These poignant excerpts from the article The Dark Side of Buddhism are not meant to deny any of the bright aspects of Buddhism, but to reveal known pitfalls in spiritual paths on offer in the West, so that we're aware of them before embarking on these paths, instead of discovering them only after falling into them.
"On paper, Buddhism looks pretty good. It has a philosophical subtlety married to a stated devotion to tolerance that makes it stand out amongst the world religions as uniquely not awful. Even Friedrich Nietzsche only said of Buddhism that it was "nihilistic", but still "a hundred times more realistic than Christianity." And we in the 21st century have largely followed his lead in sensing something a bit depressing about Buddhism, but nothing more sinister than that. But if we start looking a bit closer, at the ramifications of Buddhist belief in practice, there is a lurking darkness there, quietly stated and eloquently crafted, but every bit as profound as the Hellfires of Christianity or the rhetoric of jihad.
Buddhism's inheritance from Hinduism is the notion of existence as a painful continuous failure to negate itself. The wheel of reincarnation rumbles ruthlessly over us all, forcing us to live again and again in this horrid world until we get it right and learn to not exist. " Life is suffering. It is something to be Finally Escaped.... Read More ⬇
Now, there are legitimate philosophical reasons for holding to this view. Viewed from a certain perspective, the destruction of everything you've ever cared about is inevitable, and when it's being experienced, the pain of loss does not seem recompensed by the joy of attachment that preceded it. And that yawning stretch of impermanence outside, so the argument goes, is mirrored by the fundamental non-existence of the self inside. Meditation, properly done, allows you to strip away, one by one, all of your merely personal traits and achieve insight into the basic nothingness, the attributeless primal nature, of your existence. Those are all interesting philosophical and psychological insights, and good can come of them. Being hyper-sensitive to suffering and injustice is a good gateway to being helpful to your fellow man and in general making the world a better place.
However. There is something dreadfully tragic about believing yourself to have somehow failed your calling whenever joy manages to creep into your life. It is in our biology, in the fabric of us, to connect to other human beings, and anything which tries to insert shame and doubt into that instinct is bound to always twist us every so slightly. If the thought, "I am happy right now", can never occur without an accompanying, "And I am just delaying my ultimate fulfillment in being so", then what, essentially, has life become? I've seen it in action – people reaching out for connection, and then pulling back reflexively, forever caught in a life of half-gestures that can't ever quite settle down to pure contemplation or gain a moment of genuine absolute enjoyment.
The usual response that I've gotten to these concerns is, "You're sacrificing truth and wisdom for the sake of feeling good. That's just what you criticize Christianity for, isn't it?" This would be a pretty damn good argument if I were convinced that the conclusions of Buddhist belief were as ironclad as their usually serene-unto-finality presentation makes them seem. There are two central claims here: that our own fundamental essence is non-existence, and that the nature of the outer world is impermanence.
The idea of the void-essence of self is one arrived at through meditation, through exercises in reflection dictated by centuries of tradition. That's enough to give us pause right there – it's not really a process of self-discovery if you're told the method, the steps, and the only acceptable conclusion before you've even begun. In a curious twist unique to Buddhism, rigidity of method has infected the structure of belief, ossifying potential explanations of existence into dogmatic assertions mechanically arrived at.
Buddhism's approach to use-based impermanence attempts to force us into a false binarism where we must either be the slaves of attachment or the cold observers of transience, and that only one of these offers us a way out of suffering. Compelled by the forced logic of its myopic perspective on self-analysis that we saw above, it opts for the latter, and presents that choice as an inevitable philosophical conclusion....So, it's not really a choice between Feeling Good and Truth. It's a choice between being able to unambiguously enjoy companionship and a system of thought which uses an ossified methodology bordering on catechism to support a falsely binary approach to our relations with the outside world.
At the end of the day, it's still true that, in many respects, Buddhism maintains its moral edge over Christianity or Islam handily. That instinct for proselytising unto war which has made both of these religions such distinctly harmful forces in the story of mankind is nowhere present. But, the drive to infect individuals with an inability to appreciate life except through a filter of regret and shame is perhaps even more dangerous in Buddhism for being so very much more subtle. Squeezed between the implications of inherited evil instincts and a monolithic conception of what counts as a right answer to the question of one's own personal existence, a young person entering a Buddhist community today is every bit as much under the theological gun as a student at a Catholic school, but because society has such a cheery picture of Buddhist practice, she has far fewer resources for resistance than her Catholic counterpart. And that allows sad things to happen. I would urge, then, that as fulfilling as it is to point out and work to correct the gross excesses of Christianity (and, let's face it, fun too), we can't let the darkness of Buddhist practice go by unremarked just because it works more subtly and its victims suffer more quietly.