The main purpose of religion is not to ensure escape from punishment or gain a reward but to help one become perfect and to end physical and mental suffering and be free from unsatisfactoriness.
The Buddha also wanted to cultivate humanity according to certain moral and ethical codes, discipline, and character. This is to be achieved without resorting to temptations provided by promises of heaven or to fear by threats of hell fire. That is why this religion is described as a religion of freedom and reason. The Buddha encouraged us to learn with an open-mind to investigate and to understand the world. We must accept nothing at once on mere faith. The Buddha says, “Do not accept anything through mere faith because it will make it difficult for you to understand the truth, because that faith can make you a blind follower.
This kind of blind faith can lead to religious fanaticism. People react emotionally to their religious authorities rather than deciding rationally whether something is true or false because they have not developed analytical knowledge in their minds to understand why they should uphold certain moral practices and why they should keep away from certain immoral practices.
For instance, when a boy cannot understand things properly, a father or mother threatens him. If he is very mischievous, they can even beat him and warn him not to make mistakes. Because of that fear, the child may stop doing mischievous deeds but he is not helped to realize why it is wrong and where the mistake is. That only creates fear of punishment. Again, when they ask a child to do something and if he refused then the parents will bribe him with the promise of a reward. The child may do it, but again without understanding why. It will be easy for him to revert to the wrong way of thinking or action without understanding. Similarly, we should not introduce religion through reward and punishment, without allowing people to have proper understanding.
If we try to introduce religion through punishment and rewards, people will not understand the real validity and main purpose of religion. That is why in Buddhism there is no threat of religious punishment. The duty of a religion is to guide, educate, and enlighten people.
Punishment is the duty of the law of the land. Religion should not undertake the role of the law to punish people. Otherwise, there will be fear but not understanding. This is the nature of the Buddha’s teaching and why we regard him as a free thinker.
- This is based on “Buddhism For The Future, “by Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda.