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, 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,”, 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,”, 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,”, 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,”, 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,”, retrieved September 5, 2013.

[11] Uwe Siemon-Netto, “Bach in Japan,”, 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,”, retrieved June 17, 2013.

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

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

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

[6] “The French Society: Values and Beliefs,”, 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,”, 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).

Women’s Equality in Buddhism

The question of whether women have equality under Buddhism is not an easy one to answer. One must consider the Buddha’s teachings, the various schools of Buddhism, and the cultural influences that are pervasive from one Buddhist country to another. In addition, the various schools of Buddhism differ in their selection of texts to live by. The ideals presented and the day-to-day reality often vary, so it is a very complicated question to answer.

Dr. L.S. Dewaraja has written a paper[1] on “The Position of Women in Buddhism.” Her tack was to examine the position of women in Buddhist societies versus non-Buddhist societies in Asia, and she began by examining the life of women in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma and Tibet.

Delving into the observations of various European’s writing about their time in Asia (c. 1700’s-1900’s), she notes that the consensus was that women were treated with a degree of equality that caught these authors by surprise. In Sri Lanka, women were not treated as slaves and mistresses, but as companions and friends by their husbands. Writers on Burma reflected on a surprising degree of independence, which was contrasted by the subjugation and seclusion of women in India and China. Similar liberties were noted about Thailand. From this data, it appears that Buddhism had played a positive role in fostering equality for women, not usually seen in Asian countries.

Traditionally, especially where Hinduism was present, women were initially viewed with respect and could participate in religious ceremonies. However, once the Brahmins dominated the society and the teachings of Manu (the first human being to have ever lived, perhaps corresponding to Adam) were embraced, women were prohibited from reading the Vedas, a woman could not worship or sacrifice by herself, and could only reach heaven through complete obedience to her husband. Manu perpetuated the idea that women were prone to evil and were sinful. Buddha’s teachings on salvation through one’s own effort, is not gender based and was, therefore, contrary to the culture of the time.

In ancient India, women were considered on the same level as the lowest caste. Their birth was considered a misfortune, and they were considered a burden on the family.[2] These notions continue for many to this day.

Portions of the Pali Canon show “women as responsible for the downfall of the human race,” but generally speaking Buddhist interpretation “shows lust in general, rather than women, as causing the downfall.”[3]

Buddhism does not view marriage as a sacrament, so there are no religious restrictions or consequences. However, Buddha did comment on marriage, by setting up a reciprocal relationship with duties for each partner:

In five ways should a wife as Western quarter, be ministered to by her husband: by respect, by courtesy, by faithfulness, by handing over authority to her, by providing her with ornaments. In these five ways does the wife minister to by her husband as the Western quarter, love him: her duties are well-performed by hospitality to kin of both, by faithfulness, by watching over the goods he brings and by skill and industry in discharging all business.[4]

Even for the Western mind, these are reasonable ways for spouses to treat one another and their marriage.

However, in practice, women are often viewed as inferior, as in Burma, where it is customary for women to pray that they will be reborn as a man.[5] In the Mahayana school, it is believed that a woman can attain enlightement, but not while she is in the female form. She must reincarnate as a man. These attitudes loudly communicate that being female and the female form are somehow inferior.[6]

Also in practice is polygamy. Historically, polygamy was viewed as a symbol of wealth, bringing men respect in their community and the ability to amass wealth.[7] World-wide, polygamy is legal in over 150 countries.[8] Polygamy is not permitted in developed countries, but it still exists in developing countries. Due to acts of forced marriage, domestic abuse and neglect, it is considered a human rights abuse, and the U.N. recommends an end to polygamy throughout the world. In the countries permitting polygamy, only polygyny (one man with multiple wives) is permitted. Legally, it occurs primarily in Muslim and African nations, with one exception: Burma (Myanmar).[9]

Tibet has the largest polyandrous (one woman with more than one husband) community in the world, and polyandry is also common for Buddhists living in Ladakh, Bhutan, and in other portions of the Indian subcontinent. Traditionally in Tibet, having multiple spouses was not viewed as having sex inappropriately, and nomadic Tibetans in Nepal have practiced fraternal polyandry (one woman with men related as brothers). Until 2010, Thailand legally recognized polygyny.[10]

While the ideal in Buddhism is for men and women to be free to equally study and practice the Buddha’s teachings, in reality woman are still treated directly and indirectly as inferior, and Buddhism is not a safe-guard from polygamy, which is considered a human rights abuse.

[1] Dr. (Mrs.) L.S. Dewaraja, “The Position of Women in Buddhism,”, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[2] “Buddhism and Women: Position of Women at the time of the Buddha,”, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[3] “Women in Buddhism: Women in Early Buddhism,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[4] As quoted by Dr. L.S. Dewaraja from Dialogues of the Buddha, trans. C.A.F Rhys Davids, part III, 181-182.

[5] Dr. (Mrs.) L.S. Dewaraja, “The Position of Women in Buddhism,”, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[6] “Women in Buddhism: Women and Buddhahood,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[7] “Africa’s Potentate of Polygamy,” LA Times, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[8] “History of Polygamy,”, retrieved June 5, 2013.

[9] “Polygamy,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 4, 2013.

[10] Ibid.

Vows of Buddhist Monks and Nuns

Monastic life for monks and nuns is one of simplicity and dedication. A monk must be at least 21 years old, and as a novice follow rules of conduct, eventually leading to taking a vow to live by 227 rules of conduct. It is a four-step process for a Buddhist to become a monk.

The first step is following the Five Precepts:

  1. Not take the life of a sentient being.
  2. Not steal.
  3. Not engage in sexual misconduct.
  4. Refrain from false speech.
  5. Refrain from becoming intoxicated.

The second step is to begin life at a monastery and start wearing the traditional robes. In the third step, the novice undertakes learning and adhering to all of the vows. In the fourth step, the novice takes a vow to adhere to the 227 rules and is then a full-fledged ordained monk. Monks are required to live by the vow to those rules for their entire life, but are allowed to return to secular life temporarily and return to the monastery up to seven times.[1]

Some of the vows seem like very familiar moral teachings even to people living in the West. The following are abbreviated descriptions of some of the vows:

  • Not to steal.
  • Not to commit murder.
  • Not to claim attainments that one has not achieved.
  • Not to falsely accuse someone else.
  • Not to deliberately create division between people.
  • Not to encourage someone else to create division.
  • Not to create disagreement.
  • Not to make someone else do your work.
  • Not to divert a donation to oneself meant for the group.
  • Not to lie.
  • Not to insult.
  • Not to speak with a full mouth.

But others may seem very different and unfamiliar:

  • Not to teach a woman more than six consecutive words of the dhamma.
  • Not to dig or cause someone else to dig.
  • Not to leave a mattress or chair outside without arranging it back suitably.
  • Not to visit houses just before noon.
  • Not to watch an army leaving for combat.
  • Not to witness military activities.
  • Not to tickle.
  • Not to play in the water.
  • Not to use mattresses, cushions or cloths filled with cotton.
  • Not to make or use beds or chairs of a height greater than 65 centimeters.
  • Not to laugh loudly when sitting in an inhabited area.
  • Not to stand on tiptoes within inhabited areas.[2]

For the Western mind, it would seem unthinkable to be told not to play in water, stand on their tiptoes, or laugh loudly in the presence of others, and yet there are extensive rules about the monk’s body, clothing, food, belongings, sex, general conduct, interaction with others, accepting donations and more.

Nuns must follow the same 227 rules, and are required to adhere to an additional 110 rules.[3] Some of the additional rules were created to protect the nuns or because of their biological differences such as menstruation, and some have to do with rules for sponsoring novice nuns. These rules do not necessarily place nuns in a subordinate position. In fact, in rule #25, they are told not to wait on a monk bringing him water or fanning him. If they do, they must confess it.

