As I’ve researched the many roads humanity has taken trying to find the truth, one of the most attractive has always been Buddhism. Its balanced approach has a lot going for it. I agree with its premise that reality is an illusion. But after that, we diverge on most critical issues. (I’m aware that there are many types of Buddhism, and most of my study has been in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, but I believe most of this will apply to most schools, and generally to Hinduism as well.)
Buddhism says that reality is an illusion. No debates there. But what should we do about that fact? The Buddhist answer in large is that reality is something to rise above and escape. The material world is flawed and is necessarily suffering. It is Life’s goal to stop the cycle.
A agree reality is an illusion, just as art is an illusion, literature, games, and every other creation of the mind are illusions. When I sit with my family and play Monopoly, I do not demonstrate enlightenment by declaring it “illusion” and walking away. I do not need to be “freed” of the game’s constant cycle around the board. Of course it’s an illusion; that’s the point. That’s what makes it so enjoyable, even when I’m losing. I agree with the Buddhist that failure to see the game for what it is leads to suffering. But we disagree on whether one should stop playing.
I object to Nirvana for the same reasons I object to Heaven. Our lives are about change and growth, and that is part of the life of the Universe, too. The Universe changes, and I believe it learns and grows and creates. I believe all of these things require attachment, desire, wanting things to be different then they are. The mind at perfect peace is not the mind that creates. It is through struggle that we grow.
Finally, Karma. To me, this is actually a dangerous idea. It sounds good: do good and good will come to you; do bad and bad will come to you. You get what you deserve. But think of the obvious corollary: people deserve what they get. Bad things come because you were a bad person at some point. Good things? You must have lived a good life. We know this isn’t true within one life; we can easily see that people often do not get what they deserve. But Buddhism moves its evidence to the unfindable land of past lives.
I respect Buddhism. I think it’s one of the best considered philosophies humanity has created. But I think it’s still deeply flawed, particularly in its goal of escape. If we disagreed on details or cosmology, I could bridge the gap. But I see the ultimate goal as dynamic and ever growing, ever struggling, using this little bit of life we get as fully as possible. I don’t see how to square that with Buddhist emptiness.