My Atheist Buddhism

The Buddhist Dharma Wheel

The Dharma Wheel

Speaking to a friend recently I said, “My Buddhist side would say …” when my friend interrupted me saying, “Are you Buddhist?!!”

I answered saying, “Well, in many senses I am Buddhist because:

  1. I strongly believe and value some central Buddhist teachings which I feel are counter to much “common sense”.
  2. I have sought out and read lots of Buddhist literature, including: philosophical works, mythical works, life of saints.  They have inspired me more than any other religious tradition.
  3. I meditate and practice other Buddhist disciplines (albeit feebly) even though I am not a member of a Buddhist group.

My friend looked at me and said, “Yeah, I guess that counts as ‘Buddhist'”.

Since blogging, I have dialogued with liberal/progressive Christians who, back in my Christian days, I would not have considered “real” Christians because of their unorthodox view.  Yet these folks still persist on calling themselves “Christian”.  I have even learned about “Atheist Christians” — those who value what they feel are Jesus’ authentic teachings [what ever those are?] but don’t believe he was a god and yet still feel culturally Christian.  So since blogging I have learned that the world contains of a broader spectrum of self-proclaimed Christians than I ever imagined.

So I thought to myself, “Well, hell, if they can be Christians, maybe I can be a Buddhist?”  🙂

So would that make me a progressive or liberal Buddhist?  No, I don’t like the connotations of those words.  Am I an “Atheist” Buddhist?  Well, Buddhists aren’t theists though many of them hold theist-like beliefs and so “Atheist Buddhist” would help differentiate me from them.  Up to now,  I have often described myself as a “lazy unorthodox Buddhist” which, though accurate, may be a bit too pejorative. So “Atheist Buddhist” may do for now occasionally.  But in many other ways, I am not Buddhist at all.  See my other posts on Buddhism.

I was raised nominal Christian but became Atheist at 14 years-old only to re-converted to Born-Again Evangelical Christianity at 17 years-old when my best friend died.  I remained a fervent Christian for several years.  But prior to that, between 14 and 17 years-old I read a bit of Buddhism.  I returned to explore Buddhism after leaving Christianity in my graduate school days and practiced at some Zen centers.  When I lived in India, Nepal, Japan and China I engaged Buddhism a bit more.  And though I am critical of much of what many Buddhists believe and practice, nonetheless some versions of Buddhism continues to inspired me in ways no other religion does.  And I am not sure why.   It is almost like I have some strange Yuan for Buddhism.

When I want to recommend books to folks to show them the aspects of Buddhism I find exciting, I can’t think of any because all the Buddhist books I know are very …. well, Buddhist.  Hmmmm.  In future posts I will explore Buddhism a bit.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

39 responses to “My Atheist Buddhism

  1. Ed

    Anything I say after this will be too much, incorrect, or just silly. So, let’s begin. When Sidhartha Gotama finally surrendered after years of practices, had his enlightenment experience and got up from under the legendary Banyan tree, he walked into a near by town looking for food. On his way he ran into some of his fellow hardcore saddhus. They could see that there was something profoundly different about him. So, they asked him something like “What happened to you? What are you? Are you a god? A prophet? A guru? What are you?” The man, later to be known as “The Buddha” simply replied, “I am none of those”. “So what are you?” As he walked away Buddha said in a quiet voice, “I am awake”.
    This is Buddhism. After that most everything else is the local culture and the assimilation of so-called native religions. If Jesus were to return today to inspect the Christians and their churches around the world, I think we could agree that he would be simply horrified. If Sidhartha Gotama were to return also, he certainly would not recognize such “Buddhist” organizations as Tibetan Buddhism, the Pureland School or the Buddhism of Vietnam.
    Sidhartha Gotama simply saw what This is and he saw it clearly and completely. That is not a religion nor is it a joinable thing. It clearly has nothing to do with robes, incense, chants, Dalai Lamas, heaven, hell, shaved heads, ancestors, altars, monks, priests or beads. It further is not even related to good or bad behavior nor the concepts of karma and reincarnation. All that stuff is just stuff. Not living in awakeness.
    So, Sabio, I humbly submit that the harder you try to see if you are a Buddhist, the farther from it you will go. The eyeball will never see itself, the tip of the finger will never be able to touch itself and when one wakes up there is nothing to join and nobody to talk to about it. If anything is, this is Buddhism.

