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Why Buddhism Gets A Free Pass





banner_buddha-imgThere has been some discussion on /r/atheism recently about Buddhism. Specifically, why Buddhism gets a free pass compared to Christianity, which seems to be the butt of so much criticism. The crux of the argument is that Buddhism is just as much a spiritual belief as Christianity, it’s not just a philosophy to live by.

And that’s absolutely true. Buddhism does have just as many crazy beliefs as Christianity. Also, it can be argued that Christianity is just as much about compassion, acceptance and kindness as Buddhism. So why aren’t the crazy Buddhists copping a barrage of animosity and ridicule?

I mean, come on – we can all agree that reincarnation is a bunch of bullshit, right? So what’s up? Why does Buddhism get a free pass?

Well, there’s the obvious geographic argument. We are English-speaking Westerners, whose culture evolved around the Judeo-Christian faiths. Christians are in our collective sights on a daily basis, knocking on our doors, pamphleting our cars, yelling at us on street corners and campuses. We see them on our TVs and we are forced to live under threat of their outrage. They don’t like abortions, and they vote. They don’t like gay marriage, and they vote… They are highly mobilized, and should they manage to gain a majority on these issues, our lives are going to change.

So Christianity is the current battle. It’s the ideology that’s most likely to have an affect on our lives.

But it’s more than that.

A Christian will tell you that Jesus was all about love and compassion. So why is it then, that we don’t associate these traits with the average Christian? Why are they yelling at me all the time? Why do they feel the need to tell me I’m going to hell for my apparent sins? Even the moderate Christian will passive-aggressively tell you that they will pray for you. I mean, who’s that helping?

Christianity, like most religions, sets up an us-vs-them paradigm. There’s the good and the bad, the saved and the sinners, if you’re not with us, you’re against us. And that’s a dangerous place to start. It’s an argument that assumes that they have an absolute truth that we heathens just haven’t cottoned onto yet. Even though Christians may have the best of intentions when trying to convert us to their religion – they genuinely don’t want us to burn in hell for all eternity – we’re not part of the group yet.

That’s where Buddhism differs. Within Buddhism, there is no room for blind faith. It sets out a clear path for spiritual and personal development that anyone can undertake according to their own understanding and ability. Buddhism actually suggests its adherents think, question and develop acceptance based on understanding.

Dalai-Lama-1_1In the Dalai Lama’s own words:

“We must conduct research and then accept the results. If they don’t stand up to experimentation, Buddha’s own words must be rejected.”

Can you imagine a priest or bishop saying that about the Bible? But perhaps most telling of all is this:

When he noticed American author John Perkins reading a book about Buddhism, the Dalai Lama told him:

“Don’t become a Buddhist. The world doesn’t need more Buddhists. Do practice compassion. The world needs more compassion.”

The Dalai Lama – the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism – actually publicly advised someone not to become a Buddhist, but to try and make a difference in the world by simply practice compassion toward his fellow man.

Buddhism is a truly peaceful religion, it doesn’t prosthelytize, it’s is very much in harmony with modern science and it preaches independent thought. In fact, some argue that Buddhism’s philosophical teachings are more relevant today then they were thousands of years ago because we have more stresses in our lives than Buddhism’s original followers.

At the end of the day, Buddhists don’t seek to force their worldview on anybody, but they are willing to teach you if you are willing to learn.

And that’s why Buddhism gets a free pass when it comes to criticizing religion.

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  • http://gwynethllewelyn.net/ Gwyneth Llewelyn

    You’re spot on your analysis; thanks for your article :)

    We could debate the “crazy ideas” on the cartoon you posted, but over 400 people have done so, and I think it’s not worth the trouble :) All I can say here is: beware of oversimplification. The cartoonist’s only flaw is believing that, by oversimplifying things, he can discard ideas as crazy, because he cannot fit them inside reason.

    Imagine a similar cartoon, oversimplifying quantum mechanics, and what science “believes” how the universe works. It is, after all, a rather weird place we live in: mostly vacuum, with a few scattered particles here and there (but which have dimension zero!), following probabilities, not certainties. And we are supposed to “believe” that all this creates an universe of solid matter with completely different properties!

    In fact, anyone who is a trained scientist can replicate all proof required to validate quantum mechanics. It is, after all, one of the most validated scientific theories that Humankind has come up with. But if it gets oversimplified, it seems meaningless. It cannot be fully understood without adequate training — a training which is hard, takes years, and a high degree of specialization. Still, dozens of thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of scientists can successfully replicate the results and validate them on their own, independently. That’s why science works so well: anyone can validate it. If one has the adequate training.

    Buddhism is quite the same thing. It doesn’t “postulate” anything, it just presents methods and techniques. If you follow them, you will reach the same results — it’s totally predictable and able to be validated. Yes, the strange world-view might seem strange for someone who comes across it the first time; but so does quantum mechanics.

    There is actually also no “transmigration” as illustrated in the cartoon; again, it suffers from oversimplification and generalisation, and using words that have specific meanings in Western philosophy which, however, have different meanings in the context of Buddhist teachings. Since the core of Buddhism is about the non-intrinsic existence of things (including the self), but co-emerging interdependence, there is truly “nothing” that can logically “transmigrate” from one birth to another. The illustration is closer to Hinduism than to Buddhism; most forms of Hinduism do indeed believe that there is “something” that goes from one life to another (call it a “soul”, an “essence”, a “mind”, a “conscience”, whatever — “something” that persists across lives). Buddhism utterly rejects that, because it fails any objective method of evidence or reasoning — you simply have to way to validate (or falsify) that assumption. So it has to be taken as “dogma”.

    Buddhism proposes a different idea. Suppose you have a sequence of candles, all unlit except the first one. Just before that candle goes out, you take a stick, light it, and light the next candle in line. Now you continue to have pretty much the same light. But the second candle is not the same as the first. It might be just microscopically different, but there will be differences. The light might look similar, too, but in truth, there will be differences — it might burn slightly brighter now and then. But, ultimately, and this is the whole point, it’s not the same light and it’s not the same candle.

    What happened was that the first candle light was the cause of the second one (illustrated by the stick bringing the flame from the first candle to the second). Now this example has many flaws, of course, because one might think there is a Benevolent Candle-lighter somewhere, which is not the case. The whole point is to understand that the two candles are in a relationship of causal dependency — if there weren’t a first light, there wouldn’t be a second, third, fourth one, etc. A secondary, but essential, point is to understand that all candles share the same nature: they’re made of wax (even if their shape is always slightly different, even if we have to descend at the atom level to spot those differences), and they emit light (through the same physical process).

    What the Buddhist teachings say is that each successive “rebirth” has a causal relationship of dependency — but this is not stated as “dogma”. It follows from observing the universal law of cause and effect in the whole universe. A birth always has causes — it doesn’t happen spontaneously — like, for instance, a male and a female having sex together. All actions have consequences, and this is the basis for explaining why, even though “nothing is carried over” to the next life, our actions in this life will influence a future life depending on them. Note also that to be more accurate, even this apparent “succession of lives” in a linear way is a gross oversimplification of the process (or one might claim that the “succession of lives”, by itself, had some kind of intrinsic existence — we’d drop into Hinduism doctrine again). Causation is not linear (not even in time, as quantum mechanics has already found out), and it’s only from the perspective of the macrocosmic world that things appear to have a sense of continuity. As a simple explanation this is enough for beginners; like Rutherford’s or Bohr’s atom model are good starting explanations, but are oversimplifications, for the purposes of introducing the idea to new students of physics.

    At this point you might ask, very correctly and wisely, “who cares?” :-) And I’d have to agree with you: those subtle points are not meaningful, if you look at the most visible aspects of Buddhism. I just point them out to make your audience understand that Buddist thought, when oversimplified, seems as meaningless as any other “crazy belief system”. But so does quantum mechanics. It’s only when one delves deeper in either of them that things actually start to click into place. I personally just find it very funny that the basic principles of quantum mechanics — albeit not with the complex maths! — were proposed by very early Buddhist schools around the years 100 BCE and 100 CE and subsequently refuted. I’m curious to see how quantum mechanics will evolve, in the next few centuries, and if this evolution will replicate the reasoning used by Buddhists two millenia ago :)

    This is why it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the Dalai Lama is able to discuss things with eminent quantum mechanic specialists. Of course Indian mathematics was not so advanced as ours, two thousand years ago; but the philosophic implications of the nature of the universe based on zero-dimension fundamental particles was definitely thoroughly discussed back then. It’s still part of the accumulated knowledge of Buddhism we have today, and anyone willing to study Buddhism seriously enough, will need to tackle the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics — and, perhaps most interestingly, how it can be easily demonstrated that there cannot be any “fundamental particles” like the ones proposed by the Standard Model of particle physics. Western science still has a few centuries to catch up with that :) But, in the mean time, the simplification has lots of benefits, thanks to a thorough understanding of particle physics. This is why Buddhism does not reject “simplifications” — they make things easier to grasp for many people, who would be completely lost otherwise. Siddharta wanted to give everyone a different method, appropriate for one’s abilities, to progress in their training successfully; many realized practitioners were completely illiterate, and forcing everybody to take a PhD in advanced philosophy and quantum mechanics would exclude the majority of humankind from benefitting from Siddharta’s teachings. So there are simplifications at many, many levels.

    But arguing that the simplifications are the core of Buddhism is a misrepresentation; it would be like claiming that Bohr’s model of the atom is the “truth” about how the universe works at the quantum level. It’s a useful simplification to engage students, let them break free of misconceptions, and encourage them to study further.

  • Talia

    Good article, but you really need a proofreader for spelling, and to correct things like whose/who’s and your/you’re.

  • http://www.rhjunior.com RealityCheck

    Why do christians feel a need to yell at you?
    Because we are ALL fallen creatures, and terribly difficult to live with.

    Envision this: you’re a fireman. You’re climbing a ladder to rescue a bunch of people stuck on top of a burning building. You get up there, choking on smoke and sweating in the heat–
    and the people up top are throwing a house party. Beer, food, women, the works. You tell them the building is on fire, and they LAUGH.

    You stand there on your ladder and waste precious minutes trying to convince them that they have to get off this building, that they are about to burn to death– and they still laugh. The ringleader goes so far as to spit booze in your face.

    Then they stand there in a circle patting each other on the back for telling you off, and talking about what a JERK you are for spoiling their party…

    • The Void

      They show you the smoke machine and what looked like fire was just the way there disco lights were bouncing off the Windows but you silly old fireman still won’t accept the truth.

  • Hope

    Dear Sir,

    “Christians” today are not really “Christians” because they do not yet have understanding of what the Bible really teaches:

    1 Cor. 3:14-15 “But their minds were hardened. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.”

    Like you mentioned in another article that Sunday worship was changed by the Catholic church. It is clear to me as it is to you, but “Christians” in the world cannot grasp it even though it is so simple. http://www.religiouscriticism.com/beliefs/the-catholic-church-changed-the-sabbath/

    The reason is that Christ is not calling everyone at this time:
    John 6:65 “…no on can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father”.
    John 14:22 “…”Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?”

    Why?:
    Romans 11:32 “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”

    Also, I’d like to suggest to you that Christ Himself said that he calls those who are sick and weak (to become strong, but it takes time, Sir):

    Matt. 9:12 “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
    1 Cor. 1:27-29 “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

    God has a plan of salvation for all mankind, and NO ONE who is not called at this time is going to hell fire (like yourself). Even the “Christians’ of the world won’t be going to either heaven or hell, as they like to think.

    Also, you are correct in other articles that the Earth was NOT created in 6 days. Even the Bible states this, which most Christians miss. Gen. 1:1-2 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth became without form and void…”

    The heavens and earth already existed, BUT there was a spiritual fight between God and His angels and Satan and his demons which made the Earth uninhabitable. The Earth had to be renovated, and new species and plant forms would have been introduced.

    You seem like a very smart person, and I hope that you will not discount what you don’t already know (and what the majority of Christians don’t even know from their OWN book).

  • Pingback: Why is religion bad? - Religious Criticism()

  • We are not bullshit

    Get you facts right ,buddhism does not belief in reincarnation ,but reborn into the world if u haven seek salvation and reborn is a bad thing which we want to escape.Furthermore, Dalai Lama does not represent buddhism, dalai lam is jus from a small part of buddhism ,we have a lot of sectors.

  • MAO ZEDONG

    sun god moon god fish god house god tree god

    100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 of gods.

    Free free free to Invent your own gods…

    Free free free to Invent your own god.

    All you need is Pencil/paper to invent your own gods…..

    10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000s of gods in Free world

  • Sipho Ndhlovu

    Who gave the authority to decide what us crazy or not? What value do such statements add to society at large?

