Saturday, April 30, 2011


by Scott Bradley

I've arrived at the introduction of Buddhism into China in Fung's History. I have frequently resolved to study Buddhism more thoroughly, but whenever I start, my eyes begin to cross. I don't say this to fault Buddhism; it's just that, on the one hand, I am not interested in long convoluted 'proofs' of anything, and on the other, I'm very shy of anything that tells me the way the universe works. Zen, perhaps because it was deeply influenced by philosophical Taoism, managed for the most part to escape the long-winded, 'profound' speculations of Indian Buddhism. With this I feel much more comfortable.

Or perhaps I'm just not smart enough to follow their reasoning. But if that is the case, it seems to me that something must be amiss; surely, the attainment of whatever Buddhism has in mind does not require an exceptional IQ? And while I'm on it, I might as well say that something likewise seems amiss to me when one must go to what seems to be unnatural extremes to realize what must certainly be a natural phenomenon.

Or perhaps I'm just too lazy to do what must be done. I confess that it's the testimonies of those who, for instance, were walking in the park when suddenly they experienced Unity, which appeal to me most. Sitting in the snow for years, cutting off one's arm as a sign of sincerity, meditating ceaselessly for years on end, breathing so deeply as to achieve a distended belly, flossing the sinuses — these things do not appeal to me at all. But to each his or her own. And perhaps I just don’t have ‘the right stuff’.

But I have to admit I feel, with what almost amounts to smugness, a certain joy in realizing that none of this really matters all that much in any case. All is well. Buddhism, as I understand it, does not agree — I must be saved from existence — but that's okay, too.

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

1 comment:

  1. I had a similar reaction when reading JeeLoo Liu's "Introduction to Chinese Philosophy." I got stalled at the introduction of Indian Buddhism into Chinese philosophy; I skipped ahead to the Chan chapter (avoiding the discourses on the Wei-shu, Hua-Yen, and Tian-tai schools, lots of bullet points and arguments).

    Still it's useful to have the perspective. For a relatively brief readable historical point of view I recommend Arthur F. Wright's "Buddhism in Chinese History." Also, The Teaching Company (Great Courses) has a terrific lecture series on Buddhism.


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