BELIEF IS CENTRAL AND ESSENTIAL to Theistic or God-based religions; without Belief they would not exist. This is one of the main points in which Buddhism (as well as Confucianism and the Tao of Lao Tsu) differs from other religions: being non-theistic, it doesn’t require belief!

And why? Because we can see, for ourselves— if we wish— what it teaches. When we merely believe something our minds are already made up about it. How to discover what is true if our minds are already made up? We must be open-minded and eager to learn, not closed-minded and dogmatic.

Believe it or not, Belief is an obstacle to finding out what is true. We believe when we do not know; when we know, we do not believe! Seeing is knowing; believing is not-knowing. Belief changes; Knowledge does not. We know, for example, that fire is hot and water is wet; this is so now, it was so before, and it will always be so; it’s not a matter of belief.

Belief and Disbelief are the opposite sides of the same coin; they go together, inseparably, like black and white, day and night; one implies the other. Only if we can put aside both belief and disbelief, will we be able to see, and not before.

Belief binds our minds more firmly than chains may bind our bodies. Most of us are prisoners of belief, in one form or another, and even disbelievers are prisoners of it— the very fact that they proclaim their disbelief so loudly proves this, for Disbelief is just the reverse side of Belief. We cannot disbelieve unless we first believe.

Hundreds of years ago, Europeans believed the Earth to be the center of the Universe, with the Sun and all the other stars and planets turning about it, as that is what the Church taught, and woe betide anyone who thought otherwise. But, after observing the skies through the newly-invented telescope, an Italian scientist named GALILEO (1564-1642), discovered that this was not so, and that our planet revolves around the Sun. When he made known his findings, however, there was an uproar, and the authorities — the Church of Rome, that is, which had tremendous power in all areas of life at that time— not ready to accept facts, persecuted him. Under threat of being burnt at the stake, Galileo was made to sign a confession stating that he was misguided and wrong; not content with this, the Church sentenced him to house-arrest for the remainder of his life. Perhaps he should have expected this and been more discreet (as should Salmon Rushdie in recent times). But then, the truth might have had to wait a little longer before finding its way to the surface.

In 1980— 1980, not 1580!— a special Church commission met in Rome to reconsider the question of the Earth’s position in the Solar System, and after discussing the issue at great length, agreed that Science had conclusively proved that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and that therefore Galileo had been right. Then, in May 1983, Pope John-Paul II presided over a meeting of a large gathering of Church dignitaries, historians and scientists, to openly admit the Church’s mistake and absolve Galileo. What a loss of face for the Church that has so long regarded itself as infallible to admit this! At last, poor Galileo was vindicated — 350 years after his death!— and the guilty conscience of the Church somewhat assuaged. So, Truth does eventually triumph— sometimes, at least— but too late to do Galileo any good.

We adapt amazingly quickly to technological change and take it in our stride; we are sophisticated and competent that way. Spiritually, however, most of us are rather backward, and thus there is a great imbalance in our lives. The happiness we desire so much eludes us; we do not understand that it is a spiritual quality instead of something material.

There is an urgent need to balance the inner and the outer life; many of our problems exist because we have failed to achieve a balance. Externally— technologically and materially— we have made tremendous progress in the past few centuries, and especially towards the end of the twentieth century. But mentally, we’ve not kept up; indeed, many of us live in mental caves, even while our bodies repose in fine houses. This causes trouble, of course.

Unless we are to be hopelessly impractical and discard the comforts and luxuries of modern life, we must update our minds, through understanding— and through living according to such understanding— how we inter-exist and depend upon others. If we cannot— or will not— do this, we shall always be torn between two worlds: the old and the new, the primitive and the modern.

Some people, trying to live by old standards that seem to them to have worked in the past, reject modernity and its products, but what we need is a way— a practical way— that will allow us to live by time-tested codes and standards in the present, without feeling dislocated. Is there such a Way? In order to find out, we must examine the history and structure of religions and philosophies, not merely believe; if we do so, perhaps we will find that some of them are just facades, like film-sets, or fit only for books on mythology and fairy-tales. You can give a dog fleshless bones, and for a time it will be happy with them, but not forever!

