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Japanese Buddhism: The Large Vehicle in the Far East
by Scott Noble (firstname.lastname@example.org)
July 25, 2013
Japan is an incredible nation with impressive inventions, a unique culture, and a brilliantly efficient way of life in spite of having limited natural resources. Where else can a person ride on a bullet train at 320 kilometers per hour, eat raw fish (safely), hear about snow falling on monkeys "chilling" in hot springs, see spring cherry blossoms in front of a 500 year old castle, watch a sumo wrestling match, and be in the country where words like "ninja," "samurai," "karate," "karaoke," "Kawasaki," "Yamaha," "Canon," "Toyota," "origami," and "sushi," originated? Japan, also known as the land of the rising sun, has a very interesting history. Much of that history was shaped and influenced by various religious convictions.
In this paper I will first give a historical overview of Japanese Buddhism and then focus on its most popular forms today (which mostly fall into the category of Mahayana Buddhism- "large vehicle" Buddhism). For a list of statistics, reflecting the popularity of various Buddhist influences in Japan, please see appendix A. In looking at Japanese Buddhism, several themes keep popping up: the popularity of the Lotus Sutra (a sutra is a Buddhist text), ancestor worship, chanting and the use of rosaries, pantheism, Shintoism (Japan's pre-Buddhist religion which is sometimes mixed with Buddhism), saviour figures such as Amida (Amitabha), Kannon (Avalokitesvara), and Dainichi (Vairocana), and mystical revelations as opposed to historically verifiable truths.
Of course the various schools of Japanese Buddhism have differences in their emphasis or denial of these themes, sometimes teaching completely opposite doctrines of one another. The goal of this paper is to show the sure foundation of the Bible in contrast to man-made systems, which are interesting, but don't have the ultimate saving power which every person in this world needs to get to heaven.
Periods of Japanese History Related to Buddhism
- The Kofun Period (AD 250-538)
- The Asuka Period (AD 538-710)
- The Nara Period (AD 710-794)
- The Heian Period (AD 794-1185)
- The Kamakura Period (AD 1185-1333)
- The Ashikaga Period (AD 1333-1568)
- The Shokuho Period (AD 1568-1603)
- The Edo Period (AD 1603-1868)
- The Meiji Period (AD 1868-1912)
- The Taisho Period (AD 1912-1926)
- The Showa Period (AD 1926-1989)
- The Heisei Period (AD 1989- present)
This period is named after the "kofun" which were large burial mounds used at that time. Although the date given in Japanese legends is 660 BC for the beginning of the Japanese state, modern historians would place the beginning of the Japanese state in the Kofun Period instead, "...modern historians present us with the hesitant statement that a start was made towards building a center of political power in the Yamato region in the late third or early fourth century A.D. They regard the date 660 B.C. as about a thousand years too early." (Mason & Caiger, 25)
"Pre-Buddhist Japanese religion centered on the worship of kami: beings (spirits, people, animals), objects, and places possessing charismatic power. This charisma was perceived to have not only a religious dimension, but also political and aesthetic dimensions as well." (Robinson, 241) Later, this pre-Buddhist Japanese religion came to be known as Shinto. "Shinto, as this animistic religion is called, has no founder and no bible. (Mason & Caiger, 33)
"The first emperor of Japan did not ascend the throne in 660 B.C., but Japan's imperial institution is still the world's oldest hereditary office." (Mason & Caiger, 32) "The head of the imperial family in Yamato, from whom the present emperor is descended, claimed direct descent from the sun goddess (Amaterasu Omikami)..." (Mason & Caiger, 32) "In 1946, the emperor publicly denied his divinity; in 1947 the traditional system of interlocking households was dismantled, so that individuals were no longer bound by their family religion." (Robinson, 264)
"...the kami were numerous and essentially amoral, with no established order among them...One of the principal problems in unifying Japan as a country thus lay in establishing a fixed narrative cycle to explain the hierarchy among the kami so that the various clans could be brought into a hierarchical relationship as well. The truth of these narratives was tested in the battlefield, and a shift in the balance of power would be reflected in a retelling of the relevant narrative." (Robinson, 242)
Buddhism's claim was that it was based on "...universal principles rather than uncertain narratives." (Robinson, 242) We will see later in this paper that Buddhism also beckons help from uncertain narratives and thus has an uncertain foundation for its principles.
The Asuka Period (AD 538-710): Hesitation
"Buddhism was probably first brought to Japan by Korean immigrants...The first recorded contact on the royal level, however, was in 552." (Robinson, 243) King Syong-myong of Paikche (one of the three main states of Korea at that time), sent the emperor of Japan a request for military assistance against his enemies, along with a Buddhist image and Buddhist scriptures, telling him that Buddhism, "...leads ultimately to the highest wisdom and in which every prayer is fulfilled." (Saunders, 92) Ten years later, in AD 562, this Korean king who introduced Japan to Buddhism, "...was ultimately killed and his country conquered by the Sillans..." (Saunders, 92)
Meanwhile, back in Japan, this new religion was met with suspicion by many. The Nakatomi and Mononobe families stood against the new religion, but the Soga family was in favor of it, and turned their house into a temple for this Buddhist image from Korea. Soon however, a pestilence broke out, and the Buddha image was blamed for this. The Nakatomi and Mononobe families, "...burned the temple and threw the image into a canal." (Saunders, 93) Years later another Buddha image was set up and another pestilence broke out. This time the image was again thrown into the river, but this did not seem to stop the pestilence, so the image was fished out of the river and set back up.
The Mononobe family claimed that, "...they were descended from a kami [Shinto deity] who flew down from heaven riding in a 'heavenly-rock-boat.'" (Mason & Caiger, 39) The Soga clan, who were descendants of Korean immigrants, defeated the Mononobe clan militarily in AD 587, and Buddhism began to gain more ground.
"Prince Shotoku (AD 573-622), who was later regarded as the founder of Japanese Buddhism...imported Korean artisans to build temples...as well as Korean monks and nuns to staff them." (Robinson, 244) Prince Shotoku was himself descended from Korean immigrants, being a member of the Soga clan. Among other commentaries, Prince Shotoku also wrote a commentary on the Lotus Sutra, which would become a very prominent sutra in Japan.
"Because Buddhist Sutras were all written in Chinese, it became plain to the Japanese that they might do better to establish direct contact with China, rather than go through Korean intermediaries." (Robinson, 244)
In 710 the capital moved from Asuka to Nara. There were six Buddhist schools of thought in the Nara Period (Kusha, Jojitsu, Sanron, Hosso, Kegon, and Ritsu). "Kusha, Jojitsu, and Sanron were never more than curriculum subjects..." (Robinson, 245) Only the Hosso, Kegon, and Ritsu schools still have an active following in modern times, which together account for only about half of one percent of Japan's population. Here's a brief description of some of the beliefs of the surviving three schools:
Hosso: "In the Hosso teaching, things exist for us through the projection or reflection of their image on our minds..." (Saunders, 121) "...the Hosso school does not recognize that every being has within it the Buddha nature." (Saunders, 123)
Kegon: "The Hua-Yen [Kegon] worldview was adapted to political ideology by equating Vairocana, the Cosmic Sun Buddha, with the emperor, whose uji [tribe or clan] claimed to be descendants of the sun." (Robinson, 245) "...the Kegon school which flourished in Nara times, taught that all phenomenon were fundamentally one and interchangeable." (Mason & Caiger, 239) "The Avatamsaka-sutras (J. Kegonkyo), which are the basis of the Kegon school, are also intimately connected with Zen. They teach a kind of cosmotheism in which the various aspects of the universe are completely interdependent...Moreover, the Buddha-nature is in everything, as much in a grain of dust as in man." (Saunders, 204-205) Many of the Japanese Buddhist sects cancel each other out, as can be seen in the Hosso and Kegon beliefs about the Buddha-nature.
Ritsu: "Ritsu, named after the Chinese Lu, or Vinaya tradition, concerned itself with exegesis of the Vinaya (the Buddhist code of monastic discipline)...this sect was also responsible in Japan for the ordination of the clergy." (Noriyoshi, 163)
The Heian Period (AD 794-1185): Amalgamation
"In 784, THE IMPERIAL CAPITAL was transferred from Nara to Nagaoka and from there in 794 to Heian, the present-day Ky_to, where it was to remain in name at least, until 1868." (Saunders, 134) In this period two new schools of Buddhism emerged: Tendai and Shingon. "...both the Tendai and Shingon sects explained that the Shinto kami were actually nirmanakaya (emanation bodies) of the great Cosmic Buddhas." (Robinson, 246) "...Both Tendai and Shingon retained the Hinayana concepts of rebirth (karma), monasticism, and self-effort." (Mason & Caiger, 100-101)
Saicho (AD 767-822) founded the Tendai School of Buddhism after spending time in China learning from various schools there. He set up his headquarters on Mount Hiei. "Mount Hiei went on to become the major monastic center in Japan and remained so until its destruction at the end of the sixteenth century. In its heyday, it housed thirty thousand monks and contained more than three thousand buildings... The vast amount of wealth donated to the temple required that some of the monks be armed to protect it from thieves. These armed monks formed factions that then became involved in disputes over succession to the position of abbot." (Robinson, 247) "...all the major monastic reformers of the following period- Eisai, Dogen, Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren- spent their early monastic careers at Mount Hiei and were largely motivated in their efforts at reform by the corruption they witnessed there..." (Robinson, 248)
"[In Tendai]...there was a belief in the eventual salvation of all beings...there was the idea that all life, and not just human life, was basically the same; that is, an idea of underlying unity of existence...This teaching was based on the Lotus Sutra, one of the great scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra claims to be a final sermon preached by Gautama shortly before he entered nirvana. In reality, it was composed long after Gautama's death..." (Mason & Caiger, 102) The five reformers mentioned above were all influenced to some degree by the Lotus Sutra.
"Saicho adhered to the T'ien-t'ai doctrine that recognized universal salvation, that is, the existence of the absolute nature of Buddhahood in all beings." (Michio, 270) In 2004, Tendai still claimed followers among 2.7% of the Japanese population. "Tendai recognizes Vairochana, the solar pan-Buddha, as an expression of the dharmakaya..." (Saunders, 144-145)
The founder of Shingon was Kukai (AD 774-835) who also went to China to learn. There are four statues of him in Japan ranging in height from 16-21 meters. "From Prajna [a Kashmirian monk], Kukai is said to have received sutras and a rosary with which he is frequently portrayed in Japanese representations of him." (Saunders, 154) Using prayer beads was a practice used in Hinduism hundreds of years before Christ. "In addition to founding Shingon he devised a syllabary that greatly simplified the reading and writing of Japanese." (Robinson, 248) "Shingon posits a kind of pantheism in which the whole universe is a manifestation, an emanation, of the central solar divinity, Vairochana (J. Dainichi)." (Saunders, 161) "[Vairochana's] marked solar character made it particularly easy to establish a relationship with the native sun goddess Amaterasu, the Dual Shinto system..." (Saunders, 168)
"Shingon was Mahayana Buddhism with a strong mixture of Tibetan or Tantric emphasis on such things as ritual speech and mystic union with the deities." (Mason & Caiger, 105) The texts which Shingon was based on, "...involved a pantheon heavily influenced by Hinduism, containing numerous divinities not purely Buddhist." (Saunders, 161) Practicing Shingon requires disciples to, "...bring body and speech into harmony through the use of the mudras [sacred gestures] and mantras [sacred words or phrases] taught by Mahavairocana. Then, by absorbing one's mind in these physical manifestations along with visualization of chaste but colorful mandalas [sacred pictures], total harmony can be attained..." (Robinson, 248-249) The goal of these exercises was actually to become Mahavairocana, which fits in with Shingon's pantheism. "Shingon was based on Tantras of the Yoga class...the practice of imitating the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha Mahavairocana (The Great Sun), so as to assume the identity of that great being." (Robinson, 248)
Ezekiel, who prophesied around 590 BC, before Israel's temple was destroyed by Babylon, recorded Israel's unfaithfulness to God. They worshipped the sun. "And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD'S house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, lo, they put the branch to their nose." (Ezekiel 8:16-17) Putting "the branch to their nose", probably refers to the practice, still used in modern times, of holding up incense sticks in a worshipful gesture.
Shingon's idea of pantheism is also reflected in art. "Shingon's idea that Truth (i.e. the cosmic Buddha) included the unpleasant as well as the agreeable sides of life..." (Mason & Caiger, 115) Also related to Vairocana's unpleasant side is, "...a secondary group of divinities called Wisdom Kings (myo-o)...Fudo (skt. Achala), the Immovable, a form of Shiva...He is regularly portrayed holding in his hands a sword and a rope; with the former he cuts down the evils of the world, and with his rope he binds them...with a terrible face from which two fangs protrude, while behind him arises a background of flames." (Saunders, 176) In Hinduism, from which Fudo is derived, Shiva is the destroyer. "Fudo Myo-o is the central deity in all Myo-o groupings...Today, the Myo-o are revered mainly by the Shingon sect...Indeed, the Myo-o are forms of Dainichi [Vairocana], and represent Dainichi's wrath against evil and ignorance." (http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/fudo.html) In pantheism, even the evil sides of life are part of the "deity." In the sutra of the Kurikara incantation, "He [Fudo] assumes the form of a flame-wreathed snake or dragon coiled around an upright sword..." (http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/dragon.shtml )
Shingon continues to hold sway over many people in Japan. Fudo, who supposedly can change to be a snake or dragon, and who is derived from Shiva the destroyer, is supposed to be a manifestation of Vairocana. The Bible declares clearly who this snake/dragon-like being is. "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (Revelation 12:9) In 2004, about 9.9% of the population considered themselves to be adherents of Shingon.
