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Hell, Buddha, and Fundamentalism



Recall your favorite statue depicting the Buddha sitting in meditation. Gaze upon his face; it is the epitome of serenity, is it not? Is this the countenance of an individual so controlling as to use fear in an effort to coerce others?


Folded into the teachings of the seven enlightenment factors are invitations to embrace joy and tranquility. Those who take such teachings to heart are transformed: becoming more and more flexible, loving, laid-back, egalitarian, and cooperative.


But not everybody got the memo. Some are trained to be rigid, fearful, controlling, elitist, and competitive; as if they were virtues. These are the folks who interpret the Buddha’s metaphors in a literal manner, who seem to take a ghoulish delight in scaring the vulnerable and tender hearted with tales of hells, and ghost realms where torments are said to abound and endure.


Remember the mind was no mystery to the Buddha. Years of meditation and contemplation had well acquainted him with its subtleties. Subtleties hinted at five hundred years later when a Semite wrote “…perfect love drives out fear…” and at last confirmed by contemporary neuroscience: fear is antithetical to both tranquility and love. For the part of the amygdala that fears and the anterior cingulate gyrate that loves are two very different parts of the brain.


Take the first two folds of the eightfold path to heart. Contemplate well the wisdom of letting-go, and the love that wishes the best for others. Allow these to define you, and everything else could take care of itself.


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