Tag Archives: religion

When does a soul get created?

As a Buddhist, I do not believe in souls. Talk to most people – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and even Buddhists – and they talk as though something survives after death. Such is the power and attraction of the concept of the soul.

Out of curiosity, I asked an American Muslim when is the soul created. He said, “at the moment of conception”. And thereafter it remains either in Heaven or Hell (and also Purgatory if you are Roman Catholic). So the mystery, it seems to me, is that the eternal soul did not start off as eternal but was created out of the grace of God or gods (of which again in Buddhism are concepts).

The problem here is that we have no evidence for these, only that of the textual sources, and not any independent or direct proof of souls and gods as such. Apart from being told by someone else, namely the sacred texts and by those who believe in word of the sacred texts, there is no other proof. Buddhism’s claim that everything is impermanent can be verified by observation. While we cannot observe everything, the weight of non-contrary evidence is substantial. Inferential logic tells us that the soul is perhaps one of these “things” which stands counter to impermanence even though no one can show us any evidence for its existence.

This alone should sound off alarm bells in your head.

While I do not have a problem with the concept of the soul, I do have problem with the belief in the existence of a soul. But at the same time, it is normal to think and believe that such a thing exists. This is something humans do very well, and perhaps defines us from other animals. But it is also natural that some for the human species (Buddhists) to “see through” it, that is, to understand the nature of it.

So it is baffling that in this day and age, where our understanding of the natural physical world has progressed this far, to be still caught in the grips of such an illusion. Powerful indeed is this illusion, passed on from generation to generation through speech and action.

Souls are not created. The concept of a soul is. The concept is perpetuated by its continued reinforcement. The root is therefore in the nature of words and not in the nature of the thing.

Religion is man-made

To me, religion is man-made, not god-made. It serves a purpose similar (if not identical) to that of philosophy and science, two other man-made concepts.

There is nothing “natural” to religion, philosophy or science. If the Christian God were natural then every person and culture would have naturally gravitated toward Christianity. That God is not known to people unless they are told about his existence is proof that God is a construct. If philosophy and being a philosopher is natural then it would have been of the same structure across all cultures. Again, the fact that Confucius is considered a philosopher is wholly a Western construct. The word and concept “philosophy” is Western, and completely foreign to Eastern thinking. Yet again, if science was natural it would have been the same across all cultures at all times. The fact we needed to discover and develop it means it is constructed.

The only thing not “man-made” is matter. We are part of the material world. We come from the material. So are we not part of nature? In other words, we are nature-made. And it is nature, ironically, which had made us to believe in things that are man-made and the god-made.

The Book of Warren (The Unauthorised Revised Version)

In the beginning was a “big bang”. No one is sure how it happened but it happened about 14 billion years ago (in Earth time, that is). All the material in the universe came from this event. The material in the form of dust slowly gathered to form galaxies, suns, planets and satellites through attraction. The planet we call Earth was formed about 4 billion years ago, a little after the formation of the Sun, the star which gives us the energy for our survival, around which we revolve. Life on Earth began around 1 billion years ago in the form of simple cells. Our species – Homo – is perhaps one to two million years old. Civilisation in the form of societies and writing came about perhaps 20,000 years ago. Recognisable society is perhaps 7,000 years old. We know these things because we are smart.

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What should we believe in?

Perhaps you are wondering how I can be a Buddhist and not believe in a god. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English religion is defined as “a belief in one or more gods”. Few would argue with this definition.

I said few.

There are thousands of religions out there. If Justine religion does not include a god or gods within it, then, the definition fails. And Buddhism is one such religion. (Another is Jainism.)

Buddhism is atypical of religions in that it rejects the worship of gods. Buddha is not a god and had never said he was. It should be noted it was those who came afterwards that added the gods, perhaps incorporating aspects of the local culture.

But far from rejecting existence of a god or gods it is, in my opinion, far healthier to accept the concept of a god or gods as part of what it means to be human.

The main religions of Japan – a quick guide

There are, in my opinion, four main groups of religions in Japan. I will go through each below.

