Reviews: Buddhism for Dummies and Rogues in Robes

Buddhism for DummiesBuddhism for Dummies is a user-friendly, extensive presentation of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism. It can be read from cover to cover, or it can be used as a reference book by turning to the section you are interested in.

It provides an introduction to Buddhism, discussing whether or not it is a religion, a philosophy, or a practical way to conduct your life.

If Buddhism is not primarily a belief system and is not centered upon the worship of a supreme Deity, then why is it classified as a religion at all? Because like all religions, Buddhism gives people who practice it a way of finding answers to the deeper questions of life, such as “Who am I?” Why am I here?” “What is the meaning of life?” “Why do we suffer?” and “How can I achieve lasting happiness?” (page 11)

Further, it surveys the history of Buddhism from the life and teachings of Buddha through Buddhism today, and the practical application of Buddhist thought. Almost a third of the book is devoted to walking the Buddhist path toward enlightenment, and there is a section on ten common misconceptions about Buddhism and ten ways Buddhism can help you deal with life’s problems.

Although the authors have tried to simplify the terms used throughout in the book, a glossary of useful Buddhist terms is provided at the back of the book. Additional resources are listed as well.

Rogues in RobesRogues in Robes gives a detailed history of Buddhism in Tibet and examines the historical basis leading to the conflict over the selection of the 17th Karmapa, leader of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a story filled with political upheaval inTibet and the sometimes deadly intrigue in the various Tibetan Buddhist schools.

When a Tibetan Buddhist leader dies, he leaves clues as to where he will next incarnate so that he can be found and trained to take up his duties again. When the sixteenth Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu lineage, died in 1981, the search for his successor soon began. This is the story of the politics and intrigue involved in finding him, not a simple task as it turned out, as told by a Western student of Lama Ole Nydahl. (back cover description)

In 1956, author Tomek Lehnert was born inPoland, and he studied Civil Engineering at the Polytechnics of Gdansk and English literature at theUniversityofPoznan. He became a practitioner of Buddhism in 1983. He has traveled extensively, and has translated Buddhist lectures into Polish and Spanish for more than ten years. He is a student of Lama Ole Hydhal.

Reviews: Living Buddha, Living Christ and Buddha’s Not Smiling

Living Buddha, Living Christ was written by scholar, activist and Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who espouses drawing upon the truths (“fruit”) of many traditions.

Fruit salad can be delicious. . . . To me, religious life is life. I do not see any reason to spend one’s whole life tasting just one kind of fruit. We human beings can be nourished by the best values of many traditions. (page 1-2)

Through the practice of deep looking and deep listening, we become free, able to see the beauty and values in our own and others’ traditions. (page 7)

Hanh believes that Buddha and Jesus are both teachers devoted to leading their followers to a way of life that encompasses generosity, compassion and a mindful way of life, and that, “If the Buddha had been born into the society in which Jesus was born, I think he, too, would have been crucified.” (page 55)

When we understand and practice deeply the life and teachings of Buddha or the life and teachings of Jesus, we penetrate the door and enter the abode of the Living Buddha and the Living Christ, and life eternal presents itself to us. (page 56)

He further teaches that Buddha and Christ live on through us as we practice a mindful life following after whichever tradition we grew up in. He states,

No single tradition monopolizes the truth. We must glean the best values of all traditions and work together to remove the tensions between traditions in order to give peace a chance. (page 114)

I do not think there is that much difference between Christians and Buddhists. Most of the boundaries we have created between our two traditions are artificial. Truth has no boundaries. Our differences may be mostly differences in emphasis. (page 154)

This book blends the teachings and beliefs of Buddhism and Christianity into a plea for each person to faithfully and mindfully practice their religious tradition, to draw upon the truths of all traditions, and to be aware that whatever course we take, the result will ripple out into our families, communities, and the world. However, we encourage the reader to understand that when Hanh writes about Jesus, he is defining him in Gnostic versus biblical terms.

Buddha’s Not Smiling is an examination of the Karmapa controversy. Following the death of the 16th Karmapa, leader of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, two candidates were put forth, Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje, who each have been enthroned and have been independently serving as the Karmapa.

