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  • Writer's pictureEric Cline

What Might Buddhists Believe About...?

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Introduction What exactly does it take to be classified as a world religion? Common among the definitions is that a world religion is "a religious belief system which has become generally recognized as having independent status from any other religion, but which nonetheless may have many, sometimes mutually antagonistic, sects or denominations."[1] What is surprising is that there are actually more languages than there are different religions. There are some 4,300 religions of the world compared with 6,800 living languages spoken somewhere in the world.[2] According to Stephen Juan, Ph.D., anthropologist at the University of Sydney, the world's 20 largest religions[3] and their number of believers are:


1. Christianity (2.1 billion) 2. Islam (1.3 billion) 3. Nonreligious (Secular/Agnostic/Atheist) (1.1 billion) 4. Hinduism (900 million) 5. Chinese traditional religion (394 million) 6. Buddhism 376 million 7. Primal-indigenous (300 million) 8. African traditional and Diasporic (100 million) 9. Sikhism (23 million) 10. Juche (19 million) 11. Spiritism (15 million) 12. Judaism (14 million) 13. Bahai (7 million) 14. Jainism (4.2 million) 15. Shinto (4 million) 16. Cao Dai (4 million) 17. Zoroastrianism (2.6 million) 18. Tenrikyo (2 million) 19. Neo-Paganism (1 million) 20. Unitarian-Universalism (800,000)



Have you ever wondered how you became involved in your current religion or why you speak a particular language? What or who placed you onto this path? If it is possible to not have a religion, how does that happen? Why do you worship the way you do? Where did you learn this ritual? Are you practicing the faith of your parents or the faith of some other influence? George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher said, "What religion a man shall have is a historical accident, quite as much as what language he shall speak."[4] However, traditional Zoroastrians believe the soul is created before being placed into a material body and that soul has chosen, according to the will of God, a specific religion. Therefore, later conversion is blasphemy.[5]

Chances are your religion promotes peace while also being fortified for conflict if necessary, to preserve your way of life or in defense of something. One might claim there is a difference between "cult" and "religion" but in reviewing Webster's definition of cult, the same definition could apply to religion.[6] In fact, Webster provides "religion" as a synonym for cult. Therefore, I present Mormonism as one of the world religions, but some might regard it as a cult. Mormons might consider Christianity as a cult. My point is to avoid classification beyond "religion". Many of us are quick to counter critical views when our faith is challenged. Keep that and the person in mind while learning of contrasting religions. I write this chapter as a Christian and present each religion and that it is likely that I will unintentionally misrepresent certain aspects of other religions. As a Christian, it is well to keep John 16:33 close to your heart, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." The battle has been won but the loving and learning continues. I begin with Christianity to form a framework reference and since I am writing from a broad-stroke Christian perspective, I do not elaborate on any particular denomination. Nevertheless, I do present the different denominations of some religions, such as Judaism, for a more complete introduction of world religions. The religions are not presented in any particular order.

I wanted to have some sort of structure from which to present each religion. I selected significant subjects of the Christian faith as a structure of reference to navigate through each different religion. The Western reader can step from the familiar to curiosity. Notice that I am not comparing one religion to another and my point is to not declare similarities. I am simply using a structure to provide a point of reference using terms familiar to Christianity while understanding those terms may have different meanings in other religions. I intentionally avoided writing about the "life and times" of the religion's founders because, quite frankly, some of their history and all of their myths read too much like fantasy and tales of super heroes.

My intent in providing information in this structure is to provide ready answers to the curious reader about such things as, "What is the Mormon position on Jesus?" or "Do Muslims believe in the Bible?" or "What do Jews think about resurrection?" Keep in mind that what I write about different religions is of course what I glean from my research based upon my understanding. My purpose is to convey information about the different religions while understanding with the reader that "one apple my not always compare with another apple" so to speak. For example, Sacred text in organized religions will be regarded differently in non-structured religions; gods are either visible, physical, theoretical, indescribable or some other entity; and eternity is either timeless or terminal. These are but a few examples.

Buddhism

Introduction

Buddhism was founded around 560 BCE by Siddhartha Gautama, who was born a Hindu. He married a woman named Yasodhara, they had a son, and years later, Gautama left his wife and son to "solve the riddle of life."[7] He claimed experiencing nirvana after sitting under a tree for 40 days and nights and became known as Buddha or the enlightened one. Buddhists believe that when nirvana is achieved, one sees the world as it really is. Buddha denied that the sacred texts of the Hindus were divine and were of no help in finding the way to nirvana. The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are: Suffering (dukkha) is universal; The cause of suffering is craving; The cure for suffering is to overcome ignorance and eliminate craving; and Suppress craving by following the Middle Way – the Noble Eightfold Path. The two main branches of Buddhism are Mahayana and Theravada although others, such as the mystical Tibetan Buddhism exist as well. Most of the terms I use in this section on Buddhism are from the Sanskrit and some of them are from the Pali Canon. For example, nirvana is Sanskrit, Nibbana is from the Pali; Karma is Sanskrit, Kamma is from the Pali.

