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Killing the Buddha

Killing the Buddha

[This blog entry was originally posted on March 3, 2010. It's being reposted here to give newer readers (and older readers who might have missed it) a chance to read the "mission statement" of Dead-Logic. Enjoy. - Bud]

My friend Mike asked me whether I have a mission statement for Dead-Logic. "Do you have a purpose to the blog?" he asked. As a matter of fact, I do. My purpose is to encourage readers to become Buddha killers.

The concept of killing the Buddha is found in a story from Zen traditions. After years of study and meditation, a monk has what he believes is a great achievement: the ineffable ultimate; enlightenment. But, unfortunately for the monk, this is not the case. His master explains that what he has experienced is fairly common and no real achievement at all. Then the master offers strange-sounding advice: If you meet the Buddha, kill him.

He should kill him because the Buddha he meets is not the true Buddha. If this Buddha is not killed he will only stand in the way. The Buddha encountered here represents one's expectations, desires and preconceived notions. This Buddha represents a belief one holds because his favorite professor believes it, or "C.S. Lewis said it" or because it's what his denomination believes. This Buddha is the confidence one feels in his worldview simply because he wants it to be true and refuses to consider alternatives.

Many believe in something because they have neither considered it seriously nor scrutinized it objectively, they do not know from where this belief came and they never allow themselves to see that they are making assumptions and that these assumptions might be wrong. They think they've attained enlightenment or have an intimate connection with the eternal logos of the universe. They think they have insight into "ultimate reality." They are convinced they know the will of the divine. More likely, these people just have a Buddha in their way.

We become content with our views of god; we put him in a little box where we think he fits perfectly, and anyone who dares oppose us is branded a heretic or a fanatic. We seal that box tightly and refuse to open it for fear of what we may find. Our belief becomes our Asherah pole, and our ideology the object of our devotion. Consider the sad irony of the Taliban destroying two of the world's tallest ancient statues of Buddha in Bamyan, Afghanistan, because they never destroyed their own Buddha. This irony is sadder still in light of the fact that the Taliban did this just a few months before September 11, 2001.

I first heard of "Buddha killing" ten years ago when I discovered the site (aptly named) "Killing the Buddha" (which, a decade later, I still read regularly). According to their manifesto, "killing the Buddha is a metaphor for moving past the complacency of belief, for struggling honestly with the idea of God... when people talk about God they are talking mainly about the Buddha they meet." If the Buddha is not killed he will only stand in the way, so complacency and apathy must be destroyed before an honest struggle with the ideas of god, faith, and religion can occur. Bias and personal preference must give way to objectivity.

"Everyone's biased! How can you tell people they should be objective?" This depends on what is meant by "biased." If what is meant by "biased" is "I believe certain things," then of course I'm biased, and so is everyone else. Everybody believes something. But simply holding a belief in X does not imply that one must be prejudiced against Y or Z.

If what is meant by "biased" is "I prefer to believe certain things," then of course I'm biased, and so is everyone else. One achieves objectivity by recognizing and confronting his preferences. As Socrates was considered wise for recognizing he was not wise, so a thinker comes closer to objectivity when he recognizes his bias. Buddha slaying begins with the questions, "why do I believe this?" and, "should I believe this?"

I say kill the Buddha because the purpose of this blog is to promote critical thinking. The goal of critical thinking is to come to reasoned, thoughtful conclusions; to eliminate nonsense and ignorance; to dispel the illusion of wisdom; to follow the evidence wherever it leads; to search for truth wherever it may be found; to be wary of any claim that cannot withstand skeptical inquiry.

That's a good enough mission statement for me.

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