I do understand about the questions of existence, and spent a lot of time with them.
Actually Bobby’s fun entry on Nagarjuna might well offer some insight. Buddhists seem so surely based in experiment and understanding rather than faith and 'belief' that I find them restful.
I have not spent any time in Buddhist practice, nor visited the Dalai Lama, etc – and yet I have always felt very close to the tradition. I reserve judgement on the idea of reincarnation, but appeared straight after the last war (shrewd move for a pacifist) and grew up as a vegetarian (thanks to my dad’s Theosophy and my mum’s preference for fresh food), have always had a great empathy with other life forms, and have managed to get through a difficult life with a certain amount of humour (don’t you love the warmth of smiling Tibetan lamas?)
I have certainly always found it hard to believe in a higher being who would create me, make me jump through hoops for a lifetime, and then consign me to a permanent Heaven or Hell based on performance. I find that kind of Judeo-Christian-Muslim God quite incredible and improbable – even though exposed to it as a story through my culture, and educational system. I also find it impossible to discuss, as People of The Book mostly adopt a non-rational position like Father Tertullian who said, "Credo quia absurdum est" or "I believe it because it's absurd," a line worthy of Salvador Dali. You can't argue with that.
I can live with the idea of my simply appearing as a mammal, once, and then leaving.
I can live with the idea that I represent some kind of cycling, open system, reincarnating energy.
My ambivalence about ‘teachers’ and about reincarnation got tested when, in 1986, I got taken to the mountains in Spain, and met a Spanish child, Ösel Hita Torres, reputed to be the reincarnation of Lama Yeshe, a particularly joyous Tibetan monk who had died in California at the age of 49.
The rather solemn young boy I met certainly had an extraordinary presence for someone not yet two years old. I had turned up in my white suit, feeling rather uncomfortable as a sceptic around such reverence, so when he rocked the table and spilled my tea onto my trousers I nearly burst out laughing (I deal with small crisis by laughing quite often) but stayed respectful, like the rather serious people who surrounded him with awe. I later heard that Lama Yeshe had a mischievous sense of humour, and lack of pretension, and this fitted. Of course, I still couldn’t work out if I thought of this as merely a social experiment (give Royal Jelly to an ordinary bee and it turns into a Queen, so perhaps you can teach any child to become a Prince, or a guru). And yet, and yet…
So anyway, I got a blessing. Later that year, the Dalai Lama officially recognised him as a reincarnate.
I don’t dabble in Buddhism, though. I know Alan Watts’ and Christmas Humphreys’ books helped me through a difficult adolescence, simply by letting me know like-minded people existed. I don’t want to experiment with the advanced studies merely from books, as I think far too many Westerners may attempt to do – I believe Lama Yeshe said
"Tantra is not for people who are miserable, because they have no resource of pleasure to utilize."
I don’t even worry about whether I should make an effort to find a teacher, or ‘commit’ to such study. If I need a teacher, and feel ready, they will show up. This worked for me so far.
I do like the clarity of instruction from the Buddha (500 years before Jesus, and contemporary of Pythagoras, another vegetarian), however:
"Rely not on the teacher/person, but on the teaching.
Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words. Rely not on theory, but on experience. Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."
That seems so incredibly modern as an outlook – and you don’t have to just take my word for it:
The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.
I suspect that what appeals to scientists (and to me) remains the idea that the world keeps changing and evolving, so we have to keep investigating and checking from our experience. This reminds me of a living language, and a living world. For people who want a ‘final solution’, people who want to ‘be right’ or know ‘the truth’ such ideas seem vague, indecisive and possibly even frightening.
“He [Buddha] also had consistently refused to give conclusive answers to many types of metaphysical questions, as the parable of the arrow shows. However, as the Buddha fully knew, the human tendency to enquire into such intangibilities is practically ineradicable. People were wont to philosophize on even those very subjects about which the Buddha forbade speculation. This inevitably led to differing opinions about the nature of reality. Even some modern scholars have been misled by the Buddha's apparent agnosticism, calling it a "vagueness" in the Buddha's teachings, a vagueness which caused "a great divergence of views" to arise.”
And for those of you young people who find all this as boring as I found Christianity, you might get the same fun and inspiration that I got from Alan Watts (back in 1962) by looking at Dharmapunx and Hardcore Zen.
from your humble correspondent - Godfrey Zone - modelling agnosticism.