I’ve been remembering the conversation I had yesterday at the golf club after lunch. It started as a regular business meeting but somehow lead into the subjects I am passionate about. These are the same subjects that distress me at night and stalk me while I walk. They seize my thoughts while I leaf through an uninteresting book or while working on a chore that doesn’t demand my full attention.
One of the diners told the rest of us he was attending a Buddhism study group. He was reluctant to talk about it at first, so I am concealing any personal details. In fact, he confessed he didn’t want his close relatives to know about it because they may find him crazy or eccentric. He liked keeping his personal beliefs to himself, something I not only agree with but also think shows respect and humility. In this regard, I’d like everyone to be like him.
I concurred with his thoughts about what is wrong with some catholic or jewish dogmas. For instance, the numerous contradictions that arise after the idea that every man was created after the image of God, or the belief that if you do good deeds and are just during life, you get your “reward” in heaven, or the idea that God may intervene for you. Like if you pray on a plane during takeoff, the odds the engines have a malfunction will diminish.
He liked Buddhism because it “made sense.” What made most sense to him was the idea that life is suffering. Also, that this suffering can be stopped eliminating craving and ignorance.
I told him Buddhism didn’t make sense to me because I don’t suffer. Maybe it was because, I said, I have very little desires or “cravings,” but the fact remains: I don’t consider my life a suffering, nor do I spend time looking for a way to distance myself from desire. As I said this, however, I remembered the teachings of the most amazing class I attended during all my university years, a course by Antonio Bentué [in spanish].
The class was called “History of Religions” [in spanish]. It analyzed the history of “large” religions, their teachings, and the similarities and differences between them. During this course, the teacher would challenge the beliefs and methods of several religions including Catholicism, a practice which provoked discomfort on several attendees. The class lasts a whole semester, so you get to see students that choose to desert so as not to endure the difficult questions and doubts Antonio put on their minds.
The lessons taught the evolution from God-as-a-cause, which was a belief from ancient, pre-modern times, to God-as-a-meaning, the only way to fathom the idea of a God on this scientific, technological world (a world where you can explain every phenomenon without using God [in spanish].) To explain it, he would say things like “praying to try and save the plane from a crash is useless,” or “believing in God won’t save you from suffering.” Or even “in this world, God is an inept,” which made people angry (obviously not me). Funny thing is, Antonio was a catholic theologian, and he believed in God.
I renounced catholicism at a very early age, and now I loathe several of its methods and teachings. (Which doesn’t mean I despise catholics. In fact, living in Chile means almost every person I am close to is catholic.) But I despise what traditional catholicism teaches: that you have to subvert to authority, not to question the dogmas, to act as a herd. Maybe I would have remained a believer and even a catholic if Antonio had appeared earlier.
To me, Antonio was a rock star. What I remember the most about his course is to always keep learning. He told us that every man could choose to remain ignorant or not. To accept the beliefs and dogmas “as they are,” without questioning, or to question them and try to learn more. Antonio was, in a way, more scientific than many scientists. But why fight ignorance? He agreed that you could be completely happy living in ignorance, “just like a dog does,” indulging immediate desires and reacting to stimuli like any other animal does. Hungry? Eat and be happy. Bored? Turn on the TV. Confused about life? Don’t question authority. I remember him saying that you would most probably live a happy life if you chose to remain ignorant. But that living that way, without questioning everything, was to waste your life.
I thought of myself as a scientist type of guy before the course, but after it I chose to “renew my vows” about questioning everything.
I remembered all this while I was saying my friend that I am happy with my life. But it made me wonder, “am I happy because I am ignorant?” Sadly, I can’t tell for sure.
But I will continue to fight my own unawareness, my ignorance. If doing so means losing my happiness, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.