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Buddhism for AtheistsFirstly I want to say that although I no longer consider myself to be a Buddhist, I still have the greatest respect for Buddhism and still go to classes at my local centre from time to time. I find these greatly helpful in living a happy life because they simply give practical ways of living a more peaceful life as a happy, relaxed and patient person. Who wouldn't want that?
They don't push any of the supernatural reincarnation/enlightenment side of things at you and you are free to take as much or as little from their teachings without the judgement you get from several other major religions.
Still though, I wanted to go over some of Buddhism's main teachings, and how they can all be taken from atheistic angle and be very beneficial to everyone no matter what you believe.
What is this beyond living well, having children, passing on the best parts of you to them and leaving the world happy that your legacy will live on. My son is almost three months old and already I find it amazing to look at him and know that he is quite literally half me. When I am gone he and our descendants will carry on, keeping me alive in a very real way.
Lets face it, if we've done bad things, no matter how much we may deny it to others or pretend we don't care there is a little seed of unsettled guilt placed in our heads. Equally when we do good things, we get a corresponding seed of happy satisfaction. Now I know that when my head is in a happy place I make better decisions, I cope better with tough situations and generally have a more balanced life. However when my head is unsettled I am less calm, more likely to act rashly and can end up creating problems for myself.
To me, this is all that karma is about. It's as if my own head is making sure that good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished. No supernatural forces are needed to ensure that we know right from wrong.
This is the Buddhist biggie. Train your mind, leave attachment behind and you attain the complete peace of enlightenment, transcending the mortal world.
Now of course there can be no atheist equivalent to eternal peace in another plane of reality but perfect happiness and peace of mind area absolutely attainable by anyone. Stay mindful of your emotional state, don't sweat the small stuff and try to maintain perspective on the twists and turns of life and you'll be well on the way.
As for transcending the mortal life to a place of complete peace that's easy. If I live a long happy life surrounded by family and friends and watching my son grow up to have a family of his own I know that when my time comes I will leave with a happy and peaceful heart. To me that ticks the box quite happily!
Becoming a FatherWell my son has just passed two months old, and I'm finally at a point where I look back on the ups and downs of my most life-changing experience ever with a calm and balanced mind. It's been a complete rollercoaster of emotions going from delirious happiness to 'OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE I'VE RUINED MY LIFE' moments when confronted with evenings of continual screaming and filthy nappies. I'm happy to say though, that I'm now firmly in the camp of the happy feelings and good times.
Nothing could have prepared my wife and I for this. No amount of younger siblings, nieces, nephews or evenings babysitting can possible prepare you for the full 24/7 experience of caring for your own child with no option of changing your mind or taking him back to the shop for a refund. There is literally no choice but to stick with it, enjoy the ups, get through the downs and let yourself slowly adjust to your new life.
Eight weeks down the road for us we are past the worst of it. He's not yet sleeping through the night but we can get him to sleep about 7pm (he's even getting better at settling himself - only about 10 mins of crying first!) and enjoy some precious adult evening time. We've got into a routine, we know how to calm the tears (most of the time) and I'm starting to forget what it felt like not to have the little guy around. He's turned us into a family :)
My BrotherI have been inspired by many people throughout my life, but none more so than my big brother Duncan. He was born six years before me so throughout childhood we weren't particularly close; although we of course had great affection for each other we lived in very different worlds. He was beginning high school as I was just out of nursery and as soon as I arrived at high school he was off to university. It was during his time at high school that Duncan fell in with the wrong crowd, began smoking and drinking heavily and found his studies to be less and less important. I was too young to understand what was happening, I just knew that there was much more tension in the house, my parents would be angry or distant for much of the time and Duncan was in the house as little as possible.
Ultimately university didn't work out so Duncan bought a small house and ended up working for the council. His drinking continued to a point where he was really losing his grip, we tried to support him as a family but one Christmas, after enduring days of his drunken ramblings I snapped and told him in a rather less then diplomatic way what I thought of his recent behaviour. Looking back I absolutely regret speaking to him in that way but I genuinely feel that it wasn't the true Duncan that I was addressing, it was instead this shadow of the former him that was being controlled by alcohol.
We didn't speak for a few months after that, but in the intervening time he quit drinking and began studying for a degree with the Open University. By the time we met up and buried the hatchet he was like a new man - a little battle-scarred admittedly but a sober, responsible brother with a renewed enthusiasm for life. He changed the whole way he lived his life; gaining promotions at work, taking up drum lessons, developing an interest in amateur photography and massively expanding his social life. A year later he'd quit smoking too. He even found the time for a regular curry night with his brother!
For him to turn his life around so suddenly and so dramatically took a strength that most people only ever dream of having. I will forever be so proud of him for that.
When my wife fell pregnant he was the first member of the family we told and he was thrilled about the prospect of becoming an uncle. He came to visit us at the first opportunity, bringing with him a huge stuffed bear (which to this day is still bigger than my child) and suggesting that he be referred to as 'Uncle Duncle'. We had never really discussed his thoughts of starting a family of his own but it seemed to me like although he would love to have that aspect to his life, he needed to find peace within himself before sharing his world with another to that extent. What I did know however is that when my child arrived it would be so showered with love from Duncan that it would be like having a second father.
On the day of our twenty week scan we discovered that we would be having a boy, and again Duncan was the first person I called (from the hospital car park!). He was delighted of course, but even more so when I told him that we'd like to give our son "Duncan" as a middle name. He actually had to hang up the phone because he was welling up in the middle of a crowded office but then proceeded to send a series of gushing text messages expressing his delight and honour. It was the best reaction we could have hoped for and I actually found myself becoming rather excited for him that after all the twists and turns of his life he would be able to help us shape this new life into a really amazing little person.
