Author Topic: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"  (Read 574 times)

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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia

A group of atheists and secularists recently gathered in Southern California to talk about social and political issues. This was the first of three summits planned by the Secular Coalition for America, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C.

To many, atheism – the lack of belief in a personal god or gods - may appear an entirely modern concept. After all, it would seem that it is religious traditions that have dominated the world since the beginning of recorded history.

As a scholar of Asian religions, however, I’m often struck by the prevalence of atheism and agnosticism - the view that it is impossible to know whether a god exists - in ancient Asian texts. Atheistic traditions have played a significant part in Asian cultures for millennia.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

Offline daniel1948

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2019, 06:25:39 PM »
Don't the Buddhists say that it's impossible to know whether or not there's a god, and a waste of time and effort to try? Trying to know the unknowable is pointless. Far better to exert yourself trying to be a better person. (Of course they do believe in a lot of supernatural nonsense about reincarnation and nirvana.) (The student is ready to leave the master when the student realizes that the master has just been spouting intentional bullshit all along, and there really isn't anything to teach.)
Daniel
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Online Calinthalus

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2019, 08:29:32 PM »
A lot of branches of Buddhism don't even really embrace reincarnation.  If the primary teaching is that there is no self, then there can be no self to survive death.


However, almost all of them have some pretty crazy beliefs in what happen during Siddartha's life.
"I think computer viruses should count as life. Maybe it says something about human nature, that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. Talk about creating life in our own image."
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Offline John Albert

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2019, 04:28:33 AM »
A lot of branches of Buddhism don't even really embrace reincarnation.  If the primary teaching is that there is no self, then there can be no self to survive death.


However, almost all of them have some pretty crazy beliefs in what happen during Siddartha's life.

Not to mention all that silliness about luck.

Online Calinthalus

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2019, 06:53:03 AM »
Yeah, I've taken up meditation over the last several months.  Simple mindfulness breathing stuff.  It's really hard to find anything on the topic that isn't either wrapped up in some old mysticism or some new almost-science.  It's not exactly pseudo-science in that it isn't either disproved or impossible, it's more like there are some signs and mechanisms that might pan out but the research is early/weak.  Anyway, most of it is based on Buddhist teachings so I've looked at a good bit of that lately that's more directed towards secular people.  Still has some stock bullshit in there.
"I think computer viruses should count as life. Maybe it says something about human nature, that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. Talk about creating life in our own image."
--Stephen Hawking

Offline John Albert

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2019, 11:32:33 AM »
From what I've read about meditation from science-minded MDs like Steven Novella, James Coyne and Mark Crislip, the clinical findings indicate positive health benefits, but no more than any other form of wakeful relaxation.

Sitting and watching TV, for example, exhibits roughly the same health benefits as mindful meditation.

Which is of course not to diminish those benefits in any way.

Online Calinthalus

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2019, 11:41:59 AM »
I've found there to be some mental benefits.  It has made me a tad more self-examining in my own reactions to people.  Led me be a little less prone to anger reactions when things get on my nerves.


I don't know if it's the fact that I'm meditating, or that I was making this change which led me to meditating in the first place making it a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of thing.  It does correlate with time but that's not really evidence.  I mean, I didn't realize how often I quick reacted like that until I started paying attention...which is from my meditation.  Still, nothing mystical and probably something I could have gotten from a therapist (for a lot more money).
"I think computer viruses should count as life. Maybe it says something about human nature, that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. Talk about creating life in our own image."
--Stephen Hawking

Offline John Albert

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #7 on: April 05, 2019, 11:48:22 AM »
I've done meditation before, in the form of self-hypnosis. I agree that it's helpful to reflect on daily events from the perspective of a state of deep relaxation, and don't doubt that it confers some qualitative benefits that have not been measured clinically.

To be fair, watching TV also has some benefits that have not been measured clinically. (For example, you get to see what happens in the latest season of your favorite show.)

