Word seems to have got out in Australia that I’m available to help with Religious Studies school assignments. Or at least it’s got out around a bunch of 16-year-old classmates!
I’ve had a number of requests to answer the following questions. Good luck with your assignments! Please tell your friends this post is here and they don’t need to contact me directly!
(By the way – I guess these guys would be interested in different Buddhists’ views, so if anyone fancies answering the questions their own way in the comments, please do – especially if you’re from Australia and can answer question 3!)
1. In what ways does religion provide meaning and purpose for you?
I see Buddhism as more of a philosophy than a religion (though other Buddhists see things different ways). There’s no god for a start. It’s more of a way of practice.
But it is based on a set of ideas and ways of seeing things. So it gives me a philosophical framework that I use to approach life.
We all have one of those – whether we consider ourselves ‘religious’ or not. Our beliefs and values are what we use to make decisions. They also dictate how we think we should behave (whether or not we actually manage it is another question!)
Buddhism gives my life meaning and purpose on one level, in that I believe happiness is primarily a result of our state of mind. Buddhism offers a bunch of tools and techniques to work with our state of mind.
But fundamentally I don’t think Buddhism offers any purpose or meaning. It offers a ‘how’ rather than a ‘why’.
The Buddha said that asking ‘why’ when you are suffering is like a man shot with an arrow asking lots of questions about it before he’ll let the doctor pull it out. First remove the cause of the pain. Then ask the questions!
Also, Buddhism says that absolute truth (which is usually what meaning and purpose are based on) is beyond language. You have to experience it directly, know it directly. A bunch of words in a book can never tell you. So the Buddhist path is a path of training to get you into the best possible state to have that direct experience.
2. How does religion influence your daily life?
Buddhism is a training in the art of everyday life. I practice everyday – throughout the day. It affects the way I work with my own mental and emotional states, the way I relate to others, the way I shop, the food I eat, and what I think is important.
I start the day with meditation. I eat a vegetarian diet (because I try to cause as little harm to others as possible). I shop as ethically as possible (for the same reason). I believe my happiness depends on my own state of mind more than on having or doing certain things. So I live more simply than the people around me, while at the same time being honest with myself about the things I need to keep in a positive state of mind. These things seem to get less and less as the years go by.
Staying in a positive state of mind works well for others too. I tend to have more tolerance than I used to. I’m less judgemental, and when I’m angry about something, I usually try to work out why, and where the other person is coming from, rather than just feeling justified in feeling like that and giving them a hard time.
I work in a job that I think helps people (I work in the public sector as a writer). And outside of work I write the blog, in the hope that I can guide those who are interested to set up and maintain a Buddhist practice.
3. How do you think religion influences Australian society?
Not sure really – I live in London, England!
4. What benefits do you see religion (not just buddhism) has provided?
I think religion’s done as much harm as it has good. We’ve always had it and we always will. People use belief systems to make sense of their experience and to give themselves a way to make choices. Sometimes it’s called ‘culture’, sometimes ‘religion’, but I think it’s all pretty much the same thing. Science and materialism are now religions too.
The downside of religions is that they can stop people from growing. The good thing about religions is that they can help people grow. The downside is that they are used to justify extremely negative acts. The good thing is that they help people live as well as they can possibly live.
So whether, on balance, religion has benefited humanity or the planet at all is difficult to judge. In the end we have to be responsible for ourselves, do as little harm and as much good as we can, and keep on questioning whether what we think is good is actually good, or whether we’re unintentionally causing harm.
5. What is it about religion that makes you feel that you belong and connected to something much greater than yourself?
Buddhism argues that, when we look closely, we find that there is no separation between what I think of as ‘me’ and what I think of as ‘not me’. We are thoroughly interconnected. We are connected biologically, emotionally and mentally. Everything is in flux. What I think of as ‘me’ now is not the same me as before I was born or when I was a baby. When (if) I get old, that will be a different me. Once I’m dead, that ‘me’ will be very different again. So I’m connected to something greater than myself in that the idea of ‘self’ is fundamentally flawed.