Buddhist Views on Religion, Race and Tolerance
Why did humans create various religions?
Human beings are at the highest level on the tree of evolution and are the only living beings in this world who have discovered religion. Religion can be considered human beings greatest source of power. If we look into the origins of religion, most scholars and experts agree that religion arose in the world out of fear. Humans created religion to cease their fear of nature.
Our ancestors developed religion in order to help explain and understand the life within them and the world around them. Primitive humans lived in a dangerous and hostile world. They constantly lived in fear of wild animals, in fear of starving, in fear of injury and disease and in fear of thunder, lightning, and various other things that they were unable to understand or control.
In order to avoid the danger early humans saw in the world, they created the idea of various Gods in order to give themselves comfort and security. Such beliefs also provided them courage in times of danger and consolation when things went wrong. Even today people often become more religious during times of crises and their believe in their God gives them the strength they need to deal with life.
Practicing a religion is nothing more than the development of one’s inner awareness, goodwill and understanding. Put another way, it is an expression of the striving of human beings. Religion can be enormous power. It can transform a person with negative characteristics into someone with positive qualities. It can turn the self into the unselfish; the proud into the humble; the cruel into the kind; and the subjective into the objective.
How does Buddhism teach us to handle fear?
Buddha teaches us that the idea of a Creator God (See Do Buddhists Believe in God, Heaven and Hell?), is a response to fear and frustration, and a lack of spiritual development. Buddhism teaches us to try to understand our fears, to lessen our desires, and to calmly and courageously accept the things that we cannot change. Buddha replaced fear with rational understanding, instead of replacing fear with irrational belief.
Every religion will offer reasons to explain the existing human problems and offer ways to overcome the situation. Every religion also has its own concept of what it considers to be the goal of spiritual life and offers way to attain that goal. For some religions, the goal is eternal life in heaven.
For Buddhists, the purpose of life is to achieve the end of suffering or unsatisfactoriness. In short, the purpose of life is to be happy. Regardless of the exact belief system, all religions should be practiced for the welfare, freedom and happiness of all living beings. Religion should be used positively to improve the quality of life for all living beings.
All human beings are fundamentally the same
Buddha taught that concepts like race and caste or class distinctions are all fictional concepts created by deluded minds which are unable to see unity of all living things. Buddhists are taught that even though we come from different communities and countries and even though we have different religious views and standing within the community, we are all human beings.
Stop and think about it. Every human being on this planet is similar: we all want to be happy and to avoid suffering. We all have similar wants and worries. We all desire the freedom to control our own destinies and that of our nations. Buddhists should strive to treat every equally regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status. All religions, not just Buddhism, should actively urge and remind its followers to cultivate a harmonious and peaceful life that is tolerant of all walks of life.
All religions should teach religious and racial tolerance
Buddha taught, “Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us …. Let us live happily and free from greed; among those who are greedy.”
Buddha also taught that all religions should be religions of peace, i.e., based on the principle of causing no harm to one self or to others. However, if you open any newspaper or online news site on any given day, you’ll likely see that people around the world are still practicing intolerance in the name of religion. All too often this intolerance is carried out through acts of hostility and violence towards other religious, ethic or socioeconomic groups. This intolerance and hate often leads to serious injury or death. Other times it leads to suppression of free speech and freedom of religion.
There would mostly certain be peace and harmony in the world if Christians lived by the Sermon on the Mount, if Buddhists followed the Noble Eightfold Path, if Muslims really followed the concept of Brotherhood and if Hindus shaped their life in oneness.
Yet despite the invaluable teachings of great religious teachers over thousands of years, people still lack tolerance. The only thing we should be intolerant of is intolerance. Where is the spirit of tolerance and the love that most religions preach? Why are more people not practicing what is preached to them or what they preach to others?
