The dark side of Buddhism

by Matthew Cobb

Buddhism seems such a nice religion – all about “spiritual development”, not hurting anyone, thinking about the higher things in life, and so on. This nice-guy uniqueness appears to be misplaced, however. Not only do all religions say they’re concerned with the next world rather than this (which doesn’t stop the Pope wearing Gucci, or Armani or whatever), Buddhism – like all religions – has its dark side.

Over at the Times Literary Supplement, this side of the Rupert Murdoch Times paywall, Katherine Wharton has a chilling review of a new book of essays about “Buddhist Warfare”, edited by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer. Like other religions – and of course, ideologies – Buddhism has justified “compassionate torture” (“burning of the remnants of the victim’s past sins”), killing, and even mass murder”

“When a soldier killed a man he earned the title of first-stage Bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be). The more he killed the more he went up the echelon towards sainthood . . . the insurgents were given an alcoholic drug that made them crazy to the extent that fathers and sons no longer recognized each other and didn’t think twice before killing each other; the only thing that mattered was killing.”

One of the writers, Brian Victoria, implicates D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966), “the most influential proponent of Zen to the West in the twentieth century”, in providing the justification for the slaughter of millions of Chinese during the Asia-Pacific war.

Another quotes the ninth-century Chinese monk Yi-hiuan, who urged his hearers:

“Kill everything you encounter, internally as well as externally! Kill the Buddha! Kill your father and mother! Kill your closest friends!”.

I am sure Buddhist readers will be shocked, and hasten to let us know that this is not a true representation of their beliefs. I should hope not. But it is true, is it not?

Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer, editors
BUDDHIST WARFARE
257pp. Oxford University Press. Paperback, £18.99 (US $29.95).
978 0 19 539484 9

Oh, and as ever, this issue of the TLS has a fantastic cover:

139 thoughts on “The dark side of Buddhism

  1. Interesting – though, looking at the time frame, for example a 9th century monk, has Buddhism moved on, or is it still barbaric in places?

    Whilst Abrhamic religions get a bad rap for [fill in blank with whatever odious example springs to mind], Buddhism doesn’t get criticised as much.

    Will make an interesting read!

    1. Buddhism (Zen) has an interesting history with Japan and Bushido – and Samurai who retired often took up vows as a Buddhist Monk (as European noblemen might become Christian Monks). I forget how they related the more pacific Zen philosophy, but it could be done obviously. Hakagure (the book) had some comments on that, if I recall correctly.

      Other than that, look at the Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Any belief system can be used to justify or support violence – we humans are creative in our rationalizing.

      1. I got into Zen a bit a while back. I wound up leaving because the metaphysics was (as I stated below) just too damn wacky. I also find the prevalence of wealth icons in Buddhist practice (gold statues, lavish temples, etc) to be at odds with the practices themselves.

        Anyway – there is a movement within some schools of Zen Buddhism to collectively call out Bushido as a sham of Zen principles. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly vocal enough.

        All that aside – the meditative practice of Zen itself is very good. Push-ups for the mind. I recommend it strongly, and still do it myself whenever I can find the discipline.

        It’s just a pity about the goofy metaphysical window-dressing that typically comes with it.

    2. The above article is misleading. The Buddha has never justified killing any being, be it beast or man.
      The Zen saying ‘Kill Buddha if you happen to meet him” is koan meaning go beyond your concept of the Buddha. This mind cannot imagine the Buddha. Allyour imaginations of the Buddha is false.So don’t be bound by your imagination. Thus it does not advocate violence or killing.
      Buddhism is the only religion that has not shed blood to convert others.

      A.S.Balasooriya.

    1. Absolutely.

      I also read Bertrand Russell say that Buddhism was actually a proselytizing religion in its inception. Never checked the accuracy of this but the idea is quite foreign to the modern view of Buddhism today.

      1. It depends on the sect. Such neo-Buddhist cults as Soka Gakkai and Rissho Koseikai in Japan definitely proselytise.

      1. Buddhism didn’t stop the Rape of Nanking or the Bataan Death March, but the native Japanese Shinto was a more prominent influence in Japanese militaristic folk than was Buddhism.

        It is at the Shinto shrine of Yasukuni that Japanese who have died for the emperor and people of Japan are venerated, including, controversially, those who carried out the Rape of Nanking and the Bataan Death March.

        1. State Shinto, I think you should say, which was something that was manufactured after the Meiji Restoration in order to shore up the new regime, but which also drew on the extreme nationalist thinking of the Edo-period scholar Motoori Norinaga and brought back things like the Kojiki into circulation. Much of Shinto is really concerned with neighbourhood agricultural rites, and does not go much further than keeping the local gods happy. Japanese racism was in part a consequence, and a taking over and reversal of white racism so that it could be thrown back in the face of whites, and the assertion of a new master race who could rule over inferior races (for this the national myths of the Kojiki were useful). I would say, though, that the kind of twisted Zen Buddhism you find in treatises like Hagakure also had a lot to do with the contempt for life (others and their own) that was displayed by the Japanese in the first part of this century. Incidentally, for further examples of Buddhist inhumanity, you might look at the pronouncements of at least one leading Thai Buddhist regarding the Muslims of southern Thailand.

    1. One of my summer reads was “American Shaolin”, the autobiographical sketch of an American college kid who spends 18 months studying kungfu with the Shaolin monks.

      Turns out the spiritual zen side of the monks is explored for about 5 minutes a day during stretching warm up, so the tourists can be romanced with the fiction. Far from being reticent to resort to violence, the monks are complete jocks, totally into perfecting their athletic skills, quietly hypermacho about pain and explosively-physical dispute resolution, inexperienced with and entranced by women, and a really nice group of guys. Fun read.

      1. Just like all Yankee women, all you are good at is ordering in restaurants… and spending a man’s money!

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHbfIPjmZys&fs=1&hl=en_US]

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htQ6DPN0hdw&fs=1&hl=en_US]

    1. Zen archers? What were those? I’ll go with the Mongolians on horseback with their short recurve bows.

      I like the Chinese versions of the Buddha best – they sure know how to sell something. The buddha’s a plump man who’s always laughing.

        1. Quite so, it’s a confusion between Fu, Buddha (the thin one) and Fo, God of children (the fat one).

      1. Do you mean Kyuudo (the way of archery), or the uber-cool Yabusame?

        Yabusame is Zen archery done from the back of a galloping horse. The targets are off to the right. The rider (obviously, since he has to knock his arrow and shoot) uses no reins–just balance to stay on the horse. It’s still practiced in Japan. It draws pretty good size crowds in Kamakura.
        You can watch it on YT:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjNCrenxnS4
        Enjoy!

  2. The following example of Buddhist bloodthirstiness from the review:

    “For instance, the seventeenth-century Zen Master Takuan writes as follows:

    “The uplifted sword has no will of its own, it is all of emptiness. It is like a flash of lightning. The man who is about to be struck down is also of emptiness, and so is the one who wields the sword. None of them are possessed of a mind that has any substantiality. As each of them is of emptiness and has no ‘mind’, the striking man is not a man, the sword in his hands is not a sword and the ‘I’ who is about to be struck down is like the splitting of the spring breeze in a flash of lightning.” ”

    sounds rather like determinism.

  3. The question for me, as always, is whether these violent acts logically stem from the religion’s principles, or whether the religion was just twisted to suit the violent politics or impulses of the individuals involved. For instance, I can see violence stemming logically from the principles and scriptures of Islam. But, Dr Coyne, a similar post to yours could have been written about ‘the dark side of Darwinism’ dragging out all the social darwinists, their ‘scientific racism’ and their justifications for colonialism and slavery. Here we can cite the naturalistic fallacy to show that this sort of thing doesn’t stem logically from Darwinism, but rather is a twisting of Darwinism to the personal purposes of certain individuals, and I’m wondering if the same can be said for Buddhism. I say this because instances of ‘Buddhists at war’ that I’ve seen so far have involved the same kind of twisting you see with Social Darwinists, i.e. saying that the ideal of ‘selflessness’ means surrendering your individual will to the state, or simply sticking the word ‘compassionate’ on the front of a violent term to make that term seem OK. Does this sort of thing really stem logically from the ideals of selflessness and compassion? (If so, then anyone who believes in selflessness and compassion must be indicted, not just Buddhists). Just a thought.

    1. Well maybe but that doesn’t sound so different to the claims you hear all the time that religion does not cause violence but is used to excuse it. The Buddhist desire to negate the self is usually regarded as a good thing these days but I don’t think we’ve given enough thought to the essential nihilism of this, it is the antithesis of the importance given in the west to the autonomy of the individual. That philosophical approach has allowed western society to free itself from collectivist religious beliefs and enabled human rights and respect for life to become important political principles, these have been under attack from all the sources we are familiar with but Eastern philosophy and religion have been given an easy ride. There is one glaring example of the inadequacy of Buddhist thought, animal rights. Buddhists are supposed to reverence all life so you would expect animals to be far better treated in Buddhist societies than anywhere else but they aren’t, again it has taken post enlightenment western thought to grant animals a right to decent treatment.

      1. I very much agree with you Thornavis. I am no expert on the history of Buddhism but I did take it seriously enough to live for a short time at Roshi Phillip Kapleau’s monastery in Rochester NY.
        One way to look at the real practices of zen meditation, ‘no mind’ and so on is that the practitioners are devaluing their personal judgement and even experiences. It seems to me that there must be much abuse of people like this by unscrupulous sorts within the religion. Being an empty cup is not a normal state and something will fill it up quick.
        The words sound all ‘deepity’, the experiences are very pleasant, but any resistance I had to anything that was said or asked of me, was blamed on me. I was just ‘too attached’.
        How can this religion have any self-correction?
        I really don’t see any substantial difference between the Catholic Church and a Buddhist monastery except for the dressings.

        1. The Kalama Sutra seems to provide a good mechanism of self-correction and non-reliance on authority and tradition that is virtually unique in the world’s religions, but I agree that buddhist institutions can often function like any other dogmatic system.

      2. “Well maybe but that doesn’t sound so different to the claims you hear all the time that religion does not cause violence but is used to excuse it”.

        I know I know, and I’m tired of this apologetic been dragged out all the time too, but I’m not saying every case of religion doing bad things is a case of religion being twisted, like some multiculturalists like to believe. My point is sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, and despite people using it too much it is still important to work out whether it is or isn’t.

        But regardless, the rest of your comment does look at how bad things can logically stem from the Buddhist belief in ‘no-self’. I’ve experimented with Buddhist meditation and found it very beneficial, very far from ‘nihilistic’, but to the point on individual rights I don’t have a ready answer. Can it be argued that selflessness means you must respect the rights of others, and that respecting such rights is really what is best for the ‘collective’? Or must selflessness mean the destruction of rights because it undermines the concept of individuality? I’d like to see a debate on this. Particularly with Sam Harris.

    2. Sorry, it’s not the same. Religions have institutional expression and respect, and therefore function differently to scientific theories. Anyone can use a scientific theory for his or her own purposes, but when religions express themselves through insitutional representatives, then, in some respect, the views thus expressed are part of the religion, and so are the consequences which flow from such expression.

      I am sure that the Roman Catholic Church would deny that sexual abuse is an integral part of its teachings, but when large proportions of its priests offend through the sexual abuse of children, and those priests are protected from criminal liability, it is clear that something more than simple happenstance is involved. And if we look more closely, we will see that the priesthood is a close-knit body of celibate men who band together for protection, and consider their uniqueness of special importance to the church. Therefore, the instinctive defensive response is in fact an aspect of catholic doctrine regarding priesthood, holiness and election (of the church, and, through the church, of the priest) as God’s chosen instrument of salvation.

      1. I’m sorry, maybe I’m stupid, but I just don’t see how you showed buddhism and darwinism not to be analogous in the sense I said. I don’t know how to respond because I really just have no idea what you’re saying. I gather the important part was religion has ‘institutional expression and respect’ but I don’t know what that means in any sense that establishes the crucial difference you’re going for. I’d regard the Catholic Church’s pedophile cover-ups as part of a perversion of the religion rather than logically stemming from the religion (and I support the Case Against The Pope movement) as much as I’d regard some scientists’ Social Darwinism as a perversion of Darwinism.

        1. I’d regard the Catholic Church’s pedophile cover-ups as part of a perversion of the religion rather than logically stemming from the religion (and I support the Case Against The Pope movement) as much as I’d regard some scientists’ Social Darwinism as a perversion of Darwinism.

          The pedophile mess and especially the coverups stem from basic things about the Catholic church, notably its dogmatically patriarchal and authoritarian structure.

          The Church doesn’t have proper oversight or checks and balances, so it really shouldn’t be surprising that such things happen—both the abuses and (especially) the coverups.

          Because its authoritarian and patriarchal structure is codified in dogma, it’s Catholic dogma that is the biggest obstacle to reform.

          Dogma is what says priests must be obedient, including being celibate, if that’s what the Pope says they must do. (Dogma says the pope is infallible if he says he is, so who are they to disagree or disobey?)

          Power corrupts, and the Catholic Church is has a lot of power, and a power structure particularly prone to corruption—and they say it’s that way because God wants it that way, the Pope being the heir to Peter’s throne and all.

          Who is anybody, or even a billion Catholics, to disagree with God’s will?

          This isn’t a perversion of the religion—it’s only a perversion of the overt content of the religion.

          The actual religion is structured such that corruption is a pretty much inevitable consequence. It’s implicit in the dogma.

          The fact that it’s implicit doesn’t make it any less real or important, and in fact it’s more important than the overt content of the religion.

