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Principled atheism in the Buddhist scholastic tradition


The doctrine that there is no permanent creator who superintends creation and takes care of his creatures accords quite well with each of the principles known as the four noble truths of Buddhism. The first truth, that distress is universal, is traditionally expounded in terms of the impermanence of all features of experience and in terms of the absence of genuine unity or personal identity in the multitude of physical and mental factors that constitute what we experience as a single person. As we saw above, the principal Buddhist arguments against the existence of God focus on the impossibility of permanence and unity in the causal structure of the universe. The second noble truth, that distress is the outcome of one's own unrealistic aspirations, is traditionally seen as ruling out the erroneous view that distress is something inflicted upon creatures by a cosmic superintendent or by other circumstances completely beyond their control. The third noble truth, that distress can be eliminated by divesting oneself of all unrealistic aspirations, rules out the view that sentient beings, as powerless victims of a divine will, have no alternative to a life of constant frustration. And the fourth noble truth, that the best means of removing unrealistic desires is to follow a methodical course of self-discipline, counters the view that the road to happiness lies in obedience to divine will or in trying to manipulate the sentiments of a cosmic intelligence through prayer or ritual.

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Hayes, R.P. Principled atheism in the Buddhist scholastic tradition. J Indian Philos 16, 5–28 (1988).

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  • Personal Identity
  • Causal Structure
  • Single Person
  • Mental Factor
  • Noble Truth