Buddha Answers Christian Questions in Kindness Friday, April 27, 2007Posted by h3nry in Buddha, Buddhism, Christianity, faith, funny, God, humour, parody, religion, sarcasm.
“Buddha, in his typical spirit of compassion and kindness, decided to answer their questions. He allowed an appearance-body to emanate into our world, and took a walking/bus tour of America, giving representatives from this Christian website a chance to find him, and finally get the answers to their concerns.”
As an atheist, this little exchange makes it an entertaining read. If I could ask Buddha 10 questions – not that I have given it much thought – I’d ask more constructive, non-Christian related questions such as solutions to today’s humanity problems, or would Buddha modify any of its tenets after thousands of years have gone by, and so on – rather than focusing narrow-mindedly on Christian ideology such as a personal God.
I thought this little dialogue is so good that I will duplicate it here in its entirety. Mine own commentary is not in quotes.
Here is question 1:
A group of brave Christians, intent on following the example of ancient Brahmins and interviewing the Buddha, found him walking in a forest near the small town of Jaredville, Indiana, and asked him:
“If there is no personal God, and if one can attain nirvana only as a result of the destruction of thirst (tanha) / desire, therefore the destruction of attachment, therefore the destruction of existence–from whence, do you suppose, did personality (or even the sense of personality) ever come? Exactly what is it, and where does it go when one ceases to exist?”
The World-Honored One smiled and responded:
“Christian friend, “Nirvana” is not the name given by me to something lacking, nor to something attained; Nor do I teach of the “end of existence”, nor of its beginning. Those things only lead to ceaseless speculation, and to inevitable suffering. I suggest that your question has been misframed. There is suffering, and there is a way to the end of suffering, and this is all the Buddha teaches. What you call “personality” arises when the conditions necessary for the formation of “personality” are present, and it vanishes when those conditions are no longer present. To ask “where the personality goes” is also a mis-framed question; where does a fire go, when its fuel is exhausted? You have twice stated that I teach of the “destruction of existence” or the idea of “ceasing to exist”, but I teach none of those things. I teach only of the arising of unsatisfactory states, and of the ceasing of unsatisfactory states.”
Here is question 2, another one related to the concept of personal god.
Intent on outsmarting the Buddha, those Christians found him again at a Bus stop out on Route 8. They asked him:
“Without a personal God, on what basis can there ever exist any human moral standard or ethic–and therefore, in what sense do you mean for us to understand the terms noble and truth, i.e. The Four Noble Truths, or the term right in the eight-fold path of right views, resolve, speech, conduct, occupation, efforts, awareness, and meditation?”
The World-Honored One said:
“Christian friend, I have opened my eyes and seen numberless sentient beings in existence, and I know that all of these beings have one thing in common: all suffer from pains of body and mind; all suffer from the heat of thirsts and passions; all suffer from physical sickness or injury, and they all quake with fear in the face of the great lord of death.
All beings suffer in this way, and all beings wish to be free of suffering. Without knowing it, driven by negative karma, they mindlessly create the causes for their own sufferings and the sufferings of others. Still, in their hearts, all desire to be loved, accepted, and free of suffering and the causes of suffering. All fear pain, injury, isolation, and death.
Realizing this, compassion for all other beings can arise. It is this compassion, and the mindfulness that arises from it with respect to the needs of others, that the Buddha says is the basis for moral and ethical standards. The words “noble” and “truth” found in my teaching of the Four Noble Truths are meant to be understood as describing the noble call to examine the truths of our condition, so that we will be motivated to seek a life that leads us to be free from suffering.
The term “right” used to describe the various parts of the Eightfold Path is meant by me to be understood as being synonymous with “mindful” and “compassionate”.
Here comes question 3. This is a good question that can be asked of all major religions, Christianity, Islam and the like – what provisions do the religions provide before they come on to scene?
In an incredible show of “pot calling the kettle black” logic, those Christians found Buddha on the side of the road outside of Chicago, and actually demanded to know the answer to this question:
“If your teaching, which came on the scene in the sixth century B.C., alone represents truth and liberation–what provision was there for the millions who lived previous to the advent of your enlightenment and teaching? Why do you suppose that you, of all humankind, were the one to come on this insight when you did?”
