“He’s an atheist – but a Protestant one.”
“I think I’m a Buddhist atheist.”
“Can you be a Buddhist atheist?”
“Probably not – it’s a philosophy, not a religion”.
Reflecting on the conversation, I searched out Buddhist stories, amongst them I found this one;
Kisagotami was married to a rich young man and a son was born to them. The boy died when he was just a toddler and Kisagotami was stricken with grief. Carrying the dead body of her son, she went about asking for medicine that would restore her son to life from everyone she happened to meet. People began to think that she had gone mad. But a wise man seeing her condition thought that he should be of some help to her. So, he said to her, “The Buddha is the person you should approach, he has the medicine you want; go to him.” Thus, she went to the Buddha and asked him to give her the medicine that would restore her dead son to life.
The Buddha told her to get some mustard seeds from a house where there had been no death. Carrying her dead child in her bosom. Kisagotami went from house to house, with the request for some mustard seeds. Everyone was willing to help her, but she could not find a single house where death had not occurred. Then, she realized that hers was not the only family that had faced death and that there were more people dead than living. As soon as she realized this, her attitude towards her dead son changed; she was no longer attached to the dead body of her son.
She left the corpse in the jungle and returned to the Buddha and reported that she could find no house where death had not occurred. Then the Buddha said, “Gotami, you thought that you were the only one who had lost a son. As you have now realized, death comes to all beings.”
The story goes on that Kisagotami realizes the impermanence of all things and through this reaches a state of enlightenment.
The story is clever, but, for me, it offers no hope. Kisagotami just has to realize that pain and grief are just part of the order of things and that nothing can be done to change anything. I would want hope that I would see my child again in a world to come
The non-violent protest of the thousands of Buddhist monks in Tibet, against the injustice of Chinese rule, is a witness to the world of the power of their faith, but I would ask for something more, for there to be a power out there that shares their belief in truth and justice.
Without hope in a world to come and without belief in someone who will put things right, I think I would also be a Protestant atheist.