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The Difference Between Buddhism and Atheism

Exaltist Ethan

Bridging the Gap Between Believers and Skeptics
I've seen a lot of posts by people who at first glance seem to be completely anti-religion and anti-theist, or at least agnostic atheist, only to find out from their religious bio that they self-identify as Buddhist instead.

I know there is some underlying spirituality in Buddhism, such as their non-attachment principles, and I think Buddhists believe some sort of karma and reincarnation, but obviously every Buddhist is different on their own spiritual journeys.

Obviously, one could say, "every Buddhist is an atheist, but not every atheist is a Buddhist." But I want to know from Buddhists themselves on why so many of them seem to be against the idea of God but at the same time belong to a religion. Baha'is will incorrectly say that Buddhists believe that nirvana itself represents God, and I've been corrected in the past to not think this way.

And I am not just asking Buddhists, if anyone is well-educated on these matters, please explain to me the differences between these two concepts. Does it seem like these concepts are similar to you? Let me know what you know, both the similarities and differences between Buddhism and atheism below.
 

Secret Chief

nirvana is samsara
****, I must be in the frame for this. :rolleyes:
Labels infer things...I would describe myself as non-theist, rather than atheist.

I think Buddhists believe some sort of karma and reincarnation

Nowt wrong with the word karma/kamma. It means volitional action. Reincarnation is not a Buddhist teaching, if one means something soul-like is coming back after death. The closest you might hear is the analogy of a candle flame passing from one candle to another. Plus, as you say, there's quite a spread in Buddhism between individuals (and traditions/schools).

against the idea of God but at the same time belong to a religion

There's a whole world of religion that isn't about uppercase G god. Look around this forum :)

Baha'is will incorrectly say that Buddhists believe that nirvana itself represents God,

They will. Grinds teeth. Or the Buddha was a.....Messenger or something....
 
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wellwisher

Well-Known Member
I've seen a lot of posts by people who at first glance seem to be completely anti-religion and anti-theist, or at least agnostic atheist, only to find out from their religious bio that they self-identify as Buddhist instead.

I know there is some underlying spirituality in Buddhism, such as their non-attachment principles, and I think Buddhists believe some sort of karma and reincarnation, but obviously every Buddhist is different on their own spiritual journeys.

Obviously, one could say, "every Buddhist is an atheist, but not every atheist is a Buddhist." But I want to know from Buddhists themselves on why so many of them seem to be against the idea of God but at the same time belong to a religion. Baha'is will incorrectly say that Buddhists believe that nirvana itself represents God, and I've been corrected in the past to not think this way.

And I am not just asking Buddhists, if anyone is well-educated on these matters, please explain to me the differences between these two concepts. Does it seem like these concepts are similar to you? Let me know what you know, both the similarities and differences between Buddhism and atheism below.

The Buddha was originally called Siddhartha Gautama. He was born into a royal family in Nepal around 563/480 BC, at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Growing up he has access to the finest things and the best understanding of the material world of his time, due to access to the best teachers. He was also very precocious.

Later in life, he went in the opposite direction, developing techniques to develop higher human potential, from the inside, out, instead of from the material way, from the outside, in. There he becomes the Buddha.

If you have lots of wealth and power, you can control your environment and use an ideal tailored environment to develop your ego and maximize self esteem. You can surround yourself with beauty to feel happy. You can surround yourself with yes men so you feel smart. Or you can surround yourself with Navy Seals to feel safe.The outside sensory world is manipulated so it can push your sensory buttons, which then push limbic system buttons that allows you to feel positive and special. This is why so many people seek money and power; external stimulus to feel better.

The poor man who has little control over his environment. He cannot depend on the external environment to provide happiness through his sensory systems; outside, in. Buddha, who had access at the top of the materialists food chain of his day, developed himself in the outside way, as far as that could take him. He withdrew from the extroverted approach, to do the opposite, which was to find that same thing, but from the inside, out; nirvana and the spiritual glow.

From a practical POV this approach made sense of the masses, since there is limited wealth and power and not everyone can be Royal and use their environmental to develop ego self esteem, at a high level. Most people will only be able to evolve the ego along the edges of material control, since most people are poor and are locked out from the Royal limits.

But we all have an inner access to our brain to achieve the same things, via the inner man. The inner man can manipulate the operating system of the brain and develop higher human potential. Buddhist Monks can train their bodies to do amazing things based on controlling the mind; break stone.

