Why I Lean Toward Buddhism, Think of Myself As A Kind of Buddhist, And Why I will Never Be A Super-naturalist.
I’m partial to Buddhist ideas – and to the extent that I have called myself a “Buddhist”, I would have to say I was or am a philosophical Buddhist, a secular non-devotional Buddhist, or a Zennist.
I’m also an American, meaning I honor the best and most egalitarian interpretations of the Constitution, and I am what I call an “Athenian”–one who honors the reason of the ancient Greek philosophers; perhaps I am a stoic–or a Stoic Buddhist–who does value in love, by the way–but let me explain the Buddhist part of my thinking, so you don’t confuse me with those who attach supernatural ideas to the Buddhism I ascribe to; because I cannot accept naturalism–at all. This is why it is pointless to ask me to entertain monotheism or the idea of life-after-death (a contradiction in terms), ghosts, spirits, omens, Heaven, Hell, gods, devils, angels, demons–all of this is complete nonsense. And–for anyone who might happen to read this–who might hope to have me adopt supernatural ideas in one religion or another, it should be understand that this is impossible–for many reasons-all logical, all moral, all universally true and all personal as well–but the easiest way to understand why it is impossible is one who attempts to use reason with me about anything unreasonable cannot succeed, mostly because super-naturalism is unreasonable on its face. One cannot use reason to prove an unreasonable premise. Ever. And one who attempts it is a fool. As long as I am in command of my faculties and freedom, I won’t play the fool for anyone. Why would I? It’s self abuse, to begin with–and once one opens his or her mouth to proselytize foolishness–he or she has become a deceiver. I could never do that. I prize virtue above all things.
What Is My Relationship to Buddhism, Then? And to Me, What is Buddhism?
As a person given to Buddhist practices, teaching, I don’t pray to any one or to any thing. I don’t pray–period. I keep in mind some Buddhist principles. And occasionally I meditate.
Buddhism is a way of looking at life and it is a practice. In the Buddhist practice there is the concept called the Dharma, or “Dhamma”, in the Pali language. Think of it, for now, as “The Way,” but other translations could mean the law(s) of the universe or the teaching of the Buddha.
And as much as I admire the Buddha, I admire the ancient Greeks for their great philosophers, and what their mental rigor and virtue gave to Western society. As much I admire the Roman philosopher statesmen, Marcus Aurelius, who took after them in reason and justice–so do I irrationally feel a kind of silly gratitude in ‘being’ an Italian- (and Irish-) American–of ancient Greek descent. This is not pride, for I had nothing to do with it–but it is a state of appreciation makings me feel fortunate for my lineage. But I am straying from of the path, here, and flirting with ego….
Of course – in a Buddhist sense, the significance of all this is an illusion, and realizing that and its worth is part of why I accept and appreciate, as well, the practice that resulted in my being given the Dharma name ‘Mando.”
Being Buddhist is to recognize the symbolic (and to some extent–proven through astrophysics and chemistry) the oneness of all things, not the separations we artificially ascribe in it to make ourselves feel important or distinct. And this mindfulness helps make us behave better and fosters compassion and togetherness–instead of prejudice and division. That is one important reason for why I support the Buddhist path and the taking of a name that centers me in reality–calls me outside the ego of lineage, flag, and other man-made judgments.
I know that to some people it may seem pretentious to change one’s name. People like Prince and The Edge did it, and actors do it; Hiroshige did it something like thirty times. ‘But these are great people; who does Carl think he is?’ My good friend Tony Watkins (named after the actor Tony Curtis) said about my Dharma name, ‘it’s all right, but to a Chinese person it sound a little like your name is “Philosopher”, or something.’ (Tony speaks fluent Mandarin).
In the West, women do change their last name when they marry. Did you know that Japanese woodblock masters often changed their names? That’s why I mentioned Hiroshige, above. It was done to protect one’s family, for one thing among other reasons; they did it at first by taking on the name of the masters they were apprenticed to–which was an honor and indicated that a protege reached some admirable level of accomplishment in the craft of the “school” they trained in.
Long before I received this Dharma name, I had thought it appropriate for a thoughtful person to change his or her name–to better suit how he or she sees him- or her-self. After all, my father changed his name, too! And so did my friend Marcus (who also has a Dharma Name, to boot.) The first time he heard Marcus Aurelius, he thought–‘Blimey, that’s the name for me’–and so he changed his name from ‘Mark.’ (Blokes from England say ‘blimey’ instead of ‘wow’ or ‘awesome.)