The World-Honored One answered:
“Christian friend, You have misunderstood what I have taught, or perhaps you are led astray by the things others have said about me. I came to no insight, and attained not a single thing that would lift me above all of humankind. The Buddha’s way does not promise a special “insight” that stands in opposition to a condition lacking insight. Such a view is a poisonous view, a tangled view, a dualistic view that will inevitably lead to more suffering.
The Buddha’s way directs each person to be satisfied with simplicity, and to cultivate an attitude of mindfulness. My way leads to the development of right views that reveal the root of suffering in each person, and the way to the end of that suffering. There is no “insight” to be won as most people think of this word; there is only suffering that exists, and which can cease.
All sentient beings live, suffer, and die, and are driven by karma to rebirth. All sentient beings exist in this manner, from age to age, until they find the path that leads to freedom, and thereafter they are free. The teachings of the perfect Dharma arise in every age of the world from the enlightened speech and action of the Buddhas of those ages, and those teachings are the “provisions” of which you ask. So long as the Dharma persists, so will beings find the way to the end of suffering. The liberating power of its wisdom reaches every grain of sand.”
On to Question 4:
The Christians who were on Buddha’s trail drove around for a while, before spotting him sitting in the Playground of a McDonalds in Dallas. They ran into the playground and asked him:
“If, as you are reported to have said, nirvana is “beyond…good and evil”, then, in the ultimate sense, there is really no difference between Hitler and Mother Theresa, or between helping an old lady across the street and running her down–correct?”
The World-Honored One responded:
“Christian friends, had I ever said “Nirvana is beyond good and evil”, it would not lead to the conclusion you have come to, that there is no difference between an evil man and a good woman, or between helping and harming a fellow human being.
To state that something should be considered beyond the categories created by the grasping of the deluded mind and beyond the act of labeling is one thing; to say that there is no difference between the actions undertaken by an evil man and a good woman, or no difference between helping and harming, is something else entirely.
There are those who do harmful things to others, and there are those who selflessly give aid and compassion to others; woe follows the first kind of person, and joy is the companion of the second. Avoid woe; do what leads to peace and joy. This is the Law, ancient and inexhaustible. That is what the Buddha teaches.”
Not to be undone, the Christians tracked Buddha down and found him in Boulder, Colorado, standing outside the gates of Naropa Institute.
They asked him:
“Thich Nhat Hanh, bodhisattva (holy man) and author of Living Buddha, Living Christ, attempts to homogenize Buddhism and Christianity. Though you never knew of Jesus Christ, it would seem that you too might suggest that one could conceivably be a “Christian Buddhist”. Yet how could that ever be possible given Christianity’s categorical differences with Buddhism on matters like the nature of sin, reincarnation, and salvation–to name just a few. Jesus claimed to be the Truth. The Christian Scripture says that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”
The World-Honored One smiled patiently and said:
“Christian friend, I have never suggested that a person could or should be a “Christian Buddhist”. I have never suggested that someone be anything in particular; I have only ever taught that people should be mindful, should avoid extremes, and practice compassion and virtue. That is all. How a man acts is one thing; how he understands is another, and these two are entwined. What a man calls himself, whether Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or Brahmanist, is secondary to how he thinks and acts, and tertiary to the level of mindfulness that man has attained. Only in compassionate, selfless, and virtuous acts are the conditions for peace created; only in peace can mindfulness be cultivated. What a man calls himself therefore means little to me.
For a man to say that he “is the truth” sounds like a misframed statement; there is confusion here. It would be just as confusing for a man to announce “I am Justice”. A man may seek justice or attempt to perform just acts; he can teach about justice or believe in justice, but he is not himself justice. A man is a man, and justice is justice.
The Buddha is the Buddha, Truth is Truth, and Compassion is Compassion. I do not say “I am truth” or “I am compassion”; I am awakened and I teach the eternal Dharma; I am awakened and I teach about the way suffering arises, and the way it is defeated. That is salvation, and it is boundlessly available to all, in any age, though karmic obscurations are so strong that most will need to hear the Dharma of the awakened ones to find the natural peace that arises from recognizing their unborn nature.
