Criticism of Buddhism
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Criticism of Buddhism, much like the criticism of religion in general, can be found from those who disagree with or question the assertions, beliefs or other factors of various schools of Buddhism. Some Buddhist denominations, many predominantly Buddhist nations, and individual Buddhist leaders have been criticized in one way or another. Sources of criticism can come from, for example, agnostics, skeptics, "anti-religion" philosophers, rationalists, proponents of other religions, or by Buddhists espousing reform or simply expressing their dislike.
There are two criteria of criticism of any system of thoughts; one is based on rational evaluation of its doctrines, texts, teachings and practice, and the other criterion pertains to the consistency or inconsistency of the practitioners in applying the teachings.
- 1 Criticism of Buddhist Doctrines
- 2 Inconsistencies of Some Practitioners of Buddhism
- 3 War and violence
- 4 Buddhist self-criticism
- 5 Marxist criticism
- 6 Catholic criticism
- 7 See also
- 8 References
Buddhist doctrines were taught over 45 years of gradual preaching of sutras attributed to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni.1 Consequently, various teachings - and also their later commentaries – differ widely between various Buddhist schools, depending on which sutra is in concern.2 For this reason, criticism of a certain Buddhist doctrine may apply only to a certain interpretation of that particular doctrine, or that particular school of Buddhism. Nevertheless there are common teachings to all branches of Buddhism, which are the subject of debate and investigation in academic circles.
Karma literally means ‘Action’ - and implies a connection between the cause of action and its related effects. While this concept of cause and effect sounds reasonable in daily observation, Buddhism teaches that the effects of karmic actions can be experienced in future lifetimes, based on a belief that part of the consciousness does not vanish at death but is carried on to next reappearance: ”The Alaya consciousness is sometimes called ‘non-vanishing’ because the karmic seeds stored within it do not disappear at death. Our individual lives are accompanied into latency by all the effects of our karma” 3 Obviously, the realm of after-death lies beyond scientific observation and remains a matter of belief. The critical argument about the concept of Karma centers on “ The problem is exacerbated by the contention that the law of karma is not empirically verifiable. Yet its constitutive process of cause (one's action) and effect (the pain or pleasure received) cannot be understood in any way other than empirical" 4
Buddhism teaches the doctrine of continuity of life in a cycle of birth and death, which implies the belief in reappearance of one’s life in a future form after death. Rebirth is the reappearance of the same karmic tendencies - not the person - in a new birth: “Our individual lives are accompanied into latency by all the effects of our karma”.5 Rebirth is, however, beyond the ability of science to confirm or deny either validity.67
Although Buddhism was compared with Existentialism, however, it was criticized by Nietzsche, interpreting Buddhism as a life-negating philosophy that seeks to escape an existence dominated by suffering.8 The doctrine of the Four Noble Truths was targeted by criticism for its focus on sufferings.9 There are other Buddhist teachings however, which acknowledge the element of joy in life, for example: the text of the Lotus Sutra contains scenaries of people’s enlightenment, with a mind "dancing with joy".10 The teaching of Nichiren Buddhism also acknowledges both sufferings and joy: “Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy, regard both sufferings and joy as facts of life”.11
Admission of women in the community of believers Sangha took place during the time of the Buddha’s life. After the First Buddhist Council of Theravada Buddhism various temples set more rules of conduct for nuns bhikkunis than for monks bhikkus, seen as a move based on discrimination. The most criticised doctrine which regards women as inferior to men is found in Amida Buddhism’s vow 35: “The Buddha established the Vow of transformation [women] into men, Thereby vowing to enable women to attain Buddhahood”.12 Earlier limitations on attainment of Buddhahood by women were abolished in the Lotus Sutra which opened the direct path to enlightenment for women equally to men.13 According to Nichiren” “Only in the Lotus Sutra do we read that a woman who embraces this sutra not only excels all other women but surpasses all men”.14
Theravada Buddhism has been criticized because it treats women, particularly women monks, as inferior to men.15 Most schools of Buddhism have more rules for bhikkunis (nuns) than bhikkus (monk) lineages. Buddhists explain that in the time of the Buddha, nuns had such problems like safety if they were to be ordained the same way as monks who traveled around in the forest and between cities. Thus, more rules have to be created for nuns, for instance: nuns are forbidden to travel alone.16
Sometimes in religion there has been an emphasis on male importance. In Buddhism, however, the highest vows, namely the bhikshu and bhikshuni ones, are equal and entail the same rights. This is the case despite the fact that in some ritual areas, due to social custom, bhikshus go first. But Buddha gave the basic rights equally to both sangha groups. There is no point in discussing whether or not to revive the bhikshuni ordination; the question is merely how to do so properly within the context of the Vinaya.
