I’m not a spiritual person. I’ve studied and practiced Buddhism for ten years. If those two statements seem antithetical to you then please allow me to explain how they are not. I believe a lot of people involved with technology misunderstand Buddhism and I hope to clarify a few points for them here.
If you are not familiar with Buddhism, you may be surprised to learn that Buddhists have no God and do not believe in the idea of a soul, let alone an eternal one. Heck we don’t even believe in the idea of a self! How can this be? What about reincarnation? What about karma? What about all those Tibetan deity paintings? All good questions but the facts remain; in Buddhism there is no God, no soul and no self. In other words, there is nothing spiritual about Buddhism. Buddhism is concerned only with the here and now.
I am inclined to scientific rationalism. It’s no surprise therefore I ended up working in the technology field. I am interested in any kind of system, both in terms of design and operation, but I am especially interested in the ones that make humans tick. The latter go by names like sociology, psychology, philosophy and pretty well everything on the humanities side of the curriculum along with economics, religion, politics and warfare. I have spent time with each of these but my nature, like that of many people, is to ask the ultimate questions about life. A systems thinker seeks a system as an answer and thus Buddhism entered my life.
I have always been an atheist but one with a true love for the natural world. My idea of God is the DNA molecule; omnipresent, eternal and vastly powerful. We know all life is connected on the physical plane by DNA and I believe that includes ways we currently only dimly perceive but do not yet understand and call by names like mythology and archetype. DNA even seems to be inherent in what we consider non-living matter. Given the right conditions, the chemical precursors of life arise from once molten rock. In my first religion, Science, indeed all is one and the One is all.
Still, this personal sense of the nature of things did not satisfy. Something was missing. In the deepest existential sense, I was not happy. No matter the ups or downs of my life, behind everything was a sense of a missing piece of the puzzle. I sought a solution in many teachings, however things really only began to change after I opened a book in a bookstore and read this:
“I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether on believes in this religion or that religion, we are all seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness…” The book was The Art Of Happiness: A Handbook For Living by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler. M.D.
No one had ever told me before that the purpose of life was happiness. It got my attention. I read on. Ten years later, I am still enthralled with this marvelous system by which one finds happiness.
Webster’s defines technology as:
• the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area
• a capability given by the practical application of knowledge
• a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge
Based on the above definitions, Buddhism qualifies as a technology for finding happiness. According to Buddhism, happiness is the absence of suffering. Suffering is caused by wanting things to be other than they are. It is resistance to reality that is the cause of suffering. The way to the end of suffering is to accept that, in each moment, things are the way they are, whether you like it or agree with it or not. The way to learn to do that is to follow Buddha’s Eight Fold Path. The path not only provides the technology to accomplish the goal but its teachings instruct all those who study it to believe nothing based on external authority but only what their own senses and experiences validate.
The Eight Fold Path explains not only how to practice but why the practices of compassion, loving kindness, sympathetic joy and equanimity lead to happiness. It explains how and why one should practice morality, renunciation, mindfulness and harmlessness and how and why one should practice both concentration and insight meditation along with Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Not because these things will make you happy but because these things eventually eliminate everything that is preventing you from being happy. Here and now. In this life. And it does so in considerable technical detail.
Buddhism is not a religion for the spiritually inclined. Buddhism is not a philosophy for intellectuals. Buddhism is a technology by which atheists can find true happiness. It is the solution to the riddle that has plagued those of us so inclined down through the centuries; the riddle of finding a way to maintain our integrity in our sense of what is right (right in the sense that a square is made of ninety degree angles) and yet to find happiness in the bargain.