In fairness and for full disclosure, I confess to being an infidel and some of you have criticized me for being not constructive. I have been myopic, presbyopic, microscopic, telescopic, but never retroscopic in my analysis. This is the great fault of many religions and particularly of those who subsequently wrote the tomes of analysis, philosophy, metaphysics, and to a lesser extent created the myths, to which they and others frantically searching for meaning, peace or happiness, attribute cosmic significance. I will be happy to dissect any faith, but since this site is also devoted to Buddhism, let me begin there.
A young prince from a small kingdom lived in a sheltered, prison like environment because of the unthinking beliefs in astrology of his parents, that he would renounce the world. The prince who is somewhat intelligent, but definitely not responsible (he abandoned his young wife and infant child, whom he named Rahul, which in Sanskrit means impediment (by the way how many of you have named your sons impediment) and definitely in major depression, sees the sights of birth, old age, disease, death etc. from which he has been kept under Purdah and flips. The impending prediction of renunciation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. His depression is really caused by his ego to banish unhappiness and he is fortunately in a gun-free society not called Columbine. Not being extremely bright and fettered by traditions, he first joins the Jains, early rebels from his family religion of Hinduism. This requires endless petty and more severe masochistic rituals from starvation, standing on one leg and other tortures, which cause more Dukha or pain. He abandons these Jains and proceeds to read volumes of philosophy and find deep meaning in rituals. He finds no success by these methods and then either independently, originally or by recital from others (Transmission was oral in those days and there are different opinions about the date of the Bhagwad Gita. "Karmanyaeva adhikarastu ma phaleshu kadachitam" ' Your only right is to action, not to the fruits thereof), he obtained the idea that the desire of hoped for results, Trishna or Tanha in Pali, was the root cause of unhappiness.
His depression led him to the belief that desire was an obligatory accompaniment of almost all lives and thus ultimate peace was achievable by Nirvana or extinction (of the candle of life). He was able to jettison the burdensome beliefs in Brahminic domination, tradition, myths, ritual, god and soul. In fact he had to, otherwise he would be back to square one, his old religion of Hinduism, fossilized by caste, metaphysics, ritual, authority, god, soul with nothing new to offer. He could not however get rid off his own or potential converts' human need for ultimate justice. Thus he kept rebirth but made it the lighting of one candle by another and thus bypasses the transmigration of souls or metempsychosis. He retained some sort of universal computer ledger tracking each individual's pension account for sin, which he called by the same name as the Hindus ' Karma. This made it easier for doubting Thomases to call themselves Buddhists and still fooling themselves and others that they were not breaking with tradition. This would prevent the sin of apostasy, though fortunately there was no penalty like burning at the stake or public beheading for those who sinned.
The practice of all decent religion involves consideration for others, decent behavior, compassion at a minimum. These can be summed up as ethical life or morality. Thus to attain Nirvana, he laid down the eightfold path of Right forms of vision, Intention, speech, conduct, lifestyle, effort, mind and finally Dhyana or concentration from which comes the word Zen. Thus the computer gave you a printout report card and homework of Dukha dependent on the previous life's grades till you graduated by being assigned for extinction. This same Buddha who refused to speculate on the universe, God or metaphysics is made a god and has tomes written about philosophy and metaphysics and even Jataka stories glorifying his past births and their exemplary lives of rectitude. Faddist follower tradition even goes on to create a form of Deconstructionism, where words cannot convey meaning and call it Zen.
What a ridiculous mockery of a simple depressed, mixed-up person's only praiseworthy virtues of decency, simplicity, honesty and integrity! Christianity borrowed the self-sacrificing philosophy of Post-Buddha Mahayana.
Many in the West as in India take pride or refuge in the high intellectualism of the inexplicable irrationality of Buddhism in general and Zen in particular, because it parallels the similar qualities of Quantum theory, tunneling and paradoxes. This is like saying that since the Princeton economist mathematician of Game Theory, Nash got schizophrenia and much later was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics, and therefore every schizophrenic is very likely to get the Nobel Prize. It is better to learn from the myth of the Chinese monk, who was performing Dhyana with his eyelids shuttered and fell asleep. He was annoyed at himself and realized that as long as he had eyelids, they would slide down ' " Softer than petals falling on the grass, like tired eyelids on tired eyes". He is said to have cut off his own eyelids and thrown them down the mountainsides.
According to the legend they sprouted into the tea plant and was named Tchai after the monk. I wish to carry the myth and metaphor still further and add a corollary tale to it. The monk tried Zen without eyelids and still fell asleep. He then realized that Dhyana was to awaken the mind and not to drug it into some numb state, by the thoughtless narcotic of blind belief or faith! I repeatedly argue not because of any chip on a shoulder but to proclaim and perhaps proselytize my own lack of faith and the belief that life has no meaning except what the individual makes within the constraints of a humane and civil society and all the rest is a lie. Even the above last sentence is neither necessary nor necessarily true!