Bob vs. Buddhism: The Satisfying Conclusion.

Via Bob Weisenberg
on Oct 20, 2010
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When I first started reading Elephant late last year there weren’t too many Yoga writers around, so I started hanging out with the Buddhists.

I didn’t know that much about Buddhism, so I started asking naive questions and comparing Buddhist philosophy to Yoga philosophy, etc.  Some of my questioning got pretty aggressive, because that’s the way I like to learn.

Instead of cyber-tarring and feathering me and riding me out of town on a cyber-rail, the Buddhist writers warmly welcomed me in, patiently answered my questions, and even engaged in lengthy debates with me about Yoga and Buddhism.

I will always be grateful for this.  You could say they lived up to the best principles of Buddhism in the way they treated me, the insolent outsider.

After many fascinating and passionate but respectful exchanges, Waylon put out a blog which once again reinforced my impression that Buddhism is preoccupied with illusion and nothingness.

In this blog Chogyam Trungpa refers to our sense of reality as a  “cosmic joke” and Longchenpa is quoted on an Elephant sticker as saying “Since everything is but an apparition…one may well burst out in laughter.” (Bad Day? Here’s a reminder not to take yourself too seriously.)

I wrote the following comment, which kind of summarizes all the problems I was having with Buddhism at the time:

You see, there it is again–that gaping difference between Buddhism and Yoga, which I keep trying so hard to explain and study away.  In spite of their common roots and overwhelming similarities:

Buddhism concludes we are nothing, a cosmic joke.

Yoga concludes we are everything, that we are the cosmos itself.

This spark set off a startlingly diverse array of responses, like:

“This is slanderous–Buddhism isn’t about nothingness at all.”

“Buddhism is exactly about nothingness.  Get over it.”

“We Buddhists don’t need starry-eyed Yoga hallucinations to face the reality of our lives.”

and, most accurately:

“It all depends on which type of Buddhism you’re talking about.”

Then, just when I thought this exhilarating discussion was winding down, tobye stunned me with this comment:

It’s all quantum physics and string theory isn’t it? There are 100 trillion cells in our “body”, but only 10 trillion cells are actually us, the rest is parasites, bacteria and micro-organisms! But do those micro-organisms see “ourselves” as us, or do they look up into “outer-space” wondering if there’s other life out there, or if there really is a God?

100 billion stars in the universe…. 100 billion cells in the brain! Buddhism sees everything as empty (sunyata), because it understands life at the sub-atomic level…. loads of particles rushing around in circles, with lots of space in between. We dont exist because we’re made up of those particles and if we had a camera small enough, we could video the space in between what we feel is solid.

Yoga, sees love as the glue that holds everything together, even though none of it really exists…. what does exist is the will, the feeling, the need, the energy that holds it all together. We are that energy, the same as the sea is that energy and redwoods are that energy. Everything is just a need to express the capability of that energy. We don’t exist, only energy exists and energy will always exist. It may take on different forms, but it will always be the same energy.

The humour is in the fact that we have 300 different types of yoga and hundreds of buddhist sects, all getting caught by ego and trying to explain the same thing in their own personal way. And then we argue and debate over how we see things through what we’ve learnt in our own way, but it’s all the same and none of it exists!

Endless scriptures in sanscrit, that takes years to translate and then understand and then we argue over the translations and which version is the best…. Yoga teachers spouting sanscrit mantras because they think it validates them in some way, buddhist monks talking riddles because, while you’re trying to work out what they mean, you’re in the moment, it doesn’t matter what they mean, only that you stay in the moment for as long as you can!

And the longer you stay in the moment, the more obvious it becomes that everything is complete nonsense, because all we are is dust in the wind! You have to laugh deep in your belly, because its one big joke, but it’s not a sick, black humour, its joyous and full of love! You have to wake up in the morning and start smiling at how we’re all stuck yogether with God’s glue, for no other reason than he just wondered what he could do with it all!

We could debate for millenia about his reasons for doing so, but in the end all we need to do is love it and know we are an equal part in all of it! And when I say “God” and “him” I’m talking about the energy. And when i say “equal part” I mean one and nothing.

