I have made the decision to dedicate this year to the study of Eastern philosophy and spiritual practice, specifically Buddhism in its various forms.
In my initial studies, I have come across three concepts that are "foreign" to most Westerners that obviously give me pause. They are:
1. The concept of reincarnation is a "given" in Eastern philosophy. Without a belief in it, nothing that follows makes any sense.
1a. As a corollary to the above, some in the West believe in a form of reincarnation in which we "come back" to complete something left unfinished in a previous life... kind of like a linear soul transmigration. In Eastern philosophy, this is not so. Rather, reincarnation is not something positive, but a negative concept... something to overcome through achieving enlightenment or nirvana.
At this point, I have no idea where I stand on this issue. Part of me believes that it is possible; however, the logical part of me tends to write it all off as rationalization. My cynical side simply believes that "when you're dead, you're dead."
2. The core of Buddhist philosophy is that all life is suffering and that only through the renunciation of suffering can one achieve enlightenment. The term "suffering" is a very broad one, including not only physical suffering, but also psychic pain. This suffering supposedly arises out of our desire to possess things, as well as our obsession with doing things to escape the pain of our suffering. The Buddhist solution is to simply stop seeking. Sounds good, but to me it seems unnatural and contrary to the way we as humans are hard-wired.
3. In Western philosophy, we tend to think of the human soul as a central core to our person that is relatively fixed throughout our lifetime. Conversely, in Eastern philosophy, there is no such fixed core. Rather, there is only impermanence and constant change. The analogy of the artichoke and the onion fit perfectly here. If you peel away the layers of an artichoke, eventually you will get to a fixed core. However, if you peel away the layers of an onion, you get nothing, since the onion is only made of layers.
This presents real problems for me, since my entire life has been built upon the premise that I have a fixed "core" of a soul inside this body I carry around.
These issues help me to better understand how the Dalai Lama can say, when asked whether people in the West should convert to Buddhism, that they should stick with the religion they were brought up with. There are simply so many concepts that are so foreign that it may not be possible to give up our central concepts for an alternative set.
The reason I have started on this path is that I have found Western religious philosophy and practice to be unsatisfying and not in synch with my personal philosophy of life. Eastern philosophy in general, and Buddhism specifically, theoretically makes the most sense to me. However, as set out above, there are some fundamental problems that I am struggling with.
Any comments and/or suggestions would be greatly appreciated and welcomed.