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FAQs about Buddhism
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Challenges to Budhism,   Buddist Beliefs,    Budhist Practices

Challenges to Buddhism

  • Aren't all religions just memes - cultural viruses that take over gullible minds?

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 spiritual potential.

  • 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 and aggressive.

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 and Islam

  • 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.

Budhist Beliefs

  • 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 the best?

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 Christendom.

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 churches). 

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 reality.

 

  • 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 and happiness.

 

  • 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 Enlightened Mind.

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 and sunyata.

Buddhist Practices

  • 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.


RATIONAL BUDDHISM
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?

Christian versus Buddhist worldviews


Buddhism in Everyday Life
The Daily Meditation