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.

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

Whose teaching was wiser? Buddha’s or Solomon’s? Your answer to that question will reveal whether you are more “into” Eastern or Western religion, because it is clearly a matter of spiritual perspective.

Who led a life that practically reflected the wisdom that they taught? The Buddha clearly wins this one without a doubt. He taught others for 45 years while remaining thoroughly committed to practicing renunciation and selflessness. Solomon, on the other hand, departed from his earlier teachings in a number of blatant ways that should be an example to all of us on how not to live. One such area was in having many wives from other nations with belief in other gods.

What happens when you compare all the proverbs of Buddha with all of Solomon’s? A number of surprising things stand out:

Clearly Solomon had much more to say. We counted 423 proverbs of Buddha’s versus 1,236 of Solomon’s. When both taught on the same subject, they agreed an astonishing 98% of the time! Getting two very famous people to agree so often is almost beyond belief. On topics that only one of them commented on, 100% of the time it was Solomon who spoke! Buddha never said anything that Solomon didn’t say, in so many words.

When Solomon taught on something, an amazing 48% of the time Buddha was silent! Interestingly, those topics on which Buddha was silent are totally predictable and expected. 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 women:

“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.” (Dhammapada 242)

“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.” (Dhammapada 284)

Clearly, these sayings of the Buddha reflect a negative view of women, ascribing bad conduct to them, and describing the love of a man for a woman as bondage.

What did Solomon have to say about women? In Proverbs 2, 5, 6, 7, 11, 22, 23, and Eccl. 7, he cautioned his son against adulterous, duplicitous and wicked women. However, consider these proverbs:

A kindhearted woman gains honor, but ruthless men gain only wealth.” (Proverbs 11:16, NIV)

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” (Proverbs 14:1, NIV)

Solomon said that there are kindhearted, wise and productive women, while the Buddha did not. He only saw women in a negative light, and that for a man to love a woman was the equivalent of bondage.

 

Reducing Parkinson’s Symptoms Via Meditation

It is well known that stress increases the symptoms of those with Parkinson’s disease. Since it has also been established that many kinds of meditation can noticeably reduce a person’s level of stress, it would not be surprising to find that meditation can reduce the severity of Parkinson’s symptoms.

Michael J. Fox has described Parkinson’s as being,

. . . like having a 4-year-old child climbing around on your lap all the time, pulling on your arms and legs. “You’re just trying to be patient and focus on what you need to do.”[i]

In September 2013, theparkinsonhub.com website posted an article entitled “Meditation & Mitigating Parkinson’s Symptoms”[ii] by Australian naturopath, John Coleman. It had been written in response to an earlier article, “Meditation in Parkinson’s.”[iii]

In both articles, it is proposed that meditation can have a positive effect on decreasing Parkinson’s symptoms, (i.e., tremors, pain, etc.) I have personally experienced a dramatic reduction in my symptoms by meditating specifically on whatever part of my body is shaking (e.g., left hand or my lips). Similar results have been observed when meditating on the sentence, “Be still and know that He is God”, a paraphrasing of Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God.”). When doing this, I imagine myself ordering my hand or lip to be still, and so to acknowledge God.

John Coleman noticed a significant reduction in his Parkinson’s symptoms from utilizing meditation. He writes,

In 1995, I developed symptoms of advanced Parkinson’s disease with severe tremor, festinating walk, unintelligible speech, mask-like facial expression, significant pain, constipation and urinary incontinence. During my three year journey to a symptom-free state, I utilised a number of self-help strategies and complementary remedies. Prime among my activities was daily meditation, and involvement in a weekly meditation group. I observed that, while meditating, many of my symptoms reduced in intensity and, over time, this intensity reduction lasted for some time after meditating. Other benefits I noticed were improved sleep patterns, clearer thought processes and, interestingly, improved relationships with work colleagues. If I missed my daily meditation for any reason, I found I was less able to make decisions, my tremor increased, and I felt generally less well.[iv]

The article continues with his clinical experience of the changes his patients found when they utilized meditation as part of their health regimen. During his career, he has treated over 2,000 people with Parkinson’s. He writes,

Specific benefits noted by my patients when meditating included reduced tremor, reduced pain, increased energy, feeling “more peaceful”, and improved communication with loved ones.[v]

If you are a Parkinson’s patient, see the article “Meditation in Parkinson’s”[vi] for a simple outline of how to begin meditating.


