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Invulnerabilism – What Buddhism is NOT

By Andrew Furst @a_furst

Invulnerabilism – What Buddhism is NOT

3 min read

A recent OpEd piece in the New York Times really touched a nerve with Buddhist readers (see the comments section). In the article, Clemson philosophy professor Todd May, claims that the official doctrine of Buddhism teaches something he summarizes as "invulnerabilism". He ties Buddhism and with Stoicism and describes their goal as:

abolition of desire, the elimination of emotion or the recognition of the ultimate oneness of all things, the guiding idea is that we can and ought to make ourselves invulnerable to the world's vagaries.

It's unfortunate that a philosophy professor at such a well known college has fumbled the basics of Buddhism so publicly. Ironically, Mr May makes a case for being open and vulnerable as an alternative to building up walls in the face of life's difficulties. I wholeheartedly agree. Its too bad he mischaracterized Buddhism on his way to making a good point.

Meditation is about being open and available to experience. Recognizing, acknowledging, and attending to our physical, mental, and emotional states is fundamental to the practice and philosophy of Buddhism.

Walking the Knife Edge of Understanding

Buddhism is frequently misunderstood and mischaracterized in the media. What I see at the core of this problem is a selective or incomplete view. Most often I see the selective view applied by Christians trying to discredit Buddhism. They'll adopt a similar approach to Mr. May. They'll misinterpret a fundamental tenet and then show how it will lead the individual to spiritual disaster.

The story of the Siddhartha Gautama's enlightenment can be seen as an allegory of the middle way. Once he set aside the extremes of asceticism - invulnerabilism - and hedonism, the Buddha found liberation in being in the world as it is (pain and all). The cause of suffering is identifying with one or the other extreme.

What did the Dalai Lama say to the hot dog vendor?

Make me one with everything!

Buddhism is often associated with the view of oneness vis a vis the classic Dalai Lama hot dog joke. But this is only half of the equation. We are simultaneously individuals and at one with the entire universe. If we identify with one or the other, we suffer. If we embrace the paradox that we are both, our minds open. This frees us from the constraints of a rigid view of the world, making us available to what is actually going on in our lives, be it happy or sad.

Invulnerabilism – What Buddhism is NOT Invulnerabilism – What Buddhism is NOT

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