The Urban Dharma Newsletter... May 4, 2004


In This Issue: Morality Without God

1. Morality with and without a creator God.
...Radhika Abeysekera
2. If There's No God in Buddhism, Are Buddhists Atheists?
...Lama Surya Das
3. Temple/Center/Website:
The Journal of Buddhist Ethics
4. Book/CD/Movie: The Science of Good and Evil : Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
-- by Michael Shermer



Ethics and Morality


Social and Moral Code - The most important element of the Buddhist reform has always been its social and moral code. That moral code taken by itself is one of the most perfect which the world has ever known. On this point all testimonials from hostile and friendly quarters agree; philosophers there may have been, religious preachers, subtle metaphysists, disputants there may have been, but where shall we find such an incarnation of love, love that knows no distinction of caste and creed or colour, a love that over- flowed even the bound of humanity, that embraced the whole of sentient beings in its sweep, a love that embodied as the gospel of universal 'Maitri' and Ahimsa. - (Prof. Max Muller)

Natural Morality - The moral code of Buddhism has given a pure expression to natural morality. - (Rev. Adolph Thomas)

Morality Is Based on Freedom - Buddhist morality is based on freedom, i.e. on individual development. It is therefore relative. In fact there cannot be any morality nor any ethical principle it there is compulsion or determination from an agent outside ourselves. Therefore the idea of a Creator and ruler of this world takes away the very foundation of morality and ethics; for how can we be made responsible for our faults if we have been created with them or in such a weak form that we cannot resist the evil. - (Anagarika B. Govinda, A German Scholar)

Good and Bad - From the Buddhist point of view, however, there is no riddle at all. The sources of evil are found, not in the inscrutable purpose of a good God, or in the machination of a devil, but simply in the history of man himself. - (Revolt in The Temple)

Moral Truths - Most of the moral truths prescribed by the gospel are to be met within the Buddhist scriptures --in reading the particulars of the life of the last Buddha Gotama, it is impossible not to feel reminded of many circumstances relating to our Saviour's life, such as it has been sketched by the Evangelists. - (Bishop Bigendet)

Knowledge and Morality - In Buddhism there can be no real morality without knowledge, no real knowledge without morality; both are bound up together like heat and light in a flame. As Prof. E. W. Hopkins says, in Buddha's thought there is no incompatibility between the ethical ideal and that devotion to mental training which is prominent in early Buddhism, but is not regarded as a requisite in Christianity. Christianity seldom emphasises, even when it permits, the utmost intellectual freedom, while Buddhism establishes the faith intellectually from the beginning." What constitutes Bodhi is not mere intellectual enlightenment, but humanity. The consciousness of moral excellence is of the very essence of Bodhi. "Love thy neighbour as thyself" and "love thine enemy" are indeed noble precepts, but so long as one does not understand the reason why he should love his neighbour and even his enemy, these precepts must necessarily remain a dead letter. If it is selfish to love an enemy because such love will lead one to Bodhi, it is worse still to do good to others for the sake of rewards in heaven or for fear of punishment in hell. - (Bhikkhu Dhammapala, "Physics and Metaphysics")

Kamma - Kamma is nothing else but the force, the energy produced by action, action itself. The actions pass away, but in their passing they have influenced, conditioned, caused; and the effect rising therefrom will in its turn be the new cause of new effects. We are like silkworms, says the Vedanta. We make the thread which is our Karma out of our own substance and spin the cocoon, and in course of time we are imprisoned inside. But this not for ever. In that cocoon we shall develop spiritual realisation, and like the butterfly come out free. - (Bhikkhu Dhammapala, "Physics and Metaphysics")

Ethics - The Buddha gave an ethical twist to the thought of His time. We find in the early teaching of Buddhism three marked characteristics, an ethical earnestness, an absence of any theological tendency and an aversion to metaphysical speculation. - (Dr. S. Radhakrishnan)

Ethical Man of Genius - In this sphere He gave expression to truths of everlasting value and advanced the ethics not of India alone but of humanity. Buddha was one of the greatest ethical men of genius ever bestowed upon the world. - (Albert Schweitzer, a leading Western philosopher)

Ethical Evolution - The study of ethical theory in the West has hitherto resulted in a deplorable failure through irreconcilable logomachies and the barrenness of speculation cut off from the actual fact. The only true method of ethical inquiry is surely the historical method. And I cannot be wrong in maintaining that the study of Buddhism should be considered a necessary part of any ethical course and should not be dismissed in a page or two but receive its due proportion in the historical perspective of ethical evolution. - (Prof. Rhys Davids)

The Moral Teaching - It is not too much to say that almost the whole of the moral teachings of the Gospels as distinct from the dogmatic teaching will be found in Buddhist writings several centuries older than the Gospels." - (Prof. Rhys Davids)

World Culture - Buddhism has done more for the advance of world civilization and true culture than any other influence in the chronicles of mankind. - (H. G. Wells)

1. Morality with and without a creator God. ...Radhika Abeysekera


The Winnipeg Free Press (Canada) of Saturday October 14, 2000 printed an article in the Faith page entitled, Is evolution based on illogical premise? by John M. Craig of Winnipeg. In the article Mr. Craig gives his reasons for not believing in evolution. The main reason given is the lack of fossils of transitional creatures (half fish/half amphibians). He then goes on to surmise that as such, creation must be accurate. No reasoning is given to prove that creation is accurate. After assuming that creation is accurate, Mr. Craig concludes his article as follows:

"In conclusion, we are raising a generation of young people to believe that there is no God and that they are just accidents evolved from algae! What does this belief do to the value of human life and the basis for morality? If we are nothing but evolved animals, then why shouldn’t we live like animals? Isn’t the rise in bloodshed of the last century just ‘survival’ of the fittest. Aren’t teen pregnancies, mass abortions (30 million in the US alone since Roe V. Wade") and STD’s including AIDS simply the end product of a philosophy that has people living with no foundation for morals?

Evolution is a 19th-century philosophy that has been destroyed by 20th-century science, yet the myth continues to be perpetrated, not on scientific grounds, but because it is what justifies our immoral society today. If people admitted their was a creator then they would become morally responsible to that creator. Too many people today don’t want to be morally responsible to anyone, other than to their own ego.

Christians and Jews can be confident that the first 11 chapters of geneses records actual history, especially the six literal days for creation." -- John M. Craig, Winnipeg.

There was a host of scientific literature in response to the above article by professors and scientist who supported the theory of evolution. The following article which was from a moral and ethical point of view as opposed to a scientific point of view was not printed by the Winnipeg Free Press due to lack of space.


I found the article "Is evolution based on illogical premise?" in last Saturday’s Winnipeg Free Press, by John M. Craig quite interesting and would like to share my views with your readers.

Many world religions claim that their holy books state that God created the universe and man. The interesting point is that each of these holy books claim that it is their God and only their God that created the universe and each holy book then describes an interesting story as to how this was accomplished.

Looking at the different holy books impartially, it is only fair to say that they all have an equal chance of being accurate. Each of these holy books have been read and researched by many of its followers who are convinced of the Truth found in their book. As acceptance is based on a book written many years after the death of its founder as opposed to direct experience, they all have equal right to their claim. As such if we had four religions that claim that their holy book is correct they each have 25% chances of being accurate just as if we had five religions that made such claim they each have 20% chances of being accurate.

In order to be fair by all the holy books, one could also presume that all of these Gods had a hand in the creation of the world. After all the universe is very complex. Unfortunately none of the holy books talk of such cooperation and harmony. And as such, it is doubtful if any of the theist religions are willing to accept such a possibility.

The possibility also exists that it is the same God that each holy book refers to with different names. The problem with this is that each holy book has a different account of how creation took place and a different description of the characteristics of their God. Some portray God as being compassionate while others portray God as being jealous and cruel. Different books may have different names for God but which of the books has the authentic version? It would be arrogant for any one to claim that his and only his holy book is correct, just because he happened to be born into a particular religious tradition.