The Words And Their Spelling
In Korean ‘Man-do’ literally means Ten-thousand Ways, with ‘Man’ (pronounced “mahn”) meaning ‘ten-thousand,’ or ‘many,’ and ”Do” (pronounced “doe”‘) meaning ‘way’ (which can also be written and pronounced “Gil”) – but as Mahn-doe’ (the way it should be transliterated from Korean if Koreans would like all English speakers to get the pronunciation right) was transmitted to me by my teacher, it was conveyed to mean ‘Many Paths of Change.’
In Korean, Man-do looks like this: 만도
The name in Chinese is “Wàn Tao”, meaning basically the same thing — Ten Thousand Ways.
⇐ ⇐ The Swastika (on top), is Sanskrit, and in that language it means “luck” or “fortune” and well-being and it is, pronounced… ah…”swastika.” Surprise, surprise!
The second character (on the bottom)–is “Doe”, also pronounced “gil” — and these words mean “way”. The Swastika, however, translated from Japanese and Korean becomes “as”Buddhism”, so together we arrive at the “Way of Buddhism”, or simply “Buddhism”.
In Chinese, that second character, or word,’doe’, is “Tao,” as in the Tao Te Ching’, or the “Way of Virtue” . This is the name of the collection of philosophical poems attributed to Lao Tzu (pronounced “Lao-zee” by many CHinese folks). Two of my Dharma Brothers — who took their Dharma names and precepts the same day as I had–have this word, “way,” in their Dharma names, too.
My Dharma Brothers are:
Cheon Do, 天道 (천도 in Korean) – “the Way of Heaven”
Gil Do, 吉道, (길도 in Korean) – “the Way of Luck”, or “the Way of Good Fortune”
Seok Chon, 石村, (석촌 in Korean) – “Upright Stone” — which I take to me “Strong in Virtue“.
In Japanese, 卍道 (“Mando”) is “Manji Michi” (まんじみち), and the meaning is the same as described above.
The Swastika is a symbol that dates back to prehistory. It is a symbol used by the people of the Jain religion–arguably a more compassionate religion than Buddhism, but perhaps less practical? Jaines are said to drink through a sack cloth, so as not to inadvertently swallow any micro-organisms. They will also clear any path of life so as not to travel or build over it, harming any life in their path.
You can see the swastika all around Asia. This first character, ‘Mahn’, in Korean and Mahnji in Japanese, (or “Wahn” in Chinese) and Swastika in Sanskrit, is under the eaves on all Buddhist temples in Korea. It also denotes temples on maps in Japan. In this case it may be said to mean “Buddhism” or “Dharma.” That is because it was adopted to represent the turning Dharma Wheel, which is what it essentially is.
Imagine a cross, say of the two perpendicularly arranged bars that make up a compass, or of a window frame. Now, imagine it is spinning round the intersection point of the vertical and horizontal bars that make it–so that center is the an axis — around which the constructions turns. Now imagine it spinning faster and faster until it is a virtual blur , like that which we see when the cross shape of four-point-propeller–on an airplane–spins. Before it gets to that speed and after it begins to slow down, we may see tails on the edge of the four points. These tails are the outer bars that make the box-shape of the swastika. When moving, they circumscribe the illusion of that phantom box shape circumscribed by the tails in motion. If we could stop it and freeze the cross and its apparent tails–this is the swastika–the turning Dharma wheel of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. That is how I see it. And it is what I have read it to be — somewhere; I don’t remember where….
A Little More About What Buddhism is…
A. The assumption should not be made that a Buddhist practitioner believes this or that, though there are some basic notions accepted by many adherents and observers of Buddhism. Buddhism, to some, is a religion. To me and to my teachers in Korea, it is a practice (to some that’s the same thing, but for the purposes of this article, please accept my meaning that a religion — these days — generally, means a belief-system requiring faith in unproven things).
Some would say Buddhism is my religion, but it is not — not in the traditional, modern-day meaning of “religion,” because I do not depend on something outside myself. And I do not “believe” anything. I feel I do not have the moral authority to “believe.” I instead know or don’t know, suspect or do not suspect, trust or do not trust, or I put credence in documented and tested theories until they can be dis-proven or improved by evidence.
I don’t assume, much, so I depend on my perception–of what I am a part of, attempting to be as good a part of everything as I can–so it is responsible, inclusive, singular, and thus affords my part of the universal Mind quite a beautiful point of view, I feel. It is almost like saying I am part of what is “divine,” rather than separate from it. If there were a god, I would think this pays it more homage than thinking I am something separate from its creation- but, alas, I have no moral authority to validate the idea of a god. In that way, I insult not the universe or any individuals showing the evidence of how the universe really works.
