Call For a
Who and what is a Buddhist?
Siddhartha Gautama founded the organized religion we call
Buddhism. The fundamental meaning of the word 'Buddha' is
'enlightened one.' We know there were many enlightened ones
before Siddhartha Gautama's birth, and there have been many Buddhas
after Siddhartha's death. What we call Buddhism today is an
amalgamation of the true teachings of Siddhartha combined with invented
myths and large amounts of culture derived from the countries in which
Buddhism is practiced. Tibetan Buddhism, for example, is as much
Tibetanism as Buddhism. Buddha's words were handed down for
several centuries through oral tradition before a committee was formed
to commit the communal heritage, not memory, of Buddha's teaching to
written text. No human being who actually met the Buddha wrote
any of the famous Buddhist scriptures that present-day followers take
so literally and seriously.
separate the essential teachings of the many enlightened ones, the many
Buddhas, from mere tradition? Can we bring Buddhism up to date by
keeping the essential tools of enlightenment while discarding the
cultural biases that burden the path with unnecessary obstacles?
I believe we can create a new Buddhism if we analyze our situation
consciously as present-day seekers of truth. With this most
fundamental definition of the word 'Buddhism,' anyone who seeks
enlightenment can be called a Buddhist.
Is Buddhism pro-family?
Our lives have changed dramatically since the days of the historic
Buddha. Technological advances such as birth control have
reshaped our most basic human behavior. In Siddhartha's time, if
you had sex you were always potentially creating a new child. The
strict sexual disciplines of Buddhism were born in an era when sex
meant children and children meant no time to meditate. Surviving
with primitive farming methods was difficult, and raising a family
under such severe conditions left little energy for
introspection. Today, many people can have a full life, and a
family, and still have the time and energy to meditate. The
average adult American watches over four hours of television a day, so
most of us can easily spare forty minutes a day for meditation.
You do not have to give up a normal life and all contact with the
opposite sex to find your existential identity.
A rich society brings with it the possibility of creating a more
complete human being than Siddhartha's era could afford. What is
more important for society: sex, family, wealth creation, or
meditation, solitude, and detachment? Don't we have a need for
all? If you live for seventy years you can easily dedicate a few
years to vigorous meditation practice and then go on to have a rich
family life. Will the added experience of wife and children make
you a smaller person or a bigger person? By repressing our
procreative desires we are not becoming more whole and holy, but rather
we are simply building a firewall inside ourselves that divides our
being into two. Cut into parts we will have less energy, not more
energy. I believe it is more wholesome to become a fully
functioning human being rather than to retreat into the misperceived
safety of half a life.
Back in 1971,
when I was twenty-one years old, I had an experience I would never
forget. I was walking around the large Baudhanath Stupa near
Kathmandu, Nepal. There was a large group of monks walking that
day, spinning prayer wheels and chanting in the brilliant morning
sunlight. A middle-aged monk came up to me and asked, "What's it
like to be with a woman?" I was shocked that a good-looking and
healthy man in his forties' would have to ask a twenty-one-year-old
what sexual intercourse was like. I had decided years earlier
never to become a celibate monk, and that day engraved my feelings even
deeper into my brain.
Catholic Church has made sex a taboo for priests, and the priesthood
has been plagued with scandals of child abuse. Many famous gurus
from the East have taught celibacy in public while seducing female
disciples in private. I am not against any human being having a
normal, healthy sex life. I am against lying and hypocrisy.
Sex is as natural to human beings as breathing, eating, and
sleeping. How can such an essential activity for the survival of
the human race be thought of as "unspiritual," and why make it a big
Extreme Buddhism and self-defense
Some, but not all Buddhist circles have a politically correct
insistence on absolute nonviolence. Tibet had no effective army
to fight off the Chinese invasion of 1950. Idealism is a form of
mental opium. It may feel good for a short while, but the
long-term effects can be disastrous. I do not call for
war-mongering or aggressive behavior toward one's neighbors. I do
suggest that self-defense is normal, natural, and a basic necessity of
life. Every animal on this planet has some form of defense
mechanism, and human beings should have many layers of defense to
protect ourselves, our families, and our society. Having an army
is not evil; it is just good common sense.
