Why I am not a Buddhist

I asked myself, was I content
With the world that I once cherished?
Did it bring me to this darkened place
To contemplate my perfect future?
I will not stand nor utter words against
This tide of hate
Losing sight of what and who I was again

I’m so sorry if these seething words I say
Impress on you that I’ve become
The anathema of my soul

As I was waiting for the battery in my car to be replaced, I bought a Twix bar from the repair shop vending machine.

Now, I love Twix bars. I mean, I really love Twix bars. There is something…unwholesome about the way I love Twix bars. The chocolate layer, the caramel, the crisp cookie crunch…it’s enough to bring a grown man to tears.

I was disappointed by the Twix bar that I bought. At some point in its life, somewhere ‘twixt the factory and my hands, it had been exposed to very high heat. The caramel layer had melted and oozed out the bottom of the bars in a gooey puddle, leaving behind a thin and feeble layer of half-melted and congealed chocolate over a partly denuded cookie center. It was a hollow mockery of a Twix bar, a Twix bar that had shuffled off this mortal coil before it even had time to live.

But I didn’t come here to talk about candy bars. I came here to talk about Buddhism.


I can’t say that you’re losing me
I always tried to keep myself tied to this world
Though I know where this is leading
Please, no tears, no sympathy
I can’t say that you’re losing me
But I must be that which I am
Though I know where this could take me
No tears, no sympathy

In some small way, my desire for a Twix bar brought me unhappiness. The Twix bar I bought did not meet my expectations, and as a result, it did not bring me joy.

Buddhist philosophy correctly predicts my unhappiness. Buddhism teaches, and quite rightly, that the experience of life is the experience of suffering. This suffering, it says, comes inevitably from desire; when one desires that which one does not have, or when one has that which one does not desire, the result is suffering.

It’s hard to find fault in that idea. I could, as a minor quibble, argue that the source of suffering is not desire of and by itself, but rather the difference between one’s expectations and reality; I expected my experience with the Twix bar to be something other than it was, and I was disappointed. Had I had no expectations at all, the Twix bar may actually, when judged on the merits of what it was rather than what I expected it to be, have been quite good.

But that’s really a trivial complaint. The fact is, desire and expectation do lead to suffering, because we can not always expect to have what we desire, nor have the world match our expectations.


Gracefully, respectfully
Facing conflict deep inside myself
But here confined, losing control
Of what I could not change

Gracefully, respectfully
I ask you, please don’t worry, not for me
Don’t turn your back, don’t turn away

When viewed through this lens, the Four Noble Truths of Buddhist thought seem quite reasonable. Nobody likes to suffer; suffering and sorrow and grief are painful burdens, that grind down the human soul and sometimes make the experience of being human unbearable.

Buddhism teaches that freedom from suffering comes through disengagement. If desire results in suffering, then the way out of suffering is to desire nothing. By practicing this, a person can seek to free himself from the endless cycle of suffering resulting from birth, death, and rebirth, and become enlightened. Once the attachment to the world, with its attendant desire, is released, the enlightened Buddhist frees himself from suffering.

And if this is enlightenment, I want nothing to do with it.


It’s hard to say that the Buddhists have it wrong. One need only look around to see that the world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. A litany of the evils of mankind is at once horrifying and clichéd; we have lived shoulder to shoulder with evil for so long that even talking about it seems banal. Engaging the world invariably brings pain and misery; we are so steeped in it that it cannot be any other way.

And yet… and yet…

And yet the flip side of that very coin is the fact that broken desire and unmet expectation is the necessary driving inspiration behind the impulse to do good.

Desire and expectation lead to sorrow and suffering, but in that sorrow and suffering is the incentive that prods us to seek to make more than what exists now, to become more than what we are today. The drive to better ourselves and the world we live in has at its core that very dissatisfaction the Buddhist philosophy sees as the source of all suffering.


Sometimes, it seems to me that Buddhist thought, when viewed from a certain angle, is the philosophy of nihilism. The world is a wretched, miserable place, it says, and engaging it will only bring you sorrow; best, then to transcend it, to disengage from it, to step away from that which you desire, lest your desire cause you pain.

That strikes me as a tacit, perhaps unconscious acceptance that the world as it is now is irredeemable. The world is beyond hope; the only reasonable answer is to forfeit the game, be quit of the whole affair. The Noble Eightfold Path is a road away from the world, teeming with refugees seeking to separate themselves from it.

To that, I say, no.


The world looks as though it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls, it is true. The world rarely lives up even to the most modest of expectations, and the rift between one’s expectations and the unpleasant and often evil reality is a source of suffering. But that is not all there is. In that suffering, we can find the power to oppose evil, and to bend reality to our will. We are not impotent. Indeed, with every passing year, our knowledge increases, and with it increases our power to remake the world into something better.

Evil exists. Suffering exists. The world is shaped often by twisted and corrupt people, people of low ways and mean spirits. But it is shaped also by those who desire to do good–and the desire to do good may bring pain, but it also brings hope, and joy. It is only by engaging the world that we can leave our mark upon it, and by leaving our mark upon it we can know joy that is beyond all measure.

The Buddhist says, the world is not okay. Turn away; leave the world behind you; disengage from it. I say, the world is not okay, and that is why we must engage it, for only by engaging it can we ever hope to make it okay.

104 thoughts on “Why I am not a Buddhist

  1. Buddhism teaches that freedom from suffering comes through disengagement.

    No.

    Buddhism does not teach disengagement. In fact, quite the opposite. Buddhism teaches TOTAL engagement. Living in the moment means being actively aware of every instant. That takes a lifetime of practice, BTW.

