Cynicism – part 1

17 Oct

I look forward to my weekly podcasts with The ID project – Ethan Nicturne’s unique and modern interpretation of Buddhism is educational, honest, and entertaining. This week the topic was Cynicism and the 3 pillars of zen. As a religious refugee, his talk hit upon a lot of thoughts I’ve had lately and he put it so eloquently: (Keep in mind that he was speaking – not writing!)

“One of the things that I’ve always like about the Buddhist tradition is that you are required to be skeptical. Now that’s a strong statement. I did not just say it’s unlike some other spiritual traditions because they let you ask questions, or if you’re a somewhat disbelieving son of a bitch like myself they’ll allow you to stay in the room, right – but they really want you to come around to their perspective. The Buddhist tradition is a method of investigation and inquiry that requires disbelief to function. Do you see the difference? It’s different than saying if you have any questions, sure, and we’ll enlighten you, and then eventually you’ll get it, and become a Buddhist and we’ll humor you through that process. You need to not believe – to get anything out of this. So that really fascinated me, Because of that I think it’s the perfect method of life inquiry for our post-modern, democratic society. “

Ethan hits it on the head for me. This method of inquiry is so refreshing because it is ego-less in it’s approach. We get to approach the teachings with a skeptical mind, and through application we see if they actually work. The Buddhist teachers are the first to say, “hey, if it doesn’t work, don’t use it. No problem.” This way of approaching spiritual life is all about truth, not about belief. The tradition is about using what literally works, not about defending a set of beliefs. There is nobody trying to convert anybody. The basic premise of the tradition is to sit, be still and pay attention. If you pay attention, truth will be illuminated. Religion goes the opposite way and says, “Here’s a list of things that are true – live this way. Take this list and through belief that these things are true, they’ll be true. If you want to ask God yourself – good! Ask him. But if you get a different answer than we believe in, just keep asking until you get the right answer.” I know this is provocative to say, but it seems to me that religion asks us to believe in things with no burden of proof. This later approach is similar to using the scientific method in reverse – taking an assumption and finding the proof to justify the belief. In the Buddhist tradition, it’s the other way around. It’s about keeping a completely fearless, open mind and noticing what pieces of truth I can find along the path. The burden of proof is on the teaching itself – the awareness of reality, rather than on the practitioner or the rigid belief. It’s so beautifully said in my favorite quote by Thich Nhat Hanh: “Your own life is the instrument with which we experiment with the truth.”

Greenfrog sent me the following story while back, knowing it would make me smile.

August 31, 2008
Tricycle’s Daily Dharma
What Happens to Most Pieces of Truth
One day Mara, the Buddhist god of ignorance and evil, was traveling through the villages of India with his attendants. He saw a man doing walking meditation whose face was lit up in wonder. The man had just discovered something on the ground in front of him. Mara’s attendants asked what that was and Mara replied, “A piece of truth.” “Doesn’t this bother you when someone finds a piece of the truth, O evil one?” his attendants asked. “No,” Mara replied. “Right after this they usually make a belief out of it.”
-Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield, in Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart
from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

Interestingly enough, faith is a big part of Buddhism. I’ll continue this post and jump into the 3 pillars and how contemplative study actually illuminates the truths within religion. In the meantime, take a listen to Ethan’s dharma talk – it’s a good one. (It’s on I-tunes under ID Project)

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