I personally have no issue with any religion that wants to take the responsibility for creation so long as the said God takes full responsibility for His creation. If a scientists creates an advanced robot with super intelligence that benefits mankind he gets credit and accolade for his creation. But if his robot malfunctions and starts maiming and killing indiscriminately, the scientist is held responsible for its actions. Similarly a manufacturer of any item is fully responsible for its defects and the result and suffering that may be caused by its defects just as he enjoys the profits and accolades of his success.

As such it is logical that which ever God created the universe should be held fully responsible for His creation. The earth quakes, volcanoes, floods and famine that take countless lives and cause untold suffering are the results of the flaws in the creation of the world. And just as we can credit the creator God for the gentle rain and sun that resulted in a good harvest we can credit the creator God for the untold misery. Similarly the blind and the handicapped, the sick and the lame can credit God for their suffering and misery just as they credit God for their talents and good health. We could even go as far as to place all evil and good on Gods shoulders. After all God created man. Even if He decided to give free-will to man it was His sole decision and as such He should take responsibility for any lack of wisdom in such a decision. As an all-knowing God, I am sure he was aware that some of his creations would cause more suffering and misery than joy and happiness. (Beyond Belief - A.L. De Silva; BuddhaSasana web site).

The question then arises is God compassionate or is he omnipotent? All the misery and suffering in the world leads me to believe that He can not be both? Most people would like to assume that God is better than us and that our goal is to be as God like as possible and as such use Him as a role model. And yet, if we were omnipotent would we cause such misery? We now live in a society where we are taught to help our children grow with love and understanding as opposed to spanking and hitting. How does one relate to a God who kills and maims to teach us to grow? As I have previously indicated, despite my non-belief in creation, I have no issue with religions claiming that their God created the world. They have to, however, in my opinion take full responsibility for His creation.

I do, however, take exception to Mr. Craig’s concluding statements. He writes, "In conclusion we are raising a generation of young people to believe that there is no God and that they are just accidents evolved from algae. What does this belief do to the value of human life and the basis of morality?..." Mr Craig implies that one can not be moral or value human life if one does not believe in a creator God. There are many people who do not believe in creation or an omnipotent creator God, who are moral. Compassion, loving kindness, generosity, tolerance, and universal responsibility exists in followers of every religion and in those that do not subscribe to any religion.

I would like to draw the reader’s attention to Buddhism, one such religion that has boundless compassion and wisdom that does not believe in an omnipotent creator God. And this is what the great scientist Albert Einstein says of Buddhism (What intellectuals say about Buddhism - Dr. K. Sri. Dhammananda):

"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God, avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism."

The tolerance and compassion found in Buddhism has been acknowledge by all informed religious leaders just as the compassion found on the Sermon on the Mount is acknowledged by all religious leaders. In fact the similarities found in the Sermon on the Mount and the Dhammapada of the Buddha have been the authorship of many scholars and academics.

Dr. Roy. C Amore, professor of religion at the University of Windsor in his book Two masters one Message has done a wonderful comparison of the startling similarities and differences of the two religions and has come to some enlightening conclusions. Morality exists in both religions despite their different beliefs on creation. Is this just coincidence or is it possible that one religion borrowed from the other? Interesting reading especially as the Buddha was born more than 500 years before Christ. Gruber and Kirsten in their book, The Original Jesus - Buddhist Sources of Christianity goes into an in-depth study of not only the similarities in some of the teachings on morality but the historical beginning and spread of the teachings. These are but few of the books that address some of the similarities in two of the world’s leading theist and non-theist religions both of which contain deep compassion..

Dr. Paul Dahlke of Germany in his Buddhists Essays states, "It is the knowledge of the law of cause and effect, action and reaction, that urges a man to refrain from evil and gather good. A believer in cause and effect knows only too well that it is his own actions that make his life miserable or otherwise". Dr. Dahlke is referring to the Buddhist doctrine of kamma, where intentional wholesome and unwholesome actions have wholesome and unwholesome reactions at the opportune time and the doctrine of rebirth. Many scholars and academics have researched rebirth. Many Lives Many Masters - Brian Weiss MD, Rebirth as Doctrine and Experience - Francis Story, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation- Ian Stevenson, and Many Mansions - Gina Cerminara are some that point towards rebirth and kamma. In this instance Dr. Dahlke shows that knowledge of the operation of the law of kamma and rebirth also leads its believers to morality. It is clear that belief in an omnipotent creator God is not an essential requirement for morality.

