I appreciated Michael Setter’s most recent letter. There is only one little nit that I hope he will pardon me for picking.
The Buddha was indeed a realist. As such, he was deeply aware of the impermanence of all phenomena. It was one of the pillars of his doctrine. Where there is impermanence, there is change. Where there is change, human beings can influence it to make it positive.
Instead of despairing at the world’s impermanence and yielding to passivity, the Buddha took what would nowadays be called a proactive stance. Born a kshatriya, a member of the warrior caste, he was a man of action.
He urged his disciples to be alert, be vigilant and keep working on themselves: “If anything is to be done, do it! Promote it with all your might, for slack asceticism but scatters dust the more.” (Dhammapada, verse 313.) For slackers, he had sweet words: “Torpid, gluttonous, and sleepy, rolling about like a great hog nourished on pig-wash, the stupid one again and again goes to rebirth.” (Verse 325.)
For a practising Buddhist, I should think, it won’t do just to feel sorry about the countless lives you’ve snuffed out over the years and dream about attaining “the open bright field of Being itself”. So far as I know, the concept of Being with a capital B is more characteristic of Hinduism than of Buddhism.
And it’s distressing to see Michael’s letter dissolve into a platitude at the end: “It is through self-transcendence that we realise happiness.” Oooo, self-transcendence! What the hell is that? Whatever it is, is it going to last?
As for happiness, pigs can be happy. Human beings ought to aspire to something higher.
In conclusion, I think Michael needs to think a little more deeply about this issue, and to watch out for both passivity and platitudes.
The fondness for both is among the least lovely attributes of the religious mind. I’m sure A Bangkok Atheist will agree.
Ye Olde Theologian