Shintoism
Shintoism is what can be considered the indigenous religion of Japan. It is at least 1,300 years old but possibly much older. It describes the power struggles in its early history in the disguise of creation myths of the country. This points to migration from Korea as the possible source of its history but also indication of much an earlier culture. It is generally a religion of animism, where mountains, trees, the sun, machinery, virtually anything has a spirit. It is also a religion which promotes purity and fertility, both for agriculture and sex. Shintoism is seen as one religion but can be thought of as having facets of folk, state and culture. From the 6th century until 19th century Shintoism was synchronised with Buddhism (see below).

Buddhism
Buddhism was introduced into Japan from China in the 6th century. It is a religion which originated in north-eastern India in the 6th century BCE. Buddhism is based on the teachings of the Buddha. Buddha taught it is possible to find happiness by thinking and living correctly. There are different “denominations” with Jodo-based sects being the most predominant and the Zen sects being second most predominant in terms of temple count.

Christianity
Christianity was introduced into Japan in the 16th century when Francis Xavier arrived with Christian converts. Although it makes up a small percentage of followers (around 1% of the population) it is nonetheless prominent within Japanese culture. Most weddings are “Christian” weddings with rites performed by a “priest” (read: ‘foreigner’). Christianity functions thus as marriage officiate, while Shinto functions as life celebrating, and Buddhism for Funerary. All major Christian denominations are represented in Japan.

New religions
Most ‘new religions’ are based upon one of the “traditional” religions – Shintoism, Buddhism and/or Christianity. Some were established after 1868 – when Japan began its modernisation period – but many sprang up after 1945. While some do have real ideological differences to their foundation religion most new religions were created for tax-break purposes.


Below are some “keywords” in each of the religious groupings.

Shintoism – inari, hachiman, susa, Izumo, Ise, fertility, creation myth, purity.

Buddhism – Jodo, Jodo Shin, Shingon, Tendai, Nichiren, Zen, death.

Christianity – Francis Xavier, Jesuit, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, marriage.

New religions – politics, tax-haven, Neo-Shintoism, Neo-Buddhism, Neo-Christianity.

What does it mean to be a philosopher?

According to one dictionary, philosophy is the study of the nature and meaning of existence, truth, good and evil etc. And a philosopher is someone who studies and develops ideas about the nature and meaning of existence, truth, good and evil etc.

Personally, I prefer to boil down this definition to just philosophy is the study of the nature of existence and truth. It follows thus a philosopher is someone who studies and develops ideas about the nature of existence and truth.

The inclusion of meaning assumes that existence has meaning to begins with. Here, I beg to differ (or perhaps go along with existentialists like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Sartre) and point out that nowhere does it say life has implicit meaning, that only we have assumed it to have meaning, and a universal one at that. It is for this reason I believe that Western philosophy tends to think Eastern Philosophy, particularly Buddhism is nihilistic in outlook.

Thus, Western philosophy has a tendency to belittle relativism and relativistic meaning. They are happy to say things like the only constant is change and not blink an eyelid at the relativity and even the contradiction in the statement or proposition. One must also see the nature of language (move towards a philosophy of language) in order to understand the nature of knowledge (epistemology), the nature of existence (ontology) and the nature of reality (metaphysics).

And so I must therefore question the nature of religion as well. I have never known a religion to be personal, for one person and that person alone. If it were then its god must be non-universal. In short, religion is a social act. If it were a non-social act then we need not talk of church and religion in the first place. But the fact that we do have church and the concept of a religion we must assume religion to be above all else a relativistic social construct. And if so then the talk of good and evil must also be relativistic as well. Philosophy, therefore, must reject religion, or at least study religion as part of the nature of human existence, not to assume it is part of or above philosophy as such. There is what I will suggest here as not so much a philosophy of religion but a religion of philosophy, and that it has infiltrated Western philosophical tradition so thoroughly that it had almost escaped notice.

“You are light as air & heavy as clouds”

These lines are from my poem atheist become.

For me, a metaphor is what creates the illusion of something like God. They are concepts and nothing more. So they can be as light or as heavy as you can imagine. In the same way we can imagine that when we die we go to some place better. But do we? Is there some place to go? I ended the poem with but nothing will free you / from death and / to nowhere will you go to suggest perhaps the reason why we do imagine a heaven is precisely because the idea of nowhere to go is rather lonely. Atheists must overcome loneliness as they do not have something to comfort them as Christians do. It reminds of the line from Kafka’s novel, The Trial:

“It is often safer to be in chains than to be free.”