Urban Dharma Newsletter...
May 4, 2004
This Issue: Morality Without God
1. Morality with and without a creator God.
2. If There's No God in Buddhism, Are Buddhists Atheists? ...Lama
3. Temple/Center/Website: The Journal of Buddhist
4. Book/CD/Movie: The Science of
Good and Evil : Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow
the Golden Rule -- by Michael Shermer
and Moral Code - The most important element of the Buddhist
reform has always been its social and moral code. That moral
code taken by itself is one of the most perfect which the world
has ever known. On this point all testimonials from hostile
and friendly quarters agree; philosophers there may have been,
religious preachers, subtle metaphysists, disputants there may
have been, but where shall we find such an incarnation of love,
love that knows no distinction of caste and creed or colour,
a love that over- flowed even the bound of humanity, that embraced
the whole of sentient beings in its sweep, a love that embodied
as the gospel of universal 'Maitri' and Ahimsa. - (Prof.
Morality - The moral code of Buddhism has given a pure expression
to natural morality. - (Rev. Adolph Thomas)
Is Based on Freedom - Buddhist morality is based on freedom,
i.e. on individual development. It is therefore relative. In
fact there cannot be any morality nor any ethical principle
it there is compulsion or determination from an agent outside
ourselves. Therefore the idea of a Creator and ruler of this
world takes away the very foundation of morality and ethics;
for how can we be made responsible for our faults if we have
been created with them or in such a weak form that we cannot
resist the evil. - (Anagarika B. Govinda, A German Scholar)
and Bad - From the Buddhist point of view, however, there
is no riddle at all. The sources of evil are found, not in the
inscrutable purpose of a good God, or in the machination of
a devil, but simply in the history of man himself. - (Revolt
in The Temple)
Truths - Most of the moral truths prescribed by the gospel
are to be met within the Buddhist scriptures --in reading the
particulars of the life of the last Buddha Gotama, it is impossible
not to feel reminded of many circumstances relating to our Saviour's
life, such as it has been sketched by the Evangelists. - (Bishop
and Morality - In Buddhism there can be no real morality
without knowledge, no real knowledge without morality; both
are bound up together like heat and light in a flame. As Prof.
E. W. Hopkins says, in Buddha's thought there is no incompatibility
between the ethical ideal and that devotion to mental training
which is prominent in early Buddhism, but is not regarded as
a requisite in Christianity. Christianity seldom emphasises,
even when it permits, the utmost intellectual freedom, while
Buddhism establishes the faith intellectually from the beginning."
What constitutes Bodhi is not mere intellectual enlightenment,
but humanity. The consciousness of moral excellence is of the
very essence of Bodhi. "Love thy neighbour as thyself"
and "love thine enemy" are indeed noble precepts,
but so long as one does not understand the reason why he should
love his neighbour and even his enemy, these precepts must necessarily
remain a dead letter. If it is selfish to love an enemy because
such love will lead one to Bodhi, it is worse still to do good
to others for the sake of rewards in heaven or for fear of punishment
in hell. - (Bhikkhu Dhammapala, "Physics and Metaphysics")
- Kamma is nothing else but the force, the energy produced by
action, action itself. The actions pass away, but in their passing
they have influenced, conditioned, caused; and the effect rising
therefrom will in its turn be the new cause of new effects.
We are like silkworms, says the Vedanta. We make the thread
which is our Karma out of our own substance and spin the cocoon,
and in course of time we are imprisoned inside. But this not
for ever. In that cocoon we shall develop spiritual realisation,
and like the butterfly come out free. - (Bhikkhu Dhammapala,
"Physics and Metaphysics")
- The Buddha gave an ethical twist to the thought of His time.
We find in the early teaching of Buddhism three marked characteristics,
an ethical earnestness, an absence of any theological tendency
and an aversion to metaphysical speculation. - (Dr. S. Radhakrishnan)
Man of Genius - In this sphere He gave expression to truths
of everlasting value and advanced the ethics not of India alone
but of humanity. Buddha was one of the greatest ethical men
of genius ever bestowed upon the world. - (Albert Schweitzer,
a leading Western philosopher)
Evolution - The study of ethical theory in the West has
hitherto resulted in a deplorable failure through irreconcilable
logomachies and the barrenness of speculation cut off from the
actual fact. The only true method of ethical inquiry is surely
the historical method. And I cannot be wrong in maintaining
that the study of Buddhism should be considered a necessary
part of any ethical course and should not be dismissed in a
page or two but receive its due proportion in the historical
perspective of ethical evolution. - (Prof. Rhys Davids)
Moral Teaching - It is not too much to say that almost the
whole of the moral teachings of the Gospels as distinct from
the dogmatic teaching will be found in Buddhist writings several
centuries older than the Gospels." - (Prof. Rhys Davids)
Culture - Buddhism has done more for the advance of world
civilization and true culture than any other influence in the
chronicles of mankind. - (H. G. Wells)
Morality with and without a creator God.
Winnipeg Free Press (Canada) of Saturday October 14,
2000 printed an article in the Faith page entitled, Is evolution
based on illogical premise? by John M. Craig of Winnipeg.
In the article Mr. Craig gives his reasons for not believing
in evolution. The main reason given is the lack of fossils of
transitional creatures (half fish/half amphibians). He then
goes on to surmise that as such, creation must be accurate.
No reasoning is given to prove that creation is accurate. After
assuming that creation is accurate, Mr. Craig concludes his
article as follows:
conclusion, we are raising a generation of young people to believe
that there is no God and that they are just accidents evolved
from algae! What does this belief do to the value of human life
and the basis for morality? If we are nothing but evolved animals,
then why shouldn’t we live like animals? Isn’t the
rise in bloodshed of the last century just ‘survival’
of the fittest. Aren’t teen pregnancies, mass abortions
(30 million in the US alone since Roe V. Wade") and STD’s
including AIDS simply the end product of a philosophy that has
people living with no foundation for morals?
is a 19th-century philosophy that has been destroyed by 20th-century
science, yet the myth continues to be perpetrated, not on scientific
grounds, but because it is what justifies our immoral society
today. If people admitted their was a creator then they would
become morally responsible to that creator. Too many people
today don’t want to be morally responsible to anyone,
other than to their own ego.
and Jews can be confident that the first 11 chapters of geneses
records actual history, especially the six literal days for
creation." -- John M. Craig, Winnipeg.
was a host of scientific literature in response to the above
article by professors and scientist who supported the theory
of evolution. The following article which was from a moral and
ethical point of view as opposed to a scientific point of view
was not printed by the Winnipeg Free Press due to lack
found the article "Is evolution based on illogical premise?"
in last Saturday’s Winnipeg Free Press, by John M. Craig
quite interesting and would like to share my views with your
world religions claim that their holy books state that God created
the universe and man. The interesting point is that each of
these holy books claim that it is their God and only their God
that created the universe and each holy book then describes
an interesting story as to how this was accomplished.
at the different holy books impartially, it is only fair to
say that they all have an equal chance of being accurate. Each
of these holy books have been read and researched by many of
its followers who are convinced of the Truth found in their
book. As acceptance is based on a book written many years after
the death of its founder as opposed to direct experience, they
all have equal right to their claim. As such if we had four
religions that claim that their holy book is correct they each
have 25% chances of being accurate just as if we had five religions
that made such claim they each have 20% chances of being accurate.
order to be fair by all the holy books, one could also presume
that all of these Gods had a hand in the creation of the world.
After all the universe is very complex. Unfortunately none of
the holy books talk of such cooperation and harmony. And as
such, it is doubtful if any of the theist religions are willing
to accept such a possibility.
possibility also exists that it is the same God that each holy
book refers to with different names. The problem with this is
that each holy book has a different account of how creation
took place and a different description of the characteristics
of their God. Some portray God as being compassionate while
others portray God as being jealous and cruel. Different books
may have different names for God but which of the books has
the authentic version? It would be arrogant for any one to claim
that his and only his holy book is correct, just because he
happened to be born into a particular religious tradition.
personally have no issue with any religion that wants to take
the responsibility for creation so long as the said God takes
full responsibility for His creation. If a scientists creates
an advanced robot with super intelligence that benefits mankind
he gets credit and accolade for his creation. But if his robot
malfunctions and starts maiming and killing indiscriminately,
the scientist is held responsible for its actions. Similarly
a manufacturer of any item is fully responsible for its defects
and the result and suffering that may be caused by its defects
just as he enjoys the profits and accolades of his success.