Jack Kornfield in his book A Path with Heart and Howard Cutler MD. and His Holiness The Dalai Lama in their book the Art of Happiness effectively convey the boundless compassion and loving kindness found in Buddhism – a religion that does not believe in an omnipotent God or creation. Buddhism is a non-violent, compassionate religion, and throughout its peaceful existence of over 2500 years, not a drop of blood has been shed in the spread of the teaching of the Buddha. Unfortunately history does not support Mr. Craig’s claims that belief in a creator God is required to value human life. Many theist religions have used the sword to spread their religion.

The compassion found in Buddhism extends to all living beings. Not only are Buddhists to refrain from killing all living beings but Buddhists are advised by the Buddha to refrain from any livelihood that is harmful to living beings such as the selling of animals for killing and manufacture and sale of weapons and armaments used in war fare. Practising Buddhists accept these precepts or modes of discipline (which are not commandments) after careful examination and understanding. And then with effort they try to live up to their commitment.

I believe that it is prudent to study all world religions before one claims that belief in an omnipotent God and creation are necessary for one to be moral. It is understandable for one who is brought up in a particular religious tradition to view the holy scriptures of that religion as being authentic. We must remember, however, that the frog in the well thinks it is the whole world. As we embark on the 21st century it is prudent that we study all world religions to find truth, compassion and tolerance. One will then see that morality and wholesomeness exists in every religion. All we need to do is to seek out the religion/philosophy/path that appeals to one’s intellect and heart. Once one has confidence, gained through question and analytical examination of one’s chosen path, one will practice with effort in order to reach one’s spiritual potential. Human beings are varied and have different needs. Is it not wonderful that we have so many religious traditions to assist us in reaching our full spiritual potential?

2. If There's No God in Buddhism, Are Buddhists Atheists? ...Lama Surya Das


Q: Is there a God in Buddhism? I read in a book by the pope that Buddhism is atheistic and life-denying.

A: I read the same thing in the pope's book "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," in a chapter called "Buddha?" But the pontiff should know better, or at least be better informed by his scholar-advisers. Buddhism is neither atheistic nor life-denying. We can witness this in the great surge of socially activist Buddhists in the Western countries today, which includes the widespread movement of so-called "engaged Buddhism" founded in part by the Vietnamese Zen master, poet, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. There is great affirmation and hope in Buddhist teaching, or Buddha-dharma, and great respect and reverence for life in all its forms, human and otherwise.

In fact, Buddhism is generally considered to be not atheistic but agnostic, in that, the Buddha himself did not deny the existence of God. The Indian teacher and social reformer teacher called Sakyamuni Buddha is reported to have either kept silent when asked whether God existed, or in other cases to have said that his Noble Eightfold path led to enlightenment and deathless peace, and did not require faith or belief in a divine being or supreme creator. "Buddhism Without Beliefs," by the former monk and Buddhist scholar Stephen Batchelor, offers a fine argument for the agnostic thinking of basic Buddhism.

Q: Do you believe in hell? And if not, what keeps you from sin?

A: I don't believe in eternal damnation or hell. Everything is impermanent, or so it seems to me. Transience and impermanence is also one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism, simply a fact of life from the Buddhist perspective. Of course, it does seem like some beings do live in and experience truly hellacious states of mind, due to their karma. That is probably enough suffering for anyone, and my heart goes out to them, wishing they may expiate their sins, exhaust their bad karma, and eventually evolve out of the darkness.

What keeps me from sin is a felt understanding about karmic cause and effect: that what goes around comes around, that as we sow, we shall reap. That, combined with my deep wish to do no harm. I am also trained in and committed to the five fundamental lay Buddhist ethical precepts of cherishing life, honesty, right action, non-intoxication, and sexual responsibility, which helps me stay grounded and balanced, experience spiritual wellness and wholeness, and keeps me in alignment with the universal law. This is Buddha's Middle Path, free of extremism, and it brings freedom, inner peace and harmony, wisdom, and joyous fulfillment.