  2. Ed

    Sabio.. can you explain the comment by “unknown”?
    It makes no sense to me, unless it actually is what it appears to be on it’s face.

  3. @ Ed

    (1) Concerning the “Unknown” commentor (which others can’t see now) — I spammed that comment. She keeps coming back under various new e-mail addresses and clogging my blog with nonsense. I have spammed her several times before. Your intuition about her coherence is probably clinically correct, if you get my drift. But moving on …

    (2) Concerning your first comment. I agree strongly. Well said, for being “too much, incorrect, or just silly”. 😆

    But consider these:

    (1) Haven’t you ever been asked by someone what they should read on Buddhism, but you could not offer one book. So I am going to experiment with verbalizing what I have learned and value. Then I could direct those folks to my posts. Arrogant little effort, eh! But then, I am not trying to tell what Buddhism IS, but what I value from the little I understand. So I guess that can’t be arrogant, eh?

    (2) Whether Sidhartha Gotama actually had “something profoundly different about him” due to his reported penultimate sitting, I am not sure of even that. It is an inspiring story of course. I have met inspiring people — the Dalai Lama was one of them. But I have never met anyone that floored me. It may be that I am dull and can’t see brilliance right in front of me. Or maybe my experience is limited. So I don’t even know what I think about “enlightenment”.

    I strongly agree with your cultural accretions comment.

    I am not really curious if I am a Buddhist, but curious about playing with the models and expressions — as is constantly my story. But in outward form, it may appear like I am exploring my Buddhist-ness when in fact I am too much of an insensitive secularist to really fall into that. But thanks for the warning.

    Good little essay. Thanx

  4. Ed

    Yes. I was serious about “anything being said would be too much, incorrect or just silly.” I was not being self-depricating. Same goes for these comments. What gets called Buddhism and then grows into multi million dollar businesses, begins as a profound experience that is personal and can not be written down or communicated. So, ultimately no book will do the job. However, I understand the question. And yes, I have recommended books at times as you know. I like the writings of Steve Hagen, author of “Buddhism Plain and Simple”, “Buddhism Is Not What You Think” and other works. But even books such as these can not convey what the experience is… and therefore we confuse the map with the country and the road sign with the road.
    I do not necessarily believe the story of Buddha’s awakening. It is just a nice story. His awakening is irrelevant to me or anybody else.
    When people wake up, well, there they are. They do not necessarily become inspiring or anything else. They can just see what This is. That’s it. They still have bad breath, lustful thoughts or bill collectors chasing them.
    I know that you are writing a blog and exploring these and other ideas. That is why I come back to it almost daily. I was trying to answer you on another level… or in a different way than the question was asked. Sorry. I did that without warning… :-}
    Keep up the great writing and interesting topics. Also, thanks for the “referral”… I went to the “Non-StampCollector” site. Wow. You were right, “fantastic”.

  5. Andrew

    Some time ago my sweet beau borrowed my “Peace is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hahn. Since then she has been working through parts of his “Peace” series of little books. And she is loving them.

    I think she is getting a lot out of them because they are not History of Buddhism books, or Religion of Buddhism books. They are “You could try this, it might help the practice” books, or “Sometimes if you look at the world this way, you see this instead” books. they tend to be pretty light.

    Personal comment here, but Buddhism does seem to offer tools (spiritual, psychological, blah..) that are in some respects more effective and maybe even more transparent than other mainline world religions.

  6. Ian

    I’m a buddhist ignoramus, so feel free to correct me.

    But Ed’s initial comment seems internally inconsistent to me.

    How do we know that ‘awakening’ is possible? How do we know the Buddha became, well a Buddha? Or existed? If he didn’t exist, or if that state of mind is nothing but a fiction, then surely all Buddhism is is just another claim to unverifiable, unachievable, unreality.

