Promoter of True Human Culture
By Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammanada - From the book "What Buddhist Believe"
The Following Sections are Covered in this Document
Contents Section
Modern Religion 1
Religion in a Scientific Age 2
- Buddhism and Science 2.1
- Limitations of Science 2.2
- Learned Ignorance 2.3
- Beyond Science 2.4
- Science Without Religion 2.5
- Tribute to Buddhism 2.6
Religion of Freedom 3
Buddhist Missionaries 4
Buddhism is strong enough to face any modern views which pose a challenge to religion.

BUDDHIST ideas have greatly contributed to the enrichment of both ancient and modern thought. Its teaching of causation and relativism, its doctrine of sense data, its pragmatism, its emphasis on morality, its non-acceptance of a permanent soul, its unconcern about external supernatural forces, its denial of unnecessary rites and religious rituals, its appeal to reasoning and experience and its compatibility with modern scientific discoveries all tend to establish its superior claim to modernity.

Buddhism is able to meet all the requirements of a rational religion which suit the needs of the future world. It is so scientific, so rational, so progressive that it will be a matter of pride for people in the modern world to call themselves Buddhists. In fact, Buddhism is more scientific in approach than science; it is more socialistic than socialism.

Among all the great founders of religions, it was the Buddha alone who encouraged the spirit of investigation among His followers and who advised them not to accept even His own Teaching with blind faith. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that Buddhism can be called a modern religion.

Buddhism is a well-elaborated scheme of how to lead a practical life and a carefully thought-out system of self-culture. But more than that, it is a scientific method of education. This religion is best able in any crisis to restore our peace of mind and to help us to face calmly whatever changes the future may have in store.

Without sensual pleasure, would life be endurable? Without belief in immortality, can people be moral? Without resorting to divinity, can we advance towards righteousness? YES, is the answer given by Buddhism. These ends can be attained by knowledge and by the purification of the mind. Knowledge is the key to the higher path. Purification is that which brings calmness and peace to life and renders a person indifferent to and detached from the vagaries of the phenomenal world.

Buddhism is truly a religion suited to the modern, scientific world. The light which comes from nature, from science, from history, from human experience, from every point of the universe, is radiant with the Noble Teachings of the Buddha.

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Religion without science is lame, while science without religion is blind.

TODAY we live in a scientific age in which almost every aspect of our lives has been affected by science. Since the scientific revolution during the seventeenth century, science has continued to exert tremendous influence on what we think and do.

The impact of science has been particularly strong on traditional religious beliefs. Many basic religious concepts are crumbling under the pressure of modern science and are no longer acceptable to the intellectual and the well-informed person. No longer is it possible to assert truth derived merely through theological speculations or based on the authority of religious scriptures in isolation from scientific consideration. For example, the findings of modern psychologists indicate that the human mind, like the physical body, works according to natural, causal laws without the presence of an unchanging soul as taught by some religions.

Some religionists choose to disregard scientific discoveries which conflict with their religious dogmas. Such rigid mental habits are indeed a hindrance to human progress. Since modern people refuse to believe anything blindly, even though it had been traditionally accepted, such religionists will only succeed in increasing the ranks of non-believers with their faulty theories.

On the other hand, some religionists have found it necessary to accommodate popularly accepted scientific theories by giving new interpretations to their religious dogmas. A case in point is Darwin 's Theory of Evolution. Many religionists maintain that human beings were directly created by God. Darwin , on the other hand, argued that human beings had evolved from the ape, a theory which upset the doctrines of divine creation. Since all enlightened thinkers have accepted Darwin 's theory, the theologians today have little choice except to give a new interpretation to their doctrines to suit this theory which they had opposed for so long. In 1998 Pope John Paul II announced that human beings may be the result of gradual evolution and not the immediate creation of God as previously proclaimed. (NEW SUNDAY TIMES —October of 1998). Increasingly the same is becoming true about rebirth, which no intelligent person disputes today. It is a matter of time before some holy books will be re-written on that subject as well.

In the light of modern scientific discoveries, it is not difficult to understand that many of the views held by many religions regarding the universe and life are merely conventional thoughts which have long been superceded.

Buddhism and Science

Until the beginning of the last century, Buddhism was confined to countries untouched by modern science. Nevertheless, from its very beginning, the Teachings of the Buddha were always open to scientific thinking and critical examination.

One reason why the Teaching can easily be embraced by the scientific spirit is that the Buddha never encouraged rigid, dogmatic belief. He did not claim to base His Teachings on faith, belief, or divine revelation, but allowed great flexibility and freedom of thought and He never committed Himself on subjects which were outside the scope of verification by human intelligence.