Fear of hellfire is not necessary to motivate me to live a moral life, challenging as that may occasionally prove to be. I prefer to strive for virtue and to live a wholesome, happy, nonviolent, service-oriented life that contributes to the greater good. For I would rather be part of the solution to the world's woes than part of that problem.

3. The Journal of Buddhist Ethics


Aims - The Journal of Buddhist Ethics has been established to promote the study of Buddhist ethics through the publication of research, book reviews, and hosting occasional online conferences.

Description - The Journal of Buddhist Ethics is the first academic journal dedicated entirely to Buddhist ethics, and is innovative in adopting a totally electronic mode of publication. In most other respects, however, it functions as a traditional scholarly journal. Research articles as well as discussions and critical notes submitted to the journal are subject to blind peer review.

The Concept of an Online Journal - An online journal differs from a traditional journal in publishing electronically as opposed to a printed format. The Journal of Buddhist Ethics also publishes material on an ongoing rather than a periodic basis, eliminating any backlog between acceptance and publication. An online journal is NOT the same as a newsgroup, discussion list, or bulletin board: The Journal of Buddhist Ethics is none of these things and does not function in this way.

Why Publish Online? - Online journals are a logical development in the use of information technology. The dissemination of information through this medium has three main advantages over publication in the traditional manner, namely, cost, speed, and ease of access. Other advantages of an electronic medium include keyword searching and the use of multimedia and hypertext formats.

Editorial Policy - The editors are committed to the widest dissemination for material published by the journal. As well as publishing online they will also explore possibilities for the publication of the contents of the journal from time to time in partnership with traditional presses.

Subject Classifications - The Journal of Buddhist Ethics interprets "ethics" in a broad sense as including subject matter in the ten areas listed below.

1. Vinaya and Jurisprudence
2. Medical Ethics
3. Philosophical Ethics
4. Human Rights
5. Ethics and Psychology
6. Ecology and the Environment
7. Social and Political Philosophy
8. Cross-cultural Ethics
9. Ethics and Anthropology
10. Interfaith Dialogue on Ethics

1. Vinaya and Jurisprudence - Research into all aspects of Buddhist monastic discipline. The origins and development of the Vinaya; its categories, structure, and organization; its provisions on specific matters; comparative studies of the Vinayas of different schools; legal and jurisprudential principles.

2. Medical Ethics - Issues in contemporary medical ethics and biotechnology; abortion, embryo research, reproductive technologies (IVF, AID etc.), and genetic engineering; AIDS; organ transplants; resource allocation; informed consent; coma patients and the persistent vegetative state; criminal and medical law; suicide; defining death; terminal care and euthanasia; state medicine and health policy.

3. Philosophical Ethics - Theories of ethics and meta-ethics; codes of ethics; moral obligations; altruism and compassion; virtues; patterns of justification; teleological, deontological, and consequentialist theories; situation ethics; the quality of life; the value of life; personhood; ethics and human good; natural law; the status of moral norms; moral absolutes; "skillful means."

4. Human Rights - The Buddhist basis for a doctrine of human rights and its provisions; the concept of "rights" in Buddhism; fundamental rights of individuals; autonomy and self-determination; human dignity; equality; justice; freedom; privacy; the protection of rights; women's rights; international codes, charters and declarations; human rights abuses in Buddhist cultures.

5. Ethics and Psychology - The relationship between psychology and moral conduct; the psychology of moral judgments; the analysis of ethical terminology in the Abhidharma and elsewhere; the concepts of motive, intention, will, virtue, and character; the emotions; desire; love; moral choice and self-determination; related issues in philosophical psychology.

6. Ecology, Animals and the Environment - Responsibilities and obligations toward nature; animal rights; the moral status of animals and non-sentient life; experimentation on animals; philosophy of biology; speciesism; evolution; future generations; the relationship between Buddhist and other environmental philosophies.