Buddha was able to achieve the best of both worlds. He first maximize the outer man, then the inner man. Atheists tend to be stuck at the outer man, since we cannot all become Royal, and have all the access needed to do the outer man to the extreme. They are not very familiar with the ways of the inner man. The Agnostic is traveling within sensing and feeling esoteric things.

The Atheist may go to a Psychologist to help deal with problems or neurosis. The Buddhist does not go to their spiritual advisers to just deal with problems, but to also transcend this material reality; update the operating system so it has more advanced tools.

Western religions tend to be a hybrid. God or gods are assumed to be outside the person, albeit as a type of external spirit. In that sense, this expectation allows them to act similar to material objects that can push the same buttons similar to material things. The external gods are triggers to help generate expectations. Heaven or Hell, is thought about by the faithful, way before it is a final resting destination. It is pushing buttons for the inner man over a lifetime. Jesus said blessed are the poor because he knew they could not find their nirvana with material things. They needed to go inside, but in a cultural setting where everything good is supposed to be outside; gold. The imagination can be used to push the same buttons as direct sensory input. When we dream the sensory systems are off line, but we can still experience.

I am sort of a hybrid between Buddhism. Western Deity Religion and Science. I use the tools of these two religious approaches while being aware of what is happening in my brain based on science. However, I extended the philosophy of science to include first person data that can only be experience from the inside. This is where the Atheist get lost. Science does not have the best data for the inner man, since its third person approach can't get the best data. In this case inner seeing in the first person is believing.
 
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Twilight Hue

Twilight, not bright nor dark, good nor bad.
I've seen a lot of posts by people who at first glance seem to be completely anti-religion and anti-theist, or at least agnostic atheist, only to find out from their religious bio that they self-identify as Buddhist instead.

I know there is some underlying spirituality in Buddhism, such as their non-attachment principles, and I think Buddhists believe some sort of karma and reincarnation, but obviously every Buddhist is different on their own spiritual journeys.

Obviously, one could say, "every Buddhist is an atheist, but not every atheist is a Buddhist." But I want to know from Buddhists themselves on why so many of them seem to be against the idea of God but at the same time belong to a religion. Baha'is will incorrectly say that Buddhists believe that nirvana itself represents God, and I've been corrected in the past to not think this way.

And I am not just asking Buddhists, if anyone is well-educated on these matters, please explain to me the differences between these two concepts. Does it seem like these concepts are similar to you? Let me know what you know, both the similarities and differences between Buddhism and atheism below.
Some just like the hats and robes. 0]

Actually Buddhists tend to be more engaged in detachment so life isn't spent as an uphill battle.

It's really not atheism and Buddhism as it's a comparison that isn't really revelant.
 

Vouthon

Dominus Deus tuus ignis consumens est
Staff member
Premium Member
@Exaltist Ethan Buddhism is a dharmic religion and not akin to what many in the contemporary West understand the term "Atheism" to mean.

It's true inasmuch as there is no reference to a creator deity or Supreme Being in Buddhist cosmology and indeed there's a sutta in the Tripitaka (Buddhist canon) which actively mocks conventional Brahmic (and by extension Abrahamic, since its similar) accounts of creation by a divine agent.

For many Westerners, however, atheism is a synonym for 'reductive physicalism' and 'methodological naturalism' - a worldview attested as early (one could plausibly argue) as the Epicureans and Atomists in ancient Greece. It basically holds that the existence of the universe, human life and consciousness are explicable purely in terms of physics, chemistry, cellular mechanisms and testable predictions/consequences. Atheists therefore deny appeals to anything purporting to exist beyond the natural order (or to be able to interfere in its workings) as superstitious and misguided.

Buddhism, on the contrary, is adamantly not physicalist or naturalistic. It presupposes the existence of "nibbana" - a state of unconditioned bliss, beyond matter and timespace (or in certain Mahayana traditions the ultimate sort of pantheist reality which is time and space once illusion is removed), which human beings can become 'awakened' to and attain after following the Noble Eightfold Path, apprehending the Four Noble Truths and practising samadhi and vipassana meditation.

This belief, in turn, rests on a number of untestable and unfalsifiable 'assumptions' from a secular-rationalist perspective: that such a thing as rebirth exists along with good or bad karmic conditions from past lives and 'dhamma/dharma', that there is a non-material component to the human mind which can be reborn in a cycle until 'liberated' and a whole host of other 'supernatural' agents including Buddhas dwelling in superluminal realms waiting to reincarnate and enlighten humanity, Wheel-Turning Monarchs, prophecies, devas (gods) and hungry ghosts that western secular atheists would deem to be the product of ancient myth unsupported by science.