    I’m not denigrating Buddhism, I’m just pointing out that it doesn’t seem like it is possible to have anything without some kind of narrative. You might want to reduce that narrative down to a minimum. But if you claim that the narrative itself is irrelevant, then how can any claims about it be made?

    Of course you can go the Karen Armstrong route of ‘claiming’ there are no essential narratives. But that is just delusion, because to do so you have to build that claim into your own narrative.

    Fundamentally Buddhism, to me, seems to be a fairly typical religious story. A charismatic and talented religious figure seeks out and finds new transcendent truth and brings that to humanity. The response is therefore to share in that truth.

    Christians also want to tell you that it is the experiential participation in their truth that is important (“Christianity is a faith not a religion”, they say). But fundamentally you still have to buy the narrative.

    So that’s my understanding – where am I being obtuse?

  7. Ed

    Andrew… the essence of what gets called Buddhism is purely experiential. It’s not a religion. There are no tools… to accomplish anything. However, Thich Nhat Hahn is a wonderful writer who is using the fact of Awakening and it’s inevitable religious structure to push for social change. He is very compassionate. And I can freely recommend his books. But again, books and religious structure are to Awakening what the road sign is to your destination. This might lead one to ask the question, “Well then, why do anything at all?” Exactly. I asked that very question for almost 30 years. And here is an obtuse comment for Ian; “Those that “try” don’t get there… trying gets in the way… Yet the only ones that realize Awakening are those that try.”
    And Ian, after reading your comment this morning, I thought; “Ah, Ian is beginning to become a student of Buddhism”… And yes, the story of “popular” Buddhism is The typical religious story about a charismatic founder etc. I was not talking about that… I answered Sabio’s query more directly.

  8. @ Andrew :
    I too have learned much from Thich Nhat Hahn’s books. It helps that they are short.
    I agree, Buddhism offers some useful tools. (more on that in future posts)

    @ Ian :
    (a) I think your questions:

    “How do we know that ‘awakening’ is possible?”

    is fantastic. You are right, it is a crucial question. But that would entail a possibly longer thread and I hope to address that in another post.

    (b) As to whether Siddartha existed or not — funny, I have never doubted that or worried about it much. Neither had I though much about Jesus’ existence until my recent readings of the Jesus mythicists. Do you know of Siddartha Gautama mythicists?

    (c) As for your “narrative” objection. That seems a very involved conversation with lots of unpacking. But I agree that the narrative component is important to popular Buddhism. But again, I am defending Buddhism or seeking to justify it, I am using it to explore (not even seek). This “Narrative” notion is new to my intellectual understanding of things too over the last 2 years as I have read about it in Christian theological contexts. It wasn’t something I remember using as a category back in my Evangelical days. It seems a slippery, manipulative term and yet useful in ways. I am still fumbling with it. — More in future posts.

    (d) I do think I disagree about experiential vs narrative buy-in. I think the experiential aspect of several forms of Buddhism can almost be divorced from the narrative buy-in. But maybe I am misunderstanding. You have heard the Zen story of “When you see the Buddha, kill him!” No?

    @ Ed :
    I am seeing a new side of you in the replies to these posts. It seems palpably historically personal and deeply attached or felt.
    I think you would agree that there is not ONE THING called “Buddhism” but there are a huge variety of these. So we must, I think, be careful with generalizing — much as we must with Christianity.

  9. Ian

    Yes, I fully expect I’m inappropriately using categories from Christian theology here. Apologies, but it is my grammar and vocab.

    I don’t know of Siddartha Gautama mythicists, no. I was responding to Eds implication that Siddartha isn’t important to what it means to be a Buddhist.

    I’m trying to ask how Buddhism can possibly be removed from some kind of story you tell yourself. If there were no story, what would Buddhism be? At some level you tell yourself a story, even if it is “I can access a deeper level of existence by meditating.” – you have a story about why mediation, what you’re aiming for, why you think it worth attaining, etc. or even “understanding is knowing there is no self” – how do you know that? what do you mean by understanding?

    I’m not just focussing on definitions, at some level there is a story you tell yourself, a story of why you know what you know and how you know what to do about it, is there not?

    (apologies if my examples massacre the terminology, I hope you can see what I’m aiming for).

  10. @ Ian :
    Yes, indeed people who consider themselves “Buddhists” I am sure use these images to varying degrees for:
    (a) Motivation
    (b) Trust in the potential for enlightenment or some gain
    (c) Inspiration for other things

    Yet, I imagine some folks have met practitioners (“gurus”, Rinpoches, Zen Masters or such) whose lives or sayings or combined image inspires them and they no longer care about the actual Buddha. And they may not care about “Enlightenment” but they may simply suspect that such activity will improve their lives.

    In Popular Buddhism, I’d imagine the Narrative is hugely important but after that, there is probably a large spectrum of variation as you can imagine.

    However, kind of sticking with some of what I think Ed is emphasizing may be captured by the “Ladder Analogy”. Though the narrative of the Buddha may be motivational and helpful and hope-filling, in the end even Siddartha taught that such reliance is a crutch and that only testing the methods and the insights are what matters — “experiential” and then the Buddha is no longer needed. After climbing the wall, the ladder can be kicked away — for caring the ladder further will only prove a hinderance.

    Does that affirm your suspicions yet add nuance to make Ed’s point? Also you did not get around to answering my question about hearing the phrase, “Kill the Buddha” — which I think (in my lay understanding) mildly addresses this issue.

    Finally, “Killing Jesus” and “Kicking away the Jesus Ladder” makes no sense in all the Christian traditions I am familiar with. So in this way, the narrative issue is used a bit differently. But again, in most of popular Buddhism (almost all of Asia) the narrative is used as you suggest. I imagine that it is perhaps only in the highly educated and monastic traditions that this other nuance is understood or embraced. I have seen these distinctions in China, Japan and Nepal but it was purely annecdotal — I;ve never seen any Pew or Templeton Fund Research on the issue. 😉

  11. Ian

    Yes, it confirms my suspicions that I don’t know what I’m talking about 🙂

    I had heard of the Kill the Buddha story – I think you told it didn’t you? If not then I heard it in the last year or so.

    No, going beyond the point that Jesus can help you reach is not in any form of Christianity I’ve come across! And because Jesus is kind of the point, it would be a bit of an unorthodox teaching!

    So can I ask to clarify, then. I realise it is a continuum, but lets say you get to the point of finally kicking the ladder, not needing the story. How do you understand what to do then? Is anything permissable. If someone got to that point and then began to do unbuddhist things, would they be tolerated? Or is it the case that once you get to that point you are so steeped in Buddhist culture, then you would do the Buddhist thing unconsciously?

  12. @ Ian

    Well, actually, the Buddha’s story does not tell what to do, but his teachings do. He had some 40 years of teaching after his supposed enlightenment. (We only get 3 for Jesus — but then his whole thing was dying). S. Gautama’s life prior to the enlightenment is actually partially examples of mistakes.

    You may be inspired by an astronaut’s life but when it comes to successfully flying a spacecraft, one has to read the instruction manual and train in all the various sciences and physical skills not to mention body conditioning to prep for it. A particular astronaut’s life may inspire you but …. In some Buddhist traditions, there are felt to have been and still are many other awakened individuals. So one particular Buddha is not so important.

    You question does seem to show that you understand less about Buddhism then I assumed you should given your other religious knowledge. Odd. So much to know in this world.

    Hoped that helped. Hope Ed pops back in and tells me if I he thinks I represented him well enough.

  13. Ian

    Right (I recognize I know nothing 🙂 – does that make be a good buddhist?)

    But the teachings are also part of the story in the context of my question. You have to believe, if nothing else, that they have some potential use, surely? So it might not be about the story of the (or a) Buddha, but it is about what they say is truth? That’s the root of my question. And is why I said it seems pretty conventional religious story: enlightening individual shares enlightenment with the world.

