Saturday, February 17, 2007

Buddhism, Realism, Religion and the Religious Life

A reoccuring theme in my talks is how one should relate to the religious aspect of existence. For myself, I have nothing wrong with the words "religion" or "Buddhism", but I try to explain to people what these terms mean to me; maybe it's not the same as what they mean to them.

Religion: a binding. Most people just bind themselves to a higher, omnipotent, omniscient being who will save them from all of the repercussions of their actions. They say that religion is a binding to God, being bound by whatever he/she/it tells them, either directly or through scriptures. But this is not how the Lord Buddha pictured religion. We generally translate his word, "brahmacariya" as "the religious life", and I like that. It cuts through Allah, Jesus, Jehovah, &c., and tells us that religion is a binding to our actions, of thought, speech and body. We bind ourselves by a code of ethics, abstaining from those things which bring harm either to ourselves or others, and committing to undertake those things which lead to benefit both to ourselves and others.

Buddhism: the ism of the Buddha. Before recoiling from the suffix, we should check and see if it is possible to have a good ism. So, I always tell people now about a new religion called "realism". It's where you strip away all your illusions and delusions and come to see what really is real. Wouldn't that be something? That's what the Buddha taught. While all of the Hindus were off on Shiva Ratri, he'd come in and point out that things like pouring milk over a male phallus all night were probably not the the most realistic ways to live the religious life. What a party-pooper (so says Ester, my good Hin-jew friend). As Mahasi Sayadaw says:

The Buddha-dhamma makes little appeal to the masses since it is diametrically opposed to their sensual desire. People do not like even an ordinary sermon, let alone a discourse on Nibbana, if it has no sensual touch. They do not seem interested in our teaching and no wonder, since it is devoid of melodious recitation, sentimental stories and hilarious jokes and other attractions. It is acceptable only to those who have practised vipassana or who seek the dhamma on which they can rely for methods of meditation and extinction of defilements.


The word "dhamma" can be translated as "reality". So that's what the Buddha taught: reality. I think that is quite disappointing to many people, many of whom would much rather believe that the Buddha taught things like Kung-fu or Tantric sex. Sorry...

Just as one absorbed in flower-picking
so is the one of scattered mind
and just as a sleeping village is carried away by a great flood
so is he, carried away in the clutches of death.

- Dhp. 47