Regarding the Aug. 2 article “Myanmar monasteries offer boot camp to calm spirits of frazzled souls“: What we seem to be getting here is a case of the grass-is-greener fetishism all too common with Westerners who advocate Buddhism and other Asian religions.

Interviewee Rupert Arrowsmith lectures Westerners on the need for the self-knowledge and wisdom that the West supposedly lacks. The fact is that philosophy is not taught much in Western schools — the influence of religion still being strong — hence the tendency for most Westerners to believe in a three-way choice among Christianity, nihilism and Eastern mysticism.

Embracing a non-Western equivalent of Christianity is still choosing superstition over humanism. Let’s take a look at a key irrational belief expressed in the article: karma and rebirth. Because of this teaching — one that stigmatizes disabled children as paying for their sins — poor peasants are terrified of getting an unfavorable rebirth if they don’t give a chunk of their meager food supplies to the monasteries.

Meditation can have its place, but I agree with the Epicurean view that there can never be genuine peace of mind resulting from belief in an afterlife or in supernatural forces that intercede in human affairs. We are material beings, and death is eternal sleep, “nothing to us,” as Epicurus puts it. To believe anything else is to torment ourselves with unnecessary worry.

jim makin

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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