Thursday, August 22, 2013

My Intro to Buddhism

I have no desire to be a Buddhist.

You may not know it yet, but that statement is probably pretty funny in Buddhist circles.  At least, it is to me.  ;-)

My best friend, Wasam, is from Thailand.  In fact, he's more of a brother-from-another-mother than a friend.  We hit it off together shortly after meeting, and the relationship has flourished ever since.  There's no way to describe it, other than that we just clicked into place.  Funny how some relationships are like that.  Anyway...

Wasam was brought up in a Buddhist culture. You may think you know what that means, but you probably don't, because it's about as meaningful as saying that someone was raised in a Christian culture.  Christian culture?  Do you mean Catholic?  Protestant?  Evangelical?  Fundamental?  Amish?  You get the point.

As Buddhism spread East from India, a slightly different version was born in each village it came to.  Sometimes, the customs of the other religions were wrapped up into it, kind of like how Easter and Christmas celebrations got co-opted into Christianity from its pagan counterparts.  And so, the Buddhism seen in much of the word today resembles its true origins just about as much as the Christianity of today resembles its origins.

Wasam and I have had several discussions through the years regarding religion and Buddhism.  Though I knew next to nothing about Buddhism (and still don't know much!), both he and his parents thought that I had more of an Eastern philosophy, a Buddhist philosophy, than what most Americans have.  Maybe that's why we clicked so well.  But I still didn't really understand what they meant until Wasam brought me an English copy of a book from his favorite teacher, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu.

It turns out that Wasam isn't the only one who appreciated Buddhadasa's work, as he was listed as a "great international personality" by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  Buddhadasa was so honored for spending a considerable amount of effort in working to bridge gaps between faiths, often through explaining Buddhist principles through the holy books of other faiths.

The book is titled Handbook for Mankind, and I have since found a free online copy if anyone is interested in checking it out.  Buddhadasa is known for being a bit of a fundamentalist and a simplifier, but in good senses of those words.  Finding the Buddhism of his time lacking, he went back to the original scriptures to discern what he believed to be the core teachings, while casting away errant traditions, customs, and rituals.  This book reflects those core teachings.

Plus, mainly early on, but also sprinkled throughout the book, you will hilariously (to me anyway) find several random comments which would seem just as appropriate coming from a Christian fundamentalist speaking of the current state of Christianity.  To some extent, a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist.  ;-)  But don't let that scare you off from reading if you are interested.  It's far from being the mainstay of the content.

For those familiar with Buddhism,  while Buddhadasa was a Theravada monk, his teachings lean significantly towards the Mahayana traditions, and often resembles the Zen subdivision.

I'll be blogging a roughly chapter-by-chapter look at this book, because, while I don't think that Buddhism is the one true religion, similar to almost all religions and good literature, there are principles within which can help you live a happier life and be a better person in the process.  I hope you'll join me.  :-)


  1. Sabio, from the Triangulations blog sent me this comment:

    I do hope you read Chapman at least and maybe McMahan before going too far. Also, may I make requests that you just write ideas generated by reading the book rather than trying to summarize the book. I think most folks would rather read a book than read a long summary by someone else. So, instead , just short posts -- not chapter by chapter -- of the most interesting concepts and your reactions to them as you read. Just my thoughts.

  2. Sabio,

    Going too far? Too far where? That I make an ass of myself again? It's probably too late for that! ;-)

    "I think most folks would rather read a book than read a long summary by someone else."

    I think you are wrong, at least in part. A good summary is a thing of beauty. There are entire lines of "notes" for executives which sum up the tips from the latest management books. Why? Because most of the book is fluff used to more effectively communicate particular points, and thus serve little value if the point is already understood. That, and because people are busy! I'd rather read a ten page summary than a hundred page book. (At least for conceptual reading. Pleasure reading is a different topic.)

    I think people's interests are on scale levels. At one level, yes, they would read the book themselves. At another level, my detailed chapter-by-chapter summary approach works well. At another level, a chapter-by-chapter single-paragraph summary is best. At an even lower level of interest, they may only want a few paragraph summary for the whole book.

    My summaries are like dehydrated foods; getting down to the essential meat, but not missing anything of substance, but not very juicy.

    My comments afterward will be like setting food in a strainer, where only the juicy bits come out. You're not going to get a robust vision of the message.

    Combine the two, and you'll get a semi-clear picture in less time than what it would take you to read the book. I think that has value.

    Don't worry though. If you only want to read my take on the chapters, it will be clearly demarcated and easy to find at the bottom of the posts.

    Besides, a large part of the reason for the summaries is for me, to make sure that I better understand the material before I speak about it. :-)