Thursday, August 30, 2007
A rant about spirituality
In which V. gets uncharacteristically personal, but really needs to get this off her chest.

I am a Buddhist. I am not a fucking Jedi Master. I am human. Let me stress this again. I am human. This means that I am prone to the full range of human emotions. I get angry just like anyone else. I get frustrated. Sometimes, I really want to just punch someone square in the nuts. Just like anyone else. Because I am human.

A lot of people seem to think that Buddhists are supposed to somehow magically transcend these feelings. A good Buddhist "isn't supposed" to feel anger, or rage, or frustration. This is really pissing me off lately. Yes, Buddhists can get pissed off. Try not to let it shock you.

Strictly speaking, there are These Five Things Right Here that a "good" Buddhist isn't "supposed" to do. I'm talking about lay Buddhists here (read: just ordinary people, not monks. Monks have a load of rules to follow). I'll sum this up for y'all in plain English.

1. Don't kill anything or anyone. Usually this is understood to extend beyond killing to mean "don't deliberately hurt people or animals". This means emotional harm as well as physical harm. Many Buddhists (myself included) practice vegetarianism as an extension of this rule. But not all Buddhists are vegetarian, and that's okay. IMO there's really no such thing as a "good" or "bad" Buddhist - more on that later.

2. Don't steal stuff. Pretty straightforward. Don't take anything that isn't yours. This does not always mean material possessions. I've frequently seen rape referred to as a violation of this precept as well as the sexual conduct precept.

3. The sexual conduct precept does NOT mean "abstain from sex." It means, don't be a jerk about it. Don't cheat on someone who trusts you. Don't have sex with someone else's partner. Obviously don't force anyone to do anything they don't want to do. Sex is perfectly fine. I would go so far as to say sleeping around is perfectly fine, as long as you aren't letting people believe you're looking for more than just casual sex. Be honest about what you're doing, and if you think someone could get hurt by it, don't do it.

4. Don't lie to people. Does this mean you can't even tell white lies to spare someone's feelings? I think that's up to the individual to decide. Sometimes you have to choose between two precepts - you can either lie, or you can cause someone harm. Which is the lesser of two undesirable actions?

5. Complete abstinence from intoxicants. And I do mean complete. One of the key concepts in Buddhism (possibly the most important concept) is Mindfulness. We must retain total autonomous control over our minds at all times, otherwise we are unable to practice mindfulness. This precept is controversial, and one I have pretty strong feelings about. But I'm here to explain, not preach. Buddhists don't typically preach, anyway. We just explain.

So yes. Five precepts. Things that Buddhists aren't really "supposed" to do. Please note that it doesn't say anything about what emotions Buddhists are "allowed" to feel. That's because we're allowed to feel whatever we happen to be feeling, just like anyone else. We're people, not fucking robots. And what happens if you do one of those things you aren't "supposed" to do? Well, you ask yourself why you made that choice, and work on figuring yourself out, and try to be more mindful next time.

Note to my mother: I am a serious misanthrope. I don't like people in general. Yes, this is allowed. I am morally compelled to treat people kindly, and to feel compassion for their general wretched human condition. But this does not mean that I am spiritually obligated to have joy-joy feelings for everyone around me.

I said earlier that in my personal opinion, there are no such things as "good" or "bad" Buddhists. Buddhism is kind of esoteric, in the sense that it's about spending a lot of time trying to figure out your own mind. There are moral guidelines, but they're only guidelines. It's not like, for example, the Biblical ten commandments. It's not like, as a Buddhist, I can be a sinner and then require forgiveness for that sin. I'm either a Buddhist or I'm not. Which means, either I think it's worth trying to be a more compassionate person, or I don't. The operative word here is trying. I believe that the precepts are good common sense ideas about how to live a good life. If you really want to dig down deep into my psyche, those precepts echo the morality I had already chosen for myself before I even discovered Buddhism as a teenager. I don't follow those guidelines because I am Buddhist. I am Buddhist because I follow those guidelines - because I think they have merit and worth and are beneficial to my sense of well-being.

So, you're not a good or bad Buddhist. You're either a Buddhist or you're not. I'm not trying to draw a line between Buddhists and non-Buddhists here. I'm just saying, the only thing that's required to be what most people would consider a "good" Buddhist is a commitment to trying to live a more compassionate life.

Aaagh, it feels good to get that off my chest. I live smack in the middle of the Bible Belt, where people tend to see religious issues very much in black and white. People also tend to be fairly ignorant of beliefs other than their own, which means I get a lot of questions like "You worship Buddha, right?" and "But if you don't worship Buddha, who do you worship?" and "But how can it be a religion if you don't worship ANYTHING?" I suppose these are all good questions in their own way. But it does get tedious. The main thing that bugs me is the popular idea that Buddhists are somehow always peaceful and serene beings who never experience anything negative. Hopefully I've explained that away...