In AD 1185 power was taken from the emperor and a new form of government emerged under the authority of a shogun. The imperial capital was still in Kyoto, and the emperor was allowed to hold his title, but the political capital was moved to Kamakura, where the shogun resided. During this time on Mount Hiei, near Kyoto, there were five prominent men who came out of the Tendai school, and became reformers of Japanese Buddhism: Eisai, Dogen, Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren.
Eisei and Dogen: Zen Buddhism
As of 2004, about 2.6% of Japan's population claimed to be Zen Buddhists. Although that's a pretty low number, internationally, Zen is probably the best known form of Japanese Buddhism. "Myoan Eisai (1141-1215) established the first Zen (in Chinese, Ch'an) temple in Kyoto in 1202...Dissatisfaction with the eclecticism of Eisai's Zen led a number of monks in the following generation to travel to China on their own to receive transmission of a less adulterated teaching to bring back to Japan. The first to do so was Dogen Kigen (1200-53)....Zen, he [Dogen] says, is essentially 'dethinking thinking.' With what means is dethinking to be thought? 'Beyond thinking.'" (Robinson, 251)
Altered States of Consciousness
Zen focuses on meditation as the way towards enlightenment. The word Zen comes from the Pali word "jhana" and the Sanskrit word "dhyana." "The four dhyanas are best understood as a series of altered states of consciousness characterized by an increasing degree of enstasy. The term 'enstasy' literally means 'standing within.' An enstatic practice, then, is one aimed at the withdrawal of the practitioner's senses and thoughts from contact with the external world and at the reduction of the contents of her consciousness." (Griffiths, 38) "It is even possible to see strong parallels between his [Dogen's] thought and that of early Buddhism: Dethinking thinking corresponds to the use of right view to go beyond views...Dogen became regarded as the founder of the Soto school of Zen." (Robinson, 252)
Early Buddhism, which is carried on in the Theravada tradition, resembles Zen in some of their meditation goals and techniques. In early Buddhism, "Jhana...signifies a state of trance in which all sensory input, aside from the subject of meditation, is totally excluded from awareness. At the higher jhanic levels the meditator is also incapable of speech or movement, and in the highest possible, attention is said to be without ordinary consciousness and to reach the trance of cessation. According to the Pali Canon, Gotama reached Buddhahood (enlightenment) by means of the four classic jhanas, gained by concentrated attention on the (unspecified) meditational subjects he had chosen." (King, 88)
Beyond Words and Logic
Bodhidharma (c. AD 470-534), who in Japan is called Daruma, is said to be the first Chinese patriarch of Zen. "His [Bodhidharma's] teaching goes back traditionally to that of the Buddha himself, who once while preaching held up a flower and smiled. Only Kashyapa understood that the Buddha meant to symbolize the inadequacy of words to express the essence of his Doctrine. This is the 'wordless tradition' Bodhidharma brought to China, the transmission of which henceforth depended on intuitive apprehension of the Absolute." (Saunders, 208) According to the "Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall", written in AD 952, Bodhidharma is said to have faced a wall for nine years, not speaking at all. Whether or not this is legend, it is in keeping with the wordless philosophy. This tendency against rational thought continues in the modern Zen school.
"Zen holds that nobody can actually think himself into a state of enlightenment, still less depend on the logical arguments of others. Rationality must eventually give way to intuitive insight, which alone frees a person to live naturally and spontaneously..." (Mason & Caiger, 169) This kind of approach to morality and religion does not match the real world. If a teacher "intuitively" gave grades to students without looking at test scores and other rational factors, there would be an outcry of "that's not fair" from the students. If a doctor "intuitively" and "spontaneously" prescribed medicine, people would die. The same chaos would result if this were applied to financial decisions, driving decisions, moral decisions, etc. An "enlightenment" which is "beyond views" and "beyond thought" is really a suppression of the truth. Instead of freedom for rational thought, experience is overemphasized, which results in going away from truth. The rationality we use in everyday life also applies to understanding spiritual truths.
Koans are one way to "overcome" rationality in Zen, such as meditating on the question, "What's the sound of one hand clapping?" In addition to the koan, sometimes a "shocking yell" is used. "Koans are, so to speak, undeveloped themes, which often illogically confound the intellect and appeal to the intuition for understanding. Like the yell 'katsu!' they are meant to establish a direct intuitive understanding, bypassing inhibitive intellectual processes." (Saunders, 212) "...the purpose of asking such questions [koans] from all possible sides is not to come to any conclusive answers, but to become more and more familiar with the dynamic of 'beyond thinking'..." (Robinson, 252) Another technique to overcome thought, used in some schools, was (and is) the whack of a stick: "...the stick which, like the yell, was used- corporally- to startle the mind to sudden enlightenment." (Saunders, 213)
One example of a longer koan, was a case in a monastery in China. "Monks of the northern and southern halls of Nan-ch'uan's monastery engaged in a rowdy dispute over the possession of a kitten. Catching the cat, Nan-ch'uan held it up before the disputing monks and said, 'If any among you can tell me why I should not kill this cat, I will spare its life.' Since none of the monks spoke, Nan-ch'uan dashed the kitten to the ground and killed it. The monk Chao-chou (J. Joshu, 778-891), returning to the monastery after a day's absence, was greeted by Nan-ch'uan and asked what he would have answered had he been present. Chao-chou removed his straw sandals, placed them on his head, and left the presence of Nan-ch'uan. Whereupon Nan-ch'uan said: 'If you had been there, the cat would have been saved.' Chao-chou's action implied neither affirmation nor negation. In other words, it expressed the Void that is the only answer to any problem, and his pointing out the nonexistence of the problem constituted the saving word which was never spoken." (Saunders, 212-213)
"The Prajnaparamita-Sutras are studied today in Zen cloisters, and their concept of the ultimate Void of all things continues to influence Zen thinking." (Saunders, 204)
There are many negative implications of a philosophy like this for society. Chao-chou's disinterested response about the kitten, show a classical Buddhist detachment, combined with the Mahayana doctrine of the "Void of all things." This "ultimate Void" is in contrast with the belief of the Buddha-nature being in everything (see under Kegon about cosmotheism on page 4). As we've seen already though, logical coherence is not a priority in Zen.
The popular Zen author, D.T. Suzuki wrote, "Zen is neither monotheistic nor pantheistic; Zen defies all such designations...Zen defies all concept-making. That is why Zen is difficult to grasp." (Suzuki, 41-42) Suzuki then quotes Yengo (AD 1566- 1642) to help "define" what Zen is: "The great truth of Zen is possessed by everybody. Look into your own being and seek it not through others...In its light all is absorbed. Hush the dualism of subject and object, forget both, transcend the intellect, sever yourself from the understanding, and directly penetrate deeply into the identity of the Buddha-mind; outside of this there are no realities." (Suzuki, 46) Suzuki has contradicted himself by quoting Yengo's concept-making and designations for Zen, which he said Zen defies. In the quotation we also see the pantheistic statement, "In its [Zen's] light all is absorbed." A follower of Zen is supposed to "transcend the intellect," bringing a person to the very dangerous place of leaving logic and commonsense behind.
In the koan above, regarding a kitten, what if the case concerned a human baby, would there still be indifference shown and sandals worn on the head? In Keown's 1996 book he wrote, "In Japan...abortion is legal and around a million abortions are performed each year. This compares with a figure of 1.5 million for the United States, a country with over twice the population of Japan." (Keown, 102) America as a nation has also gone far from God and the compassion that should be shown to a baby in the womb. The problem with the view of indifference is that some things really are evil and some things really are good. If people go through life indifferent and detached (but ironically very attached to the view of indifference), this filter for life (also called the middle way of equanimity) will cause them to miss God who is ultimately good, and cause them not to avoid some things that really are evil.
Honen and Shinran: Pure Land Buddhism
This is by far the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan today. About 15.3 % of Japanese people in 2004 identified themselves as being Pure Land Buddhists. "While Amidism [Pure Land Buddhism] stressed salvation through others, i.e., through the Buddha Amida, Zen emphasized salvation within oneself. Every man has the Buddha-nature, and this nature is perceptible through a 'realization of self.' (Saunders, 228) "Amida's presence in the Tendai and Shingon sects testifies to his existence as an Esoteric divinity. Thus, like other Esoteric gods, Amida was an object of meditation...Merely calling on Amida's name (nembutsu), was not sufficient..." (Saunders, 189) This Tendai and Shingon emphasis (which like Zen involved much self-effort) changed through the influence of Honen and Shinran.
Honen (1133-1212) founded the Jodo sect of Pure Land. This was based on the idea that a person could call on the Amida Buddha's help to bring them into the Pure Land when they die. "A charismatic leader, he practiced what he preached- chanting the Nembutsu up to seventy thousand times a day- and drew disciples from all levels of society..." (Robinson, 254) Shinran (1173-1262) was a disciple of Honen. "We are told that he dreamed Kannon instructed him to study with Honen, which he began to do in 1201." (Saunders, 198) Shinran later had some dramatic visions, which eventually led him to found Shin Buddhism (a.k.a. Jodo Shinshu).
"After twenty years on Mount Hiei, grappling with the constraints of celibacy, he experienced a revelation, in which the Bodhisattva Kuan-yin (in Japanese, Kannon) appeared to him in a dream and promised to come to him in the form of a young woman who he should marry." (Robinson, 254) Shinran did get married and then had another revelation, "...that the saving grace of Amida required only one Nembutsu." (Robinson, 254)
"Shinran's doctrine, similar to Honen's, opened itself to all sorts of abuses and misinterpretations. His own son, Zenran, preached such an inflammatory version of the teaching as to make it an outright invitation to sin. Shinran eventually had to sever all relations with him." (Robinson, 255)
"Honen had thought that the greater the number of repetitions the greater the believer's chances of rebirth in the Pure Land." (Mason & Caiger, 164) Over the years there were many debates about whether one calling on Amida was sufficient or whether repetitive callings were necessary. Nowadays both schools are still in existence, but Shin Buddhism (one calling) is more popular. "China, Korea, and Vietnam decided in favor of combining devotion to Amita [Amida] with Ch'an [Zen] meditation (known in Korea as Son and in Vietnam as Thien), while Japan divided Pure Land and Zen into separate lineages." (Corless, 263)
Tao-ch'o (AD 562- 645) of China, "...is credited with the introduction of the rosary into Pure Land practice, with the aid of which both laypeople and monastic people notched up record numbers of nien fo [Nembutsu]." (Corless, 263) In contrast, Jesus said, "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking." (Matthew 6:7)
Although Shinran's devotion was primarily to Amida, he also paid respect to Kannon (which has the largest number of tall statues in Japan). From the picture given in Pure Land sutras, "On either side of him [Amida] are his chief bodhisattvas, the greatly compassionate Avalokitesvara [Kannon] and the greatly powerful Mahasthamaprapta..." (Corless, 253) However, both of these personalities (Amida and Kannon) date from after the time of Christ. And, they are not real historical figures, but inventions of hagiographers.
"Whereas Honen had stripped meditation and merit making away from the teaching, leaving only faith and the Nembutsu, Shinran stripped it down still further, leaving only faith in tariki (other-power), with no trace of jiriki (self-power) at all." (Robinson, 255) The well known Thai Buddhist scholar P.A. Payutto has said, "No matter where Buddhism spreads to, or how distorted the teaching becomes, this emphasis on human endeavor never varies. If this one principle is missing, we can confidently say that it is no longer Buddhism." (38) According to Payutto, Shin Buddhism should not even be called Buddhism, because of its complete lack of emphasis on self-effort.
Only One Savior
At first glance, Amida seems to fulfill the role that God does in Christianity- bringing salvation by grace and not by works. But there are some big differences between God Almighty and Amida: "[Amida]...is not unique in the universe as a whole, being only one of many Buddhas...he does not create, sustain, or destroy the universe as a whole, nor is he the ontological support...for the universe as a whole...he does not stand above the worshiper as an ontologically 'Higher Power'...his life is not infinite, since there was a time when he was not a Buddha." (Corless, 247-248)
Honen and Shinran were not the only ones to make changes to Pure Land doctrines. "These two points- recitation rather than meditation, and the inclusion of sinners with those who can benefit from Amitabha's [Amida's] vows- were the main Chinese departures from Indian Amitabha doctrines." (Robinson, 196) Over the years many changes have been made in Pure Land doctrine. Shin Buddhism has strayed not only from Pure Land doctrine, but has also strayed far from reality in following after a non-historical person who has no authority to save us. When we look for a doctor we look for good credentials and reliability. When we look for an insurance company we likewise look for reliability and trustworthiness.
When looking for a saviour we should not expect less. In fact, we should expect more. "I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour." (Isaiah 43:11) "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else." (Isaiah 45:22) "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11) There is only one God Almighty! God said "beside me there is no saviour," and yet Jesus is called "Saviour." This is because Jesus is God Almighty.