To which I responded:

Thanks, Tobye! This is an astounding conclusion to a great conversation. (Well, maybe not the conclusion quite yet.)

Your wonderful and eloquent summary takes us right back to where we started. Everything that you write above about the universe being a single energy with many different forms could have come right out of the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita, WITH ONE ENORMOUS EXCEPTION.

Instead of concluding that “we don’t exist”, the ancient Yoga texts conclude that, because we are all that one energy you speak of, we all exist in an infinitely more wondrous form that is way beyond our ability to fully understand or comprehend.

In other words, instead of us being nothing as you say, each of us is the infinitely-wondrous, blindingly-amazing life-force of the universe itself. Instead of being nothing we are everything.

While this sounds “high-falutin” on the surface, as some have written, to me it makes perfect sense because it acknowledges that even though we can understand that we are all just energy, we aren’t even close to understanding the ultimate source of that energy and its wondrous manifestations.

That’s what Yoga and some schools of Buddhism call God. It’s not really a deity, but an acknowledgement of the infinite, awesome, very real but ultimately unknowable, wonder of the universe, and each of us is an integral part of that wonder.

You know what? In spite of this apparent difference in point of view, I think we are actually looking at two sides of the very same coin, my friend!


About Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg: Editor, Best of Yoga Philosophy / Former Assoc. Publisher, elephant journal / Author: Yoga Demystified * Bhagavad Gita in a Nutshell * Leadership Is Like Tennis, Not Egyptology / Co-editor: Yoga in America (free eBook) / Creator: Gita Talk: Self-paced Online Seminar / Flamenco guitarist: "Live at Don Quijote" & "American Gypsy" (Free CD's) / Follow Bob on facebook, Twitter, or his main site: Wordpress.


63 Responses to “Bob vs. Buddhism: The Satisfying Conclusion.”

  1. Now, you're really in trouble, Bob.

    I saw a link on Twitter that read "Yoga vs. Buddhism" and what did it lead me to? An article called "BOB vs. Buddhism!"

    Is "Bob" synonymous with "yoga?!"

    To paraphrase noted mystic Lloyd Bentsen, "I know yoga. Yoga's a good friend on mine. And you, Bob, are not yoga."

  2. integralhack says:

    I love happy endings!

  3. YogaMat says:

    This is true. It turns out that empirical science offers little to those wrestling with existential problems. Indeed – why do people like Tobye think that it does? The best we can hope for with that is to gain some deeper insights into the falsifiability of the evidence that might support either a belief that the self does, or it does not exist. We need to move on. Occam's Razor would suggest that the epistemological problem of the indeterminacy of data to theory could be solved simply by either believing in some flavour of the Self/God complex hypothesis, or (the less popular view) by accepting its binary (there is no Self / God complex hypothesis to resolve). Whatever truth you might find, the correct question has not yet been asked because no one here seems to want to ask it and that is: What is there behind and beneath these abstractions that we throw out at people ? Is there anything at all other than the brute force of mind ?

  4. Hi, YogiMat. Not sure I understood everything you wrote above, but I did read through it slowly a couple of times and gave it the old college try.

    Someone once said (I wish I could remember who), In the end everyone writes their own scriptures, and I think that's probably true.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

    Bob Weisenberg

  5. Linda-Sama says:

    "Buddhism is preoccupied with illusion and nothingness."

    really? and there is nothing else to Buddhism? I seem to recall the teachings on things such as dukkha and the cessation of it, anicca, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the Four Foundation of Mindfulness. little things like that….

    is this your intellectual understanding of Buddhism, merely by reading about it, or actually sitting or studying with a teacher?

  6. ricky says:

    Thanks for reminding me to walk the dog.

  7. yogi tobye says:

    Strange how even in Buddhist and yoga philosophy, debates can get quite heated even though we're aware of infinite possibilities :o)

  8. Ben_Ralston says:

    Wow. Great debate. The only thing that comes to me to add to this is the one thing that would seem to really conclude it in a satisfying way!
    Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said:
    "Wisdom is knowing I am nothing, love is knowing I am everything, and between the two my life moves."

