Buddhism, Digha Nikaya, and the eightfold path

Rufus F.

Rufus is a likeable curmudgeon. He has a PhD in History, sang for a decade in a punk band, and recently moved to NYC after nearly two decades in Canada. He wrote the book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (2021).

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19 Responses

  1. sam says:

    “It’s also a subversion of the caste system: anyone can achieve enlightenment through their own effort. There’s also a case to be made here against centralized Buddhist authority.”

    I’ve often thought of the Buddha and Jesus as protestants within their respective traditions:

    “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).

    “And now, brethren, I take my leave of you. All the constituents of being are transitory. Work out your own salvation with diligence.” This was the last word of the Tathagata. (Mahaparinibbana Suttanta)Report

    • Rufus in reply to sam says:

      @sam, That’s an interesting parallel and I think it’s apt. My understanding of Siddhattha Gotama is that, when he started out, there were a number of “seekers” (sramanas) wandering around and that most of them had rejected many of the key ideas of the Vedic Brahmans: the revelation of the Vedas, divine power, the caste system, and most importantly the use of rituals administered by the Brahmans. That last point seems most similar to Christ- they’re both rejecting the dominant priesthood. It’s interesting too that both traditions have this long debate about whether there should be a priestly hierarchy or not after the founder’s death. As I understand it, the council of bhikkus basically rejected the idea, which is why there’s no Buddhist Pope. You’d have to explain to me what the status of the Dalai Lama is, though.Report

      • sam in reply to Rufus says:


        “As I understand it, the council of bhikkus basically rejected the idea, which is why there’s no Buddhist Pope.”

        Well, they probably took a look around and realized the problems….I have a translation of the Lotus Sutra here somewhere, and in it the introduction goes something like, ” From the Buddha of the Diamond Universe to the Buddha of the Emerald Universe [that’s us], I send the most precious Lotus Sutra to aid you in your task, for the Bodhisattvas of that saha world are difficult to deal with.”

        That Buddha certainly knew the room.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    What I love about it is that it seems to be saying something so very obvious. It’s downright simple.

    And yet… and yet…Report

  3. Barry says:

    Thanks for posting this Rufus.Report

  4. Mopey Duns says:

    While I enjoyed your foray into Buddhism, and found it illuminating, I must make a small side note. If you think that the ultimate message of Christianity is the “conviction that love and forgiveness compose the ultimate moral good”, then you have a very idiosyncratic understanding of that particular religion.Report

    • Simon K in reply to Mopey Duns says:

      @Mopey Duns, Really? I mean I know the actual practise of love and forgiveness is pretty far from much of the actual day-to-day practise of Christianity as we tend to see it, but even the most exclusively puritanic Christians, if asked, would probably still say the central message of the religion is in fact forgiveness, and its pretty clear that the central message of the gospels is love, and that the story of Jesus’s life is intended as a model of forgiveness.

      The interesting contrast between Christianity and Buddhism is that although they have such similar ideas at their heart, they’ve developed in such different directions.Report

      • Mopey Duns in reply to Simon K says:

        @Simon K, it is a very specific forgiveness, and a very specific love. Far too many people think that Christianity is about getting people to love each other and forgive each other, which it simply is not. Perhaps I was being uncharitable to Jason, but I assumed he was advancing the Hallmark understanding of Christianity which is both 1) wrong and 2) prevalent.

        And as for your final comment Buddhism and Christianity simply do not have similar ideas at their heart. Just for starters, one religion has a creator God, and the other doesn’t, which tends to lead to a fairly different understanding of the order of the cosmos and how best to respond to it. I could offer more examples, but if you step back and consider the two side by side for a moment, you’ll probably get what I’m aiming at.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Mopey Duns says:

          @Mopey Duns, I dunno, dude. I’ve seen hippie dippy versions of Christianity, I’ve seen Focus on the Family Nazarene Christianity.

          I’d be hesitant to say that one is the “authentic” Christianity and the other is a perversion of it.

          (I mean, jeez, it’s like saying that White Wolf provides “real” tabletop gaming and TSR only pretends to be tabletop gaming.)Report

          • Mopey Duns in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, I am going by the criteria most commonly used by the early church fathers. If you can affirm the rule of faith as summed up by the early creeds, you’re probably a Christian. Yes, Christians are called to love and forgive, but Christianity simply is not about abstracted love and forgiveness as goods in and of themselves.

            The point of the Christian message, love it or hate it, is not to get you to love your neighbour and forgive everyone. Anyone who says that it is is simply mistaken or lying, and should probably go read the source material again.

            There are many people who refer to themselves as Christians who are not, just as there are people who refer to themselves as Buddhists, Muslims, novelists, cyclists, or vegetarians and are no such thing. People can call themselves whatever they like without making it true. That is fine and all, but we don’t get to self-define willy-nilly.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Mopey Duns says:

              @Mopey Duns, That is fine and all, but we don’t get to self-define willy-nilly.

              Of course we do. And, of course, we get to write other people out of the canon. And we get to say that Paul was a better Christian than Jesus. And we get to say that Paul wasn’t a good Christian at all.

              We can say whatever we want.

              The problem is that we are talking about internal states of folks and “Christian”, if we’re no longer talking about culture, is very much an internal state (disclaimer: I am an atheist).

