Thursday, 21 August 2008

A Buddhist tearoom.

Yesterday a friend and I explored the Buddhist meditation centre in Kelmarsh Old Rectory, near to Market Harborough, but just over the county boundary in Northamptonshire.

We didn't want to commit ourselves to a spacial guided tour, and so just went into the tea room, which is open to all. We were not in any way the victims of evangelism, though I did decide it would be tactful not to kill the wasp that showed an interest in my companion's jam. However the visit did set off a train of thought which I record here.

I'm increasingly attracted by the Buddhist idea of detachment from the world and its contents, though not for quite the same reasons that the Buddhists advance.

Buddhists see detachment as the only way to escape from an otherwise infinite sequence of deaths and rebirths. As the Buddha seems to have adopted an empiricist view of personal identity, it is not clear what component of on an individual he might have supposed to survive death and later to be reborn.

I don't belief there is any rebirth, or any entity capable of being reborn, and favour detachment as a sort of mental hygiene. Although I do not believe that any individual has the potential to live an infinite sequence of lives, I do think there is in human life a potentially infinite succession of dubious value, namely the succession of human generations. I think there is a coherent point of view from which that succession appears pointless, and I find that point of view ever more congenial.

It is conventional to regard the present and future welfare of the human race as the primary good. We are supposed to deplore and if possible to avert potential changes in climate that might reduce the number of humans who can live on our planet. It is customary to regard children, and especially babies, with a sentimental affection and to refer to them as 'our future'. Yet why should we want a future of any sort for the human race ?

From the point of view of an individual human, humans are special because they are his own species, include his own relatives and in particular his descendants, and there are strong instincts to produce and nurture descendants, but all that does not make humans special from any non-human point of view. Members of any other species might just as well consider their own kin as the most important inhabitants of the cosmos - they might, if there were capable of having a point of view of any sort.

That points to the only respect in which humans might be correct in considering themselves special; so far as we can tell we alone are capable of having a point of view, of understanding the cosmos and our place in it.

Yet the intellectual achievements of humanity are mainly confined to a small minority, and for most people intellectual curiosity is a passing phase confined to childhood and adolescence. Adult life usually centres on breeding and rearing children, in the hope that they in turn will repeat the same process.

I'm gradually losing interest in that process. I have many interests, but the the future of the human race is not among them.

1 comment :

Chris Ng said...

There are many schools/ tributaries of Buddhism, and they are all slightly different. All believe in reincarnation. My understanding of that is you may reincarnate, as it is not gaurenteed, but you will forget who you were before.

In fact, if that is the case, it doesn't matter whether reincarnation exists. As you don't know what you were like in your last life, so you won't know what you will be like in your next life. Also, Chinese believe reincarnation doesn't restrict to human. So you can come back the next life as a pig. Is that good or is that not, only the pig can tell. If we are putting our human judgement on whether it is good or bad, then that is actually not natural. So, reincarnation or not, isn’t of interest to me.

Some Buddhists see detachment as the only way to escape from an otherwise infinite sequence of deaths and rebirths. Some buddhist believe you should live this life, this moment - Zen - as it is only a passage. The aim, in both cases, is Nirvana, the final spiritual point of liberation. If you go along with that believe, by deduction, this world must be a horrible place to live in.

But since I am not a buddhist, I don't have to have that point of view or believe, and by that I am liberated. Liberated to think what I like. Liberated to question what the whole point of being is. Liberated to believe that living, in itself, is the whole point of being. We don't have to assign a meaningful meaning to life to live meaningfully.

The succession of human generations is a built-in mechanism we possess, just like other animals, plants, any living organism in this world. To impart a diversion to it because 'we are special' is unnatural. If it is not unnatural, then succession of human generation is not pointless. It is a process.

We can choose not to contribute to that process and not be interested in it, but the process itself serves a function - the survival of the species. As for the future of human race, if you are not interested in the process, it doesn't really matter; we can choose not to be natural.