[i] Dr. Mehmet Oz, “Michael J. Fox’s Personal Battle,” Oprah.com, http://www.oprah.com/entertainment/Michael-J-Foxs-Life-with-Parkinsons-Stem-Cells-Optimism-and-More, retrieved November 9, 2015.

[ii] John Coleman, ND, “Meditation & Mitigating Parkinson’s Symptoms,” theparkinsonhub.com, http://www.theparkinsonhub.com/your-quality-of-life/article/meditation–mitigating-parkinsons-symptoms.html, retrieved November 9, 2015.

[iii] Carol Fisher, “Meditation in Parkinson’s,” theparkinsonhub.com, http://www.theparkinsonhub.com/your-quality-of-life/article/meditation.html, retrieved November 9, 2015.

[iv] John Coleman, ND, “Meditation & Mitigating Parkinson’s Symptoms,” theparkinsonhub.com, http://www.theparkinsonhub.com/your-quality-of-life/article/meditation–mitigating-parkinsons-symptoms.html, retrieved November 9, 2015.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Carol Fisher, “Meditation in Parkinson’s,” theparkinsonhub.com, http://www.theparkinsonhub.com/your-quality-of-life/article/meditation.html, retrieved November 9, 2015.

 

Recovering From Doing Something Really Bad

Suppose you have stolen a large sum of money or physically harmed someone or even killed someone. What then? Buddhism and Christianity differ sharply over how an individual can deal positively with life once they have committed a seriously negative act.

The Christian solution is simple and rapid. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”[1] We turn to God in anguish, sorrowfully admitting what we have done, strongly desiring to radically change, and He will forgive us for that act and will purify us. Before God you are fully absolved. However, you may still need to serve time, but at least your conscience will have been cleared.

The Buddhist approach is slow and arduous. It is detailed on the website dharmakara.net, where the question is asked, “If we have committed a serious negative act, how can we let go of the feeling of guilt that may follow?” His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, provides the following answer:[2]

A: In such situations, where there is a danger of feeling guilty and therefore depressed, the Buddhist point of view advises adopting certain ways of thinking and behaving which will enable you to recover your self-confidence. A Buddhist may reflect on the nature of the mind of a Buddha, on its essential purity, and in what way disturbing thoughts and their subsequent emotions are of an entirely different nature. Because such disturbing emotions are adventitious, they can be eliminated. To think of the immense well of potential hidden deep within our being, to understand that the nature of the mind is fundamental purity and kindness and to meditate on its luminosity, will enable you to develop self-confidence and courage.

The Buddha says in the Sutras that fully enlightened and omniscient beings, whom we consider to be superior, did not spring from the bowels of the earth, nor did they fall from the sky; they are the result of spiritual purification. Such beings were once as troubled as we are now, with the same weaknesses and flaws of ordinary beings. Shakyamuni Buddha himself, prior to his enlightenment, lived in other incarnations that were far more difficult than our present lives. To recognize, in all its majesty, our own potential for spiritual perfection is an antidote to guilt, disgust, and hopelessness. Nagarjuna says in “The Precious Garland of Advice for the King” that pessimism and depression never help in finding a good solution to any problem. On the other hand, arrogance is just as negative. But to present as an antidote to it a posture of extreme humility may tend to foster a lack of self-confidence and open the door to depression and discouragement. We would only go from one extreme to the other.

I would like to point out that to set out on a retreat for three years full of hope and expectations, thinking that without the slightest difficulty you will come Out of it fully enlightened, can turn into a disaster, unless you undertake it with the most serious intentions. If you overestimate your expectations and have too much self-confidence, you will be headed for dissatisfaction and disillusionment. When you think of what the Buddha said–that perfect enlightenment is the result of spiritual purification and an accumulation of virtues and wisdom for eons and eons—it is certain that courage and perseverance will arise to accompany you on the path.

