Sunday, October 21, 2007

Make Believe

"One of my base assumptions," wrote Dave, "is that if some doctrine or dogma makes me feel good, it can’t possibly be true." That's my knee-jerk response as well. Of course how I feel about a doctrine doesn't have anything to do with whether it's true. If making me feel good disposed me to fool myself into believing something, then I would rightly be suspicious of my belief; but since actually it disposes me to doubt it, maybe I should ballast the other way, if I want to balance the boat.

That is, if anyone were trying to get me to believe anything. I can't honestly say that in my -- what, ten years now? -- of hanging out with the Tibetans, that anyone's shown any interest in getting me to believe anything. I've been so long away from faith traditions that I have a hard time understanding what people are asking when they ask me what Tibetan Buddhists "believe"; it's clear to me that none of my answers are going to match any of their questions.

There is, of course, a sort of spiritual pornography rife among Buddhists which I don't think much of. The extravagant claims for total enlightenment. The insistence on holding people to be "fully realized beings" -- a phrase that I loathe -- when you know that you don't know them well enough to have any reason to think they're even particularly wise or kind. There, you can see the desire to believe something that makes us feel good. Of course, it runs in the same course with the impulse of devotion, which is, I think, one of the things which people will simply wither and die without. If their devotion isn't to lamas, it will be to musicians, or demagogues, or unrequitable loves. I've never known anyone who doesn't do it with somebody. Perhaps psychopaths, if there are such things, don't do it.

But anyway, that's possibly different from the pornography: the fantasy that we'll just click in, and so radically transform that all our kleshas will vanish. That's not going to happen. Oh, transformations happen; I have myself been transformed beyond recognition -- beyond my own recognition, anyway -- by Buddhist practice. But it only reveals how much more I would have to change to become a buddha. The idea of that happening any lifetime soon is absurd. Although it's plain to see the evolutionary advantage of the fantasies; it's how religions reproduce, by making ridiculous promises and extravagant claims. Would I be a Buddhist now if I hadn't been enticed by them? Probably not.

Anyway. All this keeps leaning away from the main point, which is my relationship with Buddhism, and with KCC, nowadays. I've gone to puja the last couple Sundays. I plan to go again tomorrow morning. I feel, oddly, more at home and more integrated there now that I've acknowledged to myself that I don't believe anyone ever gets enlightened. I used to get myself stuck in impossible positions, trying to believe things I didn't really believe, or trying to make believe that whether I believed them didn't make any difference. Of course it makes a difference. And at the same time, I have also to bring myself face to face with things that are true in the other direction, even though no doctrinal scaffolding I accept supports them -- the fact that practicing ngondro, for example, worked so powerfully against my compulsiveness. If I'm to be empirical, I have to be empirical all the way. The suffering I want to escape will be impossible to escape without transformation, and the only transformations I've been offered, since I was a teenager, have been the results of Buddhist practice. Ignoring that would be as deeply stupid as ignoring the fact that I don't think people get "fully realized."

It's a strange feeling, being back at the sangha, with this new attitude. I love them more than ever. I feel I belong there. Somehow, now, I can belong to them without needing to make believe.

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