Monday, 1 November 2010

Buddhism's alternative path

Talking about great articles on Buddhism in the Guardian, there is also this one by Jaya Graves from Thursday 28th of October........

Buddhism is often defined as a religion. Books on the subject are tumbled into religious sections of libraries and bookshops. Occasionally, they appear on philosophy shelves. But how does it define itself? Buddhists refer to the "dharma" – the way. Buddhism is not a theistic religion. There is no creator god issuing commandments, judging or punishing. Nor is there anyone who promises salvation. Salvation is possible, even inevitable, but we will reach it through our own efforts. Neither is Buddhism a philosophy. It aims to go beyond concepts, the domain of western philosophy. To do this it uses a rigorous investigation of inner and outer phenomena that include ideas, emotions, actions and interactions. Phenomena are unstable and impermanent – a dance of particles – an instability we are unable to control. We cannot create permanence.

Imagining we can control phenomena creates many of our current delusions and anxiety. And from this stems our conflicts with ourselves, with each other, between neighbourhoods and nations. Since the data of our human situation are subject to continual change it follows that our investigation must also be continuous and our conclusions must be adjusted. This personal investigation is central to Buddhist practice. There are no laboratories. No contrived replication. For this reason the process is sometimes dismissed as subjective and unscientific. It is not "evidence-based". I argue that it is in fact tested and evidence-based but not necessarily within the western framework of investigation. It is personal but it is not subjective. We have the support of teachings and commentaries. Investigative practices have been explored and established. Skilled and wise researchers have "peer reviewed" these over millennia and continue to do so. But in the end it is our own inner tenacity, our passionate intention through which we must judge our path and progress.

This core practice is undertaken not only to create a degree of ease in ourselves but through a commitment to everything that lives. The development of compassion for all things is part of being human and cannot be conditional. It must include those with whom we agree, whose belief systems are congruent to our own as well as those we may traditionally see as enemies, whose belief systems challenge our own or whose interpretation of life is alien to ours. We need to be judicious but we cannot judge the person, only the action.

Buddhism is moving from the fringes to centre stage. It offers strategies to deal with fraught lives. Meditative practices can be oases of calm at home or in centres. It is not a continuous assault to make choices, make judgements, accumulate information, juggle loyalties. It turns the attention inward.

The binary frameworks generally used to explain or explore our experience are flawed. Contradiction is is the stuff of our human condition. We are not asked to repress and destroy this. Instead it is suggested that they obscure our true nature. We are urged to investigate these obscurations and are offered methods to transform them. So anger can become energy. Pain can teach us sympathy and concern for all.

Buddhism recognises that suffering is our inheritance and will be our legacy. It makes demands in how we locate ourselves in the world. For me, in this context, it raises questions about the infliction of a model of infinite growth on a finite system; of our assumptions of entitlement to resources; our profligate use and treatment of land and water. It challenges the notion that our main concern is "the family". It isn't. There is a family beyond the family, beyond the neighbourhood, beyond the state, the country. Nuclear families are only a microcosm of this. Our care has to be embedded in the wider context. It is not a competition. It is reconfiguration.

Tried and tested methods of making an inner journey are offered. These enable us to change our own responses to a world in flux. Beyond worldly flux with which we must engage there is a timeless truth.

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