How is Buddha Relevant to the World of A Small Town Lawyer?
A view of our natural world, from our deck, 11-11-2013
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Today, for a few of you, I address some thoughts that have come together for me. They include:
1. The tragic typhoon in The Philippines;
2. The tsunamis in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and Japan in 2011;
3. The risk of a catastrophic asteroid hitting the earth;
4. The question of climate change, which is real whether caused by Mankind or not;
5. Human suffering;
7. The delicate balance of life;
8. Sarah Palin’s “War for Christmas”.
We tend to think the place we live is the “normal” place. On most days, Buckhannon seems to be the prototype for safety and normality. So did Newtown Ct. to its citizens, or the families at that small Pa. Amish school, or the fans at the Aurora movie theater.
My friend and high school classmate Larry Kammer guided me to a couple of books on secular Buddhism a couple of years ago by Stephen Batchelor, “Buddhism Without Beliefs” and “Confession of a Buddhist Atheist”.
It is not that I strongly disagreed with Mr. Batchelor, but when I realized that his views would lead me to a point where I needed to follow these teachings in a prescribed way, I put the books down.
But, last evening my dear wife Nancy was kind enough to watch with me a documentary from Amazon Prime, a PBS two hour “Life of Buddha”. It started with the traditional story, supernatural trappings and all. I started to turn it off, but most of the show dealt with the traditional facts, oral history, and early texts. I decided to leave it on.
The “facts” of Buddha’s life have much more detail and are more interesting, than Jesus’ arriving under a star, staying at a cheap motel, and being the son of a carpenter.
Buddha was said to be a son of a prince, and his queen, who lived 500 years before Jesus. He was pampered and sheltered from hardship and ugliness. When he was around 30, he got out of the palace and drove around. He learned from his driver that the grey haired wrinkled man on the edge of the road was normal, and that we all age and die.
Later, he encounters a starving person, a diseased person, etc. He learned these were conditions common to human beings.
Having lived a lusty, promiscuous, life, he marries, and that relationship is also X-rated. Sensing there is something more to life, he simply walks out on his pampered wife and their child. Not exactly father of the year material. But, why do people not criticize Jesus for telling his followers to walk away from family and responsibilities? I don’t agree with either of those guys. Everyone loves a good road trip, hanging with our friends, sucking down some wine, pondering the mysteries of the universe, and leaving the stress and responsibilities at home, but I digress.
After six years of fasting, meditating, practicing yoga, and being devout in every way, and nearly starving to death as an “ascetic”, he experienced Nirvana (not the music group).
He abandoned reincarnation, decided he did not have thousands of past lives, decided he had never been an elephant, a monkey, or a snake. He realized he must focus on the here and now.
He decided that starving himself into a trance, having hallucinations, and believing in an endless, recycling, “hereafters” were the wrong way.
In Dharma, he came up with four principles. The “bottom line” that I came up with was, stripped of the subsequent supernatural trimmings that all religions seem to take on to scare or motivate its supplicants, is that he decided that life is simply life, and our existence is the present as we live it, nothing more or less.
It seems to me that is what “The Great Heretic”, Baruch Spinoza (the philosopher’s philosopher), figured out, and Newton, Einstein, Carl Sagan, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior. These are all thinkers I admire and agree with. I do not know why their view do not predominate.
Once that Buddha achieved Nirvana, tradition says he found his old ascetic friends and converted them as the first Buddhist monks. He preached moderation, a middle ground, which has been a theme of mine lately. He was not against eating, drinking, sex, or meditation.
I think Buddha’s main failing (I say “he” although this line of thinking spread through several of the religions and traditions of the time) is his decision to teach it as a religion and expect others to follow what he figured out instead of making that journey themselves.
He accepted the premise that all the organized religions do. People just are not smart enough. There is no way we can educate enough critical thinkers to let them study the world and figure it out for themselves. I think that it may take genetic science, revolutionary thinking, and huge technological progress, but I think our goal should NOT be to let one inspired guru, even Joel Osteen or L. Ron Hubbard, give us all the answers. Answers are to be found in all sorts of places.
Of course, not many people are going to go into the wilderness for 7-10 years and sink near to death to figure it out.
As for the items listed in 1-8 above, our lives, and our world, can be gone in an instant, or minutes, or over a few decades. When a disaster hits now, we cannot be ready. We have too many people per square mile. We have no survival skills. Our iPhones will not work. Our houses are not designed for us to live without the essential utilities. This is probably one category where WV is not near the bottom.
So, the more of us there are, the more resources we use, the more technology we depend on, the greater the risk of disaster. If we existed on 100 planets and moons, we would have more eggs in more baskets.
We should pray for our space program and for mankind’s future.
This week-end, traffic in front of us stopped. We did too. No problem. Next thing I know, a one ton pick-up hauling horses came to a screeching stop, next to us, in the left hand lane, across the double line. Had a car been coming at him, his choice would have been to take us out (2500 lb. Subaru WRX), probably killing Duffy, and ruining our backs. In one instant, our lives would change.
So, I am with the Buddha that PBS portrayed. Nirvana is realizing the natural world is a marvel, our family and friends are to be treasured and appreciated while we have them, that suffering is inevitable, that change is too.
I agree that our best option is to appreciate every single good moment, and to tolerate the not so good and study it, as an absolutely normal and inevitable stage of our existence.
Of course this view cannot be accepted in most of the churches in America. And, in some churches, they agree with Sarah that the Christian Right gets to dictate how we celebrate Christmas, and what terms we use. I want my church to become more tolerant, less superstitious, more open to science and modern thought, and more inclusive. Sarah deserves to be ignored. She is irrelevant.
This post was written by Burton Hunter