I’d been aware of Buddhism as seperable as a philosophy and a religion since I started researching religions as a teen, but at that time it didn’t really matter to me.
Skip forward about fifteen or so years, and during my long deconversion from Christianity I took a long, hard look at Buddhism as a possibility for something I could hang my epistemological hat on. I quickly rejected the religious elements of Buddhism for some of the same reasons I was rejecting all religious ideas (extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence — which I was not finding), but the philosophical aspects really appealed to me as a foundation of personal ethics and self-improvement.
Part of the “Noble Truths” of Buddhism describe life as suffering. A misconception is that what that phrase implies is that we just accept this “truth” and live with it. Wrong! The goal of Buddhism is to know this, and then overcome it, transcend it. And the root of suffering is want, desire. Because our desire for things creates anxiety, leads us to think and act selfishly, harm ourselves and others, and create suffering. Likewise the loss of things we desire. The desire to hold other stuff lest we lose them, etc.
This all makes perfect sense; who can’t see the wisdom of it? It’s a concept I’ve held onto, and, even once I discarded Buddhism, primed me to accept the truths of Marxist criticisms of capitalist avarice, commodity fetishism, reification, and mystification.
But what aspects of Buddhism that soured me on truly latching onto it as a personal philosophy involved the idea that among the stuff we desire which leads to suffering is relationships. Well, that’s still true. Our love, lusts, attractions, devotions, feelings for other people, including family, do indeed create sufferings from jealousy, angst, strife, anger, lust, sadness, etc. In the aquiring relationships, holding on to them, and losing them. This is all true, too.
But, the true path of following the Buddhist Precepts encourages, if not demands, disattachment from these wants just as much as from material wants. I subsequently easily embraced the idea that the want for stuff is a manufactured “nature” a cultural logic instills in us, and leads to unneccessary suffering; but whether right or wrong, the idea of detachment from love, sex, familial bonds, personal relationships, is anethma to me. It’s the joys and even the pain of this part of being alive that I feel makes life worth living, and makes it wonderful! So, the idea of the desire of emotional, sexual, relationship, personal bonds and connections and experiences may be a cause of suffering, but life would be worse off without them.
To be fair, the majority of the Buddhist Tenets involve and put focus on perfectly admirable and desireable (hey!) goals: don’t kill anything, don’t steal, don’t lie or cheat, seek personal cleanliness and purity in deed, thought, and speech. I whole-heartedly support these Tenets.
Also, Buddhism has a flip-side to the goal of discarding want, like the yin and yang, and that’s to actually embrace all things equally. While one detatches themselves from want, you are to also embrace all. I’ll admit, I’d not totally groked this idea, and this may hold the key to my problems with accepting philosophical Buddhism. But that’s OK, because I’ve since discovered secular humanism, and it’s generally accepted (and non-dogmatic) precepts fit me like a glove!
Whew! Well, all that serves as introduction for my featuring an article: “Killing the Buddha” by Sam Harris. It’s a few years old, but he recently Tweeted about it, I just read it, and it’s great!
While it should absolutely be read in its entirity to appreciate the arguments and observations he makes, here is one of the main thematic threads I think is important:
“[The] spirit of empiricism animates Buddhism to a unique degree. For this reason, the methodology of Buddhism, if shorn of its religious encumbrances, could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity.”
“Why is religion such a potent source of violence? There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments. Religion is the one endeavor in which us–them thinking achieves a transcendent significance.”
“Political correctness simply does not offer an enduring basis for human cooperation. If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith….
What the world most needs at this moment is a means of convincing human beings to embrace the whole of the species as their moral community. For this we need to develop an utterly nonsectarian way of talking about the full spectrum of human experience and human aspiration.”
“[…] there is much more for us to understand about how the mind can transform itself from a mere reservoir of greed, hatred, and delusion into an instrument of wisdom and compassion. Students of the Buddha are very well placed to further our understanding on this front, but the religion of Buddhism currently stands in their way.”
image taken from Leaky Penny: http://creativebits.org/creative_agency_logo