To be labeled an atheist or godless often has an insulting and derogatory connotation. It implies that one denies worship, denies morals, denies any spiritual or social obligation and denies a religious life. This in no way describes the teachings of Buddha.
The terms atheist and godless are also often associated with one who subscribes to an entirely materialistic belief system, a doctrine that knows nothing beyond worldly senses and the slight, temporary happiness it can bestow. Buddhism advocates nothing of the sort. Both Buddhists and followers of other religions believe that true and lasting happiness cannot be found in the material world.
In only one sense can Buddhism be described an atheistic religion – Buddhism denies existence of a Creator God, being an eternal omnipresent God who created the world and who can miraculously save others. Unlike some other beliefs, Buddhists do not believe that a certain god will appear in this world at some future date to destroy the wicked, unsaved people and to protect the good ones.
Buddha sought not to destroy the wicked but to show them the correct path. Although Buddhism does not depend on a Creator God, Buddhism emphatically recognizes the existence of moral and spiritual values. Moreover, Buddhists believe in humanity – we believe that each human being is precious and important and that ll have the potential to develop into a perfect human being.
Unlike most other religions, Buddhism does not claim to have originated from heaven. Buddha never said that he was the son of God, the messenger of God or a reincarnation of a God. Performing rites and rituals, making offers or praying is not Buddhism.
Often times people’s believe in their Creator God is confirmed or renewed because they prayed in a time of need and their prayer was answered. Here, correlation doesn’t prove causation. Buddha rejected all of these as foolish and warned about the futility of taking refuge in the hills, woods or shrines when people are full of fear.
Buddhists also don’t expect the gods to do things for us or the angels and guardians to protect us. If you believe in these things, Buddhism teaches that you will suffer because you will always be waiting for the right day, the right month or the right year for your miracle.
Instead of praying to supernatural beings, Buddhists seek a practical means of conquering birth, aging, pain and death by destroying their mental defilements which cause greed, anger and delusion. Buddhism doesn’t entice people into living a fool’s paradise, nor does it scare people with imaginary fears.
Although Buddha was just a man, he was not an ordinary man like us. He was an extraordinary and incomparably person. As such, Buddha is considered the Enlightened One, the most compassionate and wise person who ever lived in this world. For this reason, people take refuge in the Buddha as a teacher or master who has lived and shown the real path of inner peace.
While people may show their respect and gratitude toward Buddha, they do not pray to Buddha with the illusion that he is a god who will reward or punish them. Nor do they ask for material favors through Buddha. They simply pay homage to a great religious teacher. Those who recite verses from his teachings do so as a means of recalling his great virtues and good qualities in order to get inspiration, confidence and guidance for themselves. This is all done so that we can try to be like him.
In some religions, people seek protection in certain objects which they believe are inhabited by spirits. Buddhists however, know that the only protection they can have is through a complete understanding of their own natures and eradicating their base instincts. When Buddhists seek refuge in Buddha, it simply means that they accept Buddha and his teachings as the means through which they can end their suffering.
Whether you call Buddhism a religion, philosophy or a way of life, Buddhism is practical, rational and presents a realistic view of life and the world as it exists today. In the here and now, we should look into our own actions, speech, and Karma. By doing good, you inherit goodness; by doing bad, you inherit badness. See The Law of Karma for a more detailed discussion on Karma.
If we can understand that good and bad, right and wrong all lie within us, then we won’t have to go looking for those things somewhere else.
Put another way, if we lose our inner peace here, we must look to find or restore it where we lost it – within ourselves. Even if you don’t find it at first, keep looking where you dropped it. Usually, we lose it within ourselves and then go looking outside of ourselves for the answers, but we’ll never find it over there.