Since Buddhism is Non-Theistic, What Is the Source of Its Moral Teachings?
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Since Buddhism is Non-Theistic, What Is the Source of Its Moral Teachings?
Buddhism is a major religion in most parts of western Asia and it is a fast growing religion. The question of whether Buddhism is a religion or a lifestyle has always been of major concern. Some people argue that Buddhism is a religion since like all other religions; it is based on moral teachings. On the other hand, people consider Buddhism to be more of a lifestyle than a religion and the main reason for this argument is the lack of a 'god' in the religion. The term non-theistic is the best term used to describe the religion since it does not recognize the existence of a personal creator or god (Keown, Prebish & Husted, 1998). The religion is instead laid on the foundations of Buddha teachings referred to as Buddha-dharma. From these teaching the religion defines its principles and other ways of life that all members of the religion must observe. According to the founders, Buddha-dharma implies the truth as experienced and observed by Buddha the most enlightened.
Unlike other religions such as Christianity that base their teaching on strong doctrine and the existence of the supreme God, Buddhists consider their religion as a path to perfection (Keown, Prebish & Husted, 1998). Buddhists therefore consider their religion as a spiritual path, a spiritual practice, and a way of life. In addition, the religion considers dedication of its members to be a paramount value in understanding and living according to the religion. Dedication leads to spiritual enlightenment and this is the peak of the religion that every human being should strive to achieve. Spiritual enlightenment is not easily achieved and therefore every member of the religion should put personal effort in order to achieve perfection. Spiritual perfection is also achieved through perseverance and purification of ones moral values. These are some of the religion's basics principles and they provide guidance to its members. Although these principles create the uniqueness in Buddhism, they are related to principles of other religions.
Like other religions, Buddhism has teachings that are based on morals such as avoid stealing, killing, corruption, adultery anger, and ignorance. These teaching are similar to the teachings of other religions like Christianity and Muslim but they are based on a man's teachings. In addition to this, the values are based on teaching of a man (Buddha) who never considered himself as a god or a prophet. Just like any other common person, Buddha was uncertain about his future and therefore people always question the credibility of the religion. The question of credibility comes from the uncertainty observed in the founder of the religion and therefore people are not certain about their future too. This question has stood as a controversial question in the religion for the past two thousand years that the religion has been in existence. Buddhism as a religion does not claim the existence of a supreme god and therefore it is non-theistic. This religion being non-theistic raises the question of morality, which is the other controversial question concerning the religion. The religion on the other hand claim morality and this is viewed as a contradiction. If Buddhism is non-theistic, what is the source of its moral teachings? This paper therefore analyzes the moral teaching of the Buddhism and their sources as interpreted by the followers of the religion.
The term Buddhism is derived from the term "budhi" which when translated implies "to wake up" or be revived. Sddhata Guatama (Buddha) founded this philosophy and it forms the basis that governs the religion. As a religion, Buddhism began as a protestant movement that sprang from the rise of Hinduism religion about two thousand five hundred years ago. As stated by Ninan (2008) "many Christians as well as many Hindus make the erroneous statement that Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism." From this statement, it is obvious that Buddhism started as a protestant movement from the Hinduism religion. Hinduism as a religion is based on strong moral values and therefore Buddhism had to have stronger value in order to be successful. In order for the religion to convince its follower that it is better than the mother religion it had to have a strong foundation that is based on morals and this is the first source of Buddhism morals. The wake-up philosophy established by the founder of the religion also emphasize that Buddhist should be different from other religion. The need to have a difference from other religion makes the followers of the religion to strive in their pursuit of perfection as contained in the wake-up philosophy.
