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Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
Religion of Freedom
This is a religion of freedom and reason for man to lead a noble life.
Buddhism does not prevent anyone from learning the teachings of other religions. In fact, the Buddha encouraged His followers to learn about other religions and to compare His Teachings with other teachings. The Buddha says that if there are reasonable and rational teachings. The Buddha says that if there are reasonable and rational teachings in other religions, His followers are free to respect such teachings. It seems that certain religionists try to keep their followers in the dark, some of them are not even allowed to touch other religious objects or books. They are instructed not to listen to the preachings of other religions. They are enjoined not to doubt the teachings of their own religion, however unconvincing their teachings may appear to be. The more they keep their followers on a one-track mind, the more easily they can keep them under control. If anyone of them exercises freedom of thought and realizes that he had been in the dark all the time, then it is alleged that the devil has possessed his mind. The poor man is given no opportunity to use his common sense, education, of his intelligence. Those who wish to change their views on religion are taught to believe that they are not perfect enough to be allowed to use free will in judging anything for themselves.
According to the Buddha, religion should be left to one's own free choice. Religion is not a law, but a disciplinary code which should be followed with understanding. To Buddhists true religious principles are neither a divine law nor a human law, but a natural law.
In actual fact, there is no real religious freedom in any part of the world today. Man has not the freedom even to think freely. Whenever he realizes that he cannot find satisfaction through his own religion to which he belongs, which cannot provide him with satisfactory answers to certain questions, he has no liberty to give it up and to accept another which appeals to him. The reason is that religious authorities, leaders, and family members have taken that freedom away from him. Man should be allowed to choose his religion which is in accordance with his own conviction. One has no right to force another to accept a particular religion. Some people surrender their religion for the sake of love, without a proper understanding of their partner's religion. Religion should not be changed to suit man's emotions and human weaknesses. One must think very carefully before changing one's religion. Religion is not a subject for bargaining; one should not change one's religion for personal, material gains. Religion is to be sued for spiritual development and for self-salvation.
Buddhists never try to influence other religionists to come and embrace their religion for material gain. Nor do they try to exploit poverty, sickness, illiteracy and ignorance in order to increase the number of Buddhist population. The Buddha advised those who indicated their wish to follow Him, not to be hasty in accepting His Teachings. He advised them to consider carefully His Teaching and to determine for themselves whether it was practical or not for them to follow.
Buddhism teaches that mere belief or outward rituals are insufficient for attaining wisdom and perfection. In this sense, outward conversion becomes meaningless. To promote Buddhism by force would mean pretending to propagate justice and love by means of oppression and injustice. It is of no importance to a follower of the Buddha whether a person calls himself a Buddhist or not. Buddhists know that only through man's understanding and exertion will they come nearer to the goal preached by the Buddha.
Amongst the followers of every religion are some fanatics. Religious fanaticism is dangerous. A fanatic is incapable of guiding himself by reason or even by the scientific principles of observation and analysis. According to the Buddha, a Buddhist must be a free man with an open mind and must not be subservient to anyone for his spiritual development. He seeks refuge in the Buddha by accepting Him as a source of supreme guidance and inspiration. He seeks refuge in the Buddha, not blindly, but with understanding. To Buddhists, the Buddha is not a savior nor is He an anthropomorphic being who claims to possess the power of washing away other's sins. Buddhists regard the Buddha as a Teacher who shows the Path to salvation.
Buddhism has always supported the freedom and progress of mankind. Buddhism has always stood for the advancement of knowledge and freedom for humanity in every sphere of life. There is nothing in the Buddha's Teaching that has to be withdrawn in the face of modern, scientific inventions and knowledge. The more new things that scientists discover, the closer they come to the Buddha.
The Buddha emancipated man from the thralldom of religion. He also released man from the monopoly and the tyranny of the priestcraft. It was the Buddha who first advised man to exercise his reason and not to allow himself to be driven meekly like dumb cattle, following the dogma of religion. The Buddha stood for rationalism, democracy and practical, ethical conduct in religion. He introduced this religion for people to practise with human dignity.
The followers of the Buddha were advised not to believe anything without considering it properly. In the Kalama Sutta,the Buddha gave the following guidelines to a group of young people:
Buddhists are advised to accept religious practices only after careful observation and analysis, and only after being certain that the method agrees with reason and is conducive to the good of one and all.
A true Buddhist does not depend on external powers for his salvation. Nor does he expect to get rid of miseries through the intervention of some unknown power. He must try to eradicate all his mental impurities to find eternal Happiness. The Buddha says, 'If anyone were to speak ill of me, my teaching and my disciples, do not be upset or perturbed, for this kind of reaction will only cause you harm. On the other hand, if anyone were to speak well of me, my teaching and my disciples, do not be over-joyed, thrilled or elated, for this kind of reaction will only be an obstacle in forming a correct judgment. If you are elated, you cannot judge whether the qualities praised are real and actually found in us.' -- (Brahma Jala Sutta). Such is the unbiased attitude of a genuine Buddhist.
The Buddha had upheld the highest degree of freedom not only in its human essence but also in its divine qualities. It is a freedom that does not deprive man of his dignity. It is a freedom that releases one from slavery to dogmas and dictatorial religious laws or religious punishments.
Source: Buddhist Study and Practice Group, http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/
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