          1. By the way, I’ve often wondered what similar things are going on in Tibetan Buddhism, which is a similarly authoritarian system, with one guy at the top who’s “holy.”

            It’s gotta be pretty bad.

            1. Ah, well I’d say believing that a given religious institution is a deliberate ponzi-scheme knowingly enacted by its perpetrators is a bit of an assumption.

            2. Sam, I didn’t meant to imply that religions are closely analogous to Ponzi schemes. I don’t think that in general they are mostly deliberate cons.

              The main point of the Ponzi scheme example is just that the overt content of something is not necessarily a good guide to what kind of thing it really is. They can be utterly different and even opposed things.

            3. Pemako, how so?

              What do you mean by “holy” such that the His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is not considered “holy”?

              Or were you objecting to the “one guy at the top” part?

          2. “This isn’t a perversion of the religion—it’s only a perversion of the overt content of the religion”.

            But a ‘perversion of the overt content of the religion’ is exactly what I meant by ‘perversion of the religion’. Maybe I’m wrong but I’m not sure we actually disagree on anything.

            1. Just clarifying…

              The overt content of a Ponzi scheme is to make all of the investors rich.

              What it’s actually designed to do is make most of them poor.

              A Ponzi scheme that rips people off is not perverse, as a Ponzi scheme—it’d be perverse if it didn’t.

              Religion’s kind of like that, IMHO.

              It’s part of the normal and necessary functioning of religion to be hypocritically about power and authority and a substantial amount of ruthlessness that doesn’t comport with its overt content.

    3. But Darwinism has the distinction of being true, so we are forced to deal with its implications, whatever they are. Religion is a fantasy, and if it leads to violence or suffering, can be dispensed with without loss.

      1. It could also be said that the idea of the self being a kind of cognitive illusion has the distinction of being true. After all this is not just the central thesis of buddhism, but a core idea in philosophical materialism itself.

          1. No I don’t. Although you can hold reincarnation (or rebirth, which is different) against the schools of Buddhists who believe in it, reincarnation (or rebirth) isn’t actually essential to the main point of Buddhism (some Buddhist scholars, like Stephen Batchelor, argue that Buddha never even taught it). Concepts of no-self and emptiness, however, are essential to Buddhism, and I thought that’s why this discussion was centered around those concepts, not reincarnation.

        1. I don’t think the self being an illusion in the Buddhist sense is much like consciousness being an illusion in Dennett’s sense.

          I don’t think Dennett (et al.) thinks that consciousness is completely an illusion—whatever it is, it does actually happen. The illusion is in how consciousness seems to us. We are often mistaken about what’s going on in our own heads.

          1. Except I’m not equating self with consciousness. Consciousness is a function of a brain, and it is real, but the point is there is no ‘centre of narrative’ in the brain to which we can attach the label ‘I’. That’s the buddhist and the materialist idea, at least as I understood it.

          2. Paul W: I don’t think that you have Dennett quite right here.
            There are two uses of the word ‘consciousness’ that are getting confused here.
            The first is what one might also call sentience. Sentience – the ability to have sensory input – can be ascribed to a vast range of creatures in varying degrees. Certainly dogs, cats, mice, chimps, snakes and even ants could be said to be sentient. They get rapid, vivid input from the world – tactile, olfactory, visual, auditory – and interpret it on the fly. Clearly there are degrees of sentience here. Although I couldn’t prove it, it seems sensible to say that a dog is MORE sentient than a snail.

            Then there is the sense of the word that means ‘self-aware’. Chimps seem to have this. You put some lipstick on their forehead and show them a mirror. They will wonder what the lipstick is, and rub it off. They recognize themselves – they have a concept of themselves IN the world.

            Dennett’s view is that the latter self-awareness is a very powerful illusion. This is NOT the same as saying that it isn’t a REAL phenomenon. Do rainbows exist? Yes. Are they huge arcs of multicolored, translucent, and luminous gas, hanging in the atmosphere? No. Rainbows are an optical illusion. It sure seems that there is a big colored arc up there, but what’s really happening is that white(ish) light from the sun, composed of many colors is refracted at different angles through water droplets in the atmosphere. The arc shape is the result of the shape of the lens of your eye only directing light beams from certain angles toward your retina. Someone standing at a location relative to the water vapor and the sun will see a different rainbow. Hence the impossibility of finding the end of the rainbow. Wherever you go, the rainbow will adjust to your point of view.

            So too it is with your sense of self, the sense that your are a person, the experiencer of your experiences. The are a very useful and powerful construction that develops in your childhood (do infants have a sense of self?), and probably was a recent appearance in evolutionary terms. The sense of self is so pervasive, so all consuming, that it seems impossible that it isn’t real. But it turns out that one can discover this for onself, through meditation. Through sustained introspection (Vipassana breathing meditation is my introduction to this) one can look for one’s selfhood, and it will disappear.

            1. Sounds like crap to me, I don’t want my ‘selfhood’ to disappear anyway. The idea that nothing is real or valuable is just the largest scale of sour grapes. Because you can’t have everything you pretend you don’t want it.

              And rainbows aren’t an optical illusion, they just aren’t what some people have thought they were. They are real however. A real effect of the sunlight refracting and reflecting in tiny little drops of water.

            2. Marella:

              there isn’t a ‘reply’ button on your comment, so I’m putting this here.

              You CLEARLY did not read what I had writting, ESP considering that you simply repeat my own point about rainbows (that they are real, but not what the naive mind thinks they are) nearly verbatim.

              And who is saying that nothing is real?

        2. Ah, but if my self is an illusion, who is being illuded?

          I don’t disagree with Dennet, but one must be careful with the wording in order to not end up with a contradiction.

        3. The self may be a cognitive illusion but it’s a very necessary illusion if we are to function as humans at all. This is what I dislike about Buddhism it is essentially anti intellectual it requires the same sort of negation of the individual will as Christianity does, the message is stop thinking and all will be well.

          1. Once again Thornavis, I see this in much the same way as you.
            Setting aside the institutional question, the ultimate goal of Zen Buddhist meditation is to achieve personal ‘enlightenment’ and then move on to express that enlightenment in the world, while ‘knowing’ (there’s that word again) that everything is an ‘illusion’. The problem, I think, is the same problem that theology has, HOW do you know? To loosely apply Jerry’s criteria to, let’s say, a nice liberal U.S. Buddhist:
            What evidence do you have that what you call enlightenment exists? What evidence do you have that your view of the essential nature of the universe is true? How would you know if you were wrong?

            I disagree with one thing in your post above:
            “the message is stop thinking and all will be well”.
            That is not quite correct. The practitioner is taught to observe but not participate in his or her thoughts. Watching them come and go like the clouds. See how warm and fuzzy that makes you feel!

