Challenges to Budhism, Buddist Beliefs, Budhist Practices
Challenges to Buddhism
The belief that all religions are parasites of the mind is known as the
'meme theory' of religion, and has recently been gaining ground among anthropologists. The
theory states that memes perform two types of actions:
(1) Take control of their victims' minds.
(2) Encourage their victims to spread the meme to others.
Though meme theory accurately predicts and explains the behavior of the more intolerant
and aggressive religions, Budhism is perhaps the only religion which does not seem to
possess any of the properties we would expect from a meme. See MEME OR MEME-BUSTER for a detailed argument
why Buddism is not a meme.
- Hasn't Science made religion obsolete?
There is a common belief that the need for God as an explanation for everything has
been eliminated by science. This may well be so (see Thealogy), but not all religions
believe in a 'God of the gaps'. Buddhsim can get along quite happily without needing to
speculate on the existence or non-existence of a First Cause. The real threat to all
religions comes not from the closing of the gaps which God used to occupy (such as origin
of the species), but from the doctrine of mechanistic materialism or physicalism, which
teaches that there is no spiritual dimension to human beings. Budhism is the only religion
which has a philosophy capable of
resisting materialism and emphasising human
- Don't religions cause terrorism and war?
With stories of religious terrorism seldom out of the news nowadays, there is a
tendency in the West to regard all Asian religions as dangerous fanatical cults.
Non-Christian religions are often lumped together as being barbaric, primitive, intolerant
This is discriminatory and very unfair to Budhism. Buddism is peaceful, promotes the arts
and sciences, forbids wars of conquest, and has been associated with some very advanced
civilisations, such as that of King Ashoka in the third century BC.
Any religion which spreads by intimidation rather than reasoned argument, which destroys
the symbols of other religions, which puts fatwas on its critics, which prohibits all
competing religious teaching in the areas it controls and which prescribes death for
apostasy, is obviously deeply insecure. Fanatical aggression demonstrates that a
religion's memoids know consciously or subconsciously that their beliefs are based on
questionable foundations, which cannot withstand rational examination. See Buddhism
- Haven't all religions got a hidden political agenda?
Marxism regarded all religions as the opium of the masses, and believed that they were
deliberately designed by the ruling classes to keep the workers in their place. With the
collapse of Marxism, attention has moved from the politics of class to the politics of
gender and of sexual orientation. Very few religions treat men and women equally. But to
recall the old Marxist phrase, 'some are more equal than others'. See Thealogy , the Goddess and Marxism.
- Budhists seem to think there is something non-material about
the mind. But surely the mind is just the brain, or maybe a program running on the brain?
Materialism states that we are mere machines, biological computers or automata. The universe does
not require our existence
- we are accidents of evolution. Our minds are programs
running on the brain. Our minds cease
to exist when the brain ceases to function. The mind has no spiritual dimension.
Buddist philosophers disagree with these statements and can produce powerful arguments against materialism.
- Is the aim of Budhism to become completely detached from
everyone and everything?
No, the idea that Buddists seek total detachment or indifference to others is
disinformation originated by the Pope in his book 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope' (see Judgementalism). The truth is that
Budhists are motivated by compassion
to work towards being reborn into situations where they can reduce the suffering of sentient beings, and ultimately
lead them all to enlightenment. Unfortunately, as all Catholics are required to believe
that the Pope is infallible, the publication of this book may have ended the possiblility
of sensible dialog between Buddist philosophers and Catholic theologians.
- What is samsara?
Samsara is the state of uncontrolled rebirth where the mind is continually reborn in
environments of greater or lesser suffering, with no control over its destiny.
- Why are there so many different schools of Buddism? Which is
One reason there are so many different schools is that Buddhists accept and respect
diversity. It is said that there are 84,000 gateways to the Dharma (Budda's
teachings). Budha presented the same underlying philosophy with different
'user-interfaces' according to the predispositions of the students.
When you think about it, people are so different in character, temperament and
experience that it would be surprising if one size did fit all.
Another reason for the great diversity is that, in general, the various schools of Budhism
don't persecute one another. There have been a few local exceptions, but nothing on
the scale of the fratricidal sectarian wars which have waged for hundreds of years within
So the answer to the question 'which form of Buddhsim is right?' - It's the one that's
right for you!
- Does Budhism claim to have all the answers?
Buddism is the only major religion which acknowledges a large area of ignorance about
external matters. Unlike other religions, it does not even attempt to answer questions
like 'What is the purpose of life, the universe and everything?'
