A Buddhist denounces the word “Buddhism”

This dialogue references the previous blog (For Those with the Eyes to See), but is independently coherent and useful. In regard to the title of this blog, I am saying now that I am just like my correspondent (a Buddhist), and also saying that there is no such thing as Buddhism.

So, I am being playful and dramatic. Read below to “get the joke.” (By the way, not only am I a Buddhist, but many other words as well!)

Buddhism in Bangkok, Thailand

Buddhism in Bangkok, Thailand (Photo credit: photo-555.com)


I am a Buddhist, and do not believe in ‘God’ or a ‘soul.’ Nonetheless, I was shocked by the text from the Aramaic Bible, which you quoted in your post, namely:

“For those with perception as it should be, everything is as it should be. For those with perception as it should not be, everything is as it should not be.”

The purpose of the first step in the Noble Eightfold Path is “Right View,” also interpreted as “Right Understanding.” This first step is the foundation for all the others, which may or may not occur “in order.” The reason why it’s considered the “first step” is because if your beliefs are founded on error, or misinformation, everything you say, do, and think, with regard to those beliefs, will be misinformed.

Where Christians believe in ‘God,’ Buddhists believe in ‘Myoho,’ (translates as ‘Universal Law’ or “Mystic Law,’ or more simply, the law of strict cause and effect). Buddhism teaches that Mystic Law ‘under-girds’ everything, and is the reason why everything is as it is. Or, in other words, everything is exactly as it should be (which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s “right”), and if we don’t like it, we need to first consider, particularly in personal situations, what we may have done to contribute to the situation. This is because the laws of cause and effect, i.e., karma and vipaka, are believed to mete out, in exact proportion, what “we” have coming to “us.”

Sometimes, this goes down “hard,” but on the up-side, it’s helped me to see that the world isn’t as crazy or unpredictable as it might seem. Nothing happens for “no reason.”

And finally, I’m always fascinated to find common ground between Buddhism and other faiths. Very interesting.

The Dharmacakra, "Wheel of Dharma", ...

The Dharmacakra, “Wheel of Dharma”, a symbol for Bodhi Dharma …or Buddh’ism in the West (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Thanks, VZ.

A principle that fits reality can be translated in to any language and still be clear. In contrast, an imprecise principle (like a joke that points indirectly at some principle) can get “lost in translation,” especially if the translator does not even get the joke at all and thinks it is not a joke.

Much of the eastern principles you reference may be older than Buddhism and are found exactly as you stated them in Hinduism. Further, many ideas that are in the New Testament of Christianity are also found either in the Hebrew Old Testament (like Ecclesiastes) or in other ancient Hebrew Scriptures like the Talmud, of which most Christians of the last thousand years at least have been totally ignorant, so they would not recognize the references and jokes made by Jesus or other first century authors.

The Aramaic Bible in Plain English refers to “pure and impure” in Romans 14:14. The word “pure” is also found in many English translations of Titus 1:15. The “translation” in the picture was my own, which I called The Holy Spirit’s Bible.

I have also created my own English paraphrasings of select Buddhist Sutras. In my experience, most Buddhists do not appreciate the simplicity of many Buddhist texts. They may read translations made by confused people and then they may get frustrated and confused by studying those translations. The same is true of Christians or any other group.

As a tradition strays from its roots, it is like reading a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. Eventually, some astute people will be so disappointed at the clarity (blurriness) of the content that they will either seek a more authentic copy (even if that means learning a new language) or resign themselves to using their own logic and discernment.

I made the new translation to emphasize the point of fundamental distress or fundamental acceptance. When people talk in terrified distress about how their government is not how it should be or their coworkers or their grandchildren are not how they should be, a verse like this reveals the terrified distress as the source of the contempt and “denial.” Terrified distress is not to be ignored, but it is also not a sign of clarity and discernment.

This verse is a tool. It is fine to say “something is not how it should be with the refrigerator door. Let’s see if we can rearrange things inside to get it to shut properly.” The point of the tool is to be useful for CERTAIN occasions.

For those frustrated or raging or terrified, the “tool” is to be open to new ways of relating to things, labeling them, interpreting them. Look calmly for what keeps the refrigerator door from closing. Don’t just have a tantrum and try to slam it harder.

The end of the article refers to New Testament verses about “turning away from evil” and to “resist not evil” and even “do not condemn anything as INHERENTLY evil.” The idea is that if a light is too bright, looking toward it will blind you, so put down your sun visor if you are driving “directly toward the sun.” If a sound in the background is too loud, it works to simply move away from it if it is important to you to be able to hear in a conversation.

Having contempt for the sun or for a loud wind is useless and is just a sign of the frustration and spiritual unrest of the one making the condemnation. It is not condoning anything or shaming anyone for having been frustrated or irritable or ashamed. It is presenting an alternative to the suffering, the dukkha, the maya, the ineffective way of relating to something.

So, if you have never seen anything coherent and intriguing in English about the words soul or God, that is fine. Knowing the words could be useful, but so what?

For me, the word “soul” can refer to the “original nature” or “Buddha nature” which is the witnessing function of consciousness. Before labeling perception, there is just the naked perceiving itself. That is the soul.

Or, “soul” can refer to a type of music. If you do not “believe” in that type of music (or are not familiar with it), that is fine with me. “Soul musicians” will not be upset if you prefer other forms of music.

“God” is a word with many uses. One idea is that God is the activity of the soul which creates distinctions in perception through the use of language. God speaks, which causes a linguistic boundary between night and day, light and dark, heaven and earth, even right and wrong.

This is a classical Hebrew view. The first stage of language development in humans is contrasts like “either night OR day.” As a child gets older, they come to understand that night and day are eternal and refer to places, not times. When Europe is facing the sun, Europe is “in the place” called daytime. At that moment, Hawaii is “in the place” called night. However, to reveal those “occult secrets” to a very young child would be beyond their intellectual capacity.

So, God, is the witness who not only perceives, but categorizes. By categorizing perception in to language, that is a creative act, with the forming of perception in to experience.

Experience is interpretative. It is not just sensation. In Buddhism or Hinduism, the above sequence could be referenced in teachings about “dependent origination” and “name and form.” No matter what language is “used by God” to reference the process, the process itself is still the same.

Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana

Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

VZ replies:

Hi JR,

You’ve said: “Much of the eastern principles you reference may be older than Buddhism and are found exactly as you stated them in Hinduism.”

This is true, but only because he who came to be known as the original Buddha, once a practitioner of Hinduism, refined, revised, and distilled the Hindu beliefs. “Buddhism,” as it came to be known, was purely the result of Shakyamuni’s unsuccessful searching, practice of extremes, and discovery of the ‘Middle Way’ (as I’m sure you know). Some “modern Buddhism,” unlike that based on the Pali texts, no longer bothers to acknowledge such principles as the Noble Eight-fold Path, the Four Noble Truths, or such concepts as Brahman and Atma[n]. While Shakyamuni incorporated these concepts into the discussion, he did anything but merely build on them. Buddhism interprets “our all being one” to mean that their is no individual soul or God soul, either. There is no ‘watcher,’ ‘observer,’ or ‘categorizer’ in Buddhism.

Hinduism supposes a God and a soul; Buddhism is based on “no-soul.” It is believed that Shakyamuni held onto some of these Hindu concepts so as to not totally alienate his “audience.” It was, for Shakyamuni, a frame of reference. Most importantly, Buddha Shakyamuni did not call his revisions, “Buddhism.” So, in reality, there is no “Buddhism.”

My point is that I do not question that the concepts I mentioned pre-date “Buddhism,” but rather, the implication that Shakyamuni merely repeated or embellished them. Sikhism is much more an extension of Hinduism than Buddhism. And Hinduism is much more compatible with Christianity than Buddhism, if at all.

Except for those who practice Tibetan Buddhism, which some even question being “proper” Buddhism, there is no “soul” or “God” — in Buddhism. And mind you, I’m not arguing this, or trying to convince you. No one “sees” anything until it’s time. And for some, it is never “time,’ because their paths are different.

That said, I’m not sure where the soul music comes in. As an American Black woman, I fully appreciate soul music, but I think we probably interpret “soul” differently, even here; but I must say that I don’t believe that “soul” is “Black.” I’ve seen you perform, and no doubt, you’ve got “soul,” but I don’t connect the term, as used in this context, with “God” or existence.

That “something” survives death is not an issue. It’s just that Buddhists don’t call it “soul.” That which has never been born (because it’s always existed) can never die. We simply don’t believe that what survives is a “soul,” as many would define “soul.” This is why Buddhists believe in ‘rebirth,’ instead of reincarnation. Reincarnation requires a soul — rebirth does not.

But when it’s all said and done, I am happy for you as you are, right now. It is not important to me that you *not* believe in “God” or “soul” or even Buddhism. Proselytization is no more a Buddhist concept than is God or soul.

I only commented because I was so fascinated to find this vein of “truth” in the quarry of ‘being.’

With deepest respect,

Buddha statues in a temple on Jejudo, South Korea

Buddha statues in a temple on Jejudo, South Korea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

JR replies again:

You are approaching clarity, Vivien. For instance, you say “in reality, there is no Buddhism” and also say that “In Buddhism, there is no soul.” I know what you mean. However, you are not stating it precisely.

There is no use of the word “soul” *required* (“in Buddhism” or otherwise). That word is a useful concept, but only useful in certain ways.

There is no use of the word “Buddhism” required. That word is a useful concept, but only useful in certain ways.

There is no use of any word or words in general “required,” unless someone of course creates a “requirement” in language, like “if you want to work as a customer service agent here, you are going to have to speak, and not only that, but use the English language. It is simply required!” Words are useful tools, but only useful in certain ways.

In reality, there is only reality. There is nothing but reality. Reality is an inclusive linguistic category.

In Hebrew, the word for reality is sometimes translated in to English as “God.” Reality is eternal, everywhere (“omnipresent”), and there is no power outside of it (“omnipotent”). The word reality is useful, but only in certain ways.

You could say “there is no reality. All experience is subjective.” That means that there is no monopoly on how to use words to reference reality. There is no “one right way” to use language and there is no “right language” (like English is right but Hebrew is wrong). There is just “the right use of language,” which is related to the mindful use of language or we could even say the effective use of language, like functionality.

Translation of RMS book into kannada

Translation of RMS book into kannada (Photo credit: renuka_prasad_b)

So, it is wrong to say “There Buddhism is soul no because 12:30 PM xedwb12!3js8u.” That is “wrong.”

Before I lived in a Zen monastery, I played guitar and sang. After I left the monastery, the same. However, none of that is required for being happy or for “having soul.”

I am grateful. So are you. Hello!

English: The Bhavacakra (Sanskrit; Devanagari:...

English: The Bhavacakra (Sanskrit; Devanagari: भवचक्र; Pali: bhavacakka) or Wheel of Becoming is a symbolic representation of continuous existence proces in the form of a circle, used primarily in Tibetan Buddhism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Tags: , ,

3 Responses to “A Buddhist denounces the word “Buddhism””

  1. Vivien E. Zazzau Says:

    Thank you, JR. Words are definitely an impediment, and I am, indeed, seeking clarity. As a tactile/kinesthetic learner, it is this type of engagement I seek. I have recently been exploring Mahayana and Theravada renderings of the “no-soul” concept. I am not nearly as conversant with Zen interpretations. When I use the term “no soul,” I do not deny the surviving components of our “having been” referred to by the Buddha, but rather that the “person” or “I” survives death to be reborn, exactly the same, just in a different body, as claimed by the theory of reincarnation. Obviously, if no component of “us” survived, then vipaka would be a contradiction, and karma wouldn’t matter. You are right, I was imprecise. I’ll be back to disagree with you later. 🙂

    • jrfibonacci Says:

      Lol. Karma matters with each lifetime, but in the center of the wheel of karma is a calm in the eye of the needle (or the storm). 😉

      Also, the karmic momentum that I inherent (like through social conditioning) IS “the one who plays music with soul.” When there is awareness that every quality of “mine” comes from “what is not me,” then language just makes various identities, like “Americans believe that….” and “black people are the best at ….” and “Hi, pleased to meet you. I am a primate. How about you?”

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. gypsymamakas Says:

    Reblogged this on The Oracle of Grooviness and commented:
    I found this really insightful!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: