My Problem With Buddhism

Normally, when people ask me what is my religion, I get stuck without an answer. Sometimes, to to escape, I will simply say Buddhism but the reality is that it is not the true answer. I can only say that I am more attracted to Buddhism as a practical philosophical system.

My problem with Buddhism is that I cannot accept or perhaps have not understood, if that is the better term, the concept of rebirth and Nirvana. From my previous post, I can understand that everything in this universe is a constant, nothing created, nothing destroyed. It is perhaps just a big recycling machine. So in this sense, “rebirth” as in the elements recycle itself do make sense to me.

But the rebirth as a continuous karmic existence, that I am not very sure. Also, according to Buddhism, when one achieves enlightenment, one achieves Nirvana which is a state of mind and one is no longer subject to rebirth and thus will be free from suffering. Or something like that as I understand it.

However, thinking again in terms of the Heart Sutra as in my previous post, what exactly is not reborn? If it is said that one achieves Nirvana and is not subject to the cycle of rebirth, then there must be something that is not reborn. And what is that? Your soul? In Buddhism, it is believed that the “soul” does not exist. If there is no “soul”, then what exactly is not being reborn?

I still can’t clear that hurdle. Perhaps I am still a little sparrow stuck in this world and enlightenment is still far, far away. But for what I am worth now, I cannot still get it.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “My Problem With Buddhism

  1. Sally Gross

    Like you, I am intensely interested in Buddhism (and fascinated by Go, though a very poor player). I don’t see the teaching of the Buddha as religion — I tend to view it more as philosophy and praxis. The teachings thatthat talk most to my concerns are to be found in the Theravada tradition and, in writing, above all else in the Pali Suttas. There is a lot of parallel material, probably of equal pedigree but for having been translations from another language (Sanskrit, I think) in the Chinese Agamas. Reading through the Suttas or the Agamas, one gets a strong sense of the Dhamma-Vinaya, as the Buddha calls his teaching.

    There is a wealth of material on a website called Access to Insight. It does not include the Heart Sutra, to which you allude, but the Praj~na Paramita Sutras certainly engage with the earlier teachings and need to be read against their backdrop. The concept of su~n~nata, “emptiness”, looms quite large in the Dhamma-Vinaya, for example.

    Not a few people have difficulty with the notion of rebirth, and some understand it as an “in this lifetime” process. Arguably, the famous now deceased Thai teacher, Ajahn Buddhadasa, understands it in that way or at least sees it as a legitimate way of understanding it. There is arising and passing away from moment to moment, and further arising in dependence on what has been. The story is a causal one, not a story about any entity which persists. So, while there might be rebirth (there is conservation of energy in various domains), what arises in dependence on “my” last moment is not me, as it were, though continuous with “me” in another sense. Karma links in with this; but the Buddha warns in the Acinteta Sutta that trying to understand the fine details of the working of karma is a route to madness.

    Bhikkhu Bodhi, a Theravada Bhikkhu who lives and teaches at a Chinese Mahayana monastery in the USA, and who has produced wonderful annotated translations of much of the Pali canon of Suttas, writes intelligently, articulately and well about Dhamma. Some of his articles and books can be found on the Access to Insight website. Thannissaro Bhikkhu is also well worth reading, and their takes may well shed light laterally on your own tradition.

  2. fallingstones

    Hi Sally, thanks for your comments. Indeed like you I am for the Theravada tradition and I view Buddhism as more of a philosophical system rather than a religious system. Re the trying to understand the karma sutta, is it the same one where the Buddha also said that there are four things that normal humans cannot really understand, one of them being the beginning of the universe?

    re Bikkhu Bodhi, I have one of his books which the anthology of the discourses. I find that book really good and is learning from it a lot. Thanks for the links to the site. I will visit it.

    Many thanks again! :)

    • Sally Gross

      My pleasure. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s anthology of the discourses — I take it that you refer to The Buddha’s Words — is probably the best introduction to the Suttas available. As for the Access to Insight website, it is far and away the best web-based resounce for Theravada. The whole website as itwas in mid-March can be downloaded. John Bullitt has given the site a facelift, and newer versions of the whole site for download have been delayed for this reason.

      I got the name of the sutta slightly wrong — it is The Acintita Sutta, not “acinteta”. Yes, it is indeed the sutta in which the Buddha says that there are four things which go beyond normal human comprehensio:

      AN 4.77 PTS: A ii 80
      Acintita Sutta: Unconjecturable
      translated from the Pali by
      Thanissaro Bhikkhu
      © 1997–2009
      From Access to Insight, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.077.than.html

      “There are these four unconjecturables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them. Which four?

      “The Buddha-range of the Buddhas [1] is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

      “The jhana-range of a person in jhana… [2]

      “The [precise working out of the] results of kamma…

      “Conjecture about [the origin, etc., of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.

      “These are the four unconjecturables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them.”

      Notes
      1.I.e., the range of powers a Buddha develops as a result of becoming a Buddha.
      2.I.e., the range of powers that one may obtain while absorbed in jhana.

      A game between Shusaku and Ota Yuzo beckons. I recently bought John Power, Invincible: The Games of Shusaku, and have been transcribing the comments into the sgf files of the games that coms with The Many Faces of Go. This is game 5. By the end of the next millennium I should have captured the comments and variations on all the games.

      Metta,

      Sally

      • fallingstones

        Hi Sally, yes indeed it is the book The Buddha’s Words. Thanks again for the link to the website. It is such a wonderful site! Kudos and thanks to the creator and the contributors. This site is really a treasure trove. I read about the Acintita sutta from The Buddha’s Words and the translation is really well done, simple and clear.

        LOL. I love the Invincible book too and it is perhaps a coincidence that I am reviewing the Sanjubango between the two masters! What a great series of game!

        By the way, do you play online? I am online at kgs most of the nights. My ID there is “windtalker” and if you see me, pls do message me.

        Great to know you! :) ^^

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