    What people see as apathy and nihilism is actually the practice of non-attachment; non-attachment to our desires (conceptions). Take it as it comes; live in the moment; ‘have no expectations of happiness, and you can never be unhappy’. That last bit is my own BTW. It doesn’t mean be apathetic, it means learning to take everything and anything without pre-conceived notions. Your twix bar for example, if you had no pre-conceived notions about what is should be for example, the heat treatment might have chemically altered the formula and made it the best Twix ever…which you might have missed in your misery. Maybe not too. Either way, putting aside your expectations allows you to enjoy it in any circumstance…always happy.
    The first noble truth is that “there is suffering” Translated from Pali, that is actually “Dukka” or “unsatisfactoriness.” My personal take on this is that ‘unsatisfactoriness’ is actually the unique human ability to conceptualize. This ability makes it exceedingly difficult to enjoy our Twix bars without expectations of what could be. We can see our own deaths, that really makes us fret most of our lives. And so it goes.

    I have no doubt you would find Buddhism to meld with your other worldviews seamlessly (to the benefit of all of them) if you understood it completely.

    Another one of my definitions: Buddhism: realizing the reality of reality.

    The Buddhist says, the world is not okay and not not okay it just IS: Live it completely without attachment and the truth will unfold before our very eyes that until we stop conceptualizing about how it can be, it never will be no matter what we do or don’t do.

    Another side bit: living in the moment can also mean taking up arms to act in the most compassionate way possible. Being totally engaged moment to moment makes for one seriously tough samurai in battle.

    That is not disengaging, that is total engagement.

    I can recommend some outstanding books on Buddhism if you would like.

    Namaste.

  2. Buddhism teaches that freedom from suffering comes through disengagement.

    No.

    Buddhism does not teach disengagement. In fact, quite the opposite. Buddhism teaches TOTAL engagement. Living in the moment means being actively aware of every instant. That takes a lifetime of practice, BTW.

    What people see as apathy and nihilism is actually the practice of non-attachment; non-attachment to our desires (conceptions). Take it as it comes; live in the moment; ‘have no expectations of happiness, and you can never be unhappy’. That last bit is my own BTW. It doesn’t mean be apathetic, it means learning to take everything and anything without pre-conceived notions. Your twix bar for example, if you had no pre-conceived notions about what is should be for example, the heat treatment might have chemically altered the formula and made it the best Twix ever…which you might have missed in your misery. Maybe not too. Either way, putting aside your expectations allows you to enjoy it in any circumstance…always happy.
    The first noble truth is that “there is suffering” Translated from Pali, that is actually “Dukka” or “unsatisfactoriness.” My personal take on this is that ‘unsatisfactoriness’ is actually the unique human ability to conceptualize. This ability makes it exceedingly difficult to enjoy our Twix bars without expectations of what could be. We can see our own deaths, that really makes us fret most of our lives. And so it goes.

    I have no doubt you would find Buddhism to meld with your other worldviews seamlessly (to the benefit of all of them) if you understood it completely.

    Another one of my definitions: Buddhism: realizing the reality of reality.

    The Buddhist says, the world is not okay and not not okay it just IS: Live it completely without attachment and the truth will unfold before our very eyes that until we stop conceptualizing about how it can be, it never will be no matter what we do or don’t do.

    Another side bit: living in the moment can also mean taking up arms to act in the most compassionate way possible. Being totally engaged moment to moment makes for one seriously tough samurai in battle.

    That is not disengaging, that is total engagement.

    I can recommend some outstanding books on Buddhism if you would like.

    Namaste.

  3. Excellently written post; thank you.

    In Hebrew, the concept you’re looking for is called “Tikkun,” sometimes translated as “Repair of the World.” I no longer agree with the viewpoints of my ancestors, so I don’t think we’re repairing it so much as *building* it. In order to build, we have to dream, and what we build usually differs from what we dreamt. So, I agree with you that suffering and disappointment are inevitable; for me, I see these as the emotional equivalents of physical friction. Physical friction is a pain in the ass for mechanical engineers, but without it physics just doesn’t work.

    Am I making sense yet?

    best,

    Joel

    • I no longer agree with the viewpoints of my ancestors, so I don’t think we’re repairing it so much as *building* it. In order to build, we have to dream, and what we build usually differs from what we dreamt.

      Bingo. Precisely.

      A dream is born of the desire to close the gap between one’s expectations and one’s reality; the desire is the stuff that the dreams are made of. Without that gap, the drive to build may diminish; a person who desires nothing is likely to build nothing.

  4. Excellently written post; thank you.

    In Hebrew, the concept you’re looking for is called “Tikkun,” sometimes translated as “Repair of the World.” I no longer agree with the viewpoints of my ancestors, so I don’t think we’re repairing it so much as *building* it. In order to build, we have to dream, and what we build usually differs from what we dreamt. So, I agree with you that suffering and disappointment are inevitable; for me, I see these as the emotional equivalents of physical friction. Physical friction is a pain in the ass for mechanical engineers, but without it physics just doesn’t work.

    Am I making sense yet?

    best,

    Joel

  5. As far as we know, canines have little to no ability to conceptualize. They eat when hungry, go to the door when they have to pee, sleep when tired, and wag their tail when they want or give attention. They really and truly live in the moment. If you put a gun to a daogs head every day for a week until he got used to the strange object you could put it to his head and he wouldn’t be afraid. His days are always Tuesdays no matter if Tuesday or Christmas.

    It is humans that create the drama of life.

  6. As far as we know, canines have little to no ability to conceptualize. They eat when hungry, go to the door when they have to pee, sleep when tired, and wag their tail when they want or give attention. They really and truly live in the moment. If you put a gun to a daogs head every day for a week until he got used to the strange object you could put it to his head and he wouldn’t be afraid. His days are always Tuesdays no matter if Tuesday or Christmas.

    It is humans that create the drama of life.

  7. Do we really have to say that the Buddhists have it wrong? I determined a few years ago that I’m just not interested in their goals, whether they’re right or not; for me, that’s enough to limit my interest to an academic one.

