Friday, May 29, 2009

Turning Away From Religion: The Frog Bit

So on some of my identification papers, my religion is listed - Agama: Buddha (Religion: Buddhist)

In secondary school, I was a regular attendant of the Friday meetings of the Buddhist Association at school. Partly because I HAD to be part of some extra-curricular activity, partly because I genuinely did believe I was a Buddhist then, partly because we had a prayer session where we recited pali prayers, followed by a session of singing. Partly also because Chinese culture is somewhat saturated with Buddhistic references, but not what we learnt at those association meetings - our brand of Buddhism was Theravadan, which is the oldest school of Buddhism, and thus rather devoid of all Chinese myth funness.

I was part of this Association from Form 1 until Form 4 and I tended to skip meetings only twice a year.

I was feeling rather lukewarm about the whole idea by the time I hit Form 5, and discovered Wicca. (Which I don't practise either. I'm a horrible heathen like that.) But it was earlier than that that I found some holes in the karmic logic that occurred in Buddhistic lore told to me that I didn't understand, and I thought I would understand it when I grew older.

There was this frog.

This is one of the stories told about the Buddha Sidharta's sermons.

There was this frog, and while the Buddha was preaching, it had jumped out of the pond, and listened to a few words. It was stepped on a few minutes after listening, and because it had listened to the Buddha, it was reborn into a higher state of being.

This was meant to illustrate just how powerful the Buddha's words were, that it could raise a lowly frog into a being higher than a human. Being young and superstitious that I was, I thought that this was really fucking awesome.

Except, of course, that it's not, once I thought about it further. A frog jumps out of the pond just in time to hear a sermon and suddenly it's been reborn into a higher plane than humanity? What the devil is all that self-perfecting stuff that the monks do for then?

Although, apparently, only humans on this plane can achieve Nirvana.

Wait, why? Never found an answer. But apparently there's something special about the state of humanity which offers this much promise to people seeking a way out of Suffering.

But still, it seemed so against the grain of karma, so filled with coincidence, and yet coincidence s richly rewarded. A lot of talk is done about karma and cancelling out one's past sins and whatnot and how karma is so wonderfully intertwined with life that everyone gets their due for stuff they've done in the past eventually - which sounds a suspicious lot like the argument for intelligent design.

I quit buying it. Mostly because if someone wronged me in this life, I don't want justice in another life. Probably because I don't think holding grudges that long is healthy. Probably because I'll get over it by the time I'm dead (I hope) and getting ready to be reborn.

Maybe I got cynical - a frog is just a frog, and a spirit is just a spirit (yes, I believe in these, we have some nasty-ass ones in Malaysia, and I'm so not taking my chances with them), and words wouldn't - or rather, shouldn't, elevate or lower one or the other just by their hearing them.

1 comment:

  1. For a long time, my issue with Buddhism was the fact that in the two different schools of Theravada and Mahayana, the former believed that Buddha was a man and the later revered him more as a god (at least, in my experience). Having been raised as a Mahayana Buddhist, I struggled with the issue whether Buddha=god or in the power of the Bodhisattvas, because I didn't understand why he was considered to be so divine if he never stressed that fact himself, according to tradition. And after studying the history of how Buddhism developed, my faith in the Mahayanan tradition waned even further.

    But that doesn't mean I don't consider myself Buddhist. I still believe that a lot of the philosophical ideas are true, even if the divinity is not. I also realized why the mythical aspects developed -- because as logical as his words and ideas are, most people cannot be sustained by logic alone. They believe in stories.

    Stories, of course, can contain logic and reason and truth, but for them to live on, they have to capture an essence that is beyond truth, that resonates and makes people want to repeat these stories. Some call that aspect the miraculous, some call it magic, some call it imagination. But that aspect has to be there, because, as much as humans are logical and reasonable, we are emotional creatures too, and good ideas touch both the mind and the heart.

    As for the idea of karma, I am of the thought that karma is not the personal balance between you and the world, but the whole set of interactions between every single person with every single thing -- every event, every thought, every element, every atom-- in the universe. That karma is basically the universal action and re-action of a billion upon billion creatures and forces. So to concentrate on one's own karmatic effect is truly impossible, because one single person cannot fully estimate (or maybe even comprehend) how the effects of their actions resounate in the universe. But the least one can do is not to intentionally harm anyone, in the end, because that is all you can knowingly control.

    Along the same line of thinking, I also don't believe in good or evil, but that's another tale entirely.

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