The second reason is that the scientific spirit can be found in the Buddha's approach to spiritual Truth. The Buddha's method for discovering and testing spiritual Truth is very similar to that of the scientist. A scientist observes the external world objectively, and would only establish a scientific theory after conducting many successful practical experiments.

Using a similar approach 25 centuries ago, the Buddha observed the inner world with detachment, and encouraged His disciples not to accept any teaching until they had critically investigated and personally verified its truth. Just as the scientist today would not claim that his experiment cannot be duplicated by others, the Buddha did not claim that His experience of Enlightenment was exclusive to Him. Thus, in His approach to Truth, the Buddha was as analytical as the present day scientist. He established a practical, scientifically worked-out method for reaching the Ultimate Truth and the experience of Enlightenment.

While Buddhism is very much in line with the scientific spirit, it is not correct to equate Buddhism with science. It is true that the practical applications of science have enabled mankind to live more comfortable lives and experience wonderful things undreamed of before. Science has made it possible for humans to swim better than the fishes, fly higher than the birds, and walk on the moon. Yet the sphere of knowledge acceptable to conventional, scientific wisdom is confined to empirical evidence. And scientific truth is subject to constant change. This is because, ultimately science does not know the Ultimate Truth. As it gropes about in semi-darkness, it has to constantly shift its positions, as it discovers new Truths it had never thought possible before. As yet, science cannot give human beings control over their mind and it certainly cannot offer moral control and guidance. Despite its wonders, science has indeed many limitations not shared by Buddhism.

Limitations of Science

Often one hears so much about science and what it can do, and so little about what it cannot do. Scientific knowledge is limited to the data received through the sense organs. It does not recognise reality which transcends sense-data. Scientific truth is built upon logical observations of sense data which are continually changing. Scientific truth is, therefore, relative truth not intended to stand the test of time. A scientist, being aware of this fact, is always willing to discard a theory if it can be replaced by a better one.

Science attempts to understand the outer world and has barely scratched the surface of humanity's inner world. Even the science of psychology has not really fathomed the underlying cause of human mental unrest. When a person is frustrated and disgusted with life, and the inner world of this person is filled with disturbances and unrest, science today is very much ill-equipped to help him or her. The social sciences which cater for human environment may bring a certain degree of happiness. But unlike animals, humans require more than mere physical comfort and need help to cope with their frustrations and miseries arising from their daily experiences.

Today so many people are plagued with fear, restlessness, and insecurity. Yet science fails to help them. Science is unable to teach the people to control their minds when they are driven by the animal nature that burns within themselves.

Can science make human beings morally better? If it can, why do violent acts and immoral practices increase in countries which are so advanced in science? Isn't it fair to say that despite all the scientific progress achieved and the advantages conferred on humans, science leaves their inner selves unchanged: it has only heightened their feelings of dependence and insufficiency? In addition to its failure to bring security and confidence to mankind, science has also made everyone feel even more insecure by threatening the world with the possibility of mass destruction.

Science is unable to provide a meaningful purpose of life. It cannot provide humanity with clear reasons for living. In fact, science is thoroughly secular in nature and unconcerned with their spiritual goal. The materialism inherent in scientific thought denies the psyche goals higher than material satisfaction. By its selective theorizing and relative truths, science disregards some of the most essential issues and leaves many questions unanswered. For instance, when asked why great inequalities exist among people, no scientific explanation can be given to such questions which are beyond its narrow confines.

Learned Ignorance

The transcendental mind developed by the Buddha is not limited to sense-data and goes beyond the logic trapped within the limitation of relative perception. The human intellect, on the contrary, operates on the basis of information it collects and stores, whether in the field of religion, philosophy, science or art. The information for the mind is gathered through our sense organs which are inferior in so many ways. The very limited information perceived makes our understanding of the world distorted.

Some people are proud of the fact that they know so much. In fact, the less we know, the more certain we are in our explanations; the more we know, the more we realize our limitations.

A brilliant scholar once wrote a book which he considered as the ultimate work. He felt that the book contained all the literary gems and philosophies. Being proud of his achievement, he showed his masterpiece to a colleague of his who was equally brilliant with the request that the book be reviewed by him. Instead, his colleague asked the author to write down on a piece of paper all he knew and all he did not know. The author sat down deep in thought, but after a long while failed to write down anything he knew. Then he turned his mind to the second question, and again he failed to write down anything he did not know. Finally, with his ego at the lowest ebb, he gave up, realizing that all that he knew was really ignorance.