It was about six weeks later that I was working at my desk when I received an email from one of Duncan's colleagues saying he hadn't been in work for a few days and they were worried. I hadn't heard from him for a week or so (which wasn't unusual) and after trying his home phone and mobile numbers I called our mother, who lived fairly near to him, to ask if she had heard anything. She said she hadn't and immediately jumped into the car with her spare key to his house. The details here are not necessary and need not be shared, but suffice to say that normal boring rainy Monday rapidly turned into the worst day of my life. Suddenly, without any warning my brother had left this world never to return. He would never get to meet his nephew or watch him grow. All my son would know of Duncan would be the photographs, the stories and the big teddy bear - the only present he'll ever have from his dear uncle.
We said our final goodbyes to Duncan two weeks later on another rainy Monday morning.
Then the hardest task of all had to begin. I wont call it moving on, as to me that term implies forgetting about what has happened and consigning it firmly to history. Rather we had to begin the process of simply functioning again. My son would be arriving in three months and there was no way to slow him down, so for his sake if nothing else my wife and I had to bring back some sense of normality. I really struggled at first, and thanks to an extremely unsympathetic attitude in the company I worked for I ultimately quit my job to start my own business. It's a hard road to take, and I do find myself worrying about where my next payment will come from, but I try to remember the strength that Duncan had and use that to spur me on. I don't believe that he is "looking down on me" from any sort of afterlife, but I do believe that he would want me to live a happy, productive life and make sure that all the lessons he gave me are put to good use.
So here's to you Duncan. You were stronger than I'll ever be, had a heart as big as a planet and the world is seriously diminished without you. Rest well xx
Going FreelanceThis month I've taken the biggest step ever in my career. I've gone freelance. I am now 100% responsible for finding the clients, managing the projects, writing the code and ensuring that there is a pay packet at the end of every month. It's scary but the most liberating feeling ever!
I took this decision for a number of reasons:
Work-life balance My son is now almost 8 weeks old and I really want to make sure I see him grow up. Working for myself and not being fixed to a 9-5 life I can balance my time around him, remaining as flexible as possible. I'm free to spend time with him in the week and make up the time on the evenings or weekends.
Enjoyment Let's face it, most of us spend half our waking lives working so it really needs to be something we enjoy! I know that not everyone has the opportunity to start their own business but if you stay in a job you hate for the simple reason of a 'safe' paycheck makes for a pretty rubbish life.
Of course family and financial commitments have to be the number one priority and you need to have the marketable skills and certifications to make your business a success. Don't take any unnecessary gambles with your security but if those boxes are ticked then there may be little standing in your way,
Plain old ambition I want to lose the safety net and have the opportunity to make a success of my own business. Building a business from scratch puts my fortune firmly in my own hands and no-one else can hold me back.
Although it's early days yet, I'd certainly give the following bits of advice to anyone thinking of going freelance:
- Make sure you have at least three months rent/mortgage payments in the bank just in case.
- Have at least a couple of decent clients lined to make sure you can hit the ground running. Spending your first few weeks waiting for the phone to ring is not a good way to start.
- Have as many potential revenue streams as possible. Different clients, personal projects, additional part time work etc should hopefully all add up to both a decent income and a decent safety net in case one or two don't work out.
I'll let you know how it goes...
Religious IntoleranceWith the 9/11 anniversary just passed, fanatical american pastors wanting to burn korans, outcry over the 'ground zero mosque' (which is neither), fighting in the Middle East etc. I just wanted to take a moment to express my own opinion about religious intolerance - particularly in the main three western religions.
Christianity (and all its different sects), Judaism and Islam all worship the same god. You emphasise different prophets and worship in different ways but you're all trying to show your love and respect to the same overlord. Agreed?
Now if I had three children, one of whom showed me love by bringing me chicken wings, one by bringing me pie and the other by bringing me a pint of quality real ale I would love them all the same. No child would be right or wrong with his/her choice of token of affection, as the actual token doesn't matter, simply the sentiment behind it. Exactly the same applies to religions - no faith is more or less correct in it's form of worship, just different.
So let's stop all the fighting!
Atheism != NihilismI was raised by Buddhist parents and spent most of my teenage years wondering about what religious ideas were out there, what made sense to me given my lifelong scientific inclination and how their ideas govern the way you live your life. After years of agnosticism and no small amount of time spent in the Buddhist world I finally reached a point where I could no longer try to rationalise any ideology based upon any form of supernatural beliefs. Yeah there is plenty that science has yet to understand fully but the basic laws of physics definitely preclude overlords, creationism, heaven etc.
Now I've heard many ridiculous ideas about the nature of Atheism over the years, the top ones being:
"Atheists don't believe in anything"
I think you'll find that's Nihilism. Atheists simply don't believe in supernatural religious ideas.
"Atheists can't have a moral code"
What? just because we can't be scared by any sort of 'god is watching you' ideas doesn't mean we don't know right from wrong. Equally when you see the scale of war, pain and persecution brought by followers of one faith upon another you can never claim that religion in itself provides any kind of moral code. Good and bad exist everywhere. Deal with it.
"Atheists have nothing to live for"
So because we accept that when we die we are gone for good we must therefore live out our lives in abject misery knowing we're doomed? Screw that! I'm here, I'm healthy and there is a whole load of living I want to do. In fact I think that Atheists can have a much greater appreciation of life exactly because they know they only get one shot.
I actually prefer to refer to myself as a Humanist rather an an Atheist. To me the word 'Atheist' defines me by what I don't believe, whereas the word 'Humanist' defines me by what I do believe in - life, love and the goodness of people :)