The following are abbreviated descriptions of some of the 110 rules that make sense to a Western mind:

  • Not to go among villages alone or go to the other shore of a river alone or stay away for a night alone or fall behind her companion(s) alone (for safety reasons).
  • Not to converse with a man in a concealed place.
  • Not to converse with a man in the dark without a light.
  • Not to use a fund intended for one purpose and dedicated to one purpose for a Community, and then buy something else.
  • Not to provide a living space for another nun, and then out of anger have her evicted.
  • Not to be stingy with regard to families (supporters).
  • Not to insult a monk.
  • Not to throw trash (including excrement, urine or leftovers) over a wall or fence.
  • Not to curse oneself or another with regard to hell or the holy life.
  • Not to weep, beating and beating oneself.
  • Not to accept a bribe in order to sponser someone to be a nun.
  • Not to require one to attend to your needs in order to sponsor them as a nun.

Others may seem strange to Western minds:

  • Not to be lusting and having received staple or non-staple food from the hand of a lusting man, then consume or chew it.
  • Not to take an out-of-season cloth to deem it to be an in-season cloth and distribute it.
  • Not to request something and then send it back, and have another thing requested.
  • Not to eat garlic.
  • Not to bathe naked.
  • Not to bathe with perfumes.
  • Not to share a bed with another nun.
  • Not to spin yarn.
  • Not to do a chore for a lay person.
  • Not to use a sunshade or wear leather footwear outside, unless ill.
  • Not to go tiptoe in inhabited areas.
  • Not to sit clasping the knees in inhabited areas.

Written within the vows, it is outlined what the result with be if or when the vows are broken. For some, the monk or nun must confess and for others there is a specific admonishment. Sometimes it is specified that they must undergo further training, and for more severe infractions, the monk or nun is punished with a temporary expulsion from community. For example, if the nun tiptoes in inhabited areas, she must undergo additional training, but if she, with lust, accepts food from a man who is lusting, she is driven out of the community temporarily.

There are four instances which result in immediate and automatic disrobal. The following are abbreviated descriptions of the four:

  • Engaging in sexual intercourse with either sex.
  • Stealing something of value (including smuggling, cheating, or avoiding payment of a tax).
  • Committing murder, or encouraging someone to commit murder or suicide (this includes abortion).
  • Boasting of a higher spiritual attainment that one has not yet attained.[4]

[1] Shiva, “A Buddhist Monk’s Life,”, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[2] “227 Rules,”, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[3] “110 Specific Rules for Nuns,”, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[4] “The Four Disrobing Offences,”, retrieved June 12, 2013.

Polygamy and Buddhism

The 1944 novel, Anna and the King, by Margaret Landon was based on two memoirs by Anna Leonowens, and on King Mongkut’s public papers, but is perhaps better known for the films it inspired:

  • Anna and the King (1946, drama) starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison.
  • The King and I (1956, musical) starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner.
  • Anna and the King (1999, drama) starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat.

These films present a fictionalized account of Anna Leonowens’ life as an English schoolteacher who was enlisted to travel to Siam and teach King Mongkut’s children. Upon arriving, she is introduced to 15 children she will teach, but is surprised to find out he has 67 more,[1] and many wives.[2] A clash of cultures ensues as she attempts to teach the children and wives English and English customs.

The government of Thailand banned the producer of the 1999 film from filming any parts of it there, claiming inaccuracies regarding the life of King Mongkut.[3] Historical inconsistencies have come to light in recent years about elements of the story. These are a few of them.

  • Leonowens was Anglo-Indian, raised in India, not Welsh.
  • For 27 years, King Mongkut has been a Buddhist monk before becoming King. The portrayal of him as an arrogant tyrant is fiction.
  • She was a widow, but had two children, not just one son.
  • Her son did not die as portrayed, but outlived his mother.
  • Leonowens was not present when the King died. She had been granted leave for health reasons and was in England at the time. The new King did not invite her to return and resume her post.[4]

However, one element of the story is accurate even today: polygamy. Historically, polygamy was viewed as a symbol of wealth, bringing men respect in their community and the ability to amass wealth.[5] World-wide, polygamy is legal in over 150 countries.[6] Polygamy is not permitted in developed countries, but it still exists in developing countries. Due to acts of forced marriage, domestic abuse and neglect, it is considered a human rights abuse, and the U.N. recommends an end to polygamy throughout the world. In the countries permitting polygamy, only polygyny (one man with multiple wives) is permitted. Legally, it occurs primarily in Muslim and African nations, with one exception: Burma (Myanmar).[7]

Buddhist texts do not require anyone to marry or have children, however, in general Buddhists are encouraged to only have one wife. Marriage is treated as a personal decision, as is the decision to have children, and it is not considered a religious duty or sacrament.[8]

Tibet has the largest polyandrous (one woman with more than one husband) community in the world, and polyandry is also common for Buddhists living in Ladakh, Bhutan, and in other portions of the Indian subcontinent. Traditionally in Tibet, having multiple spouses was not viewed as having sex inappropriately, and nomadic Tibetans in Nepal have practiced fraternal polyandry (one woman with men related as brothers). Until 2010, Thailand legally recognized polygyny.[9]

[1] “The King and I (1956_film),” Wikipedia, retrieved June 4, 2013.

[2] At the time of his death, he had 32 wives and 82 children. “Mongkut/Reign as King,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 10, 2013.

[3] “Anna and the King,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 4, 2013.

[4] “Anna and the King of Siam (film)”, Wikipedia, retrieved June 4, 2013.

[5] “Africa’s Potentate of Polygamy,” LA Times, retrieved June 11, 2013.

[6] “History of Polygamy,”, retrieved June 5, 2013.

[7] “Polygamy,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 4, 2013.

[8] “Buddhist Views on Marriage,”, retrieved June 6, 2013.

[9] “Polygamy,” Wikipedia, retrieved June 4, 2013.

Gandhi’s Advice to Christians


Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest non-Christians of the last century. He was educated in England and became a very serious student of the Bible. He loved Jesus and yet he chose not to become a Christian and remained a Hindu. Why? Because he was generally not impressed by what he saw in the lives of most Christians he knew.

Gandhi developed a deep friendship with E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973), a Christian missionary to India. In Chapter 29 of Brian McLaren’s book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, he wrote, “Like other great Christian missionaries in India, Jones neither watered down his deep commitment to Christ, nor did he set out to knock down the world’s third-largest religion so he could replace it with Christianity. He looked for a way that Christ could enter, incarnate himself within, and bless Hinduism just as he had done in sectors of Judaic culture, Greco-Roman culture, Celtic culture, Anglo-Saxon culture, and many other cultures through history. He envisioned a time when a new movement of Indian followers of Christ would model a new, non-Western kind of Christian faith, one that respected the Hindu roots in which it grew and one that brought blessing to its Hindu and Muslim neighbors.”

Jones asked, “I am very anxious to see Christianity naturalized in India, so that it shall no longer be a foreign thing identified with a foreign people and a foreign government, but a part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift and redemption. What would you suggest we do to make that possible?”

Gandhi gave Jones some deep and sincere advice to Christians who might seek to redirect believers in other religions to turn to Christianity. His advice is summarized in Chapter 29 of McLaren’s book:

  • Begin to live more like Jesus. “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23, NKJV) Gandhi didn’t see in the Christians he knew a serious commitment to self denial and to pursuing the unique mission Jesus had given to them. And he didn’t see clear evidence that they were following the kind of direction(s) that Jesus would likely give to them. Jones saw the hundreds of millions of people of India speaking to him through Gandhi’s eyes, and saying, “If you will come to us in the spirit of your Master, we cannot resist you.”
  • Practice your religion without adulterating or toning it down. Gandhi saw in the Christians he knew a tendency to water down the Gospel and to back off from talking about things that non-Christians might not understand or might take offense to. The tragedy is that, according to Jones, Christians are “inoculating the world with a mild form of Christianity, so that it is now practically immune against the real thing.”
  • Put your emphasis on love, for love is the center and soul of Christianity. Gandhi loved Jesus because he saw that Jesus’ focus was on love. Gandhi had encountered many Christians who focused on preaching a message of dealing with sin through confession and repentance as a means of avoiding divine judgment and condemnation. Jones noted, “He did not mean love as a sentiment, but love as a working force, the one real power in a moral universe, and he wanted it applied between individuals and groups and races and nations, the one cement and salvation of the world.”
  • Study the non-Christian religions and culture more sympathetically in order to find the good that is in them, so that you might have a more sympathetic approach to the people.

In his book, Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together, the Dalai Lama stated in his concluding chapter, “This book has traced the journey of a Buddhist monk who has had the precious opportunity to glimpse the vast expanse and multifaceted richness of the world’s great religions. This journey has, without doubt, enriched my practice within my own Buddhist faith. In particular, the profound convergence of all the major religions on compassion has reinforced my conviction of the centrality of compassion as a universal spiritual value.”

If Christians take the time and energy to learn more about the beliefs and practices of the religions people they meet are trying to follow, this will do much to convince those people that Christians care about them, rather than their getting the sense that Christians see no real value in alternative faiths.

Violent Intolerance in Buddhist Burma (Myanmar)

The prevalent image of Buddhists as passive, nonviolent people is very largely true. However, there are a few vivid counterexamples. Burma (Myanmar) is at least 90 percent Buddhist, and yet it has had a very long, bloody past of conflict with its neighbors as well as internally. Warfare and internal strife have characterized Burmese history since around A.D. 1300. That’s over 700 years! Since 1962, when a military junta seized power, Burma has been ruled by one of the most oppressive, violent governments in the world.[1]  Under its present government, it was ranked as the fourteenth worst country[2] in terms of human rights violations.[3]

When a majority of people in a country share a common belief, followers of contrasting minority religions may be treated poorly or harshly. Antagonisms can escalate into mob violence. Such is the case in Burma.

Reuters recently reported that following a dispute between a Buddhist woman selling gasoline and a Muslim man, the man poured it over her and set her on fire. The police detained the man, and a Buddhist mob demanded that he be handed over to them. When the police refused, two days of widespread violence broke out resulting in a mosque, a school, and Muslim homes and shops being torched. Groups of young men and boys roamed through the city on motorcycles singing nationalist songs. One person was killed and four were injured in the mob violence, and the Muslim populace has vacated the area. “In other regions, such as Rakhine State where hundreds were killed last year, and in the central city of Meikhtila where at least 44 people died in March, there have been signs of ethnic cleansing, and of impunity for those inciting it.”[4]

When a Christian pastor or leader becomes embroiled in a scandal, their hypocrisy is often highlighted by anti-Christian media.[5]  When a Buddhist fails to live righteously, however, it usually takes place with little notice and little or no media coverage. When Buddhist scandals are exposed, it is assumed that the individual is at fault, and not that Buddhism is somehow inadequate. One exception to this is Patrick French, author of Tibet, Tibet, who summarized his disillusionment with Buddhism this way:

As I studied Buddhism more closely, some of the failings began to show, and I noticed the schisms, bigots, frauds, hypocrites and predators that you will find in any ecclesiastical system. I was put off too by the tone of many of the foreign converts, who thought they could strip the tradition of its tough ethical underpinnings. They were implausible, with their showy accoutrements of conversion, their beads and bracelets, their devotion to instant spiritual empowerment, their reliance on airport-hopping teachers who were not always taken seriously by Tibetans. Then there were the prominent blunders: the teacher and promoter Sogyal Rinpoche, served with a lawsuit for seducing a student; and the Nyingmapa monk Penor Rinpocke who, in the most dubious circumstances, identified the high-kicking Hollywood action hero Steven Seagal (Marked for Death, Hard to Kill) as a reincarnation of the seventeenth-century master Chungdrag Dorje. [6]

Perhaps out of sympathy for oppressed Tibet, or out of distaste for Christianity and a desire to promote alternatives to it, or all of the above, with few exceptions the media have only projected attractive images of Buddhists. However, a February 2011 article in the Los Angeles Times noted that:

Tibetan Buddhism’s image of placid chanting and sublime meditation belies a more edgy history, analysts say, replete with religious figures attacking each other and alliances between monasteries and brutal warlords. . . .

