The long title of this post is Thoughts on Buddhism from an unqualified Unitarian Universalist Pagan.
MacGyver has been contemplating changing religions. He has a sort of love-hate relationship with Unitarian Universalism. He loves the searching, exploring, accepting aspects of it, but he also has a craving for a "deeper" spirituality, if you will. He believes in the 7 Principles, but he desires something more. In truth, Unitarian Universalism can sometimes become a little lacking on the spiritual side. It very much depends on the congregation, and the one we belong to now leans heavily to the Humanist.
Many UUs "supplement" their UU faith with other faiths they are believers of. I am a UU Pagan. MacGyver has been exploring a similar path.
He decided to explore other religions to see what spoke to him, starting with Hindu and Buddhism. We were unable to find any books on Hindu here (annoying), so he started with Buddhism. He bought two books. Then he promptly got busy with school, work, PTO, soccer, the repairs to the house/fighting with the insurance company, and the mountain of other things he tackles on a day to day basis, and the books have only been sporadically touched.
By MacGyver, at least. I can't keep my hands off of books - even when I don't "technically" have time to read them. So I've been reading a page or two a day of Buddhism: A Breif Insight.
At first, I was totally on board. I thought, "Man, this book is converting me. I'm going to have to become a UU Pagan Buddhist." I believe in reincarnation; I have for years. The idea of Kharma really speaks to me. I am moved by any religion that focuses on doing right by the world as a means to improve one's self and the world at the same time. Obviously, the focus on refraining from cruelty is one I can really, really get behind (many, many Buddhists are vegetarians).
I also loved that (according to this book), Buddism does not hold that this is the only civiliazation and the only time. Buddhism posits - much like physics and astronomy might posit - that worlds rise and fall, all over space, time, and dimensions - if you will. I love this great step outside the rigid bounds of "God made this, and this is it." (please don't anyone get offended by that simplization, it was only meant to be demonstrative of the preceding point not judgemental of any religion). I love that view.
The first of the "Four Noble Truths" of Buddhism is the truth of suffering. That life, by it's very nature, is suffering. Life on Earth cannot exist with out it. This is true. I believe this.
But as I delved further into the Noble Truths, it started to lose me. Not intellectually. I still understand what it's saying, but it certainly doesn't speak to me.
At this point in the book (and I'm not through with it, so in a week I may have to post a retraction ;-)), the discussion turns to freeing oneself from the cycle of rebirth by freeing giving up desire. That I can buy into, a life of minimal desire is usually good for the soul and for those around you. By giving up desire, one is able to free themself from the cycle of rebirth, to free themself from suffering. And that is where the wheels start to fall off for me.
I realize that I don't want to be freed from suffering. It is for all my suffering that I can appreciate all the wonderful things in my life. For every ounce of pain and unhappiness I have experienced, moments of joy and pleasure have been that much sweeter.
This book claims that Buddhism does not have a concept of a soul, so to speak. I haven't 100% wrapped my brain around what it means by this, but is seems to indicate that the bundle of desires and Kharma that passes from life to life does not carry with it any essence of personality.
I don't like that, either. If anything carries forward from life to life, I would expect it to be the core of who I am. I would like to believe that I will encounter the same loved ones again and again, though we may never know it in life. I believe in cycling up. I believe in building up a morality and that morality carrying forward and effecting where we come out in the future.
But I cannot strive to achieve oblivion. I know that any educated Buddhist could explain to me that Nirvana is not oblivion. Other sources cast is as a state of permanant happiness and knowlege. That doesn't sound bad at all. But it still implies being severed from concern for the state of other beings. Because that would be a desire. And concern for others in the form of desire causes suffering. So to attain the utlimate enlightenment would - in my mind - sever that connection.
And that I can't fathom as a desireable state.
Perhaps my soul is just not mature enough. I am certainly not about to acheive enlightenment in this life, with these beliefs.
And maybe my take on Buddhism is so far skewed. As I said, I haven't finished the book yet. At this point, though, I'm not there. I want to believe in Kharma and reincarnation. I believe in meditation and the release of desire. I am continually striving to remove as much cruelty as possible from my life.
But if there is an ultimate truth, to me, it's a place where my soul can exist with the souls of those I love, wherever that may be - Heaven, Nirvana, Svargam, or a freaking castle on Mars.