Jesus' salvation is far reaching, even promising salvation to the thief on the cross who put his faith in Him. This was not an empty promise. Jesus proved his authority when He rose from the dead. The historical records regarding the resurrection of Jesus from the dead are of the caliber that have brought many lawyers to faith in Jesus. "And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:39-43) Jesus can save someone from any walk of life. To read the story of how the granddaughter of a Shin Buddhist priest's daughter became a Christian, please see Appendix B.
Nichiren: Nichiren Buddhism
As of 2004, the various Nichiren sects accounted for about 13% of Japan's population. Nichiren (AD 1222-1282) also left the Tendai school, but focused exclusively on the Lotus Sutra to form his Buddhist sect. "Only the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren felt, contained the unadulterated True Dharma. All other Buddhist sects were wrong..." (Robinson, 256) "Nichiren's life followed the pattern of a Shinto shaman more than that of a Buddhist leader. He attracted a following largely through his courage and...his personality, which at times resembled that of a medium possessed." (Robinson, 256) "...the practice he [Nichiren] recommended was simplicity itself: the repetition of the daimoku (mantra) 'Namu My_h_ Renge Ky_'...Later he worked out a mandala [sacred picture] representing his beliefs, called the gohonzon, at which one was to stare while repeating one's declaration of homage." (Robinson, 256)
The name "Nichiren" which was not his original name, but is a name that he chose, means, "sun-lotus." "...nichi standing not only for the sunlight of true faith, but for Japan itself; ren, for the Lotus." (Saunders, 231) Nichiren also wrote a lot. "...these writings were devoted to exposing the errors of other sects, especially the Amidist and Zen, and later the Shingon and Ritsu. In fact, adverse criticism of these four branches became an integral part of Nichirenism." (Saunders, 233) "Although Nichiren promoted the doctrine of universal salvation, his school developed into the most exclusive and often militant group in Japanese religious history." (Michio, 273) Nichiren once said, "It is a great pity that they should have cut off the heads of the innocent Mongols and left unharmed the priests of Nembutsu [Pure Land], Shingon, Zen, and Ritsu, who are the enemies of Japan." (Mason & Caiger, 165)
"Nichiren presented his doctrines as complex meditations on the Lotus Sutra's teaching of the original Buddha-nature...placing faith in the conviction that the Eternal Buddha Sakyamuni, the truth of the Sutra, and all beings were ultimately one..." (Robinson, 256) This belief, like those of other schools in Japanese Buddhism (Kegon, Tendai, Shingon, and Zen), sounds very pantheistic.
For example in Tendai, "...there was the idea that all life, and not just human life, was basically the same; that is, an idea of underlying unity of existence...This teaching was based on the Lotus Sutra..." (Mason & Caiger, 102) Such a "unity of existence" and the supposed ultimate oneness of the Buddha and "all beings" can make no distinction between good and evil. It is pantheistic, saying that everything is one, which would include good and evil! Even though Nichiren tried to make distinctions of "right" and "wrong," based on the Lotus Sutra he had no grounds for doing so. Nichiren was not indifferent about what he thought was good or evil, but he had no standard within his system which was authoritative and separate from the evil of this universe. Only God almighty can provide that perfect standard.
In Kyoto there is a temple that has 1000 idols of Kannon. Surrounding these are 28 "protectors" of hers, many of which look like demons, some having snakes hanging out of their head or arms. Many of these 28 were taken straight from Hinduism. Doesn't that say something when a "deity" is being protected by demon-like beings? Demons certainly don't want to promote the truth. The Dalai Lama is said to be the manifestation of Kannon even though he is male, and usually Kannon is portrayed as female. "In China, Avalokitesvara [Kannon] was eventually represented as a woman." (Robinson, 108) By the way, the brand name "Canon" (cameras, printers, etc.) is also named after Kannon. (http://www.canon.com/about/history/outline.html)
Kannon receives much attention in the Lotus Sutra, going by the name of Avalokitesvara. In the Lotus Sutra, it is recorded that Avalokitesvara (Kannon) can change its form, becoming a woman, a boy or a girl, a garuda bird, or even a naga snake...(www.bdkamerica.org/digital/dbet_t0262_lotussutra_2007.pdf) "The Avalokitesvara Sutra was incorporated into the Lotus Sutra as late as the third century C.E." (Robinson, 108) "...Maitreya, Manjusri, and Avalokitesvara [Kannon]...These great beings are nonhistorical; there is no evidence that any of them is an apotheosis of a human hero...Strangely, no Sutra preaches devotion to a celestial bodhisattva until the third century C.E...." (Robinson, 105)
In Japan there are 10 statues of Kannon taller than the U.S. statue of liberty, and 32 statues of Kannon ranging in height from 17-100 meters. Sadly, millions of yen have been poured into this non-historical idol, while ignoring the One who really deserves our praise and attention, namely our Creator. God doesn't want to be worshipped with idols though, but in "spirit and in truth," as Jesus taught. Jesus' existence is very much confirmed in history. He performed miracles, led a perfect life, was raised from the dead, and his life was prophesied in hundreds of details in the Old Testament, hundreds and thousands of years before he came. Jesus said, "...I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6)
During this time, "All Buddhist sects aside from Soto and Rinzai [both Zen] had formed armed societies to protect their interests, only to be slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands, which destroyed Buddhism's credibility as an instrument for national unity." (Robinson, 257) Government headquarters were set up in Edo at this time (modern day Tokyo). From the Kamakura Period (1185) up until the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868), Japan was mostly ruled by shoguns. "...the long period of uneventful existence, of status quo, the absence of new ideas or challenges from abroad, were ultimately to sap the vitality of Buddhist institutions until, by the end of the Tokugawa period , their condition can at best be called apathetic." (Saunders, 247) "...at the beginning of the Meiji era , Buddhism was at its weakest. The years of stultification under Tokugawa control had terminated in the identification of the religion with the shogunal power...In 1867, the shogunate collapsed, and the next year Buddhism was disestablished and largely disendowed." (Saunders, 255)
The Meiji Restoration involved many aspects of society, but of course began with, "...restoring the emperor to his rightful position which had been usurped by the Fujiwara and a succession of shoguns." (Mason & Caiger, 258) The exaltation of Shintoism went hand in hand with the exaltation of the emperor. "The government proclaimed the adoption of Shinto as the national religion in 1870 under the name of Daikyo, or 'Great Doctrine.' A strong propagandist movement was initiated, and missionaries were sent throughout the land, whose duty it was to refute Confucianism and Buddhism and defend the concept of Shinto." (Saunders, 257)
After World War II, "...the emperor publicly denied his divinity...individuals were no longer bound by their family religion...[and] a policy of land distribution was enacted...The combined effect of these directives was to create, for the first time in Japanese history, a totally secular government; to give individuals total religious freedom." (Robinson, 264) Many new religions (shinko shukyo) sprung up. On the other hand, "Polls indicate that large numbers of Japanese do not view themselves as belonging to any particular group." (Robinson, 265)
Soka Gakkai Buddhism is an offshoot within Nichiren Buddhism. It began in 1938 and is based on Nichiren’s teachings. "The sect recommends the traditional Nichiren practice of chanting...although the purpose of the chant is to attain this-worldly goals: Job promotion, financial success, family harmony, and the alleviation of physical and psychological ills." (Robinson, 265) "The Gohonzon scroll is the religious core of the Soka Gakkai faith." (Dumoulin, 259)
"The personal character of the religion is particularly apparent in the spirituality of President Ikeda, who teaches the faithful to pray daily: 'Gohonzon, help me to accomplish this today.'" (Dumoulin, 259) "Among the many mandalas created by Nichiren to represent symbolically the total content of his teachings- that is, absolute reality according to the vision of the Lotus Sutra- one [the Gohonzon] is accorded special importance by the Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai...a scroll upon which Chinese ideograms are written in vertical order..." (Dumoulin, 258- 259) Dumoulin, in visiting the Daisekiji temple, writes, "...I was not only touched by the intense conviction of the young people there, devoid of all human fear, but I also felt that their disposition unmistakably exhibited a personal relationship with the Gohonzon." (Dumoulin, 259)
David Hesselgrave, writing about a disagreement between Soka Gakkai Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism (their umbrella organization at that time) says, "Built a quarter century ago at a cost of $100,000,000 (well over twice that figure at today's exchange rate), the Shohondo [a main hall on Nichiren temple grounds, but largely built by Sokka Gakkai donations] was one of the most impressive buildings in the Buddhist world. And yet, in spite of the pleas and protests of prominent architects, politicians and religious leaders of various persuasions, a Nichiren Buddhist priest had spent $35,000,000 to have it demolished!...Power struggles and factionalism finally reached a climax in 1991 when High Priest Abe took the radical step of excommunicating Ikeda [Soka Gakkai's president] and all his followers."
Conflict between Nichiren and Soka Gakkai went back further to after World War II when Soka Gakkai president Toda, forced one of the Nichiren monks in 1952 to sign a declaration of guilt. "This particular monk was blamed for the suppression of the Soka Gakkai during the war, and for Makiguchi's death [the founder of Soka Gakkai] in prison, because as a leader he had favored syncretism with Shinto, the state religion, as well as an organizational merger with other Nichiren sects from Mount Minobu." (Dumoulin, 258) This conflict aside, Soka Gakkai members focus on the Gohonzon, which Dumoulin was told was, "...nothing other than the presence of the holy Buddha Nichiren." (Dumoulin, 259) Having a relationship with a scroll, which is supposed to invoke the presence of Nichiren, a dead man, whose personality, "at times resembled that of a medium possessed," (Robinson, 256) is spiritually dangerous to say the least. More on this later, when discussing "familiar spirits."
Reiki was a Japanese adaptation of some Hindu ideas (e.g. chakras- the seven energy centers). In 1922 Mikao Usui, after going through a Buddhist training course, said he received a revelation regarding Reiki. It's a method that aims to bring healing through "supernatural influence." "...many nurses, counselors, and especially massage therapists use Reiki as a supplement to their work." (Yungen, 95) "Reiki came to the United States (from Japan) in the mid 1970s. It took about twenty years for this particular practice to reach 500,000 practitioners....By the year 2005, the number skyrocketed to an astonishing one million practitioners in just the U.S.!" (Yungen, 13) Reiki claims to have 5 million followers worldwide. (http://www.reiki.ne.jp/reiki_japan/en.html)
"...many Reiki practitioners report having verbalized channeled communications with the spirit world." (Yungen, 97) In Reiki, guidance is given by spirits, called "Reiki guides." One Reiki master wrote of her experience, "For me, the Reiki guides make themselves the most felt while attunements are being passed. They stand behind me and direct the whole process, and I assume they also do this for every Reiki master. When I pass attunements, I feel their presence strongly and constantly. Sometimes I can see them." (Yungen, 95)
Reiyu-kai, was founded in 1925, as an offshoot of Nichiren. In 1963, they claimed to have 3.6% of the Japanese population as members. Presently, they have about five million members worldwide (http://reiyukaiglobal.org/introduction.php). "It is based on the Lotus Sutra and stresses filial piety and duty towards ancestors." (Saunders, 281) "...ancestor worship is the core of its teaching and practice. Easily understood by the common man, it gives him access to the world of spirits and souls which the shamanistic cofounder mediated to her following." (Dumoulin, 241)
Funerals and Spirits
"...traditional Buddhism has lost much of its appeal, except as a relic of Japan's cultural past. 'Funeral Buddhism' is the name that many people use to refer to the traditional sects, in light of the ritual role to which many of the priests have been reduced." (Robinson, 265) "Many temples have become funeral institutions, whose administrators concern themselves primarily with well-paid rites for the dead." (Dumoulin, 217). "As a means of gaining their [provincial samurai and the peasantry] allegiance Soto [a school of Zen] assimilated a certain amount of popular beliefs and rituals but devised, above all, funeral and memorial services for the dead, a trait that was to become one of the characteristic features of almost all Buddhist schools in Japan." (Noriyoshi, 169)
"The time-honored ritual of sutra copying (shakyo), still popular among Jodo, Shingon, and Tendai followers, is undertaken to bring repose to the spirits of the dead, accumulate merit for the practitioner, and deepen faith in the sutra copied." (Unno, 323) Also related to bringing "repose to the spirits of the dead" is the Obon festival. "...it [Ullambana, known in Japan as Obon] began in the sixth century in China and soon after was introduced to Japan...the origin of the Ullambana ceremony is found in the legend of Moggallana...who through transcendental vision saw his mother suffering in Avici hell. In order to save her he followed the advice of Sakyamuni Buddha and practiced charity by feeding hundreds of monks." (Unno, 320) This story is a very late invention, not being in the Pali Canon, which in and of itself already contains many legends. It comes from a text, "made in China," called the, "...Ullambana Sutra (a text composed in China)..." (Robinson, 215) "...much of the content of the Ullambana festival is non-Buddhist in origin." (Unno, 320-321) The main purpose of the Obon festival is, "...aiding the dead in their proper journey, keeping them from becoming malevolent and thereby dangerous to the living." (Robinson, 215)
Involvement with spirits is a trademark of many Japanese Buddhist sects. Shintoism, being an animistic religion, also involves ceremonies to appease spirits, ask them for blessings, etc. In the Bible, "familiar spirits" are actually devils. God forbids us to invoke or communicate with them, because they are deceivers. When people die, they don't float around in this world. "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment..." (Hebrews 9:27) There is nothing we can do for those who have died already. Whatever they have done in their lives will be judged by God, whose judgment is perfect and fair.
