Human beings need their lives to make sense, to have meaning and purpose. Religions appear to meet this need. As a consequence, most people adopt a set of religious beliefs or dogmas as a framework within which to understand their lives. But as there are a number of belief systems, and each one tends to assert that it alone is the possessor of truth, the age-old conflict between belief systems and the passions they engender is inevitable. Despite all of the “religious” violence the world has seen, the nature of human needs makes it hard to imagine a world without people taking refuge in dogmatic beliefs.
Even determinedly secular or materialistic people have the same psychological needs for stability and meaning. Indeed, they may identify with their own views and beliefs as tenaciously as the more conventionally religious. It is not difficult to find present-day examples of political beliefs and even scientific theories taking on the trappings of dogma.
Buddhists are proud that in their texts not one phrase can be found that would justify shedding a single drop of blood. In some places, however, the texts remain unread and their lessons untaught. In the world today, a small minority of men wearing the robes of Buddhist monks use their authority to aggravate rather than placate ethnic and territorial disputes, while the rest of the Theravāda world looks on in dismay.
Nevertheless, the teachings of Buddhism do offer a way out of religious violence. They assert that the path to true security and meaning lies in our actions of body, speech and mind, rather than belief. Faith is placed in our capacity to change, which we can put to the test, rather than in dogma—which we cannot. In the effort to educate their behavior, emotions and understanding, human beings can find a purpose that does not create a sense of alienation from all those who do not share their commitment.
New book by Ajahn Jayasaro: "Without and Within" (150 questions and answers)
www.bia.or.th/fileupload/without_and_within_sample.pdf (30 MB)