Divided or United. . .
By far the most frequent question I am asked by readers is do I consider Buddhism a religion?
In my World Religion Studies during college the definition of religion was any practice or system that infers values beyond monetary that people honor, respect and live within. This definition seems to point at Buddhism as a religion, but I personally tend to disagree.
Well if you have read The Daily Buddha for any amount of time you have most likely heard me talk about Buddhism as a “practice.” Maybe the definition of this word will shed a little light on the topic: Practice [prak´tis] – collaborative art of communication, sharing, and problem solving between peers; this concept of practice also implies a shared responsibility and accountability for care and accuracy.
Firstly, although I don’t think of my actions or intentions as religious, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate people who do have one or I think they’re misguided or ignorant. I’ve known many religious people who are smart, kind-hearted and brilliant in all sorts of ways. So if you consider yourself religious, please don’t take my words personally — I don’t intend to degrade or offend you or anyone else who holds religion dear to their heart.
Secondly, my aim isn’t to ridicule or find fault with religions or imply that they have nothing important to offer. For the larger portion of my life I’ve devoured tons of books on religion, and from my readings I have discovered that all the major religions contain kernels of wisdom.
Sex – Lets tackle this difficult conversation first: Sex in my humble opinion is NOT a sin (lets use the word “sin” for now). When two people can come together to share the most sacred of things (each other) then how can we call it a sin that will damn you to some eternal agony both mentally and spiritually? Considering sex bad, wrong or evil, dogmatic religious people tend avoid it like the plague and do whatever it takes to suppress their sexual feelings. But suppression, as any psychologist would tell you, is a sure-fire way to perversion. No wonder they usually develop unhealthy mental and behavioral patterns that can harm (sometimes seriously) themselves and those around them.
Free Will – Many religions brandish this concept like a weapon or even worse a negate trait – “You have been given free will so choose carefully or be damned” is the typical religious push/pull tactic. The theory of 100% “free will” justifies a Gods punishing and rewarding people, who are free to choose as they will, regardless of biological, psychological and social pressures. This theory, however, has absolutely no scientific basis.
The truth is that, although we do make choices, those aren’t entirely free. That’s because our choices are the result of a combination of biological, psychological and environmental/societal components that make up who we are, and which are mostly out of our control. In other words, your conscious, rational choices can’t be decoupled from the unconscious processes of your mind or genetic, social and environmental factors.
Rewards and Punishments – Often termed in may religions as Heaven and Hell. From the moment we’re born religions are trying hard to make us believe that if we don’t act as we’re prescribed by the leaders, books and teachings, we’ll end up in serious trouble. The other side of that coin is that if you do as you’re told and follow the orders directly as given you will be rewarded with a life of luxury – no death, no pain, no losses.
To me, these concepts verge on the extremes of nonsense. Hence, I don’t believe in the notion of heaven and hell as propounded by most religions. I can only accept heaven and hell as symbols representing states of our consciousness. For example, when we are hateful and agitated, we experience a state of hell. On the contrary, when we’re loving and peaceful, we experience a state of heaven. But that isn’t as fancy and rewarding as some religious people would like heaven and hell to be.
Equality – In my humble opinion religions are rarely focused on equality. Thy often divide people both mentally and physically and regardless of ho or what you believe, any god that separates people vs brings them together is most likely a function of people and not the deities themselves. Here are a few examples including Buddhism:
- In India, there’s a social stratification class system based on Hindu ideology that goes back in ancient times, which divides people into a hierarchy of social classes called “castes”, where the higher classes have the “birthright” to oppress the ones below them.
- In Buddhism, for centuries women were considered unable to reach the blissful heights of consciousness that men can, and because of that they weren’t allowed to become Buddhist nuns and pursue enlightenment.
- Christianity looks down on homosexuals, believing that they are victims/worshippers/devotees of the devil, and hence condemns them to hell.
- According to Islam, atheists are one of the worst kind of sinners and in certain Arabic countries where Islamic faith is very strong, they are even punished by death.
To me, all people deserve equal opportunities in life and shouldn’t be discriminated against based on superficial differences such as the ones I just mentioned. Hence, if we want to see a world where people are allowed the freedom to be who they are and do what they want (provided, of course, that they don’t harm others), then we need to grow from and put to rest obsolete religious values that breed oppression and inequality.
We are All Family – This is my lofty system and I try to honor it with all of my being. It is often claimed that religion brings people together by preaching peace and love. But does it really? In my experience, the opposite is the case, at least when it comes to most of the dominant religions of the world. We are far more complex in depth than the given concepts of good and bad.
When we see other people as evil (and that merely because of the religion they adhere to), how can you love and live at peace with them? Many religions teach that you can’t. You should want to protect yourself and family from them. And many times, the best way to protect yourself appears to be fighting against them. That’s exactly why people of different religious groups have been constantly fighting against each other for thousands upon thousands of years.
I want to see people living in peace. For that to happen, however, we need to stop dehumanizing our fellow humans and start seeing our species as a single family that shares the same home (i.e., the Earth). In other words, we need to stop fighting and begin by understanding and loving each other. Think how much the world would change if we all embraced these values – what would the news report? What struggles would become the entertainment on the tube?
Religions were created by people for people and as such they do change over time in their attitudes and teachings. Maybe we will return to those universal values of genuine love, trust, respect, care and compassion for ourselves and the family we share this planet with.
Peace and Love, Jim