I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Faith and Buddhism

I’ve started meeting with a Buddhist group. I’m an atheist, and that’s not going to change. But I don’t see Buddhism as a religion, regardless of what Wikipedia says.

I am an atheist because I don’t believe that some God has created the universe and/or has an interest in human affairs. I realise that my non-believing in God is as unjustified as the belief of Catholics, Muslims, and Jews that a God exists. Without any way of scientifically proving or disproving the existence of God (or Gods), the logical position to hold is Agnosticism.

That notwithstanding, I don’t believe that a God exists. This makes me as illogical as any believer. It annoys me a bit at an intellectual level, but I can’t help it. I also believe that it makes sense to speak of being good and virtuous (there you have a word that is completely out of fashion!), and that being good is ultimately associated to being happy or, at the very least, that you cannot be completely happy if you behave badly.

But what is good and what is bad? Or, to see it from the point of view of change, which pervades all our existences, what is better and what is worse? And more dramatically, what is right and what is wrong? I don’t know. I have been asking myself those same questions all my adult life. Does it make sense at all to speak about right and wrong? It sounds so dogmatic...

And yet, as I said, I do believe that it makes sense to distinguish between good actions and bad actions. After all, there is an almost universal agreement that lying, stealing, and killing are not thing that one should normally do.

Logical thinking doesn’t help much in these moral matters. That’s why when somebody asks me why I am a vegetarian, I reply that it feels right to me. And I’m very strict as well (uncompromising, if you like), which is a very illogical position to hold. I became vegetarian when I started looking for ways of becoming a better person. Did it work? I wouldn’t know, but I still think that it is right for me.

I suppose, following such a self-chosen rule helps me keep chaos at bay, whatever that means.

I base all my relationships on respect, and trust comes natural to me, which obviously exposes me to abuse. Like when a friend of a friend asked me to lend him a non-negligible amount of money (more than a month of my pay). I hesitated, because I didn’t really know that person and, actually, I didn’t like him. I thought I might never see my money again. But then, I asked myself: do I want to be the type of person who says no? I’d be just one more selfish bastard. But if I trust this person, I will be better for it, regardless of whether I will one day get my money back or not. Well, you guessed it: I only got back a fraction of what I lent, and that person even accused me of helping him only because I was paternalistic.

I still remember it three and a half decades later, and it still annoys me, but I know I did the right thing.

My father, whom I, regrettably, didn’t appreciate enough when he was alive, also was a trusting man. I remember that he once acted as the guarantor for a loan to a relative, and then found himself in an extremely tight spot when that relative defaulted on the repayments. My father was a good man. I am very sorry I never told him.

But I’m digressing, as usual.

All three major religions I mentioned before have prophets as emissaries of their Gods. Buddha was not a prophet, though, because Buddhism has no God. According to some tradition, some two and a half millennia ago, a man developed over the course of decades a way of reaching complete happiness. On request of others, he taught his method, thereby starting the Buddhist tradition.

I have read a bit about Buddhism, but I don’t really know much about it. What I know is that when I went to Canberra’s centre of Diamond Way Buddhism, I found myself surrounded by great people. Marvellous human beings. Never in my life had I ever met a group of people so open, so ready to welcome me among them, so eager to help without imposing anything in exchange.

Something clicked at once between us.

Theravada Buddhism teaches you techniques; in Mahayana Buddhism, the teachers act as examples; and in the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, to which the Diamond Way belongs, there is more emphasis on the teachers, who are supposed to inspire you.

As one of my newly-found friends said: trust must be earned. You are not expected to believe a teacher upfront. But when you see that his teachings help you again and again, you are bound to listen very carefully to what he says, and expect that a further teaching will also help you. This is what trust means.

Well, I’m new to this, but I do believe that I have in me the capability of being completely happy, and I’m willing to give it a try.

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