Saturday, January 14, 2012

No-Soul

Scott Bradley


It is an easy and common thing to fall into the habit of negative thinking wherein one defines one's own opinions, and thus one's self, by opposing those of others. It is so automatic we hardly notice that it has become our essential modus operandi. Yet it has not escaped me that I have often done that here and I have therefore determined to avoid it as much as possible. I think I've had a pretty good run since the last cycle of negatively tinged posts. Yet all this here is but to introduce what is, in fact, a critical question regarding Buddhism.

There is a time to ask whether certain beliefs do not hinder and harm our alignment with things as they seem to be. Perhaps it would be best if I clarified things by saying that my negative critique is for my own benefit and that of others with a similar persuasion, and is not intended to declare some other tradition 'wrong'. We all have our quirks, in any case.

My criticism is of the doctrines of karma and of the transmigration (re-incarnation) of some form of psychic identity. I have made a similar critique in the post "One Noble Question", and I don't know that I will have added anything new here.

I cannot pretend to be in a position to say I understand all of what gives rise to these doctrines, of what they imply, or, indeed, of the various logical machinations by which they are both explained and explained away. I am able only to see them as presented in the rough.

We must be 'saved' from the cycle of birth and re-birth to which we are consigned by virtue of our ignorant belief that we exist as permanent individual identities and by the attachments (karma) which consequentially arise. Watts suggests that this can be understood from a purely immediate, psychological point of view, that our present attachments in fact cause the 're-birth' of our belief in our permanent existence. Certainly this is the case. However, it is when it is applied, as originally intended, to the sphere of metaphysics that I personally find it both self-contradictory and harmful.

Buddhism tells us there is no soul, no entity 'me'. This is fundamental. I basically agree (golly), but hesitate to say so; suffice it to say that I agree that there is no 'me' as I perceive it; I'm in no position to know anything more. Yet Buddhism then tells us that some form of 'me', some non-soul soul, some "quasi-soul", endures through death to be re-manifest in a future life with all the cause and effect of karma intact. Yes, Subhi, this is indeed "a pot of buddha-flesh".

Fortunately, space does not permit me to pursue this any further. So, I will conclude with a suggestion that those among us who wish to be free as much as possible from religious mythology seriously consider whether we continue to harbor a belief that we need to be 'saved' (temporally or eternally), that we accumulate merit and de-merit (karma) which effects our post-death reality, or that there is any such thing as a soul. The value of such an inquiry rests not in its negation of belief, but in its positively moving us toward the way of "free and unfettered wandering" in an all-embracing, yet empty, vastness. Or, more simply put, assisting us to be free.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

1 comment:

  1. I think I've argued this several times and will again. Buddhism has bits I like and much, like this, that I'm firmly against.

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