In his approach, Buddha is more scientific than religious

Oct 14, 2021


Part of the problem for many of us is that as soon as we hear the word Buddhism, we straight away go into our religious mode, don’t we? We think it’s about believing things. 


We can so easily fall into the trap of a kind of intellectual laziness that we all have when we approach spiritual teachings. If we like them we’ll go, “Oh yeah, I believe that.” And if we don’t, we think “Nah, I don’t believe that.” It really is a trap. It is intellectual laziness, and it’s not useful. 


For us, with our predominately Western religious backgrounds, religion is necessarily about belief in a creator. There is no choice but to believe. There is no discussion about proving that God is right. If you can, then you’re also God, and that is not possible.


But Buddha doesn’t assert a creator; he says that’s a mistaken conception. He doesn’t argue with the concept of superior being – we can all become one, Buddha says. But we don’t become a creator; there is no creator. We don’t need one for the Buddha! His view is that we virtually create ourselves: that’s the natural law of karma: whatever any being thinks or says or does just naturally leaves imprints in the mind, seeds that will ripen in the future as the person we become. His Holiness the Dalai says karma is like self-creation. A good way to put it!


Basically what Buddhism is is Buddha’s own personal findings about how things exist and he’s saying, “Here’s my methodology. If you want to achieve buddhahood, then here’s the method.” Then it’s up to us to put it into practice and find out whether he’s right or not. Merely believing in it is useless!


We don’t believe that one plus one is two: we prove it. If Buddha is wrong in what he has found to be true, then we will find out.


Buddhism demands we put the same thinking cap on that we wear when we think science, or when we think numbers. Don’t put your religious cap on here. Bring your intelligence hat. It’s not joking to say that Buddha is more similar to Einstein than to God. 


Buddha is a scientist. If he were living now, this is what we would call him. From his own experience, he has found certain things to be so. His teachings present his findings in his area of expertise, which is the human mind and the nature of things. So from that perspective, you could say that Buddha was your first cognitive therapist. 


Obviously, the idea of cognitive therapy didn’t exist at the time of the Buddha. He didn’t speak like a cognitive therapist would today. He didn’t speak Greek either. He spoke Hindi or Pali, or whatever it was. But if you go to Tibetan Buddhist places, you won’t get a sense of its being psychological. What you will see instead will look like religion. There will be pictures, holy things, nuns and monks, and all the trappings of religion. However, what is interesting about Buddhist culture over the centuries is that even so, there has been no contradiction between what is called spiritual and what is called proving things using your intelligence.


Every practice, every teaching, every meditation in Buddhism must necessarily lead you to the development of your own buddhahood. If it doesn’t then it’s not valid – give it back to Buddha!


So, the way to listen to Buddha’s teachings is to take them as a hypothesis. You don’t try to squeeze it inside your head and believe it. You take it as a hypothesis, which is a very reasonable person’s approach to any knowledge. Buddha is not asking you to believe his findings, but to take them as your hypothesis and then gradually to prove the truth of them for yourself.


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