East West Culture Clash

In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Buddhism. Changing religions is not like changing professions. Excitement lessens over the years, and soon you are not excited, and then where are you?  Homeless inside yourself. —The Dalai Lama[1]

Some Eastern Buddhists have sizeable reservations about their Western counterparts. This is surprising to many, in light of all the favorable press Buddhism has received. Haven’t countless people found calm in this hectic world through meditation? Buddhists desire world peace and compassion for all people, and they want to take an open stand for nonviolence. Buddhism is exotic and inviting. It shuns the violent, materialistic culture of the West. It offers the opportunity to tailor a unique path to becoming a better person, and, ultimately, to attaining enlightenment. Why would the Dalai Lama be hesitant about urging Westerners to become Buddhists?

Beginning Buddhism is easy. You choose the kind of meditation that feels good to you, and you select what you will meditate on. However, converting to Buddhism isn’t just about beginning. It’s about going deep into meditation and sustaining that depth . . . for a lifetime.

Many elements of Buddhism strongly attract people in the West. Elements of Buddhism very similar to Judeo-Christian teachings resonate with them. They think, Here is a wise, practical path to follow—without the constraint of submitting to an exacting God.

After delving more deeply, Westerners encounter some of Buddhism’s Eastern elements and usually balk, selectively. They pick and choose what they will practice and what they will ignore. Yet this cafeteria-style approach to spirituality may not work well. Many Western Buddha-seekers end up homeless—alienated from the Western traditions in which they were raised, and yet unwilling to adopt the Eastern ways of Buddhism sufficiently.

Patrick French, the author of Tibet, Tibet, noted: “I was . . . cautioned by the Dalai Lama’s own refusal to proselytize. After long observation, he had decided that conversion usually led to confusion, and that without the support of the prevailing culture, it was hard to maintain your spiritual practice.”[2]

The Dalai Lama did elaborate on his precautions. He said, “Westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear.”[3]

Difficulties? What difficulties? Lorin Roche, Ph.D., a meditation instructor who has specialized over the past three-plus decades in counseling people who have engaged in prolonged, intensive meditation, has noted some of these. They include depression, a feeling of being lost, trouble adapting to life in the city, finding it hard to be intimate with another person, weird health problems and panic attacks.[4] Westerners have much higher expectations for happiness in this world, so there is a much greater sense of loss when someone commits to retreat from this world.

Dr. Roche teaches a form of meditation he believes avoids these problems. Just keep it simple, brief and consistent. Perhaps Buddhism is like a pain killer. Taking a few tablets can do a lot of good, but swallowing a handful of pills and you better get your stomach pumped.

Dr. Roche does not see any need to convert to Buddhism or Hinduism to meditate more effectively. Most other major religions have long traditions in meditative practices. There is much that Westerners can learn about meditation . . . in order to strengthen their own form of Western religion. So why not leave it at that?

You may doubt that the Dalai Lama said the things quoted above. After all, hasn’t he spent decades traveling the globe as the world’s most visible Buddhist? While this is certainly true, what is not often fully appreciated is that one of his chief objectives has been to serve as a rallying point for the cause of the liberation of Tibet.  Portraying Buddhism in the most positive light possible aids him in furthering the cause of the autonomy and welfare of the Tibetan people, for whom he has served as “the temporal and the spiritual leader” for more than half a century.[5]

We all have much to learn. Imagine Jesus giving a warning to American Christians similar to the Dalai Lama’s precautions. He might say, “I do not think it advisable to blend my teachings with Western culture.” And he would be dead on.

 


 

[1] Patrick French,Tibet,Tibet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 27.

[2] Ibid., 27.

[3] Mary Garden, “Can Meditation Be Bad for You?” Humanist, September/October 2007, www.thehumanist.org/humanist/MaryGarden.html, retrieved November 22, 2010.

[4] Lorin Roche, “The Dangers of Meditation,” www.lorinroche.com/page8/page8.html, retrieved September 18, 2010.

[5] “His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet,” www.dalailama.com/, retrieved April 11, 2011.

How Knowledgeable Are You About Buddhism?

Below is a little true/false quiz to help you assess how knowledgeable you are about Buddhism. Mark each statement as true or false.

True/False Quiz

  1. The Dalai Lama publicly encourages Westerners to convert to Buddhism.
  2. There are no serious precautions one should take before practicing Buddhist meditation.
  3. The Buddha believed that there are many ways to become enlightened.
  4. No nation with a government headed by Buddhists has ever initiated a war with another country.
  5. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has attained enlightenment. He is confident that he will not reincarnate.
  6. Buddhist nuns are subject to about the same number of monastic laws as monks are.
  7. Buddhist beliefs are highly compatible with science.

Discussion

All seven of the above statements are false, or at least are seriously in question. Let’s look at each one in turn.

The Dalai Lama publicly encourages Westerners to convert to Buddhism. He has been quoted as saying, “In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Buddhism. Changing religions is not like changing professions.  Excitement lessens over the years, and soon you are not excited, and then where are you?  Homeless inside yourself.”[1] How could that be? Don’t forget, another top objective of the Dalai Lama is the liberation of Tibet.  Portraying Buddhism in the most positive light possible increases support for that cause. Regarding new converts in the West, he is all too aware of numerous difficulties with many of them (see discussion of the next statement).