The spirits that are in the spiritual realm of this world are not deceased family members, but are either angels or devils. If we are NOT submitted to God and adopted into God's family, then we are in danger of deception by devils pretending to be merciful and powerful beings. They try to take people's attention away from God, and towards bondage to spiritual lies. Even those who are Christians and part of God’s family are told to be careful. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." (I John 4:1) The word "try" here means "put on trial"- to test. We do this by comparing their message with the standard of the Bible. God made it very clear that we are not to seek spiritual direction from anywhere apart from His Word. "There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee." (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
Isaiah, who lived about 700 years before Christ, rebuked the people for seeking dead spirits instead of God Almighty. "And when they shall say unto you, seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (Isaiah 8:19-20) God has authority over every spirit, so we need not be troubled by any lesser spirits. We can simply submit ourselves to God almighty, and He will lead our lives.
If we found a computer mouse laying on the road, would anyone doubt that it has a maker? A computer mouse cannot make itself. Even though we may not see the maker, the computer mouse itself is evidence that points to it having a creator. People have factories for making computer mice. But, people have no factories for making real mice. A computer mouse is impressive in that it can transmit information via it's "tail" to the computer, or in some types, the mouse has no tail and can transmit information "remotely." But, a real mouse has its own brain with which it can transmit commands to its body.
Although we normally would think of a computer mouse as being "high-tech," seeing that people can make these, but cannot make real mice, we should actually call a computer mouse "low tech" and a real mouse "high tech." Only God can make a real mouse! Although we don't see God, the mouse itself is evidence that it has a Creator. Being far more complex than a computer mouse, it cannot make itself, nor randomly come into being without a Designer. God created people, too, but He created people in His own image, different from the animals. Monkeys don't have police monkeys, nor courtrooms, nor prisons, nor libraries, nor philosophers, etc. They follow instinct. People have the freedom to choose right or wrong. People will one day be held responsible by God for what they have done with their lives and how they have responded to God their Creator.
Right now, the tallest statue on earth is an idol of the Vairocana Buddha in China, which stands at 128 meters. Compared to God Almighty, that statue is like a tiny piece of dust. How could people fit the Almighty God who made everything, into an idol made by people? Even if people could make an idol 8000 meters tall, with its head in the clouds, or 12,000 meters tall, with its head peering above the clouds, that is still tiny, compared to God Almighty. "Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?" (Isaiah 66:1)
In Japanese Buddhism, the Vairocana Buddha is exalted as a solar deity, and in Shintoism, Amaterasu Omikami is exalted as the sun goddess. Is the sun a worthy object of our worship? The universe itself is also said to be a manifestation of Vairocana. Is the universe a worthy object of our worship? The sun truly is massively big and amazing. But, compared to the rest of the universe it is likewise tiny. The sun and the universe point to God's incredible design. God almighty is separate from His creation and awesomely greater than it. The universe is also still under the curse brought about through sin, and is thus only an imperfect reflection of God's power. We should worship the Creator, not the creation.
Jason Lisle gives us some insight about the sun and our universe, "The sun is about 400 times more distant than the moon. Remarkably, it is also 400 times larger. So it has the same angular size as the moon- meaning it appears the same size and covers the same portion of the sky [making the moon the perfect size to eclipse the sun]... If it [the sun] were hollow, it could hold over 1 million earths...When we consider the immensity of the Milky Way, with its 100 billion stars...the overwhelming power of the Creator becomes clear. Yet, our galaxy is not the only one...It is estimated that there are at least as many galaxies as there are stars in the Milky Way (100 billion)."
As incredibly large as the universe is (making the sun seem tiny), God almighty is even greater than the universe He created. "Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD." (Jeremiah 23:24)
The large vehicle of Buddhism (Mahayana Buddhism) is expressed in a large variety of ways and is practiced in Japan, China and elsewhere. Within this large vehicle there are schools of thought that are completely opposite of one another, but they are still considered to be part of Mahayana, since they cater to a larger group of people as opposed to Hinayana (the "small vehicle") for which enlightenment is seen as something few people can attain (Theravada is the only surviving school of Hinayana). Mahayana had a later start historically, mystically adding many new ideas to an already faulty system (Hinayana). In this paper, we've seen some of the shortcomings of the large vehicle in Japan.
Shingon and the other schools which emphasize a pantheistic type of view implode on themselves when we consider that if all is included (which Shingon especially is very clear about, and other schools hint at), then evil also is included in the "Buddha-nature." Zen relies on the silent sermon and the "beyond logic" approach, defeating itself with any attempt to communicate anything. Shin Buddhism sees the vanity of self-effort, but suggests believing in a limited and imaginary being to help. The various Nichiren schools have an equally unreliable foundation in the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra was composed around AD 200 (Robinson, 85), but claims to be a final sermon of Gautama Buddha, which makes it about 600 years too late to be credible. Various other schools of thought which call on the "spirits of the dead" are likewise limited and in the dark, not knowing that these are actually deceiving spirits they are calling on. Besides this, no lesser spirit can help us find eternal salvation. God is almighty. Because He is almighty He expects us to put all of our faith in Him, not 50% in Him and 50% in something else.
If we compare any of these schools of thought to a "vehicle" which is supposed to save us and get us to heaven, they are like vehicles that have no gasoline, or no tires, or are only imaginary, having no ability to take us anywhere. People have factories for making nice vehicles for the roads here on earth, but we have no factory to make a vehicle to get us to heaven. Only God almighty can bring a person to heaven, and that must be on His terms, which are revealed in the Bible through Jesus Christ.
Tokichi Ishii, a former criminal, became a Christian in 1916. He wrote the following words: "Again, chaplains and pastors, and those who see men die, agree that the last words a man utters come from the depths of his soul, and that he does not die with lies upon his lips. Jesus' last words were, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do, and so I cannot but believe that they reveal his true heart." "What did the verse reveal to me? Shall I call it the love of the heart of Christ? Shall I call it His compassion? I do not know what to call it. I only know that with an unspeakably grateful heart, I believed. Through this simple sentence I was led into the whole of Christianity." (Ishii, 36)
Christianity is not just a good idea, but is confirmed with historical and prophetic evidence. This is essential. Experiences, dreams, or even visions are not proof of spiritual reality. Such "evidences" would be thrown out of a court of law very quickly. What we have in Christianity are not only life transforming and wonderful truths about Jesus and His teachings, but also the kind of evidence that can be proven in a court of law. God our Creator deserves all of our worship and faith. Will you come to Jesus and put your faith in Him today? "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (I John 5:11-12)
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Japan has a land mass that is smaller than California, but a population over 3 times that of California. The entire population of the United States is only about 2.5 times that of Japan. In other words, about half of the United States could move into the state of California, and this would be roughly the population density of Japan. In spite of being a fairly small nation compared to other nations (but with a large and very diligent work force), Japan has done very well economically. "...the generally sustained increase in annual production has raised Japan to a position where, today, it comes second to only one other nation, the United States, in economic strength." (Mason & Caiger, 361, copyright 1997). More recently China has moved into the number 2 spot, but Japan is still number 3 in the world (as measured by GDP).
In this situation of economic strength, many people's hearts in Japan, China, and America have decided to follow money instead of God almighty. "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." (Luke 16:13-15)
In Dale Saunders' book "Buddhism in Japan," he cites two other books dated 1960 and 1963, showing the number of members of the various Buddhist sects in Japan. Between 1960-65 the population of Japan was about 95.85 million people. Using the statistics from Saunders' book, but as a percentage of the total population, here are the seven most popular Buddhist sects at that time: Jodo Shin (also known as Shin Buddhism) 14.9%, Soka Gakkai 10.4%, Zen 9.6%, Jodo (the predecessor of Jodo Shin) 3.7%, Reiyukai 3.6% [an offshoot of Nichiren], Shingon 3.1%, and Nichiren 2.3%. Also reflecting the popularity of Shin Buddhism, a book published in 1918 ("A Gentleman in Prison") states that all prison chaplains at that time were Shin priests (Ishii, 49).
The 1960/1963 statistics show that about 56.77% of the population of Japan was Buddhist. Statistics from 1995 show that about 69.6% of the population was Buddhist and 93.1% of the population was Shinto. Christians accounted for 1.2% and other religions for 8.1% of the population (Encyclopedia Britannica). Clearly there is an overlap between those who consider themselves to be Buddhist and those who consider themselves to be Shinto. Many people consider themselves to be followers of both Shintoism and Buddhism. These two religions have a history of syncretism with each other, though at times forcible distinctions were made.
Comparing these statistics with more recent ones in 2004, we see that about 44% of the population considered themselves to be Buddhist, based on a population at that time of 127.6 million people. Nara religions accounted for 0.56% of the population, Zen 2.6%, Tendai 2.7%, Shingon 9.9%, Nichiren 13%, and Pure Land 15.3% (O'Brien). It seems that Soka Gakkai, Reiyukai, and Nichiren are all included under the heading of Nichiren here. Also, Jodo and Shin Buddhism seem to be included under the heading of Pure Land Buddhism. In summary, Jodo, Shin Buddhism and schools based on Nichiren's exaltation of the Lotus Sutra were still the most popular, with Shingon Buddhism, Tendai Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism also accounting for a large percentage of followers.
The tallest statue in the world presently is in China and is of the Vairocana Buddha, which stands at 128 meters. Japan has 10 idols of Kannon that are taller than the U.S. statue of liberty (which is 46 meters tall). The tallest statue in Japan is the Amida (Amitabha) Buddha at 110 meters. Of all the Buddhist statues in Japan ranging from 13 meters to 110 meters tall, the top four types are as follows: Vairocana Buddha (3 statues), Kukai (4 statues), Amida Buddha (4 statues), and Kannon (32 statues). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_statues_by_height). The massive amount of money that is poured into these statues tells us something about where people's hearts are at. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:21)
The popularity of various statues gives a slightly different picture compared to the popularity of the various Buddhist sects. With the popularity of Shin Buddhism, we would expect there to be more statues of Amida. Kannon is overwhelmingly the most popular statue, but it doesn't even have a sect dedicated solely to it. Kannon features prominently in the Lotus Sutra though, which Soka Gakkai, Nichiren, Reiyukai, and Tendai all exalt. Shin and Jodo Buddhism also give a place to Kannon, next to Amida. Vairocana is the central Buddha of the Shingon sect. And, Kukai (AD 774-835) was the founder of the Shingon sect. So, in a way this distribution does make sense.
(Thank you Geoff and Fumie Toole of Moriel Japan for recording this.)
Praise the Lord. About 30 years ago there was a pastor who had been a teacher in my son’s school. He saw that society had given up taking care of children’s souls. Realizing that the training of the soul was important, as opposed to only teaching academic subjects, he quit teaching and ended up studying in a theological college to become a pastor. My son also attended his church and one day he visited me at home. He invited me to come to church and shared with me the following scripture.
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
But I thought that it would be impossible for me to go to church. Actually my grandmother was the daughter of a Buddhist priest [Jodo Shinshu]. As a child I had gone to Buddhist Sunday school, learned to recite the "Okyo" Buddhist chants and learned stories about the Buddha. I repeated the Buddhist chants each morning and evening. On top of that, our lives were saved by returning to my grandmother’s temple in the countryside just before my house was burned and destroyed during the war in Hiroshima. They had looked after us during the war, so I felt that I could not turn away from their religion...I was always against my son’s faith.
Even in the days following the war in Japan, every day was a struggle with my children and family. Everything had been burned down and all resources had been lost. Somehow we managed to live day to day. In search of some solution to my problems, I bought a Zen book and read it but it didn’t contain the answers I was looking for. I finally thought (after many years) I would go along with my son to church one day.
The first church I went to was Nishinomiya Baptist Church. There was a wonderful American missionary couple there who taught great things about the Bible. It was wonderful for me to see all the smiling faces and to be in such a happy environment. I learned that God had given Jesus Christ to a world lost in sin to die in my place for my sins. My small, narrow heart which had long been troubled was turned 180 degrees and filled with light.
I don’t know how many people’s hearts have been saved by the many words God has left us in the Bible. I am so grateful that Japan has become a nation which legally recognizes freedom of religion so that even people like myself can freely go to church. Ever since then I have looked forward to going to church each week on Sunday and now I find that I am 90 years old. I greatly enjoy living each day in good health and in God’s care. As I look back on my life there have been many struggles, but the words of the Bible have always given me the answers. I give thanks to the Name of the Lord for all things.
Having lived in Asia for about 15 years now, I have many friends who are Buddhists. Most of the Buddhists I know are very patient and friendly people. However, Buddhism is a man-made religion which is like a shield, preventing people from knowing God's ways for their lives and keeping them in bondage to evil spirits instead. As limited human beings we need more than just "man-made" help. We need a Savior who is alive today and who can show us the way to salvation and freedom. That Saviour is the God who made us, and who knows everything about us. If you are a Buddhist, I have some questions for you. I hope these questions will lead you to consider God's love for you, and also your need to be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ so that you will have everlasting life with Him in heaven.
- Do you know the owner of heaven?
- What's the Difference Between Karma and Sin?
- If anatta is true (no self), WHO is to say what is right or wrong?
- Do you know what the Buddha taught about women?
- Do you know why your life is very valuable?
- What's the difference between meditating, praying, and chanting?
- Would you like to have a sure and stable refuge in your life?
- What did the Buddha teach about science?
- Is the Pali Canon Historically Reliable?