In this regard, Socrates, the Athenian philosopher of the Ancient World, had this to say when asked what he knew: ‘I know only one thing—that I do not know'.

Beyond Science

Buddhism goes beyond modern science in its acceptance of a wider field of knowledge than is allowed by the scientific mind. Buddhism admits knowledge arising from the sense organs as well as personal experiences gained through mental culture. By training and developing a highly concentrated mind, religious experience can be understood and verified. Religious experience is not something which can be understood by conducting experiments in a test-tube or examined under a microscope.

The truth discovered by science is relative and subject to changes, while that found by the Buddha is final and absolute: the Truth of Dharma does not change according to time and space. Furthermore, in contrast to the selective theorizing of science, the Buddha encouraged the wise not to cling to theories, scientific or otherwise. Instead of theorizing, the Buddha taught mankind how to live a righteous life to discover Ultimate Truths. The Buddha pointed the way through which we can discover within ourselves the nature of life by living a righteous life, by calming the senses, and by casting off desires. And as a result the real purpose of life can be found.

Practice is important in Buddhism. A person who studies much but does not practise is like one who is able to recite recipes from a huge cookery book without trying to prepare a single dish. His hunger cannot be relieved by book knowledge alone. Practice is such an important prerequisite of enlightenment that in some schools of Buddhism, such as Zen, practice is put even ahead of knowledge.

The scientific method is outwardly directed and modern scientists exploit nature and the elements for their own comfort, often disregarding the need to harmonise with the environment and thereby polluting the world. In contrast, Buddhism is inwardly directed and is concerned with the inner development of humans. On the lower level, Buddhism teaches the individual how to adjust and cope with events and circumstances of daily life. At the higher level, it represents the human endeavour to grow beyond oneself through the practice of mental culture or mind development.

Buddhism has a complete system of mental culture concerned with gaining insight into the nature of things which leads to complete self-realization of the Ultimate Truth—Nirvana. This system is both practical and scientific, it involves dispassionate observation of emotional and mental states. More like a scientist than a judge, a meditator observes the inner world with mindfulness and objectivity.

Science Without Religion

Without having moral ideals, science poses a danger to all mankind. The bullet and bomb are gifts of science to the few in power on whom the destiny of the world depends. Meanwhile the rest of mankind waits in anguish and fear, not knowing when the nuclear weapons, the poisonous gases, the deadly arms—all fruits of scientific research designed to kill efficiently—will be used on them. Not only is science completely unable to provide moral guidance to mankind, it has also fed fuel to the flame of human craving.

Science devoid of morality spells only destruction: it becomes the draconian monster man discovered. And unfortunately, this very monster is becoming more powerful than man himself. Unless man learns to restrain and govern the monster through the practice of religious morality, the monster will soon overpower him. Without religious guidance, science threatens the world with destruction. In contrast, science when coupled with a religion like Buddhism can transform this world into a haven of peace and security and happiness.

Never was there a time when the co-operation between science and religion has been so desperately needed in the best interest and service of mankind. Religion without science is blind, while science without religion is crippled.

Tribute to Buddhism

Albert Einstein paid a tribute to Buddhism when he said in his autobiography: ‘If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism'. Buddhism requires no revision to keep it ‘up-to-date' with recent scientific findings. Buddhism need not surrender its views to science because it embraces science besides going beyond science. Buddhism is the bridge between religious and scientific thoughts by stimulating man to discover the latent potentialities within himself and his environment. Buddhism is timeless!

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This is a religion of freedom and reason for human beings to lead a noble life.

BUDDHISM does not prevent anyone from learning the teachings of other religions. In fact, the Buddha encouraged His followers to learn about other religions and to compare His Teachings with other teachings. The Buddha says that if there are reasonable and rational teachings in other religions, His followers are free to respect such teachings. It seems that certain religionists try to keep their followers in the dark; some of them are not even allowed to touch other religious objects or books. They are instructed not to listen to the preachings of other religions. They are enjoined not to doubt the teachings of their own religion, however unconvincing their teachings may appear to be. They believe that the more they keep their followers on a one-track mind, the more easily they can keep them under control. If anyone of them exercises freedom of thought and realises that he or she had been in the dark all the time, then it is alleged that the devil has possessed their mind. People are given no opportunity to use their common sense and education. Those who wish to change their views on religion are taught to believe that they are not worthy to be allowed to use free will in judging anything for themselves.

According to the Buddha, religion should be left to one's own free choice. Religion is not a law, but a disciplinary code which should be followed with understanding. To Buddhists true religious principles are neither a divine law nor a human law, but a universal law.