            It may well turn out that there are some measurable benefits to meditation, prayer, especially combined with some sort of movement like yoga or Zen walking meditations. But we have to determine this based on science and reason. Then we would just have to dump the metaphysics and I would have no problem with it. Teach it in the schools, in the fitness centers (already there by the way), and the hospitals. I think, by the way, that this is the sort of thing Sam Harris is interested in.

            Pastamaste

    4. For starters, Buddhism is a religion. “Darwinism” (whatever that it-almost all evolutionary biologists agree Darwin got certain things wrong) isn’t.
      This may sound like a trivial point. However, all religions, but their nature, foster an us-v-them attitude. This diviseness can lead to violence, even if the teachings of the religion itself doesn’t.
      Case in point: the recently ended civil war in Sri Lanka between Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils. Religion has been a part of that conflict, I don’t think anyone can deny that.

      1. I think the ‘us vs. them’ attitude is kinda inevitable no matter who you are. Even your own comment divides the world into ‘us’ (the secular) into ‘them’ (the religious). But how could it be otherwise?

        1. I am sorry, I just don’t see how you this makes any sense.
          A religion is a set of doctrines. That is why it is divisive: you either accept them or not.
          Secularism is the null status: not having dogmas to defend.
          To say that secularism is devisive the same way religion is, is like saying walking away from racism is as divisive as racism itself, because then you will be “dividing” people into racists and non-racists.

          1. But when we argue against racism we ARE implicitly making a division between racists and non-racists. What I’m saying is that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just an inevitability of taking a position that opposes another’s. I not actually sure how you can disagree with this. The only way we can avoid an us-them scenario is to have everyone agree with everyone else about everything.

            1. There is such a thing called “by degrees”.
              Yes, speaking out against racism will make some people upset. But letting racism run rampant leads to exponentially higher levels of social division than fighting racism.
              Which is why putting secularism on the same footing as religion when it comes to divisiveness is ridiculous. Let’s put it this way: there is no shortage of wars fought over which religion is the “right” one (and buddhism has been a contesting party on occasion, whether you like it or not). Can you name a war fought over which “version” of secularism is the better one?

          2. For some reason there’s no ‘reply’ option below your most recent comment, so I’m writing my response here.

            “But letting racism run rampant leads to exponentially higher levels of social division than fighting racism”.

            Yes, which is why I said it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

            “Can you name a war fought over which “version” of secularism is the better one?”

            Well I could cite the Cold War, but I don’t want to dignify the question because you’re shifting the goal posts a tad. You said religion inherently creates an us-them attitude and that this can lead to violence, ‘even if the teachings of the religion itself doesn’t’. I read this to mean you don’t care what a religion taught, you held a grudge against it just for existing and thereby creating an us-them scenario, period. You didn’t say anything about ‘degrees’ of us-them-ness. This makes it a completely different conversation now. To which I say yes, religion can make the us-them division more violent, but only IF the teachings make the division violent, i.e., with a ‘convert or die’ doctrine. But not all religions have this kind of doctrine (like Buddhism), and so not all make the division violent.

            1. I don’t thin the cold war example is necessarily accurate. If anything we got “under god” and “in god we trust” because of the red scare.
              Granted, not all religions preach violence the way Wahhabi Islam does. However, I just fail to see how you can overlook the fact that Buddhism can also be divisive. I mentioned Sri Lanka above.
              And no, I don’t think a religion should escape blame when its followers committ atrocities en mass against followers of other religions. We are not talking about one individual, we are talking about a whole ethno/relgious group.

            2. Well now we’re back to whether those atrocities stem logically from the religion’s principles or whether the religion was twisted to suit people. Individuals, ethnic group, or otherwise. But we’re going in circles now.

            3. No, you are going in circles.
              First, I point out to you that religion is divisive. Then, you say all human thought is divisive, including secularism.
              Except, I as the racism example shows, secularism is nowhere nearly as divisive as religion.
              And so you go back to the question of whether the teachings of Buddhism in particular lead to violence. Except that this is only partly relevant, since Buddhism is a religion and so by its nature, it is divisive and can lead to violence, whether it explicitly preaches violence or not.
              And no, secularism is not like that, as already mentioned.

            4. You haven’t justified why being the mere fact of being a religion automatically makes it a more violent us-them scenario no matter what the religion teaches about non-violence. That’s my point.

    1. Buddhism as it is has been practiced by ordinary people has a great number of supernatural beings that are not fundamentally different from the gods of other religions; also, there is a lot of syncretism where Buddhism is concerned, so that in Japan Buddhism existed quite happily along with spirit cults and Shinto, as in Sri Lanka Theravada Buddhism has always co-existed with Hindu beliefs and local spirir cults.

      1. Nowadays they say a person is “born Shinto, married Christian, died Buddhist”. I’ve heard that from several people (including my husband:)

        Because, of course, those big white wedding dresses (rented in Japan) are kawaii (cute). There are fake “chapels” everywhere to get married in. The cake is fake, too–one slice for the couple to get their photo-op in, the rest is plastic.

  4. Zen Buddhism in Japan has always been connected with a warrior ethos, and certainly Zen thinking contributed a lot to treatises on the ‘way of the warrior’. There is a kind of mystificatory nihilism (nothing in the end matters, therefore…) within certain kinds of Buddhism at least that does promote inhumanity, and I remember D.T. Suzuki being called on this many years ago.

  5. The Dalai Lama seems like a nice chap – but Tibet before the Chinese took over was a feudal theocracy. Not much Buddhist nice-guy-ism after all.

    1. The Dalai Lama is a nice chap because he was sent packing. The disenfrancised can afford to be nice. They’re looking for support. Had he remained in Tibet, and in power, it is doubtful he would be one of Hollywood’s favourite pets.

  6. Come on– don’t out quote-mine the quote-miners. The “kill the buddha” bit is obviously metaphorical, and is generally taken as an endorsement of skepticism– ie, trust no one (not even the Buddha), find your own path.

    1. Thank you. “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” means that not even the Buddha’s teachings can show you the right path if you don’t find it for yourself. It’s almost as famous as the hackneyed, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

      I can make a good case that chess playing leads to war. Humanity has a built-in need to segregate into mutually-exclusive groups that slaughter one another. ANYTHING, any ideology, can be used to that end.

  7. I’d like to say that I agree with the comment made by “Sam” (Harris ??) above. The TLS essay by Katherine Wharton shows a misunderstanding of the concept of emptiness in Buddhism, namely that our awareness can be free from concepts, including the concept of self/I. Wharton uses the term “emptiness” like a pin to put on the lapel of human behavior and philosophy, with no regard to its content:

    By contrast, Buddhism argues that identification with the principle “no-self” is the highest wisdom. Buddhism, therefore, is usually centred on the refusal of any kind of self-assertion, particularly the assertion of the assailant or the assertion of predator over prey. In Mahayana Buddhism, the refusal of assertion is called the “wisdom of emptiness”. However, we have already seen how this term “emptiness”, absent from Daoism, was inherited and asserted by Takuan.

    ‘Identification with the principle of “no-self”‘ ?? This is non-sensical, because no-self means that you don’t identify with anything, even yourself. The idea is that in a moment of deep introspection (attained through various meditation practices Vipassana breathing etc.), you can try to find the source of your sense of self in your various cognitive faculties (your memory, your physical sensations, your verbal faculties etc.) When you look for it, however, you will find that it isn’t there. You will still have the contents of your mind and your memories etc. and the stream of input from your senses, but there will be no ‘you’ around which they are constellated.

    This concept can be a bit difficult to grasp, and the actual state of mind is very difficult to attain indeed. Wharton clearly does not understand what she is talking about. I find it telling that she continues to put the terms emptiness and no-self in quotations, as if she were writing about magic spell from Lord of the Rings.

    If you haven’t already, I recommend reading Sam Harris on this point (End of Faith, Chapter 7 ‘experiments in consciousness’) and have a look at some basic meditation texts (‘Mindfullness in Plain English’ is pretty good).

    1. “I’d like to say that I agree with the comment made by “Sam” (Harris ??) above”.

      Hahaha, no I’m not Sam Harris.

  8. Although I don’t disagree with all of Matt’s post, I find this part a little unfair:

    Another quotes the ninth-century Chinese monk Yi-hiuan, who urged his hearers:

    “Kill everything you encounter, internally as well as externally! Kill the Buddha! Kill your father and mother! Kill your closest friends!”.

    Admittedly, I don’t know the context of that quote, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not an endorsement of violence. “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” is a Zen saying, and it’s not meant as a literal call for bloodshed. It’s meant as a metaphor for the Buddhist teaching of non-attachment, that you shouldn’t develop a fixation on any person, any thought, or any idea – even the person of the Buddha himself – because that will hold you back from enlightenment. I’m not saying that Buddhism has never condoned violence, just that you couldn’t prove it by that particular quote.

    1. Attachment is another Buddhist idea that gets a free pass,what’s wrong with attachment exactly ? It enables us to bond socially for a start and I’m damned if I’m giving up my attachment to the concepts of personal liberty and free thought because some bloke with a shaved head tells me it’s a bad idea.

  9. There is always a dark side to any human behavior.

    I think the essence of Buddhism could be updated to become Humanism without the ancient trappings.

    It might be OK to have attachments so long as one realizes the attachments are there and can deal with them objectively.

    For example, an attachment to a cat may be a good thing, fulfilling for both cat and man, and one might mourn the loss of the other. Although that attachment causes physical suffering, mourning, the realization of the emotional bond and its effect might not be a bad thing. In other words, perhaps the attachment causes suffering, but perhaps the suffering is worth the attachment.

    Hang, on my cat needs a treat …

    1. “I think the essence of Buddhism could be updated to become Humanism without the ancient trappings.”

      Exactly–that’s why I think Buddhism is a kind of way station for christians looking to leave the herd (sorry about the mixed metaphor there). It’s easier to tell your mother you’ve turned to Buddhism than atheism. Unfortunately.

      1. Wouldn’t that suggest attachment to your mother ? Perhaps Oedipus was moving on from classical paganism.

  10. “Kill everything you encounter, internally as well as externally! Kill the Buddha! Kill your father and mother! Kill your closest friends!”

    Of course Tarantino borrowed this line!

    Kill whoever stands in thy way, even if that be Lord God, or Buddha himself. —Hattori Hanzo

    Anyway, I believe (based on my ability to perform Google searches) that “Kill the Buddha” is a traditional kōan:

    Kill the Buddha if the Buddha exists somewhere else. Kill the Buddha, because you should resume your own Buddha nature. —Linji

  11. “Kill everything you encounter, internally as well as externally! Kill the Buddha! Kill your father and mother! Kill your closest friends!”.

    This must be one of the most egregious example of quote-mining I have ever seen.

    The quote in its entirety, usually attributed to Linji (Li Yixuan) is:

    “Followers of the Way, if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you’re facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be
    entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go.”

    The quote isn’t a call for genocide or mass murder; its a metaphor that says to reject authority figures,doctrine and dogma.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linji

  12. I don’t know about the relationships between Buddhism and violence, but I’m quite suspicious that Buddhist ideas about Karma are destructive.

    If you think people’s misfortunes are due to their own past bad behavior and the inexorable (if stochastic) workings of Karma, that’s got to affect your ideas of social justice.

    Buddhism teaches compassion, but I don’t know how effective it is, given that it also teaches that people more or less get what they deserve, overall.

    I suspect that has the effect of weakening people’s sense of social justice—feeling compassion for people who are deservedly suffering is not as motivating as a sense that innocent people have been wronged and deserve justice.

    I suspect that behaviorally, Buddhism is a lot less compassionate in practical terms than it’s overtly supposed to be.

    I think a lot of people would be less sympathetic to Nice Guys like the Dalai Lama if they realized he thought holocaust victims and people born retarded were being punished for their own misdeeds.

    Talk about blaming the victim. Wow.

    1. Yes, exactly! Karma really is a despicable concept.

      One other detail about karma that I hate: I was thinking one day about how, on occasion, we all have the opportunity to help someone without getting anything in return. Say you did something for someone but they didn’t know you did it – in that case you wouldn’t even get a “thanks” for your actions. It’s a great thing to be able to do things for others like that, not for thanks, but just because that’s who you are. Except, if karma were real, helping someone “just because” would be impossible, because you always get a reward (in the next life). It’s impossible to be selfless if karma is real, because doing good always gets you something.

      Ugh.
      Buddhism sucks.

      1. I think the idea is about wanting to help someone because they need help, not to find what’s in it for you. To see a smile on someone’s face, to know that in some small way you’ve helped alleviate stress or pain or frustration, that’s the reward.

      2. Hang on.

        Now I think about it… If Karma was true, wouldn’t it make progress towards a better world impossible?

        Think about it.

        If everything bad that happens to you is because of something that happened to you in a past life, doesn’t that imply that everything bad you do to someone else must be because of something *they* did in a past life?

        And doesn’t that mean that the buck gets passed on to you, as the perpetrator? So that in your next life, someone will do something bad to you. Then in that person’s next life, someone will do something bad to them.

        For all eternity?

        It doesn’t stack up.

        Wow. That’s my new thought for the day. Don’t know how I missed that until now.

    2. I once had a conversation with someone who said just this, apparently the Jews had done some bad stuff sometime, he didn’t specify when and the Holocaust was the working out of their collective Karma. There’s nothing you can say to idiocy of that kind.

