Friday, January 23, 2009

Why Natural Buddhism?

Ok, so, it's taken me a ridiculously long time to write the first post for this blog. Beginnings are always the hardest for me... Do I start with a little personal history? Do I need to explain what Buddhism is in layman's terms? Should I explain why I'm starting this blog, as though I'm writing a thesis? I have a lot I want to talk about, and all my thoughts are damming up at my fingertips. So, I'm going to try to unstop the dam very slowly and carefully... Have your lifevests ready.

I'm a naturalist. I've not always been one, but reason and logic (as well as a healthy interest in science) have led me to a naturalistic conclusion about life. This means that I see no evidence or reason to believe in anything supernatural, that our world is goverened by natural laws, and that we humans are not seperate from this world. That is, there's no ghost in the machine.

I discovered Buddhism two years after I became a naturalist. I've always been fascinated by the East; it's such an alien culture to the Western one in which I grew up. But Buddhism really caught my interest when I started learning about it. Here was a religion, a paradigm, that dominated Eastern culture; yet, at it's core, there was nothing inherintly supernatural about Buddhism. Oh, sure, it has gods and demons, souls and wheels of rebirth... But these things are all extraneous to the philosophy. You can peel every last supernatural belief away and Buddhism is still there; try the same trick with any of the "Big Three" monotheistic religions and you're left with nothing.
This fascinated me, so I studied Buddhism some more. I found that its core teachings--the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path--are simply, what I would call, common sense. The only problem is, it's the kind of common sense that we all know--or, at least, should know--but it's filed away in our brain as an intellectual fact; it's never applied in our lives. You know what I mean--pretty much any stupid decision we make, we know we shouldn't make it, but we do it anyway.
So I started asking myself, What's the point? I know I should look at things from the right perspective, I know I shouldn't get my 'wants' confused with my 'needs' and shouldn't cling so strongly to the desire to get that next Xbox game that it causes me anxiety... I already know those things, so why do I need Buddhism?

And that's when an interesting thing happened. I looked at the Why behind Buddhism, and I found a very rational, logical answer.
You see, it's well known by psychologists (and by salesmen and conmen, too) that we construct a very strong mental identity of Who We Are. Most of the time, this construction is unconscious.
Our brains will go to great lengths to reinforce that mental identity--again, usually unconsciously--to such an extent that people can actually take advantage of this tendency (it's called the foot-in-the-door technique, very fascinating, you should check it out).
I realized that I could use this technique to my own advantage. By calling myself a Natural Buddhist, by self-identifying with Buddhism, I am constructing a self-concept which my unconscious mind will then help reinforce.

So far, it's working. When my temper gets out of control (a common enough occurence, believe me) and I want to yell at my wife, my unconscious brain fires up to say, "Hey, aren't you supposed to be a Buddhist? Examine your intention". Conscious brain then says, "Ah, yes, I would like to mend the relationship with my wife, but this action will only serve to make things worse." When my kids act out and I want to get angry at them, unconscious brain brings up Right Perception, and I'm able to take a step back and remember that I shouldn't take their acting out personally... they're just kids!

Now, of course, that doesn't happen all the time; I'm still human, after all. And it doesn't only happen with Buddhists; I've been able to examine my intentions and look at things from the right perspective plenty of times before I discovered Buddhism. The point is, I'm using my knowledge of psychology to my advantage; I'm setting myself up for more moral behavior and less suffering. By marrying science and Buddhism, I'm stacking the deck in favor of rational thinking over instinctual, animal impulses.

So that's why I'm making this blog. I'm crowdsourcing my journey, putting my thoughts on display for debate and input; internet peer review, if you will. I also want to journal my own thoughts and discoveries; it reinforces my self-concept even more, but journaling is also a form of introspection--even when open for all to see--and hopefully, by putting my thoughts and experiences into words, I'll see things that I hadn't before.
So, while I intend this blog to be fairly personal, I insist on discussion. Do you agree? Disagree? Have some parallel or tangential thoughts? Please, share them.


  1. Me and Maggie have become avid readers. Keep the posts up bro.

  2. You're up late! Thank you so much for the encouragement. I'd love to hear Maggie's thoughts on my views, since her experience with Buddhism is so different from mine.

  3. Do. Or don't do. There is no try. - Jedi Master Yoda

  4. Buddhism is a very pragmatic system of psychotherapy and self-help, the way I see it. Buddha is still known as 'the Doctor': he would be a doctor in psychotherapy today. In fact many psychotherapists apply Buddhist techniques, like mindfulness, in their work.