“We in the West tend to project all our fantasies about mystical spiritualism onto Tibetan Buddhism,” said Erik Curren, author of “Buddha’s Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today.” It’s really like a civil war. There’s lots of acrimony.” . . .

Some analysts said some Westerners have a rosy-eyed view of Tibetan Buddhism, perhaps a reflection of their disillusionment with Western religions. . . .

“Inter-sect conflicts involving physical violence is nothing new,” Curren said. “It’s just like any religion. It has its share of bad apples, but that doesn’t spoil the whole barrel. The sooner Westerners realize that, the better.”[7]

In spite of the widespread Buddhist emphasis on tolerance of those with other beliefs, there are a number of countries with a Buddhist majority where Christians claim they are being actively and harshly persecuted by Buddhists.[8]  Among them are Burma,[9] Tibet,[10] Bhutan,[11] Sri Lanka,[12] and Vietnam[13].

In Burma, religious unrest and ethnic hatred are not new, and Buddhists are not immune to committing acts of retaliation or mob violence.

[1] “History of Burma,” Wikipedia, retrieved November 4, 2010.

[2] “The Observer Human Rights Index,”, retrieved November 4, 2010.

[3] “Myanmar (Burma) Human Rights,” Amnesty International, retrieved November 4, 2010.

[4] “Buddhist mobs attack Muslim homes in Myanmar, One Dead,” Reuters, retrieved May 30, 2013.

[5] “Christian Evangelist Scandals,” Wikipedia, retrieved February 14, 2011.

[6] Patrick French, Tibet, Tibet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 26–27.

[7] Mark Magnier, “A Tempest in Tibetan Temples,” Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2011, retrieved February 9, 2011.

[8] See clickable map at “Restricted Nations,” Voice of the Martyrs, retrieved July 28, 2010.

[9] Burma is 83 percent Buddhist and 9 percent Christian. According to Voice of the Martyrs (VOM),

The government of Burma continues to discourage, harass and use other, more severe, forms of persecution on any group it considers harmful to the state. Christianity is high on the list, even though the government claims freedom of religion in Burma. A secret memo titled “Program to destroy the Christian religion in Burma,” details instructions on how to drive out Christians. It calls for anyone caught evangelizing to be imprisoned. VOM has received widespread reports of churches being burned, forcible conversion of Christians to Buddhism and Christian children being barred from schools. Ethnic Christians, in particular, are singled out for repression because of the government’s goal to create a uniform society of one language, one ethnicity and one religion.

Source: “Restricted Nations,” Voice of the Martyrs, (emphasis added).

[10] Tibet is 80 percent Buddhist and 0.2 percent Christian. Voice of the Martyrs reported that

Most of the persecution against Christians comes from militant Tibetan Buddhists. There may be about 1,000 evangelical and 2,000 Catholic Christians among the five million Tibetans in the world, and there are at least two groups of secret believers in Tibet. . . . Pastor Zhang Zhongxin was given two years of re-education through labor in 2008 for his crimes, one of which was preaching the gospel in Tibet.

Source: “Restricted Nations,” Voice of the Martyrs, (emphasis added).

[11] Bhutan is 72 percent Buddhist, 23 percent Hindu, and 0.5 percent Christian. According to Voice of the Martyrs:

Bhutan is one of the most restricted nations in the world for Christians. All public worship and evangelism by non-Buddhists is illegal. Churches are never permitted to evangelize. Christian family members can meet together, but they cannot meet with other Christian families. Importing printed religious material is banned, and only Buddhist religious texts are allowed in the country. Bhutanese Christians face subtle forms of discrimination from their families as well as pressure to reconvert to Buddhism.

Source: “Restricted Nations,” Voice of the Martyrs, (emphasis added).

