Religions have caused, and are still causing, untold suffering and misery worldwide. Think of the crusades, the inquisitions, the witch burnings, the Jewish pogroms, Jewish, Christian and Muslim supported slavery, the Holocaust, the untold religious wars and the Dark Ages that held back progress for a thousand years. And the horrors that Christians inflicted on the world are now being replayed by Muslims.
Think of the unnecessary suffering caused by the Church denying the use of condoms in AIDS prevention, or by preventing abortions, or the suffering caused by Hindu castes, or even the utter waste of life when Buddhist monks spend 8 hours a days meditating rather than actually helping those around them in need. This is how the Dalai Lama began his religious training: 'Their primary job was to engage me in debate on issues of Buddhist thought. In addition, I would participate in long hours of prayers and meditative contemplation.
I spent periods in retreat with my tutors and sat regularly for two hours at a time four times a day in a meditation session. This is a fairly typical training for a high lama in the Tibetan tradition. But I was not educated in math, geology, chemistry, biology, or physics. I did not even know they existed. For answers on the universe and life, how it evolved and how it works, science is without equal.
We challenge anyone to name the facts that scientific research has revealed that can be found already revealed in some ancient holy text, or name a discovery made by any priest of any religion that is supernatural in nature, rather than completely natural. Without exception in the war between science and religion, every new discovery has sided with science and against religion. Not once has religion been proved right and science wrong.
And as regards ethics, on right and wrong and how we should behave towards others, every religion has been shown to be a primitive, ignorant, barbaric and downright immoral grab bag of advice and demands backed by threats of punishment. Containing the odd valuable gem, religious morality is weighted down with demands that create far, far more harm than they do good. So, just as intelligent, informed, sophisticated people turn to science for answers about how the universe works, they likewise turn to philosophy, and specifically ethics, to determine the best ways to lead a good life, to understand morality and human values, and to contemplate the meaning of life.
And most importantly, to discover that it is for them to choose how they should live, not some imaginary god. Does he make a good argument that both science and spirituality should be embraced? Not in my mind.
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Frankly he writes like a populariser of science, not spirituality, and clearly the Dalai Lama knows a lot more about science than does your typical priest. Not normal for a religious figure is that he argues for science, and generally supports scientific theories; there is no talk of belief in gods, Adam and Eve and original sin, no railing against homosexuals and atheists, no threats of Hell. He writes: 'Buddhism and science share a fundamental reluctance to postulate a transcendent being as the origin of all things. This is hardly surprising given that both these investigative traditions are essentially nontheistic in their philosophical orientations.
I have argued for the need for and possibility of a worldview grounded in science, yet one that does not deny the richness of human nature and the validity of modes of knowing other than the scientific. It is essentially a mode of inquiry that gives us fantastically detailed knowledge of the empirical world and the underlying laws of nature' Unlike the clergy in other religions, the Dalai Lama, to his credit, readily accepts that, 'understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.
So it is hard to take the Abhidharma cosmology literally. Indeed, even without recourse to modern science, there is a sufficient range of contradictory models for cosmology within Buddhist thought for one to question the literal truth of any particular version. My own view is that Buddhism must abandon many aspects of the Abhidharma cosmology. And I agree wholeheartedly. For that we need something else, and he says we need to look towards spirituality, specifically Buddhist spirituality.
For the reason why I think that, let's look at some of his comments from the book: 'I have nonetheless thought deeply about science — not just its implications for the understanding of what reality is but the still more important question of how it may influence ethics and human values. In essence, science and spirituality, though differing in their approaches, share the same end, which is the betterment of humanity. The great benefit of science is that it can contribute tremendously to the alleviation of suffering at the physical level, but it is only through the cultivation of the qualities of the human heart and the transformation of our attitudes that we can begin to address and overcome our mental suffering.
In other words, the enhancement of fundamental human values is indispensable to our basic quest for happiness. Therefore, from the perspective of human well-being, science and spirituality are not unrelated. We need both, since the alleviation of suffering must take place at both the physical and the psychological levels. How we view ourselves and the world around us cannot help but affect our attitudes and our relations with our fellow beings and the world we live in.
