Popularising New Dogma on the Buddha?

by S.A. Sng, Singapore, The Buddhist Channel, Sept 25, 2007

With regards to the article “Q and A with Deepak Chopra” as found on http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=9,4304,0,0,1,0 , here are some reflections to share... Sometimes, popular authors are just not accurate enough. For instance, self-help guru Deepak Chopra recently launched a book titled “Buddha”. I browsed through it and was appalled of how he put words in the Buddha’s mouth, changing details to his preference.

For instance, I came across a section of the book on the Buddha meeting Angulimala. The conversation they “had” was a far cry from that recorded in the Angulimala Sutta (See http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.086.than.html for instance.) In fact, Chopra’s “inspired” version of the meeting paled greatly in comparison. It was a great shame, doing little, if any justice to their encounter.

It is as if he did not know (or ignored?) popular orthodox scriptural accounts of the Buddha’s life which still exist. In the above interview, he said something ironical – “So I don't consider myself Buddhist because I don't think Buddha himself believed in ideology or dogma.” This is ironical because his account of the Buddha’s life might create new ideology and dogma.

The “brand” of “the Buddha” seems to be easily abused by popular media – especially since Buddhist are often perceived to be easily “bullied”. Not that we should all stick dogmatically to any Buddhist scriptures without question, but what is the point of having meticulously recorded scriptures if they are not considered as a worthy reference point? It is true that the Buddha did not encourage dogmatism. But he was a teacher with the highest regard for the truth - neither did he encourage putting unspoken words in anyone else’s mouth. Since the book put words in the Buddha’s mouth, it cannot even be considered as a commentary on the Buddha’s words.

If influential authors were to put words in the mouths of other prominent religious founders, the worldwide consequences of such perceived blasphemy might pale in comparison to this very brief lamentation. Authors, especially popular ones, ought to be more mindful about their choice of words – for unwisely chosen words can lead to much religious disharmony.

Please let your friends be aware that the above book is not a good introduction to the Buddha’s life story. Two local Buddhist bookshops have also decided to cease sales of it. (This “letter” was also sent to Mr. Chopra for his kind reflection.)