In actual fact, there is no real religious freedom in any part of the world today. People have no freedom even to think freely. Whenever they realise that they cannot find satisfaction through their own religion to which they belong, which cannot provide them with satisfactory answers to certain questions, they have no liberty to give it up and to accept another which appeals to them. The reason is that religious authorities, leaders, and family members have taken that freedom away from them. People should be allowed to choose their religion which is in accordance with their own conviction. One has no right to force another to accept a particular religion. This is particularly obvious when people from two different religions fall in love. Some people surrender their religion to get married, without a proper understanding of their partner's religion. Religion should not be changed to suit a person's emotions and human weaknesses. One must think very carefully before changing one's religion. Religion is not a subject for bargaining; one should not change one's religion for emotional, personal, material gains. Religion is to be used for spiritual development and for self-salvation.

Buddhists do not try to influence other religionists to come and embrace their religion for material gain. Nor do they try to exploit poverty, sickness, illiteracy and ignorance in order to increase the number of Buddhists in the population. The Buddha advised those who indicated their wish to follow Him, not to be hasty in accepting His Teachings. He advised them to consider carefully His Teaching and to determine for themselves whether it was practical or not for them to follow. This is why there has never been a ritual baptism to be performed before one is “converted to Buddhism”.

Buddhism teaches that mere belief or outward rituals are insufficient for attaining wisdom and perfection. In this sense, outward conversion becomes meaningless. To promote Buddhism by force would mean pretending to propagate justice and love by means of oppression and injustice. It is of no importance to the followers of the Buddha whether they call themselves Buddhists or not. Buddhists know that only through their own understanding and exertion will they come nearer to the goal preached by the Buddha.

Amongst the followers of religions there are usually some fanatics. Religious fanaticism is dangerous. A fanatic is incapable of guiding himself by reason or even by the scientific principles of observation and analysis. According to the Buddha, Buddhists must be free. People must have an open mind and must not be subservient to anyone for their spiritual development. They seek refuge in the Buddha by accepting Him as a source of supreme guidance and inspiration. The devotee seeks refuge in the Buddha, not blindly, but with understanding. To Buddhists, the Buddha is not a saviour nor is He an anthropomorphic being who claims to possess the power of washing away others' sins. Buddhists regard the Buddha as a Teacher who shows the Path to salvation.

Buddhism has always supported the freedom and progress of mankind. Buddhism has always stood for the advancement of knowledge and freedom for humanity in every sphere of life. There is nothing in the Buddha's Teaching that has to be retracted in the face of modern, scientific inventions and knowledge. The more new things that scientists discover, the closer they come to the Buddha's explanation of the universe and how it operates.

The Buddha emancipated human beings from the thralldom of religion. He also released them from the monopoly and the tyranny of priestcraft. It was the Buddha who first advised people to exercise their reason and not to allow themselves to be driven meekly like dumb cattle, following the dogma of religion. The Buddha stood for rationalism, democracy and practical, ethical conduct in religion. He introduced this Teaching for people to practise with human dignity.

The followers of the Buddha were advised not to believe anything without considering it properly. In the KALAMA SUTRA , the Buddha gave the following guidelines to a group of young people:-

‘Do not accept anything based upon mere reports, traditions or hearsay, Nor upon the authority of religious texts, Nor upon mere reasons and arguments, Nor upon one's own inference, Nor upon anything which appears to be true, Nor upon one's own speculative opinions, Nor upon another's seeming ability, Nor upon the consideration: ‘This is our Teacher.'

‘But, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome and bad: tending to harm yourself or others, reject them.

‘And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome and good: conducive to the spiritual welfare of yourself as well as others, accept and follow them.'

Buddhists are advised to accept religious practices only after careful observation and analysis, and only after being certain that the method agrees with reason and is conducive to the good of one and all.

True Buddhists do not depend on external powers for their salvation. Nor do they expect to get rid of miseries through the intervention of some unknown power. They must try to eradicate all their mental impurities to find eternal happiness. The Buddha says, ‘If anyone were to speak ill of me, my teaching and my disciples, do not be upset or perturbed, for this kind of reaction will only cause you harm. On the other hand, if anyone were to speak well of me, my teaching and my disciples, do not be overjoyed, thrilled or elated, for this kind of reaction will only be an obstacle in forming a correct judgement. If you are elated, you cannot judge whether the qualities praised are real and actually found in us.' (BRAHMA JALA SUTRA ) Such is the unbiased attitude of a genuine Buddhist.

