"Those who forget the past are destined to repeat it"
Buddhism for Atheists
Firstly 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!
Religious Intolerance
With 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 != Nihilism
I 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 :)