The ninth-century Buddhist master Lin Chi is supposed to have said, "If you meet the Buddha on the road... kill him."
Harsh words indeed.
But for those of us who are armchair students of the Buddha, we are given to this understanding; Buddhism is very much like a science and not a religion. The scientific hypothesis being:
focused attention in the prescribed way (meditation), and engaging in or avoiding certain behaviors (ethics), will bear the promised result (wisdom and psychological well-being) for its adherents.
For this reason, the Buddha also taught his disciples to cultivate devotional and reverential habits of mind. Thus, devotion is not a "corruption" of Buddhism, but an expression of it.
Of course, devotion requires an object. If Buddha was not a god, why bow to Buddha- like figures?.
Many Zen masters state that when one bows to the Buddha , one bows to oneself.
What do they mean? How do you understand it? Who are you? Where do you find the self? Am I a narcissist now that I inadvertantly bow to myself?
Working with those questions is not a corruption of Buddhism; it is Buddhism.
Therefore, if one can dispense with the golden image of the Buddha for one moment , if one can also escape the dogmas of Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism with all their Gods and Goddesses floating in the sky. Set aside the superstitions of tribal or animist religions and their folk tales and folklores. Forget the mythologies of thousands of years of anthropological evolution in the form of religion ... then we may be able to talk for a short ecumenical moment. Together.
In otherwords, if we can kill the Buddha figuratively for just one solitary sacrilegious moment, maybe... just only then MAYBE, can we have a discussion about atheism or the exisitence of "No-God".
When I was asked to write a diary on Atheism (capital A) , I stated that I wanted to write, " The believers guide to atheism (little a)." I have always felt that eastern philosophies were more complex and not so rigid in their subjectivities as their more literalist western zealots. This is not to discredit eastern zealotry in any way. Dogmas are dogmas, they can be ugly anywhere in the world.
If atheism is the absence of belief in gods, then many Buddhists are, indeed, atheists. However, Buddhism is more accurately described as being non-theistic than atheistic. This transitory definition of non-theistic seems to allow "believers " of other faiths a fleeting moment of gray area in their dogmatic theistic worlds of good and evil, black and white and heaven and hell. The meditative nature of Buddhist teaching is more about self realization than conversion. Many religionists will pause to discover something about themselves at this point. Most are open to understanding a path of self realization through religion or psychology, self respect is an entirely eastern concept.
For the many of us who have lived lives of faith or know and live with the overwhelming majority of faith based peoples,families, friends and acquantainces, this is a difficult topic. We know from a lifetime of personal experience in religious, spiritual and philosophical study that the most interesting and volatile of discussions are those that posit the unthinkable blasphemy : I do not believe there is a GOD.
The nature of the human mind and it’s propensity to greed, hatred, and delusion with it’s transcendence to an understanding of human wisdom and compassion are worthy goals of any theist or atheist . IMHO.
The need and desire for many throughout all of human history to ritualized devotions and passionate worship of the wonders of nature and the universe, will probably be analyzed and studied for 1000 more years by anthropologists and social scientists as they disect the human mind.
As Karl Marx lamented:
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.
( it is interesting to note that this quote seems to endorse religion rather than condemn it, as is so widely believed by so many. But that is a debate for another day.)
Sam Harris, the author of "The End of Faith", who argues that Buddhism’s philosophy, insight, and practices would benefit more people if they were not presented as a religion has this to say about the power of meditation:
Political correctness, religious sectarianism and cultural biases simply do not offer an enduring basis for human cooperation in the 21st century. If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith.
It will require a new contemplative humanist philosophy and practice.
Many have proposed a "contemplative science" that fulfills the human desire for devotion and worship.
Even the most cynical of atheists can marvel at the complexity of the natural world that science and reason has helped us to understand more fully. The milky way at night in the dark wildernesses of Colorado leaves this star gazer with a sense of insignificance, wonder and awe. I have expressed great spontaneous joy at times and thrown my hands skyward as I express the truth of my consciousness of a universal beauty all around me.
It is a meditation of worship, a yoga of praise for my realization of such infinite beauty consciousness.
"A contemplative science that allows a means of convincing human beings to embrace the whole of the species as their moral community. For this we need to develop an utterly nonsectarian way of talking about the full spectrum of human experience and human aspiration. We need a discourse on ethics and spirituality that is every bit as unconstrained by dogma and cultural prejudice as the discourse of science is. What we need, in fact, is a contemplative science, a modern approach to exploring the furthest reaches of psychological well-being with its many social and physical problems "
which include and are not limited to climate, politics, governance, human rights, economy and compassionate justice.
It is as yet undetermined what it means to be human, because every facet of our culture—and even our biology itself—remains open to innovation and insight. We do not know what we will be a thousand years from now—or indeed that we will be, given the potential lethal absurdity of many of our beliefs—but whatever changes await us, one thing seems unlikely to change: as long as experience endures, the difference between happiness and suffering will remain our paramount concern.
We will therefore want to understand those processes—biochemical, behavioral, ethical, political, economic, and spiritual—that account for this difference. We do not yet have anything like a final understanding of such processes, but we know enough to rule out many false understandings.
Indeed, we know enough at this moment to say that the Gods of mankind are not only unworthy of the immensity of creation; they are unworthy even of man himself.
May all our contemplative meditations be of compassion and wisdom for all the earth.
Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.