This is in essence a question of ethics. In another of his books, 'Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World' — note the title — he wrote, 'What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics'. My confidence comes from my conviction that all of us, all human beings, are basically inclined or disposed toward what we perceive to be good.
This is why I believe the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics that is beyond religion. Far more important is that they be a good human being. Not that I always felt like this. When I was younger and living in Tibet, I believed in my heart that Buddhism was the best way. I told myself it would be marvelous if everyone converted. Yet this was due to ignorance. But I believe the one quote from the Dalai Lama that best expresses his argument is when he says, 'This is in essence a question of ethics'. Not spirituality, not religion, and not science, but ethics.
And I'm fully behind the Dalai Lama here. Science will explain the world, but it is ethics that will allow us to enjoy our time in the world. He also states, 'This book is not an attempt to unite science and spirituality Buddhism being the example I know best but an effort to examine two important human disciplines for the purpose of developing a more holistic and integrated way of understanding the world around us, one that explores deeply the seen and the unseen, through the discovery of evidence bolstered by reason.
In this, there is much each may learn from the other, and together they may contribute to expanding the horizon of human knowledge and wisdom. If he had said ethics or philosophy instead of spirituality, then I'd be OK. I know that we're both on the same track, but many that are aware of his book, but haven't bothered to read it, will read isolated statements like that, quoted out-of-context, and will come away believing the subtitle, that we are seeing 'The Convergence of Science and Spirituality'. We feel a more honest subtitle would have been, 'The Convergence of Science and Ethics'.
I often get annoyed with people that form strong opinions based not on what some book argues, but merely on what they've heard about that book or its author. A professor in marine biology once railed against Richard Dawkins' book 'The God Delusion' , and when I asked what points she was so aggrieved with, she replied, 'Oh, I haven't read it, it's just what I've heard people say about it'.
Even Anne who prompted this article, going on nothing more than a book description, challenged our stance on the spirituality vs. If she had, she'd have discovered that the book's subtitle doesn't really, in my view, match its core argument. Lacking overt gods and creationism, some people actually describe Buddhism as more of a philosophy than a religion, the Dalai Lama even talks above of 'a dictum in Buddhist philosophy' , and I suspect that he probably sees 'Buddhist philosophy' and 'Buddhist spirituality' as being synonymous.
But that said, your typical person on the street won't see philosophy and spirituality as being one and the same. I certainly don't.
War of the Worldviews: The Struggle Between Science and Spirituality
Most would link spirituality with religion, not philosophy. Thus when the Dalai Lama claims that 'spirituality and science are different but complementary investigative approaches with the same greater goal, of seeking the truth' , most will read that as an argument for religion and science being complementary approaches for seeking the truth.
And as we've already argued, nothing could be further from the truth. Science is most definitely 'expanding the horizon of human knowledge and wisdom' , and philosophy is helping, but religion, every religion, is tempting us down a dark pathway where ignorance, suffering and death awaits, and leading us ever further away from the path to true enlightenment. As priests and religions go, the Dalai Lama is clearly an intelligent and thoughtful person, and if I was forced to adopt a religion, Buddhism would be my easy choice, since it's generally more concerned with secular, rational ethics than supernatural nonsense.
But that's not to say that Buddhism doesn't have its share of supernatural nonsense, which we'll look at next, and even occasional violence, such as the bloody civil war in Sri Lanka between Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus. Are there gods in Buddhism? So let's look at some of this supernatural nonsense, which firmly places Buddhism in the religion camp with the likes of Christianity and Hinduism, and light years away from the science camp.
Like most religions, Buddhism also attempts to explain the origin of the universe and life. And being even more ancient than the likes of Christianity, these were primitive times when the supernatural was the ready answer to pretty much everything mysterious. The myth describes how the inhabitants of a world-system which has been destroyed are gradually reborn within a new one that is evolving. At first their bodies are translucent and there is no distinction between the sexes.
As the fabric of the new world-system becomes denser, these spirit-like beings become attracted to it and begin to consume it like food. Slowly, their bodies become less ethereal until they resemble the gross physical bodies we have now. Competition for food leads to quarrels and disputes, and the people elect a king to keep the peace, an event which marks the origins of social life. You may not have been aware that Buddhism had creation myths and other supernatural elements, especially since people like the Dalai Lama and Buddhist Hollywood actors focus on Buddhist philosophy rather than ancient stories.
As Damien Keown notes, 'The fact that Buddhism can be presented as in harmony with influential contemporary ideologies has undoubtedly aided its spread in the West. This reading of Buddhism, however, which has been termed 'Buddhist modernism', suppresses certain features of the religion which have been present since the earliest times which are less in harmony with contemporary Western attitudes. The belief in miracles and in the efficacy of mantras, spells, and charms is one such example.
Even today, the Tibetan government in exile consults the state oracle for advice on important matters. Belief in the existence of otherworldly realms populated by gods and spirits, and in the unseen power of karma, are other tenets which have been central to Buddhist teachings from the earliest times. Again, Damien Keown notes that, 'If belief in God in this sense is the essence of religion, then Buddhism cannot be a religion. Buddhism holds no such belief and, on the contrary, denies the existence of a creator god. In terms of the available Western categories, this would make Buddhism 'atheistic'.
One problem with this designation, however, is that Buddhism recognizes the existence of supernatural beings such as gods and spirits. Even in the earliest sources gods and spirits make frequent appearances. They are commonly depicted in Buddhist art and literature as forming part of the audience at significant episodes in the Buddha's life. One vivid narrative recounts how just prior to his enlightenment the Buddha did battle with Mara, the Evil One, winning a great victory and scattering his legions. There are also more mundane narratives and chronicles which recount the history of Buddhism in various cultures, although these too contain their fantastic elements.
It is said that he remembered not just one or two, but a vast number, together with the details of what his name, caste, profession, and so forth had been in each life. Elsewhere the Buddha states that he could remember back 'as far as ninety-one eons', one eon being roughly equal to the lifespan of a galaxy. And note that wherever it was, they all had the unjust and immoral caste system. Apparently the spooky tentacles working behind the scenes in Buddhism never reincarnate a 'soul' into a body or country that doesn't have the caste system.
Clearly the Buddha never went to ancient Egypt or Europe. So are the Buddhist 'gods' just as xenophobic as the Jews were, afraid of contamination with vile foreigners? Clearly, like the Jews, Christians and Muslims, the ancient Buddhist holy books are the result of ignorant men making up stuff based on what they see around them. And here's Stephen J. Laumakis describing reincarnation in 'An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy' , 'According to Buddhist cosmology there are six realms of rebirth: the realm of the gods or devas, the realm of the demi-gods, the human realm, the animal realm, the realm of the hungry ghosts, and the realm of hell.
All six realms are thought to be real, but some forms of Mahayana Buddhism claim that they are best thought of as states of mind. For example, apparently there's not just one hell, there are eight hot hells and eight cold hells. Note too that while Buddhism has a hell several actually , as well as gods, some Buddhists now claim that these supernatural realms are best thought of as states of mind.
Just as some embarrassed Christians now claim that Hell and Purgatory aren't real any more. But once you deny the very foundations of your ancient belief, reason would suggest that anything built on belief in those imaginary foundations must also be false. It would be like claiming that Adam and Eve weren't actually real, but their son's Cain and Abel were, when obviously imaginary parents can only have imaginary children.
Note also that Buddhists, like Jews, Christians and Muslims, believe humans are quite distinct from, and superior to, animals, whereas science views humans as just another animal. We're all clearly related, and while our cognitive skills may be superior, our breathing underwater and flying skills are not. Tibetan Buddhism believes that every Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of his predecessor, as well as the incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion.
Incarnation means the 'bodily manifestation of a supernatural being' , in the same way that Christians later believed that Jesus was the incarnation of the Jewish god. Then we have the belief in karma, also shared with Hindus, where it's believed that a person's conduct determines that person's destiny. Steal something and karma will see that you suffer, maybe in this lifetime, or maybe in some future life. Here's the Dalai Lama, from 'The Universe in a Single Atom' , confirming that karma is real: 'My own view is that the entire process of the unfolding of a universe system is a matter of the natural law of causality.
When the universe has evolved to a stage where it can support the life of sentient beings, its fate becomes entangled with the karma of the beings who will inhabit it. We are told that the reason that God, Allah, Santa Claus etc know whether to reward or punish us for our behaviour is because they are watching us. It must be the same with Buddhist karma, some powerful, invisible intelligence must be watching our behaviour and acting accordingly.
How else could karma observe some moral lapse and then save it up to apply it to you in some completely different body in years time? It all just smacks of the supernatural to us, not the natural world. And typical of all religions, it's all talk, no one ever proves that their silly claims are true.
Buddhists also believe in reincarnation, not just for the Dalai Lamas, but for every life form. That's continual rebirth into another body or form, forever, or until such a time as you reach Nirvana, which is 'the end of suffering' , an ultimate state of 'disinterested wisdom and compassion'. Personally we can't really see how someone could be supremely compassionate if they're also highly disinterested at the same time.
But religions say a lot of impossible things. Remember the claim that 'Buddhism locates the origin of human suffering in desire'? It's not what you desire that might be bad, it's desire itself. But think about that. To reach Nirvana, all desire must be eliminated, including the desire to help others. Of course to reach Nirvana, you must first desire that goal, but as long as you desire it, you will never reach it.
But if you successfully eliminate any and all desire for Nirvana, then logically you're not going to behave in a manner that could ever see you deserving Nirvana, even accidentally. You're screwed no matter what you do. Also, that reincarnation lark would also require a god to monitor your conduct, decide whether you were going up or down a level, body wise, and possess the magic powers to perform the switch when you die. As we've already mentioned, in Buddhism it's claimed that you can actually be reincarnated as a god, it's one of the levels above humans.
However, many mistakenly claim that Buddhism has no god because the ultimate, top level of Nirvana has no god residing there, as the likes of Christianity and Islam do. Reach the top level and you don't become all powerful, there are no virgins waiting, nor do you get to hang with some god, you simply cease to exist and you exit the rebirth cycle. Think about that. That's the ultimate goal of Buddhists, it's what they all strive for.
See a Problem?
Essentially they're trying desperately to die, for real. Just like the Christians, they're not striving to live longer and happier lives here on Earth, they are fixated with their death at the expense of their life. Damien Keown explains that for Buddhists, 'Morality is Moral development is a prerequisite for the cultivation of Meditation and Wisdom. To live a moral life is to live in accordance with Dharma. The term 'Dharma' has many meanings, but the underlying idea is of a universal law which governs both the physical and moral order of the universe. Dharma is neither caused by nor under the control of a supreme being, and the gods themselves are subject to its laws.
Dharma may be translated as 'Natural Law', a term which captures both its main senses, namely as the principle of order and regularity seen in the behaviour of natural phenomena, and also the idea of a universal moral law whose requirements have been discovered by enlightened beings such as the Buddha. Every aspect of life is regulated by Dharma; the physical laws which regulate the rising of the sun, the succession of the seasons, the movement of the constellations.
In the moral order, Dharma is manifest in the law of karma, which governs the way moral deeds affect individuals in present and future lives. Living in accordance with Dharma and implementing its requirements leads to happiness, fulfilment and salvation; neglecting or transgressing against it leads to endless suffering in the cycle of rebirth. For them to live a moral life means living in accordance with the morals their god has dictated in his holy books.
Since they believe their god is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving, they have utter confidence that his moral code is perfection itself.
Is God an Illusion? : Deepak Chopra :
How could it not be since such a prodigious intellect devised it? But Buddhism is different, there are no gods involved, no intellect whatsoever, so how did the natural world, some rocks and swamp gas, develop a code of morals? Even if it did, how do we know they are good morals, or the best morals possible? Actions that were accepted as good centuries ago by Christians, such as slavery and burning witches, are now seen as immoral.
