Letters to Young Rationalists No2
Morally committed to data and evidence based search for
knowledge as opposed to mere faith and belief.
• ‘One of the troubles about vanity is that it grows with what it feeds on. The more you are talked about, the more you will wish to be talked about. The condemned murderer, I am told – I have had no personal experience – who is allowed to see the account of his trial in the press is indignant if he finds a newspaper which has reported it inadequately. And the more he finds about himself in other newspapers, the more indignant he will be with the one whose reports are meager. Politicians and literary men are in the same case. And the more famous they become, the more difficult the press cutting agency finds it to satisfy them. It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the influence of vanity throughout the range of human life, from the child of three to the potentate at whose frown the world trembles. Mankind have even committed the impiety of attributing similar desires to the Deity, whom they imagine avid for continual praise’.
(Nobel Price, Acceptance Speech -1950)
• ‘Cotton goods, after the industry became scientific, could find a market in India and Africa; this was a stimulus to British Imperialism. Africans had to be taught that nudity is wicked; this was done very cheaply by missionaries. In addition to cotton goods we exported tuberculosis and syphilis, but for them there was no charge’.
(The Impact of Science on Society -1953)
At times, I am being asked, “You claim to be morally committed to an evidence based scientific methodology. While rejecting all faiths and beliefs as unproven and untruthful, Rationalists from, Einstein to Arthur C. Clark and even you, seem to be making a special pleading for Bu dhism. Why?”
This is my attempt at an explanation.
While it is in not at all incumbent on a Rationalist to be a Buddhist, yet some of us appreciate the following views contained in Buddhist philosophy:-
1.There is no creator god. Allthings are composed of matter and energy – ‘Patavi, Apo, Thejo, Vayo,’ They arise, evolve and change, he said.
2.Buddha’s methodology is essentially Rationalist. Knowledge is realized through effort –the ceaseless, unending approximation of thought to object – not revealed by a supreme being (always a male!), ‘his’ agents or a holy book.
3.Buddha’s philosophy is anthropocentric (human centered) not god centered. “Within this body with a mind I will establish the beginning the middle and the end” (Samyuktha Nikaya)
4.The right and freedom to question, to doubt what is being taught, the right and freedom to investigate and accept or reject explanations.(Kalama Suthraya)*
5.The right and freedom to express views and opinions free from censorship. No permission is required from a so – called ‘competent authority’.
6.No obstacles in the form of ecclesiastical or priestly courts to obstruct, torture or kill scientists.
7.Soullessness – the teaching that beings are composed of only body and mind.
8.Impermanence – the teaching that everything is in a state of flux. There is no ‘thing’ or ‘being’ that is eternal or immutable.
9.The teaching that race, tribe, clan are not worthy.
10.Buddha’s opposition to killing, to war and to the procurement of arms.
*(Essence of Kalama Suthraya :- Do not believe because it is in a holy book. Do not believe because your parents, elders or religious leaders say so. Do not believe because your teachers say so. Use your intelligence and accept only if you consider it fit.)
If you claim to be a Buddhist we hope that the above mentioned wholesome aspects of your philosophy will guide you towards the establishment of a more compassionate and rational society.
Now for the views that a Rationalist cannot agree with:-
Far be it from us to hurt your feelings. The intention is to answer your valid question robustly with compassion and without any malice intended. Remember, it is not our calling either to preach or to differentiate between buddhist religion (buddhagama) and buddhist philosophy. We are simply responding to a given question and pointing out some glaring contradictions.
Herewith a short list of such perversions:-
1.Belief in non – existent gods, ghosts and spirits.
2.Belief in backward astrology in an era where Astronomy is an established science.
3.On the basis of such baseless beliefs, indulging in wasteful and harmful activities such as horoscopes and auspicious times. As Buddha said, “The fool who frets about stars cannot grasp the reality of things. What can stars do for us?”
4.Wasting time, money, effort and at times, life itself in running after palmists, crystal ball gazers, exorcists, healers and assorted fraudsters.
5.Making vows and pilgrimages to Pattini, Katharagama and a pantheon of mythical gods and goddesses.
6.Contrary to the logic contained in the concepts of soullessness and impermanence, holding to unscientific and mythical beliefs about life before birth and life after death.
7.Violation of the very first precept of non – killing. Advocating, promoting, praising actions that Buddha never approved of, such as capital punishment and war – in the very name of ‘Buddhism’!
8.Detracting from the Three Refuges (Buddha, Dhamma Sangha), seeking the refuge of frauds and tricksters such as Sai Baba and other magicians posing as miracle performers.
9.For a very long time indeed, the highest echelons of our society (that sets standards for the rest) have been indulging in crazy, anti – buddhist practices such as running after Hindu and Malayalam priests and their temples, here and abroad for worship, soothsaying and blessings – with farcical results!
10.Contrary to Buddhist principals of non – violence, advocating the killing, torture and imprisonment of journalists and demanding the banning of books, plays, films thereby creating an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance towards opposing / non – conventional views.
11.Exulting race, tribe and clan
12.Lastly the attitude and behaviour of so – called ‘virtuous Buddhists’ towards such as us who claim that all pseudo ‘beliefs’ that arise in one’s head devoid of data and evidence are irrational, stands in the way of human progress and ultimately dangerous.
Sadly, the list of things we disagree with appear to be longer!
Tell us if you are brave and honest. You who call yourself a follower of a fearless philos-opher who, 2600 years ago, stood for rational thought against blind faith, stood for compassion against compulsion is it becoming of you to indulge in this kind of behaviour?
Sky At Night
(by Dr. Sena de Silva)
A special night to look is Saturday, Feb. 25th, when the crescent Moon moves in to form a slender heavenly triangle with Venus, Jupiter and the Moon as vertices .One night later, on Sunday, Feb. 26th, it happens again .This arrangement will be visible all around the world, from city and countryside alike. The Moon, Venus and Jupiter are the brightest objects in the night sky; together they can shine through urban lights, fog, and even some clouds.
After hopping from Venus to Jupiter in late February, the Moon exits stage left, but the show is far from over.
Albert Einstein was born to Jewish parents on March 14, 1879 at the city of Ulm in Germany. Albert’s father was a merchant. During his early school days he was considered to be a shy and backward student. But little by little he picked up and mastered two subjects, physics and mathematics. He used to question about the world from his young days.
After primary education, he entered the Higher Technical Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Einstein joined the public service as an Inspector after graduation. When his capabilities became world famous, most universities and higher educational institutes throughout the world invited him. He worked as a Lecturer and Professor in a number of universities in Germany, Switzerland, and Czechoslovakia.
The Theory of Relativity formulated by him in 1916 is considered as one of the greatest discoveries in human history. Einstein changed the world view presented by Isaac Newton. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921.
When Adolf Hitler started the anti-Jewish movement, Einstein migrated to United States and became a citizen of the USA. He joined the University of Princeton as Professor. Einstein who was honoured by intellectuals, politicians as well as the ordinary people, died on 18th April 1955.
Politicians made the atomic bomb by making use of the information given by him, But he was kept in the dark. Einstein fought against the war and the atomic weapons, throughout his life.
“I don’t try to imagine a personal god. It suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it.”
Next Week :
Compiled by R. Fernando