Offline Ah.hell

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #8 on: April 05, 2019, 01:03:25 PM »
Don't the Buddhists say that it's impossible to know whether or not there's a god, and a waste of time and effort to try? Trying to know the unknowable is pointless. Far better to exert yourself trying to be a better person. (Of course they do believe in a lot of supernatural nonsense about reincarnation and nirvana.) (The student is ready to leave the master when the student realizes that the master has just been spouting intentional bullshit all along, and there really isn't anything to teach.)
I believe this is mostly correct.  Most Asian Buddhists I've known have non-the-less believed in one god or another regardless of Buddha's thoughts on the matter.  Some even worship Buddha. 

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Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia

A group of atheists and secularists recently gathered in Southern California to talk about social and political issues. This was the first of three summits planned by the Secular Coalition for America, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C.

To many, atheism – the lack of belief in a personal god or gods - may appear an entirely modern concept. After all, it would seem that it is religious traditions that have dominated the world since the beginning of recorded history.

As a scholar of Asian religions, however, I’m often struck by the prevalence of atheism and agnosticism - the view that it is impossible to know whether a god exists - in ancient Asian texts. Atheistic traditions have played a significant part in Asian cultures for millennia.
From my understanding, this is a bit misleading.  Sure, gods don't play that much of a role in daoism and confucianism but they still exist and are still widely worshipped.  Ancestor worship is also fairly common.  I would be curious to see what he considers "atheistic" and "Significant".  I suspect he considers animism to be atheistic. 

Offline Shibboleth

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #9 on: April 05, 2019, 01:39:06 PM »
Most of them probably still believe in plenty of woo and ghosts.
common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2019, 07:21:34 PM »
Quote
Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia

A group of atheists and secularists recently gathered in Southern California to talk about social and political issues. This was the first of three summits planned by the Secular Coalition for America, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C.

To many, atheism – the lack of belief in a personal god or gods - may appear an entirely modern concept. After all, it would seem that it is religious traditions that have dominated the world since the beginning of recorded history.

As a scholar of Asian religions, however, I’m often struck by the prevalence of atheism and agnosticism - the view that it is impossible to know whether a god exists - in ancient Asian texts. Atheistic traditions have played a significant part in Asian cultures for millennia.
From my understanding, this is a bit misleading.  Sure, gods don't play that much of a role in daoism and confucianism but they still exist and are still widely worshipped.  Ancestor worship is also fairly common.  I would be curious to see what he considers "atheistic" and "Significant".  I suspect he considers animism to be atheistic.

There was the Charvaka movement in ancient India:

Quote
Charvaka (IAST: Cārvāka), originally known as Lokāyata and Bārhaspatya, is the ancient school of Indian materialism. Charvaka holds direct perception, empiricism, and conditional inference as proper sources of knowledge, embraces philosophical skepticism and rejects Vedas, Vedic ritualism, and supernaturalism.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

Offline Ah.hell

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #11 on: April 08, 2019, 02:05:13 PM »

Charvaka (IAST: Cārvāka), originally known as Lokāyata and Bārhaspatya, is the ancient school of Indian materialism. Charvaka holds direct perception, empiricism, and conditional inference as proper sources of knowledge, embraces philosophical skepticism and rejects Vedas, Vedic ritualism, and supernaturalism.
[/quote]That falls under the second half of my questions, what does author in the op consider significant.  They don't actually seem to have had much lasting impact. 

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: "Atheism has been part of many Asian traditions for millennia"
« Reply #12 on: April 14, 2019, 11:58:28 AM »
That falls under the second half of my questions, what does author in the op consider significant.  They don't actually seem to have had much lasting impact.

Probably no lasting impact. But they were notable enough to be mentioned. And they are important as an example on an ancient naturalistic school of thought. I wonder what would have happened had they and the Greek atomists and later Epicureans ever met.

If I lived in India 2 500 years ago, I would have been a Charvaka. At least I hope so.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

 

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