In most societies, at least in the developed world, people are free to choose their own views as to whether God exists or not. They are also free to decide what religion to follow or to ignore the whole subject completely. It would be easy to underestimate how important and how different this development is from the social environment of previous centuries. It is also easy to underestimate how much more difficult, in some ways, is this complete freedom to choose.
Please let me be very clear. In this matter I have no interest in trying to prove that atheists should become Christians or that Christians should become atheists or that Buddhists should become Christians or that anyone should change their beliefs unless they freely choose to do so.
What I feel is a far more creative approach is to ask, “What do you believe?” and, “How did you come to believe what you believe is the truth of this life?” And, “What foundation assumptions have you made, and how hazy are these assumptions, upon which you built your beliefs?”
I feel this is beneficial because a careful study of any person’s beliefs will reveal the fact that there are one or two foundation ideas or teachings upon which the rest of their beliefs are based on. I believe that excavating these foundation ideas or teachings, and asking relevant questions, is a very useful way to practice mindfulness and introspection.
From this process, one can then look carefully to see what hazy assumptions or contradictions may exist in the core beliefs upon which they have built much of their inner life. One can also uncover the serious doubts and unanswered questions they have about the beliefs they, or others, have.
The fact of the matter is that many people, regardless of where they reside on the intelligence spectrum, do not give much thought at all to what they believe.
Significant other portions of the human family hold their beliefs very rigidly and refuse to ask themselves any searching questions about possible contradictions in the foundation beliefs they have chosen to follow. In this regard Jewish, Christian, Hindu, & Muslim fundamentalists have much in common.
It may surprise people to consider there are also Buddhist fundamentalists who tend to overlook, or gloss over, glaring contradictions in the core teachings and sacred texts of their tradition.
In particular, in this series, I am highlighting what I feel is are primary contradictions in Theravada Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism, or the Way of the Elders, is also referred to as Vipassana or Insight Meditation.
There are two examples of Theravada Buddhist dogma that I feel are ripe for serious review, especially the 2nd one. Both senior monks and lay Theravada teachers emphatically and repeatedly assert there is no permanent self or soul. Along with this is the less frequently emphasized dogma that there is no such thing as God, or an eternal substance of any kind in the universe.
To buttress my assertion about the 2nd of these two dogmas I cite:
“Mindfulness practice….is incompatible with a belief in…a saving divine grace.” The Heart of Buddhist Meditation Nyanaponika Thera: Samuel Weiser Inc. York Beach, ME 1965 : page 83
It is not just that I personally think the Buddhist teachers generally are mistaken in their belief that there is no God. I think that anyone who reads their core texts will find it is far from clear that Buddhism really is an atheist culture regardless of what many of their leading teachers assert.
In fact if you read the Theravada texts you find a very steady stream of comments about Brahma, the Gods, and many varieties of Devas and celestial beings. Devas are viewed in Buddhist culture roughly the way Christians envision the nature and role of angels.
For an excellent example of this please see one of the most important Theravada texts # 15 from, The Long Discourses of The Buddha, which is entitled, The Great Discourse on Origination – translated by Maurice Walsh, Wisdom Books Somerville, MA 2012 page 228 paragraph 33)
In this passage the Buddha refers to seven types of Devas who dwell in Brahma’s retinue. What exactly are these devas? What is Brahma’s retinue? Who is this Brahma if not God? Who created these Devas?
Is there not a significant contradiction between Theravada Buddhists saying they are atheists when their own central texts talk openly about devas, and Gods, and celestial beings?
Are most people who study Buddhism even aware of this contradiction?
In reality whatever decision you make in such matters, I strongly support your right to choose for yourself. What I do encourage is that you closely examine the beliefs you are hearing and the books you are reading.
Do not gloss over or deny serious contradictions in whatever tradition you are exploring.
Ask the most searching questions you can about any hazy assumptions that are the underlying foundations of your current beliefs or those you are studying.
Take the time to allow any serious doubts or unanswered questions about your beliefs to surface in your mind.
Great teachers such as Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and the authors of the Upanishads were willing to challenge the religious teachings of the dominant culture of their society. From their struggles and rethinking each of these spiritual leaders affirmed what they felt was the best of their culture and fearlessly opened new avenues of practice and beliefs for their society.
If we wish to imitate their life, can we do any less?
More next week.
will at meditation practice dot com ( spelled out to limit spam)