Branching out from his early discussions of the dimensions of religion, he ultimately came to discuss the religions of the world in more pragmatic terms. This is especially true in the case of his theories on the functions of doctrine, one of the dimensions of religion that Smart developed, in regard to the faith of Buddhism, one that has literally been a pivotal faith for millennia but has evolved with each successive generation (Smart, 1997).
With this in mind, a closer look at Smart’s opinions on doctrine as it relates to Buddhism makes for fascinating research. To begin, the central idea of doctrine itself must be understood. In its most strict definition, doctrine, in the religious context, is the body of laws, traditions, ideals and idioms that a particular religion adheres to and likewise expects its members to embrace and closely follow (Jacobson, 1988).
While this may sound like a wonderful ideal- a set of beliefs, ideas and universal truths that everyone utilizes and therefore makes their faith and the world around it a better place, and the ability to make all of this happen aided by an ever-present God that can be petitioned to through the devices of prayer and good behavior which results in reward for the good and faithful, but Smart’s reality of this prospect is more practical and less idealistic and in some ways less fantastic.
Keeping in mind that Smart believed that the doctrinal role in religions like Buddhism was a limited one, an examination of his opinions on the idea of doctrine is now much different than it was when the consideration of it first began within the pages of this research. First, the idea of doctrine needs to be looked at in terms of the secular versus the sacred. Within Buddhism, doctrine in the secular sense is used to instill in the believer a strong sense of inner peace, differentiation between right and wrong, and respect for all forms of life, obedience to the laws of God and man and so forth (Jacobson, 1988).
These are all excellent ways to improve the human condition, benefit the religious practice of Buddhism overall, and bring more value to the human experience, and few people could argue this point. However, it is in the sacred aspects of Buddhist doctrine that Smart takes exception. Central to the religion of Buddhism, and indeed many other of the world’s religions of which there are literally thousands, is the idea that petitions to God, which is to say prayer, acts of obedience, faith and respect will result in God bringing favor upon both the faithful individual and the world in which he lives (Smart, 1997).
For example, faith, prayer and obedience could serve as the admission price for favors of God, such as the curing of illnesses, restoration of peace in war-torn nations, bountiful harvests, intelligent children, or even such selfish aims as personal wealth. However, as Smart, believes, an ever-present God that is waiting to receive sufficient compensation or reparation in order to make something wonderful happen in the world is simply inaccurate and unrealistic; rather, the concept of free will is more suitable to a consideration of the nature of the human condition (Smart, 1989).
Free will, as Smart presents it, makes more sense in terms of the doctrine of Buddhism. For example, the basic teachings of Buddhism, such as respect for life, inner peace, consideration for fellow human beings, living in peace and obeying the laws of man have within them the power to enhance the natural world, and the intervention of God to make things right becomes, in essence, a non-issue and a moot point.
Therefore, in this context, Smart’s ideas on Buddhist doctrine make perfect sense. In conclusion, what Smart is saying about Buddhist doctrine, as well as all of religious doctrine, is the fact that ultimately, humans are their own God, control their own destiny, and have the responsibility to make their own world better, without counting on an ever-present God to save them every time something goes wrong.
Jacobson, N.P. (1988). The Heart of Buddhist Philosophy. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Smart, N. (1997). null Christian Faith and the World’s Worldviews. In The Ideal in the World’s Religions: Essays on the Person, Family, Society, and Environment, Carter, R. & Isenserg, S. (Eds. ) (pp. 41-51). St. Paul, MN: Paragon House. Smart, N. (1999). Worldviews: Crosscultural Explanation of Human Beliefs. New York: Prentice-Hall.