Those who cannot or do not understand what I have said will create warped teachings which they believe will offer them release from their suffering- doctrines of this and that God, doctrines of sin and requirements of prayer, incense, sacrifice, and ritual. They will go around and around the wheel of suffering grasping on to these things, their desperation growing stronger as their doubts about themselves grow stronger, and their minds will become darkened with despair, fanaticism, violence, and ignorance.
These conditioned things can no more free people from suffering than the light reflecting from a pond’s surface can quench a man’s thirst. They can enchant the senses, but they end where they began: in suffering and deluded grasping for some certainty which the Buddha has taught cannot be found in this world of samsara. If it is certainty you seek, you must obtain it from your own awakened nature, and from nothing else.”
Question 6 mirrors a question that I would love to ask Jesus or God if I could – how would he feel about all these Christian denominations such as Catholicism, Orthodox, Anglicanism, Methodism and so on and on and on…
Finding the Buddha wading in the shallow water off the coast of Oahu, the Christians sent forth their most clever commentator, who asked the Buddha:
“How do you feel about the many variations of your teaching that have evolved down through the years? Please comment on Theravada (38%), Mahayana (56%), Tantrism or Vajranaya, Tibetan (6%; Dalai Lama), and Zen Buddhism?”
The World-Honored One said:
“Christian friend, a million beautiful words can be spoken or written down, but bring no peace. Better than a million beautiful words is one plain word that brings peace. Men and women love words, and so many words will be spoken and written down, in every time and place. The orientation towards peace is more important than words, and this orientation has always existed in every school or sect of Buddhism.
Many years ago, when I was born as Siddhartha Gautama, I realized unexcelled freedom, and I taught people a way to the end of suffering. Since that time, people have taken my teachings and applied them in many brilliant ways, all for the same purpose- the end of suffering.
Regardless of sect or transmission, my teachings about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path have remained constant; my view of the Middle Way has informed all sects of Buddhism, and through every age, sanghas working in the name of my teachings have devoted themselves to rooting out the causes of suffering. All of these sects have produced impressive works of art, writing, and culture, all of which manifests the spirit of great awakening.
In much the same way that many variations on the teachings of Jesus have evolved down through the years, such as Catholicism, Greek Orthodox Christianity, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anglicanism, Methodism, Mormonism, Southern Baptism, and many, many more, so have people looked upon my teachings in the various ways they needed to look upon them, to find peace.”
Begining to grow weary and somewhat desperate, the Christians found Buddha in a diner somewhere in the Texas Panhandle. One of them asked him:
“Chuck Stanford says: “Like cloudy water, our minds are basically pure and clear, but sometimes they become cloudy from the storms of discursive thoughts. Just like water, if we let our minds sit undisturbed the mud and muck will eventually settle to the bottom. Once this happens we can begin to get in touch with our basic goodness. It is through this basic goodness that the Buddha discovered that we can lead sane lives.” But, Mr. Gautama, what if you are wrong about our being basically good? The Bible says that we’re conceived in sin. What if there is a personal God to whom we will all one day answer? What if your enlightenment (awakening) was really only a dream?”
The World-Honored One Answered:
“Christian friend, perhaps someone has misquoted me to you. I have never called human nature “basically good”; I have said that the true nature of all things is without character, is boundless and free, empty of any qualities you may wish to ascribe to it whatsoever. It is because your nature is purely and boundlessly free of any one “way of being” that you can be free of suffering. If your nature was innately “one way or another”, freedom would not be possible.
I know that humans have boundless potential to express enlightened actions, actions which soothe suffering, show compassion, and bring peace and healing to other beings. Insofar as these things are preferable to causing suffering, breaking peace, and harming other beings, they may be rightly called “good”. I say that humans have boundless potential for good acts, acts of compassion and kindness.
If humans lacked this potential, then not only would goodness be impossible, but the moral foundations of human life would be undermined. Every day world-renouncers, saints, monks, nuns, and laypersons of all faiths and countries express good acts. They have expressed countless virtuous acts long before the birth of your Messiah, or the writing of your sacred texts. This is evidence that their nature is basically good, for no effect can rise above its cause. If the cause is good, the effects can be good and virtuous. If human nature were innately flawed or bad, no act of a person could ever be virtuous.
