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Is Buddhism pessimistic and negative? Is Buddhism selfish? Criticisms of Buddhism...

edited April 2014 in Buddhism Basics

Hello everyone, I recently been told by someone people (some practitioners, some not) that they believe that Buddhism is pessimistic, too negative and dour, and that the path is all about escape from Samsara... About aversion to rebirth etc..

I personally hold a different view, as many of you know - I practice by trying to avoid the cyclic perpetuation of craving and aversion, neither optimistic nor pessimistic, neither nihilistic nor eternalistic - the middle way, to coin a phrase ;-P

Pessimism seems to also involve value judgements and speculative opinions (ditthi)... one of the four Asavas (biases/cankers) I believe...

I figure that with regards to how we view the/our path and apply the teachings to our lives, maybe it is better is we deepened our realisation of it's essentially subjective nature? I.e. if seeing Buddhism as pessimistic works for you, then go for it. I certainly don't, I see it as realistic and non-judgemental, and through the eyes of the Boddhisattva, melioristic -empowering the individual to better society as a by product of bettering oneself... But then again, I personally am keen to avoid slipping into spiritual individualism and "selfish Buddhism" as someone once called it... Not sure I agree with that last term although I concede that in certain parts of the East, some monks have regrettably come to see the monastic life as a career and arent that concerned about the wellbeing of others...

With regards to individualism - If you are suffering and can put an end to it, why shouldn't you? I would just rather be able to help other too in the process :-)

I am always torn whether to engage with discussions on the semi-subjective.... On one hand, the Buddha was very clear about seeing the limitations of the mundane world, and on the other, thousands of years of Mahayana and Vajriyana tradition look upon the world with a sense of optimism and spiritual altruism... Also, I sometimes feel that people have formed their ideas without full regard to the ENTIRE tradition, in all it's varying and wonderful school... I'm sure a Soto Zen priest would see it differently to a Tibetan Yogi :-)

I suppose it raises the issue of how we see the mundane world, verses how we see the path leading to the transcendence of the mundane... if indeed 'see' is the right word... perceive is better.

I guess my question is, given that there is clearly no "right" answer, how do you personally see your world and your spiral path of realisation?

Just thoughts of an insomniac... It got me thinking and I am probably gonna write about it, so i really value hearing and considering all your opinions and approaches... all 84,000, lol!

:-) much Metta, D. F xx

Comments

  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    Just a partial response:

    How does one judge another person's degree of suffering? I do believe that it is possible to relieve some suffering using Buddhist principles. But, thus far, the Buddhists I have actually known still suffer. They still suffer from migraine headaches, diseases, fear of illness and death, family issues, farming economics, pensions, etc. Now, do they suffer less? Again, I have no way of judging.

    The_Dharma_Farmer
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    It seems that that view of Buddhism being negative, pessimistic, and so on usually comes from a lack of understanding. When I was younger, in my mid 20s, I dipped my toes in Buddhism after a World Religions college class, and I was horrified, lol. I didn't understand at all and found it very negative and was surprised it was considered such a religion of compassion. I didn't last long. But I gave it another try 10 years later, and it's much different. For me (and I can't say the same would be true for others who hold a more negative view) having a teacher made all the difference in the world. Even though I'm still working on emptiness and non-self and so on, he was able to answer my questions about those things very easily and quickly so i could begin to actually learn about what they meant without an expectation or a sense of "is this good, or bad?" Buddhism, and everything else, can't really be good or bad. As always, that is just our perception. Buddhism is what you make of it, what you get out of it. When people find the negative in such things (and I know people who hate rainbows. Really?) it says a lot more about the person's state of mind than it does about the topic/experience/whatever.

  • Good point @vinlyn - I suppose only the individual can ascertain their own suffering...

  • Very true @karasti‌ - that's how I see it, as it were! Being creatures of our conditioning, if we see the world as a negative place, we are more likely to require balance through the cultivation of Metta and Upeksha (equanimity), although we may not realise it yet. The inverse would be true of someone who was lusting and blindly craving for higher states of consciousness - perhaps for them, reflection on the renunciation aspect might be useful...