  9. Ramesh says:

    Bob, I like the conclusion in your article very much. Nothingness contains everything…. Consciousness contains everything…

    Two sides of the same coin–like Shiva and Shakti in Tantra, like Purusha and Prakrti in Yoga, just words, just metaphors, but pointing toward deeper beyond the intellect understandings. I applaud you for trying and succeeding so well!

  10. YogaMat says:

    "Yoga philosophy" Bob ? Do you mean Buddhism – or something else ? and I wonder how you reached the conclusion that it "chooses to bask in what we do know for sure" ? Yoga is as much about dealing with uncertainty and not knowing than what you said:-

    Yoga: Working Outside the "Spectrum of Theistic Probability":-

  11. Padma Kadag says:

    Quantum mechanics has nothing to do with Buddhism. Yes it only supports the over intellectualization of a path with Heart or Love. Rarely if ever do the "Buddhists" on any blog discuss the heart of Buddha's teaching…Bodhicitta. An intellectual discussion on Bodhicitta or Loving Compassion as taught in the Four Immeasurables would not last very long. It is not sexy enough nor does it make good fodder for overly intellectualizing that which we really do not know but love to talk about. Read the Four Immeasurables and practice and contemplate them. Without understanding them there is no realization. There is no realization of Emptiness (not nothingness). Without the Four Immeasurables there is no Buddhism. Talk all you want…it can be fun…

  12. Padma Kadag says:

    By the Way…those that quote Longchenpa in public forums should be a little more careful. Many of the writings of Longchenpa are extremely valuable, at the same time not understood by those who have not followed or prepared in a traditional manner for those teachings, can be drastically misunderstood. Vajrayana Buddhism amd higher teachings are only possible with a Guru. The Guru and faith in the Guru is the vehicle to a rapid enlightenment. Reading books alone will absolutely not help you. If we have karma in this lifetime to find an authentic Guru to accept us as a student then if we practice according to the Guru's instructions on meditation and bodhicitta then there is no doubt that we will traverse quickly on the path to enlightenment

  13. YogiOne/Scott says:

    Here is another one. There has been an assumption for a number of years that the big bang released all of the energy and matter in the universe and that we have been expanding outward as a result of this explosion ever since. The problem is that when stuff expands as a result of an explosion, it slows down over time and space as it loses energy. That isn't what is happening. The expansion outward of the universe is accelerating. Acceleration happens when something is driven by additional release of energy as in a rocket, or when "pulled" to ward an object of higher mass as in gravity. These doesn't seem to be a rocket motor pushing things outward. So what is actualy happening is that we are being pulled apart. If that is true, then the big bang could have happened when an energy source from outside the singularity pulled it apart. That means at least two types of energy.

  14. Ramesh says:

    YogaMat, I think you just made up your own straw man. Not confusing to me….the yoga is all there…

  15. integralhack says:

    And yet you conclude with an advertisement (your web site link) . . . all the time.

  16. shiva says:


    This is a wonderful post and very insightful. You have very good understanding of yoga. Thanks for the post.


  17. YogaMat says:

    Shiva – your appeal to authority has been duly noted. How about deducing some facts about the development of yoga and buddhism from a source that does not rely on such an overtly patriarchal template?

  18. integralhack says:

    YogaMat, I think you might find more commonality with some people here than you might realize. When you criticize me for making the trite but innocuous comment "I love happy endings" I have to wonder what your motivations are and where the anger comes from. It also sounds like you've heard the "chip on your shoulder" comment far too often. It must be painful.

    I'm not lecturing and I don't think I'm better than you. I too have been in angry circumstances and it didn't present an accurate picture of "who I am," just who I was at that unfortunate moment.

    So I apologize if I sounded patronizing. If you want to discuss further, you can email me at [email protected]


  19. Nada says:

    Bob, I enjoyed your post. But it seems from many of the above comments that EJ is no longer a place where people curious about exploring Buddhism can come and ask questions without being tarred and feathered. I love a good debate as much as the next guy, but some of these comments seem sarcastic and a little mean-spirited. What a shame.

