Big Buddha, which I visited last year at Po Lin Monastery on the island of Lantau
I posted these questions on a Buddhist forum. You can follow the discussion here as faithful Buddhists take me to school. I can already see some holes in my writing, which I’m sure I’ll have to plug as I go along, but hopefully things will clear up in the end.
Let me preface this by saying that I’ve read numerous books on Buddhism in the past, but only one in the past five years, that being How to See Yourself as You Really Are by the Dalai Lama.
I am in agreement with certain points of Buddhist philosophy and of the opinion that meditative reflection can be useful for all people. However, there are still some beliefs within certain Buddhist sects that I find confusing and wish to clear up.
1. If the point of life is to escape existence why do people mate? Don’t Buddhists discourage mating? Monks are generally not allowed to mate because intimate relationships cause all sorts of messy emotions and having a budding family generally detracts from the ability to sit in meditative reflection for extended periods of time. Compassion in the Buddhist monk sense seems necessarily non-specific and all encompassing in theory. I don’t have a solid understanding of how Buddhism is or could be practiced by the laity. How can they possibly raise a family and have the time to reflect enough to escape cyclic existence?
1a. Since life is all suffering isn’t bringing a child into the world essentially cruel?
I could pretty well say the same thing for most religions, i.e. If you’re a Christian and you believe in heaven and hell, then aren’t you playing against the odds by having children? The percentage of people who go to heaven must surely be relatively low. (Wait, wasn’t there a George Carlin sketch about this?)
1b. Taken to the extreme wouldn’t the ideal Buddhist society be devoid of people?
In my imagined Buddhist utopia, everyone would meditate to the point of reaching nirvana. If everyone is in nirvana, then no one is reborn and thus the living human population dwindles to the big 0. I wrote a paper about this when I was in my undergraduate studies, but never received a satisfactory answer. The chances of this happening are close to nil in the world of probability but it’s an interesting thought exercise nonetheless.
2. On the subject of karma, what if the planet and all life ceased to exist? For instance, if some horrible person blew up the world and everyone and everything living in it, who/what would inherit the negative karma presumably created by his (I sincerely doubt it would be a woman) actions? What of those creatures that had not attained nirvana? Is it simply game over?
3. Is consciousness a curse since it instinctively leads to this development of self which is inherently false? It seems that the higher purpose of consciousness is for it to understand itself in order to escape the self to attain selflessness.