God

Buddhists are agnostic and they deny the existence of a personal God. Buddhists do not worship the Buddha as god. Buddha is a spiritual teacher. Buddhists have a doctrine of "dependent origination" – there is no beginning or even an absence of beginning of the world. Everything is a result of something else but the something else is perception and an illusion. Even your perception while reading this text, the Buddhist claim, is an illusion because the self is a non-self. "If we say, 'According to Buddhism, this exists,' or 'This does not exist,' it is not Buddhism, because the ideas of being and non-being are extremes that the Buddha transcended.[8] Buddhists believe continuous attempts to perceive are the cause of suffering. The Buddhist's view of gods in Hinduism is that they "have no place other than as beings with superior powers to humans, but who do not know the way of enlightenment."[9]

Jesus

The closest "Jesus" Buddhists have is a bikhu who has attained full realization. Otherwise known as a monk, bikhus do not become a Buddha but rather an arhat, a "holy man" who functions in a priest-like capacity in the temple.

Holy Spirit

Like many of the terms, Buddhists do not recognize the Holy Spirit in the same way as Christians. However, in "mindfulness" they describe an energy that helps keep one loving, compassionate, and accepting. In a sense, their energy of mindfulness might be a term similar to the Christian Holy Spirit. Buddhism claim that the energy of mindfulness is the energy of Buddha or a Buddha-in-the-making (bodhisattva). Many Buddhists view the expressions "Holy Spirit" and Mindfulness" as pointing to something actual and available and not an illusion or nothingness.[10]

Trinity

Buddhism does not recognize Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but it does acknowledge a trikaya theory. According to Reginald A. Ray, Ph.D., and professor of Buddhist Studies at Naropa University, a Buddhist inspired university in Boulder, Colorado, "Buddha is defined by three bodies of enlightenment, the so-called trikaya of classical Mahayana theory. These include the dharmakaya, the body of ultimate reality; the sambhogakaya, the body of joy; and the nirmanakaya, the Buddha’s conditioned, human body of flesh and blood."[11]

Incarnation

Jesus is the incarnation of God in the flesh, an incarnation unlike anything in Buddhism. The word "transformation" more accurately describes what happens in Buddhism. For example, In Tibetan Buddhism, under the name of Chenresig, Avalokitesvara (frequently pictured with eleven heads and multiple arms) is believed to be incarnated by the Dalai Lama. Avalokitesvara is a bodhisattva who "transformed" with the folk goddess of mercy in feminine form. Other examples include Samantabhadra, the bodhisattva of great practice; Ksitigarbha, the bodhisattva of great vows; Mainjusri, the bodhisattva of great wisdom, and Vajhrapani, the bodhisattva of great power. [12]

Bible

The sacred texts of the Buddhist are collected under the name of Tripitaka or "Three Baskets". Just as with the Bible, this Pali Canon of Sutras, the teachings, and words of the Buddha, have different versions and were influenced by First and Second Councils. Eventually, because of differences in philosophical underpinnings, division between the more strict and less strict disciplines created a split which led to the two branches of Buddhism, now called Theravada and Mahayana as mentioned in the introduction.

Baptism

In the Buddhist ceremony of initiation, called Ariya Sangha, there is no recognition of salvation through the grace of a god or savior. The whole ritual is for one to take refuge in expressing one's determination to follow the Buddha's path to enlightenment. The ceremony consists of the four practicing for the fruits and the four established in the fruits (eight noble persons and the fruit of the contemplative life). The ceremony is different for babies. On a full-moon day the baby is taken to the temple, sat in front of the Buddha, and the baby is later passed between mother and a kapuva, an officiating layman, in a ritual of initiation.[13]

Eucharist

The rituals and ceremonies of Buddhism vary from country to country, and from area to area within a country, none of which are referred to as the eucharist. "Some Buddhist countries celebrate the day of the Buddha's death and entry into nirvana, others celebrate the day of his enlightenment, and still others celebrate the day of his first sermon. Some Buddhist countries celebrate Sangha Day, which commemorates a day in the life of the historical Buddha when monks gathered to honor him. On this day, people bring food and gifts to the local temple."[14]

Salvation

Monks have reached salvation. Buddhists claim that as long as one continues to cling to something that is intrinsically impermanent, something that doesn't exist, suffering continues, and the only release (salvation) is to stop thinking in terms of imagined existence. With salvation, one has reached enlightenment. However, in the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, there are at least three innovations to achieve salvation without becoming a monk. The first is realization of sunyata, nothing exists. The second is the realization of multiple types of Buddhas: Manushi (Buddhas enlightened on earth), Dhyani "transcendental Buddhas", and bodhisattvas "Buddha-in-the-making". The third is realization of a proliferation of other scriptures such as the Lotus Sutra or the Heart Sutra. These realizations transform consciousness, raise awareness, and liberate bondage and bring salvation.

