Everybody's favorite Buddhist text man, The Zennist, has an interesting post worth checking out today. The crux of it comes in the following paragraphs:
For a number of years I have been aware of the infiltration of materialism into Buddhism. It appears in the form of “no-self” or, for example, the questioning of rebirth and karma, or getting in bed with neuroscience which, I would argue, seems bent on a quest to reduce all psychical processes to little strands of molecules.
All this, incidentally, is the result of a serious failure of many modern Buddhists and scholars to read the canon correctly having beforehand (and I would suspect in a trance) put on blinkers to make sure they can’t read Buddhism any other way than being a form of materialism!
I can hear the groans now. More heady zen! Time for a cup of tea. I can dig it; sometimes it's me heading for that cup of tea. But I also think the above is worth considering at some point.
I like science. Some of the research being done on meditation and yoga is very fascinating, and I'm all for more awareness and intelligence when it comes to the human body. We should know our house better, don't you think?
But isn't there also, behind a lot of scientific work, a desire to pin things down, to have fixed answers about life?
And isn't it also true that the very methods of science, especially reproducible results, kind of fly against the basic teaching that life is constantly changing, and that it's folly to hope for things to stay the same?
Maybe I'm missing something. No matter what, I'd never argue to toss science out the door. It's a valid method of learning and understanding. But I have some questions about the heavy reliance on scientific results many of us seem to have.
The Zennist also brings up the questioning of the laws of karma and rebirth as an issue. It's the kind of issue that feels like taking off your boots before stepping into the swamp - a lot of us would just rather avoid it all together. Some just accept it without questioning that karma and rebirth exist. Others see it as a tack on Buddhist teaching that can be tossed off and forgotten about. Both of those positions seem faulty in my opinion.
The Buddha constantly reminded his students to try the teachings out, to not just accept or reject in your head. So, doesn't it seem like we have to, if we're serious about our practice, reflect on karma and rebirth?
Well, here's the infamous Wild Fox Koan from The Gateless Gate collection. Enjoy the ride!
Every time Baizhang, Zen Master Dahui, gave a dharma talk, a certain old man would come to listen. He usually left after the talk, but one day he remained. Baizhang asked, "Who is there?"
The man said, "I am not actually a human being. I lived and taught on this mountain at the time of Kashyapa Buddha. One day a student asked me, 'Does a person who practices with great devotion still fall into cause and effect?' I said to him, 'No, such a person doesn't.' Because I said this I was reborn as a wild fox for five hundred lifetimes. Reverend master, please say a turning word for me and free me from this wild fox body." Then he asked Baizhang, "Does a person who practices with great devotion still fall into cause and effect?"
Baizhang said, "Don't ignore cause and effect."
Immediately the man had great realization. Bowing, he said, "I am now liberated from the body of a wild fox. I will stay in the mountain behind the monastery. Master, could you perform the usual services for a deceased monk for me?"
Baizhang asked the head of the monks' hall to inform the assembly that funeral services for a monk would be held after the midday meal. The monks asked one another, "What's going on? Everyone is well; there is no one sick in the Nirvana Hall." After their meal, Baizhang led the assembly to a large rock behind the monastery and showed them a dead fox at the rock's base. Following the customary procedure, they cremated the body.
That evening during his lecture in the dharma hall Baizhang talked about what had happened that day. Huangbo asked him, "A teacher of old gave a wrong answer and became a wild fox for five hundred lifetimes. What if he hadn't given a wrong answer?"
Baizhang said, "Come closer and I will tell you." Huangbo went closer and slapped Baizhang's face. Laughing, Baizhang clapped his hands and said, "I thought it was only barbarians who had unusual beards. But you too have an unusual beard!"