- Do you want to know what the Bible says about life?s
In Buddhist cosmology there are said to be 31 realms of existence, including various heavens, hells, the earth, etc. None of these 31 realms are "nirvana" though, because all of these realms are said to be prone to impermanence and suffering. Many of the Buddhists I've talked to are hoping to go to heaven. Their goal is not nirvana, but heaven. Of course there are others whose goal is nirvana, but these are in the minority. This pursuit of heaven or nirvana is impersonal in Buddhism.
In Buddhism, a Creator God is not acknowledged. Although many people want to go to heaven, it is usually thought of in impersonal terms, without anyone being the owner of heaven. Morality is made impersonal by the concept of "karma," and heaven is also made impersonal, just existing without anyone being in charge. When asked if a person will go to heaven or not, many people answer that it's up to their karma. They don't say that it's up to God.
However, a place that is as awesome as heaven must have an owner. Here on this earth we see many of the evidences for God's amazing design in creation. And, we see that even humble homes have an owner. If we have not received permission from the owner, we cannot enter.
In Shin Buddhism, which is totally different from most forms of Buddhism, the owner of heaven is said to be the Amida Buddha. His credentials are totally lacking in authority though. The first idol of Amida is from the second century AD. Amida is not even a historical person and none of this religion's claims come with any proof. Believing in Amida would be on the same level as putting one's faith in Batman, or Spiderman. Both Amida and Spiderman are the products of people's imaginations. Only God, who is the Creator of people, has the power and authority to offer heaven to those who come to Him on His terms.
The question remains though- "Do you know the owner of heaven?" It is logical to say that heaven has an owner, just as dwellings here on this earth have owners. Heaven being so much more awesome and so much more perfect must have someone who is maintaining the perfection and the awesomeness thereof. Here on this earth if a place has no owner, it will naturally follow the second law of thermodynamics and decay, and become run down. Heaven is a perfect and everlasting place with no sorrows nor decay.
To maintain these qualities of heaven requires someone who is Almighty and who is Himself perfect. This also means that to enter heaven means that one must come there on His terms. He has given these terms through Jesus Christ, who is Immanuel (God with us). No amount of good deeds will get a person to heaven. Only coming into a relationship with the Creator will ensure entrance into heaven. Jesus said, "...Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)
Childers in his Pali Dictionary, presents a very definitive answer to what nibbanam (nirvana) is. He states, “But a creed which begins by saying that existence is suffering, must end by saying that release from existence is the highest good, and accordingly we find that annihilation is the goal of Buddhism, the supreme reward held out to the faithful observer of its precepts.” (265) “Annihilation” may not be the best choice of words here, but for another reason than one might think. Walpola Rahula, points out, “Nirvana is definitely no annihilation of self, because there is no self to annihilate. If at all, it is the annihilation of the illusion, of the false idea of self.” (37)
Rahula also states that nirvana is ceasing to exist: “There is a word parinibbuto used to denote the death of the Buddha or an Arahant who has realized Nirvana, but it does not mean ‘entering into Nirvana’. Parinibbuto simply means ‘fully passes away’, ‘fully blown out’ or ‘fully extinct’, because the Buddha or an Arahant has no re-existence after his death.” (41)
In a discussion of whether nirvana is taught as a state of bliss or cessation in the Pali Canon, Jones comments, “If this is the case [nirvana as bliss], I can find no basis for it in the Four Nikayas. So far as I am aware, there is not one word in the Four Nikayas which lends support to the idea of nibbana as some positive, transcendent state of bliss.” (152) In a footnote to this discussion, Jones brings to light the most commonly held view among Theravada scholars: “It is interesting to note that, while Jayatilleke, 1963, pp. 475f, does adopt a transcendentalist view of nibbana, his former pupil Kalupahana, 1976, pp. 87f, rebukes him for this and reasserts the more commonly (in Theravada circles) held cessationist view.” (202)
A.L. Herman in his article “Two Dogmas of Buddhism,” points out other difficulties with nirvana. “The dilemma of nirvana holds that if nirvana is seen negatively as the total absence of passion and desire and feeling then this is tantamount to being dead, and who wants to pursue a goal that leads to death? Nirvana is suicide on this first interpretation. On the other hand, if nirvana is seen positively as the presence of peace and tranquility wherein all that I desire is fulfilled then desire is not ended or blown out and the whole intent of nirvana is contradicted: nirvana is inconsistent on this second interpretation. But, the dilemma of nirvana continues, nirvana must be seen either negatively or positively; there is no third alternative. The conclusion of the dilemma is then that nirvana is either suicidal obliteration or inconsistent continuance.” (170)
Herman concludes with this somber note: “The effect of retaining these ill-founded dogmas in the face of these philosophic problems would be (has been) to move Buddhism away from empirical truth and reason and closer to either ‘a questionable pragmatism,’ where truth is measured by sheer usefulness, or towards ‘a non-rationalism and mysticism’ where truth is abandoned altogether.... ’a questionable pragmatism’ and ‘a non-rationalism and mysticism,’ were precisely the routes subsequently taken respectively by Southern or Theravada Buddhism, on the one hand, and Northern or Mahayana, Buddhism, on the other.” (174)
Instead of exiting from existence, Jesus Christ offers a way to quench thirst in order to live meaningfully and eternally: "Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:13-14). Jesus is the owner of heaven. Do you know Him?
The system of Karma is one which has an appeal to people at the popular level, making it seem that everything that happens is based on what is deserved-- if you do good, you receive good; if you do evil, you receive evil. The supposed effects of karma are listed clearly in the Pali Canon (Middle Length Sayings III, p. 248- 253) The causes of a short life, illnesses, ugliness, being of little account, poverty, being in a lowly family, and being weak in wisdom, are spelled out for us- these things are supposedly due to bad deeds, words or thoughts done in previous lives. This is the way karma explains inequalities in life- according to what people deserve. In this system the poor deserve to be poor, and the rich deserve to be rich, etc. This type of thinking seems to place the crippled person in the same category as a criminal in jail, and the person with material possessions, in the hero category. Are these conclusions really warranted?
The system of karma supposes that a good deed can make up for a bad deed, like a bank account of merit which could be added to or taken from. Biblically speaking, morality is not like a bank account which can be balanced out subtracting bad deeds from good deeds, or vice versa. Rather, morality is love in action in our various relationships, based on God's laws. Children have certain obligations to respect their parents, as parents have obligations to care for their children, etc. If a husband cheats on his wife, but then gives his wife a wonderful present, will he have amended his violation as if it were a business deal? There is such a thing as forgiveness in relationships, but morality is not just an impersonal formula that can be treated as a bank account. Likewise, if a person admitted to murder, but then told the judge that even though he had committed the murder, he had also given his life’s savings to a widow, would that judge cancel the punishment for the murder? He had violated his obligation to love his neighbor (whom he murdered). The crime of murder would still be punished, no matter how many good deeds the person had done.
Conversely, if a person lives an upright life and follows all of the laws of the land, does the government then send this person a reward for their good behavior? That person was simply fulfilling their obligations, so while the government would be appreciative, they would simply see the person as behaving as they should. They don’t get any bonus points for that. Violations count against us, but good behavior is simply expected. Even if a person does one hundred good deeds, but one bad deed, they have fulfilled their duty one hundred times, but have one violation on their record. What would we think of an employer who pays their employees 100 times, but the time after that doesn’t pay them, because of their supposed merit in already paying 100 times?
The biblical system is an entirely personal one. Positive or negative morals cannot be separated from relationships as being mere “points.” It is all relational. The laws of the Bible are summed up in two commands-- love God and love people. To reject morals is to rebel against a person-- the One who created life. First comes the law and thus a realization of the extent of violations. With that realization, comes a realization of the love of Christ, who being innocent died on the cross for our sins. With that realization comes a yielding to Jesus Christ. "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24) Then things that were once “obligations,” become things which are welcome: "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” (John 15:15)
On the other hand, to embrace morality, but to reject God is like refusing a ride from a ship going across the ocean and trying to swim that incredible distance. The Bible describes such a person as cursed, because they depend on their own abilities and not on God: "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." (Galatians 3: 10). When our faith is in Christ the violations that were against us are nailed to the cross.
In our world we have personal beings, but no admission is made in Buddhism of a personal beginning of our universe. Can something personal come from something impersonal? Take a rock for example. A rock is impersonal. Can a personal being come from this impersonal rock? Furthermore, morality is personal (rocks don’t have morality), and yet karma is said to be an impersonal force. John Jones sums up the dilemma. "The morality of karmic consequences seems to call in question the strictly impersonal nature of karmic processes since, if these are moral processes, the only type of morality for which we have empirical evidence is that associated with personality. There is thus a tension between the impersonal and the moral attributes of karma." (Jones, 37).
Ultimately every sin is done against God (Psalm 51:4), because God is the owner of every person in the world. Therefore when people sin against someone they are sinning against a person that belongs to God. Just as a father would be offended if his children were sinned against, so God is wronged when we sin against others. And, because every sin is done against God, therefore only God has the right to forgive us our sins. Also, because God is perfectly good, only He has the right to tell us what is right or wrong. We could say that God is the owner of people, morality, and forgiveness. Just as we cannot enter a house without knowing the owner, we cannot properly understand people, morality, or forgiveness without God.
Walpola Rahula, in “What the Buddha Taught” writes, “…the Buddha denied categorically, in unequivocal terms, in more than one place, the existence of Atman, Soul, Self, or Ego within man or without, or anywhere else in the universe.” (Rahula, 56-57). In spite of the doctrine of anatta (no self), self is still made into a "refuge." Buddhism says that “One is one’s own refuge.” In 1950, the not yet prime minister of Ceylon, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, declared before the World Fellowship of Buddhists that man is free to decide for himself regarding what is right and wrong, without reference to God's will. "The Buddha preached that ultimate freedom of man when the human mind need not be subject even to the will of God, and man was free to decide for himself what was right or wrong…" (Swearer, 117)
With a philosophy like this, he should not have been surprised that three years after being elected as prime minister, someone did decide for himself what was right by shooting and fatally wounding him (he was elected in 1956 and assassinated in 1959). That someone was not a Hindu Tamil, whom his government had marginalized, but a fellow Buddhist, who was a monk. He simply followed Bandaranaike’s advice and decided for himself.
Buddhism does not usually advocate violence or immorality, but it does create a vacuum in people, where the anchor is cast off, and “self” becomes the center. The World Buddhist Sangha Council in 1981 made the statement, “Whether Therav_da or Mah_y_na, we do not believe that this world is created and ruled by a god at his will.” In the 1981 statement it was also said: “….nothing is absolute, permanent and everlasting in this universe." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_ Points_Unifying_the_Theravada_and_the_Mahayana) In saying that there is no God and that, “…nothing is absolute, permanent and everlasting in this universe,” it leaves a pretty weak foundation on which to build any system of morality.
In the midst of this impersonal Buddhist system people still hunger for personal contact with the spiritual world. Unfortunately, this leads many times to idolatry. Idolatry ironically though reinforces an impersonal way of dealing with things. Idolatry is likened to prostitution in the Bible. Prostitution is the taking of something very personal and turning it into just a business deal of two people using each other. Idolatry also promotes just using something or someone rather than having a personal and loving relationship. “My people seek advice from their wooden idols, and their rod declares to them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to go astray, and they have gone lusting away from under their God. They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains, and burn incense on the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because its shade is good. So your daughters shall be harlots, and your brides shall commit adultery.” (Hosea 4: 12- 13)
We cannot just decide for ourselves what is right or wrong as the former prime minister of Ceylon declared. Sometimes the laws of the land themselves are immoral, such as some of the laws in Germany during Hitler’s regime. In this case the country’s laws are acting like a renegade policeman, demanding immoral/optional things or prohibiting moral things. Buddhism itself is like a renegade policeman, because it is making up its own rules without having the authority to do so.
Any system which disregards God, must ultimately rest its morality on human opinion alone. This is the predicament of Buddhism. Many teachers may espouse lofty and humanitarian ideals, but these are only opinions with no authority to back them up. Other teachers, because of this lack of authority don’t bother to emphasize morality, at least not an absolute one. “....[Shunryu] Suzuki-roshi declined to establish an ethical code for his students, on the rationale that ethics were relative to culture. Such a code, he said, would have to be developed gradually over time through trial and error....” (Robinson, 304) Just as this teacher of Zen Buddhism did, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher also downplayed the importance of morality. “Trungpa viewed ethical norms as part of the ‘bureaucracy of the ego’ that meditation was intended to overthrow….Trungpa’s writings…were quite popular, and his frank rejection of ethical norms notorious.” (Robinson, 304- 5)
In both of the above cases, the results were predictable. “Suzuki-roshi died in 1971, and Chogyam Trungpa in 1987. Both had appointed American Dharma heirs shortly after their deaths; both of their heirs quickly became involved in sex scandals and were eventually removed from their appointed organizations. Soon similar scandals in other Zen, Son, and Tibetan centers, involving Asian as well as American teachers, brought home that these were not isolated instances but part of a general pattern…” (Robinson, 306)
In spite of teaching that there is no soul (no permanent person to receive the rewards or punishments of their deeds), but that there is rebirth, Sakyamuni Buddha still held to a conviction that the universe is not amoral. Concerning Buddha’s conviction that this is a moral universe, Jones concludes: “He could not claim that this conviction had a sound basis in the rational, analytical part of his teaching; indeed, it would seem to me not too strong to say that there is a hopelessly irreconcilable contradiction between the two” (Jones, 36).
Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer wrote, “If you begin with an impersonal, no matter how you phrase that impersonal, there is no meaning for morals.” (37). Schaeffer also wrote, “We must understand at this point that Plato was absolutely right. He held that unless you have absolutes you have no morals. Here is the complete answer to Plato’s dilemma, he spent his time trying to find a place to root his absolutes, but he was never able to do so because his gods were not enough. But here is the infinite-personal God who has a character from which all evil is excluded and so His character is the moral absolute of the universe.” (42)
Plato’s situation was similar to that of the Buddha. The Buddha rejected the absolute and personal God and thus could not justify his conviction of there being such a thing as morals. Impersonal karma cannot account for personal morality. The world we live in is amazingly fitted to correspond to itself in a way that does not come about just by a random, impersonal beginning.
Trees and plants put out oxygen and take in carbon dioxide. Humans and animals do just the opposite. Our stomachs are able to digest and use the food we find all around us. We have eyes, and we also have the corresponding light needed to use these. The migration instincts of birds correspond to the way the geography of our world is laid out. We also have a sense of morality which is built into our human make-up, which evolution or an impersonal beginning cannot explain. Human morality is different from what we see in the animal world. Animals don’t have police or courtrooms or prisons. It would be absurd to try to enforce morality on animals. It would be equally absurd to let go of all morals among humans, or to make up our own morals. We were made as moral beings. Only God has the authority and absolute wisdom necessary to tell us what is right or wrong.
In reading various articles from Buddhist journals, websites and books, there are a variety of theories of ethics which are proposed for Buddhism. Buddhists can propose a variety of systems for being good, but ultimately what defines good in these systems is just human opinion. Personal morality cannot come from an impersonal force. Instead, Buddhists, who are personal beings have made up their own morality. This does not carry with it any ultimate authority though, and it does not take into account our Creator who does have authority to teach us what is good.
According to the Pali Canon, it is said that someone can be born as a woman in one life and then as a man in the next, etc. But, nowhere in the 500 plus Jataka lives, nor elsewhere in the Pali Canon, does Sakyamuni appear as a woman. Jones writes, “The most striking single fact is that, in spite of the tremendous diversity of forms which the bodhisatta assumes, he never once appears as a woman or even as a female animal. Even when he appears as a tree-spirit or fairy, he is always masculine.” (20) His close friend Ananda who appears in many of his lives, appears only once as a woman (Jones, 113).
Going further, Jones contrasts the doctrine of the Jatakas with the Pali Canon in general: “But whereas the corrupting influence of an evil woman is the norm in the Jatakas, virtuous women being merely exceptions which prove the rule, the possibility of a friend’s becoming a corrupting influence is so remote that it is hardly ever mentioned. This differs from the canonical position. There, unquestionably, sex and marriage are bad, but so are love and friendship, since these involve one in personal attachments and painful (or potentially painful) emotions. The only love which the canon can bless is that which is quite detached and general; a ‘boundless friendly mind for all creatures’.” (115)
Commenting on one of these virtuous women, Jones writes, “That rare thing in the Jataka stories, a virtuous woman, owes her virtue to merit acquired in a former birth- as a male!” (43) In the Pali Canon itself, the depiction of women is hardly better: “…yet, women never tire of sexual intercourse and childbearing (GS I 72) and they never sit in court or embark on business because ‘they are uncontrolled, envious, greedy and weak in wisdom’ (GS II 92f).” (Jones, 78)
Regarding the establishment of an order for nuns, Jones writes, “When Ananda prevailed upon Gotama to allow a separate Order for women, he is reported to have been very gloomy about this. It would, he said, halve the length of time for which the Dhamma would be preserved in pure form.” (Jones, 77; GS IV 184f) In the Vinaya Pitaka (Book of Discipline V), a similar prediction is made by Sakyamuni, when addressing Ananda: “If, Ananda, women had not obtained the going forth from home into homelessness in the dhamma and discipline proclaimed by the Truth-finder, the Brahma-faring, Ananda, would have lasted long, true dhamma would have endured for a thousand years. But since, Ananda, women have gone forth…in the dhamma and discipline proclaimed by the Truth-finder, now, Ananda, the Brahma-faring will not last long, true dhamma will endure only for five hundred years.” (356)
Since women did “go forth” and five hundred years have already passed, the question arises, is the above canonical passage false, or is it true in saying that “true dhamma” will only endure for five hundred years? If we say it is false, then there is falsity in the Pali Canon. If we say it is true, then it is still false, since five hundred years have already passed, and thus “true dhamma” would no longer be around. In this same text, the Buddha compares the influence of women to mildew: “Even, Ananda, as when the disease known as mildew attacks a whole field of rice that field of rice does not last long, even so, Ananda, in whatever dhamma and discipline women obtain the going forth…that Brahma-faring will not last long.” (356)
Also in the above text (Book of Discipline V), the eight conditions for allowing the women to join, are spelled out. Among these, here are two examples, which highlight women’s subordinate role to men in Buddhism: “A nun who has been ordained (even) for a century must greet respectfully, rise up from her seat, salute with joined palms, do proper homage to a monk ordained but that day.” (354) “From to-day admonition of monks by nuns is forbidden, admonition of nuns by monks is not forbidden.” (355)
Instead of rebelling against Buddhism though, many women in Buddhist societies accept their lower status as something they deserve based on supposed karma from previous lives. Cleo Odzer, in the book “Buddhism and Abortion,” writes, “Typically, women in Thailand are undervalued in respect to men, a situation endorsed by the Buddhist religion…”(33), and in surveying women in a Bangkok slum area, it was discovered that “Mostly, the women accepted their lot in the Buddhist belief that they were born ‘as a woman because of bad karma or a lack of sufficient good merit.’”(35)
In the Bible women are not seen as “mildew,” incapable of doing business, of lesser status than even young men, the cause of men being defiled, and deserving of any suffering they may be facing. Women and men do have different roles and responsibilities in the Bible, but the inheritance for believers in God’s economy is equal: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:27-29) In the book of Proverbs chapter 31, written by King Lemuel’s mother, the virtuous woman is praised for being wise in business dealings, being clothed in strength and honor, having words of wisdom on her lips, and being trusted by her husband.
If Sakyamuni had really passed through virtually countless lives previous to that one, why was Sakyamuni so startled by the sites of death, poverty, and old age, when he finally ventured out of the palace to see things for himself? If we are to take the Jataka re-birth tales at face value, he would have been quite familiar with all of these harsher realities of life- in fact according to the Jataka tales, he was sometimes a participant in the cruel side of life. “…within this group is the one which depicts the bodhisatta himself as being, in one way or another, involved in killing or injuring. The stories concerned are JSS 93, 128, 129, 152, 178, 233, 238, 246, 315, 319, 384.” (Jones, 61). Among the 547 Jataka stories, he is twice said to have been a robber, once a gambler, and twice a giant snake (Jones, 18-19). He would also have been familiar with suffering according to Jataka 538, which states he had to spend eighty thousand years in the Ussada hell (Jones, 43). So why was Sakyamuni so struck by the fact of death or suffering, as if he had never experienced or seen these things?
The common answer given to this question is that previous lives must be remembered in a state of meditation, when the mind is free from distraction, and more capable of reaching these deep levels of memory. But how can the mind store such information when the mind and everything of which people are said to consist (the five aggregates) are said to not survive death? Actually though, this popular story of the Buddha’s renunciation is not found in the Pali Canon.
In the Pali Canon, as a baby, the Buddha was said to have walked uprightly and proclaimed that it was his last birth: “Chief am I in the world, Eldest am I in the world, Foremost am I in the world! This is the last birth!” (D II, 12) How can a baby be so mature as to speak these lofty words if there is no enduring soul? In the non-canonical story, the problem of anatta arises because meditation does not explain how the 35 year old bodhisatta could “remember” that which according to his own doctrine was not an enduring soul. In the canonical story, the problem of anatta (no enduring soul) is still there, because his doctrine of no enduring soul stands in contrast to a baby speaking from the perspective of an enduring soul, relieved to see the end in sight.
The doctrinal mismatch between anatta and rebirth leaves the intellect unsatisfied, while an attempt is made to appease the conscience with an invented morality: “When two propositions conflict, the simplest possible solution is to ignore one of them- which is precisely what the Jataka does. There is no contradiction in the Jataka between the doctrine of anatta (no self) and the doctrine of a series of lives of the same individual because the doctrine of anatta is simply ignored” (Jones, 39). Sakyamuni did not want to let go of morality, but his system is one which leads people to contradictions-- both the villainous and the virtuous are said to have no soul connection from one life to the next- and thus the ones receiving a particular “lot” are not the ones who “earned” it.
But apart from these difficulties with rebirth, what about real life cases of people who claim to have been reborn? Ian Stevenson, who is one of the foremost authorities in the field of re-birth/reincarnation research reported, “In my experience, nearly all so-called previous personalities evoked through hypnotism are entirely imaginary and a result of the patient’s eagerness to obey the hypnotist’s suggestion.... Some people have been terribly frightened by their supposed memories, and in other cases the previous personality evoked has refused to go away for a long time (Omni Magazine 10 (4): 76 (1988)).” (www.comparativereligion.com/reincarnation1.html)
Ernest Valea points out that this phenomenon is called “false memory syndrome,” and that, “Courts of law know these dangers and most do not accept testimonies produced under hypnosis or from witnesses that have been previously hypnotized.” What about other cases, where the “memories” are not evoked by hypnotism? Valea brings our attention to the demographic of people who are usually targeted for this:
”Almost all cases of spontaneous past life recall experiences are produced by children who manifest them between the age of two and five, when their spiritual discernment is almost nonexistent, especially concerning spirits. This situation makes them easier to be manipulated by external spirits. As the child grows up, the entities lose their power of influence upon him, which could explain why the past life memories are lost after the age of 10.” (www.comparativereligion.com/reincarnation1.html)
Seeing the possibility of outside spirits to deceive in this way, how are we to suppose that a monk or nun who is meditating is immune to this outside influence? Meditation actually swings the door wide open to such an influence. The monk or nun may experience many things during their meditations and count them as confirmations of the Buddha’s doctrine. Are they though? Can we really count this as a confirmation when they were trying to have such “memories” in the first place, and when the experiences are largely subjective? Even if a person can reveal information they would not naturally know, this information is something which outside spirits could know and transmit.
Why does a person need to be under hypnosis, or have the undiscerning mind of a child, or be in an altered state of consciousness during meditation, in order to have such “memories?” If rebirth is “for real” why isn’t it obvious among the billions of people in the world, regardless of cultural background? Why can’t babies speak the language of their “former life” or any language (besides gobbly gook) for that matter? This is probably the reason for inventing the doctrine of anatta (the idea of there being no enduring soul explains the lack of memory). This places the dilemma in the moral realm though (no real justice without a permanent soul) and still does not solve the practical problem of having a connecting point from life to life.
According to the Bible people only have one life to live. "...it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." (Hebrews 9:27). If a person had 1000 cell phones, all with the same information and functions, it would not be a big deal if they lost 10 of them. But, if a person had only one cell phone with important contact information and no money to buy a new one, it would seem like a big loss to lose that one cell phone. Likewise if a person thinks they have thousands of lives, the value of this life and the urgency to live rightly is decreased. But, God who is our owner has told us, that we have only one life!
The belief in re-birth caters to a sense of procrastination. For example, if a student knows he will have a test this coming Friday, but if he also knows there will be a second chance for testing again if his score is not good, he will tend to procrastinate, rather than studying hard for only one chance at the test. Biblically speaking, there is only one chance. When a person is deceived into thinking that there are many chances and many "lives," this lessens the urgency to get right with God right now. Procrastination leads to failure instead of to success. This Buddhist belief takes people far away from God by giving them a false sense of comfort, rather than a sense of urgency not to waste our lives on false ways. When we understand how very valuable our life is, which God gave us, we will thank God for it, and want to come to know God through Jesus Christ.
Buddhist meditation is often presented as something neutral-- just meditation, as opposed to being a “religious” activity. People from various worldview backgrounds are encouraged to try it, on the assumption that it’s just a kind of mind training-- just as physical exercise is body training. This is an attraction for someone who just wants to have a unique, peaceful, or meaningful experience without necessarily buying into the doctrines of the Buddha. But how neutral is meditation really?
