Many so-called free thinkers are actually not “free” thinkers, but they are lazy to think. Just because they do not want to think seriously and ponder about the meaning of their existence they say they are free thinkers. There is no room for these kinds of thinkers in Buddhism. Buddhism encourages people to think freely but deeply and without bias.
The Buddha is a teacher, and has given full freedom for (wo)man to think freely without depending on the concept of a god, a Buddha or any teacher to understand the truth. That is freedom. According to some western thinkers Buddhism is known as “the religion of freedom and reason.” Freedom however must be guided by reason. Otherwise, people can abuse that freedom. For instance, if a government gives full freedom for people to live or to do anything according to their free will I am sure that within twenty four hours, they can ruin the whole country. This is the danger of giving freedom without first developing reason in the minds of people. We must follow the same principle in practicing religion.
Although some people say that the freewill exists for (wo)man to exert, we know that without proper training and guidance the use of that free will can lead to disastrous consequences. A child may have free will, but it has to be taught not to play with a live electric wire.
The Buddha emphasizes that free will is not a gift from any external source. It is intrinsic to us. Human behavior, human character, humanistic minds are characteristics which are developed over many life times. Whether we are cultured or uncultured, civilized or uncivilized, religious or irreligious, good or bad, wicked or kind, depends on our mental habits which we developed life after life in the past. These characteristics are not given by anybody.
Religion becomes important to guide and direct (wo)man’s way of thinking by giving proper guidelines. The purpose of religion is to help a human being train his/her mind so that s/he develops understanding and acts in a morally responsible way. S/he does good because s/he “knows” that is the right thing to do, not because s/he wants to avoid punishment or receive rewards. Religion is an aid to individual development.
Why should we not depend on anybody? If we are going to stop our evil, wicked, selfish thinking fearing that there is somebody to punish us, we will never give a chance for our mind to cultivate understanding, kindness, compassion. People also sometimes do good deeds or provide some service to others in expectation of a big reward. If this is the motivation, they will not develop sympathy, understanding according to the true meaning of these words. They become selfish avoiding evil deeds to escape punishment or do good to get rewards. This is selfishness. The Buddha did not advocate this. If heaven and hell were both closed down, how many people would remain religious? Buddhism however encourages moral behavior without reference to heaven or hell. This is the uniqueness in the Buddha’s teaching.
- This is based on “Buddhism For The Future, “by Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda.