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Subject: Atheism and Buddhism rss

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Matt Thrower
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As an atheist, I have a pretty hard time getting to grips with the motivation behind what makes believers believe. But I find it much easier to come to terms with the "traditional" forms of Buddhism in which there is no God. These seem to me to be more like-life philosophies than religion and I suspect many atheists feel the same way as I do.

However, I was struck today by the fact that in addition to being an atheist I, again like most atheists, regard myself as a rationalist - someone who believes the world can be explained in and understood through rational principles without the need for the divine or the supernatural. When viewed from this perspective I ought to find Buddhism with it's belief in rebirth and a definite spirit realm just as bizarre as any other religion. But I do not. This made me curious as to why I felt that way.

I wondered initially if it was because my atheism was rooted in a rejection of the traditional values of my culture. But that can be quickly rejected because I find other deist religions such as Sikhism or Hinduism just as bizarre as Christianity. So I started to wonder whether or not what I found so difficult to accept about most organised religions was not in fact "faith" or a belief in the supernatural (which is what I'd always assumed) but the idea of an authoritarian God-figure.

I don't have an answer - I need to think about it a bit more. But I thought it might make an interesting discussion. Do other atheists and rationalists on here find Buddhist concepts easier to come to terms with than those of other religions? If so, why?
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It just might be that buddhism have a rationalist influence, and is open to be subject to interreption. And that one is allowed to think for oneself. I have heard people with plausable explanations of rebirth that touches the grounds of quantum physics etc.

(And buddhists shouldn't force there belife on anyone, this make people have less problem with it)
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Jake
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Buddha said to not accept anything, even his own teachings, without evaluating them first to determine if they make sense. There are Buddhists who don't even believe in a literal rebirth at all. I agree though that it does make more sense than any other religion I've come across.

The timing of this post is amazing, because during the last 2-3 days I have been studying Buddhism a lot, and, like you, I am an atheist, so I have been evaluating it to see if Buddhism could fit into my world view. Buddhism is, of course, an atheistic "religion", so I thought it might fit. I like a lot of the concepts, and it seems like something that would benefit my life. Any Buddhists out there who want to explain some stuff?
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Matt Thrower
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I don't entirely buy the idea that Buddhism appears more transparent to an atheist than other religions because it is more open to interpretation and change. Judaism has a built-in understanding of the need to move forward and accept change. Hinduism has little written doctrine and is notoriously open to interpretation. But I find the motivation behind belief in those religions just as baffling as Christianity.

I'm wondering now about animist religions - Shinto and older Western and African pagan religions. I've never really spent much time thinking about them before but I feel that same extension of understanding as I do with Buddhism. Maybe it's because I don't know much about these religions that I find them more transparent, but it's interesting that, like Buddhism, they also lack a central authoritarian God.

I don't know anything about Taoism, although that wasn't really the original point of the thread. Wikipedia calls
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Paul DeStefano
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The fact that you wander the paths and seek a 'religion' or 'philosophical system' or 'spiritual belief' is to me a far more important thing than just having one.

While there is great comfort in finally finding a path, the search and journey can be even more enriching and rewarding.

Have a good quest.
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Richard Hefferan
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JonJacob wrote:
Buddhism is certainly an interesting religion but personally I think that Taoism is an improvement on Buddhism... it takes away all that "life is suffering" garbage that I just can't live with.

The main difference between Jesus and Buddah in my mind is that once the Buddah (a rich prince mind you) found enlightenment he went into the woods and anyone who wanted to follow him had to literally follow him, whereas once Jesus found enlightenment he went to the biggest city around and got himself killed.

Fundamentally that means that Christians are called upon to "bring their light into the dark" which could mean conversion but hopefuly it would mean help instead (food, shelter...) whereas Buddhists have no such calling it's a much more personal (selfish in some people's minds) faith system.

The other thing I think is worth mentioning is that a Christians view on what God is can vary a great deal. Not all Christians agree on this. God does not have to be a being in the way that we understand nor does God have to be actively involved in the goings on of Earth.