              To say that someone else’s internal state isn’t accurate is…

              Well. It’s like saying that gays can’t “really” get married.Report

            • Mopey Duns in reply to Mopey Duns says:

              @Mopey Duns, Jaybird, I can’t nest any more, so I will reply here.

              Actually, I would say that Paul was a better Christian than Christ, given that he is by definition not one of his own followers.

              And in the end I must concede the point to you. There are some things that, according to the scriptures and church tradition, people must do and believe to be saved, but we are not the arbiters of who is truly following Christ.

              That question, if Christianity has any meaning, is up to God.

              I will quibble with you and point out that by outlining propositions, we can determine whether someone’s understanding of what it means to be *insert concept here* is in or out of line with the generally accepted meaning.

              Otherwise, we face the equivalent of affirming that if I say I am playing baseball, when I am playing a game everyone else would call pool, I am in fact playing baseball. But perhaps I misunderstand your point.Report

        • Jim in reply to Mopey Duns says:

          @Mopey Duns, So all that Good Samaritan crap and who is the real neighbor was all just eyewash then? No one ever said “How can you say you love God whom you cannot see when you do not love your brother whom you do see?” No one ever said “Even as you have done it to the least of these…?”Report

          • Mopey Duns in reply to Jim says:

            @Jim, None of the things you mention make sense within the Christian context outside of the Godhood, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world. Since you have already quoted the bible, I will follow suit. Pay attention to the text. Paul wrote in the first letter to the Corinthians:

            “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised. 15:14 If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain.”

            All of what you have mentioned is part of Christianity, and an outgrowth of the Christian life and message. But it is not the center. To believe it is is to miss the point.

            If you want a gospel that simply tells you you ought to be nicer to others, become a humanist. Christianity is hardly necessary.Report

            • Rufus in reply to Mopey Duns says:

              @Mopey Duns, Okay, well, first, I’m not a Christian, nor am I particularly inspired to become one. So, yes, my reading is absolutely idiosyncratic. Having very recently reread the Gospels, what most stuck in my mind was the image of a spiritually perfect human being calling on God to forgive the people who are putting him to death, while they’re in the process of doing so. I can’t think of a similar image in any religious text I’ve read. Given how often discussions of forgiveness occur in the life of Christ, I assumed that Christians, who supposedly emulate Christ, are called on to love and forgive in a Christlike way. Now, I’m fully aware of the incarnation of the word, forgiveness of the sins of the world, the gift of grace, the resurrection of the dead, and the final conquering of death. I did pick up on that. But, not being a Christian, what I found as startling as a bolt of lightning was “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Since you’re a Christian, you’re much more qualified to say what is the central message and I’ll take your word for it, but that’s what stood out for me. As for my Christian identity, having very little interest in becoming a Christian, I think it’s irrelevant.Report

            • Mopey Duns in reply to Mopey Duns says:

              @Rufus, I appreciate your point. I am a bit sorry that I sidetracked the discussion from your frankly fascinating foray into Buddhism, a religion I know very little about.

              I understand how you might find the images you mention startling. They have a similar effect upon me. But your interest does not make them the heart of the matter.

              To think what we find interesting is the point of a thing is an easy trap to fall into. But it is not necessarily the case.Report

      • Matty in reply to Simon K says:

        @Simon K, Hmm, the Christians I know would say that the *central* message of their religion was that Jesus defeated death and his followers will one day do the same. But of course spotting true Christians is almost as hard as for true Scotsmen so I’m not saying you’re wrong just that other people might say that.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    @Mopey Duns, I sympathize with the saying that, for example, “Protestants aren’t *REAL* Christians.”

    There are Catholics, for example, who believe that (such is the tragedy of schism).

    As an atheist who was raised Southern Baptist, I would like to point out that the Papist idolators don’t have a freakin’ leg to stand on when it comes to the motes in the eyes of people who talk to God *DIRECTLY* rather than asking Mary to maybe talk to Him for us.

    Indeed, I have relatives who went on missions to Ireland to, sigh, witness to Catholics.

    Additionally, I’ve been blessed to have conversations with Marxists who have explained to me that (insert Communist leader here) wasn’t a *REAL* Communist. I’ve gotta say, “you’re not really a Communist” would be words that Stalin would have been surprised to hear. Indeed, he was the quintessential Communist and it was the country full of wreckers that were failing Communism while he was actually epitomizing it!

    So on and so forth.

    I can’t pretend to know the mind of God (or the mind of Marx, for that matter) and it does seem to make sense to say that post-theist unitarians who don’t believe that Jesus existed, as such, aren’t “Christian” in the same way as, say, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church… but I don’t feel comfortable telling people that they aren’t what they think they are when it comes to the topic of self-selected internal states. I know for damn sure that I don’t have the competence to judge.

    I extrapolate from that and figure that others don’t either.Report

  6. Mopey Duns says:

    @Jaybird, I don’t know what to say at this point. You seem to be implying that to dispute someone’s self-identification is to fall into the No True Scotsman fallacy. That fallacy only applies, however, if the explanation is ad hoc. If the explanation is reasoned, then you have to dispute the reasons. It is possible to determine the truth or falsity of the claim that Stalin is a Marxist, to use your example. We have the necessary criteria.

    It is possible for people to be wrong in their use of a commonly accepted definition. To maintain that we cannot correct category errors on the grounds that they are close to someone’s self-conception may be kind, but it is untrue.Report