  20. yogi tobye says:

    Strange how just mentioning "heated debate" makes peeps get quite heated!

    The "infinite possibilities" idea was more about the fact that; to you, your opinion is truth and for someone else, their opinion is truth and both opinions might have no resemblance whatsoever, so there could be 6 billion opinions which somehow lead to the same ultimate truth…. it's just that we use different words to describe them, which is actually the lesson behind "the tower of babel". We are all pretty much saying the same thing, but because we have different ways of saying it, we end up beating the shit out of each other, or trying to find ways of getting one up!

    Like "having the last word" which is obviously impossible with tens of thousands of people with all their opinions also reading stuff about Buddhism and yoga… :o)


  21. AngelaRaines says:

    "In Mahayana everything is empty, but in Tantric buddhism everything is real. In the greatest part of our buddhist practice, you again see that emptiness is no other than buddha nature, that everything is buddha nature. We sometimes get stuck in thinking it's all transient, it's all empty, rather than seeing that every voice is buddha. Emptiness is no other than buddha nature, which manifests as buddhadharma." — Genpo Roshi

  22. Ramesh says:

    Emptiness is not empty, it is full of the inner light of realization… is that which envelopes everything… and from which everything arises and to which everything returns…

  23. Bob, that is not what the Dalai Lama presents. Once again, it is important to truly know and understand Buddhism before making such counter factual claims.

  24. integralhack says:

    Great description of the concept of emptiness, Frank (may I call you that?). Ironically, I also invoked Thich Nhat Hanh above, but I like your description so much better.

  25. Thanks for this wise reply, Frank. That's very consistent with what I meant in my concluding line: I think we are actually looking at two sides of the very same coin, my friend!.

    I'm reading Feurstein's "The Yoga Tradition" and finding that this exact same debate has not only been occurring between Buddhists and Yogis' down through the centuries, but also between different major schools of Yoga! Some of his sentences are dead ringers for what I wrote above. I'll provide some example when I have a little more time. It's gratifying to learn that this was not just my own confusion!

    Bob W.

  26. Yogi Mat says:

    Greg – you know – you are right and this backs up my point about contributors and commentators failing to notice the practical limitations of EJ. It is more like a cauldron in here than a parlour, despite the good intentions of the founders – but enough said about good intentions… A thorough comparitive study of yoga and buddhism is enough for about one book or ten !! Not that I want to focus on Buddhism particularly, the accounts of the Buddha teaching in the earlier, (Theravadin) texts consistently warn against four areas of speculation, which leads to madness and vexation: 1. The Buddha-range of a Buddha; 2. The jhana-range of one absorbed in jhana; 3. The results of kamma; 4. Speculation about (the first moment, purpose, etc., of) the cosmos. Of course, tell a child not to do something and then leave them alone for a while and guess what happens?

  27. Hi, Frank. More great wisdom. I love the way you think and write.

    Bob W.

  28. Jack says:

    Yippity-yes-yap-Juice… la la la la-ha-ha….now, what are we doing to save this dear Earth from our self-invented joke of illusion we impose on everything else that is simply being nature? Everything now needs our heart-help. Thank you, Bob.

  29. "And the longer you stay in the moment, the more obvious it becomes that everything is complete nonsense, because all we are is dust in the wind! You have to laugh deep in your belly, because its one big joke, but it’s not a sick, black humour, its joyous and full of love! "

    YES!! Good call Tobye! Beautiful conversation & glad to see when it brings joy to the conversants instead of anger:)

  30. Bud Wilson says:

    Hello Bob, here's another one of those wonderful spiritual koans – "Form is none other than Emptiness and Emptiness is none other than form" attributed to the Buddha. Ultimately, our next adventure will be an inquiry into the nature of "Source" the word we use in our Sacred Passage programs to point to the Tao, or God, or the unknowable.

  31. Oh look, someone od'd on the bitter pills….

  32. […] Bob vs. Buddhism: The Satisfying Conclusion. […]

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