  14. @ Ian
    Sure, Ian, if that works for you. I got lost in your point. But you seemed satisfied that you made it.

    Jesus did not share enlightenment with the world, he supposedly died for the world.

    But again, now I have no idea what you are after. Perhaps you were just trying to say Ed is inconsistent.

  15. Ian

    Hmmm… you normally accuse me of sounding tetchy….

    I’m trying to understand what it would mean to really have that post-religious experience that I sensed in Ed’s comment.

    I think there’s a measure of inconsistency there. But I’m really not trying to score cheap shots. I just don’t understand the grammar of Buddhist self-conception. Your previous post was right – please don’t overestimate how knowledgeable I am on this.

    It is (and how is it) really possible to be a buddhist without following the stories, or teachings? What differentiates Buddhist and non-Buddhist (or anti-Buddhist) at that point? Or have I got the wrong end of the stick?

    You’re right. Jesus died for the world. But in Christian theology he also revealed that he died for the world. So Christianity is still basically a knowledge religion. It is about knowing God, knowing God’s word, etc.

  16. Ian

    “You’re right. Jesus died for the world.”

    Eeek, non-Freudian slip there.

    “You’re right. *Christianity teaches that* Jesus died for the world.”


  17. The Buddha taught methods (many of them) for helping the mind to let go of delusion. Once that is accomplished, the methods have no value.

    Go to heaven, and Jesus still matters.

    In Buddhism it is not the believing that matters (though it does in many forms of popular Buddhism) but the act of freeing and there are many approaches but the freedom is the goal, not the methods or belief in the methods.

    They are skillful mean.

    [the link may help]

  18. Ian

    That does help, thanks. Sorry I’m being so dense.

    So the point at which you kick the ladder is when you’ve basically achieved everything there is to achieve? You don’t need the teachings or the stories because you’re done?

    Or is there still more to do? And if so, if you’ve abandoned the teachings, how do you know *what* that is?

  19. Ed

    At this point I really hate to jump back in… but Sabio asked, so… I aim to please…
    Yes, you have represented what could be called “my” point of view very well. Especially since what I am alluding to can not be spoken of accurately at all.
    And Ian… I do not know you… and certainly would not want to offend. I am going to sincerely try to address your concerns… Disclaimer: By saying it as I am about to, I spoil it. Sorry. For anyone reading, if you don’t want it spoiled, stop reading now and go take a walk…Framing it the way I am about to makes it a debatable issue… an object of intellection… this is not the Way.

    You might have heard this analogy before… but play along and really do the exercise. Create an experience for yourself… OK… imagine all that there is… Totality… is a vast limitless Ocean. There is nothing else. But the Ocean takes many shapes and has many many uncountable activities. One is called waves. You, Sabio, me… all of us we are like the waves. We wonder if water exists… we wonder what happens to us when we die (stop being waves)… We gather in groups (blogs and religions etc) to discuss what happens “at the end”… Once in a great while a wave realizes that he is water… water exists! He is the Ocean! The Ocean exists! And nothing happens when the wave goes down because it has always been the Ocean and always is water…. and no time exists… It is always “Now-Ever”…. So, this wave is immensely popular… all the other waves want to go get what he has and they think there is a way to be “done” as you said. And Ian, how could there be more to do for a wave that has always been water and always been the Ocean? The wave never could do anything at all… in fact all the wave’s efforts to become “enlightened” were actually blockages because they create the thought that you are not the Ocean/Water… all that immense effort to understand, actually creates the very situation the wave is trying to avoid… separation.
    So, when Buddha said, “I am awake”. It was like saying: “Hey… dudes… there is nothing to fear… nothing to learn… no practices to undertake… no prayers needed…. no ladder to kick away… no “you” ( “you” meaning a completely separate self) to kick the un-ladder away…. Listen here’s the DEAL…”no self…no problem”… You are IT.
    So, you see, how can this experience of being the Ocean be a method? A method for what? The wave is always water… always the Ocean. There is nothing to correct. That’s it. When you are Awake to this, all discussions, even this one, are unnecessary. This is something one experiences… we can not learn it. Don’t even think of trying to grasp this… Wont work. You keep talking about how dense you are… but you are not dense. You are IT. You are the Wave that is the Water/Ocean… always and all-ways. Ian, you are just asking the questions in the wrong way… in the way that keeps you stuck. The Way i am pointing to is not another religion or method. It can not be discussed as such… ever. It can not be organized. It can only be realized. You are the Ocean. That’s it. No method. No afterwards. No before. Just This. Now. Here. Just This.

