Regular readers know that I’m an atheist, with no fondness for organized religion. One of my greatest battles is with the religious among us who believe that one must believe in God or have a religious background or faith to be able to act with morals and ethics. That the whole moral background of Western culture is based on the Judeo-Christian ethic. Blah, blah, blah. I always suggest otherwise and I believe you can stack up most atheists against most religious folks, compare their behavior and how they live their lives, and the atheists will do pretty well on the morality scale. I’d also like to point out that if it truly is the case that the morality of modern Western culture is dependent on the Judeo-Christian ethic, we may want to reconsider that approach.
One of my on-again-off-again efforts over the years has been to explore Buddhism. I’ve never done it very seriously, but I have purchased a few books on the subject, and have discussed it with people who follow some of Buddhism’s teachings. Buddhism, to the extent I understand it, has the potential to appeal to me because of its focus on the inner person and on finding a peaceful existence.
In the last few months, I have been doing things that have steered me back once again to consider Buddhism a bit more. I’ve started taking a weekly yoga class and I’ve started meditating with the assistance of my Positivity Guru. The second session of the yoga class, the instructor began the session suggesting that we should focus on this concept while we engaged in our practice. “It’s like this now.” There is something in that statement that struck me that night and it has stayed with me ever since. It really gets to the kind of adjustment I’m trying to make in my approach to life. There is something in those four words that suggests some fundamental truth that matters to me in this moment of my life.
Being the writer I am, I also want to do something with that concept. To put in words something that connects to the concept. I’m not sure what it is and I have this feeling it will be a very long-term project, but I don’t want to forget it. In my efforts to hold on to the concept and build upon it, I returned to one of those Buddhist books I bought years ago and never got around to reading. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpooche. On page 9, I came to this passage:
It has often intrigued me how some Buddhist masters I know ask one simple question of people who approach them for teaching: Do you believe in a life after this one? They are not being asked whether they believe in it as a philosophical proposition, but whether they feel it deeply in their heart. The master knows that if people believe in a life after this one, their whole outlook on life will be different, and they will have a distinct sense of personal responsibility and morality. What the masters must suspect is that there is a danger that people who have no strong belief in a life after this one will create a society fixated on short-term results, without much thought for the consequences of their actions. Could this be the major reason why we have created a brutal world like the one in which we are now living, a world with little real compassion?
And so, now in a very un-Buddhist approach to things, I want to throw the book against the wall. I get that not all Buddhists may believe this, that not all “masters” may focus on this, but I read that and go back to this. Must every religious system, every faith-based set of beliefs rest on the idea that we must believe in an afterlife to compel us to do well in this life? Never mind that the author gets something fundamentally wrong here. The vast, vast majority of people in this world follow a faith that believes in an afterlife — Christianity, Islam, Judaism, name the religion — they all pretty much believe in an afterlife and that is the reward or punishment they promise for how people act in this life. Given that then, how can the author look to today’s world and say the lack of belief in an afterlife is why we have created such a brutal world.
I know, I know, he would say it’s because most people really don’t feel it in their hearts and that is the problem and that is the solution that Buddhism offers. Yeah, right. That’s what every religion promises. Bah!
I’m going to keep reading, but I’m starting off with a major disappointment.