July 16, 2012

Counterfeit Religions VI: Buddhism

Buddhism as put forth by the Buddha typically teaches a religion bereft of authority and teaches a religion that scorns appeals to ineffectual gods/God. Here is the clincher: For me the failure of Buddhism is that fact that Buddha taught a religion of concentrated self-effort. Why do I deem this a failure in terms of a religion? We mustn't think that when we observe a Buddhist that he has achieved peace with his surroundings just because he is passive as a Christian would in an equivalent situation. It is not peacefulness as we understand it but rather an apathy or a torpor to the outside world. Christian's are called by Christ to do just the opposite. The Buddhist is told to turn inward to find peace-inner peace. Christians are called to turn outward and be communal in the worship and spiritual life (read Ephesians). You cannot be in harmony with your surroundings if you have completely ignored them to focus solely on the self - this is counter-intuitive. At its very core, Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses in personal spiritual development and the attainment of deep personal insight into the true nature of one's life and self. It is not centered on the relationship between humanity and God. Man cannot save himself and if Buddhism tells you to turn to yourself for help and attainment of some form of salvation...you're doomed. 

Buddhism also preaches a religion absent of the supernatural. It is also a religion that supposedly can compete head-to-head with Christianity in the empirical department or observable validation. In every question of faith, personal experience is the test of truth. Buddhism asks adherents to turn inward for answers, not outward to God.

What’s more is that the adherents were to pursue nirvana which to me a nebulously defined “highest destiny of the human spirit”. Enlightenment is the only way to get off the “wheel of suffering” or “Samsara” the antithesis of nirvana. The book (and to some extent the adherents) seem to play a game of reality(ies) here.  It can be assumed this nirvana or (to blow out [a candle]) points towards annihilation (ism) but this may be a semantic overreach. It must be asked what is being “blown out” or extinguished. Apparently, the finite self. It follows that this doesn’t point to annihilationism directly. So an additional question then needs to be raised. If we are not annihilated if we reach nirvana and we have reached beyond the finite, where are we and what are we? Is nirvana God? Can it be assumed not? What’s worse is this nirvana, whether it is or is not God, was viewed by Buddha as an impersonal force. Defined in this way Buddhism is atheistic. When we begin account for all the minute variations of divisions and sects, it is as if we are trapped in an ever tightening spiral of ontological mazes that do not clearly answer the questions they just further exacerbate them.

Buddha’s view was scientific…lived empirical experience was the final test. Which is ironic because what the Buddhist is really looking for is supposedly spiritual. In Christianity it is faith. Buddhism is directed to individuals whereas Christianity is directed not necessarily towards individuals (except at salvation) but communally or corporate (Church).  These religions are epistemologically (knowledge-wise) opposed. Again, I'll state the Buddhist is told to turn inward to find peace-inner peace. Christians are called to turn outward and be communal in the worship and spiritual life. The Buddhist's eight-fold path is strictly works based as all eight things ask adherents to do things. Christianity on the other hand is based solely in the work of Christ on the Cross so that no man can boast in his own works.

What’s worse is Theradava Buddhist says humans are emancipated or liberated (saved) by self-effort. The Mahayana breakaway of Buddhism is such a close facsimile of a Pauline Christianity that to the uninitiated, it would be a little harder to distinguish between the two at first glance because of ideas of heaven, social harmony, etc. (of course you would need to be blind too as the rest of the tenants are in no way similar to Christianity). Either way, Buddhism once it is chosen would be a hard religion to switch from to go to Christianity. It is as if this Buddhism is the spiritual antithesis to Christianity. It calls adherents to turn inward away from god to self. If there are clear issues of black and white and incompatibility…it is here. The world will tell us that Buddhism is the way to go with its inclusive doctrine and focus on self...no surprise there. On the other hand, the culture will tell us that Christianity stinks because it is exclusive in its doctrine and makes certain demands of us that force is to recognize and account for our sin and depravity. It asks us to abstain from certain things and give selflessly. This is also not surprising since we live in a pluralistic/postmodern culture where "anything goes". For a person to admit they're wrong they first need to admit they are sinful. People left to their own devices will not do this. You have a choice. You can either chose the God that is outside of you who offers salvation and eternal life or you can chose the god within that does not exist and be condemned. The choice is yours.