7. Social and Political Philosophy - The Buddhist blueprint for a just society; the nature and role of the state; rights and duties of governments and citizens; democracy and alternative political systems; socialism, communism, and capitalism; social, educational, and welfare provisions; Buddhist law; law and ethics; Buddhism and war; nuclear warfare; revolution; capital punishment; justifiable killing; pacifism and ahimsa.

8. Cross-cultural Ethics - Buddhism and comparative religious ethics; methodologies for the study of Buddhist ethics.

9. Ethics and Anthropology - Ethics in practice in Buddhist societies; ethics and social mores; the influence of indigenous customs and attitudes on moral teachings; rites de passage; variation in marriage and other customs; the great tradition and the little tradition; moral relativism; cultural pluralism.

10. Interfaith Dialogue - Similarities and differences between Buddhism and other world religions in the field of ethics; the basis for dialogue; ethics and metaphysics; hermeneutics and the derivation of moral norms from scripture.

4. The Science of Good and Evil : Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule -- by Michael Shermer


From Publishers Weekly - Drawing on evolutionary psychology, Skeptic publisher and Scientific American contributor Shermer (Why People Believe Weird Things) argues that the sources of moral behavior can be traced scientifically to humanity's evolutionary origins. He contends that human morality evolved as first an individual and then a species-wide mechanism for survival. As society evolved, humans needed rules governing behavior-e.g., altruism, sympathy, reciprocity and community concern-in order to ensure survival. Shermer says that some form of the Golden Rule-"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you"-provides the foundation of morality in human societies. Out of this, he develops the principles of what he calls a "provisional ethics" that "is neither absolute nor relative," that applies to most people most of the time, while allowing for "tolerance and diversity." According to the "ask-first" principle, for instance, the performer of an act simply asks its intended receiver whether the act is right or wrong. Other principles include the "happiness" principle ("always seek happiness with someone else's happiness in mind"), the liberty principle ("always seek liberty with someone else's liberty in mind") and the moderation principle ("when innocent people die, extremism in the defense of anything is no virtue, and moderation in the protection of everything is no vice"). Shermer's provisional ethics might reflect the messy ways that human moral behavior developed, but his simplistic principles establish a utilitarian calculus that not everyone will find acceptable. 35 b&w illus

Amazon.com - Reviewer: from Wyoming ...from an avid reader of the life sciences and philosophy, Shermer's survey of evolutionary ethics is excellent start to finish. His prologue is simply the best I've read on the subject. I highly recommend this book without any reservations.

Amazon.com - Reviewer: From Colorado Springs, Colorado United States ...Shermer's discussion of morality in this book is a continuation of that he started in How We Believe, though that book was less dry and more complete. Still, he bravely tackles morality with an approach not unlike Nietsche's (one must drop the crutch of religion and take responsibility for their own morals) only less angry and more scientific (hence the dryness). Shermer does do a fair job of trying to explain the beauty of individual moral responsibility, but the book concerns mainly the historical or 'evolutionary' explaination of morals, in that they serve a societal function. (A good companion book to this would be Sagan's Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors.)

Shermer's lens seems greatly shaped by Darwin. That may be because one of his books between How We Believe and this on was In Darwin's Shadow (about Alfred Wallace), or perhaps Darwin's science is pretty solid stuff. At any rate, to apply a scientific approach to morality is to try and replace thousands of years of mythology which did the job until recently. Can morality be explained without religious ties? That's the interesting part of it.

I was going to give this book 4 stars because of the slight disappointment I had with Shermer's writing style, but the topic is so vast and this book gives one of the best discussions of it I've seen in a long time. So it's a Fiver!

Amazon.com - Reviewer: from Lafayette, IN USA ...Can humans be moral without relying on some divine list of rights and wrongs? This book describes how morality could emerge from the need to optimize in-groups ("us") and coalesce in a common defense from out-groups ("them"). When we are seen as the descendents of hundreds of generations of hunter-gatherers, the idea is that certain lines of behavior might confer reproductive advantage, thus the genes motivating in-group cooperation and mutual defense towards common out-groups would prosper into the future. The rules of such cooperation and mutual altruism become codified into moral systems. A superb book.


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