It should be front-page news in every damn newspaper in the world, every single day, until the toxic child’s-play of “mere religion” disappears from our repertoire of tools for understanding reality, the nature of the cosmos and human existence, whatever: A “founder” of one of the great spiritual traditions of the world who — like Socrates and every scientist of any substance — tells us to look into doubt, challenge accepted theories, claims, or understandings as only preliminary expressions of a partial view of reality, interrogate meaningfully and with total rigor any and all claims to truth — even those of the “teacher” or “tradition” itself. “Do not believe what I have taught you just because I have said it,” the Buddha says in another context. “Test it, and see for yourself — through your own experience — whether what I have taught you is true or false.”
How radically opposite is this mentality to these Christian ministers in the US, South Korea, Brazil, and other places, who fought their governments tooth-and-nail for the “right” to conduct non-socially distanced mass gatherings during the heights of the coronavirus pandemic. Every single fact-based understanding of this invisible pathogen declared that social distancing and mask-wearing — as well as the no-brainer of stopping mass gathering of exhaling humans, especially those who are singing — to be the easiest method for cutting off routes for this tricky virus to move from host to host. And yet these obscenely blinded ignoramuses demanded the right to openly defy reality to worship a deity which does zero to stop or even alleviate our current global suffering. (Italy, the centuries-long home of the Vicar of Christ, and the earth-wide headquarters of the largest organization of Christian teachings in history, has had the highest fatality rate. Massive socio-economic implosion the likes of which might take decades to recover from, this most believing of Catholic populations. In fact, the virus began its dark march through Europe to the eastern seaboard of the US from Lombardy, from Milan!)
And yet you can only view with horror this clip on CNN of a reporter asking churchgoers emerging from a mass gathering service in the US, “Aren’t you a little concerned about attending such a service? Not only for you, but for your family, who you might bring home the virus to?” And the answer from one of the faithful gave me the shivers: “ I’m not afraid. Why should I be afraid. I’m protected by the Blood of Jesus. I’m protected by the Blood of Jesus” Some stinking claptrap shed no doubt just heard from the lips of her good minister, inside. Too bad Catholic Italy did not merit that divine prophylactic!
Whenever I see “Buddhism” referred to as among “one of the four great religions”, I always instinctually bristle. There is literally a visceral twinging inside. For purposes of brevity or intellectual laziness, to so casually lump these completely unlike matters together, is deeply distressing. And I don’t say this as a “Buddhist.” I would react nearly as badly if Dr. Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela or Gandhi were referred to as “like a member of ‘The Avengers,’ or if they were called “Superhero”, or “figures in ‘The Justice League’”. There would be something just perversely debasing by such an estimation, however some small aspect of reductively descriptive purpose were intended, however well intentioned.
My lived experience is this: The teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha are not one of the world’s four great religions. It’s completely impossible. It is purely conceptual/intellectual laziness sloth to claim such a thing! If you saw a local magazine feature piece on “The Ten Best Restaurants of (Whatever-Place-You-Live),” and it listed a Burger King or Domino’s Pizza right there with the local Michelin Five Star landmark, you’d laugh to choking. It is really no exaggeration to say that I really react the same way.
You need nothing less than the Buddhas own words to confirm this. And if that is not enough, you can have the words of Arthur Schopenhauer (the one who led me to Buddhism in the first place!). A committed atheist and fierce critic of religion, whose thought influenced nearly everything that came after him, in the arts and philosophy, he once said, “If I wished to take the results of my philosophy as the standard of truth, I should have to concede to Buddhism pre-eminence over the others. In any case, it must be a pleasure to me to see my doctrine in such close agreement…”
As His Holiness the Dalai Lama so aptly put it, “Buddhism is not a religion. Buddhism is a science of mind.” Have you ever heard of eminent and good Catholic monks being invited by brain researchers at Harvard and other places, to undergo fMRI scans that would give insight into various aspects of brain activity? Have you heard of the Pope or some archbishop encouraging committed practitioners of the faith to submit their brains for analysis, to offer science (i.e., humanity) some physiological evidence for the claims for the efficacy of their way of life, their efforts and attainments? Have you heard of great imams or rabbis or shamans being requested for such study, and — way more than that — their faith’s highest spiritual authority (in this case, for Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama) not only giving his imprimatur, but fervently encouraging monks of advanced meditative experience to come out of their quiet mountain caves, board planes, and travel to these strange and noisy foreign cities to participate?
I apologize for this rant, which might hurt the gentle sensibilities of some. It has gone perhaps a little off the rails. But it is impossible to describe the visceral revulsion I feel when encountering the habitual laziness and ignorance of calling the Buddha’s scientific insights and methologies “one of the four great religions.”
Yeah, sure. One of the four great religions. And Gandhi was Superman.