Buddhism: the good, the bad, and the dangerous

Despisers of Christianity, i.e. the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, will often cite Buddhism as their ideal of what religion should be:  private, nondogmatic, and nonmoralistic.  This has no doubt prejudiced me severely (and probably unfairly) against Buddhism, both because I’m a Christian and because I’m a communitarian moralistic dogmatist (and proud of it).  As a conservative, one of my chief concerns is to maintain the sacred aura surrounding family and community.  These are things I don’t want the Buddhist ethos of detatchment to touch.

Fortunately, our reader Daniel has posted some fascinating comments on the positive and negative aspects of Buddhism.  Daniel has studied this religion extensively and even spent some time as a member, so his opinions carry far more weight than mine.  Our exchange can be read here.  Below is a crucial part of his analysis.

[Buddhism] is indeed a religion of renunciation and, especially, detachment. The goal of the good Buddhist is to sever all ego-attachments, up to and including the attachment to enlightenment. The very excellent side of this detachment philosophy hinges on the doctrine of EGO detachment. One is meant to differentiate between one’s ego, which is temporal, and one’s true nature (or Buddha-nature) which is eternal, and therefore is the property of Brahman, or God. One studiously renounces the immanent self in favor of the numinous Self.This is actually excellent practice, I still believe.

The problem with Buddhism is something I think you hit on very squarely in your original post. It assumes that the immanent is somehow different in kind from the numinous self. I have come in my own life to reconfirm that the sacred and the profane meet together in the human soul in a way that is inextricable. That is, what makes us fallible is the very same stuff that makes us the brothers of angels. Selfishness and ego-centrism, to be sure, are still to be avoided. But extinction of the “small” self is not desirable or even possible, because it is the “small self” that one should desire to make large. Not large like a rival of God (that is Satan’s way), but open and peaceful and strong, like Christ. But still one’s SELF… not just some released flame. Christ and God save individual souls, not abstractions.

I’m not sure who said it first, but I heard it first from a fellow Anglican with Buddhist training (or Buddhist with Anglican training), Alan Watts, “Buddhism is Hinduism stripped for export.” That is, it takes the metaphysics of the classical Indian world and strips them of all particularity, leaving pure philosophy behind.

Of all the major world religions, Buddhism is the one of which I’m most suspicious, not necessarily because it’s the most intrinsically destructive, but because it’s the one that is least incompatible with the liberal system.  The liberals will have much less trouble crushing our historical religion if they can offer a people a more pliable spiritual outlet.  I can imagine the widespread adoption of a new religion:  hedonistic Buddhism.  (Yes, I know, it’s oxymoronic, but just you wait.)

7 Responses

  1. Buddhism is not monolithic.

    Buddhism is not necessarily atheistic.

    Hedonistic Buddhism is not necessarily an oxymoron; in fact a problem with Buddhist cults is that they often detach from social inhibitions without detaching from the egoistic desire for personal pleasure.

  2. Hello nphardcase,

    Do you believe Buddhism has any essential properties? If not, it would not seem to be possible to speak about it at all.

  3. What do you mean by essential properties?

  4. Your intro to this article is illfounded; Buddhism is not private, non-moralistic, or non-dogmatic. Why do you say it’s destructive?
    If it were Hedonistic it wouldn’t follow the teachings of the suttas. In other words it wouldn’t be Buddhism.

  5. Avoiding social inhibitions while pursuing desires is also not following the teachings.

  6. There are of course theistic schools of Buddhism, so those should be taken into account for any critique. I do generally agree though that Buddhism is to Hinduism what Unitarianism is to… well, whatever the heck sect they sprang from.

    I will however remain impressed by the nationalistic militancy of Burma’s 969 movement who recently gave a UN ‘female diplomat’ a piece of their mind in some admirable patriarchal ferocity.

  7. The idea that Buddhism separates a little immanent and large transcendental ego is spurious. A transcendental ego is identical to the Hindu atman that Buddhism rejects. This rejection is partially constitutive of Buddhism’s historical distinctiveness. This analysis of Buddhism is essentially flawed from the outset.

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