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Is Buddhism All It's Cracked Up to Be?

Buddhist Mandala

Believe not because some old manuscripts are produced, believe not because it is your national belief, believe not because you have been made to believe from your childhood, but reason truth out, and after you have analyzed it, then if you find it will do good to one and all, believe it, live up to it and help others live up to it.

"Buddha"

Although it has been vilified by fanatic members of Western monolithic religions, the ancient religion of Buddhism has been widely respected by spiritualists and non-religionists for centuries. The admiration of Buddhism by open-minded Westerners is not a recent phenomenon, despite its current status in power circles such as the Hollywood elite. Many seekers of truth have discarded their traditional spiritual practices in favor of what they consider a superior system, i.e., Buddhism, which does indeed offer concepts that are more cosmic and less repressive than the Western religions.

"Buddha" is a Compilation of Characters

There are several types of Buddhism, which is a reflection of the fact that there have been several "Buddhas" and that Buddhism has been migrating from place to place for millennia. The story of the founding of Buddhism is that it was developed by a single, godly man--godman--named first Siddhartha and then Gautama Buddha, who had miraculous exploits, including the requisite "virgin birth" but also mountaintop communion with "angels" and "gods." The stories of THE Buddha, in fact, are extremely diverse. This diversity is understandable since the basic Buddha character is, in fact, a solar myth to which were added volumes of "sayings" and "doings" of a variety of people, usually men. "Buddha" is merely a title that signifies awakening, illumination or anointing, and there have been dozens of Buddhas, some female, over the millennia that constitute Buddhism. Indeed, Buddhism existed long prior to the time period assigned to its "great founder," i.e., 500 BCE, as there are legends of "Buddhas" going back many more thousands of years, including the 24 Teerthankaras of Jainism. (See Buddha as Fiction.) The word "Buddha" is related to the Egyptian term for the sky-god father-figure, "Ptah" and "Puttha," as well as to "Pytha," as in Pythagoras ("Buddha" + "guru"). It is also, therefore, related to the word "father." The Egyptian god Thot or Hermes is considered an early type of Buddha.

The Variants of Buddhism

While Zen Buddhism, or the Buddhism developed in Japan, is relatively simple and devoid of dogma, Tibetan Buddhism is more complex, with umpteen rituals and a hierarchy that startled Christian missionaries with its astonishing "similarity" to Catholicism. This similarity, in fact, is much more than a bizarre coincidence, as the two religions derive from the same source, Buddhism being first by thousands of years. Tibetan Buddhism has a flavor distinct from other forms of Buddhism, especially Zen, because it is a combination of Buddhism and the animistic "Bon," the previous religion of the Tibetan area, which was once much larger than it is today.

Although Zen has been preferred by Western intellectuals, many Western people are especially fond of Tibetan Buddhism with its color and pageantry, finding it superior to Catholicism. In the most important ways, this perception is correct, because the major tenet of Buddhism--Zen, Tibetan or otherwise--is that there is no "god" as such, separate and aloof from creation, but there is a sense or state of divinity that can be acquired by all. In other words, to enlightened Buddhas everything is divine. Many practitioners of Buddhism have undergone liberating experiences far more profound than those acquired within other spiritual or religious systems. While this promise of liberating spiritual experience sounds great in theory, there are problems with the actual history of Buddhism, as, like its Western counterparts, such history reveals prejudices, racism and sexism. Like the Western religions, Buddhism is primarily patriarchal, although certain sects of Buddhism have been goddess-oriented and have exhorted that the path to the One was through the Other, i.e., the Woman.

Because of its lack of rules and dogma, Zen is certainly superior to the monolithic religions that have through mind-control marshaled great hordes of people to rampage against their neighbors. But Buddhism did not spread peacefully, as is widely perceived. The question is, for all its intoxicating magic and mystery, are Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism really a completely innocent place and ideology immune to any criticism?

Mysterious Tibet

Tibet is indeed a land of magic and mystery. The nation, which once extended well beyond the boundaries it held when the Chinese invaded it, has been steeped in the occult for millennia. While Tibetans are widely known for doing rituals to bring about healing and peace, some have been known to engage in what could be called "black magic" as well. Stories abound of hair-raising creatures ("tulpas") being created through incantation.