. Buddhism regards such questions as at best unanswerable and probably intrinsically
meaningless. The only purpose of life is what we personally give to our own lives. Budda
suggested that the most meaningful use of life was to seek liberation from ignorance,
suffering and the cycle of samsaric rebirth, both for one's self and others. But this
'meaning' does not reside 'in the sky' or in any way outside of the individual, and it
cannot be imposed, but must be freely chosen.
Most other religions go further than Buddism, and if asked 'What is the
purpose of life, the universe and everything?' will usually come up with an
answer along the lines of 'To fulfil the will of God.'
This invites the further question of 'What is the will of God',
which usually brings forth an answer to the effect that 'God's will is to
create life, the universe and everything'.
- Do Budhists reject evolution?
No. Unlike some other religions, which require some form or other of creationism, Buddism is quite
happy with the theory of evolution.
Buddist philosophy actually requires evolution to take place - all things are seen
as being transient, constantly becoming, existing for a while and then fading. The
idea of unchanging species would not be compatible with Budhist thought.
- What do Buddists believe happens to non-Budhists when they
die. Are they doomed to everlasting hell-fire, or does Buddha send them back as worms?
Most religions teach that they are the one true path to salvation and all those people
who chose (or were brought up in) the wrong paths will be judged by the True
Religion's founder and thrown into hell. This is a doctrine known as exclusivism or judgementalism. Buddhism is
not exclusivist. To a Buddhist any person guided in their activities by compassion is regarded as following a beneficial spiritual path.
Unfortunately, in Christianity exclusivism went to extreme lengths with many
denominations (at one time) claiming that they were the one true faith and the other
denominations of Christianity were corrupt, or even in league with anti-Christ.
This situation has improved during the past 50 years, but 'No salvation outside the
Church' is still the official policy of the Catholic Church ( though how many Catholics
still believe in it is open to question).
However, this does raise an interesting scenario. Presumably a Salvation Army officer who
devoted her life to rescuing drug addicts and alcoholics would be regarded as damned for
all eternity by traditional Catholic theologians. A Budhist, on the other hand, would
regard such a person as an advanced spiritual practitioner - a Bodhisattva or possibly
even a manifestation of Buddha Tara . (One of the more surprising teachings of
Mahayana Buddhsim is that Budhas can appear in whatever form is beneficial to
sentient beings, and Buddas needn't necessarily be Buddist!) . So, taken to its logical
conclustion, Christian exclusivism would require one Christian to regard a fellow
Christian as damned, while a Budhist would recognise her as a saint!
- What do Buddhists think about Jesus?
Most Buddhists have a great respect for Jesus Christ and
His teachings (though this may not always extend to some activities of certain Christian
Many Buddhists, especially within the various Tibetan
traditions, regard Jesus as a Buddha or high Bodhisattva.
However, one of the main problems that Buddhists find with Christianity is that its
philosophical basis is weak. Many of its tenets, which have their origins in the Old
Testament, are at variance with scientific evidence. Christianity
is thus unable to mount a convincing defense against materialism.
In contrast Buddhism is a consistent philosophical system which doesn't suffer from
internal logical contradictions. Nor does Buddhism make claims which are at variance with biological, geological and cosmological
- Why do Buddhists believe it's wrong to be cruel to animals?
Some schools of philosophy, such as dualism,
believe that animals are automata and have no feelings, so it doesn't matter what you
do to them. Buddists believe that animals are capable of qualitative experience, including suffering
- I keep hearing that ancient Buddists predicted the findings
of modern physics (qunatum phenomena). Is there any truth in this?
Yes, the ancient teachings on sunyata anticipated
recent discoveries in quantum
physics by over 2000 years.
- Do Buddhists believe in God?
It depends what you mean by God. Within the various schools of Buddhism there is a
great deal of variation in the belief in a Supreme Being. Beliefs range from atheism,
through agnosticism, monotheism ('ground of being') up to multifaceted aspects of
One of the preponderant deities of Tibet is actually a Goddess - Tara, the
compassionate rescuer and Holy Mother. She is often seen as being equivalent to the Virgin
Mary in the Christian pantheon.
At a more philosophical rather than devotional level, there are certain difficulties
with accepting the Judeo-Christian idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, logically necessary
being or First Cause. Within Buddhist philosophy this view of God would be regarded as
suffering from a number of internal logical contradictions, and possibly a rather dubious
politically motivated history. See Thealogy
- What's the point of meditation?
The practices of meditation
fufill the following purposes
(1) In the short term meditation produces physical and mental calming effects.
(2) In the medium term, meditation make us less irritable, less likely to go to
extremes, and pleasanter to live and work with.
(3) In the long term, meditation enables us to take spiritual realisations across
the death/rebirth barrier and protects us against unfortunate rebirths.
If we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion,
then how much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start
invoking religious faith?
versus Buddhist worldviews