Personally I have no problem mixing religions. I like that Christianity's main focus is to help others, I think it's single law of love thy neighbour is a good one. I think it's rejection of most of the OT is also a good move (ie: fullfillment of the OT). But do I like the Church (which one you might say) not really, but I wouldn't hate it either, it's just not for me.

Many of my atheistic friends have been enticed by Buddhism but ultimately they seem to prefer Taoism...

I think it's the humour, those guys are some funny dudes.


To expand on the wisdom of Taoism, Buddhism has strict rules that are supposedly universal. Pacifism and the suffering you brough up, for example. The taoist, in contrast, views all things as being good solutions, but only when used at the proper times. Pacifism is wonderful, but it's not always the answer. It may do more harm then good in certain situations. The taoist observes that we are all things, and enlightenment is not restricting our nature by repressing some of them. Enlightenment is understanding when it is correct to be one and when it is correct to be another.

The two are very similar in content, but to me Taoism makes more sense. In my view, Buddhism is Buddha's imperfect application of Taoism, where he imposes hard facts about the world when the world is a flowing, changing being. A single approach to an ever changing world is bound to become failure at least part of the time.
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Kinda off topic... A friend of mine teaches theology and Buddhism (at an Ivy league school) and lived with the Dalai Lama back in the early 70's. There was a discussion last night about cosmology in a group that I was hanging out with that included my friend. We were talking about string theory, swiss cheese universes, big bang, creation myths etc. When my friend was asked about all this and the Buddhist take he said "I don't think about that stuff nor do I have the scientific or math background to understand most of it. I teach two things: Suffering and the end of suffering".
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Paul DeStefano
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For those considering Buddhism from this site, I think it pertinent to note that Buddha HATED games.

no doubt these were fairly specific in his time period, but he expressly refused to play:

1. Games on boards with 8 or 10 rows
2. The same games played on imaginary boards
3. Marking diagrams on the floor such that the player can only walk on certain places.
4. Using nails to place or remove pieces from a heap with the loser being the one who causes the heap to wobble.
5. Throwing dice
6. Hitting a short stick with a long stick.
7. Drawing a figure on the ground or wall after dipping a finger in lac, red dye, flour or water, and having the other players guess what the picture is going to be.
8. Ball games.
9. Playing with toy pipes made of leaves.
10. Ploughing with toy plough.
11. Somersaulting.
12. Playing with toy windmills.
13. Playing with toy measures.
14. Playing with toy carts.
15. Playing with toy bows.
16. Guessing at letters traced with the finger in the air or on a friend's back.
17. Guessing a friend's thoughts.
18. Imitating deformities.
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Matt Thrower
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Geosphere wrote:
The fact that you wander the paths and seek a 'religion' or 'philosophical system' or 'spiritual belief' is to me a far more important thing than just having one.

While there is great comfort in finally finding a path, the search and journey can be even more enriching and rewarding.

Have a good quest.


I'm not on some sort of spiritual quest here - at least not in my interpretation of the phrase. I'm comfortable with my atheist/rationalist outlook. What interested me was what it was about Buddhism that made it appear to me much more understandable than other major world religions. I took to considering this as much from the point of view of trying to better understand the viewpoint of those who have faith generally as I did purely as an intellectual excercise.
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Louise Holden
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Interesting OP. I think a lot of people do find Buddhism easier to swallow though personally I don't find it any more convincing than any other religion.

When, many years ago, I was a Quaker and went to the UK Quaker youth conference there was a huge amount on buddhism there; it seemed to be treated as the "nice, rational" side of religion. Maybe it's partly because it is easy to benefit from meditation without any specific beliefs, while prayer is pointless without some sort of theological basis. I don't think it can be anything to do with reincarnation being intrinsically plausible, because it doesn't seem to be.
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Paul DeStefano
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MattDP wrote:
I'm not on some sort of spiritual quest here - at least not in my interpretation of the phrase.


MattDP in the original post wrote:
So I started to wonder


Uh huh.
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Matt Thrower
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Geosphere wrote:
MattDP wrote:
I'm not on some sort of spiritual quest here - at least not in my interpretation of the phrase.