In a rarely referred to portion of the Pali canon, a meditation time gone haywire is reported: “Indeed there was one occasion so damaging to the Buddha’s reputation as a ‘peerless charioteer of men’ that it is hard to think it would have been invented. I have never seen it referred to in any of the books on Buddhism I have read. In KS V 284, we read that the Buddha had commended ‘the unlovely’ as a subject for meditation before he himself went off for a fourteen-day retreat. On his return, he found the Order sadly diminished because so many of the monks, contemplating ‘the unlovely’ had ‘as to this body…worried about it, felt shame and loathing for it, and sought for a weapon to slay themselves’- and had in fact, committed suicide. Ananda suggests that in future it might be better if the Buddha ‘would teach some other method’ of meditation. Gotama replies with this suggestion and advises his monks to base their meditation on their breathing in future.” (Jones, 76)
To this day, ‘the unlovely’ (such as a human corpse) is still a valid object of Buddhist meditation, although other types of meditation, such as focusing on breathing, are far more common. Even in the more standard types of meditation, such as focusing on one’s breathing, or observing one’s thoughts as though they were not one’s own thoughts (being detached from the concept of “self” and “objectively” observing the thoughts), there are dangers. Rahula nonetheless encourages such meditation: “Try to examine it as if you are observing it from the outside, without any subjective reaction, as a scientist observes some object. Here, too, you should not look at it as ‘my feeling’ or ‘my sensation’ subjectively, but only look at it as ‘a feeling’ or ‘a sensation’ objectively. You should forget again the false idea of ‘I.” (73)
When a person becomes a “third person” observer of themselves, and even renounces the idea of “self”, it is like relinquishing the steering wheel and sitting in the passenger seat. This presents the possibility of outside spirits entering in and having a very real and dangerous influence. Speaking of the highest level of meditation (Nirodha-samapatti), Vajiranana writes, “But that which is experienced in the Nirodha-samapatti is the state of Nirvana, namely the cessation of all mental activities, which is comparable to that of final Nirvana. The final Nirvana is called ‘Khandha-pari-nibbana,’ the complete cessation of the five aggregates, and is attained by the Arhat at his death” (467).
Apart from the dangers of meditation on a personal level, meditation does not deliver the objective standard it claims. However, the meditators are instructed beforehand in what they can expect to experience. This expectation removes objectivity since it conditions people to generate what is expected. If the instructor tells them they can expect to see previous lives, they are already predisposed towards that. Also, it is not objective, because there are “wrong” or heretical views described in the Pali Canon. In other words, if someone meditates and experiences something heretical- such as “I do have an eternal soul,” this will be rejected.
Shravasti Dhammika in talking about meditation in Sri Lanka, writes: “…the meditators walk around looking like the long-term inmates of a psychiatric hospital. Indeed it is not unknown that some people who spend time in these meditation centers end up having serious mental problems. A joke circulating in certain circles in Sri Lanka in the 1990’s went ‘One month in Kanduboda, six months in Angoda,’ Kanduboda being a well-known meditation center in Colombo and Angoda being the city’s main mental asylum.” (www.buddhistische-gesellschaft-berlin.de/downloads/ brokenbuddhanew.pdf )
Buddhist meditation takes people who are relational by nature, and makes their mind more like a machine. Even when the meditation is “spreading compassion to all beings”, the focus is on one’s own ability to direct the mind to this challenge, and the compassion is meant to be a detached one. When the meditation is a concentration upon one object, to the exclusion of all other thoughts, this silences the voice of conscience calling us to a relationship with God, and sets the mind instead on a path toward increased detachment and isolation. In isolation one’s own desires may be accomplished, but this situation can be compared to a child who would reject the care of loving parents who provide good food and friendship, and wants to instead go live in the forest- rejecting offers of food, rejecting clothing, rejecting offers for education, etc. Such a child would have difficulty surviving and would eventually lose the ability even to communicate with the parents.
Meditation in the Bible means to consider God’s principles and character, spending time with God. It’s a relational process of God “feeding” His children and communicating with them, taking away the burdens in life and providing wisdom. To pray is to take refuge in God, communicating with Him in a real relationship.
In addition to meditation being highly subjective (things “learned” through meditation could not be admitted into a court of law as evidence), meditation also opens up a dangerous door into the spirit world. The meditator must go into an altered state of consciousness. I know someone in Bangkok whose landlord was being taught meditation. One time, as she was doing meditation, a hideous being appeared in front of her. She was scared and ran out of the room. Her meditation teacher later told her not to worry about it, but to go back and teach that hideous being the “peaceful” ways of Buddhism. The evil spirit deceived her into thinking she was doing some good, when in actuality she was in the presence of an evil deceiver only pretending to learn peace, but keeping her bound in deception. Meditation opens up a person at their deepest level to be led not by accurate and objective truths, but rather to be led by subjective experiences away from the God who loves them.
Prayer is communicating with God in a relationship-- not formulas; not chanting; but really speaking with God from our hearts. Before my father-in-law became a Christian he was a chanting leader at his local Buddhist temple. As a young Christian he would repeat a written prayer on the back of a gospel tract every day, not yet understanding that prayer is having a living relationship with God, not reciting a formula. In Thailand Buddhists chant using the Pali language, often not understanding what they're chanting, but thinking they are accumulating merit or blessings or obtaining spiritual protection, etc. Sometimes people will just recite these chants out of a book in front of their idols. Jesus said, "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking." (Matthew 6:7) Far more Buddhists practice chanting than they do meditation, because meditation requires more effort and training. But, Buddhist meditation and chanting are both spiritually dangerous, because they keep people away from having a real relationship with God our Creator.
The three traditional refuges in Buddhism are the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. The whole idea of going to a refuge presupposes needing help outside of ourselves. It presupposes a person is limited and finite and needs a refuge which is infinite and reliable. All three of the traditional refuges are flawed, but to make matters worse, a fourth refuge is proposed, which is SELF. A teaching in the Pali Canon (in the Jataka of Kumarakassapa’s mother), brings “self” to the foreground: “Bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, those who depend on others cannot attain any progress or development in life, therefore one is one’s own refuge or master, no one else can be our refuge.” (http://www.buddhapadipa.org/plinks/MHAR-6ELBY2) The three refuges are put into perspective with this Jataka exposition. “Self” is highlighted as a supremely important refuge. But, in the end, all four refuges are unreliable:
- To take refuge in the Dhamma (the teachings) is really by and large to take refuge in one’s self, as this is the direction the teachings point to. But, we’ve seen the teachings to be historically unreliable, and the teachings are contradictory in saying, “do not go by the sacred text” (A.I,188). If one disregarded this admonition, and went by the sacred text, then in going by the sacred text one would have to again not go by it! Many Buddhists today do not see the Buddhist texts as being transcendent and unalterably authoritative, but rather as something that can be modified according to modern opinions of people (reliance on self more than on scriptures).
- To take refuge in the Buddha is to take refuge in a dead man no longer present to offer any help. Even his biography is not helpful, because it is filled with legends and unreliable history.
- To take refuge in the Sangha (the community of monks), is to depend on impermanent and ever changing (anicca), non- enduring selves (anatta) who have their own suffering (dukkha) to deal with. Also, in the Jataka tale above, it was said, “those who depend on others cannot attain any progress or development in life,” which would include depending on the Sangha.
- To take refuge in one’s self is just the finite taking refuge in the finite. It does not solve the problem of getting a person beyond their own limitations. In one breath self is derided (anatta) and in the next it is made into a refuge.
Is any person truly independent? Can anyone say they have received nothing from other people, and nothing from God? How could any person truly and consistently live out the slogan “one is one’s own refuge”?
Let’s take for example a tailor who for some reason took this as his slogan. He would have to make all of his own clothes to begin with. He could not wear anything that another made or bought for him. But, even then he could not use any threads or cloth which he did not himself harvest from the cotton fields or silkworm farm, etc. And, he could not use any scissors or sewing machines, unless he himself had made these. And, he could not make any sewing instruments unless he himself had mined and smelted the iron ore for that purpose. But, how would he mine the iron ore without using equipment made by others? Then, our hypothetical tailor could not eat anything, unless he himself had planted and cooked these. And, with what could he cook except with instruments he himself had made. And, where would he live, except in a house he himself had made.
If this poor fellow was beginning to feel the extreme demands of his time and labors in separating himself from all human dependence, perhaps he would then wish to go and live in the forest. But, even there he would have to come to the realization that he is not at all independent or sufficient to be his own refuge. In the forest (as also in the city) he would need to depend on the many things God has created- the plants for food, and trees for shelter, the water to sustain his life, etc. He could not even eat without using the mouth God gave him or make anything without using the hands and feet God gave him. Likewise he could not think or make choices without using the brain and soul which God gave him. No matter how much he wanted to be his own refuge, he would need to face the fact that his own limitations do not allow him to be his own refuge in any ultimate or even temporal sense.
By telling people that they need not concern themselves about God, it is as though the Buddha had said "thinking" is not important. It’s something that is innate to every human being, because God created us with this hunger to think and seek to know and worship God. But, in replacing this hunger with other things, the search goes on unsatisfied. It’s like somebody telling a bird that flying is not important and then clipping the wings of these birds. In the next generation of birds, the wings would grow to be normal wings, but in the environment of saying “flying is not important,” the birds would use their wings in the dirt, not for flying. They would still “hunger” to fly though. Just as birds were made to fly, people were made to love and worship God. Buddhism does not fill the need in the human heart to know their Creator, and so the search goes on. Unfortunately though it becomes a search for personal prosperity instead of a search for truth and righteousness, which would lead to God.
The classic Buddhist analogy about the issue of our origin and the issue of what is important to focus on, is the man who was shot with an arrow. That man does not worry about where the arrow came from, who shot it, what kind of bow it was shot from, etc., but instead focuses on getting the arrow out! So it is said that humans need not worry about the beginning of the world or the destination of the Buddha and other “metaphysical questions.” But, unfortunately, by relegating God to the sidelines, the true source of (everlasting) relief is also missed. God is overlooked and rejected, like a wounded man telling the doctor to go away.
The void in the human heart has not been filled, and the search for spirituality continues through various expressions. Unfortunately the one true answer has been eliminated from consideration by ignoring God. In the first seven questions in this paper, we've seen that God is the owner of heaven, and the owner of people. He has the right to tell us what is right and what is wrong. Because God owns people, all sin is ultimately done against Him. Therefore only God has the right to forgive sin. We've also seen that God has made both men and women valuable in His sight, and that every person's life is very valuable and something to thank God for.
God is also the Maker of our hearts, and the only one who can give our hearts a sense of fulfillment when we repent of our sins and put our faith in Jesus Christ. God our Creator is a refuge who is more reliable than any doctor, teacher, or family member. Will you put your faith in Jesus today? "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." (Hebrews 13:8) In the end there will only be two kinds of people-- those who will rejoice for all of eternity that they put their faith in Jesus, and those who will spend eternity wishing they had put their faith in Jesus. "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." (I John 5:11-12)
How credible is the Pali Canon as a book of facts? If Sakyamuni Buddha did not inspire these writings either directly or indirectly, where is the standard by which truth is measured? And, if it is claimed that the Pali Canon was inspired by the Buddha why does it contain so many factual errors? If the Pali Canon is a mix of truth and error, entrusting one’s destiny to its teachings would be like entrusting oneself to a doctor who prescribes both good and harmful medicines-- a real gamble. All of the scriptural quotations in this science section are from the Pali Canon proper, not its commentary.
In the Digha Nikaya (Dialogues of the Buddha III; 137-139), are listed the 32 marks of one who is supposed to become either a Buddha or a universal ruler. Among these marks, it says he must have 40 teeth [as a baby! - the time when such an assessment is made (Dialogues of the Buddha II; pp. 13-18)]. Ordinarily children have only half that amount- 20 teeth. A mature adult will have 32 teeth total (assuming they didn’t play too much hockey), or 28 teeth if the four wisdom teeth are removed. Fitting eight extra teeth into the jaw of an adult would be quite a feat, but fitting 20 extra teeth into a baby’s jaw would be a real stretch- both of the jaw and of it’s credibility!
Among the 32 marks, another one is that the potential universal ruler or Buddha must have a large tongue. Just how large? In the Majjhima Nikaya (Middle Length Sayings II), a brahman named Sela came to talk with the Buddha and was looking for the 32 marks on him…”Then the Lord, having put out his tongue, stroked it backwards and forwards over both his ears and he stroked it backwards and forwards over both his nostrils and he covered the whole dome of his forehead with his tongue.” (335). Wow. Although there are many statues of the Buddha with various expressions, and in various postures, I’ve never seen one highlighting this aspect of his anatomy, and yet this is canonical.
When responding to Ananda’s question about the cause of an earthquake (Gradual Sayings IV; pp. 208-210), the Buddha gives eight reasons. The first is a natural explanation relating to the structure of the earth, while in the next seven reasons the Buddha says the earth responds with quaking when various “enlightened” ones make monumental accomplishments. In the first reason for earthquakes, we see some real differences between what he says and what modern science knows about the structure of the earth and the causes of earthquakes: “Since, Ananda, this great earth rests on water and the water rests on wind and the wind subsists in space; what time the great winds blow, they cause the water to quake, and the quaking of the water causes the earth to quake. This, Ananda, is the first cause, the first reason, of a great earthquake becoming manifest.”
This example and some of the following examples, demonstrate a lack of correspondence with “the way things are” (the kind of insight the Buddha claimed to provide). In the Dialogues of the Buddha III, a description is given of human ancestors who lived to be 80,000 years old, but gradually through various vices, their life-spans were reduced to only ten years. At that time it is alleged that these humans married at five years of age. These are clearly referred to as humans in this text, and not monkeys. Then, with an increase in moral living, the humans are said to increase their life-spans once again. If this story is only allegorical, why does the text refer to a well known city as being part of this history/prophecy: “Among such humans the Benares of our day will be named Ketumati…” (73). Also, if it is allegorical, so is the prediction of the future Buddha Metteyya, who is supposed to appear when human life-spans are back to 80,000 years.
