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The Buddha

We have discussed how consensus reality is a problem for Buddhists. This is not really an issue Buddhist teachers much talk about. Maybe they don’t think of it that way. I don’t know.

An even bigger, related problem is mindless conformity. It stands to reason that most people will not even notice consensus reality. The whole point precisely is that nearly everyone accepts consensus reality as reality. Of course the sky is blue, and saying it is not is just crazy. To deny any aspect of consensus reality is to invite dismissal as someone who is literally insane.

But once one learns about the concept, it becomes possible to think about which components of consensus reality one wants to assent to, and which to dissent from. Religious belief is an obvious choice, since it should be very important to anyone’s life what religion they choose to practice and espouse. The consensus religion in the United States is Christianity, which is a problem, because it has been, since the first Christians showed up, mostly more or less Protestant Christianity, which leaves every individual considerable freedom to decide for themselves what their faith means to them, such that Christianity in the United States is now pretty meaningless.

It still has its effects, however. Conformity introduces the question of volition into the discussion. Presumably, some significant number of people in the United States have reflected on the question and chosen to become or, more likely, remain Christian. According to one of the most important legal principles in our republic, they are and should be free to make that choice.

Since the 1965 Immigration Reform Act removed the prohibition on immigration from Asia from U.S. law, there are a growing number of people in this country who were born into families that practice Buddhism, making that the default choice for them. It is still the case, however, that a lot, likely most, Buddhist teachers in the United States grew up as Christians or Jews and chose to become Buddhist later in life.

Buddhists take all comers (does any religion reject people who wish to adopt it?). But also, as a matter of principle, Buddhism is very amenable to the decision to adopt it as an adult. There is no authority figure in Buddhism who has any capacity to punish anyone who fails to abide by any of the rules. The Buddha was very clear that all sentient beings get what they deserve in the long run through the operation of karma, which is a law of nature, like gravity, so it depends on no identifiable individual to operate. There is no god, as in Christianity, or agent of god on earth, such as the pope or any bishop, who can claim any supervening authority over all humans.

Conformity of any sort reinforces consensus reality. It is likely impossible for any human to catalog every belief or mental commitment. But, again, for adults, religious belief and practice is voluntary. And most places in the world, but definitely in the United States, Buddhists are explicitly committed to peace and harmony, which are the normal effects of a well developed meditation practice, as well as explicit values and goals for Buddhists.

To some extent, to be Buddhist at all is to reject mindless conformity, since Buddhism is not the default option in the United States, at least. But there is value in making the point explicit. No Buddhist needs to make the claim out loud unless they just want to, but meditating on the Buddhist path is a non conformist practice.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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