Towards a New Buddhism
"Intelligence is the ability to ascertain the essential."
The Essential Buddha
Historians tell us that Siddhartha Gautama (563? to 483? BC) was the founder of the organized religion we call Buddhism. The fundamental meaning of the word 'Buddha' is 'Enlightened One'. We know that there were many enlightened ones, many buddhas, before Siddhartha Gautama's birth, and that there have been many buddhas after Siddhartha's death. The historic Buddha was born a Hindu, and the evidence suggests Siddhartha wished to reform Hinduism rather than reject it completely. Siddhartha Gautama died a Hindu, not a Buddhist, just as Jesus died a Jew, not a Christian.
What we call Buddhism today is an amalgamation of the true teachings of Siddhartha Guatama, combined with invented myths and large amounts of culture derived from the country in which the Buddhism is practiced. Tibetan Buddhism, for example, is as much 'Tibetanism' as it is Buddhism. Buddha's words were handed down for several centuries through oral tradition before a committee was formed to commit the communal heritage, not memory, of Buddha's teaching to written scripture. No human being who actually met Buddha wrote any of the famous Buddhist scriptures that present day followers take so literally and seriously.
Ascertaining the Essential
Can we separate the essential teachings of the many enlightened ones, the many buddhas, from mere tradition? Can we bring Buddhism up to date by keeping the essential tools of enlightenment while discarding the cultural biases that burden the path with unnecessary obstacles? I believe we can create a new Buddhism if we use our collective consciousness to analyze our situation as present day seekers of enlightenment, of truth. By the most fundamental definition of the word "Buddhism", anyone who seeks enlightenment or the truth behind human existence can and should be called a Buddhist.
Strict Sexual Disciplines
Our lives have changed dramatically since the days of the historic Buddha. Technological advances such as birth control have reshaped our most basic human behaviors. In Siddhartha's time, if you had sex, you were always potentially creating a new child. The strict sexual disciplines of Buddhism were born in a era when sex meant children, and children meant no time to meditate, to ponder one's existence. Surviving with primitive farming methods was difficult, and raising a family under such severe conditions left little energy for introspection. Today many people are able to have a full life, a family, and still have the time and energy to contemplate the meaning of life. Supposedly the average American adult watches over four hours of television a day, so most of us can easily spare at least one hour a day for spiritual practice of one kind or another. One does not have to give up all contact with the opposite sex in order to find existential identity.
Living the Good Life
Modern society brings with it the possibility of creating a more complete human being than Siddhartha's era could afford. Which is more important for society: sex, family, and wealth creation, or meditation, solitude, and detachment? Don't we have a need for both? If you live for seventy years, you can easily spend a few of them in solitude and then go on to have a rich family life. Will the added experience of wife and children make you a smaller person or a bigger person? By repressing our procreative desires, we are not becoming more whole or holy, but are simply building a firewall inside ourselves that divides our being into two lonely halves. Cut in half, we will have less energy, not more energy. I sincerely believe that it is more wholesome to become a fully functioning human being with a healthy sex life, than to retreat into the misperceived safety of half a life on the spiritual plane.
Back in 1971, when I was twenty one years old, I had an experience I would never forget. I was walking around the large Baudhanath Stupa near Kathmandu, Nepal. There was a large group of monks out walking that day, spinning prayer wheels and chanting in the brilliant sunlight. A middle aged monk in his forties came up to me and asked: "What's it like to be with a woman?" I was both shocked and disgusted that a good looking and healthy man in his forties should have to ask a twenty-one year old what sexual intercourse was like. I had vowed years earlier never to become a celibate monk, and my encounter that day engraved that past commitment even deeper into my soul!
The Big Sell
The Catholic Church has made sex for priests an essential taboo for centuries, and the priesthood has often been plagued with scandals of sexual perversion and pedophilia. Many famous gurus from the East have taught celibacy in public while seducing female disciples in private. I am not against teachers and students of meditation having a normal and healthy sex life. I am against the lying and hypocrisy! The sexual act is as natural to human beings as breathing, eating, and sleeping is. How can such an essential activity for the survival of the human race be thought of as "unspiritual", and why make it a taboo, or at best, a dirty little secret?