At issue are the methods used to select these candidates (political and/or traditional), and it has caused division and controversy amongst Buddhist leaders. Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who was recognized by Tai Situ, the third ranking spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu school, and who has the support of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government, and Trinley Thaye Dorje, who was recognized by the 14th Shamar Rinpopche, one of the second-ranking spiritual leaders in the Karma Kagyu school, and the support of Khenpo Chodrak Tnephel Rinposhe, the abbot of the Rumtek monastery until it was taken over by followers of Ogyen Trinley. He is now based inNew Delhi. There are numerous other supporters of both, too many to list here.

This book examines the conflict between the Karma Kagyu school and the Dalai Lama’s exiled government. Historically, the Karmapa has never been chosen by the Dalai Lama, as its lineage dates two centuries earlier than that of the Dalai Lama. This book presents the Karma Kagyu as resenting the interference of the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama in their affairs. The author, Eric D. Curren, expresses his desire to be objective, but it should be noted he is a student of Shamar Rinpoche, and therefore, some bias may exist in his writing.

In February 2011, a gathering of 5,000 people attended an event in Sikkimstate in Indiawhere they burned copies of this book. Sikkim is a landlocked Indian State in the Himalayas, where it borders Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and West Bengal.

Compassion

Many Hindus believe that if you are suffering, it must be because you created some bad karma by doing some bad thing(s) in this or a prior life. They also believe that the only way to work off bad karma is to accept the resulting suffering. So, they often ignore those who are suffering, lest they interfere with their karmic conditioning.

In contrast, the Buddha taught that one should help the suffering. However, the primary motivation should be to help shed your own ego, and so progress toward your own enlightenment. Is this true compassion in action or rational self-interest?

Buddhists do not have a reputation of being major participants in the providing humanitarian aid. One such Buddhist humanitarian group, the Dai no Shin Ji Buddhists, notes on its website: “Unfortunately Buddhist organizations do not often have a name for being able or operating Humanitarian projects or relief projects. It is sad but true.” A stated purpose of the group is to “provide training to Buddhist temples and humanitarian agencies to improve their skills and productivity.”

The Dalai Lama talks a lot about compassion. When he does, does it mean the same thing that it does to Westerners? Perhaps not. There are various reasons for the limited activity of Buddhists in humanitarian efforts. Each of these is inherent in Buddhist beliefs and practices.

First, if you believe this world is an illusion, then your goal is to escape it, via becoming enlightened. So, it is more noble to meditate intensively for weeks on end than it is to bring a meal to a shut-in. And if this world is an illusion, what is the point of working hard and earning a good living? It may not be a coincidence that most Buddhist countries are less developed economically. Because of this, they generally do not have the financial wherewithal to give generously to humanitarian relief efforts.

Second, if you believe that doing good deeds generates good karma, and that creating any kind of karma, whether good or bad, retards your advancement toward enlightenment, then it is better not to do good deeds. Instead, your focus will be on watch guarding your thoughts to avoid anything negative.

Third, if you believe that your thoughts and words can radically change the world, then you would tend to focus on just thinking good thoughts. That is much easier than providing tangible help to the suffering.

Fourth, when a Buddhist is being compassionate they are usually wishing that all conscious beings would progress toward enlightenment. They might also be coaching someone in how to make such progress. But usually there is little thought of meeting their material needs.

The Bible teaches that thinking good thoughts, without helping the hurting in real ways, has only limited value. James, the brother of Jesus, put it this way: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17, NIV).

What did Jesus teach about the need to help the suffering? His most dramatic words on this are highlighted in his Parable of The Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-45:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (NIV)

These are heavy, dramatic words. And yet they strongly emphasize the importance of helping the suffering in substantive ways, and not just of empathizing with them and wishing them well.

In reality Christians are often lacking in compassionate thoughts or deeds. And yet throughout history the church has spearheaded efforts to tangibly help the needy, the injured and the sick and to establish and maintain educational institutions that teach practical skills as well as spiritual values. The history of Buddhism has a different flavor, as well as one might expect, given its emphasis on focusing within.

Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NIV) He was a model servant to others, as exemplified by His humbly washing the feet of His disciples (John 13:3-5). As the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats emphasizes, real compassion includes providing drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothing to those in rags and medical assistance to the sick. Without these, however deep one’s feelings of compassion are, they have little substance.

R. E. (“Ed”) Sherman’s Newest Book, Now Available!

Wisdom 365Wisdom 365: Daily Buddha and Daily Solomon
 

Need encouragement? Guidance? Insight? Inspiration? Motivation? Wise advice on how to live? How to find happiness? How to handle stress? How to relate to others? Advice on relationships? Coping when bad things happen? How to make a difference? Where can you turn?

Why not take advice from two of the wisest men in history, the Buddha and Solomon? This ground-breaking book provides a topically arranged collection of their terse, penetrating insights, presented side-by-side. 365 daily readings. Soak in their proverbs. Take a few minutes each day and you will embark on a life-changing journey.

Though they lived 400 years and 3,000 miles apart in two very different cultures, the Buddha and Solomon often spoke with nearly the same voice. Each reinforced and complemented what the other said. These sayings are like diamonds that sparkle in revealing ways when viewed from different angles.

There are basically four different civilizations that coexist on Planet Earth: Judaism/Christianity, Islam, secularism and Eastern religions (Hinduism & Buddhism). The need for better understanding and communication between these civilizations has never been greater. Wisdom 365 provides a solid link between two of them in a way that has never been done before and to an extent that few if any have envisioned. Followers of Eastern religion believe that their truths come from deep within, through meditation and exclusion of outside voices. Followers of Western religions and Islam believe that their truths come from above (God) through revelation.

What Wisdom 365 does is to simply lead you through ALL of the Buddha’s proverbs in short daily readings, while also connecting you with proverbs of Solomon that COVER THE SAME GROUND. The result is an unexpected linking of Eastern and Western truths. Take just 2-3 minutes a day to tap into and be inspired by daily insights from two of the wisest men who have ever lived. You will grow wiser and more able to navigate life and avoid its pitfalls.

The Buddha’s 423 proverbs appear together in the book, Dhammapada, published around 252 BCE, about 230 years after his death. We thought about producing a book of 365 daily readings where a similar (or contrasting) proverb of Solomon would appear side-by-side with each proverb of the Buddha. We wondered what would happen to the 423 if we grouped each pairing of the Buddha’s proverbs that were direct contrasts were shown together, and this brought the number of pages down to about 365. Such a pairing might look like this:

If you are a specific type of positive person, certain kinds of good things will happen to you. But if you are the opposite type of person, these (corresponding) bad things will happen to you.

After finishing the book, we were astonished to find that we had found a proverb of Solomon (or, in a few instances, one of his contemporaries) similar to each proverb of the Buddha, for 100% of the Buddha’s proverbs. This was far beyond what we originally thought would be the case.

In comparing the two collections of proverbs, it was strikingly obvious that the biggest difference was that the Buddha was silent about several topics that were prominent subject areas among Solomon’s approximately 1,300 proverbs. Those topics were highly predictable: God, family, women, children, government and commerce. At age 29, prince Buddha left his palace, wife and children to pursue a life of solitary meditation, self-denial, poverty and itinerant teaching.

Get started today discovering illuminating wisdom and practical advice for your life: Wisdom 365.

Two Paths to Liberation (Part 5)

Behavior

To the Buddhist, violence is never acceptable behavior. For the Christian, using weapons in warfare can be acceptable if the conflict is clearly morally justified.

For the Buddhist, thinking good thoughts toward another is an essential part of having compassion, but providing physical assistance to meet their needs is optional. For the Christian, offering physical assistance is typically necessary for compassion to be real.

The main priorities in public building for Buddhists are monasteries and meditation centers. For Christians, the top projects are building churches, schools and hospitals.

The Buddha refused to perform miracles of healing because such would violate the operation of karma. Jesus miraculously healed many people in part as a demonstration of his compassion for them and his divinity.

