Some Buddhist questions
Jun 04, 1998 02:57 PM
by Mark Kusek
Jerry (and anyone else who'd care to chime in),
I've been reading some books on Buddhism and trying to delve in a little
deeper. Some questions arose in the course of my study that I wanted to
ask you about, if you don't mind. You seem somewhat informed about
Buddhism, so I wanted to ask you these questions both with a view
towards understanding traditional views as well as a comparison
The first concerns developing Bodhichitta.
One of the assumptions that are proposed in the Buddhist effort toward
development of Bodhicitta is the thought that all sentient life was at
one time your mother, therefore it is recommended to think of that in an
effort to arouse equanimous affection and then compassion toward all
people and other forms of life.
It got me to thinking.
That is a pretty steep assumption to accept as true except on faith. It
can't be proven by the student.
If the view of all sentient life as your mother holds true, it seems
reasonable that it would also be true of fathers, sisters, brothers,
spouses, friends, enemies, intimates, acquaintances, and people
generally considered in the abstract as "all the rest of mankind," (the
great masses who you know are 'out there' but never actually interact
with in a direct personal way).
This would result in a scale of intimacy of relations which is directly
contrary to the objective of developing bodichitta in the first place,
The traditional teaching posits the "uncertainty of relations" in an
effort to develop equanimity toward all.
This reasoning kind of blows the value of the assumption apart, IMO. Why
concentrate on mothers only, and why devalue the current relationships
in favor of an idealized mother if all possible relationships can be
equally posited? Why not just deal with the current relationships as you
find them? Why the mental gymnastics?
Also, this seems to assume that in addition to having had all sentient
life as your mother, in one or another of the countless incarnations of
the past, all sentient life (including yourself) were also all animals,
plants, minerals, protomatter, etc at one time or another.
Does this same view hold true going backward even farther? Can one
assume that owing to a cyclic progression that in some remote past, all
life has also already been bodhisattvas and buddhas, earning their
liberation from the cycle of necessity, and saving all the sentient life
of endless remote cycles over and over?
If so, why incarnate again, at all? Why another universe? If everyone
"made it" to liberation, why the mayavic charade? Is it "creative play?"
What is the root cause that set the karmic wheel in motion? What does
buddhist tradition say about that?
Does Buddhism teach progressive evolution as theosophy (manvantaras and
pralayas) does? If so, what besides the karma of individuals (or
skandas) is said to cause the continual manifestation of a new universe?
Does theosophy teach that all life has already been buddhas and
bodhisattvas over and over again in a beginningless and endless
cyclically manifesting existence? The Buddhist books I'm reading seem to
suggest a beginningless past, but not a continual cyclic one that posits
liberation to involution/ensnarement/evolution to liberation, etc.
Do you know of any traditional Buddhist source literature that supports
or refutes this? I hope I'm being clear.
Another question I have is about attachment. I've found suggested
injunctions against creating and enjoying sensory images, sounds, drama,
etc. (i.e., forms of culture), because it causes ensnarement in maya and
breeds samsaric karma. Islam also has a tint of this attitude .
Yet, by contrast, I think of all of the art that was devotedly (and
ritually) created in the Buddhist traditions (and other religious
traditions as well) and how much it acts as a vehicle for conveying
dharma in culture, even to the degree of writing the teachings down.
It seems to me that if these injunctions are to be taken seriously,
you'd also have to view any and all sensory, emotional, mental, and
aesthetic experience in much the same way. Then I ask, OK, well if
that's so, (and especially if we have all progressively been buddhas and
bodhisattvas before) why is sentient experience the way it is?
Life may be suffering, but it is also enjoyment. Does cessation of one
also yield cessation of the other? The middle way seems to suggest that
we should be nonattached to both pleasure and pain, good and bad, etc.
The last question: If all manifestation and awareness of a "self" is
mayavic and illusory, how can "sentient being," worthy of saving be
defined? How is one to consider "sentient life" (including your own) as
a valuable thing if it's ultimately illusory? Why did the Buddha get up
from the Bodhi tree? If all is void, and his enlightenment enabled him
to be nonattached, why did he value sentient beings enough to care,
I'd appreciate any insight you or others might provide.
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