It’s strange how one can sometimes have more in common with people that hold opposite views than one does with people who hold very similar views. Such is the case with Buddhism, a ‘godless’ religion with which I have much sympathy, but little simpatico.
Lest I play into the hands of believers who are willing to kill or be killed for their idea of God, let me be clear about the term ‘godless.’ The belief in a paternalistic, patriarchal, all-knowing ‘Creator’—in other words, monotheism—is a projection from humankind’s adolescence that has become the biggest stumbling block to spiritual maturity in the 21st century.
It is no accident that both sides in the putative ‘clash of civilizations’ hold the same core belief. Despite all the talk of shared Abrahamic roots, the belief in one God by Christians and Muslims is the most divisive idea that the human mind has ever fabricated.
The god that the terrorists praised as they flew jetliners into the World Trade Towers is the same god that George Bush was dead certain supported him in his invasion and occupation of Iraq. Neither mass murder had anything to do with God of course, only the distillation of collective darkness (aka evil) expressed through its conduits.
Monotheists venerate not the holy, but the projected power of the human mind. Because there is no separate Supreme Being however, does not mean there is no such thing as God.
There is no Creator in Buddhism, and therefore theologians often refer to it as a philosophy, rather than a religion. With that aspect of Buddhism I feel a deep affinity, though it also marks the point of my divergence with Buddhism.
Because Buddhism has no adequate philosophy of evil (not that Christianity has an adequate and helpful explanation), Buddhism is powerless to confront the evils embodied in the Chinese government’s strangulation of the Tibetan people and culture.
Rather than focus on any particular expression of collective darkness however, we need to ask: Can darkness be dispelled sufficiently to no longer rule human consciousness?
Whatever the degree of enlightenment of past and present Buddhist leaders, the 5th century BCE religious explosion ignited by Siddhartha Gautama is no longer applicable to our 21st century world.
That is very clear in countries where Buddhism has been transplanted, such as the United States. Despite its claim to the contrary, Buddhist spirituality and philosophy, which have organically sprung up in Eastern cultures, cannot be transplanted to Western ones.
In America, widespread acceptance of Buddhist ideas has not prevented the darkness and deadness of this culture from becoming pervasive. Indeed, despite Buddhism’s core mission to awaken people from “the sleep of ignorance,” more and more people are sleepwalking. In fact, many who have embraced Buddhism have simply added another layer of cunning avoidance to the hellish cultural conditions of America.
For example, a reader recently expressed the view, common among American Buddhists, that “there have been many creations and destructions of the universe…the universe has gone through such perils as we are seeing on earth many times.” Such a perspective carries detachment to the point of reductio ad absurdum. It fails to make the distinction between compassionate indifference and comfortable apathy.
Perversely comforting notions like infinite cycles affording infinite chances allow adherents to remove themselves from the world, while believing they’re rising above it. The practice of detachment thus works well for many in our hyper-individualized culture, grafting cunning indifference onto unexamined roots of egoism, while supposedly “transcending the smaller self”. Thus American Buddhists often express a cleverly concealed self-ignorance, uttering nonsense like “I see the light and darkness in a large overview.”
If the Buddha had practiced that type of detachment, he would not have attained enlightenment and ignited a spiritual revolution in India. Sadly, his eightfold path has splintered eight thousand ways in the East, and transplanted Buddhism has made no difference to American culture. Indeed, it may be contributing to its endarkenment.
There is no method to illumination, and traditions have become obstructions to awakening. The creative explosion ignited by Siddhartha 2500 years ago was a regional phenomenon. The many branches of Buddhism, not to mention the mad rush toward materialism in the last few decades, have all but extinguished the original flame.
Even so, spiritually sensitive people say there are still places where one can catch a whiff of its unique perfume. Be that as it may, insight into and liberation from human consciousness are impeded by tradition and ritual.
Through undivided, passive observation, awareness grows into unwilled attention, and attention effortlessly burns away the accretions of thought, cleansing and renewing the brain.