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2006-02-05 7:59 p.m.

offending god and karma OR greyarea explains the doctrines of major religions

Just got back from a weekend temple stay. It went well. My legs fared better, though not exactly flawlessly, and I enjoyed it much more, though perhaps only because I knew Iíd be there less than 48 hours. It was similar to last time, except the schedule wasnít as rough. (We got to sleep in till 4:30!) They made me clean their toilets this time, too. Thatís how I know they love me.

On the one hand I tend to think that the monastic life is a waste of a perfectly good human, but somehow I'm glad that someone, somewhere wants to live like that and I'm happy to give them a little money so that they can keep on sitting there being holy and wise while the world continues on outside.

So Iíve been studying Zen for a while. To my unpleasant surprise, I have discovered that Zen is a form of Buddhism. Yeah, who woulda thought? I have been studying formal Buddhism a bit more lately (quite a bit today, in fact), and I have discovered that it bugs the hell out of me. Theoretically itís really simple: ďForm is emptiness, and emptiness is form. Everything else is irrelevant. Understand this, and youíre good to go.Ē Sounds good, right? In practice, though, itís filled with all kinds of moral codes and dogmas and god-like Bodhisattvas, and tons of specialized vocabulary, not to mention infinite amounts of annoying lists (the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Ten Fetters That Bind the Human Soul, the Four Stations of Mindfulness, the Five, Eight, Ten, or Three Hundred Precepts, the Six Categories, the Three Refuges, the Four Boundless Mentalities, the Five Methods For Stilling the Mind, the Five Aggregates (Skandhas), the Twelve Accesses, the Eighteen Factors, and on and on and on and on) of questionable usefulness, all of which only seem to obscure the key point.

Theoretically Zen cuts the fat off Buddhism, focusing on the enlightenment experience and letting everything else grow from that, as it did originally with Sakyamuni. Theoretically. Zen is Buddhism without the bullshit, you might say. According to D.T. Suzuki, Buddhism is merely an explanation of the Zen satori experience, and you are free to use any other explanation you want. It seems that most practicing Zen Buddhists donít see it quite that way, though, often insisting that faith in Buddha or Buddhism is required for satori, and many (especially the Chinese, it seems) place great importance on all the codes and lists and stuff, insisting that they point the way to enlightenment and enlightenment points directly back. As for me, Iím realizing that I am willing to trust Zen only as far as it is not necessarily Buddhist, like D.T. Suzuki said, that damnable theoretician. That means I have no idea if I am willing to trust Zen.

For your edification, I have prepared a summary of Buddhist doctrines from the standpoint of Buddhist religious establishments, in a straight-forward and non-confusing style (ie, not the style they themselves use to present it). For the purposes of our discussion, I will be Buddhism, and you will be Skippy, an impressionable truth seeker.

ďHey, Skippy. You want to end suffering, right? Well, letís talk about it. Pain is suffering, right? But pleasure is transient and leaves behind only pain when it is gone, so pleasure is suffering, too. Existence is pleasure and pain, so as long as you exist, you will suffer. The only way to end suffering is to end existence. Whoa! Slow down there, Skippy! Take the boomstick out of your mouth. If you kill yourself youíll just be reborn in an even crappier life. Thatís the magic of reincarnation. Karma, which is like the number of spiritual points youíve collected and determines what happens to you after you die, doesnít allow cutting corners, and cheaters get sent to the penalty box.

You want the trick to hitting that high score? You just have to realize that pleasure, pain, and everything else, including you, doesnít really exist at all. Nothing does. Itís like this: have you ever woke up from a nightmare and been relieved to realize that it wasnít real? Existence is like that nightmare. You canít prove that itís not, therefore it is. This Realization is enlightenment, your one-way ticket to a permanent death. Itís stupid simple. Got it?

[sigh] No, Skippy, you donít got It. Youíll get It when your master tells you you got It. Until then, do everything he (yes, he) tells you to do. This will likely mean cutting out all pleasure, but thatís okay because, as you know, pleasure is actually suffering. It will also likely entail large amounts of pain for you and others, especially those foolish enough to be Ďattachedí to you (also known as Ďyour family and friendsí), but thatís okay because pain isnít real anyway and this will help you and them Realize that.

Donít ever question your master. The mind of those who got It is incomprehensible to those who donít, so donít even try. And donít try to tell me that this enlightenment business seems like a lot of work and that youíre plenty happy as you are. Skippy, weíve been over this. You exist (or think you do), therefore you suffer, therefore youíre not happy. Case closed. And remember karma and reincarnation? Do you really want to be reborn as a dung beetle? I mean, have you smelled dung? Just do it, Skippy. Itís for your own good. Oh, and donít ask how Ďyouí can be reincarnated based on Ďyourí karma if there is no Ďyouí in the first place or how we can be so sure about this reincarnation thing, anyway, and definitely donít give me any of that ďI think therefore I amĒ bullshit. Logic and evidence donít exist either, so shut up.