Dates:  535BC-Buddha reached “Enlightement”

Founder(s) Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) “The Enlightened One” 563-483BC

Major text(s): The Tripitaka or the Pali Canon is the earliest collection of Buddhist teachings and the only text recognized as canonical by Theravada Buddhists. Tripitka means three baskets. It is further broken down into the three baskets that form it: The Vinaya Pitaka (Discipline Basket), the Sutra Pitaka (Discourse Basket), the Abhidharma Pitaka (Higher Knowledge). Having said this it becomes rather difficult to ascertain accuracy of these writing and other secondary writings as Buddha himself wrote nothing and a gap of nearly a century or two (depending on source) between his spoken words and the first written records. Buddha taught for 45 years and there is a staggering corpus according to Huston Smith. The sheer quantity of material is “bewildering”. Although his teaching remained consistent through the years, it is impossible to say how many minds interpreted said teaching and this becomes difficult what zeroing in on specific texts. By the time texts began to appear, partisan schools and divisions within Buddhism had already sprung up. Some were specifically intended to minimalize Buddha’s break with Brahmanic Hinduism and others intended to sharpen his edge and division from it. To this day people are not sure how much of what they read is actually Buddha’s words (Smith 112-113).

Major variations: Theravada ("The School of the Elders") and Mahayana ("The Great Vehicle").

Current number of adherents: Approximately: 375-500 million (4th Largest Religion Worldwide)

Beliefs about major holidays and practices They celebrate them. Buddhist New Year, Vesak or Visakah Puja ("Buddha Day"), Magha Puja Day (Fourfold Assembly or "Sangha Day"), Asalha Puja Day ("Dhamma Day"), Uposatha (Observance Day), Pavarana Day, Kathina Ceremony (Robe offering ceremony), Anapanasati Day, Abhidhamma Day, Loy Krathong (Festival of Floating Bowls), The Ploughing Festival, The Elephant Festival, The Festival of the Tooth, Ulambana (Ancestor Day), Avalokitesvara’s Birthday (Kuan Yin), Bodhi Day (Enlightenment Day)

According to meeting between monks of the two main factions of Buddhism (Theravada, Mahayna) called the The World Buddhist Sangha Council in 1966 there are 9 key essential points of agreement about Buddhism. (1) Buddha is their only master. (2) They take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma which appears to mean the path of discipline, and the Sangha which seems to refer to monastic community or just community/assembly. (3) We do not believe that this world is created and ruled by a God. (4) They follow or emulate the example of the Buddha and consider that the purpose of life is to develop compassion for all living beings without exception (pluralism?) and to work for their good and to develop wisdom leading to the realization of Ultimate Truth. [Andy’s thought: If they don’t have or know a God who would be omniscient, how would this be possible?]. (5) Buddhists in general accept the Four Noble Truths: Dukkha, Arising of Dukkha, Cessation of Dukkha, and the Path leading to the Cessation of Dukkha. All of these explain the nature of suffering in things such as birth, aging, illness, death, etc. (6) According to Buddha, that all conditioned things/things put together (samskaara) are impermanent the arise and pass away and suffer (dukkha), and that all conditioned and unconditioned things (dharma) are without self or possibly even illusion (anaatma).  (7) Buddhists accept the 37 qualities beneficial for Enlightenment (bodhipaksa-dharma) as different aspects of the Path taught by the Buddha leading to Enlightenment.  The bodhipaksa-dharma are found in the Bali Canon. (8) There are three ways of attaining Enlightenment, according to the individual: (8a) As a disciple (sraavaka), as a Pratyeka-Buddha which is a lone or rogue Buddha and finally as a Samyak-sam-Buddha or one who has become enlightened through his own efforts and insight. As a disclaimer the throw in the last point (9) They admit differences with regard to the life of monks, Buddhist beliefs and practices, rites and ceremonies, customs and habits. These external forms and expressions should not be confused with the essential teachings of the Buddha.

Beliefs about God:  As stated above in description # (3) They do not believe that this world is created and ruled by a God.

Beliefs about humanity:  Don’t believe humans need a personal savior, no need for personal prayer.

Beliefs about the supernatural (Angels, Messages from God)Buddhism shares few concepts with Christianity. No God, at least not as a Christian would understand.

Beliefs about the afterlife They do not appear to believe in eternal life in a heaven or hell after death. They do believe in reincarnation. There are many cycles of rebirth, living and death. After many cycles as a person learns to release the finite self and attachments to things like desire (attain enlightenment like Buddha) they can escape the wheel of suffering (samsara) and attain nirvana.

"Basic Points of Buddhism - ReligionFacts." Religion, World Religions, Comparative Religion - Just the facts on the world's religions.. Blue Host, 4 June 2003. Web. 28 May 2012. <http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/beliefs/basic_points.htm>.

Bhikkhu, Buddhadasa. "Buddhism." Multidisciplinary View of the Religious, Spiritual and Esoteric Phenomena. MetaReligion, 6 Nov. 2011. Web. 28 May 2012. <http://meta-religion.com/World_Religions/Buddhism/budism.htm>.

Smith, Huston. The World's Religions. 50th anniversary ed. New York: HarperOne, 2009. Print.Top of Form

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