  20. Ed

    Ian… before you begin asking 10,000 questions
    Shhhhhh… quiet…. shhh…. Just be with it… don’t think…. go sit by a large body of water if you can… but for sure, shhhh

  21. @ Ian
    BTW, Ed’s “Drop in the Ocean” analogy [a common one in Hinduism also] and his final “Shhhh, don’t question, just be …”, are two things I don’t value that exist in several forms of Buddhism. They won’t be on my I value list which I am contemplating making.

  22. Ian

    Thanks a lot Ed. I do appreciate the time you took. I do also appreciate the model you paint. I may be cantakerous and skeptical, but you will never find me unenthusiastic about learning something new!

    Your description of the ocean I do find moving. About 5 years ago I realised that I had no authentic spiritual practice. I go to church (I live in a small village, and that is really akin to ‘I take part in the community’), but am known at church for being the village atheist 🙂 So I do find Christian worship moving, but not authentic. I have began to explore other types of spiritual praxis. I read some on Buddhism, but for the reasons Sabio mentioned, I just couldn’t find anywhere to start. Most Buddhist books are full of Sanskrit jargon, and the definitions of those jargon don’t help you understand how they function. I have found similar kinds of exercise in some Pagan tradition, including a very similar exercise to yours.

    I have, however, no angst at all at what happens after death. I am perfectly happy about my pre-birth state, so have no reason to worry about after death. Except, of course, to worry about those I leave behind.

    But I can’t resist one little jibe: if the Buddha said “there are no teachings to follow”, why did he spend the next 50 years teaching that? 😉

    @Sabio – rofl.

  23. Ed

    Sabio… I agree with you about not putting value on the wave analogy. It is dangerous because it is somewhat a concept that we can hang our hats on. And that is a dangerous position to put yourself in. I was, for the sake of dialogue trying to explain the unexplainable to Ian… who seems like a very nice guy and very sincere… And the shhh thing was just to try to get him to stop the constant chatter about this and for only a moment, just be with it. I was not trying to stop thinking, conversation or thoughts, which would not be good… I understand your reaction and comments to him. I stand duly chastised. :-\
    Now Ian… thank you for being so gracious. I am nobody to give advice about this sort of thing. Sabio is much more qualified in that area. Here is my answer to your question about why Buddha taught for 50 years, knowing it would be largely a useless endeavor: He had to make a living. OK, kidding. I think he made a mistake. Most … the majority of human beings that have this experience of seeing, never say anything or talk about it at all… My teacher, Steve Hagen has never said, “I am enlightened” or anything like that. But by virtue of writing books and running a Center, it is clearly implied. Having said that, when you meet this man, you have a very strong feeling that he is different and “knows something” you want to know.
    So, your point is a good one. As the story goes, Sidhartha’s first instinct was to not teach and just keep quiet. The Fact of existence is so clear and obvious that he felt talking about it would detract and mislead.
    It has been a pleasure being a part of this dialogue. Thanks to both of you. But before my ass follows both my feet into my mouth, I must sign off…

  24. @ Ed
    It is interesting how you use Siddhartha’s story several times as part of your way of discussing this issue. This is part of the narrative stuff which I think Ian is suggesting feeds many of our values.

    @ Ian
    I wrote you a little note last night but WordPress crashed. So here it is delayed:

    The teaching is simple.
    If I teach you to juggle. When do you throw away the initial teaching?
    If I teach you to program. When do you throw away the teaching?
    When have you achieved? Do stories of jugglers still inspire you? Do you want to juggle more balls or different objects? Do you remember my initial teaching?

