Buddhism and the precept against killing. + A possible nature of souls.

So…I’ve recently started consciously re-engaging with Buddhism. My last post, Can’t change who I am, I guess. Maybe just go with it?…has brought me back around to a bit of knowledge that was likely missing 2500 years ago. This is that there are more things living than I think anyone could really have suspected, and to fully, “avoid killing living things,” is not possible, without dying oneself.

That is to say…death is part of life, and not everyone can be a Breathairian and survive without an immune system. I’m not entirely certain to what extent watching the feasting swallows outside my window, yesterday, had to do with this: but I’ve found the precept against killing anything (including insects) to be unfeasible, and the more limited directive just to kill plants, to be insulting to plants, as though plants aren’t living things (though 2500 years ago in India, maybe they weren’t considered truly alive). This is not to mention that to remain healthy, our bodies have to constantly fight microbial invaders.

This is part of who I am. I’m more about balance than abstinence.

Of course, killing unnecessarily or with malice, is off the table, as is killing people or pets. But I am making the choice, from this point on, to fight potential infestations in my home and in my body, because — I’m sure the ants would love it if I stopped defending my food.

Not to mention that when I first moved into my current dwelling two decades ago, the house was overrun with giant spiders, some of which did bite (imagine coming up the stairs, and you look up and there is a surprise spider over 4″ across, spread out on the wall in front of your face. And you have to walk past it to get to your room I’M JUST TRYING TO GET TO MY ROOM).

I’m not letting that happen again, although no, I don’t want to hurt them. If I did want to hurt them, it would be different.

It may not always be part of who I am, but today, at least…I can’t be “Buddhist” enough to take pity on every non-human living creature I find in this house and move it outside. There are PEOPLE we don’t let in this house.

The building marks the boundaries of the territory. They aren’t supposed to be inside.

And the process of life is dynamic. It’s not stagnant.

I’m thinking that when one’s lifestyle involves asking for food instead of growing it oneself, though, it’s easy to get alienated from this. (Not to say that all clergy primarily begged. I know some did not. But…it’s an interesting insight that they were at least one step removed from the business of staying alive…like when I get D to vacuum up a huge silverfish for me because just seeing it freaks me out too much, or one buys meat from a butcher because no one wants to kill a chicken.)

(No, I don’t want to kill a chicken. I have no desire to kill. I don’t think the swallows yesterday had a desire to kill. They had a desire to eat.)

Okay, now that I’ve admitted that. I’m not perfect.

But I shouldn’t let that hold me back from engaging with Buddhism at all — that is, the fact that I’m not already perfect.

Fragments of the Divine?

I came across an interesting idea today…and I’m not sure whether concentrating on my pendant today helped this. I mentioned in yesterday’s post something about the Five Dhyani Buddhas of each direction (each Buddha being related to an Element), being embodied in one of the vishva vajra pendants I have (and I’m sure you could see where I could be hesitant to wear the more official of these two, if I don’t agree with certain ensconced fundamentals of Buddhism).

The thought I came to is that we each embody something — some specific aspect — of the universe. One can see this in various different schema in various different religions, particularly the polytheistic, or poly/pantheistic ones.

I think I am the latter. Not a religion (!), but someone who thinks in a way in which a mix of “polytheism” (the status of the parts as Deities are my only hangup, here) and pantheism make sense. (Pantheism = the belief that the Universe is Divine.) I’ve found this in Tibetan Buddhism, Qabalah, Angelology, Demonology, somewhat in Hindu belief (though I know better than to say “Hinduism,” I’ve never really in-depth investigated stuff like Advaita Vedanta, Shaivism, Vaishnavism or Shaktism: it’s harder for me as someone with an East Asian diasporic background, not to mention that for some reason these beliefs haven’t been as established in my area), and some African syncretic religions…

I’m thinking…everyone is unique, because what we are, if we do have souls, is the universe, fragmented or projected. Then as we incarnate, we learn and are conditioned to be certain ways, but the conditioning is not the essence. When we die, maybe that part of us which is a fragment of the Divine goes back to being that fragment of the Divine which is, “us.” Uniquely, “us,” or maybe one who interacts in the world through generating the energy behind multiple lives, at once.

So we would remain who we are and we would have a soul, even if a group soul, but we would be cleansed of extraneous materials.

Of course…this would fly in the face of Buddhism (which does not see an essential “Self” as real), but about as much as Psychology flies in the face of Sociology (Sociology sees people as constructed [or at least heavily conditioned and sometimes warped by] relations of power)…

I’m not sure if this is making sense to anyone but me. I’m hoping it will continue to make sense, because right now I’m a little tired (?) of writing.

And yeah…right now I’m wearing the little amethyst pendant…and I think it’s happy with me. 🙂 Not to sound crazy, though I know I must…

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Souls?

I might as well continue on with this train of thought, right?  I mean, I already started writing about it, and everything.

When I was about 23, I was looking around online for people talking about what I’d, by that time, only heard about in my own family, and/or — possibly, it was a decade ago — either the Library at my then-University, or my World Religions class (if I’d taken it by that point; I can’t remember the year offhand).

The terms pantheism and panentheism, I came across while looking for sites on paranormal phenomena.  Pantheism (All-God-Belief) basically states that the Universe itself is Divine, but also implies that there is no God beyond the natural Universe.  Panentheism (All-In-God-Belief) states that the Universe is Divine, but that there may be something more to it than we can comprehend.  At least, those are my understandings.  Last time I checked, there weren’t that many books out on the latter topic, either — except for two highly academic works focused around Christianity, which were too dense for me to take in at the time.

Aside from an ill-advised pledge to a friend’s church at a wedding when I was about 4 years old (promptly forgotten except for the hell-and-brimstone threat which I thought would curse all of us unless I did so and everyone I loved did so as well), a fairly frightening time with a Children’s Bible (same friend), and celebration of the holidays (which I’m sure the big two of which — Xmas and Easter — it’s known are co-optations of pagan holidays [Yule and Ostara]), I haven’t really been Christian.  And, actually, given my experience, it isn’t surprising.

So, when I started looking for information to explain what I was going through, I wasn’t really looking for Christian sites or anything remotely having to do with Christianity (my experiences later in life via religious conservatives preaching hate against everyone who could have been mistaken for gay [with nearly no resistance or contest from any church I could see except Glide Memorial], drove me away from that possibility).

So, after I returned from my first University with a pretty severe illness (which the widespread hate was instrumental in triggering), there was some kind of exchange between myself and M where she told me to figure out who or what “God” was to me.  At that time, I was fairly mixed up, because I had a good Deity figure who I called God, but I was getting that figure confused with the Christian “God,” which (based on my experiences with his followers), I really did not like.

It took me at least three years of trying to consciously separate the two, before I was able to refer to my own Divinity as the Divine, and not have the Christian element being called in because of that deity’s title.  I’ve kind of grown out of it by now, but usually when you see me say God, it means my personal God (more than likely, not yours); when you see me say “God,” in quotations, it usually means the Abrahamic god (which I don’t capitalize as an honorific, because that god isn’t my god).  I’m more likely to say Deity or God/dess, though, than God; because of the loaded state of the latter term.

Doesn’t mean I have anything against people who follow any of the Abrahamic religions; I just don’t follow any of those religions.  It’s like calling myself a woman — it confuses and hurts me more than it helps, but that doesn’t mean being a woman is in any way objectively bad in itself.  I’m just trying to make subjective sense out of my life, and maintain my own boundaries.

Anyhow — I relate all of this because, when I was younger, the site that I found really spoke to me in some manner was a Spiritualist sect somewhere in New England…it was so long ago, though, that I’m pretty sure the page is either gone or has changed hands.  Doubtless, if it even still exists, the content has changed.

The significance of this is that it did start me off on a kind of psychic bent in my explorations.  It also let me know the only face of the Christian God that I connect with — a Universal Spirit.  When I use the term Spirit, I’m referring to a Spirit of Life, which in my mind is directly responsible for my (and everyone else’s) ability to be self-aware.

I have my own thoughts on the Council of Nicaea (which started Catholic doctrine, including the doctrine of the Trinity), but I really don’t have enough information yet to make any kind of informed claim about it.

I’ve learned from the leg of the journey that finding that one (small) Spiritualist website spurred off in me, but I wouldn’t at this point consider myself confidently “psychic” to the point of selling my skill to anyone, or showing off anywhere.  So, I guess it could be like the time in self-defense class when the sensei told us not to tell anyone we practiced, because then we would get people challenging us and wanting us to prove ourselves — which was antithetical to the reasoning behind taking self-defense!

Particularly, since I’ve really settled in with this last medication, I’ve been having less mental noise and variation than usual; plus, more control over my own mental state.

