By R. E. Sherman
Below is a little true/false quiz to help you assess how knowledgeable you are about Buddhism. Mark each statement as true or false.
- The Dalai Lama publicly encourages Westerners to convert to Buddhism.
- There are no serious precautions one should take before practicing Buddhist meditation.
- The Buddha believed that there are many ways to become enlightened.
- No nation with a government headed by Buddhists has ever initiated a war with another country.
- His Holiness the Dalai Lama has attained enlightenment. He is confident that he will not reincarnate.
- Buddhist nuns are subject to about the same number of monastic laws as monks are.
- Buddhist beliefs are highly compatible with science.
All seven of the above statements are false, or at least are seriously in question. Let’s look at each one in turn.
The Dalai Lama publicly encourages Westerners to convert to Buddhism. He has been quoted as saying, “In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Buddhism. Changing religions is not like changing professions. Excitement lessens over the years, and soon you are not excited, and then where are you? Homeless inside yourself.” How could that be? Don’t forget, another top objective of the Dalai Lama is the liberation ofTibet. Portraying Buddhism in the most positive light possible increases support for that cause. Regarding new converts in the West, he is all too aware of numerous difficulties with many of them (see discussion of the next statement).
There are no serious precautions one should consider before practicing Buddhist meditation. The Dalai Lama has been cited as saying, “Westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear.” Dr. Lorin Roche has noted the following hazards of engaging in intense prolonged meditation: 1) depression, 2) a feeling of being lost, 3) trouble adapting to life in the city, 4) weird health problems, 5) bipolar disorders, 6) panic attacks and 7) psychosis. Why? Renunciation is much harder for Westerners, who have so much, than it is for Asians, who often have comparatively little to give up. Secondly, meditation involving emptying your mind may make room for various odd things to enter.
The Buddha believed that there are many ways to become enlightened. In three successive proverbs, the Buddha said, “The best of ways is the eightfold; the best of truths the four words; the best of virtues passionlessness; the best of men he who has eyes to see. This is the way, there is no other that leads to the purifying of intelligence. Go on this way! Everything else is the deceit of Mara (the tempter). If you go on this way, you will make an end of pain! The way was preached by me, when I had understood the removal of the thorns (in the flesh).”
No nation with a government headed by Buddhists has ever initiated a war with another country. A clear counterexample is Burma (Myanmar), whose population is very predominantly Buddhist. Burma’s history has been characterized by frequent, lengthy warfare or oppression, both internally and with surrounding nations, from the Pagan Empire (AD 1044-1287) until our present time.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has attained enlightenment. He is confident that he will not reincarnate. The Dalai Lama has been practicing techniques to greatly hasten progress toward enlightenment, and yet he is quite uncertain what his fate will be after he dies. “The rehearsal of the processes of death, and those of the intermediate state, and the emergence into a future existence,” he wrote, “lies at the very heart of the path in Highest Yoga Tantra. These practices are part of my daily practice also and because of this I somehow feel a sense of excitement when I think about the experience of death. At the same time, though, sometimes I do wonder whether or not I will really be able to fully utilize my own preparatory practices when the actual moment of death comes!”
If the Dalai Lama is uncertain about what his next life will be, he is not enlightened, for the enlightened Buddhist is supposed to know that he will enter nirvana when he dies and that he will not reincarnate as another sentient being. Furthermore, the Dalai Lama’s words highlight his uncertainty, even though he describes the state of enlightenment as including: (1) omniscience, with “full comprehension of all that can be known,” and (2) victory, since “you have overcome all problems and have achieved realization of all knowables.”
Buddhist nuns are subject to about the same number of monastic laws as monks are. Buddhist nuns have 311 vows to take, in contrast to the 227 for monks. Buddha’s view of women was, to put it bluntly, archaic. For example, one of his proverbs was, “So long as the love of man towards women, even the smallest, is not destroyed, so long is his mind in bondage, as the calf that drinks milk is to its mother.”
Buddhist beliefs are highly compatible with science. Buddhists believe, as do Hindus, that the universe has always existed. It was never created. This conflicts with the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe.
How did you do? If you are like most Americans, your knowledge of Buddhism may have been affected by media coverage colored by sympathy for the plight of Tibet and the Dalai Lama. While such sympathy is very well founded, it can affect objectivity.
 Patrick French, Tibet, Tibet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 27.
 Mary Garden, “Can Meditation Be Bad for You?” Humanist, September/October 2007, www.thehumanist.org/humanist/MaryGarden.html, retrieved October 5, 2011.
 Dhammapada, 273-275.
 “History of Burma: Ava Kingdom,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burmese_Kingdom#Ava_.281364.E2.80.931555.29, retrieved October 5, 2011.
 Dalai Lama, “Introductory Commentary,” The Tibetan Book of the Dead (New York: Penguin Classics, 2005), xxviii.
 Dalai Lama, Becoming Enlightened, 221.
 Dhammapada, 284.