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No Thanks, I'll Stick With Buddhism

By Zyrius, The Buddhist Channel, July 3, 2008

Singapore -- I read with interest the article "Planning the Demise of Buddhism" (http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=10,6724,0,0,1,0), which mentioned the book below.

Here is a critical analysis (written in 2007) of a highly erroneous excerpt from "Peoples of the Buddhist World: A Christian Prayer Diary" by Paul Hattaway, the international director of Asia Harvest. In case you think this is about harvesting crops or sheep, we are talking about people here - Buddhists in this case. Here is the passage:

"... let us commit ourselves to pray: to pray for the Dalai Lama himself, that he would meet the risen Lord Jesus and be confronted with ultimate truth, and for those who have embraced his erroneous 'gospel'... To the present generation of Westerners, who reject moral absolutes and despise any claim to spiritual exclusivity, it is no wonder the Dalai Lama is so popular. I've heard the Dalai Lama say, with a casual wave of his hand, 'If you think my message is nonsense, then forget it.' Thanks, I think I might, and I'll stick with Jesus, the true incarnation of God."

Some noteworthy points are as follows, from both neutral and Buddhist perspectives:

1. It's great to know that Hattaway proposes to fellow Christians to pray for the world's best known Buddhist teacher. But as we shall see, he does not seem to understand him well. I pray that he tries to understand him (and Buddhism) better.

2. Fellow Buddhists pray too - for all beings to face the "ultimate truth", as in contrast with conventional truths, half-truths and lies. Buddhists also wish for all beings to meet Lord Buddha (or other Buddhas), though not with any intention of competing with other faiths to convert or "harvest" the supposedly erroneous masses.

3. As such, Buddhists do not have such a handbook - which analyses the masses, including those of other faiths, for "harvesting" them. This book, which is printed in Singapore can be bought in Singapore at Christian bookshops - which is highly inappropriate as the Singaporean government emphasises a great deal on the importance of inter-religious harmony and understanding. Surely, this is great material for stimulating unneeded tension.

4. The phrase "his erroneous 'gospel'" is itself erroneous in multiple ways. Firstly, out of respect for Buddhists, it should be written as "his 'erroneous' gospel" - since Buddhists do not believe the Buddhist teachings to be erroneous, even if Hattaway does. Ultimately, Buddhists too would see Christianity as "erroneous" in certain ways. (Note the respectful use of quotation marks in the previous sentence.) Secondly, the Dalai Lama teaches no "gospel", unless it is meant as "teaching" in general, instead of specifically Christian gospel. Thirdly, the teachings of the Dalai Lama are largely not his, but as passed down from the enlightened Buddha.

5. To insinuate that the Dalai Lama attracts those who are alluded to be immoral ("who reject moral absolutes") is itself immoral - because the Dalai Lama does not advocate the unimportance of morals. Well known for his great compassion, he is perhaps one of the most moral humans alive. He even wrote the best-selling book "Ethics for the New Millennium". How ethically unsound can he be? Buddhism also teaches very high moral standards - which even encompasses how animals and the environment should be treated.

6. Buddhism also does not "despise any claim to spiritual exclusivity". The excerpt hints that Christianity claims spiritual exclusivity. While it is alright to do so as a declaration of one's faith, it is not right to disrespect Buddhism just because it does not advocate spiritual exclusivity. Then again, does Buddhism really not advocate spiritual exclusivity? Buddhism respects other religions and philosophies in the sense that they might be part of the long journey to enlightenment. However, the Buddha did teach that any teaching that contains the Noble Eightfold Path can be considered the right path to liberation. It is interesting to note that no other religion meets this criteria fully yet. In this sense, Buddhism is spiritually exclusive too - though with great respect for all worthy faiths, including Christianity.

7. About why the Dalai Lama is so popular, surely, this is no wonder - with credits due to his great humanity. Note that he is a Nobel Peace Prize winner - recognised by the world for his efforts for spreading the message of universal non-sectarian peace, compassion and happiness. It is then a great shame to discount the immeasurable benefits that the Dalai Lama is still bringing to humankind with such insensitive remarks, as in the excerpt. The fact that the Dalai Lama is able to attract and benefit the masses, to the extent of being perhaps the world's most beloved religious leader (even by non-Buddhists), is surely very significant - a result of the great worthiness of his teachings.

8. If he really did say what was quoted, the Dalai Lama's gracious comment that listeners should forget nonsense after thinking is surely common-sensical - to Buddhists, Christians and everyone else. Buddhism does not advocate blind faith, but intelligent questioning. Does Hattaway expect people who think any message is nonsense to not forget it? "Think" is a key word in the Dalai Lama's comment. Even after thinking deeply, should one embrace what is seen as nonsense? Obviously no - or one's thinking must be faulty.

9. The last line betrays Hattaway's judgment of Buddhism from the premise that there is indisputably a true God to all. This is to see Buddhism through heavily tinted glasses. Buddhism has probably the most sophisticated teachings on the nature of gods and the belief in a creator God. (See article "Are Buddhists Atheists" at http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=8,2859,0,0,1,0) Also, the Dalai Lama never claimed to be any god or God. Likewise, the Buddha is a "Teacher of humans and gods" - as his supreme wisdom transcends that of even the highest gods, including those who in Buddhist cosmology have erroneously believed themselves to be creator gods.

10. In summary, to openly ask Christians to pray for the Dalai Lama to see the error of his ways is loosely equivalent to asking Buddhists to pray for the best known living Christian leader to see the error of his ways. Imagine the outrage this would spark off on both sides. Of course, Buddhists are not openly claiming any religious leader to be erroneous. As analysed, this book should be banned - for it is an appalling insult to the ideal of different religions co-existing in harmony in today's religiously sensitive global village that is the world. The passage is an insult to the Dalai Lama, millions of non-Buddhists and Buddhists who follow his teachings, and the Buddhist community on the whole.

I shudder to imagine what other rude shocks fellow Buddhists might discover when they see the rest of the book. It was mentioned in Hattaway's preface - “Does it break God's heart today that hundreds of millions of Buddhists are marching to hell with little or no gospel witness? Does it break the Savior's heart that millions worship lifeless idols instead of the true, glorious Heavenly Father?” For Hattaway and company, who try so hard to impress their missionary efforts on Buddhists and those who are uninterested in converting to their faith, I have this quote to share from Annie Dillard -

Somewhere, and I can't find where,
I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest,
“If I didn't know about God and sin, would I go to hell?”
“No,” said the priest, “not if you did not know.”
“Then why,” asked the Eskimo earnestly, “did you tell me?”

If her logic is watertight, perhaps the original sin is to preach about God to non-believers?



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