The Buddhist Road Map
By Let Us Reason Ministries
In this paper I'll be focusing on Theravada Buddhism, since this form of Buddhism, found mainly in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos, claims to resemble the original teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha[i] most closely. Other schools claim this as well, but historically speaking (not mystically speaking), the Theravada school's claim seems to be the most substantiated. Much of what has been written on Buddhism presents an idealized and incomplete portrait of Buddhist teachings. This is difficult to avoid due to the vastness of the subject, but is enhanced by those who focus mainly on the positive aspects of Buddhism, omitting the more difficult issues. In this paper I don't claim to provide a comprehensive portrait, but I will attempt to address some of the more obscure and lesser known core issues and dilemmas of Buddhism, showing that it is indeed a fascinating system, but not one which will help a person fulfill their destiny in life. I will also make some comparisons between Theravada Buddhism and Christianity based on biblical principles. The paper will be presented under eight subtopics, namely No soul (anatta[ii]), Rebirth, Nirvana, Karma, Women, Meditation, Science, and God.
No Soul (anatta)
Descartes is known for the phrase, "I think- therefore I am." My high school history teacher pun...ished us with the following phrase: "I'm pink- therefore I'm Spam." Taking an entirely different approach to these evidences for identity, Buddhism concludes with the concept "I am not." In John Garrett Jones' book, "Tales and Teachings of the Buddha: The Jataka Stories in relation to the Pali Canon,"Jones takes a look at how popular representations of the Buddha's teachings, as seen in the Jataka Stories[iii], compare with the more orthodox Four Nikayas[iv] of the Pali Canon[v]. I.B. Horner, former president of the Pali Text Society, gives Jones the following recommendation in the foreword to Jones' book: "Mr Jones is well versed in both Jataka and Canon, and is thus able to draw on both not only with apparent ease but also with aptness and accuracy and dependable documentation." (vii) Jones in his chapter on rebirth, addresses the doctrine of "no soul," pointing out that, according to orthodox beliefs, souls are not reborn, because Buddhism admits to no such entity: "Consciousness (vinnana) is one of the five khandhas[vi] which are dissolved at death. Deprived of its physical basis, or, if we prefer it, its physical correlate, how could it possibly survive death? In MLS I 313, 320f, Gotama does in fact vigorously refute the 'heresy' of a persisting consciousness" (34).
The doctrine of "no soul" undermines the entire premise of the Jataka Stories, which are supposed to be rebirth tales of Sakyamuni Buddha. Without a soul, what is the connecting point from life to life? The answer usually given to that question is that the karma of a being carries through. But, what does this "karma" attach itself to, if not to the one to whom that karma was due? Daniel J. Gogerly in his 1885 edition of "The Evidences and Doctrines of the Christian Religion," (after 44 years of Pali study), wrote the following:
"The Buddhist religion is that which Buddha taught, and which is found in his Sutras[vii], and not that which persons may hold who are ignorant of these teachings. We shall in the first instance prove that Buddha teaches, that the person by whom the actions were performed is not the same with the person who is rewarded or punished: that the connection is not between the man who performs the action, and the good or evil resulting from that action, but between the action performed and its results, whoever may be the recipient of those results. This is contrary to every known principle of justice, which associates the doer of the good action with the reward, whereas in Buddhism the reward will follow the good actions, but the performer of the good action will not be the recipient of the reward. This results from Buddha's doctrine that there is no soul in man which transmigrates, but that the whole of a man;- the whole of the panchaskandha[viii] ceases at death." (54-55)
A belief in anatta would mean, for example, that when Adolf Hitler died, the aggregates of his "being" dissolved, and then his enormously bad karma attached itself to someone or something (maybe a lowly insect), having absolutely no consciousness of the evil deeds done, or the reason for the suffering. Can this be called justice? WHO is punished? WHO is rewarded in this system? When the word "self" is used in Buddhism, such as "self-improvement", "be a refuge unto yourself", etc., this word is used for the sake of convenience, as opposed to describing an absolute self. Walpola Rahula, in "What the Buddha Taught", responds to those who try to point to a self or soul in Buddhism:
"Those who want to find a 'Self' in Buddhism argue as follows: 'It is true that the Buddha analyses being into matter, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness, and says that none of these things is self. But he does not say that there is no self at all in man or anywhere else, apart from these aggregates.' This position is untenable for two reasons: One is that, according to the Buddha's teaching, a being is composed only of these Five Aggregates, and nothing more. Nowhere has he said that there was anything more than these Five Aggregates in a being. The second reason is that the Buddha denied categorically, in unequivocal terms, in more than one place, the existence of Atman[ix], Soul, Self, or Ego within man or without, or anywhere else in the universe." (56-57)
In spite of teaching that there is no soul, 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" (36). But, if there is no soul, why does a Buddhist go to such great lengths to be free from rebirth, and why is it said that Sakyamuni proclaimed at the time of his "last" birth (Dialogues of the Buddha II, 12), that it was his last birth? WHOSE last birth? "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26).
In the popular story of Sakyamuni's final birth and renunciation of worldly pleasures, several questions arise. If Sakyamuni had really passed through virtually countless lives previous to that one, why did his father need to shelter him from the harsher side of life- 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[x] 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[xi] (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 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 soul) 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 intellectually and in "merit distribution"- 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? Ernest Valea, in his online article "Past-life recall as modern proof for reincarnation," (www.comparativereligion.com/reincarnation1.html) quotes Ian Stevenson, who is one of the foremost authorities in the field of re-birth/reincarnation research:
"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. It is no secret that we are all highly suggestible under hypnosis. This kind of investigation can actually be dangerous. 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))."
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."
In one case researched by Stevenson, a person actually had two personalities expressing themselves at the same time. As in the cases of the children, where manifestations took place when the individuals were at a vulnerable time in their lives (especially if their parents were taking them to centers of spiritual activity), spirit possession or the person acting as a "medium" is a likelier explanation. This interference by outside spirits shows the extremely subjective nature of rebirth research. Valea concludes with Stevenson's conclusion:
"For this reason Ian Stevenson, the well known researcher of this phenomena, was forced to admit in his book Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation that the cases he studied, as the very title of his book indicates, are only suggesting reincarnation and cannot be considered proofs for it. Stevenson admitted: 'All the cases I've investigated so far have shortcomings. Even taken together, they do not offer anything like proof' (Omni Magazine 10(4): 76 (1988). If this is the case, they could also be suggestive of spirit possession."
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 (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. "...it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
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)
In explaining why some canonical verses speak of nirvana as "bliss" and others as "extinction", Childers shows that both are meant, but that the "bliss" is only a temporary state before final extinction:
"I have shown that the goal of Buddhism is annihilation, and that Nirvana is a brief period of bliss followed by eternal death. It is of course conceivable that Sakyamuni should have made Arhatship[xii] the summum bonum held out to his disciples. It may even appear incredible to some that having imagined a state of blissful purity resulting from a virtuous life, he should have made it end in annihilation. That he did so is however certain, and it must be remembered that his denunciations of the evil and suffering of existence are levelled not merely against transmigration but against all existence whatever, and that the bliss of the Arhat is chiefly based on the consciousness that he has rooted out Karma and may any day cease to exist." (268)
Rahula, likewise 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 Buddhist cosmology there are said to be 31 realms of existence, including various heavens, hells, the earth, etc. In all 31 of these however, many of which are heavenly "bliss" states, none of them are "nirvana," because all of these are said to be prone to impermanence and suffering. When even a heaven cannot be nirvana, we see again that nirvana is beyond existence. Among the 31 realms of existence, the top 20 of these are also said to parallel the meditative states. In other words a person who meditates is supposed to be able to experience what these top 20 realms represent. The highest meditative state a person can achieve, also represents most closely what nirvana is supposed to be:
"A ninth stage known as the 'attainment of cessation' (nirodha-samapatti) is also mentioned in some sources. In this stage all mental operations are completely suspended, and even heartbeat and respiration cease. Life subsists simply in the form of residual bodily heat. A person can, we are told, remain in this state for several days, eventually emerging from it spontaneously at a predetermined time. This condition is held to be the closest anyone can come to experiencing final nirvana while still alive, and is described as 'touching nirvana with the body'." (Keown, 91-92)
When even mental operations are suspended, we see that it's not a far step from there to complete cessation. And this is consistent with the Pali Canon teaching of a progression towards more and more detachment, finally culminating in detachment from existence.
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,"[xiii] points out other difficulties with nirvana, relating to both Mahayana[xiv] and Theravada Buddhism. The more recent Mahayana school of Buddhism tends to hold more to the view of nirvana as bliss, whereas the more orthodox Theravada school of Buddhism usually holds to nirvana as cessation. Herman shows that regardless of which interpretation of nirvana is taken, it is a dogma in dilemma:
"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." (174) In the footnote to this conclusion, Herman further explains, "...'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)
If we say that the more recent Mahayana view is correct, it flies in the face of the Pali Canon, it being the nearest in time to what Sakyamuni actually taught. If Mahayanists wish to assert a different interpretation, on what higher authority is this based? This would be to negate the authority of the Buddha, and rely on mystical revelations instead. If on the other hand, we concede that the view in the Pali Canon of cessation is indeed what the Buddha taught, then speaking plainly, the Buddhist way amounts to "if you are really good, you get to be extinguished." It is no wonder Mahayanists have tried to change this doctrine, but in vain as there is no authority to back up the claim. The authority behind the original claim (of cessation) is also quite lacking though. Instead of desire leading to suffering, and suffering being the chief characteristic of existence, there is a way of hope and renewal. Instead of exiting from existence, Jesus Christ offers a way to quench thirst in order to live meaningfully and eternally: "Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."" (John 4: 13-14).
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. This seems to explain inequalities in the world, as well as apparent injustices. But, let's take a closer look at the implications of this system. Firstly, karma is said to be a natural law just like gravity, only that it governs morality instead of governing matter, although matter is also said to be affected. If it is just a natural law, doesn't that mean it could be subject to mutations just as the laws of genetics are occasionally influenced by an unexpected (and in most cases harmful) factor? How could we place our trust in such a system? Concerning this dilemma, John Jones points out that, "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" (37).
The supposed effects of karma are listed clearly in the Pali Canon (Middle Length Sayings III, p. 248- 253): "This course is conducive to shortness of life-span, brahman youth, that is to say making onslaught on creatures, being cruel, bloody-handed, intent on injuring and killing, and without mercy to living creatures."... The opposite of this is as follows: "This course is conducive to length of life-span, brahman youth, that is to say, if one, by getting rid of onslaught on creatures  abstains from onslaught on creatures, (and with) the stick laid aside, the sword laid aside, lives scrupulous, merciful, kindly and compassionate to all living creatures." Since the opposite results are easy to guess, and for the sake of brevity, I'll list a few more with only the negative consequences. The ellipses (...) in these quotes are in the text itself (not something I've omitted):
"This course is conducive to many illnesses, brahman youth, that is to say being by nature harmful to creatures with his hand...or with a sword."..."This course is conducive to ugliness, brahman youth, that is to say being wrathful...and evincing...resentment."... "This course is conducive to being of little account, brahman youth, that is to say being jealous-minded...of respect and reverence paid them."... "This course is conducive to poverty, brahman youth, that is to say not being a giver...of bed, lodging, light."... "This course is conducive to being in a lowly family, brahman youth, that is to say being one who...does not honour one who should be...honoured."... "This course is conducive to being weak in wisdom, brahman youth, that is to say...not being one who asks: '...Or what, being done by me, is for long for my welfare and happiness?'"
Thus 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 due to bad deeds, words or thoughts done in previous lives. That these are descriptions of causes from previous lives, can be seen in the first consequence: "But if, at the breaking up of the body after dying he does not arise in the sorrowful ways, the bad bourn, the Downfall, Niraya Hell[xv], but comes to human status, then wherever he is born (in a new existence) he is of a short life-span." 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?
All of the complex moral effects in a person's life are supposed to be recorded, not by an intelligence, but by a mere energy force. Then, to compound the problem, the person who dies is said to have no soul, raising the question of how this accumulated moral bank account is reassigned. Karma is the conscience of the Buddhist system, but its practical operation and existence is left unexplained. Jones writes of the Buddha, "He seems to have been convinced that, however much the rational, analytical part of his teaching- especially the doctrine of anatta- might seem to deny it, the laws governing sentient life on this planet and beyond are not amoral." (36) The Buddha couldn't deny morality, and yet he also couldn't synchronize it with his doctrine. Aside from these difficulties though, we should ask ourselves, do we really want what we deserve, strictly speaking?
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. This kind of reasoning applied to morality would not hold up in a court of law (judges don't pardon crimes based on balancing out the good deeds against the bad deeds in the life of the accused). 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 a set of obligations based on relationships. Children have certain obligations to respect their parents, as parents have obligations to care for their children. Husbands and wives, friends, workers and employees, etc. all have certain obligations to one another. If a husband cheats on his wife, but then gives his wife a wonderful present, will he then break even? 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 in his neighborhood, would that judge cancel the punishment for the murder? He had violated his obligations 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? Or, what would we think of a hot-tempered teacher who refrains from temper loss with absent-minded students 100 times, but the time after that lets loose and gives one of them a good kick? Does that mean the teacher then has 99 "points" (100 good deeds minus 1 bad deed)? The teacher has fulfilled an obligation 100 times and has one violation on record.
People are obliged to forgive others for violations done to them, because they themselves have their own lists of violations, though perhaps in areas differing from those offending them: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15). God on the other hand is not "obliged" to forgive, because He is without sin. A judge in a courtroom, though not without sin, likewise has no obligation to pardon a crime.
According to the Bible, not only "good" deeds are expected of us. Our obligation is to do our best: "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5: 46-48). If a person lives a horrible life, accumulating a long list of cruel violations, but then reforms and lives the rest of life as an upstanding citizen, is the past then balanced out? The reformed life lived was already an obligation, but the former list of offenses is still on record. Likewise, when a criminal has finished serving time for their crime, it doesn't erase the crime, because their best was expected all along. Violations continue to accumulate throughout a person's life, and included in that list is the violation of not forgiving others for violations against us.
The biblical system is an entirely personal one. Positive or negative morals cannot be separated from relationships as being mere "points." To rebel against morality is not just to make a bad choice or to accumulate negative 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. To properly acknowledge obligations is also to change our relational standing: "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3: 24). 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. Then things that were once "obligations," become things which are welcome: "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you." (John 15: 15)
On the other hand, to embrace morality, but to reject the relational aspect of morality 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 everyone who does not continue 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.
It is hopeless for people to climb out of the mire of their misdeeds, by their own abilities. And yet there is hope for everyone. 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 you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Ephesians 2: 8-9).
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 (though not an exhaustive list of Buddha's lives), nor elsewhere in the Pali Canon, does Sakyamuni appear as a woman (although it is sometimes inferred that he must have been a woman at one time or another). 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[xvi] 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. And this rule is to be honoured, respected, revered, venerated, never to be transgressed during her life." (354); "From to-day admonition of monks by nuns is forbidden, admonition of nuns by monks is not forbidden. This rule too is to be honoured, respected, revered, venerated, never to be transgressed during her life." (355)
Elaborating on this basic attitude, Tibetan (Tantric) Buddhism has taken it to more extreme extents. Victor and Victoria Trimondi, in their book "The Shadow of the Dalai Lama: Sexuality, Magic, and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism," devote a large portion of their 816 page volume (in German) to the topic of misogyny:
"In light of the complexity of the topic, we have resolved to proceed deductively and to preface the entire book with the core statement of our research in the form of a hypothesis. Our readers will thus be set on their way with a statement whose truth or falsity only emerges from the investigations which follow. The formulation of this hypothesis is necessarily very abstract at the outset. Only in the course of our study does it fill out with blood and life, and unfortunately, with violence and death as well. Our core statement is as follows:
The mystery of Tantric Buddhism consists in the sacrifice of the feminine principle and the manipulation of erotic love in order to attain universal androcentric power"
(this book is not currently available in hardcopy in English, but the entire English translation of the German can be found online: http://www.trimondi.de/SDLE/Contents.htm)
Coming back to Theravada Buddhism, Jones explains the doctrinal gymnastics behind the scenes of the Jatakas and the Pali Canon proper, related to women:
"Why such an onslaught on the fair sex? I am convinced that JS 61 gives us the most reliable clue to an answer. The stories are designed mainly to discourage young men from family life and sexual involvement. Now, as we have seen, the canonical reason for turning away from the entanglements of family life is that these are "fetters", nourishing the illusion of "self" and of attachment to other "selves"; only in the detachment of the realisation of anatta (selflessness) can true peace be found. We have also seen that the Jatakas studiously avoid the doctrine of anatta, since this would undermine their basic premise: that the same person moves on from life to life....Thus women pay very dearly for the Jatakas' need to avoid the anatta doctrine. In becoming the scapegoat, they must have found it very hard to retain any self-respect. A Theravada woman, bred on the Jatakas, must have felt the dice were very heavily loaded against her- as must a layman who hoped that his marriage, against all the odds, would turn out well." (99)
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 junior 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 were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are 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.
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. The above canonical passage raises the question of Sakyamuni's omniscience (which is claimed for him in other canonical passages). Did he know the monks would commit suicide, and gave them this harsher form of meditation anyway, or did he not know, and thus was not omniscient (this latter view is more commonly held today).
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) In his chapter dealing with "Meditation on Breathing," Paravahera Vajiranana relates Vipassana[xvii] meditation to breathing:
"At the moment of insight he breathes in, breathes out, setting free the mind from the idea of permanence by contemplating impermanence, from the idea of happiness by contemplating painfulness, from the idea of self by contemplating non-ego, from the idea of delight by contemplating repulsion, from passion by contemplating detachment, from cause of origination by contemplating cessation, from clinging by contemplating renunciation." (255)
Also related to a breathing meditation, Vajiranana writes, "Thus in these two stages the bodily element of respiration is said to be completely tranquilized. It is with a view to attaining this state that 'he practises mindfulness of breathing in and out'" (243) In this instance, the goal of breathing is not breathing! In a footnote, and based on Visuddhimagga[xviii] 283, Vajiranana points out, "There are eight states in which there is no breathing: within the mother's womb, when one is drowned in water, in unconscious beings, in the dead, in the fourth Jhana[xix], in the unconscious form-world, in the formless world, and in Nirodha-samapatti, the attainment of the cessation of all feelings and perceptions" (243). Ernest Valea in his online article points out some further dangers with Vipassana meditation:
"...the experiences that accompany Buddhist contemplation on the mental states (citta samapatti) can be explained as misperceptions of the surrounding reality due to the imposition of an abnormal way of functioning on the senses and mind:
'As meditators passively watch their own mental states come and go without trying to control them, these begin to fluctuate more and more rapidly and unpredictably. After a while this chaotic activity creates the strong impression that the mental events are springing into life on their own, from some separate source, rather than the observer's own mind. As meditators persist with this practice, they also notice that there is a definite separation between the mental events being observed and the mind that is doing the observing. As meditation progresses still further, both the mental events and the observing mind begin to seem alien and impersonal, as if they do not really belong to the observer. At about this point the meditator's sense of "self" becomes confused and weakened, and finally it disappears entirely for brief periods of time... (E. Hillstrom, Testing the Spirits, IVP, 1995, p. 114-115)'" (www.comparativereligion.com/Buddhism.html)
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, even if it's "only" deception. Why does a person have to move into an altered state of consciousness, in order to accept the "higher truths?" Would we not be suspicious if a real estate agent told us we needed to take mind altering drugs before appreciating the full value of the house being sold?
The ultimate goal of meditation, canonically speaking, is nirvana- freedom from suffering via the non-existence of the individual. Many meditators who try Buddhist meditation at the basic levels, do not have this as their goal. Their goal may be inner peace, mental health, or just to experience something unique. Nonetheless, travelling farther along the pathway of meditation, when the stated goal is nirvana, meditators become more and more detached from their feelings, and become spiritually leprous. A person with physical leprosy is someone who has lost the sense of touch (and thus is in danger when leaning on a hot stove, not having an impulse to pull away, etc.). A person who becomes completely detached from emotions becomes spiritually leprous, and may appear to be quite peaceful, but is also unaware of emotions which give needed warning and provide other healthy functions.
