Sunday, July 20, 2014

Atheist, Ignostic, and Buddhist

This 4th of July I reached the realization that I am a Buddhist, a secular Buddhist, a philosophical Buddhist of the Tibetan tradition, which in reality is simply a Buddhist. Someone that understands some of the historical conditions that surround Buddhism and uses them to help filter out the core of the doctrine. I am an Atheist, that has come around to admire the purpose that gods have given humanity and can see that Buddhism evolved without a need for them [1]. I strongly believe that without gods we would not have become Homo sapiens sapiens, and I am in admiration of the stability religions have given to humanity. That does not mean that I believe in a God by any modern definition (if these definitions even exist), or that I choose to ignore the many wrongs that religions have done and keep doing, but I believe in their historical importance and appreciate their mere existence.

I am an Ignostic, one that knows that the word God has no real meaning for nearly anyone even if it is full of significance. A word that holds a large number of feelings, feelings that I now share as I appreciate the mere existence of a word that has served humanity for uncountable generations. An Anti-Theist I am not. I believe that the great majority of Theists are sincere in their beliefs, even if I do not share them. As long as their actions don't impose their beliefs unto society, or enables those that favor such imposition, I have no problem with them and feel no need to convert them from what any atheist could consider a mere delusion. Delusions that we owe our humanity to, and could be necessary just for them to preserve their sanity.

But I have come to realize that I have always been a Buddhist. I mostly came to this realization nearly a decade ago when during a trip I found in my hotel room an "Introduction to Buddhism." For lack of anything better to do I read the book, and failed to find anything wrong with it. I read it again, just in case I had missed something, how could a religion be right? I came to realize that what I held dear, and had cost me many a fight and tear, had been discovered by an Indian prince three or more centuries since. That what I thought unique and special about me was simply Buddhism in my own personal way. That set me in the path that I currently follow, following the Dalai Lama, talking to Buddhist monks, and helping others to see the problems in themselves and in society. Following the path of another ordinary buddha.

But don't count on seeing me in robes, I am really a scientist, an engineer, and an entrepreneur. I adopted Buddhism because it is reality, the reality of science is hidden in many of its texts. The missing parts of psychology there for the taking. Buddhism is irrevocably entering those sciences we call psychology and neurology, first through the adoption of meditation and—thanks to FMRI machines—the many papers that this has generated. Now with the introduction of compassion, which is a project that recently started at Emory University via Geshe Lobsang Tenzin. It is not surprising that a large proportion of the people I interact with at my local Tibetan Temple are psychologists, and those that aren't are either interested in neuroscience or simply in understanding their own brain.

Am I in a path of enlightenment? As soon as I find out how to define that word in a way that makes sense for modern times, perhaps; but if so it is a path of science, not religion. A buddha of science that badly needs a healthier diet. I recognize the science behind Buddhism, I recognize within it the western philosophical traditions and how these got to evolve in a different path, even if Buddhism had hit some of the same milestones at least a century before the west did. In the same way I recognize the religion inside science, the dogmatic skepticism that afflicts the whole field, the same skepticism that refused to believe a religious book could simply be right on a first read. My welcome to Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhism is in its own path of enlightenment as set by its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. His initiatives are bringing modern science as part of the curriculum of the new generations of monks and nuns, I personally know some of the professors involved in this initiative, and these are top-notch neuroscientists. The Tibetan diaspora is now embarked in a path in which western scientific thought is bound to meet Buddhist scientific thought. I am in my own shorter path, bringing western philosophy to one Buddhist monk of many, I hope to allow him to see that the different paths are much closer than they might believe, and these could just meet in our own small sangha.

Now, if I could commit to writing papers, grants, and business proposals instead of blog posts, I could finally find the proper path to help humanity. Science, here I should come, laziness thy mortal enemy.

  1. If you believe a Buddha is a God, you do not understand Buddhism. At all. So keep your ignorance to yourself. Are there Buddhists that think that way? yes, cultural Buddhists that do not understand the philosophy they claim to profess. Just as cultural Catholics that do not understand the Deistic characteristics that their own religion has taken across the centuries. Am I too snooty to be a Buddhist? Yeah, sure. I am a scientist.

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