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Buddhism often gets called "atheist", because it doesn't posit a Creator or a judgemental deity. Westerners inclined to it also often portray it as a pragmatic religion, agnostic about deities and souls, and focused on subjectively experimental things such as meditative practice leading to enlightenment, or at least to greater calm and compassion if you're not sure you believe in enlightenment. All of which has elements of truth; there's text of Buddha being agnostic about the afterlife, meditative enlightenment is core, and Buddhism actively teaches non-existence of an eternal soul. Of course, that makes problematic the question of what is reborn.

But if you've seen Asian art in museums, or read Journey to the West, this austere version might raise your eyebrows, as it did mine. For we have the six realms of Buddhist cosmology, including the realm of the devas (blissful long-lived beings, not necessarily with physical form anywhere, who have a load of good karma and probably won't reach enlightenment because they're too blissful) and the hells where sinners with bad karma can be frozen, roasted, disembowelled, crushed to jelly, etc., over and over for billions of years. You do get out eventually, and there's sort of a redemptive point, so it's more like Purgatory than Christian Hell, but still colorfully horrific. And the overall cosmology is baroque.

Incidentally the bodhisattva vows include not "abandoning the Mahayana by saying that Mahayana texts are not the words of Buddha or teaching what appears to be the Dharma but is not". Yay, scripturalism! And someone muses about karma, the Chinese earthquake, and the Holocaust

-- And huh, there's an Atheists International group in Bloomington. Bye now.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 26th, 2008 04:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the different branches of Buddhism have some pretty different views. Mahayana Buddhism has some very Christian elements of dualism and hell. I think Hinayana is more in line with the Western image of Buddhism.
Jun. 26th, 2008 04:31 pm (UTC)
Hinayana? Oh, Lesser Vehicle, possibly pejorative, aka Theravada. I should re-read my copy of Monkey, see if all that Lesser/Greater Vehicle stuff makes more sense now.

Without plowing through Wikipedia again, I have a similar impression, that Theravada is more low-key (and possibly closer to the source) and the more elaborate and mystical stuff is Mahayana (and what the probable majority of Buddhists are part of: Tibet, China, Japan, vs. SE Asia.)

Lesser Vehicle because concerned with one's own salvation and enlightenment; Greater Vehicle/Mahayana gives us the bodhisattva tradition, of delaying one's entry into Nirvana to work for the enlightenment of everyone else. May also give us brand new sutras.

Speaking of Christian... I think it's Pure Land Buddhism, but there's one where the Western Buddha made a paradise, and if you believe in him you'll be reborn there (again, who you? You have no soul) to work toward enlightenment. Ah, yeah, "Pure Land Buddhism teaches that through devotion alone, to Amitābha Buddha, one will be reborn in the Pure Land, a perfect heavenly abode, in which enlightenment is guaranteed."

People say memetics is bunk. I say, look! Frigging convergent evolution.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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