Tag Archives: apatheism

Atheism vs(?) Buddhism

Over on Sweep the Dust, John asks “Can Buddhism be completely atheistic?” I replied in the comments there, but I’d like to elaborate a bit here as well.

Atheism is tricky to pin down now ‘a days. There is the “extreme” atheism that denies the existence of anything supernatural whatsoever, including karma and rebirth. And then there are those that identify as atheists simply because they don’t believe in god/gods. Either one is fine by me. I can embrace the atheistic idea of no deities, but I choose not to define myself by what I don’t believe in.

I believe Buddhism to be largely apatheistic in its approach to deities. It doesn’t really matter if god/gods do exist, because they obviously don’t care about ending our suffering. It falls upon us to end the cycle of samsara (though we may call upon the bodhisattvas to aid us).

But as for “complete” atheism, no, I don’t think it’s really compatible with what the Buddha taught. The Buddha spoke for kalpas upon kalpas about karma and rebirth. It’s kind of hard to deny this, isn’t it?

I think the Buddha addressed skeptics when he states that it takes a noble version of right view to correctly see how karma and rebirth work. So for us, it takes practice, and a little faith. Yes, faith. It takes a bit of faith that yes, we walking a path that results in liberation. It takes a bit of faith to plop down on that zafu for the first time. It takes a bit of faith that the Buddha and the teachers that followed him knew what it was they were talking about. It takes a bith of faith to put into practice the teaching of the Lotus Sutra before you see any real change. It takes a bit of faith to get us on our path (and sometimes to keep us going) because we aren’t fully enlightened. We are unable to see reality as it truly is. But we work towards it, strive towards it.

Now, before you start quoting the Kalama sutra, hold on. First, he was speaking to a particular group of people about a particular set of circumstances. Much of what he said there rings true today and should be applied to one’s teaching. However, no where did he say that one shouldn’t trust wise teachers, or that one shouldn’t trust in (what later became) the sutras. Remember the 3 jewels? It takes trust and faith to walk this Buddhist path. If not, how on earth did first you come to practice Buddhism? You had to have a little faith and trust before you started practicing. You had no direct experience beforehand.

If one wishes to remain skeptical towards karma and rebirth, I think that is healthy. It isn’t taking something on blind faith, it is remaining skeptical while working through it in your practice. Though I think a strong disbelief in either is a form of aversion and craving/attachment. It seems like a thick wall to put up in front of you and your practice. Some may say that Buddhism requires no belief in karma and rebirth. That may be true. Your average practitioner doesn’t have to believe in either. But if we are to believe what the Buddha had to say, and that what he achieved was real, then we also should accept that when we get to that point, we won’t need to believe in either, we will be able to discern it for ourselves.

Karma and rebirth are still tricky for me, as I’ve posted before. But thanks to some helpful dharma bums here on the interwebs, I’ve read a little more, and things are starting to almost make sense for me. I suppose I’ll just not worry too much about it, and focus on what set me on this path in the first place; becoming more mindful, attaining a “quieter” mind, breaking habits, and living more compassionately.

Cheers.

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A few of my “-isms” and “-ists”

So, I’m finally feeling comfortable enough to call myself a Buddhist when asked by others what religion I am/belong to. It is a little weird at first, and even saying “I’m a Buddhist” shifts my awareness to a place I’d rather be. But Buddhism doesn’t define my entire belief system, and I thought I’d explore that a little bit here. So here are a few other beliefs that I hold:

1st “-ist”: Pantheist

As far as a deity is concerned, I consider myself a non-traditional pantheist. Pantheism has many definitions and people apply it to beliefs that range from strict atheistic-naturalism to new-age conscious-energy to a concept of a pantheistic Christian God. None of those really fly for me personally. For me, I realize (not fully, obviously….) the inter-connectedness of all beings, as well as all non-living matter. We are all star dust. The fact that the Universe is conscious of itself and is able to observe itself is astounding and profound, and I believe worthy of some sort of reverence or respect. Not necessarily worshiping existence, but respecting it, because it means respecting ourselves. Likewise when we respect ourselves, we respect all beings.

