The Worst Horse as usual is on its game in reporting another example of just how foreign Buddhism still is to many in the West. Bill Maher, the American comedian and t.v. show host (who I usually find hilarious) recently said some pretty uninformed things about Buddhism. His comments are in red and mine in yellow:
Maher: [Buddhism] really is outdated in some ways — the “Life sucks, and then you die” philosophy was useful when Buddha came up with it around 500 B.C., because back then life pretty much sucked, and then you died – but now we have medicine., and plenty of food
(James::Not all of us Bill, a lot of people in this world don't know where their next meal will come from. And medicine? Americans can't even afford medicine these days let alone impoverished countries. Go to Africa where I lived for two years and tell me there's enough food and medicine for everyone. Then tell me that thus there isn't much suffering from it.),
Maher: and iPhones, and James Cameron movies – our life isn’t all about suffering anymore.
(James: And life wasn't all about suffering back in Buddha's time either)
Maher: And when we do suffer, instead of accepting it we try to alleviate it,
(James::Buddhists seek to alleviate suffering too but we also have had the revelation that no amount of "relieving" can end the suffering. What Buddhists are more interested in other than alleviating suffering is to END suffering once and for all through, what I would consider to be the first "12 Steps" program that is the Eight-Fold Path). If Buddha saw life as hopeless as Maher believes he taught then why would he have even tried to develop a system to deliver himself from it?
Maher: Tiger said, “Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves” makes us unhappy, which confirms something I’ve long suspected about Eastern religions: they’re a crock, too. Craving for things outside ourselves is what makes life life
(James: And despite its highlights, life is full of a lot of suffering Bill. There isn't enough money--even for a lot of millionaires who won't be "satisfied" until they get a BILLION dollars. Even those that spend their money can never buy enough houses, clothes, boats, vacations to feel satisfied for long. We lust after something until we get it and then quickly become bored with it and we return again to enslaving ourselves to crave once more. Buddha didn't say that we couldn't enjoy life but that we should enjoy life in moderation to reduce our suffering, and he laid out a path that many people have followed over the millennia toward lasting peace of mind and happiness.
Maher: — I don’t want to learn to not want, that’s what people in prison have to do
(James: We're in a prison, now, Bill--look around you--We Want a better job, want a new car, want our body to heal quicker or look sexier, want our spouse to change to how we think they should be, and on and on. It's a prison without bars that lures us with shiny new distractions to keep us from finding a way out of the suffering. However, it doesn't have to be an either or proposition as you're stating. You're saying Buddhism says "life sucks, it has no meaning, purpose or value" but that is a common misconception. That isn't Buddhism--that's nihilism. Buddhism teaches that there is a way to live in balance with things of the world yet reduce your long-term suffering. That is what Buddhism offers).
Maher: And reincarnation? Really? If that were real, wouldn’t there be some proof by now? A raccoon spelling out in acorns, “My name is Herb Zoller and I’m an accountant.” …something?
(James: First of all not all Buddhists believe in reincarnation. A lot of Buddhists believe in rebirth and yet still others believe in neither. As for proof? Even science says that energy never disappears but simply changes form. There are many Buddhists who say that it doesn't really matter much what happens after death (if anything) because the only moment we have is this one. For these Buddhists they focus on the rebirth that happens within this lifetime. For example, I am a completely different person from who I was 10-12 years ago when I was an ardent Mormon who was politically conservative. Now I am a Liberal Buddhist!!
But the point of rebirth, in my view, isn't so much about whether we are reborn a slug, or even reborn at all but rather that we realize how our actions affect our future. It's about becoming aware of how we alone are the architects of our own life and what our life becomes is directly influenced by our actions. So, for me, it comes down to what you reap is what you sow. And if all you water are seeds of hatred, greed and delusion then you will reap a lot of misery but if you water seeds of love, compassion and patience then you will reap the opposite and leave a better world behind then when you were born into it.
Maher: People are always debating, is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy: it’s a religion. You’re a religion if you do something as weird as when the Buddhist monks scrutinize two-year-olds to find the reincarnation of the dude who just died, and then choose one of the toddlers as the sacred Lama: “His poop is royal!” Sorry, but thinking you can look at a babbling, barely-housebroken, uneducated being and say, “That’s our leader” doesn’t make you enlightened. It makes you a Sarah Palin supporter.
(James: Bill, I like you--I really do, and while I think your usually well informed, on Buddhism you're quite ignorant. Only one school of Buddhism believes that their teachers are reincarnated, and that's Tibetan Buddhism. If you have a problem with Tibetan Buddhism then take that up with the Dalai Lama, but I would have expected you to know better than to lump all Buddhists together. I didn't want to write this to defend Buddhism so much as to explain it, as best as a common practitioner like myself can to those who aren't familiar with Buddhism so they, can hear both sides).
~Peace to all beings~