There are no serious precautions one should consider before practicing Buddhist meditation. The Dalai Lama has been cited as saying, “Westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear.”[2] Dr. Lorin Roche has noted the following hazards of engaging in intense prolonged meditation: 1) depression, 2) a feeling of being lost, 3) trouble adapting to life in the city, 4) weird health problems, 5) bipolar disorders, 6) panic attacks and 7) psychosis.[3] Why? Renunciation is much harder for Westerners, who have so much, than it is for Asians, who often have comparatively little to give up. Secondly, meditation involving emptying your mind may make room for various odd things to enter.

The Buddha believed that there are many ways to become enlightened. In three successive proverbs, the Buddha said, “The best of ways is the eightfold; the best of truths the four words; the best of virtues passionlessness; the best of men he who has eyes to see. This is the way, there is no other that leads to the purifying of intelligence. Go on this way! Everything else is the deceit of Mara (the tempter). If you go on this way, you will make an end of pain! The way was preached by me, when I had understood the removal of the thorns (in the flesh).”[4]

No nation with a government headed by Buddhists has ever initiated a war with another country. A clear counterexample is Burma (Myanmar), whose population is very predominantly Buddhist. Burma’s history has been characterized by frequent, lengthy warfare or oppression, both internally and with surrounding nations, from the Pagan Empire (AD 1044-1287) until our present time.[5]

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has attained enlightenment. He is confident that he will not reincarnate. The Dalai Lama has been practicing techniques to greatly hasten progress toward enlightenment, and yet he is quite uncertain what his fate will be after he dies. “The rehearsal of the processes of death, and those of the intermediate state, and the emergence into a future existence,” he wrote, “lies at the very heart of the path in Highest Yoga Tantra. These practices are part of my daily practice also and because of this I somehow feel a sense of excitement when I think about the experience of death. At the same time, though, sometimes I do wonder whether or not I will really be able to fully utilize my own preparatory practices when the actual moment of death comes!”[6]

If the Dalai Lama is uncertain about what his next life will be, he is not enlightened, for the enlightened Buddhist is supposed to know that he will enter nirvana when he dies and that he will not reincarnate as another sentient being. Furthermore, the Dalai Lama’s words highlight his uncertainty, even though he describes the state of enlightenment as including: (1) omniscience, with “full comprehension of all that can be known,” and (2) victory, since “you have overcome all problems and have achieved realization of all knowables.”[7]

Buddhist nuns are subject to about the same number of monastic laws as monks are.  Buddhist nuns have 311 vows to take, in contrast to the 227 for monks.[8] Buddha’s view of women was, to put it bluntly, archaic. For example, one of his proverbs was, “So long as the love of man towards women, even the smallest, is not destroyed, so long is his mind in bondage, as the calf that drinks milk is to its mother.”[9]

Buddhist beliefs are highly compatible with science. Buddhists believe, as do Hindus, that the universe has always existed. It was never created. This conflicts with the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe.[10]

Closing Thoughts

How did you do? If you are like most Americans, your knowledge of Buddhism may have been affected by media coverage colored by sympathy for the plight of Tibet and the Dalai Lama. While such sympathy is very well founded, it can affect objectivity.


[1] Patrick French, Tibet, Tibet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 27.

[2] Mary Garden, “Can Meditation Be Bad for You?” Humanist, September/October 2007, www.thehumanist.org/humanist/MaryGarden.html, retrieved October 5, 2011.

[3] Lorin Roche, “The Dangers of Meditation,” retrieved October 5, 2011.

[4] Dhammapada, 273-275.

[5] “Burmese Kingdom,” Wikipedia, retrieved October 5, 2011.

[6] Dalai Lama, “Introductory Commentary,” The Tibetan Book of the Dead (New York: Penguin Classics, 2005), xxviii.

[7] Dalai Lama, Becoming Enlightened, 221.

[8]“Patimokkha,” Wikisource, retrieved October 5, 2011.

[9] Dhammapada, 284.

[10] “Big Bang,” Wikipedia, retrieved October 5, 2011.

How to Meditate Better

“In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Buddhism. Changing religions is not like changing professions. Excitement lessens over the years, and soon you are not excited, and then where are you?  Homeless inside yourself.” The Dalai Lama[1]

Some Eastern Buddhists have sizeable reservations about their Western counterparts. This is surprising to many, in light of all the favorable press Buddhism has received.  Haven’t countless people found calm in this hectic world through meditation? Buddhists desire world peace and compassion for all people, and they want to take an open stand for nonviolence. Buddhism is exotic and inviting. It shuns the violent, materialistic culture of the West. It offers the opportunity to tailor a unique path to becoming a better person, and, ultimately, to attaining enlightenment. Why would the Dalai Lama be hesitant about urging Westerners to become Buddhists?

Beginning with watered down Buddhism is easy. You choose the kind of meditation that feels good to you, and you select what you will meditate on. However, converting to Buddhism isn’t just about beginning. It’s about going deep into meditation and sustaining that depth . . . for a lifetime.

Many elements of Buddhism strongly attract people in the West. Elements of Buddhism very similar to Judeo-Christian teachings resonate with them. However, after delving more deeply, Westerners encounter some of Buddhism’s distinctly Eastern elements and often balk, selectively. They pick and choose what they will practice and what they will ignore. Yet this cafeteria-style approach to spirituality may not work well. Many Western Buddha-seekers end up homeless—alienated from the Western traditions in which they were raised, and yet unwilling to adopt the Eastern ways of Buddhism sufficiently.