You now ask me “what if my awakening was a dream” and “what if there’s a personal God to whom we will one day answer?” You now cite the authority of a holy scripture or a sacred book and say “I believe in these things because this book says so.”
And to you, I can say: I have experienced freedom. I do not have “faith” in freedom, I am certain of the reality of freedom. I have no need to appeal to a scripture to validate my knowledge of freedom. Anyone who follows the way of awakening with great courage and nobility will find freedom.
You cannot respond by saying “I have experienced my Supreme Being”, for in the same manner that you can doubt the Buddha’s experience, others can doubt your statement- perhaps your experience of your God was a dream. How will you show that it was not? You ask me “what if” many times; I can ask you “what if” in the same manner. What if your God isn’t what you believe he is? What if your sacred texts are just so many piles of paper and ink? What superior evidence can you show me for your claims that will render your positions more compelling?
You can say you have faith in your God, and indeed, you will happily admit to your good and virtuous faith, but you don’t have certainty; faith implies that you cannot be fully certain. Where you are uncertain, and prepared to live in the shelter of your faith, all of the Awakened ones rest in the certainty of boundless freedom.
You appeal to scriptures for both evidence of your beliefs and authority, but this proves nothing, except that you personally choose to believe that this book has a sort of authority. In this same manner, many people all over the world have chosen to believe that their magical statues, idols, jewels, and scriptures had miraculous powers or were sources of spiritual authority. Your own sacred text does not stand out against those, except in your own opinion. But freedom is not based on opinion; it is a reality that all people can experience, and it is far beyond opinion.
Those who follow the path of Theism will not all find their God here and now; some will say “we only know the Supreme Being by his silence or mystery”, and in this, they revert back to faith. To no Theist is given a shred of tangible evidence for their claims or the powers they ascribe to their deity. But anyone who follows the Buddha’s way of awakening will find freedom. Do not course in the endless circles of suffering brought about through speculation, beliefs, and blind adherence to tradition. Stop and look, with clarity, and really see what is there.”
Finding Buddha walking down a crowded sidewalk in Memphis, The Christians put their cinema knowledge together and asked him:
“In the film “Beyond Rangoon” Laura’s guide says that the (Buddhist) Burmese expect suffering, not happiness. When happiness comes, it is to be enjoyed as a gift, but with the awareness that it will soon certainly pass. If the ultimate Buddhist hope is to just leave the present wheel of birth and rebirth and enter into the ineffable bliss of Nirvana, where is the motivation to do good, and to actively oppose injustice, in this present life?”
The World-Honored One said to them:
“Christian friends, I cannot answer to the accuracy of a movie created by a motion picture company, nor its ability to reflect the truth of my teachings. I have not seen this movie, “Beyond Rangoon”, but I hear good things.
From what you say, it sounds as if a screenwriter has made a statement about what some Burmese Buddhists may or may not believe. For my part, I say that all conditioned things arise, abide, and fall away or vanish, and that includes all occassions of joy and sorrow.
In this light, people can be aided in enduring sorrow, knowing that the conditions that bring it about must eventually change or fade, and we can appreciate the joyful things that we experience, by not grasping on to them, or expecting them to remain unchanged forever. We can be fully appreciative of them while we experience them. In this sense, the Burmese Buddhists are not unwise to see occassions of happiness as gifts, but keeping the awareness that they must eventually pass.
Again you have come to misunderstand my teachings- my disciples are not enjoined to place their efforts into an “ultimate hope” for a great spiritual achievement one day. I have never taught that people should have “hope” that they can leave some wheel of rebirth and “enter into” Nirvana; Nirvana has no door or gate; one does not “enter into” it. Nirvana is not some world or paradise apart from the experience you are having at this moment. Anyone who thinks of Nirvana in these wrong ways will never know freedom.
