[Final look at how Buddhist scriptures hold up in the light of the New Atheist’s criticisms. The Tripitaka s not “revealed” or the final word – it is only a tool to be taken up, tested and used. Part I … Part II]
Bring it On Dawkins!
One branch of Dawkins and the ‘New Atheists’ attack on religion is scriptural authority. Why, Dawkins reasons, would anyone look for stories of the creation of the world in the Bible, when science has such more magnificent, and reasonable, explanations. This is how he got onto the whole topic to begin with; he is an evolutionary biologist, who kept coming up against irrational and scientifically ludicrous arguments against the ‘fact’ of evolution from religious quarters.
After the Buddha’s death, about 18 different schools arose that propagated his teaching. Though they differed in approach, they co-existed peacefully, and the debate probably kept Buddhism alive as it transmuted into a social institution (religion). The other schools have vanished but we still have their texts, surviving in Chinese, from which we can make two comments:
- The basic tenets of Buddhism are spread evenly and consistently within the scriptures.
- There have been additions and adaptations
Dawkins argues that moderate Christians who do not take everything in the Bible literally are ‘cherry picking’ and therefore, what is the point of the Bible at all. (He ‘cherry picks’ stories also to bash in his book)
The Buddha though, told his followers to be careful, and never accept anything on scriptural authority. Which means we can cherry pick the teachings we think are real, and can put aside (no necessity to ‘reject’) teachings that do not make sense to us. For example stories of the Buddha being born on his feet, and taking seven steps to survey the realm of his final rebirth, are a little unbelievable, and not terribly relevant to practise.
It is the famous Kalama Sutta that outlines this tenet:
‘Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness” – then you should enter & remain in them. . . . . . . Full sutta.
Thus we Buddhists think that not only are we not “Barking Mad”, but our religion, philosophy, psychology or whatever you want to call it, does stand up to reason, and can be looked at rationally, and can sit at ease with science. No wonder Dawkins et al spare us the brunt of their attack. We can meet them on their own ground. So Bring it On Dawkins, we get out of jail free.