MattDP in the original post wrote:
So I started to wonder


Uh huh.


Hmm, the remainder of the sentence you're quoting is:

Quote:
whether or not what I found so difficult to accept about most organised religions was not in fact "faith" or a belief in the supernatural (which is what I'd always assumed) but the idea of an authoritarian God-figure.


I don't really see how this makes it a spiritual quest, or indeed is at odds with my stated aims in other posts in this thread. Unless your definition of "spiritial quest" is "thinking about spiritual/religious things" in which case, fair enough. My understanding of the phrase is rather narrower.
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Paul DeStefano
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MattDP wrote:
Unless your definition of "spiritial quest" is "thinking about spiritual/religious things" in which case, fair enough. My understanding of the phrase is rather narrower.


Even the longest journey begins with a single footstep.

This does not require sandals, a staff and living in a cave.

It requires inquiry.
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JonJacob wrote:

Fundamentally that means that Christians are called upon to "bring their light into the dark" which could mean conversion but hopefuly it would mean help instead (food, shelter...) whereas Buddhists have no such calling it's a much more personal (selfish in some people's minds) faith system.

There are two faces to Buddhism just as there are two faces to Christianity. Both religion has a out-of-the world face and a into-the-world face.
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Hi Matt,

There are also plenty of interpretations of Buddhism that don't require belief in a spirit realm or rebirth. (Since one of the core tenets of Buddhism is the doctrine of no-self, exactly what is being reborn anyway?)

Some criticism of the above view is that it is just a watered-down version of actual Buddhism modified to fit the sensibilities of modern Westerners. Another view is that Gautama, like anyone else, was a product of his place and time and therefore was influenced by the prevailing Hindu beliefs and assumptions.

You might find Brad Warner's books interesting. He's a former punk rock bass player who became an ordained Zen Buddhist monk. He has two books out (Hardcore Zen, Sit Down & Shut Up) with another coming out next week. I like them, although Warner is more of a mild pantheist than an atheist (splitting hairs). He's very into zazen and has little patience for spiritual teachers, gurus, westerners fascinated by the "mysterious Orient," etc.

Noah Levine is another Gen-X Buddhist teacher who is good but definitely more traditional in his beliefs about Buddhist cosmology. He also seems to enjoy the guru role a little more than Warner, which is offputting to me -- but maybe I'm just reading too much into it.

Best,
Kevin
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King of All Simians — Not a Mere Diplomat
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I heard Noah Levine speak a couple of years ago, and it was a really great experience. I've sported a "dharma punx" pin on my bag ever since.

For me, Buddhism is still too much supernaturalism, but the teachings are great. My wife is all up into zazen, and I wish I could move down that path. I think she takes some great insight from sitting, and the act itself is refreshing and centering. A good thing. But all the talk of souls and reincarnation and such... Not so much.

Then, there's the fact that what we in the West think of as Buddhism is hell of different from how it's practiced in earnest in the places of its origins. There're plenty of gods and demons in all of those stories.

I have yet to find a spiritual tradition that I haven't taken something away from. Christianity is first, 'cos its the tradition I was raised in, but I've taken a lot of my ideas from Taoism, Buddhism, and Krsna Consciousness. There's a lot of sublime stuff out there, once you can see past the ridiculous.
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I find the dichotomy between Christianity and Buddhism to be more interesting.

Christians live a good life, to free themselves from sin......To be able to Live Forever.

Buddhists live a good life, to free themselves from sin....in order to NOT be reborn and NOT live forever. (Getting off the wheel of pain, or Samsara).

But in other ways, Christians and Buddhists share a lot of sensibilities...both of them view 'this' world as less important than the great cycle. Buddhists feel that this world is truly nothing more than illusion (Maya) designed to distract us in trivia and the sense that this world 'matters'. Christian theology, while not agreeing entirely, has a similar sensibility with the idea of the seperate 'Cities'- the City of God and the City of Man (read your Augustine).