I’m fairly certain that brain chemistry does have something to do with psychic sensitivity, and may account for some having intuition come more easily to them than it does to others.  Having lived with a brain which was overtly ill to the point that I couldn’t care for myself, and one which is mostly well-adjusted, the difference is apparent.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of those “Sacred Madness” things (to the brink of death and back), only I’ve had outside help in getting it in hand.  I do kind of wonder what would have happened if I’d been in a society where there were shamanic practitioners who could have helped me (as versus psychiatrists to medicate me into a more normal brain activity pattern and teach me better how to think), though I’m sure it would have been much harder.

Anyhow!  I started out thinking about this idea of “souls,” right?  Do souls exist, does a lack of soul exist, is this even the right question to be asking to get a productive response…

When I was working my way through my upper-division credits at University (my second University), I often would take time to go to the Religion/Spirituality/Parapsychology/Occult section, browse, and do some reading.  (I’m really not sure that these topics were all in the same place, but I did seek out these books when I had extra time in between classes.)  I recall doing a lot of reading on Buddhism, because one of my aunts is Buddhist, in the Pure Land tradition in my country (she doesn’t mention it at all, though) — and I figured, why not learn more about my family and roots?

So, first two books on Buddhism down, and I’m thinking to myself, “it can’t be this bad.  There must be cultural issues (e.g. exoticization) in translating the concepts.”  Today, I am thinking that those books which I read first, which were all older texts…were not on contemporary Buddhism.  Nor were they on any complex kind of Buddhism.  When I look around at most books on Buddhism today, just about all of them start out with the story of Buddha’s “enlightenment”…quotes because we don’t really know what that means or if his ascent into nirvana from parinirvana happened, or if his enlightenment is or will be the same thing as your or my enlightenment…

At this point, a bit over a decade in time has passed between now and the time I first started researching Buddhism.  I do get weary of the Buddhism 101 books…though I suppose they are so popular because how are you going to learn about the more refined doctrines if you don’t know the basic foundations of all of the Vehicles…

…but once you do know the basic information, it isn’t so easy to net all of the dogma and trash it so that you can get to working on yourself.

I mention Buddhism because it is a key element of Buddhism that everyone does descend from the same source and that underneath everything, all of the natures of all of the beings in all of the realms are the same:  “Buddha-nature.”  (Quotes, because I hate this term and hate to use it, but then as people-who-might-be-Buddhists go, I’m not one who jives well with doctrines of metta or karma at this point.)  Because all our differences are at the (supposed) end (of samsara) immaterial, it is said that there is no essential self.  Kind of like I mentioned, in the last post — we’re at core, all the same.

I’m not entirely sure I buy into this, though, as it is admitted that something does carry on from one life into the next, though in strictest definition, this is just the net effect of past actions (karma).  This gives one the sense that they were other beings in the past, but it actually wasn’t them in the past, apparently — it was someone else who gave rise to one.  Therefore, the actor is mortal, even though the person they birth will think that they used to be said actor.

Given that I haven’t found a definition of karma that I can accept or fully grasp yet, and given that it differs from its original version in Hindu belief…(it seems to have morphed within Buddhism)…this kind of throws a wrench into the works of my totally accepting this doctrine, which means I can’t accept the entire system whole cloth.

My own experiences, as well, do not point to the nonexistence of spirits (small “s”; not the same as the Universal Spirit [who is the totality and essence of Life], but a piece or fragment of it with its own energy, potential personality, and volition).

I don’t know enough about any variant of Hindu belief to be able to guess about the specific beliefs in soul, other than the doctrine of atman (personal essence) in what I know about Hindu belief and anatman (no-self) in Buddhism.  So…given that atman exists in astika (orthodox) Hindu beliefs (there are a number of them), it would seem like transmigration or reincarnation of a pre-existent soul would happen between lives.

Given anatman in Buddhist beliefs (which, by the way, happen to be nastika [unorthodox] in reference to the Vedas — that is, they do not consider the Vedas [one body of Hindu holy texts] true), we have rebirth, but not reincarnation.  Death of the personal self is final in Buddhism, although something of one does continue on.  Whether that would be the same as one, in some way other than history and karmic transfer, is unknown.  It’s possible that when the texts say that death is final, they are referring to death of the personality and not of the essence (Buddha-nature) carried within one.

Gah.  Okay, I’m tired.

If anyone wants to help me hash this out, I’m open; but right now I’m going to bed.  🙂