Saturday, October 24, 2015



Buddha said he didn’t know
How or why the world was made,
And he knew nothing about any God.
But as he sat in the Bo Tree’s shade,

He experienced enlightenment and in a flash
saw the pain of the world all about.
"Everyone has an arrow in his heart,
and I see how to take it out."

The 1st Noble Truth

Pain is inherent in life,
Unavoidable, necessarily so
Because of adjustments we must make
To the world’s unceasing flow.

Pain is the challenge of our existence,
Sufficient reason and rhyme,
To stimulate our grand adventure
Of eternity acting in time.

The 2nd Noble Truth

Suffering, however, is needless.
It comes when we struggle and resist
The flow of our own experience
As life makes turns and twists.

Wishing things were different,
Endless cravings and desires
Cause our upsets and frustrations,
Discontents and inner fires.

The 3rd Noble Truth

But we can learn to know ourselves;
We can diminish our cravings,
Which in exact proportion will
Dampen down our  ragings.

It is possible to be happy,
To cultivate a mind
That’s open, passionate and awake,
Responsive, involved and kind.

The 4th Noble Truth:
The Eight-Fold Path

And here is how that task is done:
Right views, intent and meditation,
Right effort, speech and mindfulness,
Right action and occupation.

The Illusion of Self

The deepest truth we need to know,
Buddha’s profoundest conclusion,
Is that none of us are “real;”
Our very self is an illusion.

Like Bruce Willis in the movie Sixth Sense,
The truth we need the most
Is to discover for ourselves
That we are only a kind of “ghost.”

When our inner eyes are opened,
When our ego comes undraped,
We see ourselves like fleeting whirlwinds
A swirling breeze has shaped.

We are not a solid self,
And we will vanish back to wind.
Our ego is only a clever illusion
We foolishly promote and defend.


 Over and over egos are born
Over and over they die.
Only a Karmic core of tendencies
Pass on to the brand new guy.


Each new personality and life,
Making advances or retreats,
Determines the status of the next-to-be-born:
The gutter or easy street.


If somehow you become enlightened,
 You break the cycle of Rebirth,
Are absorbed into Nirvana
And never return to Earth.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: Origional  Buddhism was not nonsense---and it was not religion.  It was PSYCHOTHERAPY.
And good Psychotherapy---and still is.  But the doctrines of reincarnation, karma and nirvana were added later by enthusiastic diciples---along with a host of other superstitions like prayer wheels, prayer flags, demons etc.   Subsequent followers could not resist the temptation to wrap this fine philosophy in crazy superstitions like all the other major religions.  Tibetan Buddhism evolved into a theocracy with the monk class exploiting the working class.  I don't know how I feel about Japanese Zen Buddhism--they focus on the enlightenment aspect--and leave off the superstition.

Perhaps some of my readers have a better take on the evolution of Buddhism to its current state.

Next up:  HINDUISM-- (my finest poem I promise you)

ADDENDUM: I urge my readers to scroll down to the  comment posted by Michael for a profound take on this series.
It delights me that I have readers of such acumen.


Cs said...

Well, I guess if I must take one of them, then Buddist sounds like a decent one to study. 😀

Bon vivant said...

After 40 years a Christian, low church by birth and high church by search, I can say buddhism is now my home as far as I can 'judge'. After a few years in Zen it seems more a high church religion than psychotherapy but considering 'self' a secular buddhist I tend to label it religion because of the 'accidents' involved and since I don't study the dogma. More and more believe buddha never endorsed or even taught on the metaphysical and that pleases my 'reality'.

Randy said...

Cs---Wait---Wait! don't make up our mind yet. Hinduism is coming up next and for sheer drama and emotional satisfaction you may like it. Here's a tease--it is the only religion that has a clear. reasonable answer to the question: why is there evil in the world.

Michael said...

Randy, your treatment of Buddhism is kind. That the greatest part of its core message is psychological wisdom is true. Yet not only has superstitious incorporation of gods been a prominent part of the lived, actual Buddhism (not the faux, neutered and censored Buddhism created mostly by white, English-speaking idealists rejecting their Christian and Jewish backgrounds in the West who changed their names to more exotic ones, shaved their heads, donned robes, and became retreat-and-book-producing gurus) of the masses who actually practiced Buddhism as peoples and nations, the teaching of reincarnation, which Buddha did not challenge, is quite problematic.

Reincarnation, and the dogmatic, not-founded-in-evidence-or-reason, not-this-life focus and set of fears and motivations it promotes, is very similar in function to the heaven and hell of religions less exotic outside of Asia. Indeed, it can be said that the greatest moral shortcoming of Jesus is that he did not challenge the cruel teaching of hell, but rather intensified this teaching of eternal suffering that was not taught by Moses--and that the greatest shortcoming of Buddha was that he never challenged, but rather perpetuated, the teaching of reincarnation, which was unnecessary to his psychological wisdom.

It's interesting to me that so many in the West--indeed, so many in the condescending halls of academia and science and in the pretentious circles of "intellectuals,"--so critical of the unfounded dogmas of their own cultures' religions that they reject the name of these religions and scorn anyone who finds within these and their millennia of teachings anything of value, eagerly adopt the name of a religion from across the ocean, willfully overlook its foundational unreasonable dogmas, explain away its even-more crude superstitions as not original or not essential, and sing the praises of the positive lessons they can find within that religion. But they won't extend the same courtesies to the traditions of their own people: They won't seek out the wisdom and morality and psychology that can be salvaged from these traditions, and call themselves Christians or Jews--adding, of course, that they don't mean the Christianity or Judaism as it was was practiced for the past many centuries, but rather the "real" and "essential" version.

But, ironically, speaking from the psychological perspective, one of the persistent human tendencies is to be either in awe of or intolerant of strangers. The exotic culture is not judged the way the familiar culture is. Some will be xenophobic and attribute to it all kinds of evil, while others will look at it with wonder and romance and awe, and ascribe to it all kinds of wisdom and superiority. (And the opposite sex is, at least temporarily, exotic too...and we thus find either resentment or idealization there, too.)

kaBLOOnie boonster said...

Excellent comment, Michael, especially about the sucker-hood of Western intellectuals and idealists about how green the grass is on the other side.

Perhaps Randy and many of his readers never had the experience of working around Indians. I did. I remember one fellow who would roll his eyes if anything about India was praised, even Gandhi.

Meanwhile, why is a rational and Western philosophy like Epicureanism omitted? I'll bet Randy would love it.

I think it would be be constructive if this blog or its commenters suggested an excellent book on comparative religion: it isn't easy to come up with a good one.

Randy said...

Michael: Once again you astound/delight me with your observations. I like your comment so well I'm going to direct my readers to check it out.
Yes, I agree we can skim the cream off most religions and it is tasty and probably useful.
We Unitarians understand this very well--for that is precisely what we do.
THE IMPORTANT DISTINCTION IS BETWEEN DOCTRINES AND VALUES. Doctrines are not verifiable but we can see how values (a fabric of agreement) work out in history.
And one more thing---to evoke a comment from kaBLOOnie is high praise indeed. Haven't heard from him in years.

Michael said...

KaBloonie and Randy--two formidable minds and wills--I'm honored to conduct intellectual commerce with both of you in one comment thread.

On Kabloonie's point about the philosophical traditions of the West: Yes, Epicureanism (which, of course, does not teach the caricatured pursuit of short-term pleasure at any cost) holds many rational and admirable lessons for any age. Stoicism, too, has not only potential for modern-day application, but is actually explicitly credited by Albert Ellis the late (cranky old) founder of rational-emotive-behavior therapy (REBT, formerly RET)...and one of the important pioneers in what is today more commonly known as the cognitive therapy approach... as being the foundation of his approach. The idea that one can systematically control emotions through conscious thought is an ancient one that has been proved accurate in avalanches of recent studies and experiments.

To be fair, the meditative approach (often associated with the currently popular term "mindfulness"), which, though present to some degree in all religions, has been far more prominent in religions of the East, has also been showing up recently in clinical treatment, and has been found helpful by many.

On the difficulty of finding a good book on comparative religion: I think the trouble is that on this topic most who would read or write about it tend to be more passionate than objective. A passionate atheist wouldn't find much good in any religion, a passionate agnostic might consider all religions interesting but tragic errors, and both are unlikely to devote the energy to such writing or reading. And a passionate believer surely wouldn't give fair and equal treatment to all religions, either in writing or reading. And then there's the starry-eyed "let's all get along" idealist who sees equal good in all religions, and nearly no drawbacks.

But even if one truly wished to be fair-minded, the topic is very difficult to treat adequately. After all, there are untold numbers of Christian denominations who would not agree on the "essential" message of Christianity, and certainly not on the more subtle messages. And other religions, too, with or without a multitude of named denominations, have numerous facets and divisions and perspectives even within what may seem to the outsider as a monolithic community of believers.

And if a writer would wish to discuss the impact of religion on culture, on morals, on science and technology, etc., here one moves into the complex, speculative, and impossible-to-prove realm...about which one can spin many theories and expect much disagreement. (See continuation…)

Michael said...

(Continued…) And Randy, this relates to your comment that "we can see how values (a fabric of agreement) work out in history."

Unfortunately, few are able to hear a critique of their own culture and avoid an unbalanced reaction of either denial/anger or too-eager agreement/shame. Tell a Hindu that perhaps something in his religion/culture (that includes the caste system) has resulted in the lack of social progress that has millions of Indians even today defecating outdoors, with the resulting hygiene and health problems, and he will likely call you bigoted and closed-minded. Tell a Buddhist that his beliefs of non-attachment, of focusing on the inner world, and on the non-escape from an endless wheel of life have stifled the impulse toward technological advance in his culture, and he will smile condescendingly and go back to meditating. Tell a Christian that his obsession with sin and hell has created a punitive and blaming and oppressive culture, and then, as a reaction, a hedonistic and materialistic culture that mocks and rejects its people's traditions, and indeed all traditional wisdom, and he will "pray" for your "errors" and tell you that Jesus forgives you. Tell a traditional Jew that his religion's many laws which have made it impossible for him to blend in to the cultures of others, have made him an outsider throughout history and played a role in subjecting him to the very persecution which his Bible and religious culture predicts and to which he returns to for solace from such persecution...and he will see you as one more hater. And even in the context of the mind-numbingly-frequent rubble and blood of suicide bombers' acts of mayhem in the name of Allah, we can see all over the world the less than philosophical response on the part of many followers of Islam to any suggestion that their religion, or its cultural effects, is anything less than ideal.

The nearly insurmountable challenge is not the daunting task of accurately describing religions or cultures: This is very difficult, but possible, because facts can be observed and documented. What is perhaps not possible is offering interpretations which would be accepted as compelling by anything close to a preponderance of all peoples. Interpretations of highly complex systems--which religions and cultures and history certainly are--are at best unable to be proved. And on such contentious matters, will be vigorously disagreed with by many.

Still, I think the effort at understanding and putting forth theories is worthwhile. Because when encountering complex systems that do not admit of proof, the only alternative to intellectually grappling with them and attempting to understand them is passivity. And passivity makes progress, moral and intellectual, even less likely.

But humility in such an analysis--in appreciation of the conceptual complexity due to numerous variables--and the realistic expectation of little agreement, due to the many biases and passions stirred up by such discussions, are I think, important.

kaBLOOnie boonster said...

Michael, you might be over-intellectualizing religions. Are the details of the doctrines really that important to the average practitioner?

When I said I would love to find a good book, I meant a book that explains how the religion was woven into people's weekly lives: is the church "bottom up" or "top down"?

How austere and work-related should their lives be? Their attitude towards money and the future, versus fun today.

How concerned should they be with their own individuality, versus the tribe.

If religious emotion is all that matters, why not drop the pretense of "this or that actually happened" or "we believe X BECAUSE..." There is no 'because', there is only a bunch of clowns drowning in their emotions, and picking at their little sores.

If death is the fundamental question that provokes a need for religion, how does the religion's answer affect how people actually live?

I'm not sure such a book has ever been written. The historical survey books that I've run across are just cut-and-paste jobs from an encyclopedia.

Michael said...


Thank you for your further thoughts. The world is a big place, with many different sensibilities. In my view, far from over-intellectualizing religion, I have given it in my above comments very simple treatment, far simpler than its complex realities deserve. Religion is one of humanity's signal creations, and the human mind is a complex and mysterious machine.

Because in your original comment you did not specify precisely what kind of perspective on comparative religion you were looking for, but instead used the general term and asked for “an excellent book on comparative religion,” and mentioned that you could not find one, I addressed the issue of comparative religion, and the dearth of satisfying books on the subject, as I understood it.

You touch on interesting further issues of religion and psychology in your latest comment. Out of respect to both you and Randy--to you who would likely find my further thoughts on such matters more intellectual than meets your tastes, and to Randy whose comment section on this blog post I should not hijack any further--I will refrain from elaborating further. And I am happy to give you the last word.

Dan said...

Randy, I know you only have so many verses to sum up a whole religion, but the concept of karma is actually as much psychological as metaphysical. When you meet someone and immediately get a good or a bad feeling about them - that is the result of their personality which is a reflection of their actions, or karma. Karma simply means actions that are born out of the ego. Any action that is motivated by ego creates a sort of "impression" that helps define a person's personality. That person's personality then interacts with the world, and the world reacts to that personality accordingly. So yes, similar to heaven and hell, one's "good" actions would tend to lead to positive outcomes and vice-versa. But it somehow seems a bit more reasonable than pearly gates and fiery pits. Of course the concept extends across lifetimes (reincarnation) which then gets metaphysical, but for the most part, Karma is a pretty "psychological" concept.

Randy said...

Dan: Point well made about Karma. Yes, I do often get a sense of good or bad when engaging with a personality. And yes I think that personality was "earned" by a long string of actions and the reactions it evoked from the world. That's not a stretch for me. I'll go you one better and admit that people may well come into the world "wired" with tendencies as Buddha allegedly said. Characteristics such as shyness, aliveness, curiosity etc. It is highly visible in breeds of dogs. Genes may well lean a person one way or another---thus validating The Buddhist notion that a KARMIC CORE OF TENDENCIES is passed on to the new guy. We can't validate anyones' lineage--and it doesn't prove reincarnation. But I don't have any great resistance to either doctrine so long as it is held lightly as a possibility. One of my friends however holds the doctrine so firmly that he occasionally considers killing himself to get on with his next life.