> X-Originating-IP: []
> From: "Justin Clark"
> To: frice@skeptictank.org
> Subject: sorry last one
> Date: Sat, 23 Jan 1999 07:02:26 PST
> i just read over more of your stuff and i think it is great. what you
> are doing is great. you and i might have differences in beliefs but we
> both like to support all claims we make and have an open, not
> manipulated, mind. one more question, what do you think about the
> enlightenment process of the buddha?

Date: Wed, 3 Feb 1999 08:33:06 -0500 (EST) From: Caroline Evans Subject: Re: sorry last one

Hello Justin,

Fred has brought your message inquiring about the Buddha's enlightenment to my attention. I cannot claim to speak for anyone but myself as you will find that the folks who participate in Skeptic Tank discussions are all quite independent thinkers and so my opinions may or may not reflect others'.

I answer this because I have found Zen and Taoist philosophy to be quite interesting through the years and have spent some time in giving them some study. I can hardly be called a scholar on the subject though.

Anyhow, in the Zen (or Chan) tradition of Buddhism there is no superstition regarding the Buddha being any sort of magic god. He simply was an earthly teacher of wisdom. He held that one could attain "enlightenment" through meditation to bring one to an understanding of the nature of reality.

He taught in a Hindu culture and the teachings attributed to the Buddha tend to address the delusions and cultural situation in which he found himself. For this reason one reads much of him talking about escaping the cycle of rebirths. The cycle of rebirths is a Hindu (among others) belief in that one is alleged to be promoted or demoted in one's reincarnation depending on how one conducted oneself in one's current life. The Buddha taught a method of escaping this. The method of escape is the realization that such superstitions are empty, human constructs that have no validity except as a philosophical abstraction.

In the Zen tradition students are often given difficult "puzzles" to solve (called "koans" in Japanese Zen) during meditation as a tool to bring the ever-chattering mind to a state of quiescence and thus to a point where it may observe and understand itself. The goal of Zen is for one to understand oneself.... and that understanding necessarily implies the understanding of the mind by the mind itself.

The experience of "satori" is the goal in Zen.... this is a moment of clarity wherein one awakens to the nature of one's own mind and thus of the nature of reality. It is an entirely subjective experience... no outside gods or magical beings are alleged to produce it... it is purely a product of the mind. The nature of this experience defies easy description and so Zen is often referred to as a "wordless teaching"... That notwithstanding, Zen folks feel quite free to try to explain it or demonstrate it in words and poetry and art and ten thousand other ways. One of the most popular venues for Zen thought here in the West is in the martial arts... but the martial arts are hardly the only or even the usual way folks work toward the attainment of satori.

Zen does not insist that it is the only way to attain this insight... but it does seem to be one of the most efficient methods. Anyhow, enlightened people can be detected and found in all cultures and all places at all times in history. A great many of them never heard of the Buddha and never heard of Zen.

Much you may read of Zen or by Zen folks is quite mysterious and indirect in its meaning.. but this is because the student is only given hints.. they must work out their own enlightenment. An analogy would be in learning mathematics. I might show you how to work a few problems but it is in puzzling out word problems and finding the solutions yourself that you learn math. If the teacher does all the homework for you, you will never learn it. So it is with those who would teach Zen... they can lead and encourage but ultimately it is up to the seeker/student to do the finding/learning.

There does exist a very popular form of Buddhism that I relegate to the superstition bin. It is called Pure Land Buddhism... it is nearly identical to the peasant folk-belief superstitions associated with Jesus. In Pure Land Buddhism the Buddha is seen as a magic savior that you need only "pray to and believe in" and one will be rewarded with an afterlife in an eternal paradise. Sounds a lot like the superstitions held by much of mainstream Christianity, doesn't it?

I relegate both to the superstition bin. Jesus may have been teaching the subtle wisdom of enlightenment... some of his alleged teachings positively reek of enlightenment... (especially the Gospel Of Thomas and Sermon On the Mount) but other teachings attributed to him are but the crassest of ignorant superstition. Having been brought up in a vaguely Christian household and in a Christian culture I tend to want to rescue the venerable Jesus from the realm of idiot superstition... and so I tend to see an enlightened teacher whose teachings were perverted and edited and added to by uncomprehending superstitious simpletons who followed him both in life and after.

I think it may well be that he allowed himself to be put to death to stifle the rumors that he was the Messiah or a man-god. It is quite obvious he died human-style when crucified and it is pretty clear to scholars that the resurrection tales are accretions that were added to the tradition by the folk-belief-believers long, long after his death. It could well be that Jesus was simply a Do-of-Heaven's-Gate nut too. The gospels support this conclusion as well or better than my prejudiced view of him as misunderstood wiseman.

Anyhow, I cannot claim to speak for any of the other Skeptic Tank discussion group participants. I speak only for myself.



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