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Why Buddhism

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by Sangharakshita

... also came along. So she sat through the service very happily, and afterwards when the Padre or Missionary looked round, he found that she wasn*t there at the feast, so he went searching for her; so he found her separately by herself. So he said `Why aren*t you joining in the feast?' She -said `I*m not going to sit there with all those low caste people'. The Padre said, `but look here, you*re a Christian - you*ve embraced Christianity, so you*re following the Christian religion now, so how is it that you refuse to sit with these other Christians, who might have been low caste before, what does it matter?'. She said, `Yes, it*s true, I might have become a Christian, that*s very true, I have became a Christian, but that doesn*t mean I*ve given up my Dharma.' So in this way the word Dharma is used colloquially, even today, to signify, to mean these very practical observances of untouchability and so on and so forth appropriate to the caste to which one belongs. Now sometimes it happens, I need hardly tell you, that the religion into which one is born, doesn*t suit one. The son is not necessarily the same height, the same build as the father. The father*s suits don*t necessarily fit the son. So it*s just the same with religion. Your father, your mother might have been Christians, or they might have been Buddhists, they might have been Hindus, they might have been anything, but their religion does not necessarily suit you.

Very often, it may, but on a number of occasion, in a number of cases, it may not fit at all. One may not have any sympathy for this or that reason, with the religion into which one has been born. So what are such people to do? Supposing we do find ourselves in this situation - we*ve been born as a Christian or born as a Buddhist, or born as anything else, but we find that the ancestral religion doesn*t suit, so obviously, we must be, we should be free to choose some other teaching.

In ancient times this was hardly possible. One just didn*t know about other teachings, other religions - one knew only that into which one had been born. But nowadays the world has become as it were smaller; knowledge has expanded in many ways; horizons have widened. We might even say that a sort of global culture almost is beginning to develop - nowadays in this country since the last war, one can find so many people who are learning to appreciate for instance, Indian music or Indian dancing or Chinese poetry or Japanese prints - - things of this sort which were hardly heard of before the war, at least not heard of by ordinary people. So this is as it should be - every human being nowadays, in whatsoever country he lives, should have some contact with, some appreciation of the cultural traditions, the cultural products of countries other than his own, and especially in the West, we should have some knowledge, some appreciation, of the great cultures of the East. Well it*s just the same in the sphere of religion and philosophy - we shouldn*t limit ourselves just to culture, to the arts - we should be pursuing our search in this sphere of religion and philosophy. We should try to acquaint ourselves with the very highest achievements in these fields, regardless of the place of origin of these achievements.

I is really incumbent upon us, we may say, to know, for instance, the philosophy of Shankhara, the great Vedantic Hindu philosophy, as we know the philosophy of Plato, and to be acquainted, to be familiar, with the sayings of the Buddha, in the same way that we are familiar with the sayings of- Christ. Cultural and religious parochialism, we may say, has really no place in the modern world. We shouldn*t just adopt exclusively what lies nearest to hand: we shouldn*t think, that just because we*ve been born a Christian, that we*ve got to be a Christian; that we*ve been born as a Buddhist, or a Jew or whatever it may be, that we must belong to that. We should have a. look round, see what else there is in the world. Any other attitude we . may say, is unworthy of a thinking and reflecting human being. But after having had this look round, after having surveyed the religions and philosophies of the world, it may well be that we decide that after all we will continue to follow the religion into which we*ve been born - this might- in fact happen very often. But we won*t then be following it just because we happen to have been born into it - we won*t be following it out of ignorance as it were, we shall be following it out of Positive choice, even after we have known and appreciated the other teachings.

on the other hand, after making a general survey or study, of other religions and other teachings, we may be attracted by the teachings of a religion other than that into which we have been born - and then of course we should be free to follow that if we so wish. This brings me to another question - quite an important one - that is the question of religion in schools; or rather one might say, the teaching of religion in schools. I do Know that some of our younger Buddhists have got rather strange views on this particular subject, and I remember that in a summer school held by the Buddhist Society last August at (?) this topic was discussed in a number of the discussion groups which were held then; one might say that not everybody saw eye to eye on this particular topic, but there did seem to be a general consensus of opinion and feeling that there should not be any attempt to impose upon the child the religious beliefs of the teacher. As you probably know, nowadays religious instruction usually means the teaching of the Bible in schools. And generally, one-may say, it is done in a rather dull and unimaginative sort of way. Very often, it is done by someone who doesn*t believe in those particular teachings at all. I remember in my own case, when I was at school, we were usually taught the Bible by a teacher who was an atheist; we were taught - we were taught mainly by him for several months and the way in which he taught it was certainly not conducive to any kind of faith in Christianity. One can say that he simply ridiculed what he was supposed to be teaching. So this is the sort of thing which can happen. But even if one doesn*t find an extreme case of this sort, the fact that the Bible is taught, or that any religion is taught by someone who doesn*t really believe in it, can have one may say, a very dreadful moral effect upon the mind of the child. Children are very perceptive, very quick to understand whether you really believe what you tell them or not. Those of you who have children of your own will know this. Very often you have the experience of being asked questions by your children, and you know quite well that you can*t very easily fool them You might think that you*ve just sort or palmed off some explanation which you think may satisfy them, but which you*re not really satisfied with yourself , it may be one time, a question of general knowledge, or science or anything you like - but the child will always detect that sort of ring of lack of conviction in your voice, and your slight sort of uneasiness, and the child will know instinctively, intuitively that you don*t really believe what you*re saying, and that will undermine your authority with the child. So it*s just the same with the teaching of the Bible in schools - the child is all the time subtly aware that the teacher doesn*t believe what he is saying.

The teacher might. with his conscious mind try to put it across. But if he doesn*t fully accept it, if there*s some lurking doubt in his own mind, or if he*s even critical of what he*s supposed to be teaching, that doubt or that lack of conviction, that hesitation will communicate itself to the child, and it may be that the child is left with a sort of impression that his whole business of religion is fundamentally dishonest, and that*s why I say that this sort of teaching of the Bible or any religion can have a really dreadful moral effect. It will almost convince the child that anything to do with religion is dishonest; so that people are not honest when they discuss with each other; so the child will as it were by degrees be put off religion, lose interest in it, think it something in the course of which honesty and sincerity are not possible. So that*s why I feel, why I think-many people feel, that this sort of religious instruction, or this sort of denominational religious instruction or sectarian religious instruction, should be replaced in schools, by the study of comparative religion. This has already been done I know, in the case of some schools.

Sometimes here we get invitations from schools to give lectures on Buddhism, and we are told when we receive the invitation that the sixth form, or some other form, is having a serious of talks on comparative religion - that is the great religions being dealt with one by one. So this an extremely healthy sign, an extremely healthy development. And instead of trying to ram the tenets of one particular teaching down the children*s throats, what is more necessary, what is more required, is that the teachers concerned should try to arouse the interest of the children in, and the sympathy for the spiritual quest as it were, of man himself. They should try to show to the child that the questions which are dealt with by religion are important questions, and that the children themselves will one day have to face these problems and attempt some sort of solution.

They shouldn*t just try to hand them one particular religion as it were, ready-made. There should also be an emphasis on the fact that the acceptance of a particular religion is a personal matter; it*s a matter where everybody has to make up his or her own mind, and one cannot as it were take one*s religion ready-made from some other person. Even if one does accept the religion into which one has been born, one must as it were, remake it or remould it in ...

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