One Secular Humanist’s Buddhist Practices

On Faith question: The Dalai Lama, who is in Washington, D.C., for a ten day event, has written: “I have come to the conclusion that whether or not a person is a religious believer does not matter much. Far more important is that they be a good human being.”. . . “That is why I sometimes say that religion is something we can perhaps do without. ”It seems many in the West agree with the spiritual leader, as millions report that they incorporate Buddhist practices such as meditation or mindfulness into their own spiritual activities without necessarily adopting Buddhism as their religion. Does religion aid or hinder the spiritual journey? Can you practice Buddhism without becoming Buddhist?

As a secular humanist, I believe we can gain knowledge of the world through observation, experimentation, reading, and critical thinking. I believe that ethical values are derived from human needs and interests, and are tested and refined by experience. I believe that our deeds are more important than our creeds, and that dogmas should never override compassion for others. I don’t think we should give credit to a deity for our accomplishments or blame satanic forces when we behave badly. I believe we should take responsibility for our actions.

I think the Dalai Lama would agree with everything I just said. I applaud him for saying we can do without religion, and that whether a person is a religious believer is not as important as whether the person is a good human being. I also agree with the Dalai Lama when he says, “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.”

Practicing parts of Buddhism certainly doesn’t make me a Buddhist. I probably “practice” parts of most religions, the portions I consider reasonable and consistent with my secular humanism. This means, of course, that I reject almost all beliefs and practices in most religions. My patriotic Fourth of July celebration included reading the rather short Jefferson Bible. Thomas Jefferson used a razor to cut out the supernatural parts of the New Testament and other passages he thought were morally wrong. Jefferson called what remained, “Diamonds in a dunghill.” I recommend reading all books skeptically and looking for whatever diamonds or pearls of wisdom they may contain.

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The book "Buddhism Without Beliefs" by Stephen Batchelor explores this very subject, and it's one of my favs.

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