  8. Do we really have to say that the Buddhists have it wrong? I determined a few years ago that I’m just not interested in their goals, whether they’re right or not; for me, that’s enough to limit my interest to an academic one.

  9. I think you have a common but not-entirely-correct impression of Buddhism.

    Buddhism does not preclude a pursuit of social justice or transhumanism. It does not say “be resigned to things as they are”, it says “do not wallow in them and allow them to fuel your misery”.

    You do not have to use disappointment to fuel your drives.

    • I think you have a common but not-entirely-correct impression of Buddhism.

      That’s quite possible. My knowledge of Buddhism extends to a couple of books and conversations with friends and acquaintances who identify as Buddhist. There very well may be some subtlety I’m missing.

      Buddhism does not preclude a pursuit of social justice or transhumanism. It does not say “be resigned to things as they are”, it says “do not wallow in them and allow them to fuel your misery”.

      My understanding is that it also says “desire nothing.” That is the part I have a problem with; there is no doubt that desire can cause misery, but desire can also lead to change. I think that abandoning desire because of the suffering it can bring is a philosophical throwing out of the baby with the bathwater; desire, of and by itself, is not something I fear, nor is suffering or disappointment. I feel that by letting go of these things, I lose other things which have value that come with them.

      You do not have to use disappointment to fuel your drives.

      Of course not. My argument is not that disappointment is the only motivator of human action; it certainly is not. 🙂 My point is that disappointment is not necessarily always bad, for through it can come the fire to make change. Detaching one’s self from disappointment for the sake of never experiencing disappointment means necessarily detaching one’s self from the positive things one might do as a result.

      • I think you’ve been mislead by your friends and acquaintances, then. It’s not uncommon in the West to interpret Buddhism as a very passive course.

        Think about those self-immolating monks protesting the Vietnam War, think of the Dalai Lama talking about Tibet – the goal is not to be impassive, but to detatch from the emotion so that one is not blinded by it, immersed so thoroughly that one can’t see out of it. The goal is not to be blase, but to recognize the difference between “I am reacting thus and such a way” vs “It makes me feel this way”.

        The reaction you have – to find a better solution – fits into the framework of Buddhism without friction. You could look at the current limitations of human existence and despair, or you could look at it and face it with resolve. The latter is still a Buddhist path.

        I think people make a big mistake in trying to put a Manichean/dualist dichotomy under Buddhism, and deriving “…therefore disappointment is *BAD*”. I think the problem in English starts with the Christian nature of English.

        You are actually displaying detachment from desire in what you’re saying – you’re not enmeshed in desire or suffering or disappointment, you are detached from it, and accepting it for what it is, and seeing what value you can derive from the experience leading up to it, to see where you can go from there.

        Buddhism does not say “strive to be neutral and pallid”, it says “do not wallow in your emotions and reactions”. It says “figure out how to move on, and how to progress without addng unnecessary and distracting stress”.

        Nothing you’ve said in your journal (that I’ve read) about the principles of your life contradicts what I know of as Buddhism. It only contradicts what I see as a very shallow American “turn on, tune in, and drop out” “Buddhism”.

  10. I think you have a common but not-entirely-correct impression of Buddhism.

    Buddhism does not preclude a pursuit of social justice or transhumanism. It does not say “be resigned to things as they are”, it says “do not wallow in them and allow them to fuel your misery”.

    You do not have to use disappointment to fuel your drives.

  11. hrmmmmm….that might be one way to put it. If you mean to learn how to look at the way news is brought to you as the illusion it is and designed to inflame your emotions so you stay interested instead of facts, well yes. There is by definition, no news story about the way things are in the world that is true unless you see that news event yourself, and even then it is only your truth no one else’s. If you mean to desensitize yourself from danger, absolutely not. But you would have to know why the gun was pointed in your direction, by whom, and what kind of gun it was, etc. etc. then make the most compassionate move, it might be to laugh, or it might be to karate chop the gun and break the neck of the threat. Without being fully engaged, how would you know what the most compassionate action would be?

    Being aware of the world enough to always know what the best action is to create good karma in the world is pretty powerful. Can’t think of much better way to make an impact.

    • hrmmmmm….that might be one way to put it. If you mean to learn how to look at the way news is brought to you as the illusion it is and designed to inflame your emotions so you stay interested instead of facts, well yes. There is by definition, no news story about the way things are in the world that is true unless you see that news event yourself, and even then it is only your truth no one else’s.

      In that, you and I disagree very strongly indeed.

      As a rationalist, I believe that physical, objective reality exists independent of me and independent of all other people; that it existed before we first walked the earth and will continue to exist long after we are gone; and that reality is not in any way dependent on our perceptions of it.

      Furthermore, I do believe it is possible to know things in ways other than one’s own personal experience, and indeed one’s own personal experience is flawed and not trustworthy, and should not be believed without evidence and corroberation.

      I have never been to the moon, but there are many things I can say about the moon with absolute certainty nonetheless. I can state with certainty that it is older than I am, I can tell you how much it masses and how far away it is, and I can tell you that it is not made of green cheese. More importantly, I can tell you why I know these things; and more importantly still, you need not rely on my experience or authority–you can disbelieve me, and go confirm these things for yourself. That is the nature of objective reality.

      • ummmm….huh?

        I am pretty sure we are saying the same thing. First hand observation smells as sweet bu any other name.

        One’s own personal experience IS flawed…that is what Buddhist work on for decades, to make it the best it can be!

        Finally, the Buddha said ‘don’t trust my word on the subject, try it for your self” That is the nature of objective reality.

          • ummm…no.

            Your truth is your reality. There is no way to introduce subjectivity into it. First hand experience is just that.