such it is logical that which ever God created the universe
should be held fully responsible for His creation. The earth
quakes, volcanoes, floods and famine that take countless lives
and cause untold suffering are the results of the flaws in the
creation of the world. And just as we can credit the creator
God for the gentle rain and sun that resulted in a good harvest
we can credit the creator God for the untold misery. Similarly
the blind and the handicapped, the sick and the lame can credit
God for their suffering and misery just as they credit God for
their talents and good health. We could even go as far as to
place all evil and good on Gods shoulders. After all God created
man. Even if He decided to give free-will to man it was His
sole decision and as such He should take responsibility for
any lack of wisdom in such a decision. As an all-knowing God,
I am sure he was aware that some of his creations would cause
more suffering and misery than joy and happiness. (Beyond
Belief - A.L. De Silva; BuddhaSasana web site).
question then arises is God compassionate or is he omnipotent?
All the misery and suffering in the world leads me to believe
that He can not be both? Most people would like to assume that
God is better than us and that our goal is to be as God like
as possible and as such use Him as a role model. And yet, if
we were omnipotent would we cause such misery? We now live in
a society where we are taught to help our children grow with
love and understanding as opposed to spanking and hitting. How
does one relate to a God who kills and maims to teach us to
grow? As I have previously indicated, despite my non-belief
in creation, I have no issue with religions claiming that their
God created the world. They have to, however, in my opinion
take full responsibility for His creation.
do, however, take exception to Mr. Craig’s concluding
statements. He writes, "In conclusion we are raising a
generation of young people to believe that there is no God and
that they are just accidents evolved from algae. What does this
belief do to the value of human life and the basis of morality?..."
Mr Craig implies that one can not be moral or value human life
if one does not believe in a creator God. There are many people
who do not believe in creation or an omnipotent creator God,
who are moral. Compassion, loving kindness, generosity, tolerance,
and universal responsibility exists in followers of every religion
and in those that do not subscribe to any religion.
would like to draw the reader’s attention to Buddhism,
one such religion that has boundless compassion and wisdom that
does not believe in an omnipotent creator God. And this is what
the great scientist Albert Einstein says of Buddhism (What
intellectuals say about Buddhism - Dr. K. Sri. Dhammananda):
religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should
transcend a personal God, avoid dogmas and theology. Covering
both the natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious
sense arising from the experience of all things natural and
spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description.
If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific
needs it would be Buddhism."
tolerance and compassion found in Buddhism has been acknowledge
by all informed religious leaders just as the compassion found
on the Sermon on the Mount is acknowledged by all religious
leaders. In fact the similarities found in the Sermon on the
Mount and the Dhammapada of the Buddha have been the authorship
of many scholars and academics.
Roy. C Amore, professor of religion at the University of Windsor
in his book Two masters one Message has done a wonderful
comparison of the startling similarities and differences of
the two religions and has come to some enlightening conclusions.
Morality exists in both religions despite their different beliefs
on creation. Is this just coincidence or is it possible that
one religion borrowed from the other? Interesting reading especially
as the Buddha was born more than 500 years before Christ. Gruber
and Kirsten in their book, The Original Jesus - Buddhist
Sources of Christianity goes into an in-depth study of not
only the similarities in some of the teachings on morality but
the historical beginning and spread of the teachings. These
are but few of the books that address some of the similarities
in two of the world’s leading theist and non-theist religions
both of which contain deep compassion..
Paul Dahlke of Germany in his Buddhists Essays states,
"It is the knowledge of the law of cause and effect, action
and reaction, that urges a man to refrain from evil and gather
good. A believer in cause and effect knows only too well that
it is his own actions that make his life miserable or otherwise".
Dr. Dahlke is referring to the Buddhist doctrine of kamma, where
intentional wholesome and unwholesome actions have wholesome
and unwholesome reactions at the opportune time and the doctrine
of rebirth. Many scholars and academics have researched rebirth.