Extreme Buddhism and Self-Defense
Some Buddhist circles maintain a politically correct insistence on absolute nonviolence. As a result, Tibet had no effective army to fight off the Chinese invasion of 1950; however, the less politically correct and more pragmatic Nepalese fought off the Chinese with relative ease. The Nepalese Gurkha fighters have a reputation for being among the bravest soldiers in the world. Tibet is enslaved and Nepal is free because Tibetan Buddhism went too far in the direction of extreme philosophical purity. Idealism is a form of mental opium. It may feel good for a short while, but the long term effects can be disastrous. I do not call for war-mongering or aggressive behavior towards one's neighbors; however, I do call for a stronger sense of self-defense as being a normal, natural, and often basic necessity of life. Every animal on this planet has some form of defense mechanism, and human beings should have similar layers of defense to protect themselves, their families, and their societies. Having an army is not evil, it is just good common sense!
Over the centuries Buddhism has collected a great deal of hocus pocus and excess baggage. Meditation is not a very complicated affair; it takes time, patience, and whole-hearted commitment, but it is not intellectually difficult. Meditation is a gentle and loving step beyond the mind, not a complicated new philosophy that the mind must learn. The cosmic consciousness we seek is the ultimate blank page. Nothing can be written on it and there is no dogma inside it. No individual can claim ownership of it and no country can pollute it with its customs and prejudices. Cosmic consciousness remains an eternally wild and pure phenomena because it is beyond all our minds. Our methods may be organized, but the thing itself is anarchic and beyond the realm of society and culture. Buddhist scriptures give the false impression that superconsciousness is a mapped out empire that has been conquered and controlled by the great masters. This is simply not the case and is an absolute impossibility.
I have met people who think that by learning to speak Tibetan, Japanese, or Sanskrit they will somehow become more spiritual. The cosmic blank page does not care about your language. It is simply there and available to anyone who is open enough to perceive it. Frankly, Buddhism and all the other religions of the world have become in large part complicated nonsense. People are given the impression that if they become enlightened, they will have spiritual thoughts and will be talking to deities and angels. A safer bet is that when you become enlightened, you will become totally silent inside. You will be able to think or not think, turning the thinking part of your mind on and off like a radio at will.
Many Buddhists believe that Siddhartha Gautama denied the existence of the human soul. Others claim that he only meant to dispel the belief that soul is a magical entity existing beyond any dependence on natural cosmic forces. Another explanation is that Buddha was playing with words in order to keep his disciples from becoming attached and selfish. A denial of soul may be of less value in the industrialized, computerized 21st Century than it was in ancient India. The background and lifestyle of humans living today differs greatly from Siddhartha Gautama's original Hindu disciples.
Buddha Knew All About It
It is my belief that Buddha knew that souls exist, just as trees in the forest exist, but he also knew that the cosmic void is our most fundamental being, not our physical body ,and not our soul body (subtle body). If Buddha denied soul, he was fighting attachment, but he was not telling an exact truth. Many enlightened men have played with words in order to push their disciples in one direction or another. George Gurdjieff said soul was something you had to earn through the meditation of self-observation. Ramana Maharshi said flatly that all human beings have souls. So which Buddha (Enlightened One) should we believe? Many Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama, substitute the word 'mind' for the word soul, and claim that "the most subtle part of the mind survives death". They suggest that the mind is transferred from one birth to the next through reincarnation. 'Mind' is a word normally associated with the functions of the brain and thinking, but the brain and the thought process do not survive physical death. Others call soul a "bundle of desires", but that is not accurate either, because the soul also contains positive human traits, not just desires and clingings.
A Little Soul Musing
Our souls contains the music, poetry, and personality of the individual, and it is through this unique personal character that Tibetan lamas recognize the reincarnations of monks from one lifetime to the next. The subtle body also contains the kundalini passage, and thus any progress one makes on the path of kundalini goes with you from one lifetime to the next. Kundalini has nothing to do with the brain or thought processes, so the use of the term 'mind' in place of the term 'soul' is highly misleading.
A Naturally Evolved Energy Form
For simplicity's sake, I include the second, third, fourth, and fifth bodies in my larger definition of the word 'soul'. The kundalini passage is in the second body, which is often called the etheric or energetic body. The etheric body travels in a de-energized seed form from one birth to the next along with the other layers of our individual being. I dislike dividing people into parts, even philosophically, and I would prefer to call the entire subtle body the human soul. It is possible that soul is a naturally evolved energy form on a subtle level of existence that science has not yet quantified. There is no need to believe in God to believe in soul. The most basic dictionary definition of the word soul is "the non-material aspect of a person".
