Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hypocrite criticism, is it a valid reason to avoid religion?

a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs,principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess,especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approve attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.
Let me explain where am I coming from with this issue, I'm a practising Buddhist. Not a perfected Buddhist, not a very good Buddhist too, just someone who had read a lot about the teachings of the Buddha and decided to practise it to attain to enlightenment in this lifetime. In other words, I'm a Buddhist in training.
I proudly show the world that I'm a Buddhist too, which is rare, because most Buddhist I encounter in Singapore have no idea what the Buddha taught, some still believed in an omnipotent God, most have the misconception that Buddhists go to the temple just to pray to a statue and burn papers every year during the month of the "Hungry Ghost" festival. In other words, in Singapore most people who are ignorant about Buddhism thinks it's an outdated, ancient religion that is against Science and progress and everything that is cool.
The problem statement
So, it is to my frustration sometimes that after I explained Buddhism to my nominal Buddhist friends, thus they know about the benefits of learning the teachings of the Buddha, they pick and choose the behaviour of other Buddhists in training, thinking that, "You call yourself a Buddhist, why are you still acting like a ....(insert bad habits here)?"
It is true that those who preach should walk the talk, and that if Buddhism is so good, then everyone who's a Buddhist (or insert your own religion here) should be "better behaved" than those who are not exposed to Buddhism, or else why should I bother with it?
I am not denying the statements above, they are true in choosing which religion to believe and practise. Yet, I believe the kind of fault finding thinking gives rise to the phenomena of using hypocrisy as an excuse to avoid religion.
Another viewpoint
I tried to google it if someone else had the same feeling, and indeed someone has: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat/2012/06/using-hypocrisy-as-an-excuse-to-avoid-church.html.
The point of the article above is that everyone is a hypocrite and a sinner, but to use that as an excuse to avoid church is to miss out on the opportunity to "surround themselves with people who feel no guilt or remorse".
My point is a bit different, but along the same direction.
Buddhist morality code
In Buddhism, there's no such concept as sin, there is only skillful actions and unskillful actions. Skillful actions are those which brings benefits and happiness to you and others. Unskillful ones are those which brings suffering to oneself or others. There can be a mixture of both skillful and unskillful actions too. The Buddha pointed out certain actions as skillful and certain actions which are unskillful and asked his followers to investigate for themselves instead of just believing. For example, the five precepts for lay followers of Buddhism are a list of five unskillful actions to avoid.
They are self-training rules which is undertaken by oneself only after one understands the benefits of observing the precepts and decide to live up to it for the rest of their lives. The precepts are:
  1. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life. (Includes animals, but not plants)
  2. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking that is not given.
  3. I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct.
  4. I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.
  5. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking intoxicants. (Alcohol and drugs)
The bad effects of breaking the first four training rules are obvious (generally, people/animals will not like you) and the fifth one is for one to not lose mindfulness. It is because in the state of heedlessness, one may break the first four precepts easily. If you observe the five precepts, generally the big misfortunes of life will not fall unto you (at least you will not become a criminal and face criminal punishment).
A Buddhist who observes the five precepts successfully is considered a good Buddhist. A Buddhist who undertakes the precepts and try to live up to it, is a Buddhist in training. I say "Buddhist" here because the precepts can be observed by anyone of any faith or non-faith, it is a personal training rule, not an agreement with the Buddha or me. Despite knowing the benefits, a lot of Buddhists hesitate to take up the precepts because they think they cannot live up to all of them. Some (wrongly) think that the first precept means being a vegan! See more here. So good news people, you don't need to be a vegan to practise the teachings of the Buddha (the Dhamma). Ok, the point is that people mistake that they must be a good Buddhist before they can be a Buddhist in training. Or in secular terms,

People think that they must be good first before having a religion. 

Back to the title
This thinking exist because people are afraid to be labelled as a hypocrite once they publicly announced themselves as someone with religious belief. Don't laugh at this, it is real. Let's recall if you can think of someone in your life who behave like they can be as "bad" as they want to be because they do not admit to be a holier-than-thou religious person. To religious people, they seem to want to attack friends who wants to guide them to a happier way of life, especially at religious people. 
So, to avoid being a hypocrite, some people are missing a chance to learn many good guidelines on how to be a happier person. Now I'm not saying that religion is the only way to be good or happy, but merely that certain teachings inside religions are worth learning from and practising. It is sad to see non-religious (at least non-Buddhist) people missing out on learning these self-help techniques that would otherwise have vast improvement on their lives just because they are being afraid to be called a hypocrite.
The valid reason?
Let's examine this notion further shall we? If we must be good before having a religion, then what's the point of a religion? Is it not to guide people to be good? Of course we do not expect everyone to be perfect, to people who practises their own religion, we see non-religious persons are missing out on "how to be a better or even perfect person" according to each of our religious ideals. Almost everyone who starts off at the beginning of their own practise have some faults or weaknesses, then gradual transformation occurs where they undertake trainings to be a happier person who benefits oneself and the society more and more. Finally, when a person is so touched and feels such wonderful benefits from practising their own religion, they come to the state where they want to share with the world what wonderful teachings there are that is hidden under the increasingly ugly title of "religion". 
At that point, the person sharing may not yet be perfect. They may proudly present themselves as of a certain religion, but they may not yet finish the training before sharing. It is this part that the criticism of you should walk the talk before preaching becomes valid. Yet, in Buddhist terms, this means only an enlightened person can share the teachings of the Buddha, because he/she had practised it to the end and verified for him/herself that the teachings does lead to the ultimate end of all suffering. This is of course an ideal, yet if we do not have our parents, teachers and other friends who help remind us, to guide us in the Dhamma, the number of Buddhist would be vastly smaller and the enlightened ones would be overtaxed in teaching.
A compromise
So there is an inherent understanding of compromise here. There are many religious teachers, sharers out in the world who had not yet perfected themselves in everything that they preach or share. Yet, it is tolerated because of the messages that they bring is wholesome, their intentions are good, regardless of whether the people they are sharing to adhere to the same opinion. In this sense, I do not find that the argument that "to avoid being a hypocrite, I shall not join in this religion, I shall not even give it a chance to share with me what is good" to be valid.  
Of course, for those who agree with me, this is not a ticket for preachers of their own religion to do stuffs againsts their own teachings. As a friend of mine said, be contented with the results, but not with the effort. Whatever state of moral progression you are on, it is ok, there is no need to feel guilt or remorse (which often worsen the situation). If you do feel guilt, it is ok to feel it too, don't feel guilty of feeling guilty. What really prevents us from committing unskillful actions are moral shame and moral dread.  Moral shame (or  conscience) arises out of self respect, and moral dread arises out of respect for others, both has the function of avoiding unskillful actions that causes harm to oneself or others. So the effort to keep on striving to avoid evil and do good is always present. Thus, as long as you are not contented with the effort, you need not fear of the criticism of being a hypocrite. 

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