If you work hard and do everything your master says and achieve total intellectual annihilation, maybe youíll get It. Then maybe you can become a master yourself and tell other deluded sufferers what to do. (ĎMaster Skippy.í Has a nice ring to it, doesnít it? Oh, did I mention you need a penis for this job?) Then youíll die, and if youíre one of the lucky ones, youíll stay dead. Wonít that be nice?Ē

Thatís the Theravada version (or Hinayana, if youíre a member of the opposing camp). The Mahayana (which includes Zen) would add: ďThose Lesser Vehicle bastards, theyíre so selfish. As soon as they earn the right to eternal death they just go ahead and die. We Greater Vehicle people, though, we believe in compassion. Once weíre faced with true death, we make the ultimate sacrifice and vow to stay alive until we can convince everyone else that they donít really exist, either, so that they can die forever, too. It seems to be taking a long time, though. How unfortunate. Feel the love!Ē

Am I twisting Buddhist doctrine? I say Buddhist doctrine is twisted, and this is what it looks like when you straighten it out. I'm starting to understand why the Japanese avoid Buddhism like the plague until it's time to put on a funeral. I want nothing to do with that, man. (For an alternate take, this is a really good article.) Pleasure causes pain, but some pleasures are worth it. I kind of like existing, actually. Sometimes it sucks, but itís certainly interesting. Me, I think Iíll take a hint from Epicurus and only cut out pleasures that are likely to be more painful than pleasurable in the long run. Some pleasures are worth it, and, fortunately for us, many of our natural instincts guide us towards them. Especially if this life is all we have, as I and others suspect, itís best to enjoy it while we have it. I tend to think that oblivion is not something we have to earn. The universe is merciful like that. We are saved by grace, not works! (Ha.)

Speaking of which, lest you think Iím giving my own culture a break, Christianity isnít any better and is probably worse.

ďHey Skippy! Guess what? God, who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, created you, but unless you earn the right to go to Heaven, Heíll send you to Hell after you die to spend all eternity being tortured by devils (at which point the Buddhistsí Ďpermanent deathí thing will start to look pretty good), who He also created for the express purpose of damning them forever. But wait, thereís Good News! Getting into Heaven is stupid simple. All you have to do is be like Jesus!


Oh, wait. You canít. Itís impossible. Jesus was the literal Son of God, perfect in every way, and you, Skippy, obviously, are not. Too bad. Tell you what, though. If you think and act exactly as your ecclesiastical leaders tell you, feel really guilty for not being the Son of God yourself, and believe really hard that Jesus getting nailed to a tree somehow might make up for your total suckitude, maybe youíll find your name on Heavenís Guest List, after all. (And Mormons: Donít forget the secret handshake!) Get all filled with the Spirit, and who knows? You might be able to convince other people to think and act exactly as you want! Pretty sweet set up, huh? (Note: you usually need a penis for this job.)

Donít ask why an all-knowing benevolent God would create people just to get all pissed off at them for acting like people and then send them to Hell for eternity, or why an all-powerful and perfect being would choose to create such powerless and imperfect companions, or why God needs Jesus to be the whipping boy in order to balance the ledger books under the accounting laws He Himself wrote, or why ultimate righteousness and wickedness should be determined by which (if any) unprovable claims a person wants to believe, or whyÖ Well, you get the picture. Just donít. God transcends logic, so shut up.

Just do what youíre told, and one day youíll die. If youíre one of the lucky ones, youíll go to Heaven where you can spend all eternity groveling and praising God and Jesus for being so merciful as to not torture you FOREVER like you deserve, you filthy, filthy maggot. (Though if youíre Mormon, you might get your own grovelers one dayÖ) Wonít that be nice? Feel the love!Ē

Anyway, those are probably the religious traditions Iím most knowledgeable about right now, but they all seem to boil down to, ďDo what youíre told, or else.Ē

i don't care about your ridiculous dogma!

Well, I did read the Tao Teh Ching again this weekend. I donít know much about Taoism as a religious institution, but if I was to speak for the book to explain existence to Skippy, I might say, ďAw, Skippy, man. Fuck it, dude. Best not to leave the house, I think.Ē (Actually, now that I think of it, Taoism is very in tune with THC-brain philosophy.)

must i fear what others fear?
what abysmal nonsense this is!
all men settle down into their grooves
i alone am stubborn and remain outside
-Chapter 20

[sigh] Religion. [sigh] I also read Bertrand Russellís Why I Am Not a Christian recently, which has really clarified my thinking. He makes a good case for religion, by which he means dogmatic thinking, by which he means the willingness to trust authority over reason and evidence, as the primary problem afflicting humankind.

Iíve decided that zazen is a useful practice, however. Iíll keep doing it for the time being. The juryís still out on Zen.

I had an entirely different entry in mind yesterday, and an entirely different entry from that in mind the day before that. Maybe Iíll get around to those next week.

if there is a hell iíll see you there,