[12] Sri Lanka is 72 percent Buddhist, 12 percent Hindu, 8 percent Muslim, and 8 percent Christian.  Voice of the Martyrs reports:

Although the constitution guarantees religious freedom, minority Protestant religions have experienced violent persecution as well as discrimination in employment and education. . . . Much of the persecution comes from local Buddhist groups. . . . Threats to close down churches have prevented some church members from meeting for worship.

Source: “Restricted Nations,” Voice of the Martyrs, (emphasis added).

[13] Vietnam is 54 percent Buddhist and 8 percent Christian. Voice of the Martyrs says:

Persecution of Christians is harsh, particularly for unregistered and ethnic minority churches. Many churches have chosen to remain unregistered because of the unreasonable restrictions the government imposes on registered churches and believers. Arbitrary arrests, harassment and fines are common. Many Christians are in prison. Only a few have been released, and many have been forced to renounce their faith. Several ethnic Christians reportedly died after being released from prison or while in police custody because of injuries caused by torture.

Source: “Restricted Nations,” Voice of the Martyrs.

Wrestling with the Four Noble Truths

Over the past year and a quarter, I have taught four classes on Buddhism at a local university. Class sizes ranged from 12 to 55. Every time, most of the students had a difficult time adopting the Four Noble Truths as something they generally agreed with. Each time, though, nearly all the students were comfortable and approving of each step of the Buddha’s Eightfold Noble Path.

The Four Noble Truths are:

  1. Life is suffering.
  2. Desire is the cause of suffering.
  3. The path to liberation from suffering is to renounce all desire.
  4. The way leading to the cessation of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.

World View
The majority of Eastern culture works from the premise of repeated reincarnation, and the law of cause and effect (karma). If you have done something bad in a previous life or this life, it will cause you suffering. Even with the most earnest effort, the Buddha didn’t believe anyone could go through life without doing something bad or hurtful, therefore there would always be suffering.

Westerners are primed by our culture to believe that life is about “the pursuit of happiness.” They do not generally believe that all of life is inherently suffering. While everyone experiences a lot of suffering in this life, there are also many experiences of happiness and joy because of the blessings God bestows on people, particularly when people are grateful to God and give thanks to him for those blessings. Among these are the blessings of marriage, family, work, recreation, fellowship with other believers and worshiping God.

Desire and Suffering
Regarding the Second Noble Truth, Westerners would tend to disagree with Buddha that all suffering is caused by desire. While wrong desires definitely do cause suffering, many desires are wholesome and may not cause any suffering at all, but rather bring about happiness and joy. The love that a husband and wife have for one another can cause a great deal of joy (though not always), and many kinds of suffering come into being that have no ostensible connection with what one is desiring. Accidents occur and people are injured. People get cancer, or some other kind of disease, that might be hereditary or be due to unintentional exposure to environmental hazards.

Renouncing Desire
With respect to the Third Noble Truth, most Westerners would look at accidents and many diseases and would disagree with Buddha that the way to prevent accidents and all diseases is to simply empty one’s self of all desires. If these types of suffering were not caused by desire in the first place, then eliminating all desires won’t eliminate that type of suffering either.

So how is it that someone so profoundly respected as the Buddha could potentially be so wrong about some of the most prominent fundamentals of his religion, or was he right and Westerners are so wrong? To get a better understanding of this, it helps to realize that the Buddha assumed that karma and reincarnation governed the universe, and that most Westerners do not assume reincarnation, but rather that there is just one life here on earth, whether they believe in life after death or not. Most Westerners who believe in life after death, believe only in one life after death, to be spent in either heaven or hell.

Why does this matter regarding the nature of the Four Noble Truths? The basis of a person’s world view informs his or her beliefs. If you believe in reincarnation, then when bad things happen to someone who has seemingly always been good, there is an easy explanation—they did something bad in a prior life. For typical Westerners, this simple explanation is not available. Most Westerners believe that bad things can either be the result of bad karma from past actions in this life, or from accidents or inexplicable diseases.

Your assumptions regarding karma and reincarnation strongly influence your willingness to embrace the first three Noble Truths or to reject them as untrue.