Monday, June 18, 2007


As an atheist, is it strange for me to consider using Buddhist mediation techniques and practices to find peace with myself? I don't think it is. Allow me to explain...

First of all, I think there is a question of whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. Does religion require a deity, or can it simply be a cohesive philosophy on which one may base life? Does the belief in reincarnation qualify Buddhism as a religion, even though Buddha himself is not necessarily considered to be a deity? Personally, I think that as soon as a philosophy requires a leap of faith (deity, reincarnation, mysticism, etc.) it becomes a religion. So...yes, I think that Buddhism is a religion, but in a very different sense than western religions.

When thinking about applying Buddhist principles and meditation to my own life I do not consider it a religion, simply because I cannot make the leap of faith required to believe in reincarnation. I view it as a philosophy, and I have no compunctions about treating philosophies as a buffet. It's limiting at best to take only ONE philosophy to the exclusion of all others--there are good things in many philosophies, so why should I pick just one? (This is a huge, scary problem with religion, no?) If I think that there is something of value in a certain philosophy, I see no reason not to take advantage of it and incorporate it into my life and my worldview.

Here's the thing: religion or not, Buddhism makes some really good points about life that I think we could all benefit from. It's a good philosophical fit for me--the Eightfold Path is something that I tried to live even before I knew what it was. The major teachings of Buddhism are the Four Truths and the Eightfold Path.

The Four Truths:
  1. Suffering: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.
  2. The origin of suffering: The craving which leads to renewed existence (reincarnation).
  3. The cessation of suffering: The cessation of craving.
  4. The way leading to the cessation of suffering: The Noble Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path:
  1. Right Speech — One speaks in a non hurtful, not exaggerated, truthful way
  2. Right Actions — Wholesome action, avoiding action that would do harm
  3. Right Livelihood — One's way of livelihood does not harm in any way oneself or others; directly or indirectly
  4. Right Effort/Exercise — One makes an effort to improve
  5. Right Mindfulness/Awareness — Mental ability to see things for what they are with clear consciousness
  6. Right Concentration/Meditation — Being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion.
  7. Right Understanding — Understanding reality as it is, not just as it appears to be.
  8. Right Thoughts — Change in the pattern of thinking.
Disregard the bit about reincarnation and it's a great set of guidelines for living a peaceful, harmonious life. I have to say, it's much more clear, concise, and cohesive than a lot of religions! I think that as a philosophy, Buddhism is hard to argue with. Be moderate, be mindful of yourself and others, work to improve yourself by alleviating your own suffering and that of others. What part of that is negative? Presented without the label of religion, it's a set of instructions and a philosophy that's hard to argue with.

So why am I considering Buddhist meditation practices? Briefly stated, I want to find peace with myself. I want to be able to be without having to do all the time. I have a fortune from a fortune cookie taped right over my desk that says "To do nothing is to be nothing." That's how I live, and I'm really quite tired. I want to be able to exist for myself, not what what I do. I think that mindfulness meditation techniques might be a useful tool for me to reach my goal. We'll see what happens...

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