I know Buddhism is often called a religion, but the more I learn the less theistic it seems.

Karen Armstrong's (quite readable) biography of the Buddha claims that while he believed gods exist, he felt that their presence didn't matter when it came to one's own enlightenment. To me, this rings true. Buddhism feels more like an approach to life, an ethic, rather than a theistic religion.

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Hello Mike,

I agree with your sentiments. I too have read Armstrong's book "Buddha". It presented a very vivid, contextualized picture of the context from which the historical Buddha derived his way of thinking. The way she put it, it was almost as though he saw the "gods" as simple mental/psychological exercises that people applied towards soothing anxiety etc. For him the core was the 4 Noble Truths; none of which had anything to do with "gods".
My understanding is that Buddha advised his chelas to avoid metaphysical speculation and focus on the here and now. Buddhism deals with the issue of SUFFERING, therefore it does not need Gods because Gods cannot free us from suffering. Dukkha happens in the mind, and we have to study the mind to remove it.

My own interest in Buddhism stems from 1. having empirically experienced the benefits of zazen, 2. the fact that it's the most empirical and scientific religion out there, where I don't have to believe in the supernatural, and 3. coming to terms with the fact that I've become an atheist has made me EXTREMELY cinical, and I'm noticing that this puts me in danger of becoming bitter and arrogant.

I've met atheists who were bitter and arrogant and I do NOT want to turn out like that. I want to cultivate a compassionate heart, and cultivate wisdom, patience, humility and other virtues in order to be a happy atheist :) and this can be done through empirical methods of meditation.

In fact, there's a trend and a slight possibility for much of Buddhism to fully evolve into a Western science. Neuroscientists are running tests on the brains of Buddhist lamas from Tibet to observe and document what happens in their brains when they meditate on compassion or practice their other meditation techniques, and atheist writer Sam Harris actually wrote an article in the Shambhala Sun where he advocates for what he calls a 'contemplative science' saying this:

What the world most needs at this moment is a means of convincing human beings to embrace the whole of the species as their moral community. For this we need to develop an utterly nonsectarian way of talking about the full spectrum of human experience and human aspiration. We need a discourse on ethics and spirituality that is every bit as unconstrained by dogma and cultural prejudice as the discourse of science is. What we need, in fact, is a contemplative science, a modern approach to exploring the furthest reaches of psychological well-being.

Already at Amazon.com you can find a couple of books that deal with this 'science of contemplation'.
I have just recently started learning about Buddhism and have already decided that (to me) one of the central cores of Buddhism is to believe in YOURSELF. Making yourself a better (enlightened) person is what it's all about.

I don't think of Buddhism as a religion, but see it as a philosophy and a moral means to live by. I've read a lot on the different branches of Buddhism and the (what I see as) theist-like worshiping of Buddha statues and even the mysticism part of it, but I choose not to be swayed by that because it's just not for me. I believe this is my choice since the Buddha always taught not to do what others think/say is right, but to think for yourself.

There's no denying that if the world (the U.S. for starters!) would open themselves up to the Buddhist philosophy things would be a little better than they are, don't you think? ;) Where has all the morality gone? When did all this materialism happen that has made people (a LOT of U.S. people) so greedy? I really don't see what's so hard about living an honest life.

At the end of the day, I think in the broad sense of things, yes, Buddhists and Atheists are interchangeable as far as being non-theist. IMHO, people who live by the Buddhist philosophy are probably a bit happier. :)
"The terms No Religion just means that one are not affiliated with a religion, one can be a religious individualist who dont' affiliate, one can still be a believer in gods and other supernatural things like talking to your dead parents through a Medium."

I totally agree with this statement. Unfortunately, I have never seen "atheist" as an option on any form I've ever filled out. I admittedly use "No Religion" if forced to a choice, but what else can you do?

This reminds me of when I was signing my granddaughter up for K-4 kindergarten in August. When I got to the "race" choices, I told the woman there was no proper choice for my granddaughter. When I explained that she is bi-racial, the woman told me it was ok to check "black" and "white" as choices. I was amazed that the acknowledgment of multi-racial people has FINALLY come to light in the U.S. (imagine that, it only took until 2009...).

My point is (or hope is) maybe someday the almighty government will open their blind eyes and see that atheists really do exist and add it as a commonly used choice on any form that asks for "religious preference".
A lot of the organized Buddhist sects have a theistic ring to them, most especially Tibetan Buddhism. The core beliefs of Buddhism are decidedly non-theistic since they speak of how to comport yourself in this life.

What muddies the water, of course, is that somewhere along the line, either through the use of Buddhism as a state tool or through the influence of some aspect of Hinduism, the Buddha was deified, and the concept of reincarnation was added. Zen was sort of a fundamentalist movement in that it sought to remove the heavy supernatural elements and go "back to basics." That, and combine the basics of Taoist thinking as evidenced in the Tao Te Ching. Even still, the various sutras and dharma talks of various Zen masters contain a lot of supernatural-sounding language. Doesn't mean any of it is actually supernatural. Or theistic.

I haven't yet read "Buddhism Without Belief" but will put my hands on it eventually. I've come to the point in my thinking where Zen especially is a great way to put things in perspective, but it is fundamentally inconsistent with a theistic belief, depending on your brand of theism. Buddhism doesn't combine well with the concept of a personal god or an eternal soul except for the whole reincarnation bit, which again, I believe was added in early on due to Hinduism's prevalence.

If you can put your hands on it, I recommend Red Pine's The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma. Also the talks of Lin-Chi ("If you see the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha!") are good.


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