Inspecting Buddhism

Inspecting Buddhism
[Photo Copyright by Religious Studies Unisa via Flickr under Creative Commons Licence]

I somehow made it past post number fifty and so I started wondering what it actually is I write about. A bit late, I know.

The Problem with writing about Buddhism is that the term in used by a million different schools in a million different ways. Humans really don’t use their words precise enough to avoid misconstrue and we not only don’t like to come up with new words, we also hate it to define what it is we are talking about. We much rather occupy a word that is already known and then just assume that everyone will agree with our personal definition. So I think it is useful to send a couple of disclaimer, so that all the people I piss off at least know exactly why and are not confused about all the things I missed and have the wrong view about.

I started meditating in 98 and today, almost twenty years later, it is getting tiresome to belong to a school or a sect or a club or a dojo or whatever fraction there might be that always seems to be just a bit more enlightened and true then everyone else. This is really just relevant for beginners, who search for meaning and stability on the outside. Later on you just try to get a grip of the Dhamma, which is hard enough since the longer you study the Buddha’s teachings, the less you are sure about anything you know. Here is what I think I know so far:

I know there are teachings that were supposedly given by one Mr. Gautama in India round about 2500 years ago. Today we call that man >The Buddha<. He started (as the current Buddha in charge during this kalpa) the path that is known this time around as >Buddhism<.

We know this because there is a vast canon of writing with thousands and thousands of lectures supposedly given by Mr. Gautama in his over 40 year long career as a teacher. We call this collection the Pali Canon, or the Tipitika. (There are many more canons, however the Pali Canon seems to be the most complete.)

Through historical research and text critical analysis we know that some parts of the Pali Canon are older then others. Supposedly the older ones can therefore with some certainty be placed closer to the life time of the Buddha. For those of you who are in the know, these parts of the early Buddhist teachings are the five Nikāyas.

These are my frame of reference, when I talk about the teachings of the Buddha.

When I try to understand what is or is not a teaching of the Buddha, I will go back to these texts and I will try to find out.
Based on this and if I really have to pick a school of Buddhism, then my closeness to the suttas will probably put me right in the Theravada sect. I am not quite sure how happy that makes me, however it is true, I feel very close to the old texts and so does Theravada.

People who say that we do not have to study ancient texts because they are not relevant for us any more and we have improved on that old and outdated stuff long ago make me really sad. For me people like that are ill informed about the nature of reality and especially human evolution. And saying that we improved on a Buddha sounds childish to me.

Do I personally believe the Buddha existed and the canon is a collection of his teachings?
Yes I do. It is because of the incredible consistency of the teachings within the thousands of suttas and the amazing depth they demonstrate the longer one studies them. Based on the knowledge I gathered so far it is very hard to come up with a plausible alternative for their origin.

Does this mean I fanatically stick to the letters of every sutta in the book?
No, I don’t. Sticking religiously to some text does not get you anywhere. The letters or the author are not the crucial point.  If these teaching go back to Mr. Gautama himself, or if they were give by someone else or if Mr. Gautama did not even exist at all, is not really relevant to a Buddhist. What really matters is if the teachings can be applied to my life. Are they practical?

Buddhism is not an Orthodoxy, even though it is practiced as one in most traditional Buddhist countries. However there is an important difference to be make between the Dhamma (the teachings of the Buddha) and the culture it is lived and transmitted in. I have written about this important point before. As much as these so called Buddhist countries want it to be, Buddhism was never meant to be an Orthodoxy. Buddhism is an Orthopraxis. This means what you do rather than what you believe in will define if or if not you are a Buddhist.
What you do means your practice. How does your practice influence your life?
The teachings of the Buddha should always be practically and applicable to your daily life.
If they are not, then they are not the words of the Buddha.

Apply them to your life and see if it works.
If it works, that is fine.
If not, that is fine, too.

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