At first pass, for many, Buddhism can seem pessimistic:
- Existence is dukkha
- We are reborn again and again, stuck in this dukkha
- The only way out is cessation
One way to confront this sense of pessimism is to go back to the EBT’s and search for more hopeful interpretations. E.g.:
- If we achieve nibbana there is an ongoing state of well-being. (How this is worded and understood varies, but the basic idea is something pleasant continues.)
- There is no rebirth. We aren’t stuck forever. (This often comes under the heading of Secular Buddhism. Stephen Batchelor is the writer I’ve read most coming from this perspective.)
While those aren’t my views, I have no interest in this thread in arguing against either of those positions. If you do a search you can find lots of wonderful threads arguing for and against those positions. (And also a nice selection of somewhat cranky threads on those topics. )
What I’d like to suggest is that, if you struggle with Buddhism, and/or the goal of cessation, as pessimistic, there is another way to approach it. Spend time around Monastics. In-person is wonderful if you can; online is also great if in-person isn’t an option. It isn’t even about what Monastics teach, but how they are in the world. Overwhelmingly the Monastics I’ve interacted with in-person and online have seemed some of the most joyful people I’ve known. They experientially refute a pessimistic feeling about Buddhism. Personally, I think contact with Monastics is a key component of practice. I find my practice (personal opinion here, of course) is informed as much by how Monastics are in the world as by EBT’s.
I would also add that it can be really uplifting to experience the dana culture at the monastery. And if you’re staying at a monastery, there is something special about participating in a spiritual community by giving and helping.
Yes. Bhante @cintita writes about this in his book:
where he compares the enlightened monastics to the black hole at the center of a galaxy: the embodiment of emptiness that holds the rest of it together. The rest of us can’t help but be drawn towards the gravity of their compassion… And if we’re lucky, we fall in! I always enjoyed that simile…
I had a much better impression of Buddhism before meeting monastics. I haven’t even met one who knows what nibbana is, or even who knows which sutta describes it.
Sure, they do seem happy, but as soon as you question their understanding they get defensive, as if they are completely unprepared for such a scenario, having been spoiled by the infinite respect their robes confer traditionally.
I can give some specific examples but I assume naming names of people or monasteries is a no-no on here. But so far, I have been to monasteries in USA, India, Thailand, and spoken with Sri Lankan and Malaysian monks.
I come away with the impression that the robes are some kind of poison that blows up the ego and one should wait to gain stream entry at the very least before donning the robes.
Sadly also a common experience!
Or perhaps a blade of saw grass… Even in the Buddha’s day, there was Devadata, etc…
Yes seeking out monks who “know nibbāna” can be a bit difficult this world-cycle… but it’s not impossible! And you’re already born as a human, so that’s most of the difficulty overcome already
Yes, I do agree with you to some extent.
I’ve been thinking around this recently. I get sucked into this one recurring monologue where “there’s nothing in this world but greed, lies and egos”. Eventually I calm down (or exhaust my rant energy) and realize that this is not entirely true. There are renunciates who are actively seeking the opposite of this; alternatives exist.
There’s a common phrase in the EBTs…
“They’ve not seen good persons, and are neither skilled nor trained in the teaching of the good persons.”
…which I loosely interpret as “one needs good role models / examples”. I’ve seen good examples. (This said, I’ve not met a Buddhist monastic in real life, only pixels on a monitor with appended audio).
A second thought is the recognition that without monastics, including the many forgotten monastics who preceded, we wouldn’t even have the EBTs; they would have been lost to time.
So I’m lucky to have met something better? Uhh, mostly I think I’m more sort of common joe…