Buddha's teachings (dharma) are also a fundamental pillar of the religion that each member of the religion should observe. For almost three hundred years after the religion was founded these teaching were passed orally from one generation to another until the first century BC when the first recording was made. The dharma is the basic law of Buddhism and in addition to this; it is the basic law that holds the universe. As a basic law, dharma begins with teaching of morals that should be observed by each member of the religion. Initially, the law was passed and preserved orally and this made the people to practice as well as memorize the law. The people had no option than to live according to the moral teachings of this law and this applies to people in the modern days. In their attempt to live according to these laws, the Buddhist must be morally upright people. As a foundation of Buddhist teachings dharma emphasizes on morals and the consequences of lack of morals (Keown, 2005). Keown goes on to state that "Morality is woven into the fabric of Buddhist teachings and there is no major branch or school of Buddhism that fails to emphasize the importance of moral life." From this statement, it is obvious that the Buddhists acknowledge the dharma as their sole source of inspiration. The statement also implies that the dharma is a source of moral for the Buddhist religion.
The Hindus believe in the existence of the caste system as based on the law of reincarnation. The law also states that a person has the power to determine his or her next life in the present life. The Buddhists have their own version of the caste system referred to as the Karma or popularly referred as "the law of cause and effect" (Fowler, 1997). This law implies that for every action or act that human beings are engaged in there is a reward or an effect. Karma not only refers to actions committed by the body but also those committed by the mind (Fowler, 1997). This statement implies that in this life one has the ability to prepare or decide his or her next life. The statements also imply that every individual is responsible for his or her actions and therefore there is a price for wrong actions. Fowler (1997) continues to state "in order for one to achieve good Karma then it is important to live life according to dharma." Dharma implies the path of righteousness or simply doing what is right to other people and the universe. Since people always want to have a better future, they have no other option than to follow the dharma. In addition to this Buddhism requires that its entire follower should strive to achieve a perfect future and this is what binds the moral teachings of the religion.
Meditations and Yoga are a common practice among the Buddhists and this is part of their tradition. Although meditation is applied as a way to induce calmness and tranquility of the mind, it is closely connected to morality. As stated by Ospina (2009) "yoga is a science or a philosophy of human mind and the body; it is a way of life, moral as well as practical." Ospina (2009) goes on to state that Yoga is spiritual and does not require any commitment to a particular religion or Supreme Being. According to these statement Buddhism's yoga and meditation is a source of moral values for the people. The statement also implies that these practices are independent of the existence of a god and therefore people are required to have their own initiatives. The statement also implies that Buddhism as a religion does not have a person who is above everyone and therefore this confirms the in-existence of a god. The statement also implies that even though the religion does not have a supreme being it is founded on morals that every individual must observe. From the statements, it is obvious that every individual is responsible for their own actions and deeds and therefore they should strive to achieve perfection.
Finally, morals is a global and not a localized idea, moral is what ought to be done and not what an individual consider to be right. Morals are what other people observe in us and therefore no one has the ability to gauge his or her morals. According to Mahayana, teaching the notion of a creator "god" does not hold and therefore the Buddhist consider their religion as universal. Mahayana teachings are based on universal ethics that is free from racism, castes, and sexism and these are the teachings of global responsibilities. According McCargo (2004), Buddhism is based on universal moral that each member of the religion should observe. Although Buddhism does not reorganize the existence of a god, all its followers respect and observe universal moral values.
Although Buddhism does not acknowledge the existence of a god or a supreme being, the followers have morals and therefore there must be a source of their morals. There are several sources of these morals and the sources have their roots in individual initiatives and responsibilities. To begin with, Buddhism started as a protestant movement and therefore the need for uniqueness among its follower's demands that they must observe morals. Secondly, Buddhism as a religion has its foundation on dharma, which is the second source of morals. Buddhism is founded on the "law of cause and effects" that requires that every individual should be responsible for their deeds and this is the next source of the religion's moral values. Finally, morals are universal and they apply to every individual independent of their spiritual affiliations. Buddhism therefore derives its values from the characteristic of universal moral values.
Fowler, J. (1997). Hinduism: Beliefs and practices. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.
Keown, D. (2005). Buddhist ethics: A very short introduction. London: Oxford University Press.
Keown, D., Prebish, C., & Husted, W. (1998). Buddhism and human rights. New Jersey: Routledge.
McCargo, D. (2004). Buddhism, democracy and identity in Thailand. Journal of Democratization, 11, 115-170.
Ninan, M. (2008). The development of Hinduism. Delhi: Madathil Mammen Ninan.