    3. Karma can be used (and has been used) to support the status quo and to deny social justice, but modern buddhism does not interpret karma this way. Most buddhists will be shocked by what you said about karma. Karma is like nature. It is indifferent. It has no sense of justice. Karma says that if you jump from high places, you will fall. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t rush to help those who are falling. In fact buddhism insists that we don’t judge the misfortunes and failures of other people, and do everything we can to help them.

      1. Right so modern Buddhism has learnt a trick or two from modern Christian theology, alter your beliefs to correspond pretty much with those of secular society, then pretend it was all your idea in the first place.

      2. Can you back that up with evidence? Where is it written that Buddhists should do everything they can to help foolish, poor, low class people who are getting their just deserts?

        Here is where it is written that foolish, poor, low class people are getting their just deserts: http://www.metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/2Majjhima-Nikaya/Majjhima3/135-culakammavibhanga-e.html

        If you retort easily and show anger, you are born ugly! If you’re jealous of others, you’re born inferior! If you act foolishly, you’re born foolish! And what a catch 22 that last one is! You have to act wise to be born wise, but if you’re born foolish, it’s gonna be pretty hard to do that!

        And of course, thanks to modern methods of inquiry we know that SES is positively correlated with IQ and mental health, and negatively correlated with obesity, etc. So if you’re “born with low means,” it’s gonna be that much harder for you to be wise, even-tempered, not gluttonous, etc. But if you fail and you’re born with all these negative characteristics again, you earned it! Work harder next time!

        A fair system would take into account how hard people worked given their circumstances, or how much they achieved given their starting points. Karma, apparently, does not. And even if it did, much or all of the misfortune that befalls you is still the result of bad stuff you did before you were born.

        So tell me how you get from that tenet of Buddhism, to the humanist idea that we should help people who are less fortunate.

      3. Karma can be used (and has been used) to support the status quo and to deny social justice, but modern buddhism does not interpret karma this way.

        What do you mean by “modern Buddhism”?

        My impression is that what you’re saying does not apply to the large majority of Buddhists today, but mainly to a minority of progressive Buddhists who believe Buddhism as normally practiced needs modernizing.

        Most buddhists will be shocked by what you said about karma. Karma is like nature. It is indifferent. It has no sense of justice.

        Overtly, yes. They say that Karma is not a person, doesn’t have a mind, and is indifferent.

        And yet, if you commit bad acts, you’ll be reborn into bad circumstances, exactly as though you were being punished by an ominiscient personal God with a harsh sense of justice.

        What a coincidence.

        Karma says that if you jump from high places, you will fall.

        That would be gravity, I think. The workings of Karma are rather more value-laden.

        But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t rush to help those who are falling. In fact buddhism insists that we don’t judge the misfortunes and failures of other people, and do everything we can to help them.

        I know people say these things, as I tried to make clear, but that doesn’t change my point about the impact of belief in Karma on people’s motivations.

        You don’t have to think that Karma is a person with a mind who is intentionally punishing you, if the effects are similar.

        If you think people are getting what they deserve, by and large, you may feel sorry for them, but be less outraged about their getting the shaft than if you think they’re innocent of any wrongdoing, and getting the shaft for no good reason. Compassion may be a weaker motivator than an outraged sense of justice.

        Similarly, in the larger picture, if you think that the suffering in the world is part of a grand, inexorable scheme, you may be pessimistic about things like the prospect of social change (or technological progress) that could reduce suffering across the board.

        For example, you may think that the only way to really help people is to help them be more virtuous (or something), so that when they’re reborn, Karma will ensure that there’s magically a better circumstance for them to be reborn into. And the only way to finally beat the system is to become enlightened and get out of the cycle of Karma entirely.

        Anything else, like secular education, clean water, progressive taxes, fair elections, etc., is likely to be seen as a “quick fix” that won’t work, and a distraction from the important work of accepting the workings of Karma and getting on with getting better in Karmic terms.

        Oh, and supporting the Buddhist system, which of course is the thing that helps people most, because it does exactly the best thing you can do—to suffer less in the circumstances they’ve got, or be reborn into better circumstances, or get off the wheel entirely.

        Which is very convenient. Most religions do the same thing to some extent—make themselves seem more important, and other things commensurately less important. It’s part of how successful religions become successful and stay around.

        1. As I commented in another part of the thread, I am not a fan of buddhism and I am not motivated (nor qualified) to defend it. However, I grew up and lived most of my life in a (mahayana) buddhist country. The interpretation of karma as you discussed above is very foreign to me. I was taught as a kid that a buddhist will willingly refuse to enter into the realm of nirvana, and stay in this world to help those who suffer due to his or her compassion. A true buddhist will insist to be the last person on earth to reach nirvana. One only has to consider the fact that buddhist organizations are among the biggest sources of charity in asian countries to see that buddhism does encourage turning compassion into action.

          Having said that, as a humanists I do want to see buddhism replaced by secular values based on science and rationality. I do not consider the concept of karma harmless.

          1. I appreciate hearing about what Buddhism is to someone who grew up with it and learned about it from the culture around them – as with any religion, the official understanding of the religion and the understanding that most laypeople have are often very different. Thanks.

  13. Meh. All religions contain evil. I’ve found several Buddhist tenets (and texts) profoundly helpful in my life even though I am an atheist. But you need look no further than the fact that Buddhists adopted the B. Gita as a central text – in essence, before a battle in which Prince Arjuna will be forced to kill his friends & relatives, Krishna tells him, “Don’t worry they’ll all be reincarnating!” Now, I love the B. Gita as literature & there are some powerful positive messages in it, but that’s some seriously Old Testament shit!

  14. What amuses/annoys me most is how much Buddhism gets a pass from the non-religious. It has a lot (and I mean a lot) of supernatural elements to it. The mythology of the Buddha himself, the cosmology, the things he did in life (and past lives!), karma, the notion of a fallen earth and humanity, and of course what religion would be complete without a loathing of human sexuality, especially women’s.

    I’ve been reading a good primer for my Comparative Religion class, The Story of Buddhism by Donald Lopez. I recommend it; it’s both sympathetic but it pulls no punches.

    1. Bhuddhism is just as big of crock as Christianity. But it is someone else’s crock, so for some reason would-be atheists give it a pass.

      1. I tend to be much lighter on Buddhism than on Christianity for two reasons.

        Firstly, Buddhism has the opposite of Original Sin. Gautama’s ‘wonder of wonders’ is that all beings are Buddha. I still think this is wrong, but it’s a better kind of wrong.

        Secondly, when I point out to a Christian that their metaphysics are wacky, they tend to get uncomfortable and offended. Make the same claim to a Buddhist, and they smile, shrug, and say something along the lines of ‘yeah, pretty much’.

        So yes – Buddhist metaphysics are as wacky as every other religion. Also: Karma has a dark side that no-one ever seems to notice. And from the looks of it this book seems to show that Buddhism isn’t free of the historic violence that seems to dog the heels of almost every other religion, as well as some large non-religious ideologies.

        But all the same – I find Buddhism far less odious than other religions. The least of all evils, as it were. ^_^

        1. If you judge by consequences, Christianity is less odious. It inherited the Judaic idea of a universe ruled by law (albeit god-given), and that led to the scientific concept of a universe run by natural laws. It is not accidental, I believe, that the scientific and political enlightment did NOT happen in a Bhuddist culture.

          1. I beg to differ. It is not obvious to me that science has its root in Judaism. You don’t need divine revelations to tell you that the universe follows a fixed set of rules. All you have to do is observe nature. Almost all cultures developed astronomy, including buddhist cultures.

            1. They observed the planetary motions in the heavens, but were clueless. it took a pious Kepler, motivated by his christian conviction that god created the world according to an intelligible plan, to come up with the laws that explained those motions.

            2. Kepler’s success was probably due more to his mathematical skills and the availability of high quality instruments and data, than to his faith. There were many pious astronomers before Kepler. They failed not because they didn’t believe that the universe was governed by laws.

            3. Those were necessary. But why did Kepler have them and not the equally smart people in Bhuddist cultures? Because Bhuddist cultures did not encourage the idea of god’s plan. Rather they encouraged the idea of “this is the way it is–suck it up.”

            4. “This is the way it is suck it up” and Christian dogma never said the same thing ? Not my reading of pre-renaissance Europe.

            5. Yes, most religious dogmas have that message, and for reasons we know all too well. But it was the virtue of christianity (perhaps the flaw from its own viewpoint) that it encouraged a personal relationship between the individual and god. And, after the reformation that freed us from the monopolistic grip of the universal christian church, free thought–the essence of science–could flourish and eventually transcend the superstition that birthed it.

            6. Neil, I think a case can be made that buddhism played a role in retarding the development of science in asia. However, the reason is probably not because buddhists don’t believe that the world obey laws.

              As someone who cares a big deal about the development of science in Asia, let me point out that some asians believe that in order to match the West in science and technology, we have to turn ourselves into Christians. An argument like you outlined above has been used as a propaganda to promote Christianity in asian countries. I am afraid that I cannot agree with that.

            7. Basnight,

              I think we can agree that the folks in Asia are better off without christianity in the 20th century. They’re better off junking their homegrown superstitions as well.

            8. Actually, if anything I think that Buddhism would be more suited as a potential root of scientific inquiry than Christianity. There are key teachings of Gautama that place experience and practicality above authority and tradition, for example.

              That said – Buddhism remains a bad candidate for any root of the scientific method for the same reason all religions do. It places just as much importance on metaphysics and the subjective, emotionally-laded ‘validation’ of them. All religions have this problem, so I disagree with the whole ‘religion is the root of science’ thing. I call bollocks.

              I much prefer Grayling’s take on the subject. Religion is not the parent of Science – to the contrary, Religion and Science are cousins. The common ancestor of Religion and Science is ignorance. Each attempts to overcome ignorance in its own way – it just turns out that Religion fails at the task where Science succeeds in a never ending sequence of baby-steps.

              Additionally, I think the birthplace of the scientific method was in classical Athens, which predates Christianity by a long shot. I’m not an expert on either, but Hellenistic culture and Hebrew culture were very, very different beasts.

              You’re correct that Judaism and its descendants have an emphasis on a ‘lawful’ world governed and revealed by a divine authority. But that very reliance on the revelation of authority seems to me to be the greatest of all possible stumbling blocks to the birth of science.

          2. I don’t think the idea of a personal relationship with god was at all strong until Protestantism appeared although it was starting to become a bit more prevalent in the Fifteenth century. The Renaissance was getting under way at the same time and I think adducing the rise of scientific method to a Christian concept of a personal god is confusing correlation with causation.

            1. Since we can’t rerun history as a controlled experiment, that is always a hazard. What I have read on the history of the enlightenment convinces me that certain aspects of christianity, particularly after the reformation, facilitated the rise of modern science in a way that bhuddism and other oriental religions could, and did, not.

            2. This issue requires serious scholarship, so my hunch is probably as good as any lay person. In China, the lack of scientific accomplishment in the last few hundred of years is probably a consequence of the domination of Confucianism (a agnostic secular philosophy). It is interesting to note that agnostic secularism can be as much of a enemy to science as religion.

            3. Some claim the confucian ethic explains the hard work that drives the Chinese economic “miracle”. I think it is the old fashioned desire to get rich. From what little I’ve read of confucianism, it appears to urge people to be subservient, like many religions.

      2. Basically you are right that Buddhism, as it is practiced is a typical religion, complete with absurd metaphysical dogma, crank histories, and absurd sexual taboos. But Buddhism is different than scriptural Abrahamic religion, because within it has grown up a sophisticated and valuable set of meditative/spiritual practice that is both useful and testable empirically in the first person, subjective mode. There are facts to be known about our own subjective experience, and these things can be explored and discussed rationally.

        Buddhism has done an amazing job of this, and the good news is that its discoveries can be detached from the metaphysical dogmas and the scriptures of Buddhism. Soon they will be put into the language of modern, Western psychology and on the footing cognitive science, and we can use them and discuss them without getting sidetracked by reincarnation etc.

        Try having a look at the writings of Stephen Batchelor “Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist”, and “Buddhism Without Beliefs”

        1. Christians will say pretty much the same thing about their religion, there are a number of contemplative aspects to it that can probably be of some benefit to particular individuals.
          I’m not sure about “testing empirically in the first person subjective mode”, how does that work, what does it even mean ?

          1. Perhaps you mean that the effects will be measured by the person themselves to the degree that it makes them happier ? Well, eating fruitcake makes me feel good but I’ve no desire to be one.

            1. you seem to be incapable of making a comment that does not belittle the contributor.why dont you absent yourself from our ranks,and go help the odious david berlinski?

            2. Whats your point about cupcakes? seems like a non-sequitur. anyway –
              It definitely means that we can test the effects of introspection ourselves. Sam Harris puts it like this (if you haven’t read chapter 7 of the End of Faith).

              I paraphrase: Can you be happy *before* anything happens? Can you be happy or content without having your favorite food or book music or drug or sexual partner or career whatever available at any moment? Can you make yourself more compassionate and loving toward your family and friends?

              As it turns out, one can do these things. It is because the things that make you dissatisfied, irritated, unhappy, or angry, are all attached to your sense of self – your your sense that you are (insert your actual name here) riding around in your skull. All the features of your mind – your memories, your hopes and dreams, your fears, your illusions, your sensory inputs, your anxieties, your language, your cognitive apparatus – are constellated around a cognitive center of gravty, the thing you call I. This ‘I’ is the nexus to which all unhappiness anxiety and fear is attached. It is a pervasive and powerful feeling. But it is merely a powerful illusion – a conceptual trick that nature has devised to give us a way to organize our mental contents and social lives. Through sustained introspection (generally starting with breathing meditation), one can free oneself from this ‘I’ feeling, and experience our consciousness directly (of only temporarily). In this state of mind, all of your mental contents and features will be there for you to observe, but there will be no one there who is the observer – no ‘I’. That which is aware of sadness does not become sad. That which is aware of fear does not become fearful. So by attaining this state of mind – without the ego – one can free onself from the vicissitudes of life. Furthermore, when the ego loses its grip, the happiness of others will become more important. Your ego will be weakend, and therfore you will be less selfish.