Patrick French, the author of Tibet, Tibet, noted: “I was . . . cautioned by the Dalai Lama’s own refusal to proselytize. After long observation, he had decided that conversion usually led to confusion, and that without the support of the prevailing culture, it was hard to maintain your spiritual practice.”[2]

The Dalai Lama did elaborate on his precautions. He said, “Westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear.”[3]

Difficulties? What difficulties? Lorin Roche, Ph.D., a meditation advocate who has specialized over the past three-plus decades in counseling people who have encountered problems after engaging in prolonged, intensive meditation, has noted some of these. They include depression, a feeling of being lost, trouble adapting to life in the city, finding it hard to be intimate with another person, weird health problems and panic attacks.[4] Westerners have much higher expectations for happiness in this world, so there is a much greater sense of loss when someone commits to retreat from this world for a real stretch of time.

Dr. Roche teaches a form of meditation he believes avoids these problems. Just keep it simple, brief and consistent. Perhaps Buddhism is like a pain killer to Westerners. Taking a few tablets can do a lot of good, but swallowing a handful of pills and you better get your stomach pumped.

Dr. Roche does not see any need to convert to Buddhism or Hinduism to meditate more effectively. Most other major religions have long traditions in meditative practices. There is much that Westerners can learn about meditation from Buddhism . . . in order to strengthen their practice of their own particular form of Western religion. So why not leave it at that? Actually converting to Buddhism is a much more serious and mentally traumatic thing for Westerners to do than is commonly appreciated.

You may doubt that the Dalai Lama said the things quoted above. After all, hasn’t he spent decades traveling the globe as the world’s most visible Buddhist? While this is certainly true, what is not often fully appreciated is that one of his chief objectives has been to serve as a rallying point for the cause of the liberation of Tibet. Portraying Buddhism in the most positive light possible aids him in furthering the cause of the autonomy and welfare of the Tibetan people, for whom he has served as “the temporal and the spiritual leader” for more than half a century.[5]

We all have much to learn. Imagine Jesus giving a warning to American Christians similar to the Dalai Lama’s precautions. He might say, “In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Christianity—if that means subordinate my teachings to the base parts of Western culture.” And he would be dead on.


[1] Patrick French, Tibet,Tibet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 27.

[2] Ibid., 27.

[3] Mary Garden, “Can Meditation Be Bad for You?” Humanist, September/October 2007, retrieved November 22, 2010.

[4] Lorin Roche, “The Dangers of Meditation,” LorinRoche.com, retrieved September 18, 2010.

[5] “His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet,” DalaiLama.com, retrieved April 11, 2011.

To Eat Meat or Not To Eat Meat

Religious leaders attempting to follow specific rules of conduct are often the object of criticism regarding hypocrisy. For example, the Dalai Lama has been criticized over his consumption of meat, when it is generally understood that monks are vegetarians due to their belief in non-violence. After all, in Buddhism the first precept is, “I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from harming living beings.”[i]

Even Paul McCartney, former Beatle, outspoken vegetarian and animal-rights activist, and practitioner of Transcendental Meditation, has written a letter to the Dalai Lama entreating him not to eat meat, which causes suffering to animals.[ii]

While the Dalai Lama has received criticism from the vegetarian community “for continuing to eat meat, while promoting non-violence,” it is on the advice of a doctor that he has begun eating “small amounts of meat after developing gall bladder issues and hepatitis.”[iii]

There are divergent views on vegetarianism in the various schools of Buddhism, however, in the Pali Canon, Buddha declared meat-eating to be karma neutral.[iv] In general, monks are to accept the food given to them with this caveat: they should not eat meat if they believed it was killed specifically for them to consume.[v]

Recently, the New York Times ran an article on the forbidden treat of Tibetan beef dumplings (sha momos). In Tibet, the tradition of meat-eating is deeply ensconced. Because of the inhospitable terrain of the country, it is not conducive to growing vegetables. Due to the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1960’s, many Tibetans live in India and the U.S., and eating sha momos gives these exiles a strong cultural tie to their homeland.[vi] Being Tibetan, the Dalai Lama may also crave this connection to his homeland, as he escaped into exile from Tibet in 1959.[vii]

As an international religious and political figure, the Dalai Lama has struck a compromise for his health’s sake, and eats “vegetarian in Dharamsala and meat dishes when he’s on the road and it’s offered by his hosts.”[viii] However, the question on many people’s minds is whether compromise is acceptable in their leader.


[i] “The Precepts,” TheBigView.com, retrieved February 27, 2012.

[ii] “Paul McCartney Tell Dalai Lama He’s Wrong to Eat Meat,” WhyFame.com, retrieved on February 22, 2012

[iii] “Dalai Lama Says Eating Meat Not Always Against Monk’s Principles,” Vegetarian Star (July 29, 2010), retrieved February 22, 2012.

[iv] “Buddhist Vegetarianism, Theravada,” Wikipedia, retrieved February 22, 2012.

[v] “Buddhist Cuisine/Buddhism and Vegetarianism” Wikipedia, retrieved February 27, 2012.