Vegetarianism is the diet of choice for Buddhists because every animal may have been or will be a human being in some future reincarnation. Eating meat is an acceptable, and even a recommended, diet for Christians.

Having occulting beliefs and engaging in occultic practices is entirely acceptable in Buddhism. Indeed, the focus of meditation can be virtually anything or any spirit. What matters is the effective practice of meditation in disciplining the mind. In Christianity, no occultic beliefs or practices are acceptable.

 

                                 Buddhism Christianity
Is violence ever acceptable? No Sometimes war is necessary (e.g., WW II)
Compassion should include physical assistance Not necessary Necessary for it to be real
Top priorities in building Monasteries and meditation centers Churches, schools and hospitals.
Miracles of Healing OK? No. Violates karma OK if God gets the glory
Acceptable diet Vegetarianism OK to eat meat
Occult OK? Yes Never

 

Two Paths to Liberation (Part 4)

Suffering

To the Buddhist, the inherent nature of life is a state of suffering. The Christian expects much suffering during their lifetime on earth, but they also see life as a series of opportunities to love God and people.

The highest goal of life for the Buddhist is to become enlightened and to cease suffering. For the Christian, the highest goal is to live out a strong love relationship with God and people.

Buddha taught that any desire, even if it is “good”, is the cause of suffering. While Jesus taught that many kinds of desires can cause suffering, suffering can be experienced by Christians that is not caused by anything they have or have not done. Suffering can occur when it serves the purposes of God in a Christian’s life. For example, suffering can cause character development or somehow bring glory to God.

To the Buddhist, suffering is never a good thing. To the Christian, suffering arising from being persecuted for one’s faith can result in eternal rewards.

  Buddhism Christianity
Nature of Life Life is suffering Opportunities to love God & people
Highest Goal Eliminate suffering Loving God & people
Cause of suffering Any desire, even if “good” Many possible causes
Is suffering ever good? No Yes, when being persecuted

 

 

Two Paths to Liberation (Part 3)

Nature of Reality

Buddhists believe the universe always existed. Most Christians believe that God created the universe, either in the recent or distant past. Who or what is in charge of the universe? For Buddhists, everything is governed by karma. For Christians, God is in charge.

Buddha believed that one’s soul is an illusion. Christians believe that each person’s soul is very real and exists eternally, either in heaven or hell after one dies.

Buddhists believe that virtually everything is determined by karma. The only real exception is that one can attain enlightenment and cease existing, whereby karma is no longer in control. To Christians, free will is pervasive. Even though God governs, He does not force His will on human beings, except perhaps in God’s determination of each person’s eternal state (i.e., heaven/hell).

To the Buddhist, nothing exists permanently except the state of Nirvana, or total emptiness. For the Christian, God, heaven and hell, and the souls of every person are permanent.

Both Buddhists and Christians believe in life after death. However, in Buddhism, one reincarnates and returns to earth as either a person or animal. Christians believe in eternal life after just one life on earth, which will be spent either in heaven or hell.

The desired ultimate spiritual state of the Buddhist is enlightenment, enabling entrance into the state of Nirvana. The desired ultimate spiritual state of the Christian is life in heaven, to be experienced by all who have been saved.

                                 Buddhism Christianity
Universe created? Universe always existed Universe created by God
Who/What is in Charge? Karma God (Father, Son, Spirit)
Your soul Is an illusion Is very real & eternal
Free will Very little Pervasive
What is permanent? Nothing except Nirvana (a state of total emptiness) God, heaven/hell & the souls of every person
Life after death? Repeated reincarnation (could return as an animal) Resurrection
Desired ultimate spiritual state Enlightenment (Nirvana) Salvation (destined for heaven)

 

 

 

 

Two Paths to Liberation (Part 2)

Spiritual Growth

What is the source of truth? Buddhists looks deep within themselves by trying to exclude all outside voices. Christians do not trust what their inner selves may be saying, believing that all truth comes from God above.

Who is at the center of one’s life, spiritually? With the Buddhist, it is the self. With the Christian, it is the triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

Whether or not God exists, God is not relevant to the process of spiritual growth for the Buddhist. What is essential and critical, is the self. For the Christian, God’s role in spiritual growth is always essential and critical. The directive, “Let go and let God” is key to the spiritual growth of the Christian.

Spiritual growth for the Buddhist is a quest of the self to eliminate itself. The Buddhist is striving to engage in a process of spiritual bootstrapping. For the Christian, spiritual growth requires the self to submit to the authority and leadership of God. God causes spiritual growth when the Christian submits to His inspiration and direction.

The lifeblood of Buddhist spiritual growth requires prolonged, intensive meditation, often interspersed with chanting. For the Christian, Bible study, prayer and worship are essential activities.

                                 Buddhism Christianity
Source of Truth Deep within From above (God)
At the Center Self God
Existence of God Not relevant Totally essential
Self Self seeks to eliminate self Self subordinated to God
Source of Spiritual Growth Spiritual bootstrapping God enables when we submit
Lifeblood of spiritual growth Meditation & chanting Worship, Bible study & prayer

Two Paths to Liberation (Part I)

Paths to Liberation

This world is a difficult place, from which people throughout history have sought relief and liberation. Two major paths to liberation, Buddhism and Christianity, will be compared in this five part series.

What each path holds out as model behavior toward others is virtually the same. Each challenge us to overcome hatred with love and to seek to banish negative thoughts by intentionally focusing on positive thoughts. However, each claimed to be the only true path to liberation. To Buddha, intense, prolonged meditation is the only way. In Christianity, faith in Jesus (apart from good deeds) is the only way to salvation.

Buddhism is a system of self-improvement directed and implemented by the self. The problem is that self-improvement tends to be very slow. It took the Buddha billions of lifetimes to reach perfection and become enlightened. By his own admission, the Dalai Lama has not yet attained enlightenment. If he hasn’t made it, who has?

The Buddha modeled ideal behavior, having achieved perfection. He thereby became enlightened and entered nirvana. Upon death, he left this earth, never to return. After his crucifixion and burial, Jesus rose from the dead and made at least a dozen different appearances, being seen by over 500 people. He then ascended into heaven, where he is alive today and in active communication and interaction with many of his followers.

Because of these differences, the number of Buddhists who have claimed to reach enlightenment and nirvana is very small. In contrast, the number of Christians who claim to have been liberated (i.e., saved) is in the hundreds of millions. However, we should not assume that anyone calling themselves a Christian is following Jesus. Jesus clearly stated that he never knew many of his followers.

This dramatic difference in the accessibility of liberation is due to the central role of mercy and grace in Christianity. Mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve for bad deeds and thoughts. Grace is receiving blessings that we in no way deserve. Neither mercy nor grace are available in Buddhism because the universe is tightly governed by karma. Karma precludes mercy as well as grace.

Precautions should be noted for each path. Buddhism requires, at a bare minimum, many months of intense, prolonged meditation. When Westerners attempt this, the result is often depression because people in the West are conditioned to avoid self-denial.

Christians can easily fall into having judgmental attitudes toward others. It is best for religion and politics to be kept separate, and not to be intertwined.

The following chart summarizes the above narrative.

                                 Buddhism Christianity
One way? Intense, prolonged meditation is the only way Jesus is the only way
Basis of liberation Good thoughts & deeds Faith in Christ
Mercy and Grace Non-existent Abundantly available
Liberation slow/quick? Slow. Buddha lived billions of lifetimes. Dalai Lama not yet liberated. Often quick. Key is letting go and letting God.
How many claim liberation? A few hundred Hundreds of millions
Precautions After months of meditation, depression is not unusual Need to avoid judgmental words and attitudes, and linking politics and religion

 

Barbara Walter’s Interview of the Dalai Lama

Seven years ago Barbara Walters interviewed the Dalai Lama. The interview is available on You Tube (9:17).

The interview covers an amazing amount of ground about Buddhism and His Holiness. It showcases his no-nonsense, disarming humility and his endearing giggle. The interview leaves the viewer with a clear sense of why he is admired and revered by hundreds of millions.

The Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) is believed to be the 14th incarnation of The Buddha (Gautama Buddha). He is often referred to as the “heavenly deity of compassion and wisdom.” Many Buddhists believe he is a god. When questioned by Walters, he denied being a deity, saying he is a teacher. He laughed and commented that he had an eye irritation and that shouldn’t happen if he is a god.

Walters described him as “the world’s foremost scholar in his very complex faith.” Buddhists do not believe in God the way Christians do, but they do believe some kind of heaven exists. Ancient Tibetan texts describe six distinct levels of heaven and six nightmarish levels of hell. When asked about the Buddhist vision of heaven, he described it as a very happy, very pleasant place, the best place to refine one’s practice of Buddhism.

For Buddhists, heaven is not a destination, but a place to visit temporarily. A place to go to continue to reincarnate until they become a buddha (enlightened one). Good compassionate people reincarnate as people, and bad people as animals. For example, a good dog may reincarnate as a person, and a bad person as a dog. From the Buddhist point of view, everyone is reborn (reincarnated) repeatedly.

As a three-year-old, he underwent testing before he was proclaimed the 14th Dalai Lama. During the testing, he pointed to objects that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. He said as a child he had clear memories of a past life, but now he does not.

Walters explained that Buddhists believe the ultimate goal is nirvana or enlightenment, which is a state of all-knowing contentment. The Dalai Lama explained that once you eliminate all negative emotions, you automatically become enlightened and enter Nirvana. Walters asked him, are you enlightened? He answered no. He said he does not know what will happen tonight, and that he is having trouble with his memory. He added, if he was enlightened, he would not be forgetful. He said he sees himself as just another human being, nothing special, nothing more. It is this humility that endears him to so many.

Gyatso is the first Dalai Lama ever to travel outside of Tibet. He is an ambassador of Buddhism recognized world-wide as a symbol of compassionate, non-violent living. Before an audience of 65,000 people in New York’s Central Park, Richard Gere introduced him as “one of the great beings perhaps to ever walk on this planet. . . .”

Walters asked the Dalai Lama what the purpose of life is, and he replied that the purpose is to be happy and is accomplished by warm-heartedness. That compassion gives inner strength, and changes our attitudes and the way we see things. When asked if the world is closer to heaven or to hell, he replied closer to heaven.

Moved by the time with him, Walters concluded her time with him by requesting if she could kiss him on his cheek. He permitted it and giggled. Then he showed her a New Zealand kiss and touched noses with her.

The interview raised some key concerns about the efficacy of Buddhism as a path to enlightenment and nirvana. If the Dalai Lama has not attained enlightenment, then who has? Attaining enlightenment is the only real way to be liberated from the suffering of this world, and from repeatedly being reincarnated into that same world of suffering. Only a very small number of Buddhists have “made it,” even in the 2,500 years that Buddhism has existed as a religion. This stands in sharp contrast to Christianity and Islam, where a high percentage of adherents believe that they will be freed from suffering when they enter heaven (or paradise). The difference is that in these two theistic religions, God (or Allah) is believed to do what no human being can—provide a way of liberation from this very troublesome world and the great limitations that plague all human beings.

If the Dalai Lama is “just another human being, nothing special, nothing more,” and is not enlightened, then is he really qualified to speak with such authority as a teacher? While his humility is disarming, it is also unsettling.

All this reminds me of the painfully honest confession of Bruce Newman, author of A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism. He noted,

When I look back on my twenty-three years of practice, I can’t but help but feel deeply disappointed by how little progress I’ve made in my meditation. In a sense, I’ve done most things right—I’ve played by the book, so to speak. Why then have the experiences of meditation, so tantalizing, been beyond my reach? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if nothing has happened; it’s just that progress has been painfully slow.[i]

While one may question the efficacy of sudden conversions in Christianity for many of its faltering followers, we also encounter many Christians who dramatically changed for the better overnight, or nearly so. This phenomenon is absent in Buddhism, where spiritual growth is “painfully slow.”

 

[i] Bruce Newman, A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism, (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lions Prod., 2004), 71.