« Da Vinci Code Banned... | Main | Adam and Eve in the New York Times »

June 3, 2006

Buddhism and Atheism, Another Look

Here is an intriguing version of Buddhism, which seems remarkably devoid of the supernatural, from Yew Han Hee:


Q: Is there a God in Buddhism as in Christianity?
A: It is very difficult to compare Buddhism with Christianity. One would have to say, however, there is no God in Buddhism in the way that God in Christianity is commonly understood.

Q: What do Buddhists believe?
A: Different Buddhists believe different things, but the nature of belief is itself an important issue in Buddhism. Belief is to be seen as belief, not as fact. When we see our beliefs as facts, then we are deluding ourselves. When we see our beliefs as beliefs, then we are not. Seeing things in their true light is the most important thing in Buddhism. Deluding ourselves is the cause of much suffering. So Buddhists try to see beliefs as beliefs. They may still believe in certain things - that is their prerogative - but they do not cling to those beliefs; they do not mind or worry about whether their beliefs are true or not, nor do they try to prove that which they know cannot be proved. Ideally though, a Buddhist does not indulge in any kind of belief.

Q: Does Buddhism teach reincarnation?
A: Reincarnation is not a teaching of the Buddha. In Buddhism the teaching is of rebirth, not of reincarnation.

Q: What is the difference between reincarnation and rebirth?
A: The reincarnation idea is to believe in a soul or a being, separate from the body. At the death of the physical body, this soul is said to move into another state and then enter a womb to be born again.

Rebirth is different and can be explained in this way. Take away the notion of a soul or a being living inside the body; take away all ideas of self existing either inside or outside the body. Also take away notions of past, present and future; in fact take away all notions of time. Now, without reference to time and self, there can be no before or after, no beginning or ending, no birth or death, no coming or going. Yet there is life! Rebirth is the experience of life in the moment, without birth, without death; it is the experience of life which is neither eternal nor subject to annihilation.

Though things do get a little mystical:

Q: Does that mean there is no such thing as birth and death? A: That which is born, dies. Forms come and go. All that comes into existence is impermanent; it is born and it dies. But the very essence of what "I" am -- the Buddha-nature -- is unborn and undying....
Q: But how can getting rid of ideas enables us to see deathlessness? A: The deathless is here all the while, but ideas block it out. It is like the sun because of the clouds. But as soon as the clouds are cleared away, there is the sun. Likewise, as soon as ideas are cleared away from the mind, there is the true state of birthlessness and deathlessness.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at June 3, 2006 10:16 PM


Ok - so that was a little confusing....

For me, Christianity and Buddhism mix very well and it is along that path that I am choosing to follow...

I look forward to exploring your blogg

Posted by: Ashley at June 4, 2006 12:28 AM

He was quite eloguent and to the point in his answer about the nature of Buddhism. The questions should have stopped there. The answer was complete.

If we are to experience the unexplainable mystery of creation around us we must let go of all belief, even our most cherished. And the only way to be there is to believe there is nothing to protect. Life fights awareness. Yet we cling to life by creating belief and the structure that it brings.

Hiku Kazhuntight

Go be God
There's No Time To Waste

Posted by: Jay Saul at June 4, 2006 10:09 AM

Seeing things in their true light is the most important thing in Buddhism

I think this is the central point of Buddhism. This is why I have a hard time calling it a religion, or even spirituality. It is more a concept of living in the moment and recognizing one's true nature (inner nature, not that "given us by God"). This is why theists can practice and embrace Buddhism...It is not in conflict with religion. It is simply a way of living one's life. I do not claim to be Buddhist, yet I do try to live by the tenets of Buddhism when I can.

Posted by: JustinOther at June 5, 2006 6:07 AM

"Ideally though, a Buddhist does not indulge in any kind of belief."

Maybe I am misunderstanding this. I hope so. But it is critical to my survival not only that I hold beliefs but that those beliefs are a fair approximation of reality. I.e. what foods are poisonous.

"Belief is to be seen as belief, not as fact. When we see our beliefs as facts, then we are deluding ourselves. When we see our beliefs as beliefs, then we are not"

My fundamental assumption is that there exists an objective reality. A "belief" is a statement about that reality. If I say I believe there is a Santa Clause am I not saying that there is a being named Santa Clause who exists in reality with many of the properties we associate Santa Clause? What else could "I believe in Santa Clause" possibly mean?

Posted by: Boelf at June 5, 2006 8:06 AM


Your fundamental assumption, "there exists an objective reality", is a belief, an improvable leap-of-faith.

I am not a Buddhist; that is a label of organization that obfuscates the core nature of believing that believing is self-constructed, symbolic, and unreal.

The goal and practice of stripping away all layers of belief one can, by meditation or drugs or fasting, requires only the realization that all experience is a product of the mind. That product's relationship to the "objective world" is unverifiable without another layer of symbolic structure--language. And symbols, by definition, do not contain the essence of what they represent. Your fundamental assumption is based on believing your symbols are reality. They are not.

As far as food poisoning goes: by nature we fear death, so we, by nature, build a world that places high significance on things we learn are dangerous and could wound or kill us. It is this fear-based filter on our constructions of reality that leads us into worlds of conflict, mistrust, misunderstanding and hate.
We cannot live without believing our world is real enough to make decisions about danger quickly. But we can examine how we come to those beliefs. What foods are dangerous? How do we make that list? What foods are we missing out on because of faulty assumptions? Replace food poisoning with fear of other people and our "nature" becomes self-destructive.

But mostly I believe the ability and inclination to explore belief is genetic. I think we are at the beginning of a very turbulent time of evolution. Much bigger brains than ours will soon be framing the discussion. We are in the process of inventing our replacements at the top of the abstraction pyramid of biology. Food poisoning is the least of my worries.
Every moment is the beginning and the end of the universe. Chew on that.

Posted by: Jay Saul at June 5, 2006 11:26 AM

Don't have much to say except that that Buddhist guy's awesome.

Posted by: Noah SD at June 9, 2006 5:23 PM

hello! this is very interesting and informative writing, and the language is easy to understand. there is so much Buddhist writing that is so complex and difficult to wrap my brain around--I like it when I can understand it :-)

-I ususally make a disticntion between "knowledge" and "belief". knowledge and intellectualism has its place--like the example about poisenous foods.

as far as objective reality- anyone have any more thoughts on the matter? I have had a tendency to think of it as a way to perceive in reality/ truth etc. but now I am having trouble with the concept--there are so many opposing veiws and they all seem to make sense in soemw ay or another. I guess I am trying to find answers where there arent any-am I asking the right question? I guess it doesnt really matter--its just another construct of my mind, trying to place things in some kind of order to allay my fears-to make "sense" of things. I guess I just discovered something important. ok, never mind :-)

Posted by: elizaco at September 24, 2006 9:23 AM

Elizaco, that was a beautiful example of self-reflection and awareness. Thanks for that on a Sunday.

Posted by: JM at September 24, 2006 10:17 AM

Is Plato right? Is there really an objective reality out there of which our concepts of reality are mere shadows? I personally think he is. I think there probably is an absolute truth and an objective reality, we're just not capable of figuring out what it is. As Jay points out, we can't even think about it without symbols (reflections not reality). So, we can't just distill out objective reality, compare it to our symbols, and see who comes closest. I think the closest we can come to "objectivity" is a universal or at least commonly shared subjectivity.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at September 24, 2006 6:54 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)