[vi] Julia Moskin, “Tibetan’s (Forbidden) Special Treat” The New York Times, (February 21, 2012), retrieved February 22, 2012.

[vii] “A Brief Biography” DalaiLama.com, retrieved February 27, 2012.

[viii] “Dalai Lama Says Eating Meat Not Always Against Monk’s Principles” Vegetarian Star (July 29, 2010), retrieved February 22, 2012.

Buddhism & Christianity: Thought Provoking Analogies

Christian apologist C. S. Lewis[1] once observed that the spiritual life of a Christian is like the opportunities and risks available to an egg.  If an egg never advances beyond just being an egg, it will rot and decay.  It is designed to hatch, become a bird, and take flight.  A major problem with Christianity is that too many of its followers:

  1. never really break out of their shell, or
  2. if they do, they don’t spread their wings, or
  3. if they do, they try to fly by relying on their own power and direction.

The third option is much like a bird leaping from a tree branch without spreading its wings. It will plummet even though it wants to fly. The opportunity to receive the uplifting wind of the Holy Spirit is always available, but it requires not only an initial leap of faith but also the ongoing, moment-by-moment surrender of one’s life to God.  Without that surrender, the believer’s behavior can easily become a blight on the reputation of Christianity.

Practicing Buddhism is much like swimming,[2] while attempting to be a Christian is like flying. If a way can be found to fly safely, it is a more efficient way of getting around.  However, an air crash draws much more attention than a drowning.  Like meditation, swimming is incredibly repetitive and inward focused.  Like seeking the direction in which the spirit of God is leading you as a Christian, the flying bird can easily be blown this way or that by puffs of wind.

Initially, the Buddhist aspirant is hopeful of experiencing substantive empowerment and freedom from suffering.  Practicing deep, prolonged meditation can noticeably reduce stress levels and have a calming effect. So far, so good. After a while, however, another reality begins to set in.  Making progress spiritually as a Buddhist is very slow—to the point where the feasibility of achieving liberation comes into question.  To use the swimming analogy, it is often refreshing initially to dive into the water and begin swimming.  However, attaining enlightenment is much like swimming the 26 miles from Long Beach to Catalina Island.  Most can swim out from the shoreline and make progress for a while, but only a very select few have trained to the point where they can go the distance. And so it is that while Buddhism has initial appeal, over the long run at most a select few seekers somehow endure to the end, hoping to attain enlightenment. It is all a very conscious, concerted act of the will.

Christians would argue that becoming liberated (i.e., saved) by sheer human effort is not possible.  It would be like swimming from California to Hawaii.  No one, by good works, can traverse the 2,400 miles of ocean to get there. Rather, becoming saved is like entrusting yourself to a ship or jet to transport you there.  You have to board, committing yourself to the entire journey.  You can’t wander out on the wings during flight, or dive into the ocean for a bit to swim part of the way.

And so we see that in some ways these two great religions are quite different. Each has easy  as well as challenging aspects.


[1] “Coming In Out of the Wind,” July 8 reading, in C. S. Lewis, A Year with C. S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works, edited by Patricia S. Klein (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2003), 208.[2] Buddha used this analogy when describing his path, referring to it as “entering the stream.” Dhammapada 178, in Harischandra Kaviratna, trans., Dhammapada, Wisdom of the Buddha, 1980, Theosophical University Press Online, retrieved October 5, 2011.

Different Spiritual Journeys

Two throngs gather at the base of the southern tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. Fifty Buddhists wearing maroon wetsuits prepare to swim 1 ¼ miles in the chilly waters beneath the Bridge to the Marin Headlands near the Bridge’s northern tower. After crossing, it is a short hike to a very secluded retreat center in a hidden cove.

Close by a group of fifty Christians have gathered to begin their march across the north shore of San Franciscoto Fisherman’s Wharf. There they will board the ferry “Faith” to Angel Island. The island is a beautiful nature preserve in the middle of the Bay. It has 25 miles of hiking trails with panoramic views of the Bay and San Francisco and several uncrowded beaches.

A monk addresses the Buddhist swimmers. “Blessed monks, you are about to embark on a noble journey to the Nirvana retreat center. First you must swim over a mile in the cold waters of the Straits of Bad Karma, crossing quickly before the tide comes in. Otherwise, you will be swept into the Bay by powerful currents. It is critical that you keep repeating your mantra as you swim: ‘The water is warm. I am a strong swimmer.’ You must gauge your own ability to complete the swim. If you feel that you cannot make it quickly across, you should turn around and swim back. Once you make the crossing, you will only need to hike a few blocks to Nirvana. Thoughts about it must fill your mind.”

A young monk, new to the Sangha, poses a question. “Blessed Dasbala, shouldn’t we just walk across the Bridge instead? We would only need to walk about two miles. The water is 55 degrees. Even with wetsuits, few of us will be able to brave the cold without experiencing hypothermia. After all, the Christians nearby are going to cross the Bay in a ferry.”

“Ignorant one! We would never be able to overcome the disgrace of taking the same path as thousands of reckless, speeding cars. Nor would we do so easy a thing as to take a ferry. We must take the path of tranquility, meditating as we swim and working off our bad karma.”

A few muffled groans waft through the air, laced with salt water smells. Dasbala surveys his followers with piercing eyes as he shakes his head in disappointment.

