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First, I don't think Buddhism has any whistles, only bells
Second, good question that has been on my mind plenty. I do think that most of what goes by the name of Buddhism, has undeniable elements of religion.
The process of rebirth or the permanent state of Nirvana are, in my mind, unprovable supernatural beliefs. Many Mahayana schools also have the notion of infallible teachers. That even goes for the most agnostic school of all, Zen, with its emphasis on mind-to-mind direct Dharma transmission. And, of course, numerous sects have elements of deity worship (often referred to as Boddhisatvas), such as chanting their names. Finally most schools have rituals that in essence are no different from those of other religions.
Of course, where Buddhism differs from other religions is that it is more about doing a practice rather than believing stuff, at least in the West. It is more about what you do than what you think. It has a method that you need to consistently apply to be a "Buddhist" in any meaningful sense.
It also teaches a particular attitude to life. (I do not like the word philosophy because it has the connotation of being abstract, whereas Buddhism in most renditions is not concerned with explaining the world "out there" but how to deal with one's actual life). In a nutshell: view stuff of life as transitory, transcend it and diminish suffering. In Mahayana, help others do the same.
As you can probably tell, I am no fan of religion, Buddhist or otherwise. If I embrace Buddhist religion, I feel that I have no good reason not to embrace my ancestoral religion of Christianity as well...Buddhist attitude and practice, on the other hand, I have found quite helpful even though I periodically have some doubts. Whether those aspects can be untied from the religious components is a big question for me and for many Western thinkers.
I feel that some teachers, including mine, are accomplishing just that. If those efforts coherently converge towards a purely secular form remains to be seen.
Happy New Year, all, and thank you for honoring my questions with responses!
I am happy to see that some of you actually questioned original Buddhist teaching along the lines similar to what I expressed. And then arrived to interpretations that are more in line with your life's circumstances.
That is precisely what I feel I need to do to keep Buddhist wisdom alive- digest it in my heart, mind and body to make it work for me and those around me. In my group I also feel that some are actively trying to synthesize the Buddhist way as well (and it is those members that have kept me coming back rather than the more "orthodox" ones).
It is uncertain what will come from that project. It might even be that the outcome will not even be called "Buddhism" anymore. I really don't know.
But be that as it may, I was looking for a religion in my early twenties and Buddhism seemed to be closest to what I needed. Therefore, I am very grateful for the many wonderful people I have come across in the Buddhist world, including those here on newbuddhist.com.
I do not mean to be provocative but just trying to look at available evidence with an open mind, @federica . I realize that what I say may hurt those who are invested in spiritual traditions but I firmly believe that not saying this does much more hurt to a much greater number of people.
I will briefly comment on the part of your reply that comes from your personal experience and which I trust to be true.
I on the other hand, being an ex-catholic, was closely involved with the ministry and organisation of our local church, and associated the convent and monastery nearby.
I can promise you that over a period of 20 years, there wasn't so much as any hint or insinuation of any problem or discussion regarding celibacy.
Basically all you are saying is that nobody talked about sex issues and nobody knew about such. That is not surprising because people in general do not discuss sex, especially in environments where it is deemed inappropriate. Never underestimate our ability to present a convincing public face.
This reminds me of being a teenager in high school. I held many of my teachers in high regard and used to wonder how would it be possible for them to be engaged in any hanky-panky. I knew most did because most had kids but it was such a curious disconnect in my head: how can this respected person do that at home?
Regarding Catholics, my other side of the family has a priest in a very Catholic country. Through that connection I heard stories of priests having whole families on the side. The guy himself had a Playboy collection. My wife grew up in the Church and is now quite skeptical about Catholic celibacy. Sure, another piece of anecdotal evidence, but only strengthens my theory that celibacy is not what it seems.
I think by highlighting a few cases, you do a great disservice to the majority-dedicated ordained monks - of any calling.
The Ex-nun obviously couldn't cut the mustard, eh?
I think one important piece of the puzzle is that women, on average, are much better at controlling physical aspects of sexual desire than men. Not only that, but their natural age window of sexual interest is narrower than mens'- men do not have menopause. I therefore am willing to trust nuns much more than monks when it comes to celibacy.
Also, I am not saying that celibacy is impossible. For one, there is a non-negligent number of asexual or demi-sexual folks (it is curious, look it up), not to mention that some do have stronger impulse control than others. But what I am saying is that all evidence available to me shows that any large scale application of celibacy is wrought with problems.
Appreciate the thoughtful and to the point responses, @person ! I feel like I want to clarify where I am coming from with all my recent doubting.
I have been to many retreats and have been a regular meditator for over 10 years, 7 of them as a part of a community. I have tasted that deeper happiness you are talking about, as a result of these practices. Seeing everything as coming and going (a major point of Buddhist insight) does at times provide an unexpected and wonderful stability and calm. A wider view of interdependence of all beings helped me experience more compassion and at times actually act on it.
I guess what I am doing here is trying to point out that Buddhism in general and the 4NT in particular are prone to being interpreted as world- and self- denying, discouraging many important expressions of our psychologies. I guess my gripe is partially really with myself, as to some extent I used Buddhism to justify certain passivity and stasis in my own life. Fatalism and pessimism that can be gleaned from many Buddhist sources have not always helped me with being all that I can be. I have been exposed to Buddhist circles quite a bit and believe that I am not alone.
To be clear, I still value my time invested into studying and practicing Buddhism. However, I feel that we need to pick and choose in order to arrive at a synthesis that better fits our time and place. I feel that without some creative reinterpreting of the dogma based on our time and place, we are at the risk of being left with just one more calcified ancient religion. Classical Buddhism by itself is a valuable tool and addition to my life but I feel that it alone cannot serve as an end all/be all.
Yeah, monks seem to on the whole, be ok with abstinence and celibacy. No emotional issues or hang-ups there. A layperson has no such restrictions, and self-imposed celibacy is both unnecessary and unrequired.
I realize that by replying to a post about sex I risk hijacking my own thread but I feel that this is somewhat important. Sex is the most basic expression of Life itself and my questioning of 4NT is essentially that they seem to devalue all life experiences by focusing on their impermanence and imperfect-ness.
Anyway, I strongly suspect that the notion of no-issues celibate "spiritual" folks is largely religious fiction. From numerous Eastern teachers in the West embroiled in sex scandals to well documented issues with Catholic clergy, I think there is ample evidence that celibacy as a whole just does not work.
Some may say that those examples point to the West's warped view of sex and that "true" Buddhists are different. Maybe some Buddhists are but lately I have been running across reports of routine sex abuse in Tibetan monasteries in Asia: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/06/what-lies-beneath-the-robes-are-buddhist-monasteries-suitable-places-for-children-adele-wilde-blavatsky/ , for instance. My friend from the Sangha who was married to an ex-Nun who lived in an Asian monastery also shared stories about ever present sexual tension that resulted in rather unenlightened behaviors.
I do not want to make this about sex, just pointing to the fact that any idealized view of human nature, such as can be read from foundational Buddhist teaching, runs into serious issues when applied to real life.