Buddhist Mindfulness as Mindlessness? Wait a minute…

IMG_0959Okay, so I admit it: I’m going through a crisis of confidence with my newfound love of Buddhism, and all that entails. The devil is in the details, of course, as even the ever-tricky Buddha himself well knew, just like Jesus after him, that you pick and choose what to tell the initiates and laypeople at any one time, subject to their capacity to comprehend, assimilate, or even fathom, concepts which may just be a bit difficult to swallow at first, or maybe forever…

Compounded by the fact that the Buddha himself was just a bloke, not a God, nor even his son, and so not omniscient, and subject to the limitations thereof, to most of which he himself spoke, the profound limits which define our existence on this blue-green orb of light color and sound which we call earth, the world, home, samsara, all we’ve got, except what we can make for ourselves, given time, energy, and the raw materials to work with, including consciousness…

And that includes the somewhat dubious triumvirate of rebirth, past lives and retributive karma that have always been the larger-than-life elephant in the room of Buddhism, but the Buddha himself signed off on it, perhaps even encouraged it, and I’ve made an uneasy peace with that, like the drunk uncle that comes along with the marriage, even though you’d rather he just stay away, slurping his bottle of whatever, and talking his stupid sh*t…

The past lives and rebirth, after all, were by the Buddha’s time a very popular notion, especially with the Brahmin caste, who benefited most from it, but others, too, for various reasons, not the least of which is the notion of predestination, that “it’s all been written,” freedom a mostly modern Western notion that was little known in Buddha’s time, in Buddha’s place. And that system has been ingrained in the Asian mentality for so long, that for it to change will take decades, if not centuries, if ever….

So at least that’s understandable, since it’s largely unconscious, or subconscious, an ingrained pattern of behavior that no one single person is responsible for. Imagine, for instance, if a Westerner were to diss, dismiss or even slightly diminish: democracy, freedom, or love, and you can see the curtains closing, as if on cue, on that good person’s career, all for just being honest, and perhaps even visionary, to see through the baggage of cultural narrative…

But when a Westerner buys into the unholy trifecta of past lives, multi-generational karma and rebirth, it takes on a new dimension, because that is NOT embedded into the cultural DNA of Westerners, and so entirely voluntary, and a source of bemused wonder for me. And that is also the case for something that is even worse to me, since I can always plead agnostic to the rebirth clause, and still cover myself in case it turns out that something is indeed transmigrating besides DNA…

And that current bugaboo is the current strain of thought in Buddhist circles, that I’d probably prefer to call ‘no-thought’, i.e. the notion that thoughts themselves are a mental defilement–kilesa–in addition to the usual suspects of hate, anger and greed. I’ve come up against this for a while now in the Theravada tradition, but it’s in Mahayana, too, at least in Thich Nhat Hanh, if maybe to a lesser extent. And this is something that I’ll never sign off on, much less sign on to, the idea that thought is kilesa, and best avoided in most situations…

This is in direct opposition to Rene’ Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, of course, ‘I think therefore I am’, and I don’t have a problem with that, that I am not identified with my thought processes, but to deny them altogether is probably one of the more disturbing things I’ve ever heard said in the name of any philosophy or religion. For ‘no-thought’ means that all the art, literature, science and philosophy in the world is negated, and by conscious design we go back to from where we came, naked bleeding helpless, and hopefully smiling, before the abuses heaped upon us from cruel circumstance…

And that is truly sad, that a more amenable Middle Path can’t be found in which thoughts are rewarded as one of our higher capacities, which is what I’m sure the Buddha himself would’ve wanted, and the subject of his dissertation on the ‘Eightfold Path’ which includes samma sankappa, which can be translated as ‘right understanding’ or ‘right thought’, but not ‘no thought’…

So now we have honest intelligent and capable Buddhist devotees, many Western, playing to the traditional Asian racist stereotype, and voluntarily dumbing themselves down for purposes of religious fulfillment, and superstition, smiling robot-like submissive, washing dishes to wash dishes, while the world goes by outside the monastery gates…

Of course the even sadder thing is that the ‘no-thinkers’ may indeed be right, in terms of species survival, if not individual fulfillment, none of us knowing the paths of DNA, though many of us are here for just that reason, and which is possibly religion’s highest function, beyond the question of what to do on Sundays, that somehow it conditions human beings toward their own group survival, somehow some way, impossible to predict, but infallible in its logic, if only known for certain as fait accompli…

And that path could just as likely be through ISIL or Donald Trump as it is through Buddhism or Christianity, because we’ll only know looking back, and by then it may be too late to change. But that is the task at hand, for me at least, because despite all the after-midnight talk about millions of human-like species theoretically ‘out there’, given the size of the almost-infinite universe, the fact is that until you’ve found another, then you’ve still only got just one, and it would be a crying shame for ours to self-destruct after a few tens of thousands of years, just because we’re too lazy or misguided to even care…

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