When followers of different religions fight and condemn other believes or practice, especially to prove or disprove the existence of their version of God, then they are creating enormous amounts of suffering and disharmony in the world. Despite our religious differences, we all have a duty to practice tolerance, patience and understanding. We should respect others’ religious beliefs to help foster a harmonious and peaceful life for everyone. We should all want to leave the world a better place of our children and their children.
Buddhists are even encouraged to cooperate and collaborate with those who believe in a Creator God so long as they use their concept in the pursuit of peace, happiness and welfare of mankind. On the other hand, Buddhists should take a stand against those who abuse their concept of God by threatening people in order to impose their beliefs on the unwilling for their own benefit and with ulterior motives.
Practice tolerance but be beware of religions seeking to take advantage of you
There are many religions today that try to keep their followers in the dark by instructing them not to listen to the teachings of other religions. Often, these same religions teach that they should never doubt the teachings of their own religion. Even more troubling is the fact that most followers of every religion are trying to show the superiority of their religion. The most respected religious practices in one religion may be seen a ridiculous to others.
Many major religions of the world today ask or require their followers to leave their common sense and education at the doorstep. Often these religious teachers try to keep their followers on a one-track mind so that they can more easily keep them under control for personal gain or political power. Why should we be asked to follow a religion blindly?
Buddha taught his followers to think for themselves. In fact, Buddha himself advised his follows not to accept his own teachings on blind faith. Therefore, if someone tells us something, we should not believe him without question. We must listen and examine it. Then, if we find it reasonable, we may accept it provisionally and set about trying to verify it for ourselves. This is a key features that distinguishes Buddhism from other world religions.
What if you practice under one of these more repressive religions, then one day decide to exercise your freedom of thought and realize you’ve been in the dark the whole time? One result is that you may become an outcast for being a non-believer. Another result is that you may be accused of letting the devil possess your mind and you may be threaten with spending eternity in hell.
Why should individuals not be free to challenge their current religion and change their views on religion if they wish? Unfortunately, most people in the world don’t have real religious freedom. Even if they choose to think freely, they may not have the liberty to give up their religion and to accept another one which appeals to them. Why not? Because many religious leaders, communities and family members have taken that freedom away. People should be allowed to choose their own religion based on their beliefs.
What is the Buddhist stance on converting people?
Buddhists believe that no one has a right to force another to accept a certain religion. Religion should be left to one’s own free choice.
Buddha taught that we should never force our Buddhist beliefs on someone who is loyal to another religion. Never try to drag someone into Buddhism against their will. Buddhists are taught to remain tolerant and not to think that the follows of other religions are bad or lesser people.
As Buddhists, we should not challenge others in regard to their religious beliefs, but we should also expect reciprocal treatment and respect for our own beliefs and practices. Buddhists can uphold their beliefs and concepts, while others can uphold theirs. It is simply not a realistic, feasible or even a noble goal for the entire world population to subscribe to the exact same religion.
Buddhism does not prevent anyone from learning the teachings of other religions. In fact, Buddhism encourages us to study other religions and to compare the teachings. If the teachings in the other religions are reasonable and rational, then we are free to practice those teachings.
As we discussed in Do Buddhists Believe in God, Heaven and Hell?, Buddhism never attempts to convert people or keep them bound by threatening people with eternal hell-fire or by promising a never-ending paradise after death. Instead, Buddhism provides a path to salvation in this life through character building and mental training. Buddha taught that our duty is to lead righteous lives by upholding humane qualities and peace of mind.
Buddhism has proven itself to be the quintessential religion of peace
Despite the many different schools of Buddhism that have emerged over the past 2,500 years, they have never had any violence or bloodshed toward each other. The different sects have co-existed peacefully and continue to do so. This is the uniqueness of Buddhist tolerance. While some religions survive by keeping their followers in the dark, Buddhism thrives by showing its followers the light of truth. When it comes to converting to convert others to your religion, Buddha taught that the greatest conquest is not of others but of yourself. He once declared, “Even though a man conquers ten thousand men in battle, he who conquers himself is the greatest of conquerors.”