A block away a huddle of fifty Christians listen to Pastor James: “Today we will journey to the paradise of Angel Island aboard the ferry ‘Faith.’ First, however, we must march four miles across the northern shore of San Franciscoto Fisherman’s Wharf, where the ferry is docked. We will carry the banner, ‘Praise God’ in front of us as we march. We may encounter significant opposition and ridicule.”

The Buddhist swimmers stoically walk out to the end of the pier. They rapidly wave their arms back and forth to loosen up and warm themselves, taking deep breaths. Then, one by one, they dive into the water. Some let out shouts of shock after plunging into the chilly water. Within minutes, about half of them begin swimming back to the dock, some shivering uncontrollably as they ascend the ladder at the pier. After twenty minutes, all but one of the swimmers have turned around.

An hour after starting the sole remaining swimmer reaches the rocks by the Bridge’s north tower. Looks of joy cover his face. He gazes back, but doesn’t see any swimmers in sight. Shivering, he scampers over the rocks and onto the trail to the retreat center. There he finds an empty meditation room in a setting of complete peace and solitude. “Nirvana!” he whispers happily.

The Christians begin their march, parading their banner and singing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” As they approach Fisherman’s Wharf their route is blocked by a throng of protesters waving signs saying, “Phooey on God! We have Sinbad’s Fudge,” and “Powered by Devil’s Food Fudge.” The protesters entice the marchers with little wrapped bits of fudge, tossing these into the midst of the marchers. Some of the Christians catch these and pocket them while others, wary, let them fall to the street.

When the Christians get to the pier at Fisherman’s Wharf, Pastor James addresses them: “Our ferry is about to take us safely on a 40 minute crossing to Angel Island. You must dispose of any fudge you have before you board. Otherwise, you must stay here. We will search your pockets and backpacks.” A few line up to board, but the others hang back, fretting over their fudge. Only a dozen finally board.

When the ferry docks at Angel Island, a dozen Christians disembark. There a sumptuous banquet awaits them, with a broad array of savory dishes. For dessert, however, there is no fudge. Only some amazing angel food cake.

How to Become More Compassionate

 

Never criticize someone until you have walked a mile in their moccasins.
—An Old American Indian Saying

This is one of my favorite sayings. It has been life changing. It has motivated me to become a serious student of comparative religion and to appreciate the perspectives of those with different political persuasions than my own. After all, isn’t it either religious or political intolerance that create chasms and conflict between people? It doesn’t have to be that way. There is a better way. Practice empathy. Mentally put yourself in the place of others and try to see things from their perspective.

In a recent book, Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, the Dalai Lama made some profound statements. He focuses on “the centrality of compassion as a universal spiritual value.”[1] He stated that his life has been a quest to find “a balance between single-pointed commitment to one’s own faith and genuine openness to the value of other faiths.”[2] He offered this practical approach: “If you believe in God, see others as God’s children. If you are a nontheist, see all beings as your mother…Make the vow today that you may become an instrument of peace, living according to the ethical teachings of compassion in your own religion.”[3]

There is much that is similar between the great religions of the world. Typically, these similarities center on how we are to behave toward one another. They carry across the great divide between eastern and western religions. If, then, there is so much agreement on some matters, it would seem that we can be more sure about these guidelines than we might be over matters about which major religions have divergent views.

What did some of the greatest ancient wise men have to say about how to be compassionate? Writing around 950 BC, Solomon advised this: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”[4] Solomon didn’t add, “if you feel like it.” He just told us to do it, whether we feel like it or not. Once you do, feelings of compassion will arise within you. This proverb may have had its roots in these words of Moses (1300 BC): “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself…”[5]

Over four centuries later, Buddha (525 BC) said, “Let a man overcome anger by love, let him overcome evil by good; let him overcome the greedy by liberality, the liar by truth!”[6] He also noted, “For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule.”[7]

Five and a half centuries later, Jesus (30 AD) was quoted as saying, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.”[8]

All this seems impossible, unless we approach it a bit at a time. How? By practicing the Golden Rule in every situation. Espoused by all religions, this rule is simply that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated. Since our thoughts precede our actions, we should greet each situation where we initially have negative thoughts about another person by asking ourselves, “If I were them, how would I like to be treated?” and then treat our neighbor or enemy that way.

Jesus carried this practice well beyond what people might think to do:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.[9]

Each of these wise men appreciated how greatly our words and actions affect other people. Even when we don’t feel compassion, if we will act as if we did, feelings of empathy will surface. We can influence the world to become a more compassionate place, but we must begin within.


[1] His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Toward A True Kinship of Faiths (New York: Random House, Three Rivers Press, 179).

[2] Ibid, 179.

[3] Ibid, 181.

[4] Proverbs 25:21 (NKJV).

[5] Leviticus 19:34 (NKJV).

[6] Dhammapada, 223.

[7] Ibid, 5.

[8] Luke 6: 27b-28. (NKJV).

[9] Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV).

Facing Opposition

In this article, the following topics will be discussed: Training Disciples, Non-Violence, Tangible Compassion, Iconoclast, Persecution, and Converts and Martyrs.

Training Disciples

The Buddha drew a small group of disciples that he taught and led during 45 years of teaching.[i]

Jesus gathered 12 disciples, also called apostles[ii] that he trained and led during three years of ministry.