That's because Buddhism is a spiritual, meditative and religious path. Just one that has no need or place for a Supreme Creator Being in its metaphysics. Like any ancient religious creed though, the ethics, wisdom and meditative practices of Buddhism can be applied 'secularly' by non-religious people (whether for cultural heritage reasons or because one finds it genuinely appealing) and this is often done today:

Secular Buddhism - Wikipedia
 
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F1fan

Veteran Member
I've seen a lot of posts by people who at first glance seem to be completely anti-religion and anti-theist, or at least agnostic atheist, only to find out from their religious bio that they self-identify as Buddhist instead.
Who the hell are these people. I think they need to be exposed immediately and asked to explain themselves. And let them date your wives and girlfriends.

I know there is some underlying spirituality in Buddhism, such as their non-attachment principles, and I think Buddhists believe some sort of karma and reincarnation, but obviously every Buddhist is different on their own spiritual journeys.
The original form of Buddhism is Theravada, and it is non-theistic. There are forms of Buddhism that are theistic, and it includes ideas of divinity. It's not comparable to what Western religion think of as religious. So being Buddhist and atheist is synonymous. One teaching of Siddartha was that there is freedom of thought in Buddhism. No one has to believe anything. If there are ideas in traditional Buddhist thought, like reincarnation, that a person doesn't think is true, they aren't required to believe. This is another thing that Western religions differ from in their heavy authoritarian structures and rule based systems.

Buddhism is a set of methods to help manage the mind. It helps create stability and balance.

Obviously, one could say, "every Buddhist is an atheist, but not every atheist is a Buddhist." But I want to know from Buddhists themselves on why so many of them seem to be against the idea of God but at the same time belong to a religion. Baha'is will incorrectly say that Buddhists believe that nirvana itself represents God, and I've been corrected in the past to not think this way.
there are many ideas in Buddhism that are optional. It seems most with Western religious experiences try to understand Eastern religions from that perspective, and that only creates confusion. I was given a book on religions some years ago and I was reading the Buddhist chapter. It tried to compare Mara with the Devil, and it was completely wrong. I looked to see who published the book and it was Kingdom Hall, the JW's. I'm sure it was deliberate misrepresentation.
 

crossfire

LHP Mercuræn Feminist Heretic ☿
Premium Member
I've seen a lot of posts by people who at first glance seem to be completely anti-religion and anti-theist, or at least agnostic atheist, only to find out from their religious bio that they self-identify as Buddhist instead.

I know there is some underlying spirituality in Buddhism, such as their non-attachment principles, and I think Buddhists believe some sort of karma and reincarnation, but obviously every Buddhist is different on their own spiritual journeys.
Rebirth, not reincarnation.

Obviously, one could say, "every Buddhist is an atheist, but not every atheist is a Buddhist."
Not every Buddhist is atheistic. Buddha himself was a teacher of devas.
But I want to know from Buddhists themselves on why so many of them seem to be against the idea of God but at the same time belong to a religion.
All sentient beings are subject to delusion (which is a hallmark of sentience) and worthy of compassion (skillful action to help them overcome their delusion.) Even gods.
Baha'is will incorrectly say that Buddhists believe that nirvana itself represents God, and I've been corrected in the past to not think this way.
Indeed, don't believe that.

And I am not just asking Buddhists, if anyone is well-educated on these matters, please explain to me the differences between these two concepts. Does it seem like these concepts are similar to you? Let me know what you know, both the similarities and differences between Buddhism and atheism below.
The Four Dharma Seals are how you identify Buddhadharma:
The Three Marks of Existence: All Phenomena have the following characteristics
  1. Anicca/Impermanence
  2. Dukkha/Suffering
  3. Anatta/no permanent, unchanging self/core
The 4th Dharma Seal of Buddhist teachings is:
4. Nibbana/Nirvana teachings​

Obviously, atheists don't necessarily hold to these Seals, but Buddhists do.
 