            If you want to get really technical about it, if you stop and take a third party approach to it and say, hmmmm what I just experienced was …. good, bad, cold, dark, pleasant, etc…than you could argue that that is subjective, but the raw experience is objective. The practice of Dzogchen (and all Buddhist variations I suppose) is to learn how and practice removing the third party commentary from your experiences. That’s what it’s all about.

          • I disaggree. Your own experience of reality, while objective to you, is also subjective because it is coloured by your own perceptions, thoughts, feelings, upbrining and experiences.

          • You can’t disagree! That is exactly what I said!

            …and that is what the practice of Buddhism is all about. Destroying the ego and living in the moment.

          • D’oh! Looks like I’ve been Buddhish [Is that a word? It is now!] by accident all along… except for the fact that I’ve not been living in the moment, but in the non-moments that come inbetweentimes.

          • That’s really interesting because just recently I have been trying to write more and having a very hard time coming up with that third party commentary. It’s a problem I’ve always had when writing, and it’s nice to think that depending on what it is I am trying to do, that may actually be more of a good thing than a bad one…

          • There’s a difference between the perception of reality, which is subjective, and reality itself, which is not.

            The physical universe exists independently of our perceptions. It does not depend on the whims or ideas of human beings in order to exist. It has existed before we did, and will continue to do so long after we’re gone.

            Yes, there is an objective reality; we do not exist at such an important level that the very universe itself depends on us. The goal of rational inquiry is to understand the universe as closely as we are able to do so–that is, to bring our perceptions as close as possible to reflecting that objective reality.

          • How do you know that reality itself is not subjective? You’ve only got your own perceptions of reality (which are subjective at best) to base your assertion upon…

          • I’m not that arrogant. I’m not so set on believing that I’m the center of all creation as to think the universe didn’t exist before I was born and will cease to be after I die. 🙂

            Plus the resolution and fidelity of the universe is a bit too high for that. I know the limits of my erceptions; the universe is both too large and too fine-grained to be an artifact of my construction.

          • I don’t think you’re arrogant, I’m just enjoying playing Devil’s Advocate. *grynz* I also think that there’s no way to know for certain that an objective reality actually exists, because all you can rely on is your own and others’ perceptions of the universe around you.

          • I’m not being drawn into an argument about existentialism by someone who probably doesn’t actually exist outside of my own deranged mindscape… ;p

          • Well, you know, an idea is valid or not regardless of the source. So even if you are an entity existing alone in the void, there is still the issue that I may very well be the part of your mind that dissents with your worldview, so the idea still must be confronted even if I am a part of your deranged mindscape…. 🙂

          • Curse my deranged mindscape and all if it’s silly ideas! Here was me thinking my worldview was something my mind was perfectly happy with.

            My subconcious is about to file for divorce from my conciousness, I think…

  12. hrmmmmm….that might be one way to put it. If you mean to learn how to look at the way news is brought to you as the illusion it is and designed to inflame your emotions so you stay interested instead of facts, well yes. There is by definition, no news story about the way things are in the world that is true unless you see that news event yourself, and even then it is only your truth no one else’s. If you mean to desensitize yourself from danger, absolutely not. But you would have to know why the gun was pointed in your direction, by whom, and what kind of gun it was, etc. etc. then make the most compassionate move, it might be to laugh, or it might be to karate chop the gun and break the neck of the threat. Without being fully engaged, how would you know what the most compassionate action would be?

    Being aware of the world enough to always know what the best action is to create good karma in the world is pretty powerful. Can’t think of much better way to make an impact.

  13. two things:
    1) The training is to have absolutely NO expectations. That is a profoundly joyous way of looking at things…almost like the wonderment of a child seeing something for the forst time…only all the time. Not naive, just with a fresh mind.
    2) How about this: You ever play the lottery? If you say yes, do you expect to win the lottery when you play? Like really expect to win? I think most people would say they play to win but don’t really expect to win. If really expected to win and you didn’t you’d be really sad every time you didn’t win. But if you play to have fun only, then if you win you are very very happy and if you don’t win you aren’t terribly unhappy. That is kind of what I am talking about. Playing the lottery with no real expectations. So it goes.

    • 1) The training is to have absolutely NO expectations. That is a profoundly joyous way of looking at things…almost like the wonderment of a child seeing something for the forst time…only all the time.

      Yet a child does not have the same understanding that an adult has, in part because an adult’s understanding is built of his experiences, and those experiences lead him to expectations. I think even a practicing Buddhist expects the sun to come up tomorrow, and makes sure to pay his bills on time because he expects his power to be shut off if he does not! 🙂

      I do see a distinction, as well, between disconnecting one’s self from all expectations, and disconnecting one’s self from all desires. To me, a desire represents the first necessary step for proactive change; without it, we become merely reactive, not proactive.

      • I may be wrong on this, but I am pretty sure the goal is to be totally correctly reactive.

        Like I said before, Buddhism is an experiential philosophy. Usually after much study and practice (keyword:much) one has an epiphany of understanding to the degree it has been coined ‘enlightenment.’ It doesn’t come easy. It has been said the enlightened mind can solve all Koans at once… I truly believe this to be a fact. Here’s a Koan for ya:

        29. No Water, No Moon

        When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.

        At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!

        In commemoration, she wrote a poem:

        In this way and that I tried to save the old pail
        Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about
        to break
        Until at last the bottom fell out.
        No more water in the pail!
        No more moon in the water!

      • I really like how we are getting deeper and deeper into this. Here’s something tangible:

        I think I should be a veterinarian. I came close several times but it always slipped out of my reach. I know medicine and I love animals and I know I’d do a good job. That is a goal for action to change my life. A desire.

        But I am not getting any younger, it is expensive and I’d have to quit working for awhile AND they’d have to let me into vet school. I desire to be a vet, but pragmatically I know the odds are against me. But I will have a go. Should I get in, I’ll be happy, should I graduate, happier, pass the boards and practice, happier yet. Not get in, OK. I have no attachment to getting in or not. One way or the other will be OK and I will be happy either way. I will try hard BTW.
        Proactive change without attachment to the results of my proactive goals.