The Buddha upheld the highest degree of freedom not only in its human essence but also in its divine qualities. It is a freedom that does not deprive human beings of their dignity. It is a freedom that releases one from slavery to dogmas and dictatorial religious laws or religious punishments.

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‘Go forth, O Bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods and men.'

WHEN we turn the pages of the history of Buddhism, we learn that Buddhist missionaries spread the noble message of the Buddha in a peaceful and respectable way. Such a peaceful record should put to shame those who have practised violent methods in propagating their religions.

Buddhist missionaries do not compete with other religionists in converting people in the market place. No Buddhist missionary or monk would ever think of preaching ill will against so called ‘unbelievers'. Religious, cultural and national intolerance are unbuddhistic in attitude, to people who are imbued with the real Buddhist spirit. Aggression never finds approval in the teaching of the Buddha. The world has bled and suffered enough from the disease of dogmatism, religious fanaticism and intolerance. Whether in religion or politics, people make conscious efforts to bring humanity to accept their own way of life. In doing so, they sometimes show their hostility towards the followers of other religions.

Buddhism never interfered with the national traditions and customs, art and culture of the people who accepted it as a way of life but allowed them to exist and encourage further refinement. The Buddha's message of love and compassion opened the hearts of people and they willingly accepted the Teachings, thereby helping Buddhism to become a world religion. Buddhist missionaries were invited by independent countries which welcomed them with due respect. Buddhism was never introduced to any country through the influence of colonial or any other political power.

Buddhism was the first spiritual force known to us in history which drew closely together large numbers of races which were separated by the most difficult barriers of distance, language, culture and morals. Its motive was not the acquisition of international commerce, empire-building or to follow the migratory impulse and occupy fresh territory. Its aim was to show how people could gain more peace and happiness through the practice of Dharma.

A sparkling example of the qualities and approach of a Buddhist missionary was Emperor Asoka. It was during Emperor Asoka's time that Buddhism spread to many Asian and western countries. Emperor Asoka sent Buddhist missionaries to many parts of the world to introduce the Buddha's message of peace. Asoka respected and supported every religion at that time. His understanding about other religions was remarkable. One of his scripts engraved in stone on Asoka Pillars, and still standing today in India , says:

‘One should not honour only one's own religion and condemn the religion of others, but one should honour others' religions for this or that reason. In so doing, one helps one's own religion to grow and renders service to the religions of others too. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one's own religion and also does harm to other religions. Whosoever honours his own religion and condemns other religions, does so indeed through devotion to his own religion, thinking, ‘ I will glorify my own religion. ‘But on the contrary, in so doing he injures his own religion more gravely, so concord is good. Let all listen, and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others.'

Around 268 B.C., he made the doctrines of the Buddha a living force in India . Hospitals, social service institutions, universities for men and women, public wells and recreation centres sprang up with this new movement and the people thereby realised the cruelty of senseless wars.

The golden era in the history of India and the other countries of Asia was the period when art, culture, education and civilisation reached their zenith. These occurred at the time when Buddhist influence was strongest in these countries. Holy wars, crusades, inquisitions and religious discrimination do not mar the annals of the history of Buddhist countries. This is a noble history mankind can rightly be proud of. The Great Nalanda University of India which flourished from the second to the ninth century was a product of Buddhism. It was the first university that we know of and which was opened to international students.

In the past, Buddhism was able to make itself felt in many parts of the East, although communication and transport were difficult and people had to cross hills and deserts. Despite these difficult barriers Buddhism spread far and wide. Today, this peace message is spreading in the West. Westerners are attracted to Buddhism and agree that Buddhism is the only religion that is in harmony with modern science.

Buddhist missionaries have no need or desire to convert those who already have a proper religion to practise. If people are satisfied with their own religion, then, there is no need for Buddhist missionaries to convert them. They give their full support to missionaries of other faiths if their idea is to convert the wicked, evil, and uncultured people to a religious way of life. Buddhists are happy to see the progress of other religions so long as they truly help people to lead a religious way of life according to their own faith and enjoy peace, harmony and understanding. On the other hand, Buddhist missionaries deplore the attitude of certain missionaries who disturb the followers of other religions, since there is no reason for them to create an unhealthy atmosphere of competition for converts if their aim is only to teach people to lead a religious way of life.

In introducing the Dharma to others, Buddhist missionaries have never tried to use imaginary exaggerations depicting a heavenly life in order to attract human desire and arouse their craving. They did not create fear in people's minds by saying that they would go to hell if they did not follow the Buddha. Instead, they have tried to explain the real nature of human and divine life as taught by the Buddha.

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Buddhist Teachings Promoter of True Human Culture