Why I am not a Buddhist

Many people assume that because I teach meditation I am probably a Buddhist. This is a natural mistake to make since the two are often confused. However meditation is a practical skill. Buddhism is a conservative Asian religion. There is no automatic connection between the two.

Meditation as a skill is compatible with the scientific world view while Buddhism with its reliance on karma and reincarnation is not. Buddhism also believes in a strong Cartesian duality of body and mind which no good scientist takes seriously nowadays.

I can’t claim to know what Buddhism means to ethnic Buddhists nowaday. I haven’t done the study and the field is too diverse. In this article I will restrict myself to explaining the key ideas of Buddhism as mapped out in the original texts. In doing so it will become obvious why I am not a Buddhist.

We have no excuse for being ignorant of what the Buddha taught. He established a highly regulated monastic order during his forty years of teaching. About eight hundred of his sermons have survived. His arguments are clear, systematic and practical. We know exactly what he wanted his followers to do. He is a most impressive thinker even if we disagree with his values.

The Buddha was a typical old-style ascetic. He loathed the world and all worldly pursuits with an intensity that is almost impossible to imagine nowadays. He taught a path of liberation from the world and from future rebirths and gave detailed instructions on how to achieve this. Because his approach is so cold and uncompromising, Buddhist teachers have sweetened the message ever since.

Nowadays Buddhism is usually presented as promoting peace, ‘compassion,’ living in the present and having a philosophic acceptance of whatever happens. There is nothing wrong with this but it is far removed from what the Buddha actually taught. I regard this as ‘Sentimental Buddhism’ and it doesn’t do him justice. There was nothing at all sentimental about him, as you will see [via Meditation Articles > Why I am not a Buddhist.]

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One Response to Why I am not a Buddhist

  1. andrealyeska says:

    I appreciate the effort you put into articulating your point of view in this regard.

    I am no student of Buddhism. I’m a Yoga instructor and continue to be drawn to eastern philosophy and its teachings. I find your comments similar to those who look to the Yoga Sutras for moral guidance or find them lacking because they do not address the human conditions of love or the need for empathy, sympathy and compassion.

    I don’t think Buddhism/Taoism/Yoga suggests don’t be human or don’t be a social being. Rather these systems suggest that just as pain leaves residue in the form of patterns we often unwittingly and unwillingly repeat; love and empathy can do the same, leading us into unhealthy cycles, dependent upon emotion or feeling for a fix.

    My take-away from these practices is that we can live beyond the human condition and yet still be human. With correct perception (Yoga) or achieving egolessness (Buddhism), we can begin to more consciously choose how to walk on this planet and how live and love and engage one another.

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