- Buddhists 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?
Humans are machines - biological computers or
automata. The universe does not require our existence - we are accidents
of evolution. Our minds cease to exist when the brain dies.
You're referring to the philosophical view known as Materialism
or Physicalism, which states that the human mind has no spiritual dimensions.
Buddhist philosophers reject the computer model of the mind and can produce rational
arguments against the mind being any kind of machine. The universe does
require our existence.
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 and sociologists. The theory states that memes perform two types of
(1) Take control of their victims' minds.
(2) Encourage their victims to spread the meme to others.
Though the meme theory accurately predicts and explains the behavior of the more
intolerant and aggressive cults, Buddhism does not seem to possess any of the properties
we would expect from a meme. See MEMES for a detailed argument why
the meme criticism of religion does not apply to Buddhism.
- Science has made religion obsolete.
There is a common belief that the need for God as an explanation of
the unknown has been eliminated by science. This may well be so (see
Thealogy), but not all religions believe in a 'God of the gaps'. Buddhism 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, which teaches that
there is no spiritual dimension to human life. Buddhism at present seems to be the only
coherent philosophical system which is capable of resisting materialism and
spiritual potential. To quote Alfred
North Whitehead - 'Christianity ... has always been a religion seeking a
metaphysic, in contrast to Buddhism which is a metaphysic generating a religion.'
- 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-Western religions are often lumped together as being barbaric, primitive,
intolerant and aggressive.
This is discriminatory, ethnocentric, and very unfair to Buddhism. Buddhism is peaceful,
promotes the arts and sciences, forbids wars of conquest, and has been associated with
some very advanced civilizations, such as that of King Ashoka in the third century BC.
Any religion which propagates by intimidation rather than reasoned
argument, or needs to silence its critics by the bomb and bullet, is obviously deeply
insecure. Fanatical aggression demonstrates that a religion's memoids know consciously or
subconsciously that their beliefs are based on insecure foundations, which cannot
withstand rational examination.
- Transcendental and religious experiences are the result of
the disordered functioning of the brain. People get spiritual experiences under the
influence of electromagnetic fields such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS),
and from psychedelic drugs such as mescalin, LSD, Psilocybe semilanceata and
Amanita muscaria. All these transpersonal experiences are simply delusions caused by
disruption of the normal electrochemical activity of the neurones.
Yes and No. There's no doubt that people experience other realms of
reality under the influence of TMS or hallucinogenic drugs. In these conditions the
functioning of the brain is indeed abnormal.
But - you've got to ask yourself - what is the purpose of the normal
functioning of the brain?
The brain hasn't evolved to represent ultimate reality to the mind. The brain is a device
which has evolved by selection of the fittest (not the most truthful) to project the
delusion of the inherently-existing self onto the mind. This delusion of a permanent,
unchanging self is 'imputed' over the ever-changing
transitory collection of biochemical building blocks that makes up the physical
aspects of a sentient being.
These biochemical building blocks are brought together by a loose temporary alliance of selfish
genes. This alliance comes into existence at conception and ends at death. When the
brain is functioning *correctly*, it is acting in the best interests of the alliance.
The brain is the alliance's propaganda machine, and it is constantly exhorting the mind
" Preserve ME ! Reproduce ME ! "
This is the psychological mechanism that gets hijacked by memes. The memetic
propaganda spiel then becomes:
" Preserve MEME ! Reproduce MEME !
The correct functioning of the propaganda machine is obviously necessary for the
preservation and procreation of the species. However, to perform its function the brain
needs to project a distorted view of the self onto the mind.
Disruption of this ceaseless barrage of ME-ME propaganda, by biochemical or biophysical
agents, enables the mind to temporarily push the doors of perception ajar and peek beyond
mundane biologically-determined appearances.
However, the only way to open the doors completely and permanently is through meditation.
The use of
hallucinogenic fungal secondary metabolites for religious purposes (ethnomycology),
although common in Shamanism, is deprecated in most (all?) traditions of Buddhism.
- Isn't the aim of Buddhism to become completely detached from
everyone and everything?
No, the idea that Buddhists seek total detachment or
indifference to others is disinformation originated in the Papal Bull 'Crossing the
Threshold of Hope'. The truth is that Buddhists are motivated by compassion to work
towards being reborn into situations where they can reduce the suffering of all sentient
beings, and ultimately lead them all to enlightenment. To do this they attempt to
reduce the power of the Three Poisons
in themselves and others.
- There so many different schools of Buddhism, more than there
are sects of Christianity. They can't all be right so most of them must be wrong. Which is
the real Buddhism?
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 (Buddha's teachings). Buddha presented the same underlying
philosophy with different 'user-interfaces' according to the predispositions of the
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
Buddhism 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 Buddhism is right?' - It's the one that's
right for you!
- Why doesn't Buddhism claim to have all the answers like a
proper religion should?
Buddhism 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. Buddha 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 Buddhism, 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'.
- All religions are irrational because they reject evolution.
Buddhism is the one exception, and is quite happy with the
theory of evolution. In fact Buddhist 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
Buddhist ontology (see
- All religions teach that nasty things happen to non-believers
when they die. So what happens to non-Buddhists. 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 doctrine is 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 - 100 years, but 'Extra ecclesiam
nulla salus' - No salvation outside (our) Church - is still the
official policy of the Vatican
However, this does raise an interesting theoretical scenario which demonstrates the
absurdities of exclusivism:
Presumably a Salvation Army officer who devoted her life to
rescuing drug addicts and alcoholics would, nevertheless, have to be regarded as
damned for all eternity by traditional Catholic theologians. A Buddhist, on the other
hand, would look upon 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 Buddhism is that Buddhas can appear in whatever
form is beneficial to sentient beings, and Buddhas needn't necessarily be
Buddhist!) . So, taken to its logical conclustion, Christian exclusivism would require one
Christian to regard a fellow Christian as damned, while a Buddhist would recognise her as
- Buddhists don't believe in 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 - see Christian Buddhist Dialog).
However, one of the main problems that Buddhists find with
Christianity is that its philosophical basis is weak. Many of its fundamental tenets, such
as the doctrine of Original Sin, have their origins in a literal interpretation of
Genesis, and are completely at variance with scientific evidence.
Christianity is thus unable to mount a convincing defense against materialism.
(See When religion
steps on science's turf for a devastating critique of the philosophical inadequacies
of traditional Christianity)
In contrast, Buddhism is a robust and consistent philosophical
system which does not suffer from internal logical contradictions. Nor does Buddhism make
claims which are at variance with biological, geological and cosmological reality.
You don't need to believe six impossible things before breakfast to be a Buddhist.
- Buddhists are stupid and sentimental about 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.
Buddhists believe that animals are capable of qualitative
experience, including suffering and happiness. They are sentient beings and who
just as we do and should consequently be regarded as objects of compassion.
- Buddhists don't 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 pre-eminent 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.
- Buddhists waste their time in meditation.
The practices of meditation fufill the
(1) In the short term, meditation produces physical and mental
calming effects. It also reassures us in a very immediate way that out mind is not purely
physical and is not limited by one birth and one death.
(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 acquired in this life across the 'tomb to womb'
barrier and into our next rebirth.