Buddhism may be the fillet of Religions…

by F.

But it still causes hardening of the arteries, particularly those in the brain. In other words, it’s just more bullshit, when you get right down to it.

This disappoints me greatly, but there it is. Too bad. I wanted a religion. Everyone else has one. Where’s mine? What’s my alternative?

I want my Dalai!


I guess I’m stuck with scientific materialism as a consolation prize. Sigh. Doesn’t sound very sexy, huh? On the other hand, there’s no tithe and I don’t have to show up anywhere on a certain day of the week.

I wanted to get on the Buddhism bandwagon. I did. I’ve been trying to get on (and subsequently falling off when I did manage to hang on for a while) for 20 years. I’ve read many, many books on the subject. Gone to seminars. Meditated. But there’s that whole “truth” concept that gets in the way.

Like when I read this in the Dalai Lhama’s How to Practice. This is supposed to be a description of human death:

The process of dying involves a serial cessation, or dissolution, of the four internal elements: earth (the hard substances of the body); water (fluids); fire (heat); and wind (energy, movement). In ordinary life, these elements serve as the basis for consciousness, but during the process of dying their capacity to support consciousness decreases, beginning with the earth element.

O…Kay…. Got that? In case that’s not clear, we get a step by step breakdown:

1. When the earth element, or hard substances of your body, dissolves into the water element, the external indication is that your bady becomes thinner; internally, you see what appears to be a mirage seen in the desert.

Cool! Mirage! There are a bunch more steps, but Step 6 is my favorite:

Your mind turns into an omnipresent, huge, vivid white vastness….However, a subtle sense of subject and object remains, so the state is slightly dualistic.

Kick ass! It’s like Lazarium! Step 7 also has a lot to recommend it:

You mind itself turns into a still more subtle, vividly black state; nothing else appears. This is called “near-attainment” because you are close to manifesting the mind of clear light.

Well, sure. Duh. (I guess.)

I know, I know—I’m picking on the Dalai Lhama and some might consider that to be rude. Or mean. Or both.

Actually, I’m not picking on the guy. I’m sure he’s a great guy. I mean, if you were groomed from birth with one and only one mission—to make people happy—I think you would probably be a nice person, too. Like Sammy Davis, only for religion. Mr. Nice.

You get free meals. Get to travel around the world and be revered. Get to talk to all sorts of famous people, including, nowadays, cognitive scientists. You get to write books. And you get a pension.

Sign me up. I want to be a reincarnation of a Dalai Lhama. Where do I send my application? Do they take PDF?

But, seriously folks, there is a use to these sorts of belief systems. No, I don’t mean selling books and tickets to seminars, lucrative as that may be. I mean hypothesis generation.

You see, thinking systems like Buddhism have no built-in error correcting mechanism, like science does. Buddhism, for example, picks up hypotheses but it doesn’t test them, so the crappy ones don’t get purged from the system. As E.O. Wilson says, in his preface to The Literary Animal,

“Tibetan Buddhism and postmodern costructivism are … among the many ways of thinking available to all humanity but have none of the diagnostic characteristics of science.”

They still have a use, of course. They can generate testable hypotheses for science. Sort of like herbal medicine does. For instance, if the horn of the Rhino has been used as an aphrodisiac for, say, hundreds of years, and there is a widespread belief in its efficacy, then maybe the following hypothesis should be tested:

  • Rhino horns make human beings horny.

Seems implausible to me, but you might be able to get a grant for it. There are various details to be worked out, such as dosage, conditions under which the horn is administered, and so on. But that is, in principle, a testable hypothesis. After all, Aspirin, I’ve been told, was used as an herbal medicine before it was “discovered” by Western medicine. And Aspirin works.

So, bogus belief systems, like Buddhism, still have utility. Perhaps great utility, even for those of us who care about having a scientific picture of the world. But not in the way intended by their evangelists.