Do you want to be a Buddha?

Both Gorampa and Mipam’s understanding of the two truths conclude with the zombie Buddha. Arguing that Tsongkhapa is a nihilist because he and his followers are grasping at the idea of nonexistence, Gorampa claims that when someone is enlightened they only see the ultimate truth and do not see the conventional at all. Mipam, though trying to reinstate a middle way between the two philosophers, also comes to the conclusion that an wakened being can only see through the ultimate. How could someone function if they were not seeing the conventional truth in any way? As we discussed in class, this awakened being is termed – “zombie Buddha.” The idea is that the Buddha no longer has any thoughts of their own, however, the zombie Buddha still functions because their past Karma is propelling them forward. I still have questions about the rational behind the zombie Buddha, for example – even if the awakened being does not create more karma, who is to say that all of their previous karma would run out before they died? But, for the purposes of this short essay, I do not want to delve into the theory itself but rather look at what it means for the practitioner if the Buddha is a zombie. If being enlightened is being a zombie buddha, do you want to be a Buddha still?

Personally… not really. It could be said that this is the only way not to suffer, but if this is the cost for not suffering, is it worth it? And if I don’t want to reach enlightenment does this effect how I should relate to Buddhism? On one hand, to become enlightened is incredibly difficult and as we have spoke about in class, is said to take many eons. And, although we have just started to talk about tantric practices which are said to make it possible to reach enlightenment in only one life time, it is still incredibly difficult and dangerous. Consequently, Im willing to say that reaching enlightenment for me, at least in this life, is not going to happen. And if this is the case, what does it matter what enlightenment truly feels like? On the other hand, Buddhist doctrine is focused on the attainment of enlightenment, and if I don’t want this goal, than what does this say about the other doctrine? 

Much of what Buddhism tells us to do such as cultivating love and kindness and meditation has been shown to increase peoples happiness and physical well being. These aspects have become very popular in the West, especially with the mindfulness moment. While I think it is clear that we should be careful how these aspects of Buddhism are appropriated, if we don’t believe in enlightenment because we don’t want it or think its not possible, to what end should we be employing Buddhist technologies and how should we be relating to Buddhism as a whole? 

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Do you want to be a Buddha?

  1. Pikachu says:

    What fascinates me about “Zombie Buddha” is the notion of an enlightened being only seeing the ultimate truth. Under this characterization, enlightened beings no longer perceive ignorance and are truly free from worldly attachments.

    However, in order to address worldly ills, don’t people have to hold ideas of the conventional truth in order to argue against them? A debater must acknowledge and understand the opposing argument in order to refute it. It seems that if one were truly a “Zombie Buddha,” forgoing any sense of impermanence or worldly influences, the enlightened being would lack in their ability to preach Buddhist teachings. As an exemplar of the Buddhist faith, an enlightened being should be a prime source of Buddhist teachings.

  2. Annabel says:

    I agree that being a zombie Buddha, while ending suffering, doesn’t sound like it would be worth all of the effort it took to get there, considering lots of people lead happy, full lives without ever becoming enlightened or becoming “zombies.” I am still confused about the zombie Buddha, however, as I don’t quite understand how a person can continue to interact, teach, or connect with other people if they function solely on karma. Maybe that’s the point – you aren’t having deep, personal interactions with people, so you’re unattached. But if this is the case then there is even more reason not to be a zombie Buddha because, in my opinion, relationships are what make life worth living.

  3. Wesley Crusher says:

    This articles raises a question that I feel I’ve had in the back of my mind throughout this class–are there any current practitioners (besides those on the tantric path, which I realize is a whole different story) who are “close” to enlightenment? Is everyone generally eons away, or can some people lay claim to a shorter time period? Is that time period one more eon? One more lifetime?

    I basically feel like those who are involved with Vajrayana & tantra wil have a lot to say on what Buddhahood is like and I’m wondering how that compares to / interacts with conceptions of Buddhahood for everyone else who is in it for the long haul.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *