Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Aggressive Atheism: Buddhist Response

As I write I'm in Chiang Mai province where our Thai friend is preparing a Buddha shrine for a newly-rented home. It's done with great and precise ceremony. 

There's proper placement of candles, flowers, small glass of water, incense, and above all, the Buddha image itself. 

And there's lots of bowing involved. How come?  The Buddha, who said he wasn't a god, but only "awake," taught that gods in general weren't very useful on the path to self-realization and universal compassion. 

So why does a Buddha statue rate all this fuss?

One teacher told me that when we bow to the Buddha image, we bow to ourselves, not a dead guy from India. I still think about that. 

Here's a religion/philosophy that insists we look inside, not just outside, for beauty and completion. 

Buddhism isn't atheistic.  Its teachers aren't like Dawkins who rallies followers to heap scorn on believers.

Lacking gods, it's properly non-theistic, but that doesn't mean you can't have any God or gods you like.  You don't have to stop being a Jew or a Catholic to embrace the triple jewels of Buddha, dharma, and sangha.  You just have to be willing to look deeply inside too, and practice compassion and seek to relieve suffering in the world. 

Back to the new rental --- the shrine is installed, all reds and fake gold, and looks down from its high perch, candles ablaze and incense smoking, reminding me of 2500 years of dharma. As I bow to the gilt plaster statue, I realize that without the certainly of guidance by gods, I have to look deep into me for the meaning I seek.  But I'm not giving up Jesus or Mohammed or the Holy Spirit any time soon.