The idea of Buddhism conjures many different images for people: From the Dalai Lama, saffron robes, and prayer wheels to incense-choked temples with colorfully elaborate statues of horrifying demons next to serenely angelic demi-gods. Others may simply imagine silent rows of black-robed monks, eternally meditating within their snow-covered mountaintop monasteries, breaking silence only long enough to chant mysterious incantations in a long-dead language.
However, one thing that most people fail to realize is that the original teachings of the Buddha (the dharma) actually have very little to do with supernatural entities (such as gods), levitation, bowing to statues, or dancing bald with a tambourine at the airport.
The teachings are simply elaborations on the basic formula that:
- Life in this “mundane world,” with its craving and clinging to impermanent states and things, is unsatisfactory and painful .
- This craving and clinging keeps us trapped in repeated cycles of renewed dissatisfaction.
- When one stops craving and clinging, they will alleviate this suffering in themselves.
- By restraining oneself, cultivating discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation (i.e., following the “Eightfold Path“), craving and clinging will be stopped, and dissatisfaction will have ended.
This is a very bare-bones, top-level view of Buddhism and it obviously goes much deeper than that. The rabbit hole begins here.
As an atheist (or to be more technically correct, a “hard agnostic“), I benefit from the very practical teachings and methods of Buddhist practice, without being saddled with centuries of religiosity and metaphysical nonsense that was added on by followers since the Buddha’s death. Of course, nothing about Buddhism prohibits any gods either, so you are still always free to benefit from the teachings without giving up your Jesus, Allah, Zeus, Mithra, Odin, Horus, or Zoroaster.
To learn more about the valuable teachings of Buddhism without Supernaturalism, visit the fantastic podcast and website of the Secular Buddhist Association!