Forgiveness

The act of forgiveness is foreign to many but not to all Buddhists. Forgiveness is self-interested motivation. If you consider the wrong you do to someone else as a debt, and you are subsequently forgiven, that debt is erased, and you are no longer "connected" to that person. The relationship has changed. The forgiver had power (the power of forgiveness) and the forgiven is more of a victim because being forgiven did not fix the origin of the initial wrong committed to that person. Buddhist who do wrong inherit karma and karma is not a transaction exterminated by forgiveness. Buddhist who do not forgive or ask for forgiveness do agree to apologize. Apologies used in conjunction with the four forces of regret, reliance, remedy, and resolution place no burden or expectation on the other person and force the Buddhist towards purification. Patterns of behavior must be changed toward purification to prevent committing wrongs in the first place. Purification and karma are not based on transactions. They are based on evolution. Purifications remove impurities but do not make one pure. Purity is a spiritual ideal.[15]

Heaven

Above the human plane are the deva and brahma planes, part of the Buddhist cosmology. The deva are non-human beings with god-like characteristics and the brahma has four faces and four arms and lords over the realm of rebirth. This plane is something a conventionally thought of as "heaven". Humans will not remain in "heaven" forever because the Buddhist believe that existence is impermanent. This is what is meant by the terms ‘heaven' and 'hell' in Buddhist teachings: there are no permanent heavens or hells as taught in other religions.

Hell

Some Buddhists believe there are thirty-one planes of existence and the four planes below the human plane is conventionally referred to as hell and Buddhists would refer to them as an unhappy state of existence. The Buddhist name them as asura, peta, thiracchana, and niraya. One reincarnates in a particular plane of "hell" based upon their collected karma. Humans will not exist in "hell" forever because the Buddhist believe that existence is impermanent.

Angels

Buddhists believe in devas, "angels" to help those who have good karma. The angels are in the higher planes and not all of them communicate with humans. Angels are only "visible" to those who obtain abhiññā powers (direct apprehension of dhamma) predominately through meditation.

Death

"The Buddha himself described death as the 'the greatest of all teachers', 'the sickness' and 'the most important manifestation of impermanence'."[16] The Buddhist is very serious about preparing the mind for death through meditation. Death merely marks the end of one life and the rebirth into another. The when, and where death occurs and what rebirth will be like is dependent upon how much karma has accumulated. This endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara) continues until the realization of enlightenment. Of course, the rituals involved in the death process vary from tradition to tradition and between the branches of Buddhism.

Satan

Buddhists do not believe in a "Satan" but rather evil beings (mara) who attempt to communicate with and impede those having bad karma from ever reaching nirvana. Everyone is responsible for their own actions and evil beings cannot force one to make poor choices. Not being able to abide by the natural laws is a primary reason why humans are in a constant state of suffering. These evil beings are in the lower planes of existence.

Sin

Unlike Hinduism, the Buddhist believe that karma is something insubstantial attached to our insubstantial selves. There is no "thing" (sin) that passes from lifetime to lifetime, no cycle of reincarnation. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and karma but only in the sense that karma is a pattern of consciousness that imprints on oneself from one cycle of reincarnation to another yet without any substance to go with it.

Blood

According to a Georgetown University article written by Alex O'Neill, a blood sacrifice was made in a Buddhist village in Nepal to rid a malevolent spirit from a blind 96-year-old woman named Amaa. "… a chicken was brought in and raised in a circular motion above Amaa’s head. A yellow string was tied from Amaa to the bombo and a black and white string from the bombo to the chicken. The animal was moved outside of the house, eventually beheaded, and eaten by those in attendance. The spirit was banished."[17] This is a prime example of the differences among the Buddhist religion across the globe. This particular Buddhist village was comprised of at least three groups based on how strictly they observed Buddhist Dharma. Some simply observed from a distance, others participated, and the strictest practitioners did not attend. My research revealed that a more realistic understanding of blood sacrifice is to realize, for example, that in some Tibetan Buddhist communities, villagers are influenced by shamanistic practices and villagers have ultimately found their own way to respect and deal with both local shamanic and Tibetan Buddhist practices. This may give the impression that Buddhists are involved in animal sacrifice which may or may not be the case.

