By Johnathon Lee
Buddha is dead, and we killed him.
Actually, Nietzche said that God was dead, but we’re talking Buddha right now—the ol’ B-Man, the OG Bodhisattva. We killed Buddha and plundered his teachings, and many of those have been lost in translation or twisted beyond repair. We killed Buddha when we decided that we could have the practical without the magical.
Nietzche was talking about how science was replacing religion. He realized that the world was on its way into amoral territory, where power dynamics would shift and we’d all be forced to figure things out for ourselves.
Science has shown us a cosmos without meaning or magic; where everything can be explained by nature. There’s no God, no Buddha, no Tao or Chi—there is only physics and chemistry.
Naturalism is becoming the new normal.
Well, it’s trying to anyway. There’s considerable push back. Understandably so. Naturalism points us right at the Abyss, a Void that Buddha could’ve filled with light. Literally, Buddha could shoot light from between his eyebrows. Prince Siddhartha, the miracle child who walked a few steps right out of the womb. Who can travel to different worlds and communicate with paranormal beings.
That’s all in the Pali Canon. It’s not some cooky Mahayana stuff.
Is that your Buddha? Probably not. Does that mean you even follow Buddha? How can we Take Refuge if we don’t believe that Buddha had 32 Marks of Perfection? It’s weird. Naturalism infiltrated Buddhism, but not Christianity. There’s no mainstream Secular Christianity where they pray and do good works but don’t believe in God, yet there’s Secular Buddhism where we meditate and do good works but don’t believe in Buddha.
Isn’t this kind of like giving a middle finger to Asian Buddhists? “Cool religion, bro. It’s mine now. Except for the supernatural parts. You can keep ‘em.”
I’m not saying that we should go backward. Secular Buddhism is here to stay. I’m wondering how we can move forward in the best possible way.
“What sacred games will we have to invent?”
The problem is that Secular Buddhism can’t beat nihilism. Without the magical stuff, there isn’t one aspect of Buddhism that we couldn’t kick shit all over with a great big, “Who cares? We’re all gonna die.” Science just can’t beat that. It can’t hold your heart when the night is cold. It can’t provide any hope for true purpose.
Without nirvana and rebirth, without the Arhats and Bodhisattvas, Buddhism doesn’t really have much.
That’s why Naturalists seized on the meditation methods right away. Without the magic, meditation is really all that’s left of Buddha. Ironically, Eastern Buddhists don’t meditate often. Prior to the West taking an interest, meditation hadn’t been a big part of Buddhism for hundreds of years.
But can we call ourselves Buddhists just because we practice Buddhist meditation? We need a Buddha, don’t we? Maybe we can’t have a Buddha and science too. Maybe nirvana is beyond our reach, and the Bodhisattva Vows beyond actualization.
Without the Buddha, all we’ve got are the Dharma and the Sangha. We have each other.
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