The Dalai Lama’s answer is convoluted. In all honesty, it is not terribly comforting. It is clear that prolonged, intense meditation is one critical element in the recovery process. And, each person must struggle through on their own, with the help of the inspiration of the example of the Buddha, to a place of greater mental purity.

That some very exceptional Buddhists have accomplished this during one lifetime is potentially believable. That those who are ordinary individuals have a reasonable hope of implementing this is questionable, particularly if they are burdened, not only with one seriously negative act, but with several, or with a host of minor negative acts or attitudes. For such people, even eons and eons may not allow enough time for recovery to arise by self-generation. It would be much like trying to swim upstream in a river that is flowing at a speed greater than the swimmer can manage and sustain. There might be bursts of temporary success, but fatigue will inevitably bring defeat.

The Bible openly discounts the possibility of self-generated recovery.

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”[3]

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[4]

These two Bible verses might seem to be hopelessly discouraging. And they are, until the help of God is received and allowed to rejuvenate and rescue the foundering. The power of a Higher Power should not be underestimated.


[1] 1 John 1:9 (NIV).

[2] “Christianity and Buddhism, 10 virtues of Buddhism, guilt feelings,” Dhamakara.net, retrieved October 21, 2013.

[3] Isaiah 64:6 (NIV).

[4] Romans 3:23 (NKJV).

Bach’s Legacy in Japan

Monists believe that all is one. So they look for truth within themselves, since they believe they are a central part of a universal whole. Dualists look for truth outside of themselves—for example, to a sacred book, to a specific church, or by direct appeal to a personal God far superior to themselves.

The life and worship of a dualist is rich and varied because it involves the interaction of a human soul with something other than itself. In the case of Christianity, this interaction is with a personal God who loves every human being and desires to be actively involved in each person’s life. To the extent that any individual is willing to invite God into his or her life, that individual will experience an intimate relationship with him. If someone who is not a dualist believes in God, that God is impersonal. Hence the degree of richness of religion as an exercise of man relating to God is much greater for the dualist than for the monist, much as life in a world with both men and women is much richer than one in a society consisting only of men or only of women. The apostle Paul referred to the church as the bride of Christ.[1]

Buddhism has not inspired great works of music, such as Handel’s Messiah or Bach’s B Minor Mass, or the large body of hymns and songs of worship present within Christianity. Such works are expressions of individual people with their own personalities who were inspired by their interaction with a personal God. The chants and meditations of a Buddhist, in contrast, are designed to help the seeker to transcend self and to minimize or eliminate personal identity.[2]

In Japan, Bach’s music has been growing in popularity, with remarkable results. Former Buddhist Yuko Maruyama says she is a Christian thanks to Bach’s music. “Bach introduced me to God, Jesus and Christianity. . . . When I play a fugue, I can feel Bach talking to God.” Masashi Masuda, now a Jesuit priest, says, “Listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations first aroused my interest in Christianity.”[3]

Why would listening to Bach’s music from the 18th century trigger a religious response in modern day Japanese people? A St. Louis mathematics professor, Charles Ford, has a theory. He believes that Bach’s music is composed in the “perfect beauty of order” to which the Japanese mind is receptive. “Bach has had the same effect on me, a Western scientist.”[4]

As the founder and conductor of the Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki’s performances are always sold out, even with ticket prices of more than $600. Suzuki said, “Bach works as a missionary among our people. . . . After each concert people crowd the podium wishing to talk to me about topics that are normally taboo in our society—death, for example. They inevitably ask me what ‘hope’ means to Christians. . . . I believe that Bach has already converted tens of thousands of Japanese to the Christian faith.”[5] Susuki says, “I am spreading Bach’s message, which is a biblical one.”[6] Bach’s cantatas have even been referred to as “the fifth gospel,”[7] and a Lutheran theologian, Yoshikazu Tokuzen calls Bach’s music, “a vehicle of the Holy Spirit.”[8]

