A Go Programming Notebook

Buddhism and Rationality

Today I was thinking about The Words of My Perfect Teacher, the Patrul Rinpoche book I’ve been reading. It’s such a fun book, so attractive and bright. Yet at the same time, it’s one of the most “relgious” Buddhist books I’ve ever read. Make no mistake, Buddhism is a religion. (Duh). But I come to it from an ex-Catholic, and (most recently) an atheist background.

So when I say that Patrul Rinpoche’s book is religious, yes, I suppose that is a criticism. There’s hellfire and brimstone there. Indeed, there are some of the best hellfire and brimstone descriptions that one is likely to read outside of perhaps Dante. And there’s plenty of emphasis on obedience and faith. Yet the book doesn’t put me off much. The whole religion doesn’t put me off much, which is a fine thing for an (ex?-) atheist to say.

It seems to me that Buddhism is a much better religiion for an atheist than some of the others that are kicking around, because its practical emphasis on the effects of karmic action doesn’t necessarily need multiple lifetimes to make sense. Buddhism stresses the natural wish of all beings to be happy, and the natural good effects that flow from compassion, kindness, and other forms of “right action”.

To be sure, the same good and evil problem crops up as elsewhere, and at that point you need some sleight of hand to explain how an evil guy can become rich, for example, or how a good person can lose a child: and by sleight of hand read “multiple lifetimes.” But if you take Buddhism and cut away the parts an atheist wouldn’t like, you’re still left with some tasty bits: an entire secular recipe for happiness.