I also tend to believe in a bit of the supernatural. However, my scientific side throws a bit of a monkey wrench into this line of thinking. What I’ve come to terms with is that not too long ago, we thought that women menstruated because of their karma or that a woman ate an apple 6,000 years ago, thereby making childbirth painful as well. (on a side note, if Eve never ate that apple, how would childbirth have NOT been painful? what kind of physics would be involved in that one?) We’ve since learned otherwise, and realize that the supernatural explanation we once had is outdated and a scientific explanation based on facts and evidence has replaced it. I realize that someday, my supernatural beliefs may not be so supernatural, and I’m okay with that.

I 100% believe in ghosts. I’ve witnessed them, seen my glasses fly across the room in front of me, and witnessed their presence in the company of others. Now what they are exactly, I have no idea. Are they trapped souls? Probably not. Maybe something so traumatic happened and a fragment of that person’s conciousness somehow became stuck in the collective Universal conciousness? Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t even know if there is such a thing. Knowing how truly interconnected we are, coupled with new findings in the field of quantum physics has me thinking there might be. Maybe science will have a better explanation for it someday, maybe not.

There are a few other “supernatural” things I believe in, such as the power of attraction, though I don’t know if it works quite the way in which those people on The Secret DVD™ sell it as. Again, there might be a rational explanation for these things, and I honestly try not to cling to them too much, but they are there heckling me in the audience that makes up my mind. I belive certain minerals and gemstones have certain properties. Maybe it’s due to their vibration aligning with ours in some way, I don’t know. There are a few other pagan (thanks to my beautiful wife) beliefs I hold as well.  Again I don’t rely on these things to get me through the day, rather they are passive beliefs that intrigue me and keep me searching for answers in life, which I love. I think it is in the struggle and the challenges we face within ourselves, that’s where we find who we really are, and find a path to betterment. In my life now, Buddhism is the engine that drives those struggles and challenges. I’m forced to examine myself, my thoughts, and my actions more closely; though usually it comes after the fact. I fail at this constantly, but at least I’m able to realize it. But I digress.

I also belive that there might be some underlying force, will, or universal energy that connects us all as well. There is so much in the Universe that remains to be seen and observed, I simply can’t discard such an idea, knowing how profound our interconnectedness is. I liken this to something like the Tao in Taoism or Om in Hinduism or the World Tree/Tree of Life in certain Native American religions. A unifying force or energy that connects all things in this world (and possibly the next).

Okay, next “-ist”: Ignostic

Basically, I think most of our definitions of God suck. None have been updated to include present knowledge (except for the really crazy cult-like ones) and instead rely on old, outdated mythology that was written for a specific set of people. I personally find it ridiculous to cling to these outdated models and myths, though I do see the point in the beautiful symbology present in just about all religious texts, but only when treated as metaphor used as a literary device to convey a deeper message.

Final “-ist”: Apatheist

As far as a creator-type personified deity is concerned, I’m an apatheist. Though my scientific side tells me to embrace atheism, I don’t want to be defined by what I don’t believe in. Also, I don’t wish to polarize myself any more than I already have. Instead, I embrace the idea that whether or not a god exists doesn’t really matter. If it was proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that one did exist, that god is obviously not concerned with the welfare of humanity. Because if one does exist, and it doesn’t do anything about the suffering, disease, and poverty in the world, it isn’t worth my time to worship it. And if there isn’t a god, I’m still going to go to work in the morning and do my best to be a good human being. It really doesn’t affect my life in the here and now, so I really don’t care to focus on it.

So for now, that’s a little about my -isms and -ists. I’ll be posting one more on New Year’s Day. A bunch of the Buddhist Bloggers out there are going to be posting a New Year’s resolution type post on the 1st, and I have something planned for the next year that I’ll talk about more there. And I’ll be posting my thoughts on karma and rebirth eventually, as soon as I’m able to catch up with samsara.

Also, you should know that my point in posting this is simply to share what I believe, and why I believe it. If you believe something else, great! Variety is the spice of life. Just don’t knock on my door and try to get me to buy into your view, be mindful to keep it out of my (and all of our) schools and government, and I promise to do the same.

Cheers.

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An invalid response to life and death. On The Human Condition: part 2

This is part 2 of a series, and I think it would be best to read the first post first, or else you might have no idea what I’m talking about. Also, sorry if this one jumps around a bit.

 Religion. There, I said it. You better man your battle stations, put your earplugs in, your blinders on, and close your mind at once; because I just mentioned religion on the interwebs. Of course if you read the first post, you’d know that I’m going to be exploring religion from the human perspective, not a Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Pagan, Pantheist, Wiccan, Hindu or any other perspective.

So, from the human standpoint, why religion? Why did we begin turning to religion in the first place? Some will tell you that it was a way to assign meaning to the seasons, lightning, floods, earthquakes, the moon; to explain all of the natural phenomenon that early man took notice of. I don’t believe this to be valid. As I see it, religion was based out of a response to living as a human. To life and death on this planet. This is where the seed of religion was planted and cultivated. 

So what? Big deal, right? No, not so much. If religion is based out of a response to living life as a human, and experiencing death as a human, we must evaluate our present belief systems on that criteria first and foremost. In essence, is your religion (or lack thereof) a valid response to living life as a human? Does it fit with everything we now know about life on this planet?

 A little background on me. Once upon a time, I was a Lutheran. Good church, nice people, wonderful pastor. A very laid back congregation. None of the fire and brimstone fear mongering. I went to Sunday Bible School and such as a youth. I even sang in the youth choir. I went through all the motions, did my best to believe. But even from a young age I remember something nagging at me about it all. For a brief time, I went to a Baptist church because my ex-stepmother pretty much forced us to. This was the fire and brimstone, brainwash ’em when they’re young brand of Christianity. I hated it. I also hated how they made me feel as an outsider. Thankfully, that didn’t last too long. We went back to my former church, and things were better. Mind you, we only went maybe twice a month or so. Religion wasn’t a huge thing in my family. 

Well, somewhere around 13-16 or so (can’t remember, too many raging hormones) I really started to take a look at the whole God thing. It started making less and less sense to me. In fact, it started to become quite ridiculous. The creation story, the flood story, angels, devils, the plagues. I looked at the myths of ancient Greece and Egypt, looked at the Bible, and then it hit me. I had been punk’d. It was all a sham. It was a bunch of silly nonsense that people spoon fed me and forced me to believe in. So, I stopped going. I suppose this was my atheist/agnostic period.

 Later, I fell in love with a beautiful and wonderful debil worshipping (at least that’s what the fundies would say) pagan/Buddhist spiritual woman and it really all started to go down hill 😉 yadda yadda yadda fast forward to today. Today, I consider myself a non-traditional pantheist and umm… dare I actually say it…. a Buddhist. I suppose that’s something I’ll have to get used to. Weird.

 So back to the response. Why do I feel that Christianity is no longer a valid response to life as a human? Well, part of it has to do with Science. Science provides conclusions based on evidence. Science is not static. It admits when it is wrong, and changes in conclusions happen when new evidence is presented. Science has explained our evolution into homo sapiens. Science has explained what makes the stars glow, the planets go ’round, the birds sing and the floods rise. The more we learn about this emergent universe, the fewer places there are for God to hide. When we start to realize this, we can begin to realize that it isn’t any god that controls our lives and deaths, and in fact we have been in control the whole time. And if we are in control of our lives and our deaths, what use do we have for God? 

If we seek God out of comfort, what does that say about our relationship with each other? Have we become that distant, that separated from our human nature that we can’t find comfort in each other? Again, God is not needed, nor warranted in this situation. We should be looking toward each other for comfort, for help. We should find solace in our interconnectedness, but we have forgotten that we are connected at all. We should be able to ask our neighbor to borrow a wrench, but we don’t. And when we are asked by that neighbor for a favor, we tend not to trust him. The reasons for this are mainly fear based, and I feel that’s another post altogether.

 There is of course, death and the great unknown. We all like to believe that we live on after death. But that’s all that it is, a belief. A wish in the wind. Because everything we know about organic matter says that we cease to be when brain function stops. Now, I’d like to believe that some part of me lives on after this point, that what I am right now is just a brief splash in the eternal river that is me, that there is no end to the flow, and that I’ll continue on in another direction. But who knows? And what good does it do to speculate? Again, does it matter to how you live your life right now? 

So we construct a God that gives us a concrete choice of heaven or hell. Believe or don’t believe. Weird. So, in order to get an eternal afterlife of bliss, all I have to do is have blind faith in something? Sweet! Sign me up! ….. Actually, I gave up fairy tales a long time ago. The truth is there is no heaven or hell. Heaven and hell are merely a reward and punishment system set up to further a belief system that is no longer valid in this emergent universe. My only guess as to why it keeps on perpetuating itself in the face of a mountain of evidence that contradicts it’s history and origins and existence is that comfort example I talked about earlier. 

It’s comforting to know that those around you believe the same as you. People of like mind tend to flock together. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with with this. Some people like mint chocolate chip ice cream, and some don’t. No biggie. But what’s different about a flock of Christians is that when confronted with the fact that their God is no where to be found in this Universe, they have their group and their group mentality to support them. No one wants to be wrong. The ego can’t handle being wrong. The ego has set up a specific reality for you, and anything that shakes that reality off it’s hinges could mean the death of the ego. So it finds solace in being surrounded by those that believe as you do. Call it mob syndrome, mass hysteria or whatever. When there is a mob of people together, they (in their minds) can do no wrong. And if the mob is right, the ego can be stroked into complicity.

 There is also that whole “fear of the unknown” thing as well. Though I think that ties in more nicely with the inability of most to admit that they are wrong, or that they don’t know. Curiosity didn’t just kill the cat. Curiosity unchecked has killed plenty of humans as well. We have this need, this hunger to know everything. We are terrible at keeping secrets, and even worse at letting others keep theirs. We must know everything, and we must know it now! I’m not sure why it is that we can’t leave things as simply “I don’t know”. As far as the origins of the Universe are concerned, I’m happy saying “I don’t know”. As far as what happens in the afterlife, I’m also happy saying “I don’t know”. Because in the end, all of that has nothing to do with what happens in the now.

  If you were given absolute proof that Thor or Allah or Zeus or any of the other 2500+ gods out there existed, how would it change your life? How would your day change? Would you order a different $5 foot long for lunch today? Would you love your spouse more or less? Would you quit your job? Would it change how you suffer?

 Of course not. It really wouldn’t change much of anything. It would have little to no impact on day to day life, and have very little impact on this moment. And that is all we have. And that is why I feel that monotheistic religions (especially Christianity- from my experience) are no longer valid responses to life as a human here on this beautiful planet Earth.

 So why do I feel that Buddhism is a valid response? That can be found in the major doctrine of Buddhism; The Four Noble Truths. They are –and this is paraphrased, probably badly– 

1. That as a result of being born, you will encounter suffering.

2. Suffering is caused by our craving/attachments, delusion, and greed.

3. That there is a way to end suffering by ending our attachments, delusion and greed.

4. The way to end suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path (which I’ve already covered)

 There are plenty of translations on the 4 Noble Truths, so I tried to keep them as general as possible. If I really screwed them up, let me know. But don’t nitpick.

 So that’s all I have to say on this for now. Sorry it’s been so long since my last post, but I really wanted to give this one a little time. I hope that when you read this, you’ll re-evaluate your belief system, and really try and discover whether or not it is a valid response to life as a human. Until then, cheers. 

*As always, I fully admit I could be wrong about any of this. The Buddha also advised against divisive speech. I realize this, and if this does cause any suffering, I apologize. I’m not calling your world view invalid. Just that for me, I believe that this particular world view is no longer valid when we take into account present knowledge.

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