    I like what you said about how time shapes our opinions... Everything is provisional and relative to time and place! :-) xxx

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    edited April 2014

    Maybe it's easiest just to fess up: Buddhism is an ego trip. Get over it! All anyone has got to work with is this ego so ... work with it. Buddhism as a practice pisses people off or delights them -- the pessimism/optimism stuff -- according to ego. OK. Get over it! Never mind if ego is a good thing or a bad thing and just get used to the fact that, for the moment, it is the only thing.

    Since ego is more assertive about its needs than a southern belle on the veranda, it may take some time to realize that confusion or sorrow deserve some investigation and perhaps a realignment of activity. Any suggestion that the ego may be diminished (discipline/philosophy) is likely to be greeted with howls of disagreement and criticism and analysis and explanation. Still, it's the only ego in town so ... if you choose ... work with it.

    Bit by bit. Bit by bit. Be kool, be scared witless, be critical or praise it to the stars ... but bit by bit, keep an eye on things. Keep an eye on things and see what happens. No one else is going to agree with you perfectly, but that's not the point. The point is, do you agree with yourself? Explaining to others is not the point: Who could possibly explain this marvelous, rambunctious ego trip?

    See what happens ... as in, "Ego? What ego?"

    The_Dharma_Farmer
  • From a worldly pov, Buddhism is pessimistic.
    The Buddhist ideal is to live as monks/nuns.

    However, the goal is to stop samsara. And nobody can help you attain nibbana, you have to do it yourself. If you want to call it selfish, you may.

    But we can see that people who are 'enlightened' are very compassionate
    and they try to teach others.

    The_Dharma_Farmer
  • According to the Dalai Lama we are a social animal. Trust, connection and co-operation are very important. He speaks of warm heartedness and affection as qualities that will bring about a positive atmosphere.

    Power money and status may bring about loneliness, isolation, fear and distrust which (imo) is the path of self and self preservation. This is arguably an obstacle to a positive atmosphere of trust, connection and peace of mind.

    The last Buddhist nun I met gave me a bunch of flowers and she was absolutely lovely. On this basis my impressions are very positive.

    The_Dharma_Farmer
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Buddhism is viewed as 'pessimistic' by people who hear "Life is suffering" (which is an incorrect premise anyway) and stop 'listening' further.
    Fortunately, Buddhists know better, having persisted beyond that snippet, and continued listening.

    Count yourselves among the 'cognoscenti'.

    ~HUGE grin~

    The_Dharma_FarmerBunkspegembara
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited April 2014

    Personally, I'd say that Buddhism is pessimistic, but the kind of pessimism Buddhism adopts is actually a positive one. Instead of pessimistic in the sense of 'things are shit and nothing can be done,' it's in the sense that Zizek uses the term (albeit in a different context), i.e., "Pessimistic in the sense that maybe the first step towards really opening up the space to change something is to admit the extent to which there is no easy way out, nothing can be simply changed." In other words, it's pessimistic in a critical/positive sense, not a critical/negative one. As Thanissaro Bhikkhu points out, life isn't just suffering.

    The_Dharma_Farmer
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    LIke...."The glass is half-empty, but there's plenty more water!"

    The_Dharma_Farmerthegoldeneternity
  • I am just grateful for a drink ;-) xx

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    If your doctor came back with some test results saying you had heart disease, to someone who loves cheeseburgers and chili fries that news would probably sound pretty pessimistic. Of course the doctor would recommend lifestyle changes so you could live a longer healthier life.

    Buddhism is similar, we all love the causes of future suffering, they are so delicious. The Buddha came in and said these things we find so pleasurable will lead us to pain. "My attachments give me joy! My anger protects me!", we may protest. The Buddha didn't stop there he also prescribed a way towards greater happiness and satisfaction.

    The_Dharma_Farmerpegembara
  • Trust in the cushion . . .

    ZenshinThe_Dharma_Farmerwangchuey
  • Aspiring_BuddhistAspiring_Buddhist Seeker of the Buddha Within WA Veteran

    I don't view Buddhism as pessimistic. I don't recall a Buddhist monk/nun approaching me and telling me I'll burn in the pit of Hell for not believing the same thing they do.

    With about 330 million Buddhists out of 7 Billion people on the planet, that would be very pessimistic indeed!

