Violence in Thailand and Burma

Particularly in the West, Buddhism is considered a calm, almost passive religion. Its adherents are known for spending long periods of time meditating. But recent headlines regarding activities in Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) would be contrary to that notion.

Ashin Wirathu is a 46-year-old Buddhist monk and spiritual leader in Burma. He has been accused of hate speech, and is active on YouTube and other social media forums. Due to his vitriolic speeches against the Rohingya Muslims, he was sentenced in 2003 to 25 years in prison, but was released in 2010.[i] The July 1, 2013 edition of Time magazine featured Wirathu’s face on the cover, with the cover article’s title, “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”[ii]

On May 4, 2015, the Associated Press reported the arrest of three Thai officials and a citizen of Burma (Myanmar) after the finding 26 graves on the southern border of Thailand near Malaysia.[iii]

By May 6, CNN reported that number had grown to 30 to 40 graves of people believed to have been held by human traffickers. Southern Thailand is known as a “hot-spot for human trafficking.” Last year, the U.S. State Department reported Thailand as a Tier 3, the lowest ranking, in its “Trafficking in Persons” report. The remains are thought to be of Rohingya Muslims, fleeing from the ethnic violence in Buddhist-majority Burma. They are smuggled and/or captured by human traffickers and held for ransom. If they are unable to pay, they are held until they die from starvation or disease.[iv]

During the police raid, one lone survivor was found. He was left behind, because he could not walk. During his nine month captivity, he was moved between seven different camps. He estimated that 200 people were being held. He told police that the camp they found is not the only one with graves. A Rohingya activist, Abdul Kalam, estimates that dozens of camps have been set up, and that this raid has revealed “just the tip of the iceberg.” [v]

Most Americans see Buddhists as non-violent. Most Americans view Thailand as idyllic and credit that to Buddhism. The reality is that both Thailand and Burma are deeply troubled countries, and Buddhists are not immune to committing violence.

[i] “Ashin Wirathu,” Wikipedia,, retrieved on June 11, 2015.

[ii] “Ashin Wirathu: Myanmar and its vitriolic monk,”,, retrieved on June 11, 2015. See,9171,2146000,00.html for the text of the Time magazine article, “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”

[iii] “Thailand arrests 4, vows crackdown on human traffickers,”,, retrieved on June 11, 2015.

[iv] “At least 30 graves found in southern Thailand, and a lone survivor,”,, retrieved June 11, 2015.

[v] “Thailand arrests 4, vows crackdown on human traffickers,”,, retrieved on June 11, 2015.


Barbara Walter’s Interview of the Dalai Lama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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,”, 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?”, 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]


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]


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]


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.


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]


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,”, 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,”, retrieved April 2, 2013.

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

[9] Ibid.

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

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

[12] Ibid.

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

[16] Ibid.

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).

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.