There are said to be states of bliss and even supernormal abilities attainable along the pathway of meditation, but according to canonical teachings, these are supposed to be rejected as distracting from the ultimate purpose- that of complete cessation (nirvana). Thus the "positive" experiences of meditation are mere "lures" leading to the "hook" of cessation. 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. Meditation is sometimes labeled as scientific, because in it, the claims of the Buddha are said to be experienceable. However, as mentioned before, 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.
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. Proverbs chapter 18, verse 1 states, "A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment." 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.
This is the topic which brings to light Sakyamuni's claims to omniscience (or the Pali Canon's claims on his behalf). 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). These are not just examples of miracles, which would have to be examined on an individual basis according to the evidence for or against them. Rather, they are examples of "reality claims", which can be tested against modern and non-controversial knowledge of our world (such as the layout of the continents, the height of the tallest mountain, the size of the oceans, etc.).
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, and presumably conceived children at least by the age of nine if not earlier (since at age nine "old age" would have already set in). 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 said to be 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 (west to east)! 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.
For one who claims to omnisciently describe things "as they are" whether in the spiritual or the physical realm, it seems not too much to ask that he would be able to diagnose physical ailments and prescribe suitable cures. 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. Teachers and preceptors, although nursing him, were unable to get him well. 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? In another contrast to the ministry of Jesus Christ, whose healing was often described using the word "immediately," the Buddha gives permission for various remedies, which are often followed by the words, "he got no better" (278-279). Following such incidents is another passage showing the Buddha's lack of appropriate remedies:
"'I allow, monks, a piece of cloth for tying over the sore.' The sore itched. 'I allow you, monks, to sprinkle it with mustard-powder.' The sore festered. 'I allow you, monks, to make a fumigation.' The flesh of the sore stood up. 'I allow you, monks, to cut it off with a piece of salt-crystal.' The sore did not heal." (279)
When someone is so much in the dark regarding physical realities, why should we trust him concerning much weightier, eternally significant, spiritual realities?
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 (since such speculation doesn't lead to Nirvana). But, also if there is no Creator, how can we expect our world to have any morals (or any karmic justice), or any beauty if everything came into being through random, mutated, impersonal chance? Apart from the lack of cohesion between evolution and Buddhism, there is the more fundamental problem- evolution is still a theory- and after all these years since Darwin's "discovery", 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 someone raised with evolutionary thinking, a Creator may sound "unscientific", but the evidence is there. To dismiss this evidence without a fair examination would itself be unscientific. Should we accept something just because it is the opinion of our age or in agreement with our moral preferences in life? An objective person would be willing to follow the evidence where it leads, even if that means to God.
In Jataka 543, questions are asked concerning a Creator[xx]: "Why are his creatures all condemned to pain? Why does he not to all give happiness. [sic]" (Jones, 144). The agnosticism/atheism in Buddhism and emphasis on self-effort, claim for humanity a jurisdiction all their own. Suffering that is so evident in this world is often given as the reason for rejecting a loving and powerful God. The book of Job in the Bible addresses the problem of apparent injustices in this world. By making a judgement about their circumstances, people presume to know all that can be known about the situation. Job had a similar complaint, because from his perspective, he couldn't see any justice in what he was facing. In response, God asked Job four chapters worth of questions (Job 38-41), which made Job realize how limited his knowledge really is. Sitting in judgment on God is presuming to know what is right based on our finite and limited perspective. What knowledge does such a person have, that the Creator has not yet considered?
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: "Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them,
and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter 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. In Buddhism, the question of God's existence is placed in the category of vain philosophical speculation-- supposing that this question does not help a person end suffering through Nirvana. Thankfully, knowing God does not lead us to Nirvana (non-existence). Also, considering Sakyamuni's lack of omniscience, it is hardly 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[xxi], 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 whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3: 16-18).