Non-Violence

The Buddha placed great emphasis on non-violence in his teachings.

The Awakened call patience the highest penance, long-suffering the highest Nirvana; for he is not an anchorite (pravragita) who strikes others, he is not an ascetic (sramana) who insults others.[iii]

Not to blame, not to strike, to live restrained under the law, to be moderate in eating, to sleep and sit alone, and to dwell on the highest thoughts,–this is the teaching of the Awakened.[iv]

Speak the truth, do not yield to anger; give, if thou art asked for little; by these three steps thou wilt go near the gods.[v]

The sages who injure nobody, and who always control their body, they will go to the unchangeable place (Nirvana), where, if they have gone, they will suffer no more.[vi]

Beware of bodily anger, and control thy body! Leave the sins of the body, and with thy body practise [sic] virtue![vii]

Jesus taught people by his example to turn the other cheek. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”[viii]

He demonstrated total non-violence and selflessness in response to his torture and abuse before being crucified.[ix] He voluntarily submitted himself to be crucified, knowing beforehand what would happen to him. He was not a hapless victim of political tensions between Jewish priests and Rome.

And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.[x]

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.[xi]

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.[xii]

Tangible Compassion

The Buddha believed it was sufficient to live in the world of mind and thought, which he believed determined reality. “Those who bridle their mind which travels far, moves about alone, is without a body, and hides in the chamber (of the heart), will be free from the bonds of Mara (the tempter).”[xiii]

He placed little emphasis on providing tangible help to those in need, which he taught should be done in order to become less selfish and advance toward one’s own enlightenment. “The Bhikshu who acts with kindness, who is calm in the doctrine of Buddha, will reach the quiet place (Nirvana), cessation of natural desires, and happiness.”[xiv]

Jesus lived in both the world of the spirit and the physical world,[xv] tangibly helping others by healing the lame and sick and casting out demons.[xvi] He taught his followers to emphasize providing for the physical needs of the suffering out of compassion for them.[xvii]

Iconoclast

The Buddha challenged Hindus regarding their caste system,[xviii] and reliance on making sacrifices to gods.[xix] He accepted other Hindu beliefs (i.e., karma and reincarnation-rebirth).[xx]

Jesus challenged the Pharisees as false practitioners of Judaism.[xxi] He fulfilled the requirements of Old Testament laws through his sinless life and his sacrifice on the cross.[xxii]

Persecution

There is no documentation to suggest that any of Buddha’s disciples died violent deaths or were persecuted for their beliefs. Buddha himself died from food poisoning.[xxiii]

Of Jesus’ disciples, all but one (John) were violently executed because they refused to deny their belief in the divinity of Jesus.[xxiv]

Converts and Martyrs

Emperor Ashoka of India converted to Buddhism after witnessing the horrible bloodshed of a major war in India.[xxv] “In Asoka’s empire, all religions were tolerated but Buddhism was preferred. Buddhism became a dominant religious force under Asoka.”[xxvi]

Over the 300 years after his death, thousands of Christians were martyred because they refused to worship Roman gods, or the Roman emperor as divine.[xxvii] These Christians believed that only Jesus was divine. The witness of these martyrs drew the attention of people throughout the Roman Empire, causing Christianity to spread extensively.

In 313 CE, Emperor Constantine put forth the Edict of Milan, which established tolerance and benevolent treatment towards Christians. In 380 CE, Emperor Theodosius I, with the Edict of Thessalonica, declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.[xxviii]


[i] “Gautama Buddha: Travels and Teaching,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[ii] Luke 6:12-16.

[iii] Dhammapada 184.

[iv] Dhammapada 185.

[v] Dhammapada 224.

[vi] Dhammapada 225.

[vii] Dhammapada 231.

[viii] Matthew 5:38-39 (NKJV).

[ix] Matthew 26:47-67, Mark 14:32-65, and Luke 22:39-71.

[x] Philippians 2:8 (NIV).

[xi] John 15:13 (NIV).

[xii] John 10:17-18 (NIV).

[xiii] Dhammapada 37.

[xiv] Dhammapada 368.

[xv] John 1:1-5.

[xvi] Matthew 4:23-25

[xvii] Matthew 25:31-46.

[xviii] “Buddhist Studies: Caste System,” BuddhaNet.net, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xix] “Animal Sacrifice: Buddhism,”  Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 20, 2013. And “Animal Sacrifice: Hinduism,”  Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xx] “The Hindu and Buddhist concept of reincarnation,” UCS.Louisiana.edu, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xxi] Matthew 15:1-20.

[xxii] John 19:28.

[xxiii] “The Death of the Buddha,” PBS.org, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xxiv] “The Martyrdom of the Apostles,” BibleProbe.com, retrieved November 14, 2013. And Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr., “The Emperor Caligula and the Early Christian Martyrs,” RLHymersJr.com, retrieved December 12, 2016.

[xxv] “Ashoka,” Britannica.com, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xxvi] “Asoka,” ThenAgain.info, retrieved November 26, 2013.

[xxvii] “Church History: Persecution,” Theologian.org.uk, retrieved November 18, 2013.

[xxviii] “State Church of Roman Empire,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 14, 2013.