The practice of seated meditation can produce a general feeling of wellbeing, however, in some situations it is claimed to lead to mental problems especially when it is not conducted by an experienced trainer.18 Some Vipassana retreat programs also mention about difficulties some practitioners may encounter in their practice.19 Other points of criticism focus on the doctrinal concepts of Void or Emptiness, which do not have parallels in western philosophies.
Some practitioners argue that the criticisms levied against the Buddhist religion draw on examples from sub-traditions not in consonance to Buddhist principles.20 These meta-critiques are similar to those from by practitioners in other religious traditions. The lack of evidence of any original teachings or global authority on "true" Buddhism makes it difficult to substantiate these claims outside of practitioner circles.21
Recently, there has been some overlap between the criticism of doctrinal and historical inconsistenciesclarification needed in Buddhism and those based on rationalist, evidentialist, secular or skeptical approaches to the issue. For example, Sam Harris, a prominent proponent of New Atheism22 and practitioner of Buddhist meditation, claims that many practitioners of Buddhism improperly treat it as a religion, and criticizes their beliefs as "naive, petitionary, and superstitious," and claims that such beliefs impede the adoption of true Buddhist principles.23 The former Buddhist monk Stephen Batchelor has penned several books in which he claims that Buddhism was originally a secular but mystical system of psycho-spiritual self-improvement.
Some critics claim that certain Buddhist adherents and leaders have been materialistic and corrupt with an improper interest in wealth and power rather than pursuit of Buddhist principles.24 There have been a number of well-publicised sex scandals involving teachers in emerging Western Buddhist groups,25 even though the Vinaya expressly forbids any sexual activity among Buddhist monastics.26
In his edited volume Buddhist Warfare, Michael Jerryson argues that Buddhism has been connected to government since its genesis. This "inability to conceive of a state without Buddhism alludes to a kind of religious nationalism", and this is found in a variety of Buddhist conflicts.27 In medieval Southeast Asia, there were a number of Buddhist states, including the Pagan Kingdom, the Sukhothai Kingdom, and the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa. In Sri Lanka especially modern monks frequently involve themselves in nationalist politics,.28 Sri Lankan peace activists such as A. T. Ariyaratne have however also drawn on Buddhism for inspiration.
