Believe nothing, o monks,
merely because you have been told it ...
or because it is traditional,
or because you yourselves have imagined it.
Do not believe what your teacher tells you
merely out of respect for the teacher.
But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis,
you find to be conducive to the good,
the benefit, the welfare of all beings ³
that doctrine believe and cling to,
and take it as your guide.
- Gautama Buddha
always in mind what it is that I have not elucidated, and what it is that I have
elucidated. And what have I not elucidated? I have not elucidated that the world
is eternal; I have not elucidated that the world is not eternal; ... I have not
elucidated that the soul and the body are identical; I have not elucidated that
the monk who has attained (the arahat) exists after death; I have not elucidated
that the arahat does not exist after death; ... I have not elucidated that the
arahat neither exists nor does not exist after death. And why have I not
elucidated this? Because this profits not, nor has to do with the fundamentals of
religion; therefore I have not elucidated this.
And what have I elucidated?
Misery have I elucidated; the origin of misery have I elucidated; the cessation
of misery have I elucidated; and the path leading to the cessation of misery have
I elucidated. And why have I elucidated this? Because this does profit, has to do
with the fundamentals of religion, and tends to absence of passion, to knowledge,
supreme wisdom, and Nirvana." 23
Buddha also rejected
religious devotion (bhakti) as a way of salvation. His position was the sort of
atheism we have already noted in Mahavira. He believed that the universe
abounded in gods, goddesses, demons, and other nonhuman powers and agencies; but
all were without exception finite, subject to death and rebirth. In the absence,
then, of some transcendent, eternal Being, older than the Creation, and the Maker
of heaven and earth, who could direct men's destinies and hear and grant human
wishes, prayer, to Buddha, was of no avail; he at least did not resort to it. For
similar reasons he did not put any reliance on the Vedas, or on practice of their
nature worship, or on the performance of their rituals as a way of redemption;
now would he countenance going to the Brahmins as priests.
23 Henry Clarke
Warren, Buddhism in translation (Harvard University Press 1922) p 122
(Majjhima Nikaya 63)
- in John B. Noss, Man's religions (Macmillan: NY
1956) p 166
Religion without God in Indian philosophy by Shlomo Biderman
of the religious activity of the believer, Wittgenstein described him as "using a
picture." If we adopt Wittgenstein's metaphor we shall probably have no
difficulty in identifying, in most cases, the main subject of such pictures. By
this I mean, of course, the concept of God. The existence of God in monotheistic
western religions is regarded as inseparable from the very existence of those
religions. It should, therefore, be of no surprise that common definitions of
religion -- treading in the wake of the monotheistic trend, emphasize right from
the beginning the belief in the existence of God as a necessary ingredient of
There is no doubt that the monotheistic picture indeed represents a large number
of religions. But one should not jump to the conclusion that the religious museum
solely represents pictures of the monotheistic trend. On the contrary, one can
find in the museum a great variety of religious pictures, in part of which God
figures in the center of the picture, in others He figures only in the margins,
and in some He does not figure at all.
The most prominent religious picture in which God does not figure at all is, of
course, the Buddhist religion. This religion can be characterized not only as
non-theistic but more so as atheistic; that is to say, not only does the
Buddhist religion discard the notion of God as a religious term, but it
vehemently rejects any use of this notion as meaningless. Buddhism is,
therefore, a religion without God.
Monotheistic religions very often describe God as revealing himself in the world.
God's revelation usually takes place in the succession of historical events that
began at the moment of the creation of the world and continued throughout
history. God's subsequent revelations in history have sometimes been direct, and
sometimes by means of intermediaries, the prophets, sages and saints. In the
context of God's revelation Scriptures play an especially important role. In the
first place they give out invaluable information concerning God's revelation in
history. Furthermore, they describe the exact nature of those revelations. The
Scriptures are therefore conceived as directly springing from God who bestows
upon them authority as well as infallibility.
It is thus plausible to assume that any atheistic religion which denies
the existence of God would therefore try to the best of its ability to undermine
the authority of Scriptures as well. And indeed Buddhist and Jainist philosophies
in India have both attacked the intelligibility of the concept of God as well as
the notion of s'abda - the World of Scriptures through which God is revealed. It
is, therefore, strange to find out a religion which is totally in accord with the
Buddhist religion in its refutation of God's existence but which,--at the same
time, revers the Scriptures fullheartedly. This religion is represented by--the
Mimamsa school of Hinduism. In what follows I shall dwell upon some interesting
points of that religion.
First, a few words concerning the historical background of Mimamsa.
The Mimamsa school is considered to be one of the most ancient of Hindu
philosophical schools. The oldest text of it known to us today is the mimamsa
sutra which, according to Indian tradition, was written by the somewhat
mysterious Jaimini. It was in all probability composed in the third or second
centuries B.C. However, there is room to suppose that the actual beginnings of
the Mimamsa school can be dated even earlier; the mimamsa sutra is thus a
systematic summary of some religious conceptions that existed in India up to the
time of Ja'imini. Several commentaries were written on the mimamsa sutra, and the
most important one known to us today is that of Sabara. According to most
scholars this commentary was written in the first or second centuries A.D., that
is, about five hundred years after Jaimini's lifetime.
As its name, 'Inquiry,' indicates, Mimamsa considers the interpretation of
Scriptures to be its primary function. The Scriptures are the only source for
knowing religious duties (dharma). They present religious duties within a set of
laws, injunctions and prohibitions, to which the believer must strictly adhere
to. Thus, the religious verses that can be found in the Scriptures have a single
objective: to instruct man in the permitted paths of action and to block off
those paths that are forbidden him. It follows that religious duty is not
dependent either on some abstract articles of faith or on the existence of some
mental state. In other words, religion obliges the believer only as a set of
commands, that is, only insofar as religion impinges on his actions. Religion is
not therefore intended to provide man with historical, cosmological,
psychological or moral precepts; it certainly does not claim to preach a
spiritual method of release by which man can attain the absolute Being. The sole
legitimate aim of religion is to oblige man to perform certain activities and to
refrain from others.
Dharma, then is expressed by the set of laws and injunctions which are presented
to the believer in the Scriptures. Obviously, the infallibility of these
Scriptures, is a necessary condition for accepting the religious imperatives as
authoritative and binding. In other words, in order that the religious commands
would be regarded as obligatory, the validity of Scriptures should be
acknowledged beyond any reasonable doubt. In fact, the validity of Scriptures is
accepted by the Mimamsa as axiomatic. Scriptures are authoritative, that is,
everlasting, unchangeable and infallible; they do not stem from any external
source, either divine or human.
- L. Wittgenstein, "Lectures on Religious
in: Lecture and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and
Religious Belief, (ed. by C. Barrett), Oxford, 1970.
2 For a summary of Buddhist attitude towards God, revelation and Scriptures see
K. N. Jayatilleke, Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, London, 1963,
Chapter IV. See also K. N. Jayatilleke, The Message of the Buddha,
London, 1975, Chapter IV.
- in Religious atheism? Apostel, Pinxten, et al.