What is relevant in Buddhism?
Over the centuries Buddhism has collected a great deal of hocus-pocus
and excess baggage. Meditation is not a very complicated
affair. It takes time, patience, and commitment, but it is not
intellectually difficult. Meditation is a gentle and loving step
beyond the mind, not a complicated new philosophy that the mind must
The cosmic consciousness we seek
is the ultimate blank page. Nothing can be written on it and
there is no dogma inside it. No individual can claim ownership of
it and no country can pollute it with its customs and prejudices.
Cosmic consciousness remains an eternally wild and pure phenomenon
because it is beyond all of our minds. Our methods may be
organized, but the thing itself is anarchic and beyond the realm of
society and culture. Some Buddhist teachers give the false
impression that superconsciousness is a mapped-out empire that has been
conquered and controlled by the great masters. This is simply not
the case, and it is an absolute impossibility.
I have met people who think that by learning to speak Tibetan,
Japanese, or Sanskrit they will somehow become more spiritual.
The cosmic blank page does not care about your language. The Void
simply exists and is available to anyone open enough to perceive
it. Frankly, Buddhism and all the other religions of the world
have become, in large part, just nonsense. People are given the
impression that if they become enlightened they will have spiritual
thoughts and will be talking to deities and angels. A safer bet
is that when you become enlightened you will become silent
inside. You will be able to think or not think, turning the
thinking part of your brain on and off like a radio.
As an example of the insanity of some Buddhist circles, one Taiwanese
Buddhist group constructed a Godzilla Buddha. It is a steel
statue of a standing Siddhartha so grotesquely monstrous in proportions
that I am not sure if it is meant to scare little children or prove
that my God is bigger than your God. Two even larger Buddha
statues are being built, one in India (500 feet tall), and one in China
(509 feet tall), in a war to see who can build the world's tallest
religious superhero. Some Buddhist sects still preach that there
is a "Western Paradise" where good Buddhists go to live after they
die. Are they talking about Beverly Hills? Buddhism has its
carnival of nonsense, just like Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and
Buddha's Four Noble Truths
Life is suffering. Is human life essentially painful from the
moment of birth to the moment of death? Ordinary life can be full
of fun, adventure, friends, romance, good food, music, and art.
In many ways, Buddhism has become an anti-life religion that appeals to
those who always see the glass half empty rather than half full.
Why should we deny the fact that life can be an enjoyable adventure and
not just a pitiful veil of tears?
All suffering is caused by ignorance. Much suffering is caused by
poverty, accidents, disease, and countless other factors that can be
addressed by the positive application of science. Even the fully
enlightened suffer physically if they fall down and break a leg.
We have modern painkillers for physical pain, and psychological
suffering can be lessened by the practice of meditation.
Traditional Buddhist meditation techniques alone have proven inadequate
for the Western mind. More relevant and powerful methods are
available today. [See Meditation Handbook]
Many Buddhists love to debate the meaning of the word 'dukkha,' which
was the word Siddhartha used for 'suffering.' A current fad in
Buddhism is to claim that Siddhartha was only referring to some subtle
and esoteric discontent with life, boredom, and the burden of having a
heartbeat. I find this intellectual, analytic trend to be
particularly odious as it shows a lack of compassion for all forms of
suffering. If Siddhartha was a wise and compassionate man, and I
believe that he was, then he must have been concerned with all forms of
sorrow and pain, not just with the decadent discontent of the pampered
elite. A real Buddha would never ignore the terrible anguish of a
man who suffers the loss of his wife, or a mother who suffers the loss
of her child. The overly analytic trend of modern Buddhism comes
from the head, not from the heart or the Hara, and for me, real
Buddhism is from the heart and the Hara.
When Buddhists get to the point where they can only talk about life
using foreign languages and cryptic and obsolete terms, then they have
missed the experience of meditation itself because meditation has no
pedantic element to it at all. The historic Buddha tried to use
the ordinary language of his day because he wanted to help people deal
with life as it existed right then and there. Nowadays, Buddhism
has to some degree become a history lesson for cult snobs. Many
modern Western Buddhists are incapable of speaking in terms of the here
and now and continuously rely on parroting secondhand Buddhist slogans
to get through any important conversation about life. For me, it
is pointless to debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin,
or the thousand and one definitions of the word 'dukkha.' Cosmic
consciousness has absolutely nothing to do with becoming a myth and
Suffering can be ended by overcoming ignorance and attachment. A
positive attitude is also needed to overcome suffering, and dwelling on
all the potential miseries of life only amplifies our discomfort.