Also, it is claimed there is at least one secret society within Buddhism that has been in existence since the times of Asoka, the Buddhist reformer-king of India during the 2nd century BCE. This secret society is claimed to hold tremendous power, with each member in possession of a magical "key" that when combined with the others can create or destroy on a cosmic scale. When a keyholder dies, he is replaced by another person, and it is believed that the keyholders are continually reincarnated, such that eventually there will be many of them living at once, thus increasing their power. (For more on the subject of Tibetan Buddhist mysticism, see Alexandra David-Neel's Magic and Mystery in TibetMy Journey to Lhasa and Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects.)

While the Dalai Lama himself may be a charismatic caring leader, the Tibetan religious system is not devoid of exploitation. When Tibet was autonomous, the firstborn male of every household was required to enter the priesthood, a repressive law that served as one of the justifications by the Chinese for invading Tibet and "freeing" its people from despotic priests. The Chinese, although themselves awful violaters of human rights, correctly recognized the falsity of a system whereby lazy monks live off the serfs. Of course, the life of the average poor and/or dullwitted monk is not so easy, as it is generally one of deprivation in many areas. Again, the hierarchy benefits.

Buddha's Character

As concerns the argument that it is not Buddhism per se that is at fault but its followers who fail to live up to its lofty precepts, let us take a brief look at the actual character of the mythical Buddha to see if he himself is the epitome of peace and love. In reality, although Buddha is considered a "divine" and "godly" figure, his behavior, as depicted in the orthodox stories, is not entirely exemplary, as is the case with Jesus and other godmen. First there is the story where Buddha wishes to have the other princes worship him, and, when they do not, he contrives to force them through magical means. (Hardy, Manual of Budhism, 200.) Next, when a sage doubts Buddha, one of Buddha's ministers encourages the doubter to challenge the godman. Knowing this betrayal mystically, Buddha informs the minister that "if he again denied that he was the supreme Budha, he was not to approach him anymore, or his head would fall, like a tal fruit from its stalk, or would cleave into seven pieces." (Hardy, Manual of Budhism, 332.) These stories belie the commonly held notion of a peaceful teacher with no ego.

Also, according to the priest Nagasena, Buddha is responsible for causing death:

When Budha punishes any one, or casts him down, or takes his life, it is that he may be benefited thereby; for the same reason a father chastises his child. (Hardy, Manual of Budhism, 385.)

Like those of Jesus, a number of Buddha's edicts are harsh and sexist, as well as anti-sex. As he himself was celibate, so he expected his followers to be, even if they were married. Because of his decrees (or, rather, those made by priests in his name), it became unlawful to touch a woman. Indeed, one was to avoid women, as if they were defiling. Moreover, as Simpson says:

Four crimes involved permanent exclusion from the priesthood: sexual intercourse, theft, murder and a false profession of the attainment of rahatship [state of liberation], or the highest order of sanctity. (Moor, Hindu Pantheon (ed. Simpson), 162-163.)

Thus, sex is basically equated with theft, murder and lying, not an uncommon development within religion, whose priests have recognized that their flocks are controllable through manipulation of sex.

In addition, Gautama is also depicted as being humorless, not having smiled in all the years since he became Buddha. When he finally did smile, "he did not show his teeth, or make a noise like some[but] rays came from his mouth like a golden portico to a dagoba of emeralds, when thrice around his head, and then entered again into his mouth." (Hardy, 339.) If such a person really existed, he would have to be considered not only divine and wondrous but also irascible and aggressive.

The truth of the various controversial matters within Buddhism's history may never be fully known, but what is true is that although Buddhism purports to be the most effective way for humans to free themselves from delusion, Buddhism itself is not free of delusion. While this fact is not an egregious sin when one considers just how delusional this earthly plane can be, it does reveal that Buddhism is not what it is cracked up to be. All in all, however, Buddhism is like democracy: It's the worst form of government, except all the others.

To truly "get" Buddhism, one needs to become a "Buddha," and a Buddha is a free agent not belonging to any particular group, cult or religion, not separate from "God," and not ascribing to ritual and rote, except that which moves her/him in her/his autonomy. A Buddha is, by its very definition, a liberated being, a person who thinks and does for her/himself yet who is connected to the whole, and thus selfless and concerned with the greater good.

Previous: The Roots of Islam
Next: Washington and the Mormon Church

For more on the subject of Buddhism and Buddha, see the book Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled.



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