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Buddhism is what I feel to be my childhood faith, in the sense that I abandoned Christianity as soon as I picked up the Bible, and came to Buddhism shortly thereafter. In this document I will explain my rocky journey with Buddhism and why I haven't abandoned it.

A constant search

I began investigating Buddhism after a scientific study was released suggesting psychological benefits to meditation. (This study was confirmed by several others.) For for the anti-theist Sam Harris the benefits to meditation suggested that meditation was not Buddhist but should rightfully be claimed in the name of science. But even when I was 15, I knew better than that. The human mind is a tricky thing and what appears to be a simple physical activity can have a very different effect on the practitioner outside of its normal context. If you ever doubt this, try taking off your clothes in public. Meditation is a Buddhist practice, so to fully understand it I needed to investigate Buddhism.

Eventually I came to realize that there were three separate branches of Buddhism, and all of them were subject to heavy criticism. Theravada Buddhists were positivist and scientific in their thinking, but they spent their whole lives in monasteries. Their lives depended on the the social value they provided to the laity, but already the cynical modern generation in "developing" Asian countries were abandoning the religious aspects of their own society. Mahayana Buddhists sometimes had a more active approach (not always), but their teachings were esoteric and, one could argue, founded in delusion. Finally, Western Buddhists committed the worst sin of all: appropriating someone else's culture and picking out the bits and pieces they liked the most.

It seemed that I could not go very far in Buddhism without running into scathing criticism from someone or another. And for a while, this put me off continuing my search altogether. Why should I even bother heading down one path or another if anonymous cynics somewhere would shrug off any accomplishment? I fell into the sort of relativist nihilism common among Western intellectuals. Every religion seemed equal to me; those that stood out did so only for being strange.

I spent a lot of time learning, under the excuse that maybe there was an ideology out there logically defensible in every way. It is interesting that even as I came to learn more about the injustices suffered by people around the world, relativism made me care less and less about my fellow human beings. "Yes, those people are being displaced," I would think to myself, "but at least they're not being tortured or killed." In my head I had a little scale of injury on which I would weigh every news item I read about. And paradoxically, the more I read, the less resolved I felt to do anything about the world's problems. Terrible things happen somewhere far away; why should I care?

Freedom from caring

The ideology of our age I was looking for was libertarianism, which maintains that all people have the right to be free, and that the only real injustice is restraining them from expressing their freedom. The goal of my life in this zeitgeist would be to secure freedom for all. It sounds to me American, for what has my life been but pure freedom, and doesn't everyone deserve that right? But there is a reason there has never been a popular movement towards both social and economic freedom. It has nothing to do with delusions or fallacies. It is the mere fact that 80% of the world (to be conservative) can never be socially and economically free. Their livelihoods depend on the people they know and property they live on, and even if they have the legal ability to break those ties, they regard the possibility as an indulgent luxury beyond their means. And in fact our lives, for all our incessant freedom-worship, are not that much different. We Americans may claim to be living in the freest country on Earth, but we are still very much attached.

Instead of sifting for fools-gold solutions in the polluted stream of news, we should search out a rock that stands the test of time. For some people that could be neoconservatism, transhumanism, or "memetics". For me, it's Buddhism. To be sure, the water that springs from this rock only rarely flows into the world's larger stream. But if you choose to live on the rock and drink directly from the pure water, you can deal with the pollution later.

What is the best way to approach Buddhism?

If I had a dime for every teacher that told me "just sit," I'd be a wealthy man today. If you sit without knowing what you're doing, or what your goal is, I find it very unlikely that you will feel any more enlightened at the end of the session. The mind wanders; you think about the past or the future, or simply fall asleep.

The best antidote for a wandering mind is a few shots of vodka. But an active mind doesn't indicate failure. Intoxication-- a conscious and purposeful distraction from the hard reality of the world-- does. So, consider this: how much of what you do in everyday life is distraction? What do you really think when you consider sitting for a while, and is it similar to your thought process when deciding whether to write a paper, or do laundry?

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