        2. “testable empirically in the first person, subjective mode.”

          I would rather test it in the third person objective mode.

          1. But you can’t. Anymore than you can be sure if your experience of the color red, or of the tone of C# is the same for me as it is for you. These things can be discovered only in first person terms – although their discovery may be aided with knowledge from others. The most we could do would be to do a brain scan and see if many people who report the same things have the same parts of their brain light up.

      3. Buddhism is as whacky as other religion in metaphysics and I don’t think atheists should be too romantic about it, but compared to the more popular religions it has one saving grace: it is not an exclusive religion. Buddhism doesn’t claim to be the one and only truth, which entails that it does not require everybody to be a buddhist. Buddhism is perfectly fine with non-believers. Buddhists believe that you can be a buddha without believing in the religion.

        1. I don’t see how this is any better than any other religion. Each religion comes with a set of tenets. Some religions say that you must proselytize, some don’t. Some say that you must believe in X in order to achieve eternal life, some don’t. So Buddhists many be less annoying because the tenets of their religion happen to involve not requiring people to believe. But the religion, like all, is still a collection of lies and bullshit. To Buddhists who say “you can be a buddha without believing in the religion,” I say “there is no buddha.”

          1. Except that this tenet is compatible with secular humanism. If your goal is to kill religion (as Richard Dawkins puts it), Buddhism is not necessarily your friend. But if your goal is to build a society based on humanist values, Buddhism does not stand in the way.

            Having said that, Buddhism does have its own trappings. A person who values science and rationality can feel unwelcomed in (for example) some parts of the USA because of the Christian dogmatism. Unfortunately such a person probably won’t find much comfort in a buddhist society either. In my own experience, the obsession with “life as an illusion” and non-attachmenet tends to encourage dogmatic skepticism, or an automatic distrust and disrespect for any claim of truth, no matter how solid the reasoning or how strong the evidence is. This is also anti-science.

            The Dalai Lama likes to say that buddhism encourages skepticism, and therefore is compatible with science. The former is probably true to some extent; the latter is false. Buddhism can be very unfriendly to science because it insists agnosticism in questions that are actually knowable.

            1. I definitely agree with your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs. Regarding the 1st- don’t you think the idea that lower-class people deserve their station in life inhibits building a society based on humanist values somewhat?

            2. “…But if your goal is to build a society based on humanist values, Buddhism does not stand in the way….”

              Only if you feel that humanist values include the idea that the only acceptable sex is between a man and a woman, and anything else is, according to the Dalai Lama: “wrong,” “unwholesome,” a “bad action,” and as “vices.”

              A little work yet to be done.

          2. Tim, yesmyliege: I am not a buddhist and I don’t come here to defend buddhism. In my opinion, buddhism’s distrust for knowledge is a more severe problem than its moral teachings. And I think this is the dark side of buddhism that hasn’t been commented upon.

            You are right that buddhist morality can be incompatible with humanism. I should have qualified what I said.

        2. This is a romantic, Western view of Buddhism that bears little resemblance to the religion itself. The only way to break the cycle of rebirth and enter nirvana is through the three refuges: the buddha, the dharma, and the… crap, I forget the word, but it translates as “the monkhood”.

          The “Buddhism is different” claims irk me, because they ring similarly in my ears as liberal Christian apologetics: “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!” “It’s not about the dogma and rules and beliefs, it’s about the community and spirituality!”

          And to Daniel: actually, only one sect of Buddhism believes that all beings have the Buddha within them; other sects reject this teaching. It’s a pretty contentious point within Buddhism. And Buddhism definitely has a similar concept as “Original Sin”; except it’s existed forever and you accrue more in this life… oh, and all your suffering in this life? It’s because of past lives. It’s justice. And if you don’t follow Buddhism and determine the path to nirvana, you’re doomed to an eternity of suffering via birth, death, and rebirth.

          And don’t get me started on the Buddhist hells…

          1. Well, okay then.

            My understanding of Buddhism was never that deep, so I suppose I don’t know it all that well – just going off a handful of books and the instruction of a Zen Roshi who’s meditation classes I attended for about six months.

            If I’m wrong about all that, then fair call.

  15. “Kill everything you encounter, internally as well as externally! Kill the Buddha! Kill your father and mother! Kill your closest friends!”.

    This seems taken out of context to me. “If you meet the Buddha, kill him,” is a pretty well known koan, and it’s pretty obviously not supposed to be taken literally.

    1. Yes,it was meant as a form of not this,not this.To encourage you to search.dont worship the buddha,find the truth.

        1. thats an odd question.how does one kill the truth?.another skeptic playing mind games instead of dealing seriously with serious issues.how old are you?eight

  16. I suggest Krishnamurti.He is what I would define as a rational mystic.He denounced his early messiah persona,which was a profound act of honesty,and skepticism.He spent the rest of his life urging honest examination of the human condition.Strangely,I read some vicious attack on him on some skeptic site.As an atheist,who agrees with the nonaccomodationist position on religious fantasies,I find the name calling to be juvenile,and counterproductive.Although,I will admit in certain cases,its definitely called for.Sometimes,though youre just giving them ammunition,something to whine about,and its a distraction from focused hard hitting analysis of their dangerous delusions,and outright cons.I maintain that there is a deep mystery to existence,but I submit no resolution.As K said,the intelligent sensitive mind never arrives at a conclusion,but always inquires.

  17. I believe your talking about Zen Buddhism. Zen is honestly a weird form of Buddhism. I was brought up in a Theravada Buddhist environment (which is the original and the oldest form of Buddhism) and I know for a fact that the Buddha never endorsed violence.

    The thing one should know about Buddhism is that it’s a rational religion and lord Buddha encourages his followers to think rationally and to look for reasons rather than following blindly (this applies to Buddhism itself). This rational thinking and reasoning is the foundation of Buddhist thinking itself. So I believe it is irrational for one to accept violence.

    If you really want to get an understanding about Buddhism you should read the Buddhist (Theravada) books such as the dharmapadaya, majhama nikaya and etc which contains the exact words of the Buddha himself.

  18. Tibet, pre-Chinese invasion, was pretty notorious for its barbarity. China was not alone in condemning it at the time, with the UK and US both pretty scathing about its Buddhist theocratic rule.

    Slavery, punitive mutilation, entrenched rape of novice monks, all rather revolting stuff.

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