        “Be intent on action,
        Not on the fruits of action,
        Avoid attraction to the fruits,
        And attraction to inaction.”
        Baghavad Gita

  14. two things:
    1) The training is to have absolutely NO expectations. That is a profoundly joyous way of looking at things…almost like the wonderment of a child seeing something for the forst time…only all the time. Not naive, just with a fresh mind.
    2) How about this: You ever play the lottery? If you say yes, do you expect to win the lottery when you play? Like really expect to win? I think most people would say they play to win but don’t really expect to win. If really expected to win and you didn’t you’d be really sad every time you didn’t win. But if you play to have fun only, then if you win you are very very happy and if you don’t win you aren’t terribly unhappy. That is kind of what I am talking about. Playing the lottery with no real expectations. So it goes.

  15. I think I was quite careful not to say the Buddhists have it wrong, and in fact to say that the philosophy I talk about seems quite reasonable–but it is not a philosophy I can embrace, for the reasons I outlined. I certainly did not attempt to come across as attacking Buddhism, but rather explaining why it is not a path that has value for me.

  16. I think you have a common but not-entirely-correct impression of Buddhism.

    That’s quite possible. My knowledge of Buddhism extends to a couple of books and conversations with friends and acquaintances who identify as Buddhist. There very well may be some subtlety I’m missing.

    Buddhism does not preclude a pursuit of social justice or transhumanism. It does not say “be resigned to things as they are”, it says “do not wallow in them and allow them to fuel your misery”.

    My understanding is that it also says “desire nothing.” That is the part I have a problem with; there is no doubt that desire can cause misery, but desire can also lead to change. I think that abandoning desire because of the suffering it can bring is a philosophical throwing out of the baby with the bathwater; desire, of and by itself, is not something I fear, nor is suffering or disappointment. I feel that by letting go of these things, I lose other things which have value that come with them.

    You do not have to use disappointment to fuel your drives.

    Of course not. My argument is not that disappointment is the only motivator of human action; it certainly is not. 🙂 My point is that disappointment is not necessarily always bad, for through it can come the fire to make change. Detaching one’s self from disappointment for the sake of never experiencing disappointment means necessarily detaching one’s self from the positive things one might do as a result.

  17. I no longer agree with the viewpoints of my ancestors, so I don’t think we’re repairing it so much as *building* it. In order to build, we have to dream, and what we build usually differs from what we dreamt.

    Bingo. Precisely.

    A dream is born of the desire to close the gap between one’s expectations and one’s reality; the desire is the stuff that the dreams are made of. Without that gap, the drive to build may diminish; a person who desires nothing is likely to build nothing.

  18. hrmmmmm….that might be one way to put it. If you mean to learn how to look at the way news is brought to you as the illusion it is and designed to inflame your emotions so you stay interested instead of facts, well yes. There is by definition, no news story about the way things are in the world that is true unless you see that news event yourself, and even then it is only your truth no one else’s.

    In that, you and I disagree very strongly indeed.

    As a rationalist, I believe that physical, objective reality exists independent of me and independent of all other people; that it existed before we first walked the earth and will continue to exist long after we are gone; and that reality is not in any way dependent on our perceptions of it.

    Furthermore, I do believe it is possible to know things in ways other than one’s own personal experience, and indeed one’s own personal experience is flawed and not trustworthy, and should not be believed without evidence and corroberation.

    I have never been to the moon, but there are many things I can say about the moon with absolute certainty nonetheless. I can state with certainty that it is older than I am, I can tell you how much it masses and how far away it is, and I can tell you that it is not made of green cheese. More importantly, I can tell you why I know these things; and more importantly still, you need not rely on my experience or authority–you can disbelieve me, and go confirm these things for yourself. That is the nature of objective reality.

  19. I think you’ve been mislead by your friends and acquaintances, then. It’s not uncommon in the West to interpret Buddhism as a very passive course.

    Think about those self-immolating monks protesting the Vietnam War, think of the Dalai Lama talking about Tibet – the goal is not to be impassive, but to detatch from the emotion so that one is not blinded by it, immersed so thoroughly that one can’t see out of it. The goal is not to be blase, but to recognize the difference between “I am reacting thus and such a way” vs “It makes me feel this way”.

    The reaction you have – to find a better solution – fits into the framework of Buddhism without friction. You could look at the current limitations of human existence and despair, or you could look at it and face it with resolve. The latter is still a Buddhist path.

    I think people make a big mistake in trying to put a Manichean/dualist dichotomy under Buddhism, and deriving “…therefore disappointment is *BAD*”. I think the problem in English starts with the Christian nature of English.

    You are actually displaying detachment from desire in what you’re saying – you’re not enmeshed in desire or suffering or disappointment, you are detached from it, and accepting it for what it is, and seeing what value you can derive from the experience leading up to it, to see where you can go from there.

    Buddhism does not say “strive to be neutral and pallid”, it says “do not wallow in your emotions and reactions”. It says “figure out how to move on, and how to progress without addng unnecessary and distracting stress”.

    Nothing you’ve said in your journal (that I’ve read) about the principles of your life contradicts what I know of as Buddhism. It only contradicts what I see as a very shallow American “turn on, tune in, and drop out” “Buddhism”.

  20. 1) The training is to have absolutely NO expectations. That is a profoundly joyous way of looking at things…almost like the wonderment of a child seeing something for the forst time…only all the time.