Mind Your Words
If Buddhists say we must deny the existence of the soul because soul is impermanent, then why not also deny the existence of our physical bodies which are also impermanent? Why should you love your wife if she has no soul? Denial of soul is dehumanizing and disrespectful of man's true nature. Buddhists have played word games avoiding the fact of soul for centuries, confusing students and adding little, I believe, to the fundamental understanding of man's multidimensional nature. If you say you do not believe in the animal, but you believe in the qualities of the animal, such as its snout, its tail, its legs, its ears, its belly, and its bark, then you are merely playing mind or word games forever.
The Lens of Enlightenment
I see nothing wrong in calling a soul a soul, as long as students are advised that the soul is not our essential being, and that one must ultimately transcend the soul just as one must transcend attachment to the purely physical body. One could simply ask, that if the soul does not exist, then what is it that becomes enlightened? Soul is the lens through which the universe becomes aware of itself on the grand and cosmic scale, and to deny the lens of enlightenment, is to be both ungrateful and inaccurate. What do you think?
Thus I Refute the Four Noble Truths
(1) Life Is Suffering ...
Is human life essentially painful from the moment of birth to the moment of death? Even an ordinary life can quite often be full of fun, adventure, friends, romance, good food, music and art. Buddhism has been in many ways an anti-life religion that appeals to those who always see the glass half empty rather than half full. Why should we deny the fact that life can be an enjoyable adventure, and not some pitiful veil of tears?
(2) All Suffering Is Caused By Ignorance ...
Much suffering is caused by poverty, accidents, disease, and countless other factors that can be addressed by the positive application of science. Even the fully enlightened suffer physically if they should fall down and break a leg. We have modern pain killers for physical pain and psychological suffering can be burned up by meditation and self-observation. Traditional Buddhist meditation techniques alone have proven inadequate for the Western mind. More relevant and powerful methods are available today. When the locks (man) change, the keys (meditation techniques) must also change.
(3) Suffering Can Be Terminated By Overcoming Ignorance and Attachment ...
A positive spirit is also needed to overcome suffering, and dwelling on the potential misery of life only amplifies that misery. Friendship, jokes, and high spirits alleviate suffering more quickly, and love, a subject rarely mentioned in Buddhist scriptures, is such a powerful force that suffering retreats in its presence. The loveless negativism of the extreme forms of Buddhism may lead to a sickly and unloving soul, just as easily as an enlightened Anatman (no-soul).
(4) To Suppress Suffering, Buddha Recommended the Noble Eightfold Path Which Consists of Right Views, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right-Mindedness, and Right Contemplation ...
What are right views? Are a junta of Buddhist priests going to dictate to the sangha (monastic community) how to think and what to say? Intense meditation is needed by all, but the difficulties of determining what is 'right action' and 'right speech' is fraught with dangers! Was it 'right action' for Tibet to fail to develop an effective military strategy with which to fight off an obvious Chinese threat? What brilliant Tibetan monk dictated that 'right action' to the sheep-like sangha?
Perceiving the New Way
I am not saying that Siddhartha's Four Noble Truths are totally wrong and misleading, but rather that religious outlook is highly subjective and personal. A more positive path to enlightenment is possible that is every bit as valid as traditional Buddhism, and perhaps more suited to the modern Western mind. I see this new Buddhism as an offshoot of traditional Buddhist and Hindu practice, with both the old and new schools coexisting without philosophical conflict. This new path has been naturally evolving for decades in the West, and this essay, of sorts, is simply meant to help codify and clarify "that which is already being born". Buddhism started in India, but the countries to which it spread modified it to fit their own temperaments and cultures. Tibetans now practice "Tibetan" Buddhism, and the Japanese practice "Japanese" Buddhism. The original form of Indian Buddhism has become extinct! The West is far removed from Asian culture, so it seems obvious that a new "Western" Buddhism should be even more unique in both philosophy and methodology. Time, as usual, will tell one way or the other.
All the Esoteric People
Siddhartha left his life as a recluse in the forest and tried to create an esoteric philosophy for the masses. The problem is there is no such thing as an esoteric philosophy, because esoteric people do no need any philosophy at all. All doctrine is a product of the mind, and the esoteric leap beyond the mind leaves all philosophies far behind. Therefore, if you create a new religion, it should be with the common man in mind. A true religion should be life-affirming, and value honesty, family, democracy, and reasonable nonviolent behaviors. Organized religion is still useful to elevate the masses to the point where real religion begins. That point is far beyond the most enquiring of minds, far beyond any secular institution with its holy scriptures, rules and philosophical regulations.
