The Buddhists Write In

A reader writes:

Yet another comment about the theology of Buddhism from someone who's "read a few books."  I promise I will quit spamming you with takes on Buddhism, but this one is really uninformed, and demands a last response:

"The second and most disturbing flaw, in my opinion, is that Buddhism essentially blames victims for their circumstances (karma)."

This is a common and understandable misreading of the law of karma.  But it's a huge misreading. 

For Buddhists, as long as we're trapped in cyclic existence (the wheel of reincarnation, known as samsara), we suffer.  The particular nature of our suffering differs, but there's not better or worse suffering.  Everyone who's trapped in samsara suffers.  For people who misunderstand the point, they look at a starving child and compare her to a wealthy American and draw a conclusion about who is being "punished" by karma.  For the Buddhist, both are suffering.  One of the central ways Buddhists engender compassion is to recognize this and try to see that all beings are trying to get past their own suffering.  Your reader has the point exactly backward.

Again, your readers may eschew Buddhism for any reason they wish without provoking a peep from me.  But presenting their reasons as legitimate representations of what we believe and practice isn't doing the discussion any favors.

Another reader adds:

I'm growing increasingly anxious as you roll out this new thread on Buddhism because so few of your critics are actual Buddhists.  This isn't a problem when discussing the behavior of Buddhists or the influence of Buddhism on the world, or any number of external comments about the religion.  But to refer to non-Buddhists as the source of information about the theology is troubling.

If you're going to discuss the theology, it needs to be from the perspective of the religion, not according to beliefs assigned from without.  (As a former student of religion and a Buddhist, this is a matter of scholarly integrity as well as a personal issue to me.)  In the most recent comment, the reader writes: "I'm tempted to think that these strenuously- and minutely-argued responses are the product of an understandable, if unfortunate, insecurity about the truth or worth of the foundations of the beliefs people choose to build their lives around, but in the end that's not really for me to say."

What about those of us who object to your original posts as being theologically inaccurate?  This isn't insecurity, it's a desire to have the theology presented as Buddhist doctrine, not a post-facto non-Buddhist critique of it.

To repeat my critique of the original post: Buddhists do not teach detachment to ordinary life.  The teaching is to use the practices of Buddhism to slowly wean yourself from the attachment to causes of suffering.  For Buddhists, this means our attachment to those unwholesome activities that cause us to suffer.  "Ordinary life," that is, the direct experience of the present moment, is actually the state Buddhists wish to live.  The practice of Buddhism involves meditations to cultivate joy, compassion, kindness, and equanimity--surely some of the building blocks to happiness.  There is nothing detached about serious practitioners.

It's worth noting an additional blindness non-Buddhists, particularly those raised in Christian countries, have about their own understanding of religion. Christianity is a belief-based religion.  To Christians, asking someone what they believe is tantamount to inquiring about the religion.  But Buddhism is practice-based.  In Buddhism, wisdom does not arise from belief, but from meditation, where insight is actually non-cognitive.  To a Buddhist, belief is often the obstacle, not the source of release.

Please consider posting comments from Buddhists--even those supportive of the initial critique.  Their views will be more meaningful.

One more:

I have been a loyal reader and follower of your blog for quite a few years now (I was an impulsive reader of The Daily Dish), but I believe that time is coming to an end.

The ridiculousness of how this whole discussion about Buddhism on your website has been moderated by you and your team has become very insulting and hurtful. I feel that in this particular situation your site is done a disservice by not having an actual comments section where readers can freely read comments and share with others. Instead your site picks and chooses those responses that you deem fit to print, and thereby exercises total control of the conversation. The tone that you have chosen, evident from the reader responses you have posted, has come across as completely insensitive and downright disrespectful towards the Buddhist tradition and those who identify with it. Post after post of criticism and opinion, but very little knowledge or direct experience.

I enjoy a good challenging debate, but when the content is moderated and filtered through someone's agenda, that's not really a debate. It's a message.

In the past you have had discussions framed around general religious belief versus atheism. These conversations have been intriguing and challenging, and always with a general feeling of even-handedness. But I have never seen you blatantly smear one religion specifically and for no apparent reason. To my knowledge there was nothing newsworthy about your post "Up From Buddhism." It wasn't even timely.