A reader writes:
I was ambivalent regarding your post on Buddhism. I am by no means any kind of expert; I've merely read a few books on Buddhism. I have a lot of respect for it because it is generally not attached to supernatural concepts, it is not dogmatic, and it encourages practitioners to side with their own judgment or logic if they find parts of Buddhist thought erroneous. The idea of dependence-arising (that nothing exists on its own) and that everything eventually ends are mature, true, profound, and often missing from religious thought. Buddhism accommodates itself enthusiastically to scientific knowledge and guides its followers to an understanding that not only are they very similar to other living creatures, but that they could have easily *been* those living creatures (human or otherwise).
However, ultimately I could not choose to follow that path for two reasons.
One, while it claims in some ways to teach acceptance that all things must end, it really ultimately dodges the issue through the conceit of reincarnation, which is scientifically baseless. Reincarnation means that Buddhism, like most religions, deals with the problem of death by pretending that it doesn't really exist. Its flimsy and pseudo-scientific explanation that consciousness must be caused by prior consciousness is false because short-term case/event chains cannot be extended through eternity; consciousness is an emergent phenomenon.
The second and most disturbing flaw, in my opinion, is that Buddhism essentially blames victims for their circumstances (karma). Good behavior and thoughts will earn us rewards the next time we're reincarnated. If we're exceptionally kind and disciplined we'll come back as safe, comfortable humans. If we're exceptionally bad, we'll come back as ants or fish or something.
When I read this (in one of the Dalai Lama's books), I thought: What does Buddhism have to say about the political prisoners and slaves in North Korea's death camps? That they were all very bad in their prior lives? I was disappointed that despite appearances to the contrary, Buddhism avoids the problem of death, and it also (contra its claims) avoids the problem of injustice by teaching that living creatures, to some extent, get what they deserve. I caveat all of this by saying that I've only read a few books by the Dalai Lama, and I know there are all kinds of other sects and kinds of Buddhist thought.
A form of Buddhism that deals honestly with death (all things - ALL - eventually end) and with injustice (people don't always get what they deserve) would be much more appealing to me. Perhaps I'm reading the wrong books. I'd love to hear that I'm mistaken, but so far Buddhism has struck me as a very incomplete and imperfect religion.
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