My Experience with Buddhism Pt 1 (Agnosticism)

by dhw, Wednesday, December 14, 2022, 13:45 (526 days ago) @ xeno6696

Where to begin? Owing to the time gap between our countries, I woke up this morning to find an intensely moving personal story, accompanied by texts full of wisdom and compassion (accompanied by equally wise and compassionate comments from David) which create a totally different perspective from the one that we were discussing only yesterday. So I’ll begin by thanking you for all these insights into your own background and into those aspects of Buddhism that have been so helpful to you and may well help others who read your life story. There is nothing in these latest exchanges that I would dream of opposing. You began with a list of precepts:

"This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited etc.

If these were the Buddha’s teachings, there can be no controversy. David has, I think, rightly identified your embrace of Buddhism as a kind of therapy – and the very fact that it’s based on fundamental truths creates a solid base for you and indeed all of us to build on.

I’d like to add a personal note here. In my teens, I went through a religious crisis, and was initially deeply attracted to Buddhism, not least because it by-passed religion and “God”, and focused on the gentler, humanitarian aspects of life. It was only when I read about reincarnation and the prolongation of suffering as punishment for the bad things done in a previous life that I switched off. The crisis did not last long. By the time I reached my 20s, I'd realized that no religion or philosophy could answer my questions, and I settled for agnosticism. This brought what you would call a kind of contentment. I’m still fascinated by it all, and hurl myself into discussions, but they don't affect my attitude towards life, myself or other people, and I'm not suffering! I can’t say your story has brought me joy, but it has enriched me in an entirely positive way. It reaches out to all of us, regardless of temperamanent,situation, problems, solutions, beliefs and philosophies.

This leads me to points raised in your latest posts:

Xeno: I had no idea that the idea of Buddhism being about an uncaring nihilism was so pervasive. If the Buddha could weep at the loss of a mother's only child, and he was the most accomplished teacher of his age, then how can Buddhism be a death cult that suggests that the only escape for suffering is death?

The podcast could hardly have given us a worse start. Ajahn Brahmali focuses almost exclusively on the aspects of Buddhism that turned me away: rebirth, suffering, “freedom” from cravings - the “nihilism” - and neither you nor he can explain what is reborn, or what form of existence is more conducive to freedom from suffering, cravings etc. than permanent death. I love the tale of the grieving mother and the Buddha’s compassion and philosophy, but his consoling words are that everyone in the community has lost someone to death. He didn’t say to her, “Your son will be reborn, and his suffering will continue rebirth after rebirth until all his cravings and selfish actions will have ceased.”

Xeno: [...] Food and many of the things of daily life, provide small sparks of joy, but none of that provides a lasting contentment.

Yes, all things in this world are transient. Hence the cry “carpe diem!” I would rather enjoy each transient moment -and help others to do the same - than be miserable, and you're right, you can only do that if deep down your “self” has achieved an inner peace. This means acceptance of transience. Suffering may come from circumstances outside our control, and we can’t know how we will react to negative experiences. We may then discover aspects of ourselves that we didn’t know about – but they are still our own “selves”. My wife's death was one such event, but I've learned to live with it and still enjoy many transient moments. I was devastated when my elder son was diagnosed with an incurable cancer(though he's responding well to treatment at the moment), and I don’t know how I'll be able to endure the consequences if he dies before me. But we both know that we must accept transience. He makes the most of every moment, and so do I. If Buddhism helps you to accept your past and enjoy your present, then great. But don’t listen to podcasts like Ajahn Brahmali’s!

Xeno: I don't understand myself to be anything more than the confluence of consciousness and conditioning that was born 40 odd years ago, and if things go the way I figure they will, will eventually support daisies. I won't get to take any of those thoughts with me. So they're not *me*, in an ultimate sense.

They were you. But the current confluence of consciousness and conditioning may change, and so your “self” may change, but it will still be your "self". Gotama may also have changed before he became his wise and compassionate “self”.

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