was first struck by Kornfield’s claim that at least half of the students who attempt to do traditional vipassanâ meditation at IMS cannot do so. This is an extraordinary admission of failure for any meditation teacher or meditation centre. In my experience as a practitioner and as a teacher - and I must admit to having a very limited experience as a teacher - I have only seen evidence of such a large failure rate among the students in circumstances where it was quite clear that the teachers were doing a very bad job.
Rubin explains that enlightenment in Theravâda Buddhism is described as completely purifying the mind of the defilements of greed, hatred and delusion. This ideal assumes that the mind can be permanently and completely purified and therefore transformed (83-4 & 87). However, Rubin points out that in 1983 "five of the six most esteemed Zen Buddhist masters in the United States" were involved in grossly unenlightened behaviour such as sexual exploitation and stealing money (88). The question arises: How can these scandals occur if these people are supposed to be enlightened? How can this have happened? Rubin concludes that these scandals suggest that:
... psychological conditioning from the past that inevitably warps personality cannot be completely eradicated and that there is no conflict-free stage of human life in which the mind is permanently purified of conflict....
From the psychoanalytic perspective, a static, conflict-free sphere - a psychological "safehouse" - beyond the vicissitudes of conflict and conditioning where mind is immune to various aspects of affective life such as self-interest, egocentricity, fear, lust, greed, and suffering is quixotic. Since conflict and suffering seem to be inevitable aspects of human life, the ideal of Enlightenment may be asymptotic, that is, an unreachable ideal (90).
One of the selling points of Buddhism is Awakening here and now which implies peace of mind, absence of negative emotional states, etc... To this a Christian can object "who care about peace in this life if the non-believer will burn in hell for all eternity
If this ideal is impossible than it all begs the question:
- "Why follow Buddhism if it might not be able to deal with negative mental states"?
Idea of gaining paramis, following sila and getting a better rebirth seem not too be much more believable than
- "follow the commandments and go to Heaven with Lord Jesus Christ".
The suttas that say that one should not speculate about Kamma almost sounds like one shouldn't speculate about why God did this or did that. God works in mysterious ways... God has a divine plan, and who are we, mere mortals, to know about it?
When we see that good people suffer, the typical explanation is that it is result of previous kamma. But how much more believable is this than saying that
"God sends tough circumstances for people to make them better
"? How can we prove either one? We can't...