    But then, I haven't met a Buddhist monk/nun either! I could very well be surprised.

    I tend to equate "suffering" with "dissatisfaction" when it comes to the Four Noble Truths - not because I "know better" but because "suffering," to me, is more about physical, mental, and spiritual agony/anguish.

    I certainly feel "bad/dissatisfied" when my cravings for things I don't have, go unfulfilled - but I wouldn't say I am in "agony" over it.

    What impresses me the most about Buddhism is how the teachings encourage us to release our cravings for worldly things. A much more "streamlined" approach than mere "resisting temptation," - instead of resisting, why not learn to let such desires go so the temptation doesn't even arise?

    When I first read the Four Noble Truths it was a "mind-blowing" moment. I hadn't studied any religion outside of Christianity (Well, in truth I studied Christians - what better way to learn about the religion than see how its members behave, right? Yeah...I know. Moving on). I am/was amazed by that idea, the concept so powerful, yet simplistic (the concept is simple, not the process of actually doing it.)

    Buddhism is the only religion I've embraced in my life. I know that when I was an atheist I was very pessimistic, but now, not so much. I don't "hate" the world as much as I used to.

    ("Hate" may be the wrong word - I don't view the world as negatively as I did before, but I do still "hate" things like murder, war, school shootings, etc.)

    I think "Buddhism being pessimistic" is an idea that occurs when one takes the teachings too literally. If I were to (try) interpret them in such a way, I think I would believe basically that life is Hell, and we're trying to get out of it.

    When in fact, we're trying to be free of our cravings that lead us to "suffer" - to become content with the world - we are then free of dissatisfaction.

    The "Dream of Want" fades, as we continue to "open our eyes," until we "Awaken."

    I think that is a wonderful, beautiful concept. "Pessimistic" isn't even the last thing that pops up in my mind when I think about it - "pessimistic" doesn't even make the list.

    The_Dharma_Farmerpegembara
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    The monks I have met (a whole like 4 of them) all have amazing senses of humor and compassion and kindness. It seeps out of their pores and envelopes them and everything/everyone around them. It's amazing to be in their presence (to me, these are teaching monks) and they are hardly all doom and gloom. They admit to suffering, to missing loved ones, and so on. But they have anything but a pessimistic view, even in light of missing their loved ones or anger over the situation in Tibet.

    The_Dharma_Farmer
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    @Aspiring_Buddhist said:
    I don't recall a Buddhist monk/nun approaching me and telling me I'll burn in the pit of Hell for not believing the same thing they do. ...
    But then, I haven't met a Buddhist monk/nun either! I could very well be surprised.

    Just for the record, throughout Thailand (and I imagine other Theravada regions in SE Asia) you will often find rather lurid murals of people suffering many kinds of torture in a sulfurous hell. :-)

    Zenshin
  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran

    @karasti said:
    The monks I have met (a whole like 4 of them) all have amazing senses of humor and compassion and kindness. It seeps out of their pores and envelopes them and everything/everyone around them. It's amazing to be in their presence (to me, these are teaching monks) and they are hardly all doom and gloom. They admit to suffering, to missing loved ones, and so on. But they have anything but a pessimistic view, even in light of missing their loved ones or anger over the situation in Tibet.

    That's my experience too! When the master last visited the monastery from France, we had a whole week of fun stuff planned after all the teachings were given. It's going to be hard to convince me that the nuns carry themselves in a pessimistic/negative way when they were doing fashion shows, singing and dancing, and telling stories about life in Vietnam. There was always a positive/grateful outlook along with an explanation of why staying positive was important.

    The_Dharma_Farmer
  • Aspiring_BuddhistAspiring_Buddhist Seeker of the Buddha Within WA Veteran
    edited April 2014

    @vinlyn said:
    Just for the record, throughout Thailand (and I imagine other Theravada regions in SE Asia) you will often find rather lurid murals of people suffering many kinds of torture in a sulfurous hell. :-)

    Ah - I am surprised then! What a religiously exclusive attitude. It is hard to be "superior" to other religions when your religion behaves in similar ways.