The Value of Christian Compassion
In traditional Buddhism, you don't hear much talk about love, joy, and romance. That is because the essence of traditional Buddhism is to keep one's focus on suffering and death. This constant remembrance of the negative is supposed to help one become detached from life and thus attain the ultimate freedom of nirvana. The word 'compassion' is used by traditional Buddhists repetitiously and unconsciously. Buddhist monks are sometimes taught to visualize sick and starving people and then feel compassion for their suffering. Christians are taught to feed the sick, cure the ill, and to love their spouses and children dearly. In this way Christianity is a superior religion to Buddhism because Christian compassion leads to helpful positive action and is not just a self-absorbed, self-centered pretense.
The Great Escapist
Unlike Christians, Buddhists are not known for doing great charity work because the Buddhist focus is always on the negative. Why develop a cure for a disease if nature is just going to come up with another new disease sooner or latter to take its place? Aging, decay, and death are always on the Buddhist's mind, so why bother fighting a futile battle against the inevitable physical collapse? If your religion makes suffering the centerpiece of your attention, you will not nurture life to make it better because all your effort is invested in trying to escape life, not in trying to improve the art of living. If your attitude is defeatist at its core, then why even bother to try to improve anything? Thus Tibet was in a state of physical and moral decay when the Chinese army marched in in October of 1950, and took over the country with little or no effective resistance.
Excessive Guru Worship
Another great problem for Buddhism has been the excessive worship of gurus which is an irrational contradiction for a religion that puts such a great emphasis on detachment. Intense love can be very positive, but worship and idolization quickly degrade into enslavement. Just because a human being realizes his or her own true identity, does not make that human being a deity. I have been with many teachers, some of whom were fully enlightened, but none of whom were perfect human beings. It is my understanding that all enlightened human beings remain human with weaknesses and the potential for corruption. Self-realization is not self-perfection in any total sense. It could more accurately be described as self-expansion. You become vast inside, but not perfect, and not all knowing. You can still be fooled by others and make blunders yourself.
Existential intelligence, the knowledge of one's self, does not automatically give you a higher IQ or a degree in science. The enlightened men I have know have all been pretty miserable at science, mathematics, and economics. They end up living in ivory towers, partly created by themselves, and partly created by their own disciples. Spiritual teachers can even lose basic common sense through lack of contact with the more ordinary world we live in. The last person you should go to for advice about politics or science is the guru on the mountain, because he is divorced from the world that works, creates wealth, and continues the human race.
For Westerners the East represents an imagined source of pure spiritual inspiration. Unfortunately for many poor Asian monks and teachers, the West has meant a source of income and a new livelihood. Many in the East have long felt that only Asians could comprehend the inner art of meditation, and their focus in the West has been largely motivated by a desire to raise funds. If you are living in a hut in India or ramshackle monastery in Nepal, a journey to the West is an opportunity to increase your standard of living. Many Asians wrongly assume that they own meditation, as if it were a proprietary cultural commodity. Westerners must come to the realization that the East is no more innocent than the West, and that many Asian gurus are just as impure in motivation as our own homegrown variety of spiritual opportunists.
Brave New Buddhism
The East has always had an imperial model for the teacher-student relationship. At worst it has degraded into a Stalinistic charade of spirituality. Tibetans still 'enthrone' their high lamas in elaborate royal ceremonies. Are we in the West going to enthrone those Westerners among us who attain enlightenment in future years? The very idea is ridiculous and counter to our finest principles of equality and democracy. I have never met any human being who was so enlightened that he did not occasionally come up with some truly bad ideas. Likewise, it is rare to find an individual so low that he never has a positive suggestion. The West must develop its own Jeffersonian Buddhism, a Buddhism based on the West's most noble principles of dignity and respect for all.
Buddha said that life exists as constant change, but many Buddhist leaders want Buddhism to remain fixed and dead like a rock. A new, more direct path to self-realization is possible that avoids trying to make Westerners look and act more like people from the East. If Westerners are to find their own true selves, they will have to look deep inside their own beings, and not merely imitate the persona of others. Americans and Europeans are not the same as Tibetans and Indians. Trying to think and act like a Tibetan will only make you a false Tibetan, never a real Tibetan, and never a real enlightened Western human being.