    Buddhism is a doing — a set of skills. Sure, you have faith in juggling until you see it. Like I said earlier, you see people you want to emulate. The teaching is simple, the practice is key. But the practice is not ritual, it is for freedom of mind. When their is freedom at any moment, there is no practice. See, this is where all the paradoxical junk begins. But for me the gains have been small, but satisfactory but no large satori, epiphany or enlightenment [as should be apparent]. But the practices have been very helpful and inspiring.

    Some forms of Buddhism are more paradoxical prone [more heady] than others — some say there is nothing to accomplish. This paradox is, in someways, just cute [IMHO], and unnecessary. But some feel paradoxes can be critical to help awaken the mind which is numbed by its bad habits.

    There is no ONE Buddhism. Lots of doctrines. Lots of contradictions — as you can imagine. The upcoming posts is to explain what SABIO values in the Buddhisms I have encountered. Not to defend Buddhism — for I don’t care about “it”.
    But I am curious: Ian, have you tried meditating? There are many forms. Which one?

  25. Ian

    Thanks guys, I appreciate it.

    If I teach you to juggle. When do you throw away the initial teaching?

    I see my misunderstanding now. The sense in which I was thinking is that you never throw away the teaching of your juggling mentor. You never move beyond it either. You never get to a point and say “I can juggle, I can ignore anything that was told me”.

    So when you talk about kicking away the ladder, by analogy, you mean that I have enough resources to be able to be a self-critic.

    At some point you have enough knowledge of programming to be able to program in any language, with a half-hour learning the particular syntax. I get that idea.

    If that is what you meant, then good analogies!

    I kindof wish you hadn’t started the thread talking about not being able to recommend resources!

    I have tried to meditate, yes. It was a total failure. I read about it. But I didn’t ‘get’ it. I decided I probably needed someone to work with me on it.

    There is a buddhist retreat centre not far from me, but its schedules are funky and they seem to publicise their open days after they have them!

    So basically I’ve been inept at doing anything about my natural curiosity to learn what there really is in Buddhism. As a result, I’m afraid I keep coming back to this model (born of Christianity) of how a religion works. And Buddhism seems to fit that model fine. Although folks I meet online keep telling me that’s not the point. My natural skepticism is hard to keep in check, because I’ve known lots of Christians who also tell me that theirs is not a religion, but a faith. So any recommendations are always welcome.

  26. @ Ian

    The reason I can not recommend books is because they all have some or all of the following:
    (a) Sanskrit jargon (as you said)
    (b) Highly mythicized stuff
    (c) Lots of superfluous doctrines, beliefs and claims
    (d) Very religious
    (e) Illusions of grand accomplishments
    (f) exclusivism

    That said, I will try review a few “resources” and write about what I value.

    You said:

    I have tried to meditate, yes. It was a total failure. I read about it. But I didn’t ‘get’ it.

    What did you try? What did you do? How long? What was frustrating?

    Buddhism is certainly a religion. I too don’t like when folks tell me their religion is not a religion. Jeez !

  27. Ooops, I forgot:

    (g) Soft, squishy, mushy, just-too-pretty idealism.

  28. Ian

    I sat in a half lotus, facing a wall, doing yoga breaths and trying to think of nothing.

    At first I tried to think of nothing for one breath-length. If I did think of something I summarised and closed the thought at the end of the breath. Then I tried again. I got to the point where I could do a couple of breaths without thought. But it didn’t feel relaxing, or as if I was getting anywhere. I found I really didn’t like not thinking. I was bored.

    I don’t know if that was a method. It was the best I could interpolate from what I could find to read.

  29. That is one method.
    Lengthening out the sitting and working on the monkey mind over time is key. More on that later. But one must commit to it for some time to see benefit. Then their is the wisdom side. Ah, too much to write on.

    I am on a little health kick now. I gave myself two years before I questioned too deeply. I knew it would take that long to see the benefit. I think sitting is similar. But as you alluded — it may take takes faith to make that kind of commitment. All religions wrestle with faith, commitment and taking the leap. Buddhism is a religion.