  • NamadaNamada Veteran
    edited April 2014

    Suffering its important in buddhism, its a call for you and everybody to wake up from your old habits of ignorance, greed and hate :)
    Wordly people see buddhism as very pessemistic because a true practioner dont cling to possessions, status, money, a big house, one nice BMW, and all the pressure to be a "winner", because you know this is only conventions, wich is impermanent and dont bring real happiness and peace.

    The goal in buddhism is to, let go, practice compassion and fight against greed, hatred and delusion in every moment. So is this pessimistic and negative?

    VastmindZenshin
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    Just type into Google: Buddhist hell Thailand
    and you can see some of the pics of not only murals, but also what I'll call "hell parks".

  • Aspiring_BuddhistAspiring_Buddhist Seeker of the Buddha Within WA Veteran

    @vinlyn said:

    I, uh, didn't say that.:P

    I'll take a look, thanks!

  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    @Aspiring_Buddhist said:
    I, uh, didn't say that.:P

    I know. The quote feature works...off and on.

  • I think people have to be careful how they tread optimism. It can all just add up to be too much to bear in the end. With Buddhism, you're just consolidating your karma towards peace and developing wisdom.

  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited April 2014

    @wangchuey said:
    I think people have to be careful how they tread optimism. It can all just add up to be too much to bear in the end.

    You got me interested....do go on......

  • Haha - it sounds like me... I can never work out if I am a pessimistic optimist, or an optimistic pessimist... Or just a pretentious, self absorbed a*se ;-) xx

  • Life is suffering. That's pessimism.
    Life is suffering, but it isn't just suffering. That's not pessimism. That's hope.

    The_Dharma_Farmer
  • wangchueywangchuey Veteran
    edited April 2014

    @Vastmind said:
    You got me interested....do go on......

    lol that's all. What else is there? We're not being pessimistic, we're just being aware. Optimism and lack of awareness can lead to attachments, attachments can lead to cravings, and cravings is what restarts the whole chain of events (karma).

    The_Dharma_Farmer
  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited April 2014

    Buddhism is only pessimistic about suffering, which is being caught up in worldly affairs and self(ego)-maintenance. It's optimistic about enlightenment and compassionate action toward all sentient beings... so overall it's probably "realistic". :D

    The people who think Buddhism is negative or pessimistic are the ones not yet disenchanted with the rat-race of life, all the struggle and bustle to find and maintain happiness. They don't have to be; not yet.

    The_Dharma_Farmer
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    I may be off the mark here but do you think it may depend on what your spiritual background was in the past? For instance, I was brought up in a very athiest environment (family and friends) and considered myself spiritually void.

    I have never found anything in Buddhism pessimistic - just realistic!

    What about people who were brought up in other faiths?

    VastmindThe_Dharma_Farmer
  • Buddhism is realistic, not pessimistic. We are told we have a dis-ease and ways to cure it. That is way better than not knowing about the dis-ease and continuing with habits that are not helpful.

    If you don't realize there is a problem, no solution is possible.

    "Now suppose a man having borrowed some goods — a manly carriage, fine jewels, & ear ornaments — were to go into the market preceded & surrounded by his borrowed goods, and people seeing him would say, 'How wealthy this man is, for this is how the wealthy enjoy their possessions,' but the actual owners, wherever they might see him, would strip him then & there of what is theirs. What do you think: Should the man rightly be upset?"

    "No, lord. And why is that? The owners are stripping him of what is theirs."

    "In the same way, householder, a disciple of the noble ones considers this point: 'The Blessed One has compared sensuality to borrowed goods, of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks.'

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.054x.than.html

    Toraldrisperson
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I was scared away the first time by a poorly written world religions text. The premise interested me, but I backed away quickly with the poor explanations of "everything in life is suffering, you never escape it" and "If you do good deeds, you can never get anything out of them yourself, or you are doing it wrong." I couldn't fathom not feeling good doing good deeds, and the idea that a life full of suffering is all that there is was just too much. I never thought to consider what it really meant, but IMO it was explained very badly. The very first actual Buddhist book I read was TNH's The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching and he explained it well enough that I understood the real implications and it was something I found realistic as well. Just not the way it was previously presented.

    VastmindThe_Dharma_Farmer
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