Friendship, jokes, and high spirits alleviate pain more quickly.
Love, an experience rarely mentioned in Buddhist scriptures, is such a
powerful force that suffering retreats in its presence. The
loveless negativism of the extreme forms of Buddhism may lead to a
sickly and unloving mind, not to greater personal life energy.
To suppress suffering, Buddha recommended the Noble Eightfold Path,
which consists of right views, right intention, right speech, right
action, right livelihood, right effort, right-mindedness, and right
contemplation. What are right views? Is a theocracy of
Buddhist priests going to dictate to the Sangha (monastic community)
how to think and what to say? Intense meditation is needed by all
who seek self-knowledge, but the difficulties of determining what is
"right action" and "right speech" is fraught with dangers. Was it
"right action" for Tibet to fail to develop an effective military with
which to fight off an obvious Chinese threat? What brilliant monk
dictated that "right action" to the sheep-like Sangha?
I am not saying that Siddhartha's Four Noble Truths are wrong, but
rather that suffering should not be the centerpiece of a
meditation-based religion for the West. A more positive path to
enlightenment is possible that is every bit as valid as traditional
Buddhism and more suited to the positive Western mind. I see this
new Buddhism as an offshoot of traditional Buddhist and Hindu practice,
with both the old and new schools coexisting without conflict.
This new path has been gradually evolving for decades in the West, and
this essay is simply meant to help codify and clarify that which is
already being born.
Buddhism started in
India, but the countries to which it spread modified Buddhist teachings
to fit their temperament and culture. Tibetans now practice
Tibetan Buddhism, and the Japanese practice Japanese Buddhism.
The original form of Indian Buddhism has become extinct. The West
is far removed from Asian culture. It, therefore, seems obvious
that a new Western Buddhism should be different in attitude and
methodology while retaining the ultimate goal of enlightenment.
Siddhartha tried to create an esoteric philosophy for the masses.
The problem is, there is no such thing as an esoteric philosophy
because esoteric people do not need any philosophy. All doctrine
is a product of the mind, and the esoteric leap beyond the mind leaves
all philosophies far behind. If you create a new religion it
should be with the common man in mind. Religion should be
life-affirming and value honesty, family, democracy, and reasonable
nonviolent behavior. Organized religion is useful to elevate the
masses to the point where superconsciousness begins. That point
is beyond the mind and any organization, scriptures, rules, and
Is traditional Buddhist compassion hollow?
In traditional Buddhism, you don't hear much talk about love, joy, and
romance. That is because the essence of traditional Buddhism is
to keep one's focus on suffering and death. This constant
remembrance of the negative is supposed to help one become detached
from life and thus attain the ultimate freedom of nirvana. The
word 'compassion' is used by traditional Buddhists repetitiously and
unconsciously. Buddhist monks are sometimes taught to visualize
sick and starving people and then feel compassion for their
suffering. Christians are taught to feed the sick, cure the ill,
and love their spouses and children dearly. In this way,
Christianity is a superior religion to Buddhism, because Christian
compassion leads to helpful positive action, and is not just a
self-absorbed, self-centered pretense.
Unlike Christians, Buddhists are not known for doing great charity
work, because the Buddhist focus is always on the negative. Why
develop a cure for a disease if nature is just going to come up with a
new disease sooner or later to take its place? Aging, decay, and
death are always on the Buddhist's mind, so why bother fighting a
futile battle against our inevitable physical collapse? If your
religion makes suffering the centerpiece of your attention, you will
not nurture life to make it better. All your effort is invested
in trying to escape life, not in trying to improve the art of
living. If your attitude is defeatist at its core, then why
bother to try any positive effort? Tibet was in a state of
physical ruin when the Chinese army simply walked into that country in
October 1950. The Chinese took control with little effective
resistance because Tibetans had not developed a strong and viable
Is attachment to a guru better than attachment to money and sex?