Many Lives Many Masters - Brian Weiss MD, Rebirth as
Doctrine and Experience - Francis Story, Twenty Cases
Suggestive of Reincarnation- Ian Stevenson, and Many
Mansions - Gina Cerminara are some that point towards rebirth
and kamma. In this instance Dr. Dahlke shows that knowledge
of the operation of the law of kamma and rebirth also leads
its believers to morality. It is clear that belief in an omnipotent
creator God is not an essential requirement for morality.
Kornfield in his book A Path with Heart and Howard Cutler
MD. and His Holiness The Dalai Lama in their book the Art
of Happiness effectively convey the boundless compassion
and loving kindness found in Buddhism – a religion that
does not believe in an omnipotent God or creation. Buddhism
is a non-violent, compassionate religion, and throughout its
peaceful existence of over 2500 years, not a drop of blood has
been shed in the spread of the teaching of the Buddha. Unfortunately
history does not support Mr. Craig’s claims that belief
in a creator God is required to value human life. Many theist
religions have used the sword to spread their religion.
compassion found in Buddhism extends to all living beings. Not
only are Buddhists to refrain from killing all living beings
but Buddhists are advised by the Buddha to refrain from any
livelihood that is harmful to living beings such as the selling
of animals for killing and manufacture and sale of weapons and
armaments used in war fare. Practising Buddhists accept these
precepts or modes of discipline (which are not commandments)
after careful examination and understanding. And then with effort
they try to live up to their commitment.
believe that it is prudent to study all world religions before
one claims that belief in an omnipotent God and creation are
necessary for one to be moral. It is understandable for one
who is brought up in a particular religious tradition to view
the holy scriptures of that religion as being authentic. We
must remember, however, that the frog in the well thinks it
is the whole world. As we embark on the 21st century it is prudent
that we study all world religions to find truth, compassion
and tolerance. One will then see that morality and wholesomeness
exists in every religion. All we need to do is to seek out the
religion/philosophy/path that appeals to one’s intellect
and heart. Once one has confidence, gained through question
and analytical examination of one’s chosen path, one will
practice with effort in order to reach one’s spiritual
potential. Human beings are varied and have different needs.
Is it not wonderful that we have so many religious traditions
to assist us in reaching our full spiritual potential?
If There's No God in Buddhism, Are Buddhists Atheists? ...Lama
Is there a God in Buddhism? I read in a book by the pope that
Buddhism is atheistic and life-denying.
I read the same thing in the pope's book "Crossing the
Threshold of Hope," in a chapter called "Buddha?"
But the pontiff should know better, or at least be better informed
by his scholar-advisers. Buddhism is neither atheistic nor life-denying.
We can witness this in the great surge of socially activist
Buddhists in the Western countries today, which includes the
widespread movement of so-called "engaged Buddhism"
founded in part by the Vietnamese Zen master, poet, and peace
activist Thich Nhat Hanh. There is great affirmation and hope
in Buddhist teaching, or Buddha-dharma, and great respect and
reverence for life in all its forms, human and otherwise.
fact, Buddhism is generally considered to be not atheistic but
agnostic, in that, the Buddha himself did not deny the existence
of God. The Indian teacher and social reformer teacher called
Sakyamuni Buddha is reported to have either kept silent when
asked whether God existed, or in other cases to have said that
his Noble Eightfold path led to enlightenment and deathless
peace, and did not require faith or belief in a divine being
or supreme creator. "Buddhism Without Beliefs," by
the former monk and Buddhist scholar Stephen Batchelor, offers
a fine argument for the agnostic thinking of basic Buddhism.
Do you believe in hell? And if not, what keeps you from sin?
I don't believe in eternal damnation or hell. Everything is
impermanent, or so it seems to me. Transience and impermanence
is also one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism, simply a
fact of life from the Buddhist perspective. Of course, it does
seem like some beings do live in and experience truly hellacious
states of mind, due to their karma. That is probably enough
suffering for anyone, and my heart goes out to them, wishing
they may expiate their sins, exhaust their bad karma, and eventually
evolve out of the darkness.
keeps me from sin is a felt understanding about karmic cause
and effect: that what goes around comes around, that as we sow,
we shall reap. That, combined with my deep wish to do no harm.
