Your assumption is a little off-base. The buddhist practitioner focuses on the “welfare of all sentient life.” The individual practices meditation “for the happiness of all beings”. But you are right in that any unenlightened individual tends to be egoistic, or ego-centric, whether they are Buddhist or not. That’s the human condition.
There’s the old buddhist story. A man approaches a teacher and says “What can I do to get rid of evil and suffering in the world?”
The teacher responds “Get rid of your own evils. That way there will be one less rascal in the world.”
The Buddha himself after becoming enlightened worked for decades to spread the message for the benefit of humanity. So no, a “better rebirth” isn’t the end-all for Buddhists.
There are difference between the different schools of Buddhism. The Thervada school does focus more on individual enlightenment whereas the Mahayana school has the concept of “Boddhisatva” someone who works for the enlightenment of all sentient beings. But even for Thervadas the goal is enlightenment not a better re-birth.
In fact, in some Buddhist thought obtaining a better rebirth is actually a drawback - a person may become reconciled to the wheel of birth and death if they are having a good life, and thus fail to strive for enlightenment.
Certainly, Buddhism poses an interesting paradox - enlightenment is discribed as a state of egolessness; yet why pursuit it, except for the egotistical reason that it will make you suffer less?
Hmm - something I’ve often pondered myself. Some would contend that, while the ego exists in a relative state (in relationship to other selfs or egos), it doens’t exist in an absolute sense (in relationship to the universe or ultimate reality). So while at first it appears to be an paradox, on closer examiniation it isn’t. Some would argue that the ego is necessary (recognizing and using it in a relative sense) to transcend the ego (recognizing the true essense of self-hood - impermanance). Or if not necessary, then a “useful fiction”.
Pre-enlightenment: Eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired
Post-enlightenment: Eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired.
Yes, yes, we all “know” that there already is no ego.
But we do not know it. That is the problem. Beat me and I still squeal. A Zen master would rightfully kick both our butts for even discussing this stuff. That’ll teach us to prate on about the existence of suffering.
So how to make the transition from “knowing” to knowing? Indeed, can or should one make a transition at all? Is not striving after enlightenment the problem, not the solution?
This I understand is the “point” behind Koans. Which is a problem, because understanding that, they don’t work.
Again this is the central problem - it is perfectly possible to say, “I am just a part of something much greater - I am if you like an organ of the ultimate reality, endowed with conciousness and thus the ability to perceive the existence of that reality, but otherwise not seperate. When I cease to exist, I will go back to being what I was before I existed”. I believe this to be a true way of looking at things.
But the experience of knowing this as an absolute certainty - in other words, the basic mystic experience - is so much greater than simply “knowing” this intellectually…
This paradox has been discussed in Buddhist philosophy.
I don’t know what they say but I don’t think it’s a big paradox. You have to distinguish between the path towards enlightenment and enlightenment itself. On the path you desire enlightenment so you are not yet enlightened. However at some point , no doubt after many years of practice (or even many lifetimes if you believe in reincarnation), you will attain enlightenment. At that point you have no desires including the desire for enlightenment so there is no paradox.
I don’t think so.
You have to accept that you are part of a whole, that everything that lives is in interaction with everything else. That everything that happens is a reaction to something else happening, or something that has happened, somewhere.
Like the proverb that says that a butterfly fluttering its wings in China could cause a hurricane at the other side of the pacific.
So, knowing this makes you realise that the only thing over which you really have control, are your own actions. To make yourself a better person is the only true way in which you can make a difference. The aim in life is not per sé to become a better person, but to leave this place a better one than we have found it, and through that hopefully become a better person.
Yet at the same time, by becoming a better person it becomes far easier to condemn others who do not strive to be better people. How is one to succesfully live a good life without becoming self-righteous or preachy?