If something is true, it must be coherent theoretically

Jan 22, 2022


I was brought up as a Catholic. I had faith in God. I loved God; I was in love with God. So the concept of a creator – this is what defines religion for us – is that there is this energy, this being, who doesn’t itself have a source, has always been, is perfect, and is the creator of the universe, the creator of me, the creator of the laws; therefore, he’s the boss. 


And given that God created everything then there must be a plan. And if we’re Christians, let’s say, we’d be happy with that. He doesn’t need to tell us his plans. So we have faith in him.


That’s a pretty amazing view! You’d live a pretty good life if you had that view. Nothing wrong.


Also, this view implies the view of punishment and reward, doesn’t it? That’s our view of morality, that’s our view of religion. When I asked my Jesuit priest friend what a sin is, what defines an action as a sin, he said that it’s going against the will of God, doing what God said not to do. This makes sense if there is indeed a creator.


If you obey God, you get rewarded; if you disobey God you get punished. Broadly speaking, this dualistic view is the view we tend to have of morality: it’s something from on high, imposed upon us, and if you do well you’re a good girl and if you do not you are a naughty girl. This is a very deep instinctive philosophical view in our minds. 


But it’s not Buddha’s view, that’s all. Our trouble when we hear Buddhism we don’t question this underlying assumption; we assume it’s the same: punishment and reward. 


But there is no concept like that in Buddhism. There is no creator, therefore no punisher and rewarder. But we are driven by it very instinctively – don’t blame your Jewish mother or your Catholic mother for it. The Buddha says this dualistic view is a function of the root delusion ego-grasping.


So if these teachings we’re discussing here are not coming from a creator, where do they come from?


Years ago at a teaching in Nelson, New Zealand, someone asked the question, “Who revealed the teachings to the Buddha?” I remember it well because it’s the only time I have ever heard that question. And it’s a perfect question if you have faith in a creator because we know that those teachings are by definition revelation from on high. That’s a given, isn’t it? 


I asked the fellow, who happened to be a scientist, “Would you ask Einstein who revealed the teachings about relativity to him?” Of course we wouldn’t! Because we know that Einstein used his intelligence and observed the workings of the universe and came up with his findings and then presented them. He didn’t have a vision of it, it wasn’t revealed to him in a dream, and we know he’s not speculating. He used the approach we call science, right?


That’s Buddha’s approach. This is crucial to understand. As the Dalai Lama tell us modern people, who haven’t been brought up with Buddhism, that if having chosen to follow Buddha’s methodology, ticking the boxes as you go, experiencing the truth of it as you go — which is what you would do with relativity, or mathematics, or botany, or anything else — then if you get into a point where you find that what Buddha says isn’t correct, you would reject him. Of course you would.


But we’ve got this very different view when it comes to religion; we just assume it can’t be proved. As a Catholic, a Muslim, a Jew, there is no view that I would listen to what God says, think about it and then finally verify for myself. That’s not possible, because then I’d effectively become God and that’s just not appropriate. 


With something like math, botany, cooking, acupuncture – all the skills we learn – merely having faith in them is clearly not enough. You can have faith in mathematics — there are enough people with the experience of math to help you get through life. But if your mother asks you to go buy seven oranges, you will never be certain whether you’ve got seven oranges until you have the experience of the truth of math yourself.


So how do you go about proving what Buddha says? Use Einstein’s approach. First you learn the theories – and if they’re a valid body of knowledge, not just some random ideas, first they must be coherent theoretically. Impermanence, karma, emptiness: understanding these theories first intellectually, understanding the logic of them, gradually leads to the experience of the truth of them. It might take us a few lifetimes, but the approach is the same.


But we often conflate knowing the teachings with liking them. This is why it’s so important to study the teachings. Having faith in them, merely liking them, is simply not enough. 


One step at a time!

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