I am also trained in and committed to the five fundamental lay
Buddhist ethical precepts of cherishing life, honesty, right
action, non-intoxication, and sexual responsibility, which helps
me stay grounded and balanced, experience spiritual wellness
and wholeness, and keeps me in alignment with the universal
law. This is Buddha's Middle Path, free of extremism, and it
brings freedom, inner peace and harmony, wisdom, and joyous
of hellfire is not necessary to motivate me to live a moral
life, challenging as that may occasionally prove to be. I prefer
to strive for virtue and to live a wholesome, happy, nonviolent,
service-oriented life that contributes to the greater good.
For I would rather be part of the solution to the world's woes
than part of that problem.
The Journal of Buddhist Ethics
- The Journal of Buddhist Ethics has been established
to promote the study of Buddhist ethics through the publication
of research, book reviews, and hosting occasional online conferences.
- The Journal of Buddhist Ethics is the first academic
journal dedicated entirely to Buddhist ethics, and is innovative
in adopting a totally electronic mode of publication. In most
other respects, however, it functions as a traditional scholarly
journal. Research articles as well as discussions and critical
notes submitted to the journal are subject to blind peer review.
Concept of an Online Journal - An online journal differs
from a traditional journal in publishing electronically as opposed
to a printed format. The Journal of Buddhist Ethics also
publishes material on an ongoing rather than a periodic basis,
eliminating any backlog between acceptance and publication.
An online journal is NOT the same as a newsgroup, discussion
list, or bulletin board: The Journal of Buddhist Ethics
is none of these things and does not function in this way.
Publish Online? - Online journals are a logical development
in the use of information technology. The dissemination of information
through this medium has three main advantages over publication
in the traditional manner, namely, cost, speed, and ease of
access. Other advantages of an electronic medium include keyword
searching and the use of multimedia and hypertext formats.
Policy - The editors are committed to the widest dissemination
for material published by the journal. As well as publishing
online they will also explore possibilities for the publication
of the contents of the journal from time to time in partnership
with traditional presses.
Classifications - The Journal of Buddhist Ethics
interprets "ethics" in a broad sense as including
subject matter in the ten areas listed below.
Vinaya and Jurisprudence
3. Philosophical Ethics
4. Human Rights
5. Ethics and Psychology
6. Ecology and the Environment
7. Social and Political Philosophy
8. Cross-cultural Ethics
9. Ethics and Anthropology
10. Interfaith Dialogue on Ethics
Vinaya and Jurisprudence - Research into all aspects of
Buddhist monastic discipline. The origins and development of
the Vinaya; its categories, structure, and organization; its
provisions on specific matters; comparative studies of the Vinayas
of different schools; legal and jurisprudential principles.
Medical Ethics - Issues in contemporary medical ethics and
biotechnology; abortion, embryo research, reproductive technologies
(IVF, AID etc.), and genetic engineering; AIDS; organ transplants;
resource allocation; informed consent; coma patients and the
persistent vegetative state; criminal and medical law; suicide;
defining death; terminal care and euthanasia; state medicine
and health policy.
Philosophical Ethics - Theories of ethics and meta-ethics;
codes of ethics; moral obligations; altruism and compassion;
virtues; patterns of justification; teleological, deontological,
and consequentialist theories; situation ethics; the quality
of life; the value of life; personhood; ethics and human good;
natural law; the status of moral norms; moral absolutes; "skillful
Human Rights - The Buddhist basis for a doctrine of human
rights and its provisions; the concept of "rights"
in Buddhism; fundamental rights of individuals; autonomy and
self-determination; human dignity; equality; justice; freedom;
privacy; the protection of rights; women's rights; international
codes, charters and declarations; human rights abuses in Buddhist
Ethics and Psychology - The relationship between psychology
and moral conduct; the psychology of moral judgments; the analysis
of ethical terminology in the Abhidharma and elsewhere;
the concepts of motive, intention, will, virtue, and character;
the emotions; desire; love; moral choice and self-determination;
related issues in philosophical psychology.
Ecology, Animals and the Environment - Responsibilities
and obligations toward nature; animal rights; the moral status
of animals and non-sentient life; experimentation on animals;
philosophy of biology; speciesism; evolution; future generations;
the relationship between Buddhist and other environmental philosophies.