    Yet a child does not have the same understanding that an adult has, in part because an adult’s understanding is built of his experiences, and those experiences lead him to expectations. I think even a practicing Buddhist expects the sun to come up tomorrow, and makes sure to pay his bills on time because he expects his power to be shut off if he does not! 🙂

    I do see a distinction, as well, between disconnecting one’s self from all expectations, and disconnecting one’s self from all desires. To me, a desire represents the first necessary step for proactive change; without it, we become merely reactive, not proactive.

  21. ummmm….huh?

    I am pretty sure we are saying the same thing. First hand observation smells as sweet bu any other name.

    One’s own personal experience IS flawed…that is what Buddhist work on for decades, to make it the best it can be!

    Finally, the Buddha said ‘don’t trust my word on the subject, try it for your self” That is the nature of objective reality.

  22. I may be wrong on this, but I am pretty sure the goal is to be totally correctly reactive.

    Like I said before, Buddhism is an experiential philosophy. Usually after much study and practice (keyword:much) one has an epiphany of understanding to the degree it has been coined ‘enlightenment.’ It doesn’t come easy. It has been said the enlightened mind can solve all Koans at once… I truly believe this to be a fact. Here’s a Koan for ya:

    29. No Water, No Moon

    When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.

    At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!

    In commemoration, she wrote a poem:

    In this way and that I tried to save the old pail
    Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about
    to break
    Until at last the bottom fell out.
    No more water in the pail!
    No more moon in the water!

  23. Frankly, in East Asia, it can be difficult to separate the two.

    The canonical explanation is in “the Vinegar Tasters” (a famous painting depicting three sages tasting from a jar of vinegar) –

    From wikipedia:
    one man reacts with a sour expression, one reacts with a bitter expression, and one reacts with a happy expression. The three men are depictions of K’ung Fu-tse (Confucius), Buddha, and Lao-tse (Lao Tzu, Laozi), and represent the three traditions of China — Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Each man’s expression represents the predominant attitude of the religion: Confucianism saw life as sour, in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people; Buddism saw life as bitter, dominated by pain and suffering; and Taoism saw life as fundamentally good in its natural state.

    Additionally: “A conciliatory interpretation of the painting is that, since the three men are gathered around one vat of vinegar, “the three teachings are one”. Another contrasting interpretation is that the vinegar in the vat was of very poor quality, but Lao-tse tasted it with relish because of his sunny disposition and undiscriminating palate.” (answers.com)

    I would add at this point that one can perhaps see Buddhism as working on one’s relationship with oneself, and Tao as working on one’s relationship with those around one. But that’s really a sloppy and inaccurate dichotomy that neither philosophy engages in – neither is purely self or other directed.

    I think what it really comes down to is that both are seeking the same goal using different tools – whether it’s mantra-focused meditation, sutras, and the stories of Buddha; or taichi and the writings of Lao-Tse and Chuang-Tse, the aim is not very different.

    It’s also good to remember that there are many, many variations on Buddhism, some more dogmatic than others. I grew up in a tradition I’ve come to call “magic word Buddhism” (‘namu amida butsu’, recited in Pure Land (Jodoshu) Japanese Buddhism). It’s very different than Zen or the Tibetan traditions that are familiar in the U.S., as well as from Thai monastic Buddhism, or other forms.

    The other thing that I find de-emphasized in Western understandings of Buddhism is that *anyone* can be a Buddha – the Japanese believe that everyone attains a sort of buddhahood on death, and that some (the enlightened) are living buddhas (bodhisatva).

    But, again – those are the mystical and outer-trapping forms of the philosophy. At the core, the detachment and focus, those things are, as you perceive, common to both.

  24. Frankly, in East Asia, it can be difficult to separate the two.

    The canonical explanation is in “the Vinegar Tasters” (a famous painting depicting three sages tasting from a jar of vinegar) –

    From wikipedia:
    one man reacts with a sour expression, one reacts with a bitter expression, and one reacts with a happy expression. The three men are depictions of K’ung Fu-tse (Confucius), Buddha, and Lao-tse (Lao Tzu, Laozi), and represent the three traditions of China — Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Each man’s expression represents the predominant attitude of the religion: Confucianism saw life as sour, in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people; Buddism saw life as bitter, dominated by pain and suffering; and Taoism saw life as fundamentally good in its natural state.

    Additionally: “A conciliatory interpretation of the painting is that, since the three men are gathered around one vat of vinegar, “the three teachings are one”. Another contrasting interpretation is that the vinegar in the vat was of very poor quality, but Lao-tse tasted it with relish because of his sunny disposition and undiscriminating palate.” (answers.com)

    I would add at this point that one can perhaps see Buddhism as working on one’s relationship with oneself, and Tao as working on one’s relationship with those around one. But that’s really a sloppy and inaccurate dichotomy that neither philosophy engages in – neither is purely self or other directed.

    I think what it really comes down to is that both are seeking the same goal using different tools – whether it’s mantra-focused meditation, sutras, and the stories of Buddha; or taichi and the writings of Lao-Tse and Chuang-Tse, the aim is not very different.

    It’s also good to remember that there are many, many variations on Buddhism, some more dogmatic than others. I grew up in a tradition I’ve come to call “magic word Buddhism” (‘namu amida butsu’, recited in Pure Land (Jodoshu) Japanese Buddhism). It’s very different than Zen or the Tibetan traditions that are familiar in the U.S., as well as from Thai monastic Buddhism, or other forms.

    The other thing that I find de-emphasized in Western understandings of Buddhism is that *anyone* can be a Buddha – the Japanese believe that everyone attains a sort of buddhahood on death, and that some (the enlightened) are living buddhas (bodhisatva).

    But, again – those are the mystical and outer-trapping forms of the philosophy. At the core, the detachment and focus, those things are, as you perceive, common to both.

  25. Very good answer…I said but then erased “Tao is man and his cosmos and Buddhism is man and his fellow man”

    I figured I’d let you answer it.

    Maybe I should add you. You mind?

