When I say that I’m kinda Buddhist, I mean first of all that culturally and philosophically I agree with the basic principles of Buddhism, namely the Four Noble Truths.
- Pain is inherent to life; that also affects moments of satisfaction and serenity, as they are themselves impermanent.
- Pain is not the fault of the world, fate or a deity, nor does it happen by chance. It originates within us, who are driven by the craving for the pursuit of happiness in what is transient.
- To be able to experience the end of pain, one must let go of attachment, of the misleading scale of values according to which what is temporary is more desirable.
- There is a practical path to follow to emancipate oneself from pain, namely the Eightfold Path (right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right mindfulness, right concentration).
What about the properly supernatural aspects of Buddhism, such as the karma system or the cycle of rebirths? There is a growing current of what we can call “Western Buddhism” that is based on the Theravāda school (in a nutshell, the one that is based on the Pali Canon and focuses more on the historical Buddha and his teachings). This current focuses on the more secular aspect of Buddhism, such as mindfulness meditation (vipassana) and aspects where neuroscience and Buddhism converge, such as the non-self (anattā)
Personally, I feel affinity with this current. Ever since I studied Buddhism at university, I have always had an interest in Buddhism, especially Theravāda Buddhism. In a nutshell, the various Mahāyāna schools popularised Buddhism with bodhisattvas, devotion, ‘prayers’, paradises and not nirvana as a privileged goal etc etc. With the Mahāyāna, Buddhism became more of a religion. Theravāda on the other hand focuses more on personal salvation, i.e. on interrupting the cycle of rebirth by attaining nirvana.
I tend to follow the Five Precepts, which is the basic system of morality for Buddhist lay people:
- No killing, both humans and all animals.
- No theft and related activities such as fraud and forgery.
- No sexual misconduct (been defined by modern teachers with terms such as sexual responsibility and long-term commitment).
- No falsehood spoken or committed to by action, as well as malicious speech, harsh speech and gossip.
- No intoxication through alcohol or drugs (this is the precept I follow the least because I enjoy a good beer/cocktail now and then).
I’m one of those people who think that morality is a construct without any basis, a convention. This does not mean that I enjoy climbing on top of a building and shooting unarmed bystanders with a sniper rifle. It is a combined matter of evolution and culture: it is preferable for people to live in environments where you don’t have to look over your shoulder every two seconds, and these environments consequently shape people’s behaviour. Imagine living in a place where you have to constantly look around to avoid aggression, you are not safe even in your own home, you cannot trust neighbours or people you pass on the street. Does this place predispose one to the continuation of the species, to human development or more simply to a non-hell life? No, not at all.
Every morning I get up aware that life is suffering but I decide that it is worth it to be a member of society by behaving respectably towards other human beings and all other living beings. Buddhism helps me in this.