In a recent Newsweek article, the author found that Buddhism is the second least popular religion behind Islam. The zen monks of Tibet and Bhutan, the green tea drinking Cambodians, the chanting, incense burning peaceniks around the world practicing right thought and right action are almost as hated (or at least disliked) as the US flag burning, Bush effigy smashing, Qu’ran reading masses throughout the globe. A related article postulated that Americans know very little about their own religion and even less about others’. It did say that athiests had a good grip on religious questions, proving that they at least put some thought into their dogma. Some of the questions were: In what town was Jesus born? What religion was Mother Theresa? What is the largest religion in Indonesia? They are simple questions for people who know the history of the religion they devote their life to believing.
I was puzzled by this for several reasons. How can people really not know where Jesus was born and what is to hate about Buddhism? I can play Devil’s advocate for almost anything, but why hate a religion that is only a belief system? The Buddhist god doesn’t exist in the Christian sense. Buddha was a man, like Jesus, like Muhammad, like Joseph Smith. He was a rich prince who gave up his material wealth to beg; when begging didn’t give him peace, he found the river–the enlightenment of being and not being, as Bruce Lee said, “Be like water.”
Buddha cannot see all that we do, he is not omnipotent or omnipresent. Buddhists believe he has been incarnated in successive generations in the form of the Dalai Lama. Anyone who has ever heard the present Lama speak knows he is at least a super special, affectionate, compassionate, smart, and funny man if not the reincarnation of the Buddha. I’m sad to hear that people still hate other religions at this period of time.
President Jefferson was quoted in that Newsweek article as saying, “What do I care what my neighbor believes, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” How could we be so advanced in science and technology and so prehistoric in our tolerance? Fear creates major riffs in society. The Taliban destroyed the largest statue of Buddha in March 2001 (only a few months before the 9/11 attacks). They were afraid that their suicide warrior Muslims might think, “Hey, meditating and not killing living beings makes more sense to me than perpetual holy war and murder.” If a few thousand did that and moved away, their army would thin out quickly.
Fear can keep your subjects on their reverent knees. Old Testament God knew this. The first rule of God’s club is: “There is no other God but me, okay?” The second rule is: “Never talk bad about me and always worship me once a week; and if you don’t, the hot fingers of hell will massage your tender back muscles with needles and sear your eyes with sulfur!” It worked for a few millennia. Now, with the advent of space travel, quantum physics and genetic studies, we can see the underlying system behind most forms of life as a random occurrence of atoms conjoining and whistling their way to work.
There is no need to fear religion. There is no need to fight wars screaming across the battlefield, “My God is the true God!” Buddhism teaches that as long as you understand the four-fold path by following the eight tenets of right action, you are possessing and creating good karma for yourself and others. Ben Harper sang in his pot melody, “If you’re causing no harm then you’re alright with me.”
Thank all the world religions for giving you options in how to help you through this life. Death and problems come to us all, at those times we’ve all heard the stories that help us continue in peace. “God works in mysterious ways.” or “He’s in a better place now.” or “Everything happens for a reason.” I saw my aunt in the coffin, they all told me she was in a better place. I looked and saw her laying there. I knew the vessel that was my aunt was not here anymore, but where she was is the greatest question that has ever been asked. We all deserve the chance to answer that question in any way we choose.