Why do we have religion and how did it evolve?
Human beings are at the highest level on the tree of evolution and are the only living beings in this world who have discovered religion. Religion can be considered human beings greatest source of power.
Practicing a religion is nothing more than the development of one’s inner awareness, goodwill and understanding. Put another way, it is an expression of the striving of human beings. Religion can transform a person with negative characteristics into someone with positive qualities. It can turn the self into the unselfish; the proud into the humble; the cruel into the kind; and the subjective into the objective.
If we look into the origins of religion, most scholars and experts agree that religion arose in the world out of fear. Our ancestors developed religion in order to help explain and understand the life within them and the world around them. Primitive humans lived in a dangerous and hostile world. They constantly lived in fear of wild animals, in fear of starving, in fear of injury and disease and in fear of thunder, lightning, and various other things that they were unable to understand or control.
In order to avoid the danger early humans saw in the world, they created the idea of gods in order to give themselves comfort and security. It also provided them courage in times of danger and consolation when things went wrong. Even today people often become more religious during times of crises and their believe in their god gives them the strength they need to deal with life.
Buddha teaches us that the idea of a Creator God (See Do Buddhists Believe in God?), is a response to fear and frustration. Buddhism teaches us to try to understand our fears, to lessen our desires, and to calmly and courageously accept the things we cannot change. Buddha replaced fear with rational understanding, instead of replacing fear with irrational belief.
Every religion will offer reasons to explain the existing human problems and offer ways to overcome the situation. Every religion also has its own concept of what it considers to be the goal of spiritual life and offers way to attain that goal. For some religions, the goal is eternal life in heaven.
For Buddhists, the purpose of life is to achieve the end of suffering or unsatisfactoriness. Regardless of the exact belief system, all religions should be practiced for the welfare, freedom and happiness of all living beings. In other words, a religion should be used positively to improve the quality of life for all living beings.
Is your religion based on tolerance, reason and freedom of thought?
There are many religions today that try to keep their followers in the dark by instructing them not to listen to the teachings of other religions. Often, these same religions teach that they should not doubt the teachings of their own religion. Even more troubling is the fact that most followers of every religion are trying to show the superiority of their religion. The most respected religious practices in one religion may be seen a ridiculous to others.
Many major religions of the world today ask or require their followers to leave their common sense and education at the doorstep. Often these religious teachers try to keep their followers on a one-track mind so that they can more easily keep them under control for personal gain or political power. Why should we be asked to follow a religion blindly like dumb cattle?
The Buddha himself advised his follows not to accept his own teachings on blind faith. Therefore, if someone tells us something, we must not believe him without question. We must listen and examine it. Then, if we find it reasonable, we may accept it provisionally and set about trying to verify it for ourselves. This is a key features that distinguishes Buddhism from other world religions.
What if you practice under one of these more repressive religions, then one day decide to exercise your freedom of thought and realize you’ve been in the dark the whole time? One result is that you may become an outcast for being a non-believer. Another result is that you may be accused of letting the devil possess your mind and you may be threaten with spending eternity in hell.
Why should individuals not be free to challenge their current religion and change their views on religion if they wish? Unfortunately, most people in the world don’t have real religious freedom. Even if they choose to think freely, they may not have the liberty to give up their religion and to accept another one which appeals to them. Why not? Because many religious leaders, communities and family members have taken that freedom away. People should be allowed to choose their own religion based on their beliefs.
What is the Buddhist stance on converting people?
No one has a right to force another to accept a certain religion. Religion should be left to one’s own free choice.
Buddha taught that we should never force our Buddhist beliefs on someone who is loyal to another religion. Buddhists are taught to remain tolerant and not to think that the follows of other religions are bad or lesser people.
Buddhism does not prevent anyone from learning the teachings of other religions. In fact, Buddhism encourages us to study other religions and to compare the teachings. If the teachings in the other religions are reasonable and rational, then we are free to practice those teachings. When it comes to converting others to Buddhism, Buddha taught that the greatest conquest is not of others but of yourself. He once declared, “Even though a man conquers ten thousand men in battle, he who conquers himself is the greatest of conquerors.”
Selecting or changing a religion should only be done after careful thought and should never be done based on emotional or material gain. Religion should be for one thing and one thing only – for spiritual development and salvation.
Furthermore, all religions should be religions of peace, i.e., based on the principle of causing no harm to one self or to others and urge its followers to cultivate a harmonious and peaceful life.
Buddhism has proven itself to be the quintessential religion of peace. Despite the many different schools of Buddhism that have emerged over the past 2,500 years, they have never had any violence or bloodshed toward each other. The different sects have co-existed peacefully and continue to do so. This is the uniqueness of Buddhist tolerance. While some religions survive by keeping their followers in the dark, Buddhism thrives by showing its followers the light of truth.