Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen: Buddhism Is Not Spirituality

A cool article from Zen Monk, Brad Warner, posted over at Suicide Girls. Brad is never short on opinions, and although I am not a Zen student, I often agree with him. I guess that makes me as curmudgeonly as he is.

Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen: Buddhism is Not Spirituality

Looking over some of the comments to my last piece for Suicide Girls, I think I figured out the root of a lot of the confusion I’ve created here. When I write about religion and the religious point of view, it seems like a lot of readers assume I’m including Buddhism in that category. I don’t. Even though books on Buddhism, including my own, are usually shoved into the back corner in the religion section, Buddhism is something very distinct from religion.

When you say that, people usually respond with, “OK, then Buddhism is a form of spirituality.” Spirituality is seen as something better than religion. It exists outside the constraints of the organized formality of religious institutions. It’s a personal relationship with your spiritual nature.

Which is fine. But Buddhism is not a form of spirituality.

The history of philosophy throughout the world has been a struggle between two basic fundamental systems -- idealism and materialism. Spirituality is a kind of idealism. It takes the view that the spiritual world, the world of ideas, imagination, and mental formations is the true reality. Matter is secondary at best or sometimes even regarded as non-existent. We are spirits trapped inside bodies made of gross matter -- some bodies are a lot more gross than others -- and the way to happiness is to get free of this material world and its miseries. In many Eastern philosophies we are told, “I am not this body. I am the spiritual soul within.” This is not the Buddhist viewpoint. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

Materialism on the other hand sees matter as primary and spirit as either non-existent or, at least, negligible. What we perceive as our soul, we are told, is just the workings of a highly complex biological machine. We’re all just animals. The more radical materialists go on to assert that the only way to be happy is to get as much money, sex, and power as possible. There is no soul. There is no afterlife. There is no God.

Buddha explored both of these ideas and found both of them lacking. He was born a prince and spent the first part of his life dedicated to the practical study of materialism. He had everything he could possibly want -- money, hot babes, power. But they didn’t satisfy him. So he set off to see if happiness could be found in the opposite direction. He dedicated himself to various spiritual practices and achieved their highest goals. He got a massive spiritual high, but in the process he nearly destroyed his body. That wasn’t what he wanted. It wasn’t until he rejected both extremes and found the Middle Way that he began to teach the philosophy that now bears his name.

Buddhism starts from the basic premise that neither materialism nor idealism is correct. The Heart Sutra says, “Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form.” In other words, matter is the immaterial, the immaterial is matter. With apologies to Sting, we are not spirits in the material world. Rather, the experiential, internal, subjective, spiritual side of our day-to-day existence and the hard, external, objective, material world we inhabit are one and the same. This is a very radical idea. Even today, 2500 years after Gotama first put forth this notion, few people can accept it. Even those who call themselves Buddhists all too often believe that it’s a form of spirituality.

While it’s not spirituality, Buddhism is not materialism either. Buddhism is realism.
Read the whole article.

1 comment:

halfmonk said...

this is an extremely limited definition of spirituality and clearly just this man's opinion as well as an attempt at being provocative. perhaps he should try writing his own dictionary. if he did he would find that it won't be of any significance to anyone who is actually engaged in an authentic spiritual practice. spirituality is not defined as something which exists separate from the material world. anyone with a true spiritual practice has been intimate at one time or another with the "world of oneness." everything else is trapped in duality and the delusions of the conceptual mind including this very subjective definition of buddhism.