Barbara Walter’s Interview of the Dalai Lama

Nine 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.

Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Family?)

The following is a continuation in the series which began with: Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Women?)

When Solomon taught on something, an amazing 48% of the time the Buddha was silent! Interestingly, those topics on which the Buddha was silent are totally predictable and expected. The Buddha was raised as a prince and totally renounced his wealth, status and family to give up everything in search of wisdom. So on what matters was the Buddha nearly silent? All the things he renounced: wealth, government, power, business, women, family, and children!

Let’s look at some topics on which the Buddha was silent, or nearly so. Of the 423 proverbs of the Buddha, the following ones pertain to family:

Mind Over Family

Not a mother, not a father will do so much, nor any other relative; a well-directed mind will do us greater service. (Dhammapada 43)

No Help at Death

Sons are no help, nor a father, nor relations; there is no help from kinsfolk for one whom death has seized. (Dhammapada 288)

A True Brahmana

A man does not become a Brahmana by his platted hair, by his family, or by birth; in whom there is truth and righteousness, he is blessed, he is a Brahmana. (Dhammapada 393)

A true Brahmana goes scatheless, though he have killed father and mother, and two valiant kings, though he has destroyed a kingdom with all its subjects. (Dhammapada 294)

A true Brahmana goes scatheless, though he have killed father and mother, and two holy kings, and an eminent man besides. (Dhammapada 295)

Pleasant

Pleasant in the world is the state of a mother, pleasant the state of a father, pleasant the state of a Samana, pleasant the state of a Brahmana. (Dhammapada 332)

For the most part, the Buddha takes a very negative view of family. He states a “well-directed mind” will do a person greater service than any family member. That family is useless at death. That becoming a Brahmana has nothing to do with family, and that a true Brahmana would be untouched even if they killed their parents. In only one proverb does he talk about anything positive with regards to being a parent, and then he goes only as far as to call it pleasant.

Consider these proverbs of Solomon:

Heed Parent’s Teaching

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. (Proverbs 1:8, NIV)

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. (Proverbs 4:1, NIV)

A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes. (Proverbs 13:1, NIV)

Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.  (Proverbs 23:22, NIV)

A discerning son heeds instruction, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father. (Proverbs 28:7, NIV)

The Wise Bring Joy

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother. (Proverbs 10:1, NIV)

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother. (Proverbs 15:20, NIV)

The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him. (Proverbs 23:24, NIV)

A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth. (Proverbs 29:3, NIV)

The Foolish Bring Ruin and Grief

Whoever brings ruin on their family will inherit only wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise. (Proverbs 11:29, NIV)

A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the mother who bore him. (Proverbs 17:25, NIV)

A foolish child is a father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof. (Proverbs 19:13, NIV)

Don’t Steal from Family or Curse Them

Whoever robs their father and drives out their mother is a child who brings shame and disgrace. (Proverbs 19:26, NIV)

Whoever robs their father or mother and says, “It’s not wrong,” is partner to one who destroys. (Proverbs 28:24, NIV)

If someone curses their father or mother, their lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness. (Proverbs 20:20, NIV)

Better a Prudent Servant than a Disgraceful Son

A prudent servant will rule over a disgraceful son and will share the inheritance as one of the family. (Proverbs 17:2, NIV)

Solomon’s teaching on family definitely covers a much broader scope. He admonishes children to be obedient to their parents. He then contrasts the joy of having wise children with the ruin and grief of having foolish children. Solomon teaches not to steal from family or to curse them. He also states that a prudent servant might displace a disgraced son to the point of having a share in the inheritance. While the Buddha predominantly has a negative take on family, Solomon has a broader range of teaching on the topic, and illustrates the positive as well as the potential negatives of family life.

Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Business?)

The following is a continuation in the series which began with: Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Women?)

