The Dark Side of the Buddha
Posted by spritzophrenia on January 6, 2010
|I’m the illest Buddhist you’ve seen
all the ladies wanna meditate with me
I look so serene when I bust a lotus
but i don’t have an ego so I wouldn’t even notice
I think of you before I think of myself
Arj Barker in his hilarious “Sickest Buddhist” video, at right
Edit: Here’s a recent post on Buddhist meditation and anatman. September 2011.
Buddhism has attracted me for a long time. Gautama’s faith is seen by many Westerners as a non-faith that can be followed as a philosophy or practice with little reference to gods. This may in fact not be the case, as we’ll see below. The foundation of Buddhism is that life is suffering; it gets worse because we are reborn beyond death and continue to suffer, so we have to escape rebirth somehow. Compassion for others and non-attachment to this world is promoted. If you need it here’s a Western-style introduction to Buddhism and an overview of core teachings.
The Japan-ified Buddhism of “Zen” was trendy in the West. Mainly ‘cos the word Zen sounds cool. I read a fantastic book years ago about Zen and shooting things. Presumably not living things, although I’m not sure if that was made clear. Arrows were involved but I don’t think it was the classic Zen and the Art of Archery.
I do however have intellectual reservations about Buddhism. I think the logical implications of some of its beliefs actually end up being antihuman; life-denying and unliveable . Bottom line, I have no evidence Buddhism is true. Christians for example can point to Y’shua’s (alleged) rising from the dead. It all passes or fails on that one event according to their chief 1st Century apologist which is at least disprovable, and possibly proveable. Mormons can point to US archaeology – which is a massive fail, sadly. I’ve searched in vain for a Buddhist apologetic that goes beyond “I experience this, so it might be true. You should try it.”
Nevertheless, Buddhism has a good rep in the West as a bunch of nice vegetarians in saffron robes who say profound things and spend a lot of time in the lotus position thinking deeply. I have a cynical enough view of humanity that I shouldn’t have bought into the innocence and perfection of its adherents, but like many, I did.
|Recently a buddhist monk left a monastary in China, disgusted at the immorality he found there. The story’s had a lot of attention on Chinese blogs.
Some comments on the blog claim the story of the randy monks is a fake. It could indeed be fake, a fairly explicit story about monks indulging in gay sex is rather pornographic after all. If we find ourselves directed to a pay-per-view site in the next instalment I guess we’ll know. But the story could also be true. I’m not capable of investigative journalism on this; speaking Chinese and living in mainland China are pre-requisites I don’t have. A little IP address research might show something, but I’ll let someone else do that.
Sadly, there are other verified stories of monks into sex, drugs and alcohol and a woman who became the tulku (re-incarnated lama), Kalu Rinpoche’s sex slave. I’ve written about Buddhist teaching on drugs previously.
Searching for commentary I found more than I expected about the dark side of the Buddha (see disclaimer,  ). Committed Buddhist Sumangalo Khen writes that “Buddhist hypocrites are the worst kind”. He says “One of the most common issues reflecting [Buddhist hypocrisy] would be the way temple committees hate one another, some even try to rob the devotees of their faith and money.” [My edit.]
It’s not just the laity. Phony holy men are not approved of in Buddhism. Few Buddhist holy men are as well-known in the West as Tibet’s Dalai Lama. However The Dalai Lama is accused of religious persecution. One site asks Why is the Dalai Lama suppressing religious freedom?, claiming he is using his political power to destroy a centuries-old religious tradition, causing confusion and pain for thousands of Tibetans. I confess, I’ve found the West’s obsession with someone who believes in gods and demons a little strange. Of all the sects of Buddhism the Tibetan and Nepalese forms seem the furthest from the original Dharma to me. I’d suggest Therevada is the closest, but many Buddhists don’t have the view that Buddhism is a once-for-always revelation based on a fixed set of scriptures. It’s allowed to evolve, so to some it’s quite permissable for modern Buddhism to be quite different from its ancient orgins.