  • Uphill

    Nice try. It started up pretty rationally. Buddhists and Buddhism are about a way of life, thinking, being, and morality. They become clogged with judgement upon judgement , and being “holy” in the general sense of the word…not to judge…right thinking…being free of this…oh shit, I’m NOT free of this or that…not thinking right…dumping dogmas (which means picking up dogmas)…and people at every Buddhist ashram, group, etc., are just like Christian “lite.” And there’s this revered Dali Lama…OK, there’s your messiah. Oh, he’s not. But, he is. People look to him for guidance, as an object of love, as an example…same thing, different wrapper.

    Buddhists in the West are often extremely bitter, and judge the living hell out of all not like them…while preaching acceptance… Again, same old religious junk, with a stealth wrapper. Another trap. Be your own,. Ditch it all. ALL OF IT. IT’s all delusion. Sure there’s no white-haired God above the clouds, but you’re a reincarnated soul…and the evidence for that is where? HA! It’s tough to live alone, and free. It’s tough to accept that we don’t know anything beyond NOW, and what we sense. Most religions offer some pretty sound advice, and so does Christianity. OH, BTW, Jesus said much the same advice as you quoted the current Buddhist high saint saying: (I paraphrase): “Test every spirit, so that you can KNOW YOURSELF, whether it’s true.” He was saying “Don’t take MY word for it.” Look, sense, feel, figure it out…believe, IF the evidence is there.” Course, he said a lot of other things, too… My point: all the non-religions are religions, too, and sweep up billions needing a guiding light outside themselves, even if it’s a byzantine path where you’re supposed to meditate your mind out of existence and awareness in search of oneness and total awareness, or nothingness…the paradoxes of most Eastern thought and all the yogic (meditative) arts are SOOOO full of shit, so much an endless adventure in mind-fuck, that’s how they snare people. There is no answer, but an endless, exhausting quest. Religions at their highest degree of sophistication! Nonsense, too.

    • Jake

      I’m not sure if you’re using your rationality to evaluate the argument properly on this. I’m pretty sure you’re just hateful towards religion itself in general. Sure, there are flaws with Buddhism, as with every religion, but the amount of flaws must be considered before saying they are all bad. People all have flaws, does that mean we are all bad? No. Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Phelps were both people. One was an advocate for peace and one was just batshit crazy. They both had flaws. With your logic, both of them are equally bad.

      That’s a fallacy. A huge one, too.

      Anyway:

      1. The Dalai Lama is NOT a Messiah. By definition, Messiah means ‘saviour’ or someone who came from heaven to save us from a hellfire. The Dalai Lama is not a saviour to Buddhists, he is a preacher. He does not claim to be the son of god, or any kind of spiritual deity. In fact, there are no gods in Buddhism anyway.

      “People look to him for guidance, as an object of love, as an example…same thing, different wrapper.”

      This sentence is rather broad and fails to actually define why he’s different to, you know, any other person. You can look to any good person for guidance and love him. I could like your mom as an object of love, for example, and she’d be just a different wrapper for the same body.

      “Buddhists in the West are often extremely bitter, and judge the living hell out of all not like them…while preaching acceptance…”

      “Buddhists” is a huge term, and you are generalizing a group that is scattered all over North America and Europe. You also provide no evidence/example of this, making your statement rather empty. Speaking of which, judging is a thing all people do. The only difference is that someone doesn’t have claims to back it up.

      “Again, same old religious junk, with a stealth wrapper.”

      This article just gave you a long list go why it’s not the ‘same’ junk.

      “Sure there’s no white-haired God above the clouds, but you’re a reincarnated soul…and the evidence for that is where? HA! ”

      Though you make a good point (both cannot be proved), comparing these two vividly different things like this merit ignorance. Believing in God makes you go to Christian heaven; believing in reincarnation makes you motivate yourself to do good things, because you’ll be born in a lower being if you do bad stuff. Of course, reincarnation is a controversial subject between secular and spiritual Buddhists, but at least you can reject it if you don’t believe it. There are many Buddhists who don’t believe in reincarnation; you’re not even supposed to blindly accept it either. If you don’t believe in reincarnation, don’t.

      “It’s tough to live alone, and free. It’s tough to accept that we don’t know anything beyond NOW, and what we sense.”

      You just defined Buddhism, actually. Buddhists accept that life is tough and we don’t really know anything in the future. Although I guess someone here had it really tough before.

      “OH, BTW, Jesus said much the same advice as you quoted the current Buddhist high saint saying: (I paraphrase): “Test every spirit, so that you can KNOW YOURSELF, whether it’s true.” He was saying “Don’t take MY word for it.””

