A Magnificent Buddhist Resource

Bhikkhu Thanissaro is doing an amazing public service that deserves more recognition and gratitude. On his site, dhammatalks.org, he has made a significant portion of the Sutta Pitaka, the ancient Buddhist scriptures, available—free of charge—in a series of compilations. Included with these compilations are an assortment of helpful essays, treatises, and study guides.

His renderings of the verses from the Samyutta Nikaya and Sutta Nipata are particularly refreshing, and provide clarity to the commercially available translations that are sometimes more cryptic due to their more literal translation.

I recommend starting with The Buddha’s Teachings: An Introduction, which provides a brief introduction to Buddhist practice, and then reading The Wings to Awakening to get a feel for the teachings in more detail. If you’re just interested in mindfulness and meditation, try the treatise With Each & Every Breath: A Guide to Meditation.

dhammatalks.org also has a podcast that you can subscribe to via rss feed or YouTube.

Karma, Rebirth, Heaven and Hell

For many Buddhist seekers in the West, doubt, particularly about kamma (karma), rebirth, and the various planes of existence (heavenly and hell realms. etc) mentioned in the texts, is one of the biggest hindrances standing between them and the benefits of practice.

As someone who was once a hard-lined atheist, I was skeptical about these notions as well, but I’ve since come to learn that the seemingly irrational parts of Buddhism don’t really matter much, and can be easily interpreted in a simple yet accurate way.

Kamma is a way to describe the causes and effects that naturally arise from our volitional activities. Each action results in an immediate (macro) or subtle (micro) reaction that effects our experience within our environments.

Rebirth is the recycling of our elemental aggregates (khandhas) into a new life form. There’s nothing supernatural about this process, and no souls or anything magical are being passed. This is very much aligns with the law of conservation of energy.

And the heavenly and hell realms described in the texts aren’t like those proclaimed by the Abrahmic scriptures. “Heaven” and “hell” in Buddhism are temporary states—the conditions of which are the byproduct of its inhabitants, similar to pleasant or hostile conditions that are created by the inhabitants of a country.

Is Buddhism Violent?

TL;DR: No, it’s not.

Violence committed by a handful of “monks” in Burma cannot be used as an example of “Buddhist violence.” Most Buddhists see these acts in the same way most Christians see members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Their behavior alone invalidates them from being Buddhist, just as worshiping the devil would invalidate someone from being a Christian or a Muslim.

Imagine if a group of “atheists” went out and announced, “We accept Jesus as our Lord and savior!” while still claiming to be atheist. Would it then make sense to conclude that atheism is a Christian philosophy? Of course not. Anyone can claim to be anything, but if their actions are not in tune with the philosophy they supposedly adhere to, those people cannot be used as a representation of that philosophy.

The canonical Buddhist texts take a very clear and strong stance against any form of violence or hatred. Additionally, you won’t find any discourses in the texts that condone violence or hatred. If a person intentionally and repeatedly inflicts harm on other sentient beings, that person cannot rightfully call themselves a Buddhist.

“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.”
Dhp I 5-6

When I Renounced Black Victimhood

For most of my adult life, I was a proud advocate of Marxism, a school of social liberalism that encouraged my view of capitalism and religion as impediments of our potential—the root of humanity’s suffering that had to be stopped.

To accept a worldview I intuitively knew was tyrannical, I arrogantly oversimplified the beliefs of conservatives and theists. It wasn’t until I saw how noxious social liberalism could be in practice that my conscience could no longer validate my prejudices.

Record of Failure

As a black male, I’ve been the target of relentless propaganda from the political-left. Nearly every narrative about black culture I heard in school and from the media centered on how I was a victim. Callous white men—now in the form of racist Republicans—were the oppressors, and loving Democrats were my saviors.

The smokescreen started to dissipate while living in Gary, a crime ridden city founded by the U. S. Steel Corporation that’s been under the control of Democrats since 1943. Nearly every night for the 3 years I stayed there, I fell asleep listening to gunfire outside a cramped house that itself had two bullet holes on its side.

