[Buddha-l] Enlightenment as dogma

Vera, Pedro L. pvera at health.usf.edu
Thu Oct 14 09:29:38 MDT 2010

>Yes, that´s always something that bothered me. From which buddhist author do
>people get the idea that being a buddhist entails accepting everything?

I don't know. However, Stephan's question did not deal with ALL of buddhist doctrine, but with one specific and central doctrine, namely the Buddha's enlightenment (realization, whatever). 

I agree with Stephan that this particular doctrine has many of the characteristics of dogma (i.e. unquestioned and unquestionable belief) and the analogy to the belief in Christ's resurrection is a good one. I also think that either doctrine seems central to either belief system. Of course, one could choose to call oneself  "buddhist" or "christian" and not accept either one, but the overwhelming majority of believers in either camp seem to accept these doctrines so an interesting question would be whether someone who does not is considered to be part of the community (I myself have been told that I can't possible be a buddhist without believing in rebirth, for example). But, the more interesting question, in my opinion, is why would you want to call yourself a "christian" or a "buddhist" and deny such  a central tenet?

In either case, one has to deal with descriptions of the events that were recorded (permanently, not orally) many years (in the buddhist case, centuries) after the purported events took place. If Christ was just some poor guy who pissed off the Roman authorities and was punished by death on the cross, and did NOT come back, er...why be a christian as opposed to, say, a Hillelian (assuming that's what you call followers of Hillel who left quite a large documented record, as opposed to Christ)? Similarly, if the Buddha was just one of the many crazy indian nomadic/mendicant types who was spouting just another wildly inventive claims to paranormal experience and abilities, then why be a buddhist? 

Can a reasonable attempt be made to justify the decision to become either one while dropping central tenets? How many do you drop before you just give up altogether? Or can you make a case for the practices actually being beneficial without a theological or escathological dimension? For example, praying the rosary might calm your mind and make you feel better but not really get you into heaven because there isnt one? Meditation might calm your mind but not really get you to "enlightened" and won't make your next life any better because there isn't one? It seems that a fair amount of effort is needed to maintain cohesive views within a religious tradition while dropping central dogma, certainly more than is typically displayed in orthodox buddhist or christian books.

I agree with Stephan that it's only recently that there have been attempts by a few individuals to questions these central tenets of either religion but these attempts are not widely favored by the mass of believers (or the religious authorities). Dominic Crossan comes to mind on the Christian (at least Catholic side), an ex-priest who is a proponent of debunking (quite convincingly, I may add) many of the christian dogmas, including resurrection, while still preserving some "Christianness" to his thinking. On the buddhist side, Batchelor may be fulfilling a similar function. 

By the way, as an aside, the second part of Stephan's question had to do with external verifiability of the claim for enlightenment. Frankly, I think that resurrection claims are far more verifiable (just get medical personnel to verify you are dead and a CNN crew to film the resurrection, for example) than a claim about internal states, such as enlightenment. 

This is a rather long post to answer Stephan's two-part question. The short answer (in my opinion) is: Yes, it's a dogma. No, there is no external verification.



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