Religions, over the ages, have offered palliatives for people’s sorrows and hope concerning life-after-death. But many of them are ‘fleshless bones’— things impossible to verify, things dependent on mere belief. Is your religion— the religion you have inherited from others, the religion you have accepted without question, or the religion you have, in some cases, chosen for yourself, for whatever reason— a collection of fleshless bones, an old skeleton in the closet, or is it alive and dynamic? Ask yourself this: honestly and fearlessly: "What does my religion offer? " Does it offer only worn-out explanations and unreasonable dogmas? Does it provide you with a world-view consistent with present and ever-changing conditions? Does it help you maintain your sanity in this insane world that is rushing headlong to destruction? Does it help you see unity in diversity? Does it help you to feel part of things, even if only a small part among others? Does it describe your place among, and relationship to all other things, living and non-living? Does it inform you of your importance, or does it grind you down into servility and insignificance?

When all they can throw at us are promises of salvation and life-in-heaven on the other side of death if we believe them, and threats of Hell for disbelieving, but nothing to live on now, it is a sign that they are spiritually bankrupt. How long are we going to be tricked by these cheaters posing as teachers?

The crux of the matter is FEAR; we are afraid to die, and even afraid to live; we are quite unadventurous and unwilling to think for ourselves. If we found meaning in our lives, if our lives were not so shallow and empty, then fear of living and dying, and of what happens after death, would diminish. We would need no motive for living well in the Here-and-Now, but would do what has to be done without thinking too much about results.

If we are honest with life, life will be honest with us; it’s not a game without rules, and the sooner we learn the rules, the sooner we’ll be able to play without continually losing.

If we examine our beliefs objectively, we may see if they are valid or not. It is not enough to accept the word of others, or believe what’s written in books; we must strive to know for ourselves. We live in an enlightened age (‘enlightened’ in some ways, at least, though in other ways it seems to be ‘ennightened’!) Why be content to call ourselves ‘Buddhists’, ‘Christians’, this or that, just because our parents and grandparents do/did? We have our own lives to live, and should be able to choose, for ourselves, which way we want to go. When we go shopping, we choose what we want to buy from a variety of goods, instead of buying the first thing we come to. It is possible now for most of us to study almost anything; there is no secret knowledge reserved for the elite few any more; the wonderful ability to read unlocks the door of the House of Knowledge. Surely, if such things as Happiness and Truth are important to us, we will search in many places, and not restrict ourselves to the ideas of those around us.

Sadly, it is much easier to cheat people than it is to enlighten them! Only lazy people believe what others tell them, and are easily deceived by the many crafty and unscrupulous people in the world, whether they are door-to-door salesmen, politicians, missionaries, or just plain liars and thieves!

The beliefs of many religions do not stand up to close scrutiny and investigation, as they are not based upon facts. We can, of course— and do— interpret things to suit ourselves, and find meaning where there are no meanings; we like to play hide-and-seek, and we play it so long that we forget it is a game and take it for real, and so get lost. Or we go to sleep, and sleep for a long time, until something— often something painful and unpleasant— comes along to disturb our dreams, and sets us on the Way once more.

Seldom do we see with our own eyes and minds, but usually through those of others: our family, friends, leaders, writers, public figures— sometimes even with the eyes of our enemies! We accept the standards of others, so what they call ‘beautiful’, ‘ugly’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, we also do; thus, we are easily manipulated and controlled. If we used our own eyes and minds, we could learn to see things much clearer and deeper; we would become aware of much more wonder and beauty around us, even in things that are dismissed by others as ‘commonplace’ and ‘ordinary’. Look for yourself, and see!

I’m not saying here, however, that we should not try to see things from other people’s points-of-view, because it is extremely important to do so, and the more angles we can look at a thing from, the clearer the picture we shall get of it. No, what I mean is that we should not allow ourselves to be unduly influenced by others into accepting their viewpoints and beliefs without critical examination. We have the capacity to think, do we not? This is the major factor that distinguishes us from the lower animals, which live by instinct and have little choice over the way they live. We can think, we can choose and decide, we can change our lives— if we want to.

Can we live without belief about life-after-death, heaven, hell, etc.? Can we listen to others— teachers, preachers, parents, leaders, and so on— without belief, so that we may discover whether what they say is true and useful or not? I would say, "Yes, it is." Do not believe me, either. Try it, for yourself, and see.

Why be content with old bones?
Demand reality, now!



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