It could be argued the initial blow to Gary’s stability came when Republican president Ronald Reagan exported much of the steel industry overseas, undercutting their primary source of income. But Detroit, which doesn’t have a dependence on steel production, can’t share this excuse for their decline.

Detroit, which consistently tops “America’s most dangerous cities” lists, has been managed ineptly by Democrats since 1962. Their economy finally collapsed in 2013, resulting in the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U. S. history.

Destructive Condescension

Clearly, the Democrats didn’t have the solutions they claimed to have had, and enforcing regulations rather than encouraging education and accountability only made matters worse.

When 82 people were shot, 14 fatally, in Chicago over the July 4th weekend this year, police superintendent Garry McCarthy placed the blame entirely on “weak gun control laws” rather than the obvious causes—hood culture, upbringing, and ignorance.

How can gun control amend the rage that drives most killings, or hinder the access of unregistered guns through underground channels? Are any Democratic policies actually meant to solve anything, or are they just demagogic fetters to keep us contained, complacent, and stupid so we’ll continue supporting the political-left during elections?

In another example of blatant demagoguery, Democrats claimed the voter ID laws pushed by Republicans were “voter suppression.” But wouldn’t more problems be solved if minorities weren’t just encouraged to vote against Republicans, but encouraged to get IDs—which are required to open bank accounts and get most jobs—to enable greater independence and access to society? Wouldn’t having an ID render voter ID “schemes” ineffective?

Free To Choose

The deceptions Democrats and their left-wing constituents had been using to expand and retain their base were revealing themselves: exploiting minorities, propagating a “war on women” to abrogate conservative women, classifying all dissent as bigotry to inhibit free speech—just to name a few.

My respect for social liberalism flatlined.

Free of any political affiliation, my interest opened to the other side of the political spectrum. I found some libertarian and conservative book lists online. From those lists, I settled on Free to Choose by Milton Friedman, The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek, Conscious of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater, and God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley Jr.

One of the recurring thoughts I had while reading these books wasn’t about their content, but about why their points, which were surprisingly inclusive and practical, weren’t being articulated as lucidly by popular right-wing personalities today. If more of them had ranted less about how awful “liberalism” was, and spoke more on the conservative rationale, they could’ve garnered more support from the left and middle sooner.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

While some conservatives—the loudest ones usually—do fit the unflattering stereotype of being angry, racist, young-Earth creationists who hate the poor and want to turn America into a Christian theocracy, most of them don’t. Conservatives, like social liberals, come from a variety of backgrounds, and are distinguished by their ideological position on social and economic issues.

Conservatives tend to be individualistic. Individualists prioritize the rights of the individual over the rights of any in-group. Everyone is held to the same standards, and taxed the same—with no special restrictions or exceptions. The government’s role is to uphold the law, and defend and advance the country without intruding on people’s liberties or businesses.

Social liberals tend to be collectivistic. With a priority on in-group rights over individual rights, collectivist governments are more involved. The citizenry is treated as a collective, and taxed more—on a sliding scale—to finance programs deemed important by its constituents. Regulations are imposed on businesses and, in some cases, on speech.

Taking Responsibility

I’m convinced a predominantly individualist government with minimal special programs (ex. FDA, NASA) would be ideal. When politicians are asked to manage too much outside their expertise, they consistently come up with proposals that unfairly favor, harm, or are vehemently opposed by an in-group. To cultivate natural progress and equality, the government should tend primarily to administrative duties, and leave the citizenry free to build, innovate, and pursue happiness as they see fit.

But who will take care of the destitute?

We will!

According to statistics published by The Giving USA Foundation, $335 billion was given—voluntarily—to charitable organizations in 2013, accounting for approximately 2% of the gross domestic product.

People are inherently good, and when the opportunity arises to help someone in need, we do help them. We don’t need a paternal government to dictate every aspect of our lives, or treat us like children or perpetual victims.

Let’s take care of ourselves.