  26. I really like how we are getting deeper and deeper into this. Here’s something tangible:

    I think I should be a veterinarian. I came close several times but it always slipped out of my reach. I know medicine and I love animals and I know I’d do a good job. That is a goal for action to change my life. A desire.

    But I am not getting any younger, it is expensive and I’d have to quit working for awhile AND they’d have to let me into vet school. I desire to be a vet, but pragmatically I know the odds are against me. But I will have a go. Should I get in, I’ll be happy, should I graduate, happier, pass the boards and practice, happier yet. Not get in, OK. I have no attachment to getting in or not. One way or the other will be OK and I will be happy either way. I will try hard BTW.
    Proactive change without attachment to the results of my proactive goals.

    “Be intent on action,
    Not on the fruits of action,
    Avoid attraction to the fruits,
    And attraction to inaction.”
    Baghavad Gita

  27. The world actually is okay. The world is perfect. Every physical law is followed perfectly and inevitably.

    When you say that “the world is not okay” you mean of course something much more complicated and subjective. Since it is subjective and referential to the conciousness of the individual making the judgement it is necessary to find a philisophical underpinning to allow one to cope. These come in a variety of flavours and textures, as various as the number of people who look for them. Non-attachment is a way, although it has its drawbacks. Market driven capitalism is a way, also with its own drawbacks. Nihlism ditto. Islam, yep.

    The cultural tendency of buddhism to strive for non-attachment has been blamed for the stagnation of Asian science as the European renaissance and then industrial revolution took off. No antibiotics? bad for people. No nuclear weapons? hmmm… There is no perfect good. No perfect way. Or, alternatively, all of it is equally perfect as all of it works within the framework of perfect universal laws.

  28. The world actually is okay. The world is perfect. Every physical law is followed perfectly and inevitably.

    When you say that “the world is not okay” you mean of course something much more complicated and subjective. Since it is subjective and referential to the conciousness of the individual making the judgement it is necessary to find a philisophical underpinning to allow one to cope. These come in a variety of flavours and textures, as various as the number of people who look for them. Non-attachment is a way, although it has its drawbacks. Market driven capitalism is a way, also with its own drawbacks. Nihlism ditto. Islam, yep.

    The cultural tendency of buddhism to strive for non-attachment has been blamed for the stagnation of Asian science as the European renaissance and then industrial revolution took off. No antibiotics? bad for people. No nuclear weapons? hmmm… There is no perfect good. No perfect way. Or, alternatively, all of it is equally perfect as all of it works within the framework of perfect universal laws.

  29. ummm…no.

    Your truth is your reality. There is no way to introduce subjectivity into it. First hand experience is just that.

    If you want to get really technical about it, if you stop and take a third party approach to it and say, hmmmm what I just experienced was …. good, bad, cold, dark, pleasant, etc…than you could argue that that is subjective, but the raw experience is objective. The practice of Dzogchen (and all Buddhist variations I suppose) is to learn how and practice removing the third party commentary from your experiences. That’s what it’s all about.

  30. I disaggree. Your own experience of reality, while objective to you, is also subjective because it is coloured by your own perceptions, thoughts, feelings, upbrining and experiences.

  31. That’s really interesting because just recently I have been trying to write more and having a very hard time coming up with that third party commentary. It’s a problem I’ve always had when writing, and it’s nice to think that depending on what it is I am trying to do, that may actually be more of a good thing than a bad one…

  32. There’s a difference between the perception of reality, which is subjective, and reality itself, which is not.

    The physical universe exists independently of our perceptions. It does not depend on the whims or ideas of human beings in order to exist. It has existed before we did, and will continue to do so long after we’re gone.

    Yes, there is an objective reality; we do not exist at such an important level that the very universe itself depends on us. The goal of rational inquiry is to understand the universe as closely as we are able to do so–that is, to bring our perceptions as close as possible to reflecting that objective reality.

  33. D’oh! Looks like I’ve been Buddhish [Is that a word? It is now!] by accident all along… except for the fact that I’ve not been living in the moment, but in the non-moments that come inbetweentimes.

  34. I’m not that arrogant. I’m not so set on believing that I’m the center of all creation as to think the universe didn’t exist before I was born and will cease to be after I die. 🙂

    Plus the resolution and fidelity of the universe is a bit too high for that. I know the limits of my erceptions; the universe is both too large and too fine-grained to be an artifact of my construction.

  35. I don’t think you’re arrogant, I’m just enjoying playing Devil’s Advocate. *grynz* I also think that there’s no way to know for certain that an objective reality actually exists, because all you can rely on is your own and others’ perceptions of the universe around you.

  36. Well, you know, an idea is valid or not regardless of the source. So even if you are an entity existing alone in the void, there is still the issue that I may very well be the part of your mind that dissents with your worldview, so the idea still must be confronted even if I am a part of your deranged mindscape…. 🙂

  37. Curse my deranged mindscape and all if it’s silly ideas! Here was me thinking my worldview was something my mind was perfectly happy with.

    My subconcious is about to file for divorce from my conciousness, I think…

  38. Almost, but not quite

    Desire is not bad. Attachment (especially the excessive attachments many have) is bad. I can desire to make the world a better place, and actively try to do so. So long as I do not attach myself to the preconceived notion that I will (or must) make the world a better place, this desire will not harm me. If I become attached and I fail (or fail to succeed to the degree I expected), this disparity causes grief and suffering.

    Buddhist philosophy I like. It’s Buddhist religion that irritates me. Once the holy men start telling you which actions are right and which are wrong, everything goes to shit. Of course, Buddha himself 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.”

  39. Almost, but not quite

    Desire is not bad. Attachment (especially the excessive attachments many have) is bad. I can desire to make the world a better place, and actively try to do so. So long as I do not attach myself to the preconceived notion that I will (or must) make the world a better place, this desire will not harm me. If I become attached and I fail (or fail to succeed to the degree I expected), this disparity causes grief and suffering.