Issues About Transformation

In this article, the following topics will be discussed: Accessibility to Lasting Liberation, Rapidity of Liberation, Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness, One’s Soul, Culture Clash, Valuing Women and Family, and Challenges to Transformation

Accessibility to Lasting Liberation

For the Buddhist, many years (if not many lifetimes) of prolonged, intense meditation are necessary to approach enlightenment (thereby escaping endless reincarnation). Very few are capable of doing this.

Jesus submitted to the necessity of being brutally sacrificed…to make possible the salvation of those who would place their faith in him and follow him.[i] Billions have claimed to be saved.[ii] [2.18 billion Christians worldwide in 2010]

Rapidity of Liberation

For the Buddhist, attaining liberation through self-purification is always a very slow process, at best. Usually it takes many lifetimes. Only an elite few have claimed to attain it in one lifetime. “By oneself the evil is done, by oneself one suffers; by oneself evil is left undone, by oneself one is purified. Purity and impurity belong to oneself, no one can purify another.”[iii]

For the Christian, salvation can occur very quickly, because it is founded on being considered pure by God on the basis of one’s acceptance of Jesus as Savior and Lord by faith.[iv] However, unless one submits to the Lordship of Christ, the reality of conversion may be questionable.

Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness

For the Buddhist, bad karma from misdeeds must be worked off through good deeds and renunciation. There is no mercy, grace or forgiveness from a higher power.

“The evil-doer mourns in this world, and he mourns in the next; he mourns in both. He mourns and suffers when he sees the evil of his own work.”[v]

“The virtuous man delights in this world, and he delights in the next; he delights in both. He delights and rejoices, when he sees the purity of his own work.”[vi]

For the Christian, past misdeeds can be completely forgiven when one repents and receives Christ in faith as Savior and Lord. The believer immediately receives the full mercy, grace and forgiveness of a loving God.[vii] There is risk that the forgiven believer may presume that God will automatically forgive them whenever they sin again.

One’s Soul

In Buddhism, the notion that one has a soul is an illusion.[viii]

In Christianity, each person has a soul that will continue to exist eternally, either in heaven or hell, after dying from one life here on earth.[ix]

Culture Clash

Westerners who engage in prolonged, intensive meditation often become depressed, disoriented or bipolar or suffer from panic attacks and weird health problems.[x] The intensity of isolation and self-denial needed to engage in prolonged, intense meditation is exceptionally difficult for Westerners to accept and adapt to.

Christians who intermingle their faith with the materialistic and self-seeking way of life of Western culture end up feeling miserable, not being able to enjoy either way of life. Jesus encouraged his disciples to seek first the kingdom of God, and then their needs would be met.[xi]

Valuing Women and Family

The Buddha followed the Jain tradition of high honor in leaving his wife and son to become a wandering ascetic. It is always preferable to reincarnate as a man than as a woman.

“Bad conduct is the taint of woman, greediness the taint of a benefactor; tainted are all evil ways in this world and in the next.”[xii]

“So long as the love of man towards women, even the smallest, is not destroyed, so long is his mind in bondage, as the calf that drinks milk is to its mother.”[xiii]

Jesus never married. He upheld the traditional Jewish emphasis on marriage and family.[xiv]

Jesus went out of his way to value and minister to the needs of women. Examples include healing crippled and sick women, visiting the home of Mary and Martha, and talking with the Samaritan woman about her life. At least one of his closest followers (Mary Magdalene) was a woman, and several women helped support Jesus and the disciples out of their own means.[xv]

Challenges to Transformation

In Buddhism, one looks deep within to tap into one’s inherently good buddha-nature,[xvi] while shutting out the distracting and debilitating nature of the outside world. It is critical to progressing toward liberation. For the Buddhist, staying focused is a constant battle against distractions.

“But life is hard to live for a modest man, who always looks for what is pure, who is disinterested, quiet, spotless, and intelligent.”[xvii]

“Be not thoughtless, watch your thoughts! Draw yourself out of the evil way, like an elephant sunk in mud.”[xviii]

In Christianity, the deep inner nature of every person is corrupted and rebellious toward God, and must be replaced by the filling of the Holy Spirit and a personal relationship with Jesus, through faith, not works.[xix] Temporarily relapsing back into self-centeredness is not unusual.[xx]

Acceptance of the Occult

In Asia, Buddhism typically blends in local superstitious beliefs and occult practices.  Vajrayana Buddhists adopted many native Tibetan beliefs (in a wide range of deities) as an integral part of their spiritual practices.[xxi]

Conservative Christians view all occult beliefs and activities as misguided, at best. As a result, opposition to Christians from occult spirits is widespread and intense.[xxii]


[i] Philippians 2:6-8.

[ii] “. . . in 2010 there were 2.18 billion Christians around the world, nearly a third of the global population.”  Christianity.About.com, retrieved November 19, 2013.

[iii] Dhammapada 165.

[iv] Romans 10:9.

[v] Dhammapada 15.

[vi] Dhammapada 16.

[vii] Acts 2:36-39.

[viii] Ernest Valea, “The Human condition in world religions,” ComparativeReligion.com, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[ix] Matthew 13:24-52, Luke 12:4-7, and John 5:24-30.

[x] R. E. Sherman, Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link? (Charleston, CreateSpace, 2011). 280.

[xi] Luke 12:22-31.

[xii] Dhammapada 242.