If no god, no intelligence, oversaw the creation of the ancient Dharma moral code, and none is considering changes as the centuries go by, then why should we trust it? Did the ancient Dharma moral code just form haphazardly like sand grains forming sedimentary rock? Without an intelligent designer, how could a random process create an ideal moral code? Some might point out that evolution produced complex life without the need for an intelligent designer, which is true, but it didn't produce a perfect form of life. Life has many flaws, human eyes are wired backwards for example, our spine struggles with our desire to walk upright, and many women are injured or die during childbirth.
If we were designing the human body, there are untold changes and improvements we'd make. It's amazing as it is, but it could certainly be made much better. Evolution blindly produces things that work, like sharks and deadly viruses, it has no goal to produce a shark with morals. Yet Dharma somehow codes for 'happiness, fulfilment and salvation'. Even if the Dharma moral code evolved, and produced a workable code, there's no reason to believe that it couldn't be made better. If no intelligence is involved then it can't be perfect, so we should be encouraged to use our innate intelligence to improve on it.
But Buddhism, like the immoral caste system, says we should be content with our lot, and blindly obey some ancient dogma. In this respect it is no different to Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus who resign themselves to obeying an unjust moral code that can't be changed or questioned. However, the physical laws of nature act in real time; step off a cliff and you fall immediately, whereas the moral laws can have delays of hundreds of years or more built into them.
With the physical laws everyone can quickly learn how to behave to remain happy and safe, but since there is no obvious cause and effect with the moral laws, you can have no idea what the desirable moral acts are. You may do what you believe is a good deed and then get hit by a bus the next day. So was it, as far as Dharma goes, a good deed, or was it a bad deed?
How would you know? Maybe it was a good deed, and your getting hit by the bus was actually because of something bad you did years previously when you were a cockroach? You could go through your entire life doing what you thought were good deeds, and have a wonderful life. Should your kids look at that example and assume your good fortune was due to you obeying the right morals, and follow your example? Or was Dharma merely saving up all your transgressions so it could build up enough points against you to knock you back down to a cockroach again in your next life?
And since no one has any memory of their previous lives, or of any moral lessons they may think they've learned, even as a cockroach you won't know if you're a cockroach because you've broken moral laws in a previous life as a human. You could just have easily led a moral life as an amoeba and have been upgraded to a cockroach. As far as the moral code goes, there is no rule book to consult, or even a god to ask, everyone is flying blind.
You might as well just do whatever you think will make you happy. And when it comes to animals, most people would say that it's probably only humans that are even capable of understanding the concept of right and wrong. How can Dharma expect everything from worms to bacteria to follow a moral code, and to understand that suffering in their future lives, which is another thing they'll have no concept of, is dependant on them meditating on moral behaviour in their present life? If a cockroach or shark can't act morally, or immorally, how can it ever work its way up to Nirvana?
And if a human acts immorally and is reborn as an animal, doesn't that mean they're stuck there forever? To us, this Buddhist talk of Dharma is just another example of ancient man realising that how they behave towards others can greatly influence social living.
Is God an Illusion?
They understood that some actions harm others, and that reducing this harm, as a group, could make for a better life for everyone. They then tried to make it clear to everyone what actions could be deemed right, good, helpful and moral, and what actions were seen as wrong, bad, unhelpful and immoral. So far so good. Study of this today is what we call ethics. But those ancient times were also superstitious times, and almost without fail, this brilliant idea of ethical thinking inevitably got subsumed into whatever religious thinking was currently popular in that particular culture.
And then it was no longer man thinking about how to behave towards others, and happily altering the guidelines if need be, now it was decreed that some otherworldly force, usually a god, maybe a 'universal law' , had created this code of behaviour. Review Text "Deepak Chopra did an excellent job About Deepak Chopra Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books, both non-fiction and fiction.
They have been translated into more than 35 languages and include the huge international bestseller Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. His website address is: www.
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