How To Encourage Agnostics To Learn Buddhism?

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For seeking knowledge [i.e. learning and questioning], there must be learning and questioning. Having learning without questioning, this is not complete knowledge.

— Shilashanti

When encouraging a friend to try out a popular complimentary Buddhist course, he commented that he is an agnostic (不可知论者), [1] not religious, [2] does not wish to live in apprehension, and just wish to [3] make the best of his days in the present. How can we reply to this? How should we reflect on these comments to motivate ourselves to be more diligent in continual learning and practice?

[1] On not being religious… Hardly anybody is religious by default, and even the religious can ‘lose their religion’ to become non-religious when their questions go unanswered. However, everyone can be open-minded to learn, and to ask questions when there are doubts. Of course, one can choose to think there is no need to do so, but at one’s own loss as it is always better to learn than not.

[2] On not living in apprehension… To learn the Buddha’s teachings (学佛), especially the Pure Land teachings (净土教理), is to learn to cultivate true ease (自在) and peace of mind (心安). It is not to live in fear (or apprehension) by being death-fearing, ‘g_d-fearing’ or such. In fact, Dharma Treasury Bodhisattva (法藏菩萨) who became Āmítuófó (阿弥陀佛: Amitābha Buddha) gave rise to this overarching vow thus —

‘I vow to attain Buddhahood, to universally practise these [forty-eight great] vows [i.e. as later proclaimed]. Of all with fear, for them creating great peace.’ (吾誓得佛,普行此愿。一切恐惧,为作大安。) For all existential fears of life and death, those moments with physical pain and mental suffering in between, and even for rebirth, mindfulness of Buddha (念佛) learnt and practised offers peace and bliss (安乐).

[3] On making the best of days in the present… It is with learning of the Buddha’s teachings now that we recognise the truth of impermanence (无常) clearly, so that we will live more mindfully from moment to moment, thus living each moment fully. It is thus better to realise this sooner than later.

To live in the present (活在当下) well also means to plan for the future, which will become the present soon enough. If we plan for tomorrow today, why should we not prepare for the next life in this life? The Pure Land teachings guide us to live fully now, and be reborn into a more fulfiling life later, for the best possible future — for the good of one and all.

Agnostics believe ultimate reality is unknowable and/or are not committed to any opinion about something, (even on existential matters with far-reaching consequences) Thus, they are paradoxically ‘decidedly’ undecided. They might be so confused that they do not know they are confused. As many agnostics are not motivated (or even lazy) to contemplate properly, they are not exactly freethinkers thinking freely or comprehensively.

With narrow-minded presumptuousness, agnostics might not be open to learning yet. However, good courses only require just curious ones who are open-minded. They encourage questions and do not demand any blind faith at all, which is what how all Buddhas would teach. (To encourage agnostics to learn Buddhism, this article can perhaps be shared?)


Learning from the Buddha is not the same as having Buddhist studies: learning from the Buddha is learning to become a Buddha; having Buddhist studies is to learn academically; while cultivating and learning has practising and studying.

— Shilashanti

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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