Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Major Struggle...

Okay, so I know I have lots of people who have a Buddhist perspective who actually read this blog, so I'm asking for your help. I'm really lost and confused and it's all Buddhism's fault! Here's my dilemma:

I think Buddhism makes a lot of sense. Logically, I can follow it and it doesn't seem to be as contradictory as other things. The idea of anatman is both the most attractive thing about it and the thing that makes me hate it at the same time. I think it's attractive because it captures my intuitions about my Self. If I have a soul or Atman, what the hell is it? How do I define it? What is it made of? Where is it located? I can't explain any of these things. For me, all I can say exists is me as a body and as a thinking substance.

Also, we've been talking about personal identity in my classical problems in philosophy course. From everything we've studied so far, I can make no claims that I have a personal identity separate from everyone else that is distinctly me throughout time. Only a body separates us and makes me me and you you. From that vantage point, it seems like anatman makes sense as well.

Even still, I can't be at peace with it. Here's why:

I feel like by accepting Buddhism, I'm accepting a worse notion of human nature than original sin. If all life is impermanent and suffering, then our existence is a cosmic accident. We are a result of some accidental craving and clinging and the solution to the problem of humanity is to attain Nirvana. It seems like it belittles not just my inherited bad nature, but my very existence to a problem. Thus I enter Nihilism and it seems like everything I do is worthless. All I'm doing is perpetuating the human problem.

Everyone keeps telling me that Buddhism is happy and compassionate, but it doesn't seem that way to me. It seems like it's telling me that I'm worthless and I need to be dissolved. It's really hard for me right now because Buddhism makes more sense to me than anything else I've studied thus far, but in order to fully accept it I feel like I have to become a Nihilist and believe that there is nothing of value. We're all utterly meaningless and worthless in this big cosmic accident.

On a side note, I hate the thing that religions do. They make it so if you disagree with them, you appear to be stupid or eternally damned. From Christianity's perspective, if I don't accept I'm going to hell. From Buddhism's perspectives, if I don't buy into anatman, I have wrong views and am craving and clinging. Dammit!


Kassie said...

I completely understand what you're saying. As I was learning about Buddhism (and loving the idea of it!) I often struggled with the whole soul thing. The conclusion I've come to, today at least, is that I have a soul. Maybe I am craving and clinging, but I can't understand how the world works without souls. On the other hand, the Eight-fold Path and the Four Noble Truths are great things to live by. I think that in a way I've learned to incorporate them into my own Christian beliefs and faith.

I don't know if that helps at all. The good thing is that you're searching. I think that's all God asks from us. I don't think God wants us to just accept what we've been spoon-fed from birth. So keep searching, struggling, and getting frustrated. Who knows if we'll ever find the answers, but at least we try.

I don't think you're going to hell. :)

PeterAtLarge said...

Mark, sorry I didn't see this entry before now. It's been a while since I checked in on your blog. As I understand it, Buddhism does not tell us that "all life is suffering" but rather than there is suffering in life--and that there's a practical and practicable way to end the suffering. That seems to me a message of hope rather than of despair: it acknowledges the reality, but offers us the choice to change it. Impermanence is another reality that we deny at our peril, but that, too, is something that the teachings help us to learn to live with.

Contrary to what I'm reading in your entry, Buddhism does not deprive us of choice, but offers us a way to make more skillful choices--along with the possibility of finding happiness. That does not seem nihilistic in the least to me. The Buddha dealt less with cosmic matters than with the immediate and the practical. The cosmos--accidental or otherwise--will always remain beyond the reach of our human understanding: it profits us more to address those things we CAN address in our lives than to bother about those we can't.