As for Buddhists and Atheism...no, I don't see it. Really, I don't. There is a certain, well, 'fatalism' that is common to Buddhism that for me just doesn't jive. Plus, I don't see how one can say that they don't believe in God but now they DO believe in Samsara- the entire POINT of Buddhism. Without belief in reincarnation, Buddhism really has no point- remember, Buddhism was in many ways a form of 'spiritual revolt' against Hinduism, and its VERY strict caste system. By breaking Samsara, you could free yourself from the strict progression of the caste system and be 'free' at the end of THIS life- if you lived it well, rather than feeling that you would have to be trapped (possibly) into another life in another caste.

Not saying its impossible- but as with Christianity, there are so many premises that you have to 'buy' that are of the same type and caliber as the premises you have to 'buy' in Christianity, I think that for many Atheists the decision to go with Buddhism has more to do with their distrust of Christianity rather than any sense that one is more 'reasonable' than the other.

If you buy that,you're going down the Sam Harris route......

Darilian

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Darilian,

For the most part this is very true, but it is a fact that many of the things Buddhists practice are beneficial and can lead to a happier, less stressful life. Buddhism does have a lot of supernatural stuff that seems to go with it, but from the very beginning it was a system where you take what you like (things that make sense), and leave the rest (to borrow a phrase from Big Trouble in Little China, "just like your salad bar"). More central to Buddhism than any other tenet is the idea that you must evaluate everything for yourself, to not accept anything on faith, or because someone told you that it was true.
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William Boykin
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Capn Coconut...
You could argue the same thing about Christianity. The entire system of 'confession' is very similar (especially amongst Catholics) to psychoanalysis- unburdening your problems with a trusted outsider who knows you and is able to give you help and guidance when troubled.

And the system of thought that Jesuits follow is VERY much based upon reason and logic- just as much as Buddhists.

The PRACTICE of ANY form of religion can have a beneficial effect upon someone. Of course, you probably get more out of it the more you buy into the religion.

I don't think that Buddhism is superior (or worse!) than Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Mormons, Wiccanism, neo-Paganism, Satanism, or any other religion in terms of the 'benefits' that one gets in their life for following that faith.

Well, all of them except for Lutherans. They're just crazy. I mean really- Lutefisk??????

Darilian
Just joking Lutherans. Everyone knows that the true scary ones are Mennonites.. What are they REALLY doing in Amish country, hmmmm??? *LOL*

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Nope, the crazy ones are pentacostals. Speaking in tongues, convulsing, scary, squirrel shit crazy.

And I'd disagree that examination of belief has much to do with christianity. Maybe small sects of christianity adopt this stance, but the vast majority firmly hold the belief that questioning the faith as presented is blasphemy. Not buying into the Jesus myth buys you a one way ticket to hell. I'd not call that open to examination.
 
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Shushnik wrote:
Nope, the crazy ones are pentacostals. Speaking in tongues, convulsing, scary, squirrel shit crazy.

And I'd disagree that examination of belief has much to do with christianity. Maybe small sects of christianity adopt this stance, but the vast majority firmly hold the belief that questioning the faith as presented is blasphemy. Not buying into the Jesus myth buys you a one way ticket to hell. I'd not call that open to examination.

Since we are comparing craziness, you should see some of the stuff Singaporean Taoist priests (and their assistants) do on the religious ceremonies. Or Taiwanese kind. I'm sure the spirit-possessed dance is a lot more surreal than a pentacostal worship. Pentacostals may have craziness in quantity because everybody is encouraged to do it, but the Taoists have craziness in absolute quality with the whipping and dressing up in giant dolls and swordsplay, etc.

As for your evaluation of Christianity, I don't see it as any different for Taoism. Every person is to examine the faith for himself, and make the choice to enter the faith. As for the hell argument, I believe it is the Taoist that has the 18 levels of hell. If you don't buy into the Taoist myth, guess where you are going to end up?

I have high respect for Taoism. But kindly get off your high horse and remove your plank before you talk about the splinter in my eye.
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Jake
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Darilian,

No, you can't argue the same thing about Christianity. The Bible and Jesus claim that the acceptance of everything they say must be taken on faith, and that is the only way to salvation.

I wasn't just arguing that it's good because it has beneficial effects on a person's life. I was saying that a guiding principle of Buddhism is to never take anything purely on faith, so it becomes a path very tailored to the reasoning individual.
 
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I do this a much as any one here but this thread has made it glaringly obvious that comparing generalised religions can and does often get stupid.

Christianity has existed as everything from burning witches, through Quakers speaking truth to power, to isolated hermits meditating in caves. We may have in mind some local and current variants when we speak of it but even these include the Branch Dravidian survivors, the Holy Roman Catholic Church and pentecostal fundamentalists.

Buddhism too has many aspects including some of horror - the Killing Fields of Cambodia have been related to the form of Buddhism practised there and Japan's militarist government right through to the end of WWII had no trouble with Buddhism being one of the two religions of Japan.

Not that atheists get off free - I present Richard Dawkins outbursts as examples of irrationality in atheism.

It may be necessary to move away from over-inclusive banners when discussing such matters and answer Matts OP "Do other atheists and rationalists on here find Buddhist concepts easier to come to terms with than those of other religions? If so, why?" on a concept by concept basis.
 
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Geosphere wrote:
For those considering Buddhism from this site, I think it pertinent to note that Buddha HATED games.

no doubt these were fairly specific in his time period, but he expressly refused to play:

1. Games on boards with 8 or 10 rows
2. The same games played on imaginary boards
3. Marking diagrams on the floor such that the player can only walk on certain places.
4. Using nails to place or remove pieces from a heap with the loser being the one who causes the heap to wobble.
5. Throwing dice
6. Hitting a short stick with a long stick.
7. Drawing a figure on the ground or wall after dipping a finger in lac, red dye, flour or water, and having the other players guess what the picture is going to be.
8. Ball games.
9. Playing with toy pipes made of leaves.
10. Ploughing with toy plough.
11. Somersaulting.
12. Playing with toy windmills.
13. Playing with toy measures.
14. Playing with toy carts.
15. Playing with toy bows.
16. Guessing at letters traced with the finger in the air or on a friend's back.
17. Guessing a friend's thoughts.
18. Imitating deformities.


Obviously Buddha tried to convince his friends to play Dominion with him and nothing else...
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Matt Thrower
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Pinook wrote:
Buddhism too has many aspects including some of horror - the Killing Fields of Cambodia have been related to the form of Buddhism practised there and Japan's militarist government right through to the end of WWII had no trouble with Buddhism being one of the two religions of Japan.


I have to say I think there's a big gulf between atrocities which can be definitively attributed to Christianity - such as the Inquisition and the burning of witches - and your examples. One has the qualifier "may have been" and the other, making out that because the Japanese government tolerated Buddhism then Buddhism must therefore have been related to their brutality, simply doesn't make sense. My understanding - which is limited - is that it was the other state religion, Shinto, which was much more connected with the militaristic culture. Certainly Shinto suffered a huge decline in the postwar period, with no comparable decline in Japanese Buddhism.

Pinook wrote:
Not that atheists get off free - I present Richard Dawkins outbursts as examples of irrationality in atheism.


Richard Dawkins is many things, but he is not irrational. I've come to dislike his outpourings on religion immensely because he seems to be unable to understand - although he claims otherwise - how moderate religion is a valuable and important cultural contributor and that religion is not entirely incompatible with science. As a result he comes across as only a shade less hate-filled than some of the more extreme examples of the preachers he seems to so despise. That's why I don't like what he has to say - but none of that makes him irrational. Indeed as a scientist, I still have immense respect for his work.

Pinook wrote:
It may be necessary to move away from over-inclusive banners when discussing such matters and answer Matts OP "Do other atheists and rationalists on here find Buddhist concepts easier to come to terms with than those of other religions? If so, why?" on a concept by concept basis.


I would finish by saying that although I take issue with the rest of your post, this is probably a very wise suggestion.
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