An example of Western Buddhist evolution is the idea that Buddhism can be atheist, “devout atheism or godless religion“, as one teacher puts it. Some years ago I read that Gautama wasn’t actually an atheist as such, he simply believed that the Hindu gods of his time were irrelevant to enlightenment. Whether that’s the case, his followers still spend plenty of time on deities, even appearing to deify Gautama himself. BuddhaNet claims there is “no worship of a deity or deification of the Buddha.” I don’t believe this is so. In practice, Buddhist followers spend a significant amount of time on devotion. When they devote themselves to the original Buddha, other buddhas or bodhissatvas it’s not exactly the same as “worship” but I suspect is closer to god-worship than an atheist would like. Hence, in practice, the claim that Buddhism can be an atheistic religion may not be satisfactory for someone who finds any supernaturalism irrational.
There’s an interesting thread on a rationalist site where the originator says “Buddhism (my “religion”) seems to contain the most blatant hypocrites”. Note that many respondents there are not Buddhists. Says one former Buddhist:
Everywhere you get quotes of Einstein and other intellectuals about how scientific, rational, modern Buddhism is, that it is about reality, that karma is just the law of causality, and that rebirth is only the moment to moment transformation, that Buddhism is the religion of the future, or even that it isn’t a religion.
But then once inside you find out that belief in afterlife (rebirth), karma as a moral retribution law, the omniscience of Buddha, miracles of Buddhas and Bodhisatvas, pure lands, complete obedience to one’s guru, sins (bad karma), gods (“devas”), supernatural powers, etc, are all seen as fundamental beliefs in Buddhism.
Personally I was fooled at first, believing the “advertising”, and once inside, when I saw how things really are, I quit.
Another respondent writes, contra this: “To have a less superstitious take on Buddhism is not to “pretend” that there are no Buddhists with a more superstitious take on Buddhism. There are textual bases and philosophical reasons to disagree with Buddhists who (for one example) think things like rebirth must mean the transmigration of souls. It’s no misrepresentation of Buddhism to have a different view from that. And I’ve seen no pretending that some Buddhists are not superstitious, so I don’t see the insincerity and hypocrisy that you speak of.”
Another quotes supernaturalist texts from Gautama:
This perversion of Buddhism was caused by Alan Watts and others in the Buddhist hippie movement. If you wanted you could also de-mystify Christianity in the same way these hippies perverted Buddhism to fit their agendas.
Most are easily fooled by the way Buddhism is portrayed. I also was fooled until I started reading the actual pali canons (the oldest known Buddhist scriptures) and found it really not much different from other religions with its ghosts, spirits, miracles. There’s ghosts, spirits, demons (Maras), gods (devas), supernormal powers (iddhis), etc…in Buddhism.
Gautama Buddha even said that man who refused to believe in his supernormal powers was a “misguided” man:
“Sariputta, this misguided man Sunakkhatta will never infer of me according to Dhamma: ‘That Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed.’
“And he will never infer of me according to Dhamma: ‘That Blessed One enjoys the various kinds of supernormal power: having been one, he becomes many; having been many, he becomes one; he appears and vanishes; he goes unhindered through a wall, through an enclosure, through a mountain, as though through space; he dives in and out of the earth as though it were water; he walks on water without sinking as though it were earth; seated cross-legged, he travels in space like a bird; with his hand he touches and strokes the moon and sun so powerful and mighty; he wields bodily mastery even as far as the Brahma-world.’
“And he will never infer of me according to Dhamma: ‘With the divine ear element, which is purified and surpasses the human, that Blessed One hears both kinds of sounds, the heavenly and the human, those that are far as well as near.’
“And he will never infer of me according to Dhamma: ‘That Blessed One encompasses with his own mind the minds of other beings, other persons. He understands a mind affected by lust as affected by lust and a mind unaffected by lust as unaffected by lust; he understands a mind affected by hate as affected by hate and a mind unaffected by hate as unaffected by hate; he understands a mind affected by delusion as affected by delusion and a mind unaffected by delusion as unaffected by delusion; he understands a contracted mind as contracted and a distracted mind as distracted; he understands an exalted mind as exalted and an unexalted mind as unexalted; he understands a surpassed mind as surpassed and an unsurpassed mind as unsurpassed; he understands a concentrated mind as concentrated and an unconcentrated mind as unconcentrated; he understands a liberated mind as liberated and an unliberated mind as unliberated.’ (Maha-sihanada Sutta, 5-8)
The problem of Buddha’s sexism is another example of the evolution of Buddhist thought and practice. In Buddhist Channel Buddhist monk Dr Mettanando Bhikkhu lists some of the restrictive views on women: “Buddhists who are traditionally trained take for granted that [a quotation from the Buddha means] that women are inferior to men”. Some scholars take a nuanced view of sexist attitudes towards women in Buddhism. While acknowledging modern re-interpretations of some texts, Bhikkhu concludes that a traditional reading of Buddha would conclude he was sexist, and that “In Theravada countries, the Buddhist religion has never been in support of human rights and social justice. As long as there is no reformation of the religious education system in Buddhism and the Tripitaka, the religion will remain the biggest obstacle for the development of democracy and social justice in these countries.”
Are some Buddhists racist? Anthony Elmore, a proud black buddhist and Nichiren Shoshu devotee writes “The Buddha Nichiren Daishonin who we consider the ‘True Buddha’ of our modern age writes in the Gosho; “There should be no discrimination between those who propagate ‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo’. ” He remains committed but believes his organisation is racist towards African-Americans. He comes up with the surprising statement that “the Ancient Buddhists were Africans and history proves this.”
Finally, although I haven’t read all of the content critically and I’m curious as to their agenda, this site alleges all kinds of horrors by Buddhists, including violence. See also Monks with Guns, a book about buddhist violence.
All is not well in the sangha. Wisdom Quarterly, an American Buddhist journal echoes my own belief that we’re all moral hypocrites. I’ve already blogged about Pagans and hypocrisy. I’ll possibly do one about Christian hypocrisy in future although I suspect most of us are already well aware of that. It may be time to meditate before an ancient angry Buddha statue. As an aside, is there something about old religious stuff that makes it art, not kitsch? If you’re really wanting Buddhist kitsch, try the Buddha phone.
Perhaps I shall remain Avidya  but I think I’ll continue my interest in Buddhism. I plan to take a meditation course at some point. But I’ll be doing it with my eyes open, no pun intended.
listening to Plus-Tech Squeeze Box | (unknown), Pryda | Remember
tful Fascinating video about the ‘Exponential Times’ we live in.
 I’m going to start picking a soundtrack for my posts. The idea is the music compliments the writing and I’m a huge music fan. Today’s soundtrack is Departure/Ride My See-Saw by the Moody Blues. It’s more of an ‘OM’-type New Age hippy thing really, but since we in the West are pretty ignorant it will do just nicely for a Buddhist soundtrack. I first heard this when I was around 17, I love it’s abandoned joy in seeking enlightenment. Plus, its The Moody Blues maaaan.
 I suppose I should have blogged about logical inconsistencies before making this statement. Briefly, if the goal of Buddhism is to lose your self and become absorbed into the oneness of Nirvana then ultimately one’s own self is of no value. Hence, why have compassion on others? Other people are also of no value, and will eventually become nothing when they achieve Nirvana. This is only a short summary and is criticised by some Buddhists. I don’t have space for the full discussion here, would you like me to write a longer post about these ideas sometime?
 Disclaimer: I’m well aware that a non-adherent of a religion usually makes mistakes in emphasis, nuance and understanding when writing about it. My apologies for any factual errors. I feel uncomfortable criticising a spiritual path from the outside so I’m relying on those writing from the inside. I also acknowledge the large number of good, moral buddhists.
The Moody Blues | Ride My See-Saw
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