When Solomon taught on something, an amazing 48% of the time the Buddha was silent! Interestingly, those topics on which the Buddha was silent are totally predictable and expected. The Buddha was raised as a prince and totally renounced his wealth, status and family to give up everything in search of wisdom. So on what matters was the Buddha nearly silent? All the things he renounced: wealth, government, power, business, women, family, and children!

Let’s look at some topics on which the Buddha was silent, or nearly so. Of the 423 proverbs of the Buddha, the following ones pertain to business (work):

Good and Evil

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. (Dhammapada 15)

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. (Dhammapada 16)

Let a man avoid evil deeds, as a merchant, if he has few companions and carries much wealth, avoids a dangerous road; as a man who loves life avoids poison. (Dhammapada 123)

In like manner his good works receive him who has done good, and has gone from this world to the other;–as kinsmen receive a friend on his return. (Dhammapada 220)

If an occasion arises, friends are pleasant; enjoyment is pleasant, whatever be the cause; a good work is pleasant in the hour of death; the giving up of all grief is pleasant. (Dhammapada 331)

Work Hard and Be Wise

Make thyself an island, work hard, be wise! When thy impurities are blown away, and thou art free from guilt, thou wilt enter into the heavenly world of the elect (Ariya). (Dhammapada 236)

Make thyself an island, work hard, be wise! When thy impurities are blown away, and thou art free from guilt, thou wilt not enter again into birth and decay. (Dhammapada 238)

 

In some of these verses, the Buddha is talking about good works or deeds, as opposed to working, as in a business. However, one may extrapolate the concepts and apply them to a person’s work ethic, even though he is not specifically talking about work in the sense of business or commerce.

He espouses working hard, being diligent, and avoiding evil deeds. He contrasts the evil or purity in one’s work. He states that a good work is pleasant to reflect on at the time of one’s death, and describes the benefit of it in the afterlife.

Consider these proverbs of Solomon:

Reward

From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward. (Proverbs 12:14, NIV)

All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. (Proverbs 14:23, NIV)

Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank. (Proverbs 22:29, NIV)

Priorities

Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house. (Proverbs 24:27, NIV)

Abundant Food or Fantasies

Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense. (Proverbs 12:11, NIV)

Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty. (Proverbs 28:19, NIV)

Motivation

The appetite of laborers works for them; their hunger drives them on. (Proverbs 16:26, NIV)

Sluggards

One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.  (Proverbs 18:9, NIV)

The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. (Proverbs 21:25, NIV)

Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor. (Proverbs 12:24, NIV)

 

And these passages from Ecclesiastes:

Meaningless

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, NIV)

So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.  (Ecclesiastes 2:20-23, NIV)

Don’t Anger God

Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? (Ecclesiastes 5:6, NIV)

Work Hard

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. (Ecclesiastes 9:10, NIV)

Two Are Better Than One

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10, 12, NIV)

Find Joy and Satisfaction

So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them? (Ecclesiastes 3:22, NIV)

The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. (Ecclesiastes 5:12, NIV)

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. (Ecclesiastes 5:18, NIV)

 

While the Buddha mostly focused on good and evil, and working hard, Solomon covered more topics with regards to working. Solomon believed that working hard results in rewards: financial or as in an abundance of food, and in being recognized and promoted by the authorities (e.g., bosses, kings, etc.). He stressed prioritizing work, first by taking care of your fields (having a steady supply of food), then building your home, and taking care of other needs. He made the distinction between working hard to provide for your needs, as opposed to chasing after fantasies and ending up in poverty. He also talked about hunger as a motivation for hard work.

Solomon denounced sloth and cautioned that it can lead to forced labor and death. He compared a sluggard to one who destroys. In Ecclesiastes, he bemoaned that even though he took delight in his labor, he said that it was all meaningless (a vapor) in the end. He cautioned not angering God, or He would destroy the works of your hands. Solomon espoused working hard during this lifetime as there is no work in the afterlife. Solomon believed that two working together are better than one working alone, and he outlined the ways in which they can help one another and have a “good return for their labor.” Lastly, he encouraged finding joy and satisfaction in your work.

Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Power?)

The following is a continuation in the series which began with: Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Women?)

When Solomon taught on something, an amazing 48% of the time the Buddha was silent! Interestingly, those topics on which the Buddha was silent are totally predictable and expected. The Buddha was raised as a prince and totally renounced his wealth, status and family to give up everything in search of wisdom. So on what matters was the Buddha nearly silent? All the things he renounced: wealth, government, power, business, women, family, and children!

Let’s look at some topics on which the Buddha was silent, or nearly so. Of the 423 proverbs of the Buddha, the following ones pertain to power:

The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength. (Dhammapada 5)

These wise people, meditative, steady, always possessed of strong powers, attain to Nirvana, the highest happiness. (Dhammapada 23)

He who always greets and constantly reveres the aged, four things will increase to him, viz. life, beauty, happiness, power. (Dhammapada 109)

The swans go on the path of the sun, they go through the ether by means of their miraculous power; the wise are led out of this world, when they have conquered Mara and his train. (Dhammapada 175)

The Buddha equates wisdom, self control, and kindness with power and strength.

Consider these proverbs of Solomon:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. (Proverbs 3:27, NIV)

I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have insight, I have power. (Proverbs 8:12-14, NIV)

Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing. (Proverbs 11:7, NIV)

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21, NIV)

When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding. (Proverbs 28:12, NIV)

When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive. (Proverbs 28:28, NIV)

And these passages from Ecclesiastes:

Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter. (Ecclesiastes 4:1, NIV)

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12, NIV)

Wisdom makes one wise person more powerful than ten rulers in a city. (Ecclesiastes 7:19, NIV)

As no one has power over the wind to contain it, so no one has power over the time of their death. As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it. (Ecclesiastes 8:8, NIV)

Solomon also equates wisdom and kindness with power. He contrasts the results of the wise versus the wicked being in power. He describes the power of the tongue for good or evil, and over life or death, and the power of wickedness over those who practice it.

The Buddha took one view of power, whereas Solomon takes a broader perspective about it.

Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Government?)

The following is a continuation in the series which began with: Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Women?)

When Solomon taught on something, an amazing 48% of the time the Buddha was silent! Interestingly, those topics on which the Buddha was silent are totally predictable and expected. The Buddha was raised as a prince and totally renounced his wealth, status and family to give up everything in search of wisdom. So on what matters was the Buddha nearly silent? All the things he renounced: wealth, government, power, business, women, family, and children!

Let’s look at some topics on which the Buddha was silent, or nearly so. Of the 423 proverbs of the Buddha, the following ones pertain to government (Kings):

He who inflicts pain on innocent and harmless persons, will soon come to one of these ten states: He will have cruel suffering, loss, injury of the body, heavy affliction, or loss of mind, or a misfortune coming from the king, or a fearful accusation, or loss of relations, or destruction of treasures, or lightning-fire will burn his houses; and when his body is destroyed, the fool will go to hell. (Dhammapada 137-140)

There is bad reputation, and the evil way (to hell), there is the short pleasure of the frightened in the arms of the frightened, and the king imposes heavy punishment; therefore let no man think of his neighbour’s wife. (Dhammapada 310)

A true Brahmana goes scatheless, though he have killed father and mother, and two valiant kings, though he has destroyed a kingdom with all its subjects. A true Brahmana goes scatheless, though he have killed father and mother, and two holy kings, and an eminent man besides. (Dhammapada 294-295)

In Dhammapada 137-140 and 310, the Buddha states that inflicting pain or harm on innocent people or pursuing an evil path in life results in the king or government causing misfortune and or punishment on the guilty party. In Dhammapada 294-295, he states that a true Brahmana will go through life untouched by harm, even if he has killed the king or his parents. The underlying assumption here is that the Brahmana (Brahmin) has committed these acts while adhering to the highest teachings of the ancient Indian texts.

