Religion and faith play an interesting and often dynamic role in modern American society. While there are still an overwhelmingly large number of people who consider themselves theists, many Christians, there is also a growing distaste for the dogmatism that often accompanies religious belief. In an article on Buddhism, Sam Harris speaks with his familiar distaste for this dogmatism.
In the article “Killing The Buddha,” Harris takes a proverbial stab at Siddhartha Gautama, but not in the manner you’d expect. Basing his argument on what I would consider a very poignant consideration, Harris tears the positive results often attained from meditation from the more mystical aspects of Buddhist philosophy. Harris says that there are many helpful aspects intrinsic in Buddhist practice, which have absolutely nothing to do with the religious dimensions of the philosophy. Harris writes:
To talk about “Buddhism,” therefore, inevitably imparts a false sense of the Buddha’s teaching to others. So insofar as we maintain a discourse as “Buddhists,” we ensure that the wisdom of the Buddha will do little to inform the development of civilization in the twenty-first century.
Because people are opposed to this foreign religion solely because it is a religious system, they are robbed of the opportunity to enjoy these psychologically beneficial elements. Harris continues:
For the fact is that a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence. The same cannot be said of the teachings for faith based religion. In many respects, Buddhism is very much like science. One starts with the
hypothesis that using attention in the prescribed way (meditation), and engaging in or avoiding certain behaviors (ethics), will bear the promised result (wisdom and psychological well-being). This spirit of empiricism animates Buddhism to a unique degree. For this reason, the methodology of Buddhism, if shorn of its religious encumbrances, could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity.
There have been many studies on the apparently plentiful benefits attained through meditation. According to Harris, these benefits can be had in their entirety without the dogmatic extras. Certainly a nice idea. If you wish to read through the rest of the article, it can be found here.