B. Buddhism involves a moral path of inflicting as little harm as possible. It also says that we must accept reality for what it is (to the best of our intellectually honest ability to tell the difference), not what we or some doctrine or our fears want. To me that’s selfish and produces greater illusions than our minds already create and it it fosters delusion. For me this is perfect, because I feel a religion or philosophy is only as good as far as it abides by reality and does not attempt to recast reality in some self-serving image. A good religion or philosophy also must not preach punishment or pain–only benevolence. Because malice is born of selfishness and no spiritual path should foster that, or it is not spiritual; rather it is maligned and necessarily prejudiced. These features make a religion or philosophy a bulwark against well-being. If you subscribe to practices against well-being, what is the point of having a spiritual practice? That would just be politics or aggression. And this is why some other religions wind up at odds with one another; instead of fostering well-being for all, they are self-serving. They make for the politics of retribution and dualism–that which Buddhism seeks to eliminate.
C. At left is my Certificate of Precepts. It signifies that I and my Dharma Brothers took vows and were witnessed in doing so, promising…
D. Buddhism is a non-dogmatic way of looking at the universe–focusing on what is honestly and plainly perceived–or, on reality as it is. This is emphasized in One Mind Zen, or Han Maum – the sect of the Chogye Order of Korean Buddhism founded by the teacher Dae Heng Kun Sunim, the former teacher of my direct teacher, Chonggo Sunim.
E. The Buddhist attempts to perfect Right Mind, Right Action, Right Thought, and Right Speech.
Some reasons I chose this practice are:
I. I was enamored with the peaceful, mind-opening, and epiphanal ways of meditation.
II. Buddhism (or Zen) can bring one peace–in my opinion, because it is about being (and III. being peaceful, eliminating suffering), and it is about not doing as opposed to doing this or that–or not doing this or that.
IV. People who visit Shinto shrines saying ‘how to worship’, are confused, in my view, by Shinto practices, and thinking of Buddhism (the practices of the two religions (or of the religion and the philosophy, respectively) are sometimes confused, even by some Japanese people. And more to the point, in Buddhism, people do pay homage to Kannon (Gwanyin in Chinese), or the Buddha of Compassion–Amita Buddha and others, but this does not really constitute “worship,” in my mind.
V. There are pronouncements as to how to live morally, but what is interesting is that the Buddha said to look at ideas–including his ideas–and test them, seeing whether they are right for us. In this way–and most importantly in my opinion–Buddhism does not interfere with sentient conscience, a most superlatively necessary way of ensuring the primacy of reason, personal ideas, truth according to the developments in our body of knowledge and freedom.
VI. Buddhism (or Zen) can bring one peace–in my opinion, because it is about being (and being peaceful, eliminating suffering), and it is about not doing as opposed to doing this or that–or not doing this or that.
VII. It is true the Buddha suggested his followers not to depend on a god or gods, but rather on themselves. However, until one can reach a transcendental path, it is possible for theists to benefit from the Buddhist ways of Zen meditation and mindfulness. I have met several Zen Christians, and have heard of formal Zen Christian sects.
VIII. If one attempts to practice Zen Buddhism, specifically living a meditative life, s/he or he will be relieved of most–if not all–illusions and delusions, or at least be in the practice of recognizing them, so that following religions based on faith in stories that have no proof likely become impossible. But remember, the Buddha told his followers not to follow what he said outright–but rather to investigate things for themselves. Each of us creates his or own moral universe, so one could take the meditation of Zen and leave the Buddhist elements of wisdom out of it if one wishes. In fact, I think if more theists were at the same time Zennists, too–if they were Zen Christians, Zen Muslims and Zen Jews, they might find much more peace, because…
IX. Meditation and the Buddhist way–which are crucial to the practice–are about presence, awareness, listening and seeing clearly, and conducting oneself in such a way as to not contribute to violence in oneself–as we are considered all one–aiming to diminish ‘I’ and ego and not causing violence to anyone else.
X. The more I read about it, the more I felt and learned that this way of being was more honest and pacifying–spiritually, scientifically, and socially–than anything I had heard of or witnessed. For theists who feel this is “bad,” I suggest they look into it, and if they cannot part with their religions but still like Buddhist philosophy and practice, they can become Zen Christians or Jews, because:
XII. The practice of Zen conflicts with nothing–most importantly, with science.*
XII. There is no worship in true Buddhism–though there are those Buddhists who are devotional. And although in Japan you can see translations of signage showing people who visit Shinto shrines saying ‘how to worship’, this is Shinto, not Buddhism (the practices of the two religions (or of the religion and the philosophy, respectively) are sometimes confused, even by some Japanese people. And more to the point, in Buddhism, people do pay homage to Kannon (Gwanyin in Chinese), or the Buddha of Compassion–Amita Buddha and others, but this does not really constitute “worship,” in my mind.
XIII. I was enamored with the peaceful, mind-opening, and epiphanal ways of meditation.
Thank you for reading. I wish you and yours peace, love, joy, and enlightenment.
Carl Atteniese II (卍道),