(Jen is an online pen pal I met at Brian Hine's fine site, Church of the Churchless.
Jen commented here a few days ago elegantly about Existentialism and Buddhism, and so I asked her if I could repost those citations and if she wouldn't mind adding some thoughts.
Jen's straightforward and sensible approach to her own mindfulness practice, and the philosophy behind it is very attractive. Anyone can adopt this personal philosophy, even if they choose to hold other religious or anti-religious views as well. I hope this is the first of many posts our local Zenmaster Jen will create for all of us here at Atheist and Believer.)
I often wonder if I am an atheist, or simply have existential views. I try to practice mindfulness, living with awareness and in the moment, the Zen buddhist way...
“The aim of mindfulness is to know suffering fully. It entails paying calm, unflinching attention to whatever impacts the organism, be it the song of a lark or the scream of a child, the bubbling of a playful idea or a twinge in the lower back. You attend not just to the outward stimuli themselves, but equally to%+20your inward reactions to them. You do not condemn what you see as your failings or applaud what you regard as success. You notice things come, you notice them go. Over time, the practice becomes less a self-conscious exercise in meditation done at fixed periods each day and more a sensibility that infuses one’s awareness at all times.”
― Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist
“The origin of the conflict, frustration, and anxiety we experience does not lie in the nature of the world itself but in our distorted conceptions of the world.”
― Stephen Batchelor, Alone with Others: An Existential Approach to Buddhism
“Evasion of the unadorned immediacy of life is a+s deep-seated as it is relentless. Even with the ardent desire to be aware and alert in the present moment, the mind flings us into tawdry and tiresome elaborations of past and future. This craving to be otherwise, to be elsewhere, permeates the body, feeling, perceptions, will - consciousness itself. It is like the background radiation from the big bang of birth, the aftershock of having erupted into existence.”
― Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“To embrace suffering culminates in greater empathy, the capacity to feel what it is like for the other to suffer, which is the ground for unsentimental compassion and love.”
― Stephen Batchelor,%+20Confession of a Buddhist Atheist
Living in the moment is about letting go of the past and catching oneself and bringing back one's thoughts to peace and love and presence, a constant struggle with the mind but a very worthy practice imo.
As you've probably noticed I do like to look up quotes to find something that resonates with me, its like talking to myself, a little lesson which lifts my spirit for the day...
"When we discover that the truth is already in us, we are all at once our original selves."
I became interested in Existentialism when I came across this video about existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre - his book "Being and Nothingness"- a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.
Sartre in Ten Minutes (9:59)
Existentialism meets Buddhism
A good portion of my writing focuses on Eastern practices such as mindfulness, and how they can improve one’s life. Another topic I focus on is existential philosophy and how beliefs derived from that school can also make life more fulfilling. In this post, I’d like to discuss similarities between the two.
I was struck recently by how the two philosophies, born of different worlds, came to many of the same conclusions. Existential philosophy is a Western idea, originating in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Buddhism is much older, said to have originated in the fifth century B.C.E. Despite their disparate origins and development, there are several striking similarities.
Being in the moment: Heidegger, a famous existential writer, wrote a book translated as “mindfulness”. He talks about Being, living in the moment, throughout his writing. Buddhism, as well as other Eastern philosophies (Taoism, for instance) also focus on the importance of immersion in the moment. As I’ve written a dozen times, empirical studies indicate the benefits of mindfulness for everything from physical ailments to mental health disorders. Mindfulness is essential to both philosophies, as it leads to the power to change, which is discussed next.
Individuals can change: To put it existentially, existence precedes essence. Essence is the idea of a finished product, where existence suggests becoming, being, and the ability to take control over one’s life. In Buddhism and other Eastern thought, the idea is that nothing exists except in the moment. Though some sects of Buddhism believe one possess a “Buddha Nature”, it is almost impossible to realize it for extended periods. In both philosophies, the idea is to “become”.
The inevitability of death: Though this is a more integral part of existential thought, (the fear of death and the need to face it permeates existentialism), Buddhism also focuses on meditating on one’s death. Being aware of death is central to Tibetan Buddhism, which spurred the famous, “Tibetan Book of the Dead”, and the more recent, “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”. Yoga has a pose called, “Savasana”, which is translated as “corpse pose”. Though yoga is not Buddhist, it further demonstrates the fact that Eastern thought (in this case Hindu) has come to similar conclusions as western existentialism.
Suffering is part of life: What’s more, they both focus on how the view of suffering can be transformative. In Buddhism, suffering is addressed in the Four Noble Truths. Suffering is part of existence, and can be overcome by following the Eightfold Path. Some of this philosophy focuses on acceptance of what cannot be changed (see Acceptance: It Isn’t What You Think).
In existential thought, suffering can provide life meaning. Camus’ most famous essay focuses on “The Myth of Sysyphus”, and how even knowing his work is pointless and considered torture by the gods, he embraces his life. Camus ends his essay with the idea that, “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart” (Camus, p.123).
Viktor Frankl, another existential writer, focuses on the meaning of suffering. When confronted with a patient who suffers because of the death of his wife, Frankl challenges the client’s meaning, pointing out that by bearing this suffering, he spares his wife the suffering of his death. In both of these existential writers’ views, the view of suffering alters its experience.
There are similarities between many philosophies and religions. Many focus on making your life happier and becoming a better person. The same is true for these two philosophies. In fact, I once read a book about how different philosophies can help one with mental health (Plato, Not Prozac). I am of the belief that for many mental health issues, a change of philosophy is the cure.
Copyright William Berry, 2017
"I think we have to trust ourselves in the darkness of not knowing. The God out of which we came and into which we go is an unknown God. It's the luminosity of that darkness and that unknowing that is, I think, the most human - and the most sacred - place of all."