Japanese Buddhism also often received state support. The Zen priest Brian Daizen Victoria documented in his book Zen at War how Buddhist institutions justified Japanese militarism in official publications and cooperated with the Japanese Army on the battlefield. In response to the book, several sects issued an apology for their wartime support of the government.29
Christopher Hitchens summarized these issues as a specifically Buddhist desire to "put their reason to sleep, and to discard their minds along with their sandals".30 In 2010 Hitchens wrote for the cover of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, "...Stephen Batchelor adds the universe of Buddhism to the many fields in which received truth and blind faith are now giving way to ethical and scientific humanism, in which lies our only real hope."3132
Buddhists also have a record of both passive and active nonviolence, often reflected by national culture. In Burma, monks have advocated nonviolence during the 2007 anti-government protests amongst many other occasions; Engaged Buddhism arose in Vietnam as a means of protest prior to the Vietnam War. (see pacifism) Though more recently, Buddhists in Burma have been accused of ethnic cleansing of minority Rohingya Muslims.3334
After the 2008 unrest in the Tibetan area of the PRC, the official Chinese government stance has been that the Dalai Lama helped to orchestrate the unrest and violence. A Chinese Ministry of Public Security spokesperson claimed searches of monasteries in the Tibetan capital had turned up a large cache of weapons, including 176 guns and 7,725 pounds of explosives.37
The Colombo Telegraph reported that "Sri Lanka’s minority Muslims continue to be subjected to violence and persecution, often at the hands of militant Buddhists, who are very active at the grassroots level."38
Among the Buddhist groups which never shared in violence is the Value Creation Soka Gakkai or SGI, currently “the largest lay believers group in the world”,40 which teachings are based on Nichiren Buddhism emphasizing the sanctity of life and absolute non-violence: “To deprive a being of life is to commit the gravest kind of sin”.41
While almost all Buddhist temples in Japan supported the war in the Pacific during the II WW, Soka Gakkai Buddhists refused to comply with the orders of the military government: “The Japanese government decimated the Soka Gakkai's pre-World War II membership by jailing much of its leadership because of the Soka Gakkai's refusal to support the war effort or to obey laws pertaining to the control of religious organizations”.42 Committed to nonviolence, SGI supports disarmament and teaches the role of dialogue: “....the role of dialogue in the advancement of peace, education, and culture".43 SGI Buddhists share in social movements against violence in society and the organisation is registered at the United Nations (since 1983) as a NGO.
Critical Buddhism is a branch of Japanese Buddhist scholarship which aims to reform Buddhism through critical examination of its practices and philosophy.
Many individual schools of Buddhism are criticized by other practitioners as spiritually insincere or not attached to the original teachings of the original Buddha, including Sōka Gakkai, the Nichiren Shōshū, the Dhammakaya Movement, and participants in the Dorje Shugden controversy.
Several critics have criticized Tibet for maintaining a feudal society that exploited peasants and treated them like serfs.44 The current Dalai Lama, however, has stated that he is in favor of a Buddhist synthesis with Marxist economics, as he believes that internationalist nature of Marxism shows compassion to the poor, which is in line with Buddhist teachings, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability.45
In 1997, before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger criticised western Buddhism as "a spiritual autoeroticism" that "appears as a possibility of touching the infinite and obtaining happiness without having any concrete religious obligations."46
- Bulssi Japbyeon
- Criticism of religion
- Secular Buddhism
- Buddhist terrorism in South and Southeast Asia against Muslims
- Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death, Ikeda p.160, Middle Way Press, ISBN 0-9723267-0-7
- (Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death p.160)
- Writing of Nichiren Daishonin, vol1.p 463 http://www.sgilibrary.org/view.php?page=463&m
- Keyes, Charles F. "Mother or Mistress but Never a Monk: Buddhist Notions of Female Gender in Rural Thailand", American Ethnologist, Vol. 11, No. 2 (May, 1984), pp. 223-241.
- Gutschow, Kim (2004). Being a Buddhist nun: the struggle for enlightenment in the Himalayas. Harvard University Press. p. 207,225,240.
- Lucinda Joy Peach (2001), "Buddhism and Human Rights in the Thai Sex Trade", in Religious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women, Courtney W. Howland (Ed)., Palgrave Macmillan, p. 219.
- Janell Mills (2000), "Militarisim, civil war and women's status: a Burma case study", in Women in Asia: tradition, modernity, and globalisation, Louise P. Edwards (Ed.), University of Michigan Press, p. 269.
- Campbell, June (2002). Traveller in Space: Gender, Identity and Tibetan Buddhism. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8264-5719-3.
- Women in Buddhism (English)
- Berzin Summary Report Human Rights and the Status of Women in Buddhism
- *Christine J. Nissen, (2008), "Buddhism and Corruption", in People of virtue: reconfiguring religion, power and moral order in Cambodia today, Alexandra Kent (Ed.), NIAS Press, p. 272-292.
- *Jerryson, Michael (2010). Buddhist Warfare. Oxford University Press. pp. 4–5.
- Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Daniel Dennett have been described as the "Four Horsemen" of the "New Atheism". See 'THE FOUR HORSEMEN,' Discussions with Richard Dawkins: Episode 1, RDFRS - RichardDawkins.net and » Blog Archive » The Four Horsemen of the New Atheism
- Killing the Buddha by Sam Harris
- Laird, Thomas (2007). The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama. Grove Press. p. 278.
- Kieschnick, John (2003). The impact of Buddhism on Chinese material culture. Princeton University Press. pp. 12–13.
- Tarling, Nicholas (1992). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia: From early times to c. 1800. Cambridge University Press. p. 245.
- Rinpoche, Samdhong (2006). Samdhong Rinpoche: uncompromising truth for a compromised world : Tibetan Buddhism and today's world. World Wisdom, Inc. pp. 139–140.
- Mabbett, Ian W. (1985). Modern China: the mirage of modernity. Taylor & Francis. p. 112.
- Michael Downing. Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center. Counterpoint, 2002.
- Bell, Sandra (2002). "Scandals in Emerging Western Buddhism". In Charles S Prebish & Martin Baumann. Westward Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Asia. University of California Press. pp. 230–242. ISBN 0-520-22625-9.
- Jerryson, Michael and Mark Juergensmyer (2010). Buddhist Warfare, ch. 1, "Introduction."
- Ananda Abeysekara, "The Saffron Army, Violence, Terror(ism): Buddhism, Identity, and Difference in Sri Lanka". Numen 48.1 (2001).
- Zen at War (2nd ed.) by Brian Daizen Victoria / Rowman and Littlefield 2006, ISBN 0-7425-3926-1
- God Is Not Great, p 204. Atlantic, New York, 2006
- Vernon, Mark (March 10, 2010). "The new Buddhist atheism". The Guardian. Retrieved October 24, 2011.
- Hitchens, Christopher. "Review of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist". Amazon.com. Retrieved October 26, 2011.
- "Rights Group: Myanmar Unrest Is 'Ethnic Cleansing'". ABC News.
- Human Rights Watch (2013): "All You Can Do is Pray" Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State, Report 2013, ISBN 978-1-62313-0053 PDF
- Buddhist Quotes
- "Refugees warn of Bhutan's new tide of ethnic expulsions". The Guardian . April 20, 2008
- "China Steps Up Attacks, Brands Dalai Lama Supporters 'Scum of Buddhism'". Fox News. 2008-04-02. Retrieved 2010-08-11.
- "Hate Incidents Report: Muslims Continue To Be Subjected To Violence And Persecution Often At The Hands Of Militant Buddhists – SFM". Colombo Telegraph. May 8, 2013.
- Nirmal Ghosh (Apr 8, 2013). "Myanmar Buddhist supremacy leaders under microscope". The Straits Times.
- ^ "In Defense Of Buddhist Humanism". Webpages.uidaho.edu. Retrieved 2013-06-17
- Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol 1 p.667; http://www.sgilibrary.org/view.php?page=667
- Nanzan University, The Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 13, No.1, page 40, Mar. 1986, http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/2324
- Ikeda, My Dear Friends in America, p.342, World Press Tribune, ISBN 9781932911817
- Goldstein, Melvyn C. (1991). A history of modern Tibet, 1913-1951: the demise of the Lamaist state. University of California Press. p. 5.
- Goldstein, Melvyn C. (2009). A history of modern Tibet: The calm before the storm, 1951-1955. University of California Press. p. 440.
- Florida, Robert E. (2005). Human Rights and the World's Major Religions: The Buddhist tradition, Volume 5. Praeger. p. 190.
- Luo, Zhufeng (1990). Religion under socialism. M.E. Sharpe. p. 40.
- Friendly Feudalism - The Tibet Myth
- The Dalai Lama Answers Questions on Various Topics
- Schmidt-leukel, Perry (2009). Transformation by Integration: How Inter-faith Encounter Changes Christianity. SCM Press. ISBN 9780334043171.