  30. Temaskian

    I tried meditation while reading about it on a bus. It benefited me immediately. Right there and then.

    I guess it’s about reading the right author, and maybe your pre-conceptions and cultural bias against it may get in the way.

    I had always been curious about meditation. The bible always talked about meditation, but it never explained how to do it. 🙂 I’m sure the bible’s idea of meditation is different from the Buddhist one.

    Another point to note is that meditation is not a purely Buddhist thing these days, it’s advocated in modern psychology as well. But it probably sprang from Buddhism.

  31. Temaskian

    Thanks for the link. The article mentioned Jon-Kabat Zinn, whose videos I watched on Youtube, in one of which he mentioned that Obama is probably the first mindful president in history. Jon is considered to be the one who brought meditation into modern psychology.

    I got to know about him from this website:

  32. Earnest

    @Ian: perhaps you have already achieved “empty mind” and there is no longer any point to meditating!

    But seriously, mediation is boring unless some woo wave crashes over one (the reader will perhaps recall a prior Sabio post). I used to get them more than I do now.

    I don’t mediatate nearly as much as I should. I think of meditation as a workout, much like push-ups, which are also boring. I feel I am forcing my brain to work better by the act of meditation on nothing. It’s really hard for me to do! I can last about 8 seconds if I’m lucky before something intrudes. Usually it’s about 3 seconds.

    I really enjoy karate katas because they extend my duration of quasi-mindlessness to just over a minute on rare occasions.

    I find that the effort of meditation has benefit in and of itself for an indisciplined brain, such as for example the one I have and (IMHO) Sabio’s brain. Yours, Ian, perhaps not so much as it may already be able to stop and focus at will. But I confess I base that opinion about you on very limited data.

    Perhaps I feel that meditation has value because I find it so hard to actually do it properly. Those that find meditation easy may move on quickly to something that’s actually challenging.

  33. @ Temaskin
    Thanks for the link. Yes, I too enjoy Zinn. Concerning Obama. Just because someone is good a meditation skills, does not make them good at other skills nor their philosophies any more correct. Zen was used to make samurai more efficient killing machines.

    @ Earnest

    I treat meditation like brushing teeth too — good for my well-being. I am not shooting for enlightenment. But there are several types of meditation, all with different affects on the brain — not just concentration. So if one has mastered concentrations, there are many more “challenging” things to move into, or do simultaneously.

  34. Temaskian

    What are these “challenging” things?

  35. Sabio, I am looking forward to your efforts in writing about what you value in Buddhism. I’ve found that the energy I put into studying my own thoughts, researching what’s out there, and organizing them for others to reads helps me a lot in clarifying my thinking — and that’s always a good thing. Plus, if even one person benefits from what you share, you’ve done a good thing. I’ve been working on the same thing from a slightly different angle, a (so far quite small) series of videos I’ve put up on youtube, on the basics of Buddhism.

  36. Stacey

    Have you ever read “Buddhism Without Beliefs” by Stephen Batchelor? I think you would like it. Your ‘Secular Buddhism’ reminded me of his ‘Agnostic Buddhism’. 🙂

  37. Javier

    Hi, I just read this blog and found it very, very much enlightening and interesting. Just one quick thing, I am just walking on the path of Dharma so I’m pretty much new oh buddhism, but one thing I find attractive is that EVERYTHING I read or hear on the teachings and practices, they ALL MAKE SENSE to me. And I come from a very, very Catholic environment (Parents being missionaries and all, I mean that much of catholic environment). But there’s this one book that struck me when I read it, it’s call “The kind heart (or the good heart), an approach of buddhist point of view to Jesus’ teachings”. REALLY GREAT book. So, I recommend it to those of you who are uncertain, due to christian background.

  38. This was an interesting read.

    I go away now with the thought that “distancing” oneself from belief is as much an “ego” effect, as grasping at “purpose”.

    It is “Practice that makes perfect”. “Kicking away the ladder”, just happens.

    As an apple falls from the tree.

    As for why? Because.

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