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crossfire

LHP Mercuræn Feminist Heretic ☿
Premium Member
Here is what Buddha said about accepting or rejecting other religious teachings:

  • If a doctrine propagates greed, hatred, or delusion, reject it as leading to long term harm.
  • If a doctrine teaches the absence of and/or the ending of greed, hatred, or delusion, accept it as leading towards long term good.
Kalama Sutta: The Instruction to the Kalamas
 

crossfire

LHP Mercuræn Feminist Heretic ☿
Premium Member
The Buddha was originally called Siddhartha Gautama. He was born into a royal family in Nepal around 563/480 BC, at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Growing up he has access to the finest things and the best understanding of the material world of his time, due to access to the best teachers. He was also very precocious.

Later in life, he went in the opposite direction, developing techniques to develop higher human potential, from the inside, out, instead of from the material way, from the outside, in. There he becomes the Buddha.

If you have lots of wealth and power, you can control your environment and use an ideal tailored environment to develop your ego and maximize self esteem. You can surround yourself with beauty to feel happy. You can surround yourself with yes men so you feel smart. Or you can surround yourself with Navy Seals to feel safe.The outside sensory world is manipulated so it can push your sensory buttons, which then push limbic system buttons that allows you to feel positive and special. This is why so many people seek money and power; external stimulus to feel better.

The poor man who has little control over his environment. He cannot depend on the external environment to provide happiness through his sensory systems; outside, in. Buddha, who had access at the top of the materialists food chain of his day, developed himself in the outside way, as far as that could take him. He withdrew from the extroverted approach, to do the opposite, which was to find that same thing, but from the inside, out; nirvana and the spiritual glow.

From a practical POV this approach made sense of the masses, since there is limited wealth and power and not everyone can be Royal and use their environmental to develop ego self esteem, at a high level. Most people will only be able to evolve the ego along the edges of material control, since most people are poor and are locked out from the Royal limits.

But we all have an inner access to our brain to achieve the same things, via the inner man. The inner man can manipulate the operating system of the brain and develop higher human potential. Buddhist Monks can train their bodies to do amazing things based on controlling the mind; break stone.

Buddha was able to achieve the best of both worlds. He first maximize the outer man, then the inner man. Atheists tend to be stuck at the outer man, since we cannot all become Royal, and have all the access needed to do the outer man to the extreme. They are not very familiar with the ways of the inner man. The Agnostic is traveling within sensing and feeling esoteric things.

The Atheist may go to a Psychologist to help deal with problems or neurosis. The Buddhist does not go to their spiritual advisers to just deal with problems, but to also transcend this material reality; update the operating system so it has more advanced tools.

Western religions tend to be a hybrid. God or gods are assumed to be outside the person, albeit as a type of external spirit. In that sense, this expectation allows them to act similar to material objects that can push the same buttons similar to material things. The external gods are triggers to help generate expectations. Heaven or Hell, is thought about by the faithful, way before it is a final resting destination. It is pushing buttons for the inner man over a lifetime. Jesus said blessed are the poor because he knew they could not find their nirvana with material things. They needed to go inside, but in a cultural setting where everything good is supposed to be outside; gold. The imagination can be used to push the same buttons as direct sensory input. When we dream the sensory systems are off line, but we can still experience.

I am sort of a hybrid between Buddhism. Western Deity Religion and Science. I use the tools of these two religious approaches while being aware of what is happening in my brain based on science. However, I extended the philosophy of science to include first person data that can only be experience from the inside. This is where the Atheist get lost. Science does not have the best data for the inner man, since its third person approach can't get the best data. In this case inner seeing in the first person is believing.
I see religion as the separation of the sacred from the profane. In Buddhism, you withdraw from everyday secular life to turn inward and meditate to do your religious practice. That is the holy life.
 

Ella S.

Dispassionate Goth
I'll add to this as an atheist who is not a Buddhist.

I do not believe in rebirth, and so I also don't believe in the liberation from rebirth which Buddhists refer to as Nirvana. I also don't believe in karma; despite the fact that many people in dharmic religions claim karma is just a word for the law of cause-and-effect, they still describe karma in supernatural ways that go far beyond what I would consider mere cause-and-effect.

Because of this, I have no use for the Buddhist practices designed to get rid of my karma and help me reach Nirvana. So I don't see a point in calling myself Buddhist when basically all of the Buddhist practices and teachings I've read are justified by helping the adherent reach these goals.

I do engage in Stoic meditations, but the purpose of these is to control my mind in accordance with logic, not to reach Nirvana or to let go of dukkha. It's also quite different in character to Buddhist meditations, which tend to emphasize either an emptying of the mind or introspection on various Buddhist concepts or texts. Instead, I try to cultivate acceptance and awareness of my mind, which is closer to what the West calls "mindfulness meditation" and I introspect on Stoic texts, not Buddhist ones.

