Friday, January 25, 2013

Eightfold Path

I was reading some online message board entries concerning the responses of the Roman and Chinese Empires to barbarian incursions and came across one that was a little strange.  It went on from the topic under discussion to proposing that while Christian belief in God became the hallmark of Western civilization, the Chinese were stuck with the Buddhist belief in the Eightfold Path, and wham! then they became vulnerable to Communism in the 20th century. Of course one could retort where did this Communism start from, but a solid Christian nation called Russia...

But the basic point of the guy is that non-theistic Buddhism does not provide the moral strength to resist the totalitarian viciousness of Marxism-Leninism.  That is to say, as with Dostoyevsky, if God did not exist, all things are permitted, and moral relativism and actual chaos will be the result.  If this were true, then the history of Buddhism should be strewn with colossal persecutions, wars and cultural degradation.   But that is not the case.  Dostoyevsky's mistake is like many theists, Christian, Jewish or Islamic, that they have the corner on the Absolute and non-believers or infidels are incapable of decent behavior because they have disconnected themselves from ultimate Being or the Godhead.  Of course the Communists use the same argument, substituting History for God.  

This is taking belief itself as the marker of morality, rather than evaluating action in the real world.  It also generates the dangerous proposition that  as long as we firmly believe in God we are unlikely to commit evil deeds, and encourages the smug feeling we don't have to do anything to change our life, no matter how many bad habits we have.  I think a more reasonable theistic approach would be to accept the proposition that the sacred can be experienced in many ways and manifest itself in many forms, and there are possibly many paths to heaven, enlightenment, or union with God.  Just because they are not familiar with other paths does not mean they are dead ends.  The history of fanaticism is, by the way, pretty much a theistic phenomenon, not non-theistic. The Eightfold Path, which we have entirely overlooked in this post, is a path of moderation, tolerance and sanity. 

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