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← We of little faith

Munger's Avatar Jump to comment 64 by Munger

I think the debate here is a matter of semantics. Personally, I enjoy many aspects of buddhist philosophy and find there's much wisdom to be found in it. Do I consider it divinely inspired? No. Do I think the teachings of the Buddha were perfect? No. Am I even sure that the original Buddha even existed? No.

This doesn't mean that I don't enjoy many aspects of the philosophy and feel that it has enriched my life. I don't pray or chant to invisible gods. I don't believe in reincarnation. I don't think I should give away all my possessions and move into a temple and think about my consciousness all day. But I do think that many of the ideas presented are valid ways of looking at dealing with life, of thinking about the nature of compassion and our own minds. It works for me, but it's not religion. Not even close.

If buddhism was my religion, then I would assume that it was somehow flawless, that it's every argument was correct, and that it was the one and only way to deal with life. I don't and many other buddhists (notice I didn't capitalize) don't either. Any more than students of other philosophy's assume that their studies are divinely inspired.

Sure, some nuts abuse buddhism, making it a religion. They believe in all sorts of crazy ideas. But saying I'm a fan of buddhist thought is not the same as saying I believe in it irrationally, without question.

Of course, the argument could be made that, taken in this context, all religion has something worthwhile to offer. And I think that's true. It isn't the ideas of religion that make it damaging. It's the blind faith in it, the magical assumptions of it. As Dawkins has said many times, there are interesting ideas in the bible, if you can sort out the rubbish.

I believe in buddhism the same way I believe in science. Through experimentation and logical observation. I don't believe in reincarnation. It's unprovable. I don't believe in magical karma. It's a childish notion. But I do believe in striving for peace of mind, in taking time to try to understand my own rational and irrational thoughts, and questioning whether my motives and feelings are not always coming from somewhere other than my obvious conscious mind.

It's a ridiculous bone of contention on this site. Harris gets attacked for saying there's still so much to the universe and our own minds that we just don't understand, that consciousness is a grand riddle, and that things such as mind over matter are, in the broadest sense of the word, possible. He is not irrational. He will never spend money to go to a fortune teller, never read his horoscope eagerly, never believe that someone can make a spoon bend without proper proof. He's merely open-minded.

Dawkins's great quote: It is so possible to be so open minded that your brains fall out.

Well, it's also possible to be so closed-minded that you stop listening before the discussion begins.

Also: Harris's views on torture are far more nuanced and interesting than most people understand. The irony is that his arguments are lost once again because people shut down as soon as they hear the word. Harris is not pro-torture anymore than he's pro-war. He merely states, if you're willing to drop bombs on people, torture is hardly more reprehensible in the end. The only difference is the distance of the violence.

Ask yourself what would be harder? Pushing a button that killed ten people you never met or shooting someone right in the face? If you had to do it, which would be easier, less likely to traumatize you? That, in a nutshell, is why people hate torture but can live with bombs.

Of course, it's a completely imaginary argument. But that sort of hypothetical introspection is just the kind of thing we should all do once in a while. It's the kind of thing that merciless rationalists get accused of not doing enough. And when I see the attacks on buddhist philosophy (not Buddhist religion) I think sometimes, stereotypes are true.

Wed, 13 Jun 2007 14:46:00 UTC | #46854