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All Life is Precious
I’ve been fisked.
I lived in Japan for 17 years, and in my initial years became quite deeply involved in Zen Buddhism. It was only some time later, after coming to live in Australia, that I became a Christian.
In my book I described certain experiences in Buddhism that had left me disillusioned, and I wrote:
I had been taught that Buddhism regarded human existence in general as meaningless. But I still regarded individual human beings as precious, and was startled at what seemed to me a lack of love in the religion.
Roth has done something very dangerous: he has missed the point and then preached on it. I don't know who taught him that "Buddhism regarded human existence in general as meaningless," but this is not only inaccurate but wrong. If only it were merely inaccurate. The Buddha taught that all life is precious, and that human life is especially so. Countless lifetimes of karma must ripen for us to attain this human existence; our existence is so meaningful that we must practice immediately and with all the intensity of our beings to attain the Great Bodhisattva Way and liberate countless beings vast as space. Nothing meaningless there.
What can I say? Clearly I was wrong in what I wrote, and I shouldn’t have expressed it like that. I think I was trying to make a point about Buddhist teachings on life and suffering. But that certainly wasn’t the way it came out.
It’s no excuse, but I will say that I had little interest in doctrine during my fairly brief (but intense) experience with Zen Buddhism. It was the spiritual buzz that attracted me, which probably explains why I soon drifted away.
And this was the 1970s, and I was practicing Zen in Japan with a lot of other Westerners who were – like me, at that time – deeply cynical about life. I think many of us probably believed that it was Zen Buddhist doctrine that life was meaningless, even if our teachers never actually said so.
I should also note that I’ve received various comments from Western Buddhists, over several years, about what I wrote, but none has ever raised these points before.
It’s too late to change what’s in the book. Fortunately (!?), it sold very poorly. And I can add this commentary to the end of the online version.
Anyway, that’s it.
My first fisking.
But I see that Andi is a graduate of Yale.
So maybe I’ll take some wry pleasure from my pipe dream that perhaps I’ve just been fisked by the Andi Young at Yale who was a “self-labeled sex activist” and who appeared in “the first pornographic movie in the school’s 300-year history”.
November 10th, 2003