Question of Enlightenment: Part 1

It’s a beautiful Sunday night in Illinois, and Jen and I have just enjoyed a wonderful pot roast, complete with some gravy I whipped up from the resulting stock. A nice night to relax with some hot chocolate under a warm fleece blanket with a fluffy kitty curled up my lap.. It’s a good time to reflect, recuperating after two and a half hours of exercising yesterday. A time to finally write up part of the outline I wrote while riding home from work one evening.

First, I should open up with a few notes. This quest, that of enlightenment, is something I’ve considered before, to finally conquer the anger, sadness, low self image, and lingering dread that have plagued my life from almost the very beginning. I won’t elaborate on the details, as many have been discussed here already, but know that this is a personal journey I’m sharing because it’s the right thing to do; should anyone else find answers along the way, then I’ve done my part. What I hope to eventually produce is a loose collection of tenants, anecdotes, and possibly techniques to make this easy and enjoyable, and incorporate it into my life.

Second, I will continue my agnostic ways. I thought to subtitle this first post “Shaun is Not a Buddhist,” to clarify, so strongly do I feel about this distinction. I refuse to constrain any creator to anything a human mind can conjure or comprehend, and nobody has proof of any kind, what form this Universe takes, and whom or what put it here. Though my understanding of Buddhism is imperfect, I’ve learned enough to know I could never follow such a belief system, though as always, any religion that spends thousands of years encouraging inner peace is a very good starting point. That said, though the chances are highly unlikely, I consider any resulting religion from the path I follow null and void. If this ever becomes useful to anyone else, it must be his or her own road; there is no room for worship within enlightenment, something I’ll explain further in a moment.

So then, why isn’t Shaun a Buddhist? Perhaps my understanding is colored unfairly by the Dalai Lama’s own description, so I won’t be definitive about any findings. That said, I find Buddhism too ritualistic in general; my largest point of contention being the treatment of Buddha as deity. This iconification of Buddha, I believe, contradicts the very premise of enlightened non-individuality. How can one fully embrace clarity while mindlessly reciting vows to Buddha and various ranks of Bodhisattvas, Gurus, and other great figures–offering material things you should not desire to beings who would never covet them. This is one of those cases where I believe some good ideas were otherwise corrupted by tradition [in this case, the common human practice of sacrifice], misdirected sentimentality, and almost inevitable dogma. Indeed, what would Buddha want, being enlightened and finally having escaped from endless rebirth?

Then Buddhism attempts to play a bit of circular mental logic to explain itself and why consciousness is eternal. If I understand correctly, all things are considered “dependent-arising.” Essentially, all things are interrelated, and nothing exists by itself. But consciousness is either given different rules, or I’ve misinterpreted–not difficult considering my source: a translated book conveying ideas from a man who himself is interpreting his view of Buddhism. The idea is that consciousness is derived from previous consciousness, since nothing exists independently. Thus consciousness must always exist, or never exist. This, I believe, is a classic reductio ad absurdum. If organs and tissue can arise from atoms and molecules, why can’t the complicated machinery of consciousness be a further abstraction of those material components? Further, this allows for the theory that the universe itself is a mere simulation; few could claim an aware being is capable of anything beyond what the virtual environment allows: a derived, singular consciousness.

Really, simulation theory is far too speculative here, but that Buddhism seemingly ignores the possibility reveals a strong weakness, again tied to the human need to persist in one form or another, after death–even if only as a thoughtless splinter within a larger stream of consciousness. Oddly enough, this doesn’t prevent pursuing tranquility, as happiness is independent of situation to a truly freed mind. The Dalai Lama claims requires an enemy, but is that really true? Sure, poverty can be an enemy, so can a flesh and blood being bent upon your destruction, and both can teach lessons necessary to become wise, but what about the world itself? Why not just enjoy the beauty of the world and learn from that, while understanding and discarding the dross that creates pain? Enlightenment for enlightenment’s sake, find pleasure and contentment in the world and its splendors, the people and places it nurtures, the intricate wonders of nature. The goal of Buddhism is to “become a Buddha,” which I find too limiting. Buddha found his peace without such a constraint, that such has been adopted seems somehow perverse.

So there you are. I’ve begun to elaborate my quest, and my first discovery is that I am not, and could never be Buddhist. Somehow I believe I won’t be anything in particular, which is exactly what I expect. Salvation, clarity, and peace are personal–though guides there may be, of any denomination, the journey is my own, and wisdom exists in in many unexpected places.

Until Tomorrow