Another great problem for Buddhism has been the excessive worship of
gurus, which is an irrational contradiction for a religion that puts
such a great emphasis on detachment. Intense love can be very
positive, but worship and idolization quickly degrade into
enslavement. Just because a human being realizes his or her own
true identity does not make that person a deity. I have been with
many teachers, some of whom were fully enlightened, but none of whom
were perfect human beings. It is my understanding that all of the
enlightened ones remain fallible human beings, with weaknesses and the
potential for corruption. Self-realization is not self-perfection
in any total sense. It could more accurately be described as
self-expansion. You become vast inside, but not perfect and not
all-knowing. Even the fully enlightened can make tremendous
blunders of judgment.
intelligence, the knowledge of one's self, does not automatically give
you a higher IQ or a degree in science. The enlightened men I
have known have all been pretty miserable at science, mathematics, and
economics. They end up living in ivory towers, partly created by
themselves and partly created by their disciples. Spiritual
teachers can even lose their basic common sense through a lack of
contact with the more ordinary world we live in. The last person
you should go to for advice about politics, health issues, or questions
of science is the guru on the mountain because he is divorced from the
world that works, creates wealth, and continues the human race.
For Westerners, the East represents an imagined source of pure
spiritual inspiration. Unfortunately, for many poor Asian monks
and teachers, the West has meant a source of income and a new
livelihood. Many in the East have long felt that only Asians
could comprehend the inner art of meditation, and their focus in the
West has been largely motivated by a desire to raise funds. If
you are living in a hut in India or a ramshackle monastery in Nepal, a
journey to the West is an opportunity to increase your standard of
living. Many Asians wrongly assume they own meditation as if it
were a proprietary cultural commodity. Westerners must beware
that the East is no more innocent than the West, and many Asian gurus
are just as impure in their motivation as our homegrown variety of
Is traditional Buddhism pro-freedom?
The East has always had an imperial model for the teacher-student
relationship. At worst this has degraded into a corrupt and
authoritarian charade of spirituality. [Note - This author does
not believe in spirits or spirituality, just expanded
consciousness.] Tibetans still enthrone their high lamas in
elaborate royal ceremonies. Are we in the West going to enthrone
those Westerners among us who attain enlightenment in future
years? The very idea is ridiculous and counter to our finest
principles of equality and democracy. I have never met any human
being who was so enlightened that he did not occasionally come up with
some truly bad ideas. Likewise, it is rare to find an individual
so low that on occasion they don't have a positive suggestion.
The West must develop its path based on our finest principles of
dignity and respect for all.
A new path is possible
Buddha said that life exists as constant change, but many Buddhist
leaders want Buddhism to remain fixed and dead like a rock. A new
and more direct path to self-realization is possible that avoids trying
to make Westerners look and act more like people from the East.
If Westerners are to find their true nature, they will have to look
deep inside themselves and should not try to imitate the persona of
others. Americans and Europeans are not the same as Tibetans and
Japanese. Trying to think and act as a Tibetan will only make you
a false Tibetan, never a real Tibetan, and never a real enlightened
Western human being.
I love and respect
many Buddhist teachers who are alive today. I just hope that a
newer breed of teacher will appear that will actively encourage
students of meditation to become total human beings. We need a
new living Buddhism that changes with the times and the condition of
the seekers traveling the path. Westerners can afford the luxury
of being lovers, parents, meditators, and creators of wealth, all at
the same time. Buddha gave up his wealth because he thought that
was the only way to achieve enlightenment. I am saying that you
can keep your wealth, your spouse, and your home, and still make
substantial progress in the art of meditation. Science can give
us the added energy we need to have it all. It all is important,
and nothing of importance should be discarded in the name of religion.
Christopher Calder email@example.com
expressed on this page must be viewed as the ideas of an ordinary
student of meditation. While I truly believe everything I say,
you should not believe anything unless you see it, feel it, and know it
for yourself. I make no claims of
infallibility. I claim fallibility.
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(© 1998 Christopher Calder) for educational, noncommercial use.
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