Monday, October 26, 2009

Buddhism redux

(h/t to Deip for the title!)

So why has the possibility of "cutting a deal" with a religious or spiritual group even arisen? I've talked before about how much I loved the sense of community I felt when I was going to synagogue regularly. And it didn't come from debating the finer points of Jewish law. It came mostly from ordinary conversations about jobs and families. I felt valued as a human being.

And I don't feel that way in the freethought groups I've hung out with (if any of you are reading this, sorry). In those groups I feel like a stack of ideas, if that makes any sense. When someone new comes in, they're asked the typical getting-to-know-you questions, but usually the only real interest is in the person's deconversion story. I don't feel like there's much interest in me (or anyone else) as a person. In fact, one day when I was venting about a personal problem that had nothing to do with religion, it was clear they had no interest. If anything, I got shamed a little because I wasn't handling it like a hyper-rational being. (Edit: I don't think it was anyone's intent to shame me. It was probably just an unintended consequence of less-than-stellar people skills. But that was cold comfort at the time. 10/27/09)

So would it be possible to make nice with the Buddhists? Unfortunately, the closest group to my home is affiliated with the zendo I had the bad experience with. While it's possible that a lot has changed in the last ten years, I wanted to check my alternatives first. Fortunately, there are many groups within a reasonable distance. I also wanted to check out some Buddhist websites so I could see what actual practitioners had to say about their practice. In too many cases, it amounts to, "My practice can beat up your practice!"

There's a term that describes the whole thing beautifully: spiritual materialism. Ironically, this term was coined by a Buddhist author (Chogyam Trungpa, if you care). It refers to the tendency of people to pursue spiritual practices in order to build their egos--the Dharmic version of "holier than thou." And unfortunately, when so many people are convinced that they are on the one true path that the Buddha intended all those years ago (stop snickering! Of course there's such a thing! </sarcasm>), it tends to stifle real dialogue.

Most people at some point in their lives go through a stretch where they keep breaking up with and getting back together with the same person. But they almost always end up breaking up again over the same issues (yes, I've learned this the hard way). Generally, people don't change much over time. This is neither good nor bad in itself.

Regardless, it would be really arrogant of me to expect a person or group to change its habits for me. If I thought for a second that I could find a Buddhist community that resembled the ideals in Rahula's book, I'd probably join up in a heartbeat. But I just see way too much of the "look at how enlightened I am" vibe (and have even been guilty of it myself at times) to go down that road again.

Fortunately, Buddhism does not have a monopoly on meditation. In fact, I've previously discussed forms of meditation that aren't specific to any religion. Living close to a major city, I have a lot of options. In fact, I think I might have found one that I could live with. But since I try to stick to one topic per post, I'll save that for another post.


  1. Well first of all, interesting acronym.
    Second of all, sounds like the problem is not with freethought groups, but freethought groups you have access to. They sound like one big meh party. Then again venting about personal issues at an intellectual discussion isn't always the best route either =/
    Gasp! You mean the Big Trio's versions of organized religion aren't the only religions infected with human failings? :O
    If you can find a non-religious meditation group where you can be part of a group where you're bound by a meaningful shared interest instead of merely "freethought" , go for it!

  2. For the record, it's not like I was interrupting someone's discourse on Spinoza with my problem. It was relevant to the topic at hand.

    Re: your remark on organized religion and human failings, my thoughts on that subject could fill an entire post, and they very well may in the near future.

    The group I've been visiting lately is actually affiliated with a major religion, but it takes a refreshing approach to said religion, and to religion in general. I'm not going to elaborate here, because my next full post will cover that.