Buddhism on the Half Shell, Pick and Choose

Buddhism in the North Country is different from the South

Make the world a better place for humans and other sentient beings. That is the battle charge of the Bodhisattva, the ‘awakened being’ who sacrifices the present moment of his own bliss for the future happiness of the many in waiting. And this is the difference, of course, between the Buddhism of the Elders, Theravada, and the larger vehicle, Mahayana, which supposedly looks beyond the narrow conflicted self and delays enlightenment so that we all can enter the realm of Buddhahood together.

This distinction can cause some acrimony, though, especially with the Big Wheel people accusing the little wheelers of selfishness, while the Elders tend to keep their silence. And that is the better choice, I’d say, since accusations rarely facilitate change, and who has the right to judge in the first place? So this is why I tend to favor the Theravada tradition, not because they are more correct, but simply because they are less judgmental, and closer to the thought of the Buddha, at the same time, which is probably no accident.

Because the Buddha left many questions of doctrine open, to be decided later, by the advancement of science, and the judgments of history, rather than the simple agreement of subjects and predicates in precise narratives when passive voice was often the voice of choice for the Sanskrit language and its derivatives, pidgins in search of a flock with which to gather. So Buddhist doctrine in fact is probably better described as a dialectic, and in this the Buddha channels Plato, of another place but only a few years later, on the other side of the Indo-European divide, but from a common source only a couple thousand years prior.

And maybe this should be no surprise either. For not only is the dialogue common to both, but also the analysis and the logic and the recourse to rationalism as the ultimate arbiter of truth in the strict sense of philosophical agreement. The broad sense of truth is largely unknown and unknowable and subject to further developments. This is the way of dialogue and dialectic.

And this should be the way of Buddhism, beyond the simple feeling of release and personal salvation, when there is nothing to be saved, really, anyway, in any abstract soteriological sense, without a permanent self or soul, so nothing more than a transient good feeling between the upper reaches of the nervous system and good friendships within the larger community of like-minded thinkers. For them you must please and to them you must ultimately answer. So treat them kindly. Make them happy. You can almost always find something good to say about someone. Try it. Positive feelings are contagious….