The motivation to do good, to oppose injustice, in this present life, is born in compassion. All men, women, and children in this world suffer; all want to be free from suffering. All want to be loved; all want to be spared isolation and pain. Each person knows this is true about himself; it is equally true for all mankind, and for all sentient beings. This realization gives birth to compassion. The more we help others with kindness and compassionate acts, the more the world will become peaceful and the more likely it will be that happiness and joy will surround us, helping us on our own path of realization.”
Realizing that their time was short, the Christians cornered Buddha in the Florida Everglades. One of the youth pastors asked him:
“How do we reconcile the Dalai Lama’s observation that “Every human being has the potential to create happiness”, with your own teaching that suffering is caused by desire? If one sets out to resist desire, why would one ever then entertain the desire for happiness, and thus work to create it?”
The World-Honored One answered:
“Christian friend, egocentric desire is not the only thing that can motivate the actions of human beings. For most people, it is true that narrow desires drive them from one action to another. But for some, compassion and love are what motivate them. Compassion is the wish for others to be free from suffering; love is the wish for others to have happiness. It is possible to wish these things for other people, without any hint of selfish desire.
Surely you have heard of the term “selfless love”- a parent, for instance, can love a child, putting that child’s needs before their own, and even be willing to die to save the child. This parent’s love isn’t based on hope of personal reward, but on a selfless wish for the good of the child before their own good.
Just so, compassion can be selfless, and all of the Awakened Ones feel just this love and compassion for all other sentient beings. Without hope for reward or thought of personal aggrandizement, they express whatever they must express to help save other sentient beings from suffering; they do whatever they can do, with the boundless energy of bliss, selfless compassion and love to support them.
These Awakened Beings never want to create the “desire” for happiness in others, nor do they have it in themselves; they work to create happiness or the conditions for happiness in others, and they are themselves already perfectly happy and at rest, in the ongoing freedom of their own awakening. Those who walk the path of awakening are enjoined to work on laying aside egocentric motivations and embracing true, boundless compassion and love for all sentient beings. After they have done so, they work to create happiness and peace naturally and spontaneously.”
Last, and I think this is a completely waste of a precious question – what is the point of it?
In one last act of desperation, The Christians found Buddha on Decatur Street in New Orleans, and surrounded him. The rudest of them asked him:
“Personal Trivia: Did you really sit under that bo tree for seven full days–without ever eating any figs? Did your remarkably sensitive, compassionate, nature come more from your mother or father? How did your son, left to grow up without a father, feel about your “Great Renunciation”?
The World Honored One answered:
“Christian Friend, there have been many stories told about my awakening experience; many think that I sat for seven, eleven, thirty, or even forty days without food or drink; some say that I was awakened upon seeing the full moon rising, and others say that I was awakened upon seeing the evening star. Some say that armies of demons attacked me, and that I had to use my miraculous powers to defeat them, before I could awaken; others believe that I simply sat and came to deep profundity through techniques of meditation. Bodhi Trees don’t actually produce figs, so I can assure you I didn’t eat any figs. I did sit, however, and meditate, and yes, after a point, I was free.
If it is true that aspects of a person’s character can “be inherited” from one parent or another, my sensitive and compassionate personality was probably from my mother, for my father was a stern, quiet, and driven man. My underlying, awakened nature, like the nature of all things, is free and boundless, but my potential to express sensitivity and compassion was developed through my own efforts. All people can develop the same good potentials. I honor my parents by saying that they gave me a good, strong body through which I could find freedom in this world.
As far as my son Rahula, I left him and his mother safely in the palace of my father, where they were taken care of, fed, protected, and entertained until my return six years later. In those times, 2500 years ago, men in that part of India didn’t have the same role expectations that men in nuclear families in modern America have. I was a warrior, and a prince, and all princes in my time spent most of their time away from family, roaming the land, engaging in politics, fighting, and the like. It was very similar to how princes and kings treated their own families, during the Christian ages of Europe. I do recall Jesus stating in your scriptures that he came to set family members against one another, and that he also renounced his mother in front of a lot of people. While Jesus claims to have come to bring “not peace, but a sword”, my teachings are here to create peace, a lasting peace for each sentient being.
I was only gone six years, but I missed my child and wife, and had much joy to see them again. They both found awakening through my teachings, and now enjoy perpetual bliss.”