In another “reality claim” coming from the mouth of the one who “can fall into no error” (Dialogues of the Buddha III, 25), the Buddha says that there are fish in the great ocean, which are anywhere from 100- 500 yojanas long: “And again, monks, the great ocean is the abode of great beings; these beings are there: the timis, the timingalas, the timitimingalas, asuras, nagas, gandhabbas. There are in the great ocean individualities a hundred yojanas (long), individualities two hundred…three hundred…four hundred…five hundred yojanas (long).” (Book of Discipline V, 333)
According to the Pali Text Society Dictionary, one yojana is equal to 7 miles. That means a fish which is 500 yojanas long would be 3500 miles long. That’s quite a claim, considering that this distance would be about 700 miles longer than the USA is wide! Also, it would be quite a disproportional fish since the deepest spot in the world’s oceans is about 7 miles deep, with the average depth being about 3 miles.
In the fourth volume of the Book of Discipline, there are a number of stories which make it plain that the Buddha’s knowledge does not even match up to modern standards, much less omniscience. In one such case the Buddha puts his approval on consuming raw flesh and blood from swine: “Now at that time a certain monk had an (sic) non-human affliction.... He, having gone to the swine’s slaughter-place, ate raw flesh and drank raw blood, and his non-human affliction subsided. They told this matter to the Lord. He said: ‘I allow, monks, when one has a non-human affliction, raw flesh and raw blood.’” (274) “A non-human affliction” here may refer to demon-possession as the footnote for this passage points out. The cure approved of by the Buddha, is to let the “non-human” spirit (a.k.a. demon) indulge itself in raw flesh and blood. Is there any disease for which this would actually be a wise practice? Why didn’t the Buddha cast out such a foul oppressor as Jesus Christ often did?
Lastly, because the theory of evolution seems to align itself to Buddhism pretty well (no need for a Creator), does this mean Buddhism is therefore scientific? Firstly, the Buddha didn’t explain ultimate origins and said that speculating about origins is one of the useless endeavors in life. But, also if there is no Creator, how can we expect our world to have any morals, or any beauty if everything came into being through random, mutated, impersonal chance? The evidence for evolution is not increasing, but decreasing. The famous line-up of monkeys to men, for example, have been shown to be hoaxes, or completely ape, or completely human. The missing links are still missing. The website www.answersingenesis.org has articles, audios, and videos, presented by Ph.D. creation scientists, offering evidence in support of a Creator of this world. To dismiss this evidence without a fair examination would itself be unscientific. A person who is reasonable would be willing to follow the evidence where it leads, even if that means to God.
The vanity in this world should turn us towards our Creator for direction and renewal, rather than supposing we can handle the problems on our own. Jesus taught his disciples their need to humble themselves before God: "And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:2-3)
What we see in this world oftentimes is unjust- the wicked prospering, the “innocent” facing trouble, etc., but we need to know the perspective of eternity, which includes a judgment day in which God will judge the world in righteousness. Considering Sakyamuni’s lack of omniscience, it is not advisable to trust in his speculations about what is or is not a worthy pursuit. If an appliance in our house is not functioning properly, we turn to the owner’s manual or maybe call the maker of that appliance. Similarly, God who made us has the answers to life’s dilemmas.
Looking at Buddhism plainly like this, if Buddhism were a journey, it would be a journey in which the road map contains known false claims, the “discoverer” of this journey is no longer around to offer any help, and ultimately one is extinguished when arriving at the destination. Although Buddhism is a fascinating system, it leads people along a pathway away from the God who loves them, away from incorruptible everlasting life, and thus away from what we were made for- a life washed of our sins and relating to our Maker- made possible not by “earning it”, but through Jesus Christ taking our punishment onto Himself on the cross. To reject this is to reject a true road map to heaven, help for the journey, and a guide who will not fail us.
To acknowledge and accept this is to begin a relationship of trust with our Maker. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:16-18). There are many things which dead men can’t do. The Buddha is dead. One very important thing a dead man can’t do is to save a person’s soul. But Jesus Christ is alive and can redeem our soul and take us to heaven if we believe in Him. That is because Jesus Christ is God, who is our Creator and who will judge us based on His Word, when we die.
To begin with, the Buddhist scriptures of the Pali Canon were written down very late, and the scriptures of other schools of Buddhism were formed and written down even later. The Pali Canon was written down about 70 BCE in Sri Lanka (Veidlinger, 23):
“Most scholars currently believe that the texts of the Pali Tipitaka were transmitted orally for about four hundred years, from the time of their genesis until the first century BCE.” (Veidlinger, 2)
There is also a huge time gap from the time of writing to the time of the earliest surviving manuscripts. Veidlinger writes: “…the bulk of traditional chirographic Pali texts in the Theravadin world exist in nineteenth-century manuscripts. The oldest Pali manuscript yet found dates back to the sixth century….it consists of a selection of passages…The earliest extant manuscript from Sri Lanka is of the Samuttanikaya from 1411 CE…” (14-15) Hinuber likewise confirms this situation in writing, “The continuous manuscript tradition with complete texts begins only during the late 15th century. Thus the sources immediately available for Theravada literature are separated from the Buddha by almost 2000 years.” (4). The words “complete texts” here mean individual texts from the Pali Canon. If we date the Buddha’s death to about 410 BC, according to modern scholarship, then the gap between the Buddha and a complete Pali Canon in manuscript form is over 2000 years.
By contrast, we have individual New Testament books in manuscript form from about 150 years after Jesus was raised from the dead (though there are some fragments before then), and complete Bible manuscripts from about 300 years after Jesus’ resurrection. We have individual books of the Old Testament from about 200 BC from the Dead Sea caves.
In the 19th century the Pali Canon was written in stone in Burma: “Mindon...held the Fifth Buddhist council in Mandalay. He had already created the world's largest book in 1868, the Tipitaka, 729 pages of the Buddhist Pali Canon inscribed in marble and each stone slab housed in a small stupa...” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindon_Min
Although “written in stone” is an idiom for something absolute and steadfast, Trevor Ling writes of King Mindon’s project, “Mistakes in the carving of the text had made necessary a revision…” (124). This revision took place during the sixth Buddhist Council from 1954- 1956 in Burma.
In Sri Lanka’s history [the place where the Pali Canon was first written down (70 BC), and where its commentaries were composed (c. 500 AD)], the texts went through a purging in the 12th century: “When Parakkamabahu I. (1153- 1186) reformed Buddhism in Ceylon during the 12th century, the monks of the Abhayagiri- and the Jetavana-vihara were reordained according to the Mahavihara tradition. Consequently, their texts gradually disappeared, and the only Theravada texts surviving are those of one single monastery, the Mahavihara.” (Hinuber, 22)
Looking beyond the unreliable history of the Pali Canon, the more important question to ask is, “Did the Buddha have authority to teach on spiritual subjects in the first place?” Being only a man (with very limited knowledge), and currently a dead man, he is woefully underqualified to give advice on any ultimate topics (e.g. where will you spend eternity? What is your purpose in life? Where did you come from?). In fact the Buddha often took people’s attention off of these important topics only to focus their attention on temporal rather than eternal topics. Only God who knows everything, and who has power over death, and who created and owns the world, has the authority necessary to teach people spiritual truths. Here are three stories which show some of the exaggeration used in the Pali Canon...
In the Vinaya of the Pali Canon, an incredible story is told to explain why candidates for the monkhood must be asked whether or not they are a human being. According to this story a naga snake, changed its form to look like a human and became a monk: “Then one day, that other monk got up at night, toward dawn, and stepped outside to practice walking meditation. The naga, feeling certain that his cellmate had gone off, fell asleep, and in his sleep he took on his natural form. His snake’s body filled the whole room, and his coils came out through the windows. Then, his roommate, thinking he would go back inside the cell, opened the door and saw the whole room filled with snake….Terrified at the sight, he screamed.” (Strong, 1995; P. 62)
Also, in the the Udana of the Pali Canon the Buddha is said to have been covered from the rain by a giant naga: “Then Mucalinda the naga-king left his dwelling place and having encircled the Lord's body seven times with his coils, he stood with his great hood spread over the Lord's head (thinking) to protect the Lord from cold and heat, from gadflies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and the touch of creeping things. At the end of those seven days the Lord emerged from that concentration. Then Mucalinda the naga-king, seeing that the sky had cleared and the rain clouds had gone, removed his coils from the Lord's body. Changing his own appearance and assuming the appearance of a youth, he stood in front of the Lord with his hands folded together venerating him.” (www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.2.01.irel.html)
Another incredible phenomenon in the Pali Canon, which is supposed to be in existence even now (more specifically- “as long as the world lasts”)- is a roofless house, which never takes in rain: “…there is a story in the Majjhima-Nikaya (Middle Length Sayings) of some monks who ‘borrowed’ the roof of a potter’s house for the repair of their monastery. But rather than being angry at this appropriation of their roof, the potter and his blind parents were suffused with ineffable joy for 7 days. Then in accordance with the law of Cause and Effect a strange phenomenon come into being. Drench the whole village or the whole country by immense rainfall, but not a single drop of rain fallls into this roofless house. And it is ordained that this site of Gati Kara’s house be in such state as long as the world lasts.” (King, 121)
The author goes on to make a contemporary application of the above account: “This place must be somewhere in the vicinity of the eternal town of Benares. The Indian Government should find out, especially Mr. Nehru who seems to venerate Buddhism. It is an easy task. Within a radius say of a hundred miles around Benares each and every headman of the village tracts can enquire minutely and try to seek for this marvelous place. Once it is found the impact of Buddhism upon humanity will be enormous and the tourist income of India will be magnificent.” (King, 121)
On the other hand, take someone like Luke, whose accounts in the Bible are verified even after intense historical and archeological examination by those hostile to the accounts. A semi-technical book on this is Colin Hemer’s book… “Acts in a Setting of Hellenic History.” The history of Buddhist Scriptures is filled with inaccuracies. The Pali Canon contains large sections of legend. Since these scriptures did not get it right when it comes to physical reports of “the way things are,” then why in the world would anyone want to trust them when it comes to their eternal soul? Sadly and ironically, instead of this lack of authority in their scriptures, making Buddhists search for God, they tend to depend more on themselves- the very thing which according to their own teachings is non-enduring and ever changing.
Our purpose in life is to love God and love people: "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)
Loving God requires faith: "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Hebrews 11:6) This faith is based on evidence God has given us, not a blind faith. With faith in God, there must also be respect: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10). Instead of fearing God, many Buddhists end up living in fear of ghosts and in bondage trying to appease various spirits.
Loving God also means coming to Him humbly: "...God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." (James 4:6). "...Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3). Instead of glorifying God, Buddhists follow vain imaginations by glorifying meditation and imagined previous lives: "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." (Romans 1: 21-22)
To begin a relationship with God a person has to first repent-- turn away from false and sinful ways, and turn to God's ways as revealed in the Bible. "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." (John 17: 3) Knowing God is the goal. This is personal. God’s offer of forgiveness is not something that can be earned, or demanded, but is a free gift of mercy for all who realize the extent of their violations and truly repent-- putting their trust in God, and not in themselves: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Eternal life in heaven comes only through Jesus Christ. "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." (I John 5:11-12)
The Buddha has given people lies instead of the truth and the result is spiritually tragic: "Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life." (Ezekiel 13:22) Instead of being in the care of a loving Shepherd (Jesus), Buddhists are left in the presence of the devil, the serpent (the naga serpents which Buddhism exalts, but which really are demons). "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (Revelation 12:9)
To put it very simply, a dead man (the Buddha) can’t help anyone to find the answers to life’s most important questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where will I go when I die? The Bible can answer these questions. Jesus Christ is alive. He has risen from the dead. Would you like to make peace with your Creator who loves you, even though you have sinned against Him? If you do, you can begin by confessing your sins to Him, including the sins of ignoring Him and not giving Him the honor that is due to Him. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I John 1: 9). God wants each person to believe in Jesus Christ and thus have a personal relationship with God. The choice is yours. Will you respond to God’s love? Will you come to Him humbly? Will you yield your life to Him, with a child-like faith?
Regarding the archeological evidence that supports the Bible account, Mark Cahill says,"There have been over 25,000 archeological finds that provide support regarding people, their titles, and their locations mentioned in the Bible. Nelson Glueck, the renowned Jewish archaeologist, wrote: ‘It may be stated categorically that no archeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference’” (Cahill, 65)
“Lionel Luckhoo (1914-1997) was a famous lawyer and later an evangelist, whom the Guinness Book of World Records lists as having had the most successive acquittals in murder trials, with 245...'I [Lionel] have spent more than 42 years as a defense trial lawyer appearing in many parts of the world and am still in active practice...I say unequivocally the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt." (http://www.conservapedia.com/Lionel_Luckhoo)
Jesus Christ was God Almighty in the flesh. Jesus is the Creator of the universe. He lived among us for 33 years, did miracles, healed people, cast out demons, taught with authority, was crucified, laid in a tomb, and then rose from the dead on the third day. His disciples were willing to testify to His resurrection with their own spilled blood. Hundreds of prophecies preceded Jesus’ ministry and were fulfilled by Him. Most of these prophecies were given even before the Buddha was born. Jesus Christ is not a dead man like other religious leaders, but rather is alive. He is the only one who has the authority to cleanse us of our sins and receive us into heaven. But, to reject Him is to reject the truth in favor of lies. Do you love the truth? Are you willing to follow Jesus Christ at any cost? Although salvation is offered freely, there is a certain cost for yielding to God to let Him be the Lord of our lives, but there is a greater cost for keeping “self” as Lord. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
- Cahill, M. (2005). One Heartbeat Away: Your Journey Into Eternity. Rockwall: BDM Publishing.
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