It would appear that the Buddha had some misgivings about kings and the government. On the one hand he states, if you do evil the king will punish you, but on the other hand he states that if you live up to the highest standard, you will be unharmed even if you kill the king or your parents. With no further comment on kings or the government, it would appear that the Buddha felt that his teachings were sufficient for the individual to conduct his or her life by, and that there was no need to teach on the individual’s relationship to or attitude toward the government.

Solomon was a king, so what did Solomon have to say about government? Passages on kings are contained in Proverbs 8, 14, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, and 29. Also in Ecclesiastes 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, and 10. Consider these proverbs:

By me [God] kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just; by me princes govern, and nobles—all who rule on earth. (Proverbs 8:15-16, NIV)

The lips of a king speak as an oracle, and his mouth does not betray justice. Honest scales and balances belong to the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making. Kings detest wrongdoing, for a throne is established through righteousness. Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value the one who speaks what is right. A king’s wrath is a messenger of death, but the wise will appease it. When a king’s face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring. (Proverbs 16:10-15, NIV)

And this passage from Ecclesiastes:

Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?” Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a person may be weighed down by misery. (Ecclesiastes 8:2-6, NIV)

These are a small sample of the verses where Solomon discusses kings (government). He outlines that God places leaders and kings in their positions and that they should be honored as such. He talks about the value of obedience and honoring the king, and he describes the reward of obtaining the king’s favor being like “a rain cloud in spring.”

Even though the Buddha was born a prince with wealth and status, he seems to have very mixed feelings about kings. However, Solomon is unswerving in his attitude that kings are placed in power by God, and ought to be honored and obeyed, with resulting blessings on the obedient soul.

Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Money?)

The following is a continuation in the series which began with: Whose Proverbs Covered a Broader Range of Topics: Buddha or Solomon? (What About Women?)

When Solomon taught on something, an amazing 48% of the time the Buddha was silent! Interestingly, those topics on which the Buddha was silent are totally predictable and expected. The Buddha was raised as a prince and totally renounced his wealth, status and family to give up everything in search of wisdom. So on what matters was the Buddha nearly silent? All the things he renounced: wealth, government, power, business, women, family, and children!

Let’s look at some topics on which the Buddha was silent, or nearly so. Of the 423 proverbs of the Buddha, the following ones pertain to money and wealth:

“One is the road that leads to wealth, another the road that leads to Nirvana;” if the Bhikshu, the disciple of Buddha, has learnt this, he will not yearn for honour [sic], he will strive after separation from the world. (Dhammapada 75)

Whatever place a faithful, virtuous, celebrated, and wealthy man chooses, there he is respected. (Dhammapada 303)

Clearly, these sayings of the Buddha reflect a somewhat conflicting point of view of regarding wealth. The first says you can either take the path to wealth, or the path to nirvana, appearing to make them mutually exclusive, but then in the second one the Buddha states that wherever a wealthy man resides (who is also faithful, virtuous and celebrated), he is respected.

Solomon was an extremely wealthy King, so what did Solomon have to say about wealth? Consider these proverbs:

Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. (Proverbs 10:4, NIV)

The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor. (Proverbs 10:15, NIV)

The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it. (Proverbs 10:22, NIV)

Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. (Proverbs 11:4, NIV)

Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow. (Proverbs 13:11, NIV)

Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom, when they are not able to understand it? (Proverbs 17:16, NIV)

And these passages from Ecclesiastes:

Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 5:10, NIV)

Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it. (Ecclesiastes 7:12, NIV)

A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything. (Ecclesiastes 10:19, NIV)

Solomon makes the distinction between laziness and diligence: laziness bringing about poverty, and diligence bringing about wealth. He notes that wealth can fortify a city, whereas poverty causes ruin to cities and people, and that God can give the blessing of wealth without difficult and painful efforts to earn it (perhaps he experienced that himself). In a somber comment, he states that at the end of life, wealth is worthless in the face of death. He espouses working diligently, and making money slowly with perseverance. In Ecclesiastes, he states that wealth in itself does not bring satisfaction, but that it can be a shelter. In comparison to wealth, wisdom is ultimately that which preserves us, and in the final quote, he most surprisingly calls money the answer to everything.

The Buddha expressed that wealth needed to be renounced in order to achieve nirvana. Solomon said that there were blessings in working diligently and acquiring wealth along with wisdom, and that while it couldn’t really satisfy (if wealth was the individual’s sole purpose), it could provide protection for individuals and cities.

Forgiveness in Buddhism and Christianity

Joseph S. O’Leary has written a blog on “Buddhism and Forgiveness.”[i] He writes in an effort to come up with a solution for the ongoing hatred and violence in Northern Ireland, and he believes that the solution lies in Buddhism’s attitudes about forgiveness and not in Christianity’s.

O’Leary writes,

Christianity is based on the idea, or rather the event, of divine forgiveness: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world with himself’ (2 Cor. 5.19). That is correlated with mutual forgiveness between human beings: ‘Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you’ (Eph. 4.32). . . .

O’Leary goes to comment that in Christianity to be “set right” one must be right with God and with one another. He states that the result ought to be, “the construction of a loving community.” He then poses the question:

Why was this gracious reality so little actualized in Northern Ireland? Even now, when a measure of rational political coexistence has been achieved, there is little cordiality or friendship between the Christian communities of the area.

He then proposes that the solution may be found in Buddhist thought. O’Leary expounds on a preemptive form of forgiveness, by not taking offense in the first place, regardless of the infraction against the person.

The emphasis falls not on forgiving but on the foolishness of taking offence in the first place:

’He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me’ – in those who harbor [sic] such thoughts hatred will never cease.

’He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me’ – in those who do not harbour [sic] such thoughts hatred will cease. (Dhammapada 1.3-4; trans. Radhakrishnan)

Harboring thoughts and memories of abuses is discouraged, and the realization that each of us is a flawed person, temporarily residing on this earth, is encouraged. If such mental purity could be fully realized, peace can occur. However, attaining such purity has been a very rare, if not impossible thing to maintain.

An underlying assumption in the article is that because the people of Northern Ireland are predominantly Catholic and Protestant that Christianity itself must be faulty, rather than the problem of violence and unforgiveness stemming from the exercise of free will.

The assertion that Buddhist teaching on forgiveness is more effective presupposes that Buddhist countries are strangers to violence. History indicates otherwise. See “Violent Intolerance in Buddhist Burma.”[ii]


[i] Joseph S. O’Leary, “Buddhism and Forgiveness,” retrieved March 18, 2014. All quoted sections of O’Leary’s blog retain his reference notes. The East West Insights blog focuses on the section entitled “Buddhist Approaches to Forgiveness.”

[ii] R. E. Sherman, “Violent Intolerance in Buddhist Burma,” East West Insights, June 10, 2013.

Different Concepts of Hell

A common misconception is that Buddhists do not believe in hell. While this may be true of some Buddhists, the Buddha offered specific teachings about hell.

In “Devaduta Sutta”, the 130th discourse of the Majjhima Nikaya, Buddha teaches about the hell in vivid detail. Buddhism teaches that there are five (sometimes six) realms of rebirth, which can then be further subdivided into degrees of agony or pleasure. Of these realms, the hell realms, or Naraka, is the lowest realm of rebirth. Of the hell realms, the worst is Avīci or “endless suffering”. The Buddha’s disciple, Devadatta, who tried to kill the Buddha on three occasions, as well as create a schism in the monastic order, is said to have been reborn in the Avici Hell.

However, like all realms of rebirth, rebirth in the Hell realms is not permanent, though suffering can persist for eons before being reborn again. . . . Buddhism teaches to escape the endless migration of rebirths (both positive and negative) through the attainment of Nirvana.[i]

*****

The Narakas of Buddhism are closely related to diyu, the hell in Chinese mythology. A Naraka differs from the hells of Abrahamic religions in two respects: firstly, beings are not sent to Naraka as the result of a divine judgment and punishment; secondly, the length of a being’s stay in a Naraka is not eternal, though it is usually very long.

A being is born into a Naraka as a direct result of his or her accumulated karma and resides there for a finite period of time until that karma has achieved its full result. After his or her karma is used up, he or she will be reborn in one of the higher worlds as the result of karma that had not yet ripened. . . . Physically, Narakas are thought of as a series of cavernous layers which extend below Jambudvīpa (the ordinary human world) into the earth. There are several schemes for enumerating these Narakas and describing their torments.[ii]

Buddhist hell (naraka) in Burmese representation.[iii]

Ngaye (Naraka) in Burmese art

In Dante’s Inferno, he detailed his belief in nine distinct different levels of hell (see image below).[i]

Dante's Inferno: Levels of Hell

Conservative Christians beliefs about hell are well summarized in this excerpt from the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.

While the duration of punishment in hell is eternal for all who have chosen that destiny for themselves, there are degrees of punishment proportional to the degrees of guilt of each individual. Only God is able to determine what those degrees are, and he will assign the consequences with perfect justice according to the responsibility of each one. Evidence of such gradations in future punishment is found in Scripture (Mt 11:20-24, Lk 12:47-48, Rv 20:12,13; cf. Ez 16:48-61). An obvious comparison is made in these texts between the differing intensities of punishment that are involved in the contrasting privileges, knowledge, and opportunities.[i]

The Buddha taught in his First Noble Truth that “life is suffering”. His view of life on earth seems similar to Dante’s portrayal of the First or Second levels of hell.


[i] Walter A. Elwell, General Editor. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1988), Vol. A-I, 955.

[i] “Circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno,” Bing, retrieved February 25, 2014.

[i] “Hell in Buddhism,” Wikipedia, retrieved February 25, 2014.

[ii] “Naraka,” Wikipedia, retrieved February 25, 2014.

[iii] “Ngaye (Nakara) in Burmese Art.” Wikipedia, retrieved February 25, 2014.

Where was God in the Philippines?

In early November 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon ever to hit the Philippines, struck and killed approximately 5,982 people. Assessed as a Category 5-equivalent super typhoon on the Saffir Simpson hurricane wind scale, it reached a maximum of 196 mph. Estimated to be the fourth most intense tropical cyclone ever observed, UN officials believe 11 million people have been affected and many are left homeless.[1]

Buddhists, Atheists, and Christians view catastrophic events differently.

A Buddhist viewpoint would be that life is impermanent, and that we ought to treasure every moment. In view of typhoon Haiyan, Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh said,

This is the best that we can do for those who have died: We can live in such a way that they can feel they are continuing to live in us, more mindfully, more profoundly, more beautifully, tasting every minute of life available to us, for them.[2]

For atheists, cataclysmic storms are regarded as proof that God does not exist. Following Japan’s tsunami, author and activist Sam Harris said,

Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil or imaginary. . . . Take your pick, and choose wisely.[3]

It takes a real measure of chutzpah to stand in judgment of God, as Harris does. In the Book of Job, God asked Job questions such as whether it was Job’s place to correct Him, or are His ways inscrutable and mysterious?

The Lord said to Job:

“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!”

Then Job answered the Lord:

“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.”

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm:

“Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

“Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
Do you have an arm like God’s,
and can your voice thunder like his?
Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at all who are proud and bring them low,
look at all who are proud and humble them,
crush the wicked where they stand.
Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.
Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you.[4]

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.[5]

Human beings are very presumptuous. We expect a well-ordered universe that caters to our personal preferences. The truth is that we should be grateful that, against all odds, the earth presents an environment that is generally habitable, and often favorable, to human well being. That the earth is so is the result of a mind boggling series of “just right” characteristics of the environment earth provides for us.

Consider the following:

  • Temperature: Human beings, animals and plants can only survive in a limited temperature range. To maintain the needed range, the earth is the right distance from the sun, and the sun is relatively stable.
  • Atmosphere: The earth’s atmosphere is about 100 miles thick. This protects the surface of the earth from radiation. The needed ratio of oxygen to other gasses in the air is present for sustaining life.
  • Energy: Light from the sun provides the energy for chemical reactions in cells necessary for life.
  • Nutrients: The chemical composition of earth is conducive to nourishing life.
  • Water: All life requires water to exist. In addition to drinking water, there is the appropriate ratio of ocean water to earth.
  • Location: Due to earth’s location in the solar system, Jupiter acts as a guard for the earth, protecting it from constant bombardment of asteroid and comet strikes.[6]

We forget that all of these result in a range and mix of weather which produces a nurturing environment for vegetation and animals. Weather variation is a part of this, including rare extremes. All these characteristics were staged and set in motion by God.

God designed the Garden of Eden as an ideal place for people to dwell where typhoons would never occur and only asked that we not eat one type of fruit in the garden. Mankind chose to opt out of this idyllic existence to “do it our own way.” God backed off, permitting us to be exposed to the challenges and risks of living on this earth. God is still present, but God doesn’t force himself on anyone. God waits patiently for us to turn to God individually when we realize that we are far from sufficient in and of ourselves.

In 2 Corinthians, we are reminded to be grateful that God comforts us during difficult and tragic times, so that we can comfort others, and that when we are steadfast in faith and partake of sufferings, we will also partake of the consolation to come.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.[7]

Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor, poses the following questions,

How should we make sense of such senseless death and destruction? Was God in the whirlwind itself, as the Bible hints, or present only in the aftermath, as people mobilize to provide food, water and shelter?[8]

Perhaps God is in it all. He is in the whirlwind, which is part of the amazing earth He created, and He is present in the aftermath of a devastating storm. We can be like His hands and feet when we provide food, water and shelter, and comfort those who suffer.


[1] “Typhoon Haiyan,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved December 12, 2013.

[2] Daniel Burke, “Where was God in the Philippines?” CNN Belief Blog, retrieved December 12, 2013.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Job 40:1-14 (NIV).

[5] Job 42:3 (NIV).

[6] “What Makes a World Habitable?” Lunar and Planetary Institute, and “What is it about Earth that makes it just right for life?” Science.howstuffworks.com, retrieved December 16, 2013.

[7] 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NIV).

[8] Daniel Burke, “Where was God in the Philippines?” CNN Belief Blog, retrieved December 12, 2013.

Wrathful Deities

Across many religions is the belief in demons, or malevolent spirits that may do harm or inhabit a person, resulting in the need for exorcism. Some believe that they may be the spirits of the recently deceased, returned to earth to take care of the unfinished business of their lives. So, when one sees the statues or images of the wrathful deities of Buddhism, one might automatically assume they are demons.

Demons and Idols

A demon is a malevolent, disembodied spirit. These may be the spirit of a deceased person, of a fallen angel, or a spirit which possesses a person, resulting in the need for exorcism. In Judaism and Christianity, a demon is an unclean spirit. They may be summoned and possibly controlled.[1]

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus healed the demon-possessed. One example is in Mark 5:1-20, where Jesus drove out a legion of demons from a man who had been cruelly plagued with them for years.

This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.[2]

The demons, called Legion, begged to be sent into a herd of pigs. The pigs then raced down into a lake and were drowned.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis [the Ten Cities] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.[3]

The Apostle Paul warned against sacrificing to idols or worshiping them, and against having anything to do with demons.

Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.[4]

And he admonished that,

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.[5]

The Apostle John wrote that during the End Times,

The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk.[6]

Protectors

In Tibetan Buddhism, wrathful deities are “enlightened beings”[7] that are ferocious in appearance. These personifications of evil are meant to protect and to assist sentient beings into enlightenment, as well as symbolize the effort it takes to overcome evil. They are considered:

. . . benevolent gods who symbolize the tremendous effort it takes to vanquish evil, the violence that is a fundamental reality of the cosmos and the human mind and protect the faithful by instilling terror in evil spirits.[8]

History

The worship of wrathful deities began in the 8th century. The magician-saint Padmasambhava is believed to have conquered them and forced them to act as protectors of Buddhists and the Buddhist faith. Hinduism is the source of some of the deities.[9]

Hinduism includes numerous varieties of spirits that might be classified as demons, including Vetalas, Bhutas and Pishachas. Rakshasas and Asuras are often also taken as demons.[10]

Iconography

Images or statues of the wrathful deities, which are ferocious and hideous in appearance, are used to protect Buddhists from evil influences, and as a reminder to eliminate passion and evil in their lives. They are meant to frighten evil spirits, and to be “roosting places”[11] or temporary dwellings for evil energies to reside in. The evil energy is sent into them through the use of mantras.

These icons can be in the form of masks, scrolls (paintings), or sculptures, generally depicting the deity with short, thick limbs, a great number of hands and feet, and several heads, with a third eye and disheveled hair. Atop their heads they wear crowns made from skulls or severed heads. They may be treading on animals. Their wrathful expression may be an angry smile, which includes long fangs. From their noses may be a “mist of illnesses”[12] like a terrific storm blowing.

Categories

Some of the wrathful deities fall into three categories, the Herukas (promoting detachment from the world of ignorance), the Wisdom Kings (protectors of the Five Dhyani Buddhas, a feature of Japanese rather than Tibetan Buddhism), and the Protectors (protectors of one of the three: the World, a Region or the Law).[13]

Initiations (Empowerments)

Initiation or empowerment ceremonies are conducted to confer the blessings of a particular deity and to authorize a follower into the various stages of meditation specific to or associated with a particular deity. A highly respected lama conducts the elaborate ceremony. The empowerments are directed at three specific areas, the body, speech and mind, and involve taking extensive vows. These are not to be undertaken lightly, as Bruce Newman warns in his book, A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism: Notes from a Practitioner’s Journey. He calls it the “point of no ‘return.'”[14]

Offerings

Two types of offerings may be made to the deities. “External” offerings are made in the form of

. . . a cemetary [sic] flower, incense of singed flesh, lamp burning human fat (or a substitute), scent of bile, blood (usually symbolized by red water) and human flesh (usually symbolized by parched barley flour and butter realistically colored and modeled).[15]

“Internal” offerings are made in the form of

. . . a skull cup containing a heart, tongue, nose, pair of eyes, and pair of ears. In Tibetan texts, these are human organs, but in actual ceremonies barley-flour-and-butter replicas are used instead.[16]

Demons or Protectors?

For the Buddhist, wrathful deities can be likened to big, scary bodyguards standing watch over their path to enlightenment, and the statues or representations are repositories for evil, but from the Judeo/Christian point of view, these deities embody the earmarks of a demon, not to be sacrificed to, worshiped or followed.


[1] “Demon,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved October 22, 2013.

[2] Mark 5:3:5 (NIV).

[3] Mark 5:18-20 (NIV).

[4] 1 Corinthians 10:19-21 (NIV).

[5] 1 Timothy 4:1 (NIV).

[6] Revelation 9:20 (NIV).

[7] “Wrathful Deities,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved April 2, 2013.

[8] “Wrathful Deities,” Religionfacts.com, retrieved April 2, 2013.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Demon: Hinduism,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved October 22, 2013.

[11] Nitin Kumar. “Wrathful Guardians of Buddhism: Aesthetics and Mythology,” ExoticIndia.com, February 2001, retrieved April 2, 2013.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Wrathful Deities,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved April 2, 2013.

[14] Bruce Newman. A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism: Notes from a Practitioner’s Journey. (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2004), 31, 35, 38.

[15] “Wrathful Deities,” Religionfacts.com, retrieved April 2, 2013.

[16] Ibid.