Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Progressing into the study

Some time back, my curiosity was piqued by what I've been hearing about Buddhism, particularly the Theravada tradition. I've never had the faith required by most Western religion, so while I've picked up bits and pieces of good philosophy from each religion's teachings, none have quite grabbed me.

Theravada, though, has a distinctly different balance. While it has its element of supernatural faith (and I'm not grabbed by its religious side any more than I am by that of the other religions), the philosophical tradition is especially strong and dominant, and just jibes with my instincts better than any other religion I've seen to date.

I find a lot of psychological truth in it, with a core notion that the cause of most human suffering is attachment to and craving for things that are fundamentally impermanent. (Including the "self" itself: Theravada comes closer than any other tradition I've yet encountered to my feeling that the common notion of self is just plain incorrect -- that the "self" is more a process of continuous change and causation than an unchanging entity. Functional, not object-oriented.) A part of me is ruefully amused that I'm finding the most truth in one of the oldest of all extant religious traditions -- humanity has grown in a lot of ways, but less in philosophy than it would like to believe.

So I'm starting to delve into it, in my traditional way of following the synchronicities that the world throws at me. This has wound up taking the form of two very different bits of reading, that synergize weirdly but well.

First, there's the Buddha comic book. Yes, it's a comic, but it's really quite useful: the somewhat-mythologized life of the Buddha rendered in a very accessible form. It was written by Osamu Tezuka, one of the greats of the manga world, and the whole thing has the flavor of classic manga: a little goofy but terribly sincere, with just enough whimsy to accentuate the fundamentally serious subject matter. From this, I've gotten my grounding in the subject -- the world, history and culture of the Buddha, the various characters who are relevant to the Buddhist scriptures, and how they all relate.

On the far more serious side, there is The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, which I picked up in that trip to Mc and Moore a couple of weeks ago. This is a slightly messy but pragmatic and literal translation of one of the key Theravada scriptures, which just happens to be published in Somerville. (See "synchronicity".) It's a fine way for me to start reading into the tradition: a thick tome composed of 150-odd separate "suttas" on various subjects. These ten-page chapters are nicely bite-sized, each suitable for a day's reading and thought. Altogether, I expect it to be a good project for the year, assuming I keep managing to read a sutta about every other day. And having read the comic first, I've got a better idea of what the heck is going on here. (The book itself is simply a collection of lessons in no particular order, so without that grounding a lot of it would be going right over my head.)

So expect to hear more from me on this from time to time. I think it's unlikely that I'll go whole-hog into this -- I'm just not the saffron-robe type, and like I said, there are substantial parts of this that *don't* speak to me -- but I'm gradually internalizing a lot of good lessons out of it, and likely to talk about it. I suspect it'll help me gradually flesh out what *I* believe, which is an ongoing personal project...
Tags: buddhism, diary

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