      Actually, God himself says that he is not to be tested in the bible, which is a contradiction of scripture. Though I don’t really know how this supports your argument.

      “My point: all the non-religions are religions, too,”

      Contradiction: Atheism is not a religion. Your point is invalid.

      “…byzantine path where you’re supposed to meditate your mind out of existence and awareness in search of oneness and total awareness, or nothingness..”

      Another example of ignorance and stereotype. Buddhists don’t ‘meditate their minds out of existence’. It doesn’t work. You can’t meditate and disappear. It just doesn’t make sense. They meditate to calm the soul and find peace, which, secularly, actually works. Test it yourself; inhale, counting to 4, then exhale, counting to 4. Repeat until you’re calm. In fact, sleep doctors will tell you that if you’re having problems sleeping, meditation is a good way to calm down.

      Also, Buddhists, by definition, search for the path to enlightenment. Oneness and awareness are a factor, but “nothingness”, as you portray it, is wrong. They are ideas of meditation that you can be one with the world and not be a part of it at the same time, which is a spiritual idea that when you meditate, you leave the outside world and enter your mind.

      “the paradoxes of most Eastern thought and all the yogic (meditative) arts are SOOOO full of shit, so much an endless adventure in mind-fuck, that’s how they snare people.”

      You provided *one* example of eastern religion and you claim that most of them are ‘full of shit’. You provide no more examples, most likely due to your ignorance and your over-generalization.

      “There is no answer, but an endless, exhausting quest.”

      You just defined life. Also, Buddhists are going on some hike to the North Pole. They’re searching for the truth inside themselves. It’s a peaceful, calm journey that even non-Buddhists can do.

      “Because the eastern non religious religions still seek to explain the unexplainable, to comfort those who can not be comforted, to wrap it all up and make us comfy, when, there’s just no answer.”

      That’s a cynical way to view ‘eastern non religious religions’. Of course, to you, there’s no answer, because life, as you said, is unpredictable. “Eastern non religious religions” offer a more stable path to life. They don’t know the answer to life. They don’t claim to know the way to salvation. There is no dogma in Buddhism, Taoism, nor Shinto.
      Also, isn’t “seek to explain the unexplainable” the very philosophy of science? If you don’t know how it works, find out. Basically what the ‘eastern non religious religions’ teach you to do.

      “Go it alone.”

      I’m going to be less serious and laugh at your attempt to make a powerful ending. Your hate of religion is a direct contradiction to your atheism, whose major component is rational thinking and weighing the evidence and concepts of both good and bad and then determining if something is good or bad, not just presenting the bad parts of something.

      In fact, I myself am an Athiest. I don’t believe in reincarnation. But I do believe in rational thinking.

      • Uphill

        Good for you. Keep rationalizing. Sarcasm?…no, just a joke. Have a good day. Keep being rational.

        • Jake

          You too. Hopefully you’re better than 5 months ago.

    • Truth91

      I hate the fact the world can fool so many ppl into believing their existence has no meaning. Iv have been held down by black spirits on three occasions the 3rd time it touch me and my body became cold and I preyed in my mind for god and it released me. You probably want believe me but hey a lot of ppl don’t believe in hell and see a great ball of fire in the sky everyday and feel it normal cuz science said it was. We share of some of the DNA sequences as oak trees bananas and monkeys not because we evolved from them, in that case there would be monkeys still evolving today. We were gods greatest creation a mixer of every creation put on this earth with us. If you kill every honey bee you would wipe out a 3rd supple of all the worlds food. I don’t believe In religion yes its man made but god is real and if you truly seek you shill find. One more thing before I go human have gained the power to clone our food. And have the power to clone human bodys but can not successfully create a soul. I might not get to you at all but if you open up a satanic bible you fit the description and pray you see you get yo spiritual self together. Cuz wisdom and understanding is the gift life

  • John Eisenhauer

    I’d also point out that Western Buddhism is becoming aggressively non-metaphysical. I’d point to books like Buddhism without Beliefs or Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. I practiced for several years (still consider myself a neo-Buddhist). The various groups that I sat with talked a lot about concepts like Mindfulness. I never heard anyone talk about – or acknowledge – Rebirth.

  • Truth91

    Buddhi is not based up on a massager like most other religions. they are based up on spiritual enlightenment in once self .

  • Truth91

    Wake up

  • Truth91

    A lot of people miss the massage because of the messagers.