“Comparison is the lowest form of thought.” -David Chadwick
Im afraid that I labored under some very mistaken notions about Buddhism for quite a long time. Of course, the more I feel I understand the more reasonable this seems, after all one of the most basic teachings of Buddhism is that we are deluded. This delusion doesn’t mean we dint ‘get’ things as they really are,but rather that the WAY we try to ‘get’ it is fundamentally flawed. The way that no amount of using more force will let you use a shoelace to pound a nail, no amount of trying to think harder using our deluded minds will make things any clearer.
For me several things that seemed so difficult to understand or make sense of now seem so simple that I have to laugh at myself a little for having so much trouble. For example, the whole “God” question. One of the things that appealed tome about Buddhism was that I believed I could remain an atheist and still be Buddhist. i suppose this is true, the same way a fundamentalist christian could be a Buddhist and still remain a fundamentalist, but the reality is that if you spend any amount of time meditating and living the dharma the less likely you will be able to hold onto your old views no matter how cherished! The problem with my atheism was that it relied on too small a definition of what ‘God’ could be ( which, ironically, is the same problem with trying to remain a fundamentalist and a Buddhist at the same time). In my delusional mind I was arguing against a judeo-christian idea of what god was, and so I believed I had no faith because their version was something i couldn’t accept. Needless to say that once you open your eyes and see “God” as just another word for ‘everything in the universe’ then it becomes quite a bit more sensible and ‘believable.’ The other part of being deluded about God this way is that its worrying about a question that a0no one can know for sure and b) doesn’t really matter! As Ive written before, i was amazed to read over and over that when the Buddha was approached with questions about whether there was a god or a heaven and hell his answer was “The question does not fit the case.” which is simply a kind way of saying “why are you wasting your time worrying about shit that doesn’t matter to your real life in this moment!?”.
Or as a great Zen Koan put it once, a king once asked a monk “what happens after we die” to which the monk replied quite reasonably with “I have no idea”. the King was surprised and said “How can you not know ? You’re a monk!” The monk turned and left saying “yes that’s true, but I’m not a dead one.”
My other problem was with the concept of Karma. Like most folks my idea of Karma was like a bank account. You put in a ‘good deed’ and eventually the karma came back as something ‘good’ and if you did something ‘bad’ then your karma would punish you later. It made me mad to think that someone like Hitler didn’t seem to suffer much ‘bad karma’ while perfectly innocent folks got shafted by life without having seemingly committed any ‘bad deed”. Once again, i found that my concept of Karma was sadly inaccurate. To start with Karma simply means ‘action’ and the concepts we have of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are constructions of our deluded minds. On top of this Buddhists generally don’t believe in a past or a future that exist. To be brief, the future is a concept, and the past was a moment that is never again going to come back (or even be able to be recollected accurately) so the only moment in existence, ever, is this moment right now. How is my deluded idea of Karma supposed to work if the future never occurs and the past doesn’t exist!? The answer, finally after years of wrestling with this, was that our Karma is arising and falling the exact moment the action that ‘creates’ it does! You don’t do a bad deed, wait a while and then suffer some consequence, you reap that bad news instantly, its only our delusion that makes it take so long to see the results! The more i sit and the more I become aware of the present moment the less time it takes for me to see the results of my actions both good and bad! Karma, it turns out, is the commonsense fact of cause and effect. No magic required!
Buddhism has taught me that not only was my view of the world fundamentally wrong (and thus a source of much suffering) but that the very method I tried to use to observe it was flawed. once my understanding began to develop all the sudden the world started to look recognisable to me, in fact the first few months I got almost giddy telling my friends that for the first time in my life I felt like I ‘fit’ in the world. The amazing thing was that nothing ‘really’ changed, i didn’t adopt sopme systems of belief that required me to ignore facts or to pretend to believe the unbelievable or miraculous, i simply wiped a little of the dust on my perception away and saw an iota clearer than before. i have a long long way to go still, but I have also understood that Buddhism is a path not a destination, I’m content knowing i will never “arrive’ because the journey has been so amazing.