The Buddha, a Humanist?

By Norman Joseph [Jou] Smith 13/4/2004 Committee Member of the Humanist Society of Queensland 2004. There seems to be much ignorance around regarding many things. In fact we could say that the religion of ignorance is the biggest in the world. I would like to think that most of the readers of this would not accept the saying, “Ignorance is bliss”. We would know for ourselves, as Humanists, that there are many misconceptions about what Humanists believe and do. What would that be based on, but ignorance? Stereotypes based on ignorance. Ignorance fuels fear, fear of the unknown and fear fuels humanity’s mistreatment of itself and others [through greed and hatred], i.e. the breaking of the golden rule found in many religions. I think this is why I see such a strong emphasis on education amongst Humanists. I have met some Humanists that are anti-religious and some that are nonreligious and think the latter approach a more educated one. If anyone, or any movement is to have any positive effect on the world at large, I think it will have to work towards unity not division. To do so one would need to focus on the commonalities, not the differences. Those that I have met that are anti-religious would not seem to be able to acknowledge ANY good in religion. From that stance I doubt common ground could be found. In fact this would be exactly the attitude those religious fundamentalists have to other groups. The process of demonizing the other [and the correlative of deifying oneself], would not be limited to religious fundamentalists and it would be based on ignorance and fear. To focus on the commonalities one would first have to clarify commonalities of what? There is a big difference between Buddhism and the Buddha’s teaching, just as there is between Christianity and Christ’s teaching. For example, with the latter, of which most of you would be more familiar, we can find two peoples calling themselves Christian, or followers of Christ, killing each other, despite Christ teaching not to kill [Matt. 26:52], but to love [John 15:12]. Closer to home we have Christians spending much time judging others, when Christ taught not to judge [Matt. 7:1] and taught that he himself did not come to judge, but to save [John 12:47].1 The teaching of the Buddha, as distinct from Buddhism, is one of those things around which I have found much ignorance and I have written a book called The Gift of the Buddha – a Happy Life [yet to be published] to try to dispel some of that ignorance. The Buddhist tradition knows that his teaching is said to be for

There seems to be two types of judgment in the New Testament, judging people, which is opposed and judging behaviour, to which one is told to judge rightly [not just by appearance, John 7:24]. Matt. 7:16 says by their fruits you will know them, but fruit has an application other than action: The Fruit of the Spirit [Gal. 5:22], which are harder to see, not such a superficial thing as action.

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hatred and delusion arise in someone for benefit or harm. these qualities are blameworthy. What he suggests instead is “When you know for yourselves.accesstoinsight. Scripture 5. Agreement through pondering views 9. overcome by greed.accesstoinsight. steals. or delusion. Dependent Origination. The thought. hatred. One of the important teachings of the Buddha is “ignorance is the cause of suffering” and this might be a common ground shared with Humanists. his mind possessed by delusion. these qualities are criticized by the wise. Both ideas can be found in the early texts. but much of its interpretation thereof is not applicable to this very life. They reply. This core teaching is also interpreted in popular Buddhism in a way that it’s relevance for this life is missed. yes. Probability 10. He then goes on to ask the Kalama people: Does greed. They reply. Legend 3. which I think is authentic. one 2 3 http://www. kills. Report 2.html Page 2 of 5 .this very life. One of the teachings ascribed to the Buddha in the early texts. tells lies. all of which is for long-term harm & suffering?" They reply. 'This is our teacher’. yes. Logical conjecture 6. I do not see that this teaching is saying that those ten things are useless. In it the Buddha lists ten things that could be used to gather circumstantial evidence and which the Buddha discourages as taking as final authority they are: 1. these qualities. Inference but also the experience of seeing others affected by them. or uncorrupted is the teaching to the Kalama people3. avoiding greed. harm. as above. but I consider that a corruption. goes after another person's spouse. lead to harm & to suffering' -then you should abandon them. [Popular] Buddhism says the Buddha taught that desire is the cause. and induces others to do likewise. hatred and delusion. Though personal experience would not be limited to experiencing them directly oneself. 'These qualities are unskillful.” So I take this as the Buddha advocating personal experience as the final authority. Analogy 8. He questions whether they are unskillful but one may come to an hypothesis via information in them and then one must see if it works in experience. It has been called the Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry and I think it is a teaching that could be accepted by any Humanist. when adopted & carried out. traces suffering back beyond desire to ignorance 2. but a core teaching.html http://www. Tradition 4. "And this deluded person. Then he goes on to address the opposite case.

Then. free from malice. safe and sound. empathetic sadness. Suppose there is no hereafter and there is no fruit. Suppose there is a hereafter and there is a fruit. first the grossest. west. Usually the divine abodes were and are thought of things we achieve in the NEXT life. The Buddha associated each direction with relationships the youth had with others in society and that to pay 4 5 Paali PTS M i 373 = M 56 http://www. and happy. The Buddha taught three kinds of action: mental. He spoke of the four exalted dwellings [or divine abodes] and related them to life here and now. of deeds [kamma/karma] done well or ill. IN THIS VERY LIFE. 3. HERE AND NOW. how we want to live and not getting caught up in what is not. 2. I keep myself.avoids those behaviours and it is for benefit not harm. but in the positive. I shall arise in the heavenly world. no result. In this way he agreed with Cognitive Behavioural Psychology. sexual misconduct] and verbal action [lying] he then addressed mental action. I. Having addressed bodily [killing. the easiest to identify. however. south. where a young man was getting up early and going out to pay respects [bowing] to the six directions of north. of deeds done well or ill.html Page 3 of 5 . Then it is possible that at the dissolution of the body after death. arguing about our beliefs. result [vipaaka]. Yet in this world. something that one believes or not.accesstoinsight. empathetic gladness and equanimity. There is another well-known teaching where the Buddha converted religious ritual into practical life then going to the subtler. stealing. Then I see myself purified in any case. is the type of approach we need to work and live together recognizing what is important. Suppose evil results befall an evil-doer (in this very life). here and now. The four are boundless indiscriminate thoughts of: loving kindness. 1. which is possessed of the state of bliss. how can ill results affect me who do no evil deed? 4. but in the Kalama discourse the Buddha shows how they are relevant to this life. east. the Buddha shows how irrespective or our beliefs. Suppose evil results do not befall an evil-doer (in this very life). In the Kalama discourse he addresses these three kinds of action in the reverse. no matter one’s belief about an afterlife. verbal and bodily and out of these three he said he found mental action as the most reprehensible for harm to oneself and others4. think of doing evil to no one. an afterlife. This. up and down out of respect for his father’s dying wish. so one should develop that. free from hatred. I believe. not THIS one. Rather than arguing about something that cannot be proven or disproven. what matters is how we live.

These teachings are very consistent with the report that one on the path to enlightenment will have given up three fetters: identity view.e. i. just like “world” which is said to be “found in this fathom long body with its senses and perceptions” 9. but if you want any evidence that Buddhism and the Buddha’s teaching are very different. only my skin. over and over again and knew. The other words “translated” as past lives are “pubbenivaasam. which means “life span”. The five aspects of experience that the Buddha says we cling to in this way are: form. this is suffering [stress]”.respects to the directions was to fulfill one’s duties to each of the directions. sinews and bones remain and let my flesh and blood dry up on my body. “period of life”. just go to a Buddhist temple and see the ritual. The early text8 that is used as a support for this doctrine does not mention “lives” (jiivitaani) at all in the original Indian language. I see birth as forging an identity by identifying with one aspect of experience and disregarding or suppressing the others and therefore creating stress and tension within oneself. his many births. manly persistence. he saw death at the end of one phase of life and birth into another. This is why he so often encouraged us not to think “I am [not]… one of those five things”. I think this is just one of the many examples of people talking about the Buddha’s teaching when they have not studied it. The first of these two being internally focused are almost impossible to see in others. it is proper that he conduct himself thus: ‘Willingly let. So the text could read as “he recalled his past [the past of his life]. by my energy shall not be relaxed so long as I have not attained what can be attained by manly strength. A V 17 Paali PTS M i 480-481 : MN 70 8 Paali PTS M i 22-23 = MN 4 9 Paali PTS A iv 45 Page 4 of 5 .e. 6 7 Paali PTS S v 61. speaking in ignorance.7 In my opinion. The closest word to life found there is “aayu”. his many habitations.” which means “past habitations” or “past dwellings”. to clearly know ones experience in the present moment. Birth.e. but to see all of them as they really are. “age”. doubt and attachment to rites and rituals6. sensation. Finally to show that his teaching is for this human life we find this quote: Mendicants. i. relationships. i. for a faithful disciple who is intent on fathoming the Teacher’s Teaching. I suggest has a psychological meaning in the Buddha’s teaching. ideas. formations and discernment. manly energy. one of the erroneous views of the Buddha’s teaching is that he spoke of past lives and that is run with in later texts where the Buddha had many lives and they were not all human.

from within religious traditions. It may just be that some religious teachers were trying to work with common ground. e. when Nicodemus and Jesus spoke [John 3:3-8]. patience and willingness to see good in others. Page 5 of 5 . trying to bring change by giving deeper more relevant meanings to words/ideas in those religious traditions. just as there are many ideas of what Humanism is and what Humanists do. I hope as Humanists we are more willing to listen.Of course some of you may be familiar with the idea that birth in at least Christian religious circles has a psychological meaning. So I hope you see that there are many ideas about what the Buddha taught and what Buddhism is. in vestigate and see the humanity in all of humankind’s endeavours. It is very easy to make stereotypes and judge the whole thing as useless and thereby throw the baby out with the bathwater.g. It is much easier and requires less investigation. Some ideas are more informed than others. just to judge it all as useless and advocate the end of religion.