Monday, July 14, 2003

Buddhist Fundamentalism?

The Solid Foundation of No Solid Foundation

Fundamentalism: A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism. (Religious skepticism or indifference- the view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.) [From]

Hey wait! Buddhism isn't by nature fundamentalist. How can there be, as the title suggests, "Buddhist Fundamentalism"? Well, first of all, even though a religion does not advocate fundamentalism, there will be fundamentalists- even in Buddhism- extremists who do not tread the Middle Path of moderation.

But if Buddhism does not advocate fundamentalism or even hint of it, does it mean Buddhism has no fundamental or core essential teachings? Yes there are- or Buddhism would have no standing ground; it would be vague and undefined. There wouldn't even be the need to call Buddhism "Buddhism"! So what are the fundamentals of Buddhism? The foundations of Buddhism are no foundations! What do I mean by that? Didn't I just say that Buddhism has fundamentals? Yes. Here is where it gets tricky...

The Buddha clearly taught us that the 3 Seals of the Dharma mark His teachings. They are seals in the sense that they authenticate the Truth, and differentiates the Dharma from non-Dharma. The trio is also called the 3 Universal Characteristics- as they mark the nature of everything (mind and matter- all mental and physical entities) in the universe. The Buddha discovered that the easiest yet most accurate way to completely describe the universe lies in these 3 characteristics- nothing more or less is needed. Since Truth is the way things are in reality, these characteristics themselves are aspects of the Truth- the fundamentals of Buddhism. But yet we can say these foundations of the Buddha's teaching are not really there in the sense that they are not something solidly "solid". This is due to the nature of the 3 characteristics-

1) Anicca (everything material and mental is constantly changing)
2) Dukkha (everything we grasp to brings disssatisfaction as they, and our attachments change)
3) Anatta (everything is without any fixed self because they change)

If you look carefully, the truths circle around Anatta- the truth of unsubstantiality. Sometimes this is called "soullessness", "egolessness" or "self-lessness". The truths can also be said to circle around Anicca- the truth of constant change. Dukkha is the sentient or human aspect of the two otherwise seemingly cold and unrelatable truths- the complete realisation of which is synonymous with Nirvana (the end of suffering- See next article "Why Realisation of Dukkha is Nirvana") Dukkha has to be stated as a truth in the sense that it is a true problem for us as long as we are unenlightened. If it is not a problem, the Dharma or Enlightenment would not be necessary in the first place. Seeing its "reality" and doing something about it is having Compassion for yourself and others.

Before I digress again, the 3 Universal Charateristics are indeed fundamental foundations of Buddhism, but as they are about unsubstantiality, they are in this way, the foundations of no foundations. This is a supreme "form" of foundation because it is only with this "form" of foundation that religious or doctrinal fundamentalism will not arise in Buddhism. At this point, you might think Buddhism is the nihilist's dream come true. Not exactly, because with the emphasis of Dukkha being a universal characteristic (problem for all sentient life), there is no compromise of the importance of morality. The truth of Dukkha can convert rational nihilists to realise that since they are subject to Dukkha, and that since subjecting others (to bring personal "happiness") to more suffering only compounds personal Dukkha, it is wise to be moral.

What is unsubstantial cannot be clung on to. Fundamentalism is clinging on to what is believed to be substantial. If a Buddhist clings to the truth of insubstantiality substantially, does it make him a fundamentalist Buddhist? So does Buddhist fundamentalism really exists? I would think the best answer I can give you is a Zen question reversed as an answer- The face of Buddhist fundamentalism is your original face before your parents were born!

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