Eternity

Nirvana is eternal. It is without being and is beyond comprehension. It transcends time and space. Buddhist claim that Siddhartha Gautama attained nirvana.

Church

The practice of Buddhism varies widely across America and certainly between Western and Eastern cultures. In America, the places for Buddhist worship are called churches or temples and the leaders are ministers or reverends. The rituals are heavily influenced by Western culture and the desire to assimilate in American society while still trying to maintain a Buddha-Dharma practice. For example, Buddhist church and temple rituals closely follow that of Christian churches with such activities as Sunday school, Wednesday night meetings, Sunday worship services, and men and women groups with the exceptional addition of meditative sessions. Overall, the practice in places of Buddhist worship have a two-fold orientation toward existence. They all seems to focus on ways to escape the frustrations of life (just as do many other religions), and they all focus on the Buddha and provide guidance on how to overcome the meaninglessness of life through meditation, the Noble Truths, and the path to enlightenment.

Clergy/Organization

An arhat, or "holy man", may live in a monastery connected to a temple and is suitable to achieve nirvana just as a Buddha. For the most part, the laity remain secondary participants in the religion of Buddhism although some can become a bikhu for a short time. The laypersons obligations are to not harm any living beings, not steal, not commit sexual immorality, not lie, and not partake of alcoholic drinks. In addition, they are to provide food, clothes, and material necessities in support of the bikhus all while maintaining the temples. Temple maintenances involve continuous ornate decoration of the temple with gold leaf, flowers, and statues. The statues are not real in themselves, rather symbols to remind Buddhists of the right path.

Resurrection

Rather than coming back to life in the same body (resurrected), Buddhist believe in rebirth, a reincarnation (or transmigration) in a new body. Some Buddhists believe rebirth can occur physically or spiritually. Buddhists believe in life after death because the Buddha taught that human beings are each born an infinite number of times, unless they achieve Nirvana.

Wrap-up

Western labels overly simplify the Buddhist belief system. Sources on the same branch of Buddhism can differ and the actual application of the Dharma may be drastically different but two common threads are that the Buddhists do not regard Buddha as a god but rather one showing the right path, and that Buddha cannot intervene on one's behalf.

[1] Definitions.net, STANDS4 LLC, 2020."world religion." Accessed August 21, 2020.<https://www.definitions.net/definition/world+religion. [2] Stephen Juan, Ph.D. What are the most widely practiced religions of the world? The Register. theregister.com/2006/10/06/the_odd_body_religion/ [3] Ibid., [4] Neil Philip, The Religions Book, (Penquin Random House, 1974) p. 14 [5] Anonymous, http://www.pyracantha.com/Z/convertz.html [6] Cult: a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous. Cult: a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much. Cult: a small group of very devoted supporters or fans [7]Fritz Ridenour, So What's The Difference? (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2014) p. 99 [8] Steven Goodheart, Thich Nhat Hanh on Buddhism, Mindfulness, and the Holy Spirit, 2010 Accessed November 14, 2020.< <https://mettarefuge.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/thich-nhat-hanh-on-buddhism-mindfulness-and-the-holy-spirit/> [9]Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths, A Christian Introduction to World Religions, (Downers Grove, IN: IVP Academic Press, 2012) p.321 [10]Steven Goodheart, Thich Nhat Hanh on Buddhism, Mindfulness, and the Holy Spirit, 2010 Accessed November 14, 2020.< <https://mettarefuge.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/thich-nhat-hanh-on-buddhism-mindfulness-and-the-holy-spirit/> [11] Reginald Ray, A Buddhist Trinity, 2004 Accessed on November 14, 2020, from < https://www.lionsroar.com/three-in-one-a-buddhist-trinity/> [12] Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths, A Christian Introduction to World Religions, (Downers Grove, IN: IVP Academic Press, 2012) p.327 [13] A.G.S. Kariuyawasam, Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka, 1995 Retrieved November 15, 2020, from < http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/ceremonies-srilanka6.pdf> [14] Pathos.com Religion Library, Buddhism, 2018, retrieved on November 15, 2020 from < https://www.patheos.com/library/buddhism/ritual-worship-devotion-symbolism/rites-and-ceremonies> [15] Ken McLeod, Forgiveness Is Not Buddhist, 2017. Retrieved November 15, 2020 from < https://tricycle.org/magazine/forgiveness-not-buddhist/> [16] Ken Holmes, Buddhism and Death, Kagyu Samye Ling, retrieved November 16, 2020, from< https://www.samyeling.org/buddhism-and-meditation/teaching-archive-2/dharmacharya-ken-holmes/buddhism-and-death/> [17] Alex O'Neill, Blood Sacrifice in a Buddhist Village? 2013, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from < https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/blood-sacrifice-in-a-buddhist-village>

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