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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Why does Buddhism exist?

I always wondered about the role of Eastern religions in the Torah's plan. We can clearly see how the main western religions that derive from Judaism reflect a movement of the world away from its pagan roots towards some sort of belief in one G-d. Where does this leave the Eastern religions that developed independently of the influence of the Torah? How do they fit into the cosmic plan?

Rav Kook has a very interesting insight into the nature of Eastern religion (translation by Rav Bezalel Naor When God Becomes History pg. 116-17):

The divine pleasantness that is displayed in Knesset Israel in its simplicity and naturalness - in light of the divine idea implanted in her - makes for an agreeable, delicate, sweet life. Such life is not in question; not only will it continue to exist, but will even be renewed and replenished. This is the source of an inner Joie de vivre that bonds with all the ideals of man's higher soul. The strong natural energies do not incite any moral protestation or opposition; these energies are viewed from the perspective of a higher science of eternal peace and divine joy.

This divine pleasantness that is imbibed with every draught of life enables one to view life and existence with a goodly eye and the joy of the righteous, to recognize that "all G-d made is very good." At the other extreme, the pagan world that lacks this divine pleasantness - from the source of light of the divine idea innate in Israel - is unable to relate to the joy of life. Its dim view uncovers only misfortune; it becomes frustrated with itself, with its existence, with everything. It finds itself in opposition to its very self. As the pain increases, paganism finds a temporary relief (before it disappears from the earth) in a lifestyle that offers no resistance to all the barbaric elements. But it is impossible to stop up the spirit; the spiritual beauty of man and his inner morality demand their due. They are not to be pacified, especially after maturation of the world-view that inspects life inside and out. Therefore, paganism comes tot he hiding place of Buddhism, which finds peace in nothingness and absolute negation. The cup of wrath - anger with life and its bitterness - is full to the brim; all the talents of intellect and emotion, faith and imagination are summed up by a singular will: to self-annihilate. (From 'To the process of Ideas in Israel')

Could it be that part of Hashem's plan was for a pagan society to run its course independent of the influence of the Jewish people? Perhaps by allowing paganism to run its course without the interference of Judaism we gain clarity as to its final destination. Eastern spirituality thus becomes paganism at its most refined form and thus we have a cultural tradition with which to contrast and thus better appreciate our own spiritual system. This is, of course, all speculation but I think my idea has some merit.