I know a Secular Buddhist, which I consider to be kind of an oxymoron, who also does not believe in rebirth or karma. They do, however, seem to believe in some other aspects of Buddhist metaphysics, such as the non-existence of the self, that existence is fundamentally empty of essence, and so on. I don't think their views are really that accurate to Buddhism and they seem more like an epistemic and existential nihilist to me, which seems to make them very unhappy.
 

Secret Chief

nirvana is samsara
some other aspects of Buddhist metaphysics, such as the non-existence of the self, that existence is fundamentally empty of essence, and so on. I don't think their views are really that accurate to Buddhism

The three marks of existence (including impermanence - anicca - and lack of essence - anatta) are generally considered to be foundational to Buddhism.

Nagarjuna is considered to be one of the most important Buddhist philosophers. His most important text is concerned with sunyata (emptiness/nonself), an idea to be found in both Theravada and Mahayana traditions (albeit with differing takes).

Such teachings are Buddhist teachings therefore. Teachings that lack or deny these ideas are therefore not Buddhist teachings. And as the Tibetan lama Dzongsar Khyentse said, whether or not one accepts them as true is what makes one a Buddhist or not.
 
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Ella S.

Dispassionate Goth
The three marks of existence (including impermanence - anicca - and lack of essence - anatta) are generally considered to be foundational to Buddhism.

Nagarjuna is considered to be one of the most important Buddhist philosophers. His most important text is concerned with sunyata (emptiness/nonself), an idea to be found in both Theravada and Mahayana traditions (albeit with differing takes).

Such teachings are Buddhist teachings therefore. Teachings that lack or deny these ideas are therefore not Buddhist teachings. And as the Tibetan lama Dzongsar Khyentse said, whether or not one accepts them as true is what makes one a Buddhist or not.

I'm aware. I just don't think the way my friend in particular approaches these subjects is from a place in Buddhism at all. To my knowledge, they haven't read any Buddhist sutras or engaged with any material from any Buddhist monks or monasteries. The ties to Buddhism they claim seem rather shallow.
 

IndigoChild5559

Loving God and my neighbor as myself.
I've seen a lot of posts by people who at first glance seem to be completely anti-religion and anti-theist, or at least agnostic atheist, only to find out from their religious bio that they self-identify as Buddhist instead.

I know there is some underlying spirituality in Buddhism, such as their non-attachment principles, and I think Buddhists believe some sort of karma and reincarnation, but obviously every Buddhist is different on their own spiritual journeys.

Obviously, one could say, "every Buddhist is an atheist, but not every atheist is a Buddhist." But I want to know from Buddhists themselves on why so many of them seem to be against the idea of God but at the same time belong to a religion. Baha'is will incorrectly say that Buddhists believe that nirvana itself represents God, and I've been corrected in the past to not think this way.

And I am not just asking Buddhists, if anyone is well-educated on these matters, please explain to me the differences between these two concepts. Does it seem like these concepts are similar to you? Let me know what you know, both the similarities and differences between Buddhism and atheism below.
I am not an expert on Buddhism, but I know the basics. There are different forms of Buddhism. Some venerate the spirits of the Buddhas and are obviously a religion. Others make no comment on spiritual beings etc, and are more of a philosophy. I believe it is pretty standard for Buddhists to believe in reincarnation, which would be a religious belief.

Atheism on the other hand, quite clearly rejects the notion of anything spiritual -- no gods, no angels, no buddhas, no afterlife. Nothing. Just the material world.
 

Secret Chief

nirvana is samsara
I believe it is pretty standard for Buddhists to believe in reincarnation

Er not if you're transmigrating souls, which is the common understanding. Now if you'd said rebirth...

"Tucker’s team focuses on reincarnation, which generally implies the existence of a soul that transmigrates from body to body. The Buddhist view of “non-self” rejects the existence of an essential soul, instead positing that we are an ever-changing collection of phenomena that create the illusion of a self."

- Reincarnation: What do modern research and traditional Buddhist teachings say?

More here:

"reincarnation (or transmigration) does not exist at all in Buddhism"

- Reincarnation, Rebirth, and Buddhism: Here We Go Again

And... here is a link to the index of the online resource of the Pali canon. The interested may wish to just count the number of references to "Reincarnation" and the number for "Rebirth"...

- General Index
 
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