    Buddhist philosophy I like. It’s Buddhist religion that irritates me. Once the holy men start telling you which actions are right and which are wrong, everything goes to shit. Of course, Buddha himself 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.”

  40. Some unspoken items about Buddhism

    Hi,
    as someone who has had a lifetime of exposure
    to Buddhism, and many years of regular exposure
    to real 24/7 monks. here is what I learned.

    The eight noble truths of buddhism, are more
    a test of “Who We Are”, more than a measuring
    stick of “What Buddhism Is” …

    I will elaborate in a moment…

    And if you read about the “Christian” doctor
    killers, muslim bombers, Catholic inquisitors and
    protestant militant fighters, it is easy to see
    that EVERY Religion has members who view their
    religion in a way that elicits that extreme view
    of their unique individual translation of the
    religious text / intent. This behavior is more
    a measure of the heart of the follower, than it
    is a measure of the heart of the religion.

    And there are also many Buddhist who act, and
    deeply are engaged with their moment to moment
    realities, and are very often possessing the
    perspective that they have great influence on
    their moments and indirectly the world around
    them. Hasn’t everyone seen the images of the
    Buddhist monks commiting suicide by fire in a
    protest of other peoples negative influences ?
    That is certainly not the behavior of a person
    who is disengaged or apathetic in any way about
    the world around them.

    So here is what I propose, consider the
    possibility that all religions, have followers
    with many different “eyes”, and through these
    many and very different “eyes” they all display
    the truth of their unique individual hearts.
    and if they display apathy and detachment, then
    that is the behavior they sought a reason to
    display, and obviously decided that Buddhism
    offered the best “excuse” for them to do so.

    So, how difficult is it to imagine, that we
    have such a huge and varied display of behavior
    of people in all religions simply because, a
    persons behavior is more an expression of what
    is in their heart, than what is in the intent
    of a doctrine ?

    I have taught a lesson about our differing
    “eyes” for many many years now, and through this,
    I and others have discovered that blaming a single
    doctrine, or another person for our personal
    behavior choices, is possibly one of the most
    dire forms of desengagement / detachment, but it
    is detachment for our responsibility for our own
    decisions and actions. All religions can offer
    one the opportunity to do almost anything they
    please, all we have to do is translate it in the
    way that validates our own desires.

    So, with this understanding, that our behavior
    is a measure of our own heart, and not a measure
    of the origins of our validation, what ever
    doctrine / religion we choose for that role …

    it can become easy to see that every time we
    blame a doctrine or religion for our behavioral
    choices, we have exibited a very dire form of
    detachment / disengagement, the one away from
    “personal responsibility”.

    I propose that it is the movement “Away From”
    personal responsibility, that causes our behavior
    to exist in a state that should embarrass us to
    ourselves, but does not while we can construct
    a distant excuse for our own choices.

    ( and “tacit” , after having read quite a few
    of your post and seen interesting wisdom in
    them, I trust that you are capable of the
    talent called “variable perspective” )

    // Tom \\

  41. Some unspoken items about Buddhism

    Hi,
    as someone who has had a lifetime of exposure
    to Buddhism, and many years of regular exposure
    to real 24/7 monks. here is what I learned.

    The eight noble truths of buddhism, are more
    a test of “Who We Are”, more than a measuring
    stick of “What Buddhism Is” …

    I will elaborate in a moment…

    And if you read about the “Christian” doctor
    killers, muslim bombers, Catholic inquisitors and
    protestant militant fighters, it is easy to see
    that EVERY Religion has members who view their
    religion in a way that elicits that extreme view
    of their unique individual translation of the
    religious text / intent. This behavior is more
    a measure of the heart of the follower, than it
    is a measure of the heart of the religion.

    And there are also many Buddhist who act, and
    deeply are engaged with their moment to moment
    realities, and are very often possessing the
    perspective that they have great influence on
    their moments and indirectly the world around
    them. Hasn’t everyone seen the images of the
    Buddhist monks commiting suicide by fire in a
    protest of other peoples negative influences ?
    That is certainly not the behavior of a person
    who is disengaged or apathetic in any way about
    the world around them.

    So here is what I propose, consider the
    possibility that all religions, have followers
    with many different “eyes”, and through these
    many and very different “eyes” they all display
    the truth of their unique individual hearts.
    and if they display apathy and detachment, then
    that is the behavior they sought a reason to
    display, and obviously decided that Buddhism
    offered the best “excuse” for them to do so.

    So, how difficult is it to imagine, that we
    have such a huge and varied display of behavior
    of people in all religions simply because, a
    persons behavior is more an expression of what
    is in their heart, than what is in the intent
    of a doctrine ?

    I have taught a lesson about our differing
    “eyes” for many many years now, and through this,
    I and others have discovered that blaming a single
    doctrine, or another person for our personal
    behavior choices, is possibly one of the most
    dire forms of desengagement / detachment, but it
    is detachment for our responsibility for our own
    decisions and actions. All religions can offer
    one the opportunity to do almost anything they
    please, all we have to do is translate it in the
    way that validates our own desires.

    So, with this understanding, that our behavior
    is a measure of our own heart, and not a measure
    of the origins of our validation, what ever
    doctrine / religion we choose for that role …

    it can become easy to see that every time we
    blame a doctrine or religion for our behavioral
    choices, we have exibited a very dire form of
    detachment / disengagement, the one away from
    “personal responsibility”.

    I propose that it is the movement “Away From”
    personal responsibility, that causes our behavior
    to exist in a state that should embarrass us to
    ourselves, but does not while we can construct
    a distant excuse for our own choices.

    ( and “tacit” , after having read quite a few
    of your post and seen interesting wisdom in
    them, I trust that you are capable of the
    talent called “variable perspective” )

    // Tom \\

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