst of annoyance as she died, then she's probably roaming around as a goat right now.

By the way, depression is caused by self-pity, and over attachment to self [which is probably spot on, to be fair], and low self-esteem means that you have a polluted mind and are living an immoral life. Mental illness can sometimes be caused by Hungry Ghost possession . . . but the Hungry Ghosts are attracted to the person because of their polluted mind and immoral lifestyle; pure beings scare them away. There are some people who have mental problems due to brain damage, either through genetic reasons or because of an accident - a physical cause rather than a purely karmic one. Of course their karma must have been pretty screwed for them to have been born into a damaged body or have had an accident that caused such brain damage. Basically if you are deeply unhappy and feel like you are a bad person, just face it - it's because you are a bad person.

Don't think you can remedy things by killing yourself - you'll just have to face the same problems next time around. Plus suicide demonstrates impatience, as you are not willing to suffer your pain. Patience is the cause of beauty in future lives, so by topping yourself, your next life will be plagued with the same problems that drove you to suicide, plus some extra bad karma accrued by ending your Precious Human Life . . . and you'll be butt-ugly to boot - don't do it kids!

No, instead you must develop equanimity, avoiding attachment and aversion - and who can argue with that? Don't get attached to friends, parents, children - they've all been your enemy in countless previous lives, as your enemy has been your best friend . . . and will be again in countless future lives. Any special bond you may feel is a transitory illusion, and will only last for this lifetime. It is impermanent; changeable; empty - as are you. Remember that someone who has done you wrong has been your mother in countless lives. Feel Love and Compassion for all equally; there is no difference between Fred West, your grandmother, and a cockroach, you should feel the same love towards each of them.

This is the only path to Enlightenment.

Oh, and you need to get a GURU too, whom you will obey until you attain enlightenment, no matter how many lifetimes that takes. You should chose carefully, study them for three to six years before committing yourself - after all, it is they that will choose your consort for the final tantric stage before you reach Enlightenment. Once you've signed up to a GURU, the decision is final. You must ALWAYS trust and obey the GURU, for they know best. You should run any important decisions by them - especially if you're considering hearing teachings from someone else, who could have a different and wrong opinion. If you don't agree with your GURU then this is your bad mind, your self-cherishing ego at work. The GURU will rightly look at you with disgust if you disagree, or try to disobey. Sometimes the GURU may demonstrate "tough love" if he thinks it's what you need.

They will give you Preliminary Practices to do, to foster the right frame of mind, and a sense of Universal Love and Compassion. Not trivial things, like helping the poor and needy; that would just assist beings in one lifetime - there are much larger things at stake for the Buddhist. Tibetan Buddhism - the Mahayana school - is about helping All Sentient Beings escape from Samsara, the circle of life, death and suffering that we are all trapped in.

The important tasks that the GURU will set for you - things that can truly help All Sentient Beings - include doing 100,000 prostrations to purify your Mind; reciting a mantra 100,000 times to gain merit; and also water bowl offerings. Take a number of water bowls, fill them with water, and offer them with prayers to each enlightened being. Then empty the bowls, dry them and start again; 100,000 in total. If you cannot see that this is much more beneficial to All Sentient Beings than merely helping people and animals in need, then you are deluded, and will probably need to perform extra purification and merit making rituals.

The last question I asked before leaving the monastery was regarding an inconsistency that had been bothering me. Isn't the idea of the equality of all that lives contradicted by the theory of a Precious Human Life, that is more important than any other form of life and must be protected accordingly? Isn't this like George Orwell's sheep chanting "four legs good, two legs better"? We had been repeatedly told how vital it was to earn merit so we could ensure we got a Precious Human Rebirth next time around, for the benefit of All Sentient Beings, and had also been informed that it was our duty to protect the Precious Human Life that we are living right now. So I brought up the malaria parasite, itself a Sentient Being, according to the definition given earlier in the course - is it better to allow millions of African children to die, or kill many millions more sentient beings by trying to eradicate and cure the disease?

Also, who says a human life is more worthy than an animal life? The standard answer is that a human life is more precious because only humans can practise Dharma - listen to teachings, meditate and live pure lives - but how do we know this is true? How do we know bees don't meditate in the hive each evening - and look at the good they do, pollinating all those plants. Vultures don't kill anything; they clean up the dead animals left lying around, and will always share their food with other vultures - how can we say that their lives aren't pure? I was told that, while negative karma was accrued by curing the body of disease, we could balance that out by meditating more.

The way I see it, once you start discriminating between species (or even individual beings), you are defeating your argument of equality and equanimity to all. You are saying it's okay to kill this sentient being, because - although we are all equal - some of us are more equal than others. Add to that the blind, unquestioning allegiance to a GURU, and you create a potentially dangerous situation that is open to abuse. This is why I feel disillusioned with Buddhism; I thought they believed in the equality of all beings, but it looks like I was wrong.

I'm sure I'm going straight to the Loud Howling Hell for writing this . . . and you probably are too for reading it, so start practising Buddhism straight away! HURRY UP . . . you could be dead in five minutes!

Final Thoughts

Personally, I think you should be wary of anyone who tells you that their way is the only way. I believe that there are many paths - as many as there are sentient beings. Find and follow your own path. You don't have to look outside - we each have an internal guru; that little voice inside that tells us right from wrong. We may choose to ignore it at times, when we don't like the direction in which our moral compass is pointing - and those are likely to be the times that we find ourselves to be the most unhappy: when our actions conflict our beliefs. But whether we listen to it or not, that little voice still speaks. Go somewhere quiet, and hear what it has to say.

In the words of that wonderful guru and enlightened being, Jerry Springer, "be good to yourselves . . . and each other!"

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