Originally posted by Darfius
I appreciate your response. It was well thought out.
My first question for you is why Buddhism assumes man is inherently good? Is this based on more than "faith"?
Secondly, do you believe in any kind of afterlife?
...[text shortened]... come wise, insightful and have peace of mind?
Hi Darfius --
1. Why does Buddhism assume that Man is inherently good?
Buddhism postulates the existence of the "Buddha-mind" as the core or essence of all sentient beings. From this premise, it then proposes a path that people can walk in order to uncover or discover this "Buddha-mind" -- which is the essence of clarity, wisdom, goodness, and compassion.
As for the second part of your question -- "is this based on more than faith?" -- in order to answer that, I have to mention the process of the Buddha's Enlightenment and what he discovered while sitting under the Banyen tree 2,500 years ago.
The essence of the Buddha's realization can be boiled down to one term -- "non-duality". What Buddha saw was that once he'd sufficiently calmed his mind and seen beyond its confusions, identifications, and projections, there was one unqualified reality "left over", and that was the direct understanding that the ego -- the fundamental sense of seperation and isolation that forms the core of the self -- was nothing other than a collection of thoughts in the mind.
Once he saw directly into the transitory nature of the ego and the separate self, he then became aware of a much greater, vaster reality that he tacity and clearly understood to be his real nature. The Sanskrit term for this "real nature" is *shunyata*, which has been clumsily translated in English as "emptiness". (A problem with the English language is that it is primarily a technical language, not a spiritual one. Sanskrit is a spiritual language, and so they have all sorts of words that define subtle nuances of spiritual states, words that simply have no parallel in English and so can only be approximately translated).
"Emptiness" in this case does not equate to "nothingness", as it sometimes mistakenly assumed. "Emptiness" means, in this context, "empty of inherent or solid existence."
The basic idea is that our natural state or real nature is one of pure consciousness, and consciousness itself cannot be measured or quantified or reduced. According to Buddhism, consciousness is irreduceable and unmeasurable, as well as unconditioned by space or time. The entire universe of space and time as we typically perceive it is a product of sensory input and conceptual construction, lacking any inherent existence beyond that.
This idea explains, according to Buddhism, how the universe can exist, that is, how we can get past the seeming logical absurdity of how "something came from nothing", sometimes called "ex nihilo" in Latin. The old conundrum of what came "before the Big Bang", or "what was God doing before He created the universe", is addressed in Buddhism via the teaching that all things lack inherent existence, meaning, they are only creations of within our perceptual fields of sensory input and cognition. The key to grasping the "origin of all things", according to Buddhism, is in unraveling the mystery of time. Time is a conceptual construct. It is purely a measurement of the relative movement of objects in space. When it is seen that spatial dimension is fundementally an illusion, then it is automatically seen that time is also an illusion.
One point to be stressed -- by calling space and time "illusions", that does not mean that their effects are not powerful, immediate, and requiring to be addressed by anyone existing in a physical body. Illusions can be extremely potent and effectual. When someone is asleep and dreaming, you do not violently throw water on their face to wake them up. This teaching does not devalue the world, nor lack respect or compassion for where people "are at". It merely seeks to address the underlying cause of suffering and unhappiness, which is that people come to believe that space and time are real in an ABSOLUTE sense. With this belief comes belief in the ultimate reality of the body, and in how we are nothing more than the body. When we think we're nothing more than the body, then the ego holds sway, with its ruling doctrine that all beings are eternally separate from each other, and thus must be eternally at conflict with each other in order to survive.
So to sum, Buddha's experience of the "Buddha-mind" -- our naturally awakened condition -- was based on his profound realization that at the core, all things are One, that is, inherently connected, non-dual (not two), and of the nature of pure formless consciousness. This "pure formless consciousness" is wisdom, clarity, goodness, compassion, acceptance, etc. What blocks us from seeing / experiencing this "core" is the mind and its delusions. Therefore, by disciplining the mind via meditation, we have the possibility of clearing away these delusions that are obscuring our core, much like clouds blocking the sunlight.
2. Do I believe in any kind of afterlife?
A big question, but briefly, yes. The Buddhist view of the afterlife is that there are six primary dimensions or realms, one of which is the human realm. The "heaven" realm for them is of finite duration, that is, beings who stay there must sooner or later reincarnate in human form again in order to complete their lessons. The "hell" realms in Buddhism are remedial and also finite in duration. Beings whose karma (sum of their Earthly actions) draws them into the hell realms stay there until sufficiently purified (humbled), and then reincarnate again with another chance at spiritually evolving.
The highest "realm" in Buddhist teaching is Nirvana, but it should be understood that "Nirvana" is not a place. It is a condition of being that is completely free of all delusions. Buddhism teaches that even the heaven realms are still mired in subtle but powerful illusions, based on spiritualized ego.
My own believes around life after death are based on several decades of studying the matter, via such texts as the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Egyptian Book of the Dead, as well as a number of "out of body" experiences I once passed through during certain meditation practices. For myself, the certainty of the survival of consciousness beyond the body is essentially 100%, although admittedly this is subjective and not objectively verifiable.
3. Must one become a Buddhist to become wise, insightful, and have peace of mind?
I would say no, certainly not. In my own view, the realization of our deepest spiritual potential transcends any given religious tradition. And it seems to me that the greatest spiritual masters -- Jesus, Buddha, Socrates, Lao Tzu, Hakuin, Bodhidharma, Ramana Maharshi, etc. -- all said essentially the same thing. All were rebels and none allowed themselves to be defined by the religious structures of their time. They spoke to our highest potential only.