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Sin & Skepticism in Buddhism

Question:

Last night I was listening to the Skeptoid podcast, which examines various things from a skeptic’s perspective. The host was discussing sin and mentioned that being skeptical was a sin in Buddhism. Your podcasts have lead me to think otherwise. Was the host misinformed? Please elaborate. Thanks!

Answer:

I listen to a couple of skeptic podcasts as well; I prefer the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. I didn’t hear the episode of Skeptoid in question, but yes, I’d guess the speaker was probably just misinformed about Buddhism; they can’t be expects in everything. Generally, I agree with the skeptics’ views on religion, but I think in this case, he was either looking at some specific sect of Buddhism or just plain wrong.

Most, if not all, sects of Buddhism encourage open-minded thought and debate. Some are more open to modern science and thinking than others, but I’m not aware of any group that would consider doubt a form of “sin.” There is a reason many people (although once again, not everyone) prefer to call Buddhism a philosophy rather than a religion, and open-mindedness is a big part of it.

If any of the Daily Buddhism readers out there are familiar with a case where skepticism or critical thinking was discouraged in Buddhism, please post a comment. I’m sure it happens, but it’s definitely not the general rule.

8 comments to Sin & Skepticism in Buddhism

  • Timothy Hilgenberg

    I very much doubt that scepticism is a “sin” in Buddhism – the Tathagata himself calls followers to be doubtful in the Kalama Sutta – I think Brian mentions this in one of his older podcasts. The Dalai Lama, too, has been in open discussion with a whole host of scientists spanning a large variety of disciplines. How can you find enlightenment if you restrict your search?

    T

  • Josh

    The freedom to be skeptical is exactly the reason I became interested in Buddhism. The Buddha himself said “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

    Be skeptical all you want!

  • Jerry

    I suspect it’s a misunderstanding/misapplication of Skeptical Doubt as one of the Five Hindrances. Hardly a sin, but perhaps an interference with one’s ability to meditate or maintain mindfulness.

  • Sally

    I ran into non-acceptance of questioning when I joined Friends of Western Buddhist Order (FWBO)and was told we would study ONLY the writings of Sangarakshita, its founder. I left.

  • TWC

    The origin of the word skeptic means “to think”, meaning to think with an open mind.

    While I have not heard the podcasts in question, my limited experience with self-proclaimed skeptics is that they practise less thinking, and more the challenging of other people’s beliefs that they themselves do not agree with.
    They have essentially left the path of open-minded thinking, and have become attached to the dogma (dare I say “religion”) of challenging everything they don’t agree with.

    It is OK to have a different opinion / perception of things. Trying to impose my perception of the world on to you not only imposes the separation (me vs you, my beliefs vs your beliefs) we try to avoid on our Enlightened journey, but is disrespectful of you and therefore of me, since we are really one.

    If a self-proclaimed skeptic starts to advocate a certain “Truth” or rigidly holds to a particular point of view, ask them whether, as a skeptic they accept the possibility that they are not a skeptic, but someone attached to the dogma of knocking down other people’s beliefs in favour of their own, and whether they have unwittingly turned skeptism into a religion, with themselves as high priest/priestess.

  • Skepticism is fine as long as one is inquiring into something or someone. Say inquiry is done and you find that something or someone is good and not harmful(to associate with). Even after that conclusion, if you are critical of that something or someone then there is a bad intention. That amounts to -ve mental karma. I think in Buddhism the intention behind an action is more important and that will determine +ve or -ve karma accumulation.

  • Jami

    What is better, the Buddha asked his first diciples, to chase a women or the self? If the self, as atman, was rejected by Buddha, then we meet a paradox.

    But the Zen poem states: ‘To her lover a beautiful woman is a delight;to an ascetic, a distraction;to a wolf, a good meal’.

    In an antique phrase, Scepticism must be tied to consciousness. It must be linked to the riddle of the self, of perception.
    Philosophically, Hume is a sceptical disciple of the Buddha. A key to scepticism is meditation. Hume said: ‘I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.’

    One must be sceptical of scepticism. But the symbols of language-nirvana, truths etc., are linguistic questions. The problem of scepticism is the problem of language.

  • Jerry

    One of my teachers suggested that I consider being skeptical of my skepticism.

    That said, I tend towards being skeptical of anyone’s claim to truth based on other than a factual basis.

    OTOH, as I’ve gotten older, I tend to say “I don’t know” a lot more.

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