Totally Awesome Human Beings
I love and respect many Buddhist teachers who are alive today. I just hope a newer breed of teacher will one day appear that will actively encourage students of meditation to become total human beings. We need a new living Buddhism that changes with the times and the condition of the seekers traveling the path. Westerners can afford the luxury of being lovers, parents, meditators, and creators of wealth all in the same lifetime. Buddha gave up his wealth because he thought that was the only way to achieve enlightenment; however, I am saying you can keep your wealth, your spouse, your home, and still make effective spiritual progress on the path to enlightenment. Science can give us the added energy we need to have it all. Nothing of importance should be discarded in the name of spirituality ...
Kundalini, an Italian Dish?
Definition: kundalini (k˘n´de-lę´nę) noun of Hindu origin. Physical and sexual energy that lies dormant at the base of the spine is activated through esoteric kundalini practice. This energy is directed through the kundalini channel in the etheric body upward to the top of the head.
Too Many Buddhas?
Listed randomly, here are a small fraction of the many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas we can look to for inspiration. Many Buddhas were never recognized, many names have been long forgotten, and many Buddhas are yet to be born. Should we narrowly fixate on just one beautiful but fallible Buddha, or should we instead be interested in the essential phenomena of enlightenment?
Ramana Maharshi Buddha, George Gurdjieff Buddha, Jiddu Krishnamurti Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, Dogen Buddha, Patanjali Buddha, Eisai Buddha, Chuang-tzu Buddha, Shiva Buddha, Rinzai Buddha, Krishna Buddha, Lao-tzu Buddha, Bodhidharma Buddha, Kasyapa Buddha, Rumi Buddha, Tilopa Buddha, Kabir Buddha, Swami Chidananda Bodhisattva, Basho Buddha, Karmapa Bodhisattva, Naropa Buddha, Neem Karoli Baba Bodhisattva, Rajneesh Buddha, Meher Baba Buddha, Shirdi Sai Baba Buddha, Ramakrishna Buddha, Poonjaji Buddha, Milarepa Buddha, Padmasambhava Buddha, Khyentse Rinpoche Bodhisattva, Sri Yukteswar Bodhisattva, Marpa Buddha, the unrecognized, the forgotten, and the yet to come ...
Brave New Links
1) Meditation Handbookhttp://www.clipper.net/~calder/meditation.html
2) The TES Hypothesishttp://www.clipper.net/~calder/TES.html
3) The Seven Bodieshttp://www.clipper.net/~calder/seven.html
4) Osho, Bhagwan Rajneesh, and the Lost Truthhttp://www.clipper.net/~calder/Osho.html
5) Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche A self-realized Tibetan teacher who was married! To me he appears to be happier and more complete than most of the celibate monks I have encountered in my travels.http://shechen.12pt.com/finley02.html (picture)
http://shechen.12pt.com/finley25.html (essay on Buddha-nature)
6) 17th Karmapa Ugyen Trinley Dorje. The same soul as the 16th Karmapa. Escaped Tibet and arrived in India on January 5th, 2000.http://www.personal.u-net.com/~samye/17gyalwa.htm
7) Jiddu Krishnamurti. A dry, publicly humorless, enlightened man who was uniquely lovable. His powerful vibrations can still be felt at the Krishnamurti Library and Study Center at Ojai, California.http://www.kfa.org/gfxindex.html Krishnamurti Foundation of America http://www.silcom.com/~jmsloss Lives in the Shadow with J. Krishnamurti
8) Ramana Maharshi. Amazingly, every major religious group in India agreed that Ramana Maharshi was enlightened. http://www.ramana-maharshi.org/
9) George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. The only enlightened Westerner I truly know of.http://www.gurdjieff.org/
10) Garin-Michaud Roger's Tibetan Buddhist Links Pagehttp://hometown.aol.com/Wangchuk/buddlinks.html
11) Sharpham College for Buddhist Studies and Contemporary Enquiryhttp://www.sharpham-trust.org/sharpham/college.htm
Meetings With Remarkable Men, by G.I. Gurdjieff, Viking Penguin Books. No tedious philosophy here, just the pure adventure of the search for truth.
A Note from Christopher
The opinions expressed above must be viewed as the ideas of an ordinary student of meditation. While I sincerely believe everything I say, you should not believe anything until you have seen it, felt it, and known it to be true for yourself. I make no claims of infallibility; in fact, I absolutely claim fallibility!
"Truth is a sword that cuts in all directions."
"True is the mind that is unprejudiced by religion, philosophy, and cultural bias. It is the mind that boldly goes forth naked unto the stars."