Social and Political Philosophy - The Buddhist blueprint
for a just society; the nature and role of the state; rights
and duties of governments and citizens; democracy and alternative
political systems; socialism, communism, and capitalism; social,
educational, and welfare provisions; Buddhist law; law and ethics;
Buddhism and war; nuclear warfare; revolution; capital punishment;
justifiable killing; pacifism and ahimsa.
Cross-cultural Ethics - Buddhism and comparative religious
ethics; methodologies for the study of Buddhist ethics.
Ethics and Anthropology - Ethics in practice in Buddhist
societies; ethics and social mores; the influence of indigenous
customs and attitudes on moral teachings; rites de passage;
variation in marriage and other customs; the great tradition
and the little tradition; moral relativism; cultural pluralism.
Interfaith Dialogue - Similarities and differences between
Buddhism and other world religions in the field of ethics; the
basis for dialogue; ethics and metaphysics; hermeneutics and
the derivation of moral norms from scripture.
The Science of Good and Evil : Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care,
Share, and Follow the Golden Rule -- by Michael Shermer
Publishers Weekly - Drawing on evolutionary psychology,
Skeptic publisher and Scientific American contributor Shermer
(Why People Believe Weird Things) argues that the sources of
moral behavior can be traced scientifically to humanity's evolutionary
origins. He contends that human morality evolved as first an
individual and then a species-wide mechanism for survival. As
society evolved, humans needed rules governing behavior-e.g.,
altruism, sympathy, reciprocity and community concern-in order
to ensure survival. Shermer says that some form of the Golden
Rule-"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you"-provides
the foundation of morality in human societies. Out of this,
he develops the principles of what he calls a "provisional
ethics" that "is neither absolute nor relative,"
that applies to most people most of the time, while allowing
for "tolerance and diversity." According to the "ask-first"
principle, for instance, the performer of an act simply asks
its intended receiver whether the act is right or wrong. Other
principles include the "happiness" principle ("always
seek happiness with someone else's happiness in mind"),
the liberty principle ("always seek liberty with someone
else's liberty in mind") and the moderation principle ("when
innocent people die, extremism in the defense of anything is
no virtue, and moderation in the protection of everything is
no vice"). Shermer's provisional ethics might reflect the
messy ways that human moral behavior developed, but his simplistic
principles establish a utilitarian calculus that not everyone
will find acceptable. 35 b&w illus
- Reviewer: from Wyoming ...from an avid reader of the life
sciences and philosophy, Shermer's survey of evolutionary ethics
is excellent start to finish. His prologue is simply the best
I've read on the subject. I highly recommend this book without
- Reviewer: From Colorado Springs, Colorado United States
...Shermer's discussion of morality in this book is a continuation
of that he started in How We Believe, though that book was less
dry and more complete. Still, he bravely tackles morality with
an approach not unlike Nietsche's (one must drop the crutch
of religion and take responsibility for their own morals) only
less angry and more scientific (hence the dryness). Shermer
does do a fair job of trying to explain the beauty of individual
moral responsibility, but the book concerns mainly the historical
or 'evolutionary' explaination of morals, in that they serve
a societal function. (A good companion book to this would be
Sagan's Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors.)
lens seems greatly shaped by Darwin. That may be because one
of his books between How We Believe and this on was In Darwin's
Shadow (about Alfred Wallace), or perhaps Darwin's science is
pretty solid stuff. At any rate, to apply a scientific approach
to morality is to try and replace thousands of years of mythology
which did the job until recently. Can morality be explained
without religious ties? That's the interesting part of it.
was going to give this book 4 stars because of the slight disappointment
I had with Shermer's writing style, but the topic is so vast
and this book gives one of the best discussions of it I've seen
in a long time. So it's a Fiver!
- Reviewer: from Lafayette, IN USA ...Can humans be moral
without relying on some divine list of rights and wrongs? This
book describes how morality could emerge from the need to optimize
in-groups ("us") and coalesce in a common defense
from out-groups ("them"). When we are seen as the
descendents of hundreds of generations of hunter-gatherers,
the idea is that certain lines of behavior might confer reproductive
advantage, thus the genes motivating in-group cooperation and
mutual defense towards common out-groups would prosper into
the future. The rules of such cooperation and mutual altruism
become codified into moral systems. A superb book.
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