[xiii] Dhammapada 284.

[xiv] Matthew 19:1-9.

[xv] Luke 8:1-3.

[xvi] “Buddha-Nature,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xvii] Dhammapada 245.

[xviii] Dhammapada 327.

[xix] Romans 5.

[xx] James 3:13-18.

[xxi] “Tibetan Buddhism,” ReligionFacts.com, retrieved December 12, 2016.

[xxii] Patrick Zukeran, “Character of the Cults: A Christian Perspective,” Probe.org, retrieved December 12, 2016.

Transformation Offered, Part 2

In Part 1 of Transformation Offered, the following topics were covered: The One and Only Way, Disciplines Advocated, Empowerment, and Source of Light to Mankind. In Part 2, the topics are: Miracles, Pervasive Influence, Thoughts vs. Physical Reality, Mindfulness, and Looking Above or Within.

Miracles

The Buddha avoided doing miracles of healing and provision, since these would have subverted the operation of karma. He did perform displays of supernatural power (e.g., “vanishing, traveling through walls and space, diving in and out of the earth, hearing divine sounds, mind reading and recollection of past lives.”[i])

Jesus frequently performed miracles of healing from debilitating conditions or diseases.[ii] He also delivered people from possession by demons on seven occasions.[iii] He provided for physical needs (e.g., Jesus fed people miraculously. On two occasions, he was moved with compassion on the crowds that came to hear Him teach. He fed 5,000 people on five loaves of bread and two fish,[iv] and he fed 4,000 people with seven loaves and a few fish.[v]). Jesus often exhibited miracles of insight (e.g., mind reading or recounting past events in the lives of those he encountered). He also raised four people from the dead,[vi] including Himself.[vii]

Pervasive Influence

The Buddha taught that what you think becomes your reality.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.[viii]

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.[ix]

Tibetans Buddhists believe that the words on their prayer flags waft through the air, changing the surrounding area.

Jesus participated in the creation of the universe and everything in it—all that is reality.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”[x] Many people do not realize that the universe was created through Jesus.

He answers the prayers of those who believe in him, and in this way his followers influence reality. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”[xi]

Thoughts vs. Physical Reality

The Buddha taught,

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.[xii]

To a Buddhist, usually no action is needed to aid others, only positive thoughts. Giving tangible assistance to others is very good, but not necessary, as long as one’s intentions toward others are compassionate.

In the Book of Acts, Luke wrote of Jesus, “In him we live and move and have our being.”[xiii] James, the half-brother of Jesus wrote that compassion needs to be tangible. “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?”[xiv]

Mindfulness

The Buddha taught that our thinking affects who we are. It essentially creates who we are.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.[xv]

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.[xvi]

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”[xvii] And “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”[xviii]

Looking Above or Within

The Buddha searched ever deeper within himself for wisdom and guidance, tapping into his buddha-nature.“When the Buddha became enlightened he realized that all beings without exception have the same nature and potential for enlightenment, and this is known as buddha nature.”[xix]

Jesus often prayed to his Father for guidance and strength—since he had voluntarily set aside many aspects of his divinity during his life on earth. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”[xx]

Tolerance

The Buddha taught tolerance of everyone, to treat everyone in a peaceful, non-violent and compassionate way.

The disciples of Gotama are always well awake, and their mind day and night always delights in compassion.[xxi]

Him I call indeed a Brahmana who is tolerant with the intolerant, mild with fault-finders, and free from passion among the passionate.[xxii]

Jesus opposed any aspects of religiosity that would result in treating non-believers in a condescending or judgmental way.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.[xxiii]


[i] Digha Nikaya: The Long Discourses (1997-2012), DN11 Kevatta (Kevaddha) Sutta: To Kevatta PTS: D i 211, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.11.0.than.html, retrieved December 17, 2012.

[ii] Matthew 9:27-31, Mark 8:22-26, John 9:1-12, Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43, Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:12-16, Luke 17:11-19, Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10, John 4:46-54, Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26, Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:29-34, Luke 4:38-41, Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:24-34, Luke 8:43-48, Luke 13:10-17.

[iii] Mark 1:21-18, Luke 4:37-37, Matthew 9:32-34, Matthew 8:16-17, Mark 1:32-34, Luke 4:40-41, Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39, Matthew 12:22-28, Mark 3:20-30, Luke 11:14-23, Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30, Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29, Luke 9:37-49.

[iv] Matthew 14:31-21, Mark 6:31-34, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:5-15.

[v] Matthew 15:32-39, Mark 8:1-9.

[vi] Young man from Nain: Luke 7:11-17, Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56, John 11:1-44.

[vii] Matthew 28:1-10, 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-18.

[viii] Dhammapada 1.

[ix] Dhammapada 2.

[x] John 1:1-3 (NIV)

[xi] John 15:7 (NIV).

[xii] Dhammapada 1, 2b.

[xiii] Acts 17:28 (RSV).

[xiv] James 2:15-16 (RSV).

[xv] Dhammapada 1.

[xvi] Dhammapada 2.

[xvii] 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV).

[xviii] Philippians 4:8 (NIV).

[xix] “Buddha-Nature,” RigpaWiki.org, retrieved May 30, 2013.

[xx] Luke 5:16 (NIV).

[xxi] Dhammapada 300.

[xxii] Dhammapada 406.

[xxiii] Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV).