So I got this comment from sciamannata on my recent post, Secular Meditation: The Serenity to Accept What Could Be Changed, But Doesn’t Actually Need to Be:
You are becoming more Buddhist every day
…and I have stopped arguing with you in my head about this — especially while I am trying myself to meditate — because you seem to be doing very well as it is; in other words, you don’t seem to be missing out hugely by not using explicitly Buddhist concepts.
I remain somewhat uneasy about this movement to do mindfulness meditation etc. without acknowledging that it is entirely based on a tradition that was developed and preserved for a couple of thousand years by assorted Asians in an essentially religious context — but if that is what it takes for some more people to benefit from it, hey, Buddhism does have an esplicit concept of “skilful means” that I’m sure encompasses this as well!
Signed, a Buddhist atheist, or atheist Buddhist, who is working on what exactly that means
A couple of things, though. First, it’s just flatly untrue that MBSR and other secular forms of meditation/ mindfulness are, quote, “entirely” based on Asian religion traditions. For one thing, some form of meditation seems to have been developed independently by several different cultures, and is practiced in several religious traditions. Also, and rather more importantly: In addition to the Asian (and other) religious traditions it’s based on, MBSR is largely based on something very different and very important — namely, medical science. It’s based on double-blinded, placebo-controlled, peer-reviewed, replicated research, examining which of these many millenia-old techniques actually accomplish something, and which are about as useful as bloodletting or exorcism. That’s a pretty significant departure from the religious tradition.
And that’s exactly the reason I’m writing about this in a secular framework. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would be interested in meditation/ mindfulness, and who might benefit from it, but who are put off by the religious trappings that are so often attached to it — trappings make them hostile to it or suspicious of it or both. I was one of those people, for years. So I’m deliberately writing about my experiences from a purely secular angle.
It’s a funny thing. One of the most common criticisms aimed at atheists is, “Look at all the wonderful things religion gives people! Community, social support, comfort in hard times, ritual and tradition, music, art, meditation! People need that!” Then, when we point out that you can have every one of these things without religion, people holler, “Wait! You can’t take the religion out of these traditions and practices! You’re trying to take Christ out of Christmas!” (Or religion out of meditation, or whatever.) We can’t win.
Also, it seems to me that “being a Buddhist” or “becoming a Buddhist” would be a pretty deep and intense matter of personal identity, and would mean rather more than “adopting a handful of the philosophies and practices.” I’ve also adopted philosophies and practices of Epicurianism, Stoicism, Existentialism, Judaism, Christianity. That doesn’t make me an Epicurian, a Stoic, or an Existentialist — and it sure as hell doesn’t make me a Christian or a Jew.
Oh, and one more thing that I feel compelled to say here. From “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless”:
80. I’m angry that, in many Buddhist monasteries, children as young as ten years old are inducted as novice monks. I’m angry that children who can’t possibly understand the tenets and demands of the religion are recruited into devoting their lives to it. And I’m especially angry because the children who become novice monks are typically among the most impoverished — and they’re drawn into abandoning secular life and devoting their lives to the monastery, not out of a sincere religious calling, but out of a need for food and shelter.
81. I’m angry that the current Dalai Lama said that sex can only provide short-term pleasure and is inherently destructive in the long term, even leading to suicide and murder; that all forms of sexuality other than penis-in-vagina intercourse are banned by Buddhist teachings; and that, although he supports the tolerance of gay people, he sees homosexual sex as “wrong,” “unwholesome,” a “bad action,” “vices,” “not acceptable from a Buddhist point of view,” and “contrary to Buddhist ethics.”
82. I’m angry that, in Sri Lanka, the Buddhist majority has perpetrated intimidation, vandalism, violence against Christians and Christian churches.
83. And I’m angry that, when criticisms of religion are leveled, Buddhism all too often gets a free pass. I’m angry that the Westernized version of Buddhism typically ignores or dismisses these abuses. I’m angry that the versions of Buddhism practiced in Nepal or Thailand or Sri Lanka get treated as marginal or trivial, while the version of Buddhism practiced in California is somehow seen as the true faith.
So… yeah. “Becoming more Buddhist”? Not so much. If you want to be an atheist Buddhist, go right ahead. I have no more objections to that than I do to secular Judaism or cultural Catholicism. But as for me… nope. Fuck that noise. Fuck it right in the arse.