peanut, on Dec 7 2004, 05:19 AM, said:
Where is there compassion in religion? Where is the need for religion in compassion ?
I think if you take a closer look at Buddhism, you'll find one its focal points is compassion. In fact, the main Buddhist leaders today make a big point about compassion in our daily lives - the Dalai Lama, Thicht Nat Hahn and others.
But you also asked why do we have to believe in anything? Do you mean believe in something supernatural, something greater or beyond ourselves? Angels, demons, gods and ghosts? We don't. But that puts an awfully heavy burden of responsibility and accountability on the individual and not everyone is up to carrying the load. Some people need the supernatural to escape being crushed by the weight of day-to-day reality. Many people choose to believe because it's easier.
Religion answers many questions, even if the answers are sometimes wrong. Like creationism: people who believe in it find it easier to accept the simple tale of creation than to tackle the complexity of evolution. The world is already too busy, too complicated, too hurried for many people, so they fall back on the comfortable, convenient answers, the pre-digested pablum of faith so they don't have to think any more.
There is evidence that it may be a genetic tendency in humankind to be religious. Sometimes we transpose that need to believe onto something else - political parties for example. I recall seeing Triumph of the Will, the movie that showed a Nazi rally looking suspiciously religious in form. The fervour for Bush and his right-wing lunatics at conventions sometimes looked a lot like a revival tent meeting... without the good music, however (Wagner isn't quite the toe-tapper that gospel music can be... )
Of course we really believe in a lot of things: we believe in political parties, legal contracts, social ethics, banks, heavily-scripted "reality" TV shows that purport to be spontaneous... We believe tobacco companies when they say smoking is smart, sexy and safe. We believe auto manufacturers when they tell us SUVs are nimble, safe and economical. We believe it's safe to drive ahead when the traffic light turns green. We believe food companies when they tell us the meat on our plates comes from happy, well-treated animals who were eager to give up their lives to feed us. And we believe them when they tell us all those chemicals they crammed into the animals and into the finished product are safe. We believe in Santa Claus, that Wal-Mart has the lowest price, that fast food is healthy food and that our leaders wouldn't lie to us.
We believe in newspaper horoscopes, lucky numbers, black cats and walking under ladders. We won't put a 13th floor on buildings, we believe full moons cause more crimes and that we didn't do anything to invite the terrorist attacks of September 11. We believe eBay really sends out emails asking us to send our username and password to some web site in Russia. We believe our country is the best, the most honourable, the most decent of a bad lot.
We're susceptible to all sorts of vile things and criminals because we believe - we have faith that people aren't really out to harm us, that companies and corporations don't really want us to be stupid sheep while they fleece us out of our earnings. We like to believe in fantasy ad fairy tale, turning from Santa Claus to the myth our leaders really care about something other than their own well-being. We're gullible because we want to believe people are nice, good and really care for us, especially when they're in government or corporations.
We believe people are basically good, honest and caring.
And we're always inevitably wrong about so much! It's hard not to be too paranoid in a world where everyone's out to get you.
But do we need to believe in gods, demons, fairies, Santa Claus, angels, taras, ghosts, oracles, spirits, ouija boards, faith healers or other supernatural claptrap? No: we can substitute all sorts of secular beliefs for the supernatural and still end up as screwed as we do with religious beliefs.
Buddhist is more pragmatic and practical. It doesn't require a belief in any supernatural entity. In fact, you can simply practice it without carrying any of the baggage right down to sloughing off reincarnation. It's pretty much open to all levels of adherent. You don't need to believe in a lot, outside yourself. The Buddha was just a man, one of the guys (except that he didn't drink beer and watch hockey). He awoke to some elemental truths and said we can all realize them through ethical behaviour and a few simple practices.
No magic, no mystery, no supernatural beings. Any that accumulated are later additions from people who weren't as confident in themselves and wanted some supernatural help. Some schools reject them, others embrace them. In Buddhism you can choose what works for you, as long as you stick to a few simple, basic tenets.
For me, Buddhism works because it's obvious and logical. But most of all because it encourages universal compassion and patience. I lean heavily towards the former, but the latter sometimes eludes me. I'm working on it...