As a result of Bach concerts, many young Japanese are making pilgrimages to Leipzig, Germany, where Bach worked for the last 27 years of his life. He died in 1750. There they visit the church where Bach was a cantor and listen to Lutheran liturgy.[9]

According to Uwe Siemon-Netto, a foreign correspondent based in New York City, “Two-thirds of all Japanese profess no religion. However, of this vast majority 70 percent deem religion important for society.”[10] As musical director of Concordia’s Bach at the Sem concert series, Rev. Robert Bergt has personal experience with the effect of Bach on the Japanese. “Some of these people would then in private declare themselves as ‘closet Christians. . . . This happened to me at least 15 times. And one of them I eventually baptized myself.” Siemon-Netto concludes that, “While only one percent of Japan’s population of 128 million is officially Christian, Bergt estimated that the real figure could be three times as high if one includes secret believers.”[11]


[1] Ephesians 5:23–32.

[2] R. E. Sherman, Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link? (Charleston: CreateSpace, 2011) 222-223.

[3] Uwe Siemon-Netto, “Bach in Japan,” ChristianityToday.com, retrieved August 26, 2013.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning, (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010), 267.

[6] Uwe Siemon-Netto, “Bach in Japan,” ChristianityToday.com, retrieved August 26, 2013.

[7] Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning, (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010), 268.

[8] Uwe Siemon-Netto , “Bach in Japan,” ChristianityToday.com, retrieved August 26, 2013.

[9] Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning, (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010), 267-268.

[10] Uwe Siemon-Netto, ”J. S. Bach in Japan,” FirstThings.com, retrieved September 5, 2013.

[11] Uwe Siemon-Netto, “Bach in Japan,” ChristianityToday.com, retrieved August 26, 2013.

Cultural Lenses

Just like the French song, “La Vie en rose,”[1] which means life in rosy hues or seeing life through rose colored glasses, we all have a cultural lens that we view life, religion and politics through.

For example, the French have a positive opinion of Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism, but not of Islam. The percentages are dramatic, with 87% of the French having a positive opinion of Buddhism, while almost 75% have a negative opinion of Islam. Here are the range of percentages of positive opinion by religion.

  • 87% of Buddhism
  • 76% of Protestantism
  • 64% of Judaism
  • 26% of Islam
  • 1% expressing no opinion.[2]

In France, religious freedom and freedom of thought was guaranteed by the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and in 1905 the Separation of the Churches and State law was passed. Where once it was a Catholic nation with a monarchy, as France developed into a republic, it based its laws on the principle of freedom of conscience.[3]

In 1965, the population of France was upwards of 80% Catholic, and some resources still list the population at the same percentage.[4] However, a 2011 survey estimates the following percentages:

  • 45% Christian
  • 35% no religion
  • 10% not stated
  • 6% other religions
  • 3% Islamist
  • 1% Buddhist[5]

In addition, only 10% of French Catholics attend church regularly. As a country, they believe that religion is a private matter, so as individuals, they may answer a survey by stating which religion they were born into, but not necessarily whether or not they are a practicing member.[6]

Religious freedom is very important to the French, and they are open as a society to all religions as long as the practioners do not violate the law of the land. However, politically, the French view religion as a personal matter, not to be brought into the public sphere, hence the abolition of the wearing of burqas (a loose garment, covering the entire body, with only an opening for the eyes) in public schools. This restriction was not against religion, but against religion in the public sphere. The French view the burqas as a violation of French values and a hinderance to integration. In addition, there is the concern that burqas are not a religious sign as much as a symbol of the subjugation of women.[7]

Another area of conflict is the desire to institute and abide by Sharia law. Secular judicial systems view Sharia law as a religious system of law. However, in 2008 the United Kingdom permitted the recognition of sharia courts, if both sides of a dispute freely opted for it as a binding arbitrator. Other countries have similar options.[8]

Excluding extremists sects, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity do not pose any threat to the French way of life, because they are largely practiced privately and do not infringe on any of their laws. The very high percentage of French people having positive feelings about Buddhism, would seem to be due to the private nature of it. Whereas, the Islamic population and a growing number of immigrants arriving in France from Muslim countries are creating conflict by wanting their women to wear burqas in public, and by their desire for the formal establishment of Sharia law.[9]


[1] “La Vie en rose,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 24, 2013.

