Buddhism: The Religion of No Religion

Throughout last month or so, we’ve crisscrossed objective and subjective viewpoints in our journey of discovery on just what emotions are…identifying how and when we are experiencing them, scanning recent, scientific data about our biochemical markers, and examining just what to do with our emotions when they arise.

The talk elicited some lively discussion; actually, it was more like intelligent discourse that, in Buddhist learning circles, has always been encouraged and held in admiration and honor. This reverential fact (among many others) holds the Buddhist teaching apart from most all other spiritual disciplines and makes it really, the religion of no-religion.

Religions of the Far East- Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism-do not require a belief in anything specific. There is no required obedience to anything supernatural or its ideas or doctrines. Rather they point toward a transformation of consciousness and our sensation of self.

As reported, it was the Buddha himself who repeated over and over again, the necessity of the individual to rely upon their own liberation, not to look to any external authority. No one can purify or defile another person; each of us is responsible for his/her own decontamination or defilement. The Buddha said, “By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled; by oneself is evil left undone; by oneself, indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend upon oneself-no one purifies another.” (Dhammapada)

Because the Buddha’s way is the way of rationality, he did not ask for absolute faith in himself or his teachings. Rather, as he instructed his students, he said that we must not believe anything merely because it was handed down by tradition, or said by a great person, or commonly accepted, or even because the Buddha said it. He taught that we should believe only that which comes into our awareness in the light of our own experience, that which conforms to reason and is conducive to the highest good and welfare of all beings. The path of the Buddha could be expressed as, “Ehi Passiko”-“That which invites everyone to come and see for him/herself.” In Buddhism, openness to self-knowledge is the key that unlocks the door toward illumination, enlightenment, freedom and liberation…not blind faith.

This is what seems to create so much difficulty for us Westerners in understanding the Buddhist conceptual possibility of being spiritual without deism or theism. The word spiritual itself, happens to originate from the Latin Spiritus: of breath, and surprisingly, has nothing to do with anything supernatural. Yet, we continually are stuck trying to sort out the experience of having any kind of deep, introspective, insightful moment(s) as something anything other than a rational, human one.

Alan Watts who I find incredibly wise and witty, once said, “Irrevocable commitment to any one religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, open-ness—an act of trust in the unknown.”

For us Westerners, this foreign concept of looking inward for openness, as a means toward liberating human suffering is not an easy to embrace. After all, it is hard to think outside the box once inculcated with a worldview based upon the performance of Abrahamic religiosity, which requires the self to rely on something outside of it for deliverance. Perhaps having a different viewpoint of the world in which we live would alter many of our preconceptions, or rather misconceptions.

Sariputta, who was supposedly one of the Buddha’s main disciples, in the Discourse on No Blemishes, stresses the role of honest self-assessment as a prerequisite of spiritual growth.
He points out that just as a dirty bronze bowl, deposited in a dusty place and utterly neglected, only becomes dirtier and dustier, so if we fail to recognize the blemishes of our minds we will not make any effort to eliminate them, but will continue to harbor greed, hate and delusion and will die with a corrupted mind. And just as a dirty bronze bowl which is cleaned and polished will in time become bright and radiant, so if we recognize the blemishes of our minds we will arouse our energy to purify them, and having purged ourselves of blemishes we will die with an undefiled mind.

The task of self-knowledge is always a difficult one, but it is only by knowing our minds that we will be able to shape them, and it is only by shaping our minds that we can unshackle them

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