Thursday, February 15, 2007

About Buddhism

People who've read this blog with some regularity know that I refer to Buddhist ideas often. I've been researching what Buddhism is about since approximately 1996 when I first visited Tibet. That visit was research about a traverler I was interested in writing about. After ten years I think I know quite a bit about Buddhism and have read a lot and find much to admire. I deeply admire the Dalai Lama and the 17th Karmapa [the one the Tibetans selected] I have never thought of myself as a Buddhist and follow none of the practices except that I try to be compassionate and I naturally am a questioner of all the tenets of all religions, whatever they be. I've heard some wonderful chanting, I love the scent of yak butter burning in lamps in Tibetan temples and I admire some Buddhis writers, like Pema Chodron, who are simple and direct and state ethical views I totally agree with.

[This photo is in the only functioning shrine left in Karakoram, at the Erdensu monstery complex -- All spellings wobbly -- in Mongolia.]

I read a magazine called "Shambala Sun" which is printed in Canada because it often has articles by Pema Chodron and it has beautiful illustrations. The January issue has sent me into considerable contemplation -- which I have been doing while working on my star quartet quil. An article by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoches, a man I admire, (the monk who diercted the delightful movie The Cup ) wrote that one cannot be a Buddhist without believing the four seals -- which are four basic tenets more elementary than the "four noble truths". I'm sure I've read this before but maybe the words weren't quite such simple English. One of the four is that all emotions are bad. Whoa! He is unequivocal. ALL emotions are bad.

While I can agree that all things are impermanent and that includes emotions, as well as all the universe as we know it. I not only cannot agree that all emotions are bad, I find serious dichotomy in the magazine itself, which has a long article on how to understand happiness. If it's BAD why are they encouraging us to find find ways to be happy?

But that's not the problem. Emotions are genetically programmed in the brainss not only of humans but of all the animals studied so far, from mice to man. Ours are far more complex, but who can doubt that animals have emotions as well? Can a part of our being which is necessary for our survival, or so Darwinians and I beleive, be a bad thing? I don't think so. Emotions like anger, greed, jealousy can be destructive; but they also have personal and socially positive outcomes in various circumstances. And positive emotions stemming from compassion, empathy, love hold the social fabric together as well as provide great personal joy. Yes, it's all impermanent -- but it's wonderful when it's happening, definitely good, and necessary to much of sensate life. We could not have become social -- and civilized -- beings without emotion. We could not even exist with out the programmed affection for babies that alll mammals exhibit. That cannot be bad.

I'll to keep on learning about Buddhism because it's a fascinating subject and the only religion that has never started a war. [No, Genghis Kahn was not a Buddhist!| It is the only religion that says one does not have to believe in a God, and is the only religion whose major living representative is the personification of compassion ... as Chenresig, an avatar of that attribute of Buddha. I will not claim to be a Buddhist ... and I don't suppose anybody gives a damn what I claim anyway.

1 comment :

André said...

Emotions in themselves are neither good or bad. They are just the natural play of mind itself. They can become problematic when they start to be disturbing (i.e. anger, jalousy, pride, desire, ignorance). They are problematic because we act accordingly when a disturbing emotion arises and thereby create a karmic imprint in our mind that leads to a future experience connected to that same disturbance. As long as we we keep on having these disturbing emotions and take them serious, we will be cuaght in samsara.
As for the apparent blunt remark that 'all emotions are bad', ultimately, seen from the absolute level, all judgements about reality - and the basic emotions, desire (like), anger (dislike) and ignorance (indifference) are judgements - are part of our confusion not realizing the fact our mind is open, clear and limitless. As long as we keep on hanging on to our ego as seperate from the rest of the world as we perceive it, we will continue to be caught in these basic emotions which form the basis for all other emotions. Realizing the emptiness of our ego results in realizing the emptiness of all phenomena (including thoughts and feelings). So emotions are problematic as long as we take them serious.

As for your own statements:
The candidate you hold for being the 17th Karmapa was chosen by only a part of those with the authority to do so and is not supported by all Tibetans. Besides this, the boy was recognized by communist China as well (go figure).

The Dalai Lama is a great Bodhisattva, but unfortunately a poor politician. The idea of the Dalai Lama as being the embodiment of compassion and practicing 'ahimsa' (non-violence) cannot be stated generally, because previous incarnation did not seem to act accordingly. I can recommand you to read the article 'Orientalism and Aspects of Violence in the Tibetan Tradition' by Elliot Sperling in a book called 'Imagining Tibet'. This will give you a more nuanced view on the matter.