[2] Daniel Greenfield, “French Have Positive Opinion of Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism, Negative Opinion of Islam,” FrontPageMag.com, retrieved June 17, 2013.

[3] “Religion in France,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 24, 2013.

[4] “France,” BerkleyCenter.Georgetown.edu, retrieved June 19, 2013.

[5] “France Religion: Statistics,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 24, 2013.

[6] “The French Society: Values and Beliefs,” UnderstandFrance.org, retrieved June 19, 2013.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Sharia: Application by Country,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 26, 2013.

[9] “Islam in France: Islamist Movements,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 26, 2013.

Is Suffering Always a Bad Thing?

The first three of the Four Noble Truths state that just being alive means that a person will endure suffering, that the beginning of suffering is found in attachment and desire, and that avoiding suffering is attainable. These statements imply that suffering is always bad, and is to be avoided if at all possible.

  1. Life means suffering.
  2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
  3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.[1]

But, is suffering always a bad thing? In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul wrote about suffering as something to glory in, because it results in the development of perseverance, character and hope.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.[2]

And James, the brother of Jesus, wrote,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.[3]

James was saying we can be happy and see the benefit of trials that come our way, because trials and sufferings come into our lives to produce perseverance and maturity in us.

In the Buddha’s Dhammapada proverbs, suffering is described in terms of karma, as the consequence of evil action, and freedom from it is only obtainable by casting off all attachment and desire.

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. Not nakedness, not platted hair, not dirt, not fasting, or lying on the earth, not rubbing with dust, not sitting motionless, can purify a mortal who has not overcome desires.[4]

The next proverb describes desire as a fierce thirst resulting in suffering.

Whomsoever this fierce thirst overcomes, full of poison, in this world, his sufferings increase like the abounding Birana grass. He who overcomes this fierce thirst, difficult to be conquered in this world, sufferings fall off from him, like water-drops from a lotus leaf.[5]

The following proverbs describe making an end to suffering by being perfect, forsaking pride, and being freed from anger and attachment to people or things, and by being completely unschackled by this life.

Let him live in charity, let him be perfect in his duties; then in the fulness of delight he will make an end of suffering.[6]

Let a man leave anger, let him forsake pride, let him overcome all bondage! No sufferings befall the man who is not attached to name and form, and who calls nothing his own.[7]

There is no suffering for him who has finished his journey, and abandoned grief, who has freed himself on all sides, and thrown off all fetters.[8]

Him I call indeed a Brahmana who, even here, knows the end of his suffering, has put down his burden, and is unshackled.[9]

In Romans, the Apostle Paul describes how if we are children of God, we share in both the sufferings and glory of Jesus.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.[10]

He further writes that when we are suffering and we don’t even know what or how to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.[11]

In the letters to the Corinthians, Paul talks about enduring persecution and suffering to the point of being viewed as the “scum of the earth.” His solution to being treated this way was to endure, to treat all with kindness, and not to lose heart.

We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.[12]

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.[13]

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.[14]

So we see that the Buddhist mindset is one of wanting to avoid suffering, because suffering is our own fault (karma), whereas the Christian point of view is that suffering comes to all, deserved or not, and should be seen as an opportunity to develop perseverance, character, maturity, and hope, and is a calling to endure suffering and remain kind and loving to others.


[1] “The Four Noble Truths,” TheBigView.com, retrieved June 13, 2013 (emphasis mine).

[2] Romans 5:1-5 (NIV).

[3] James 1:2-4 (NIV).

[4] Dhammapada 137-141.

[5] Dhammapada 335-336.

[6] Dhammapada 376.

[7] Dhammapada 221.

[8] Dhammapada 90.

[9] Dhammapada 402.

[10] Romans 8:17-23 (NIV).

[11] Romans 8:26 (NIV).

[12] 1 Corinthians 4:12-13 (NIV).

[13] 2 Corinthians 1:7 (NIV).

[14] 2 Corinthians 4:1 (NIV).