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More Buddhist Questions on the Bible

I continue now with the interview I did with the Buddhist editors of the Korean magazine: The Monthly YangWoo Magazine 3/2020.   They had some interesting questions, as outsiders to Christianity but who see Christian churches, pastors, and believers in their environment, and they wanted my opinion as someone who knows the Christian world but is not longer committed to it.   This will be the second of three posts.

 

Q5. We feel that some of the paragraphs in the Bible are correct and some of them are not. Moreover, we feel priests and/or pastors, who know and don’t know the facts mentioned above, provide incorrect and non-reasonable opinions and sermons about the Bible to Christians and others. And the reason they do so is only to pursue their own profits  by blinding their followers’ eyes and ears. For example, Martin Luther who is famously known as a religion reformer said “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has. Reason should be destroyed in all Christians. Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore.” What do you think about the attitude of these priests and pastors?

To see my answer to this and other questions: join the blog!   Costs very little, and gives very much.  And everything we bring in goes out to charities.   It’s good for everyone!

R5:  I have to admit, I have known many hundreds (thousands probably) of priests and pastors over the years (I am now 64 years old).  I don’t believe I have ever known any who preached what they did for their own profit.  I’m sure it happens, but I’ve never known anyone like that.  Those who are like that are just being human, I suppose, seeking their own good instead of the good of others.  But all the hundreds/thousands I have personally known are sincere and interested in helping others.

 

Q6. In Korea, there are shamans who receive revelations from Gods and worship those Gods. Each God gives unique revelations to his shaman. In Christianity, Moses and others received revelations from Jehovah, not El and they are called prophets. Prophet is originally from a Hebrew word, English transliteration, ‘navi’ meaning a person who tells God’s words to others. What do you think of the difference between shaman and prophet?

 

R6:  I’m not really qualified to comment on Korean shamans in relation to Hebrew prophets.   I will say that the “revelations” that the prophets claimed to have received from God in the Old Testament were completely different from what most people today imagine.  At least in Western Christianity most Christians think that the prophets were predicting what was going to happen in the distant future – for example, predicting the coming of the messiah centuries later, or predicting what would happen to us at the end of the world.  That is a complete misunderstanding of prophets in the Hebrew Bible.  They were always, in every case, speaking directly to their own situations, and almost always directing their comments to the social and political situations they found themselves in, urging people to give up their evil ways and to return to God.  If they didn’t do so, they would be punished by social, political, economic, or military disaster.   That, for the prophets, was what God wanted his people to know.  They should love one another, work for justice, oppose oppression, and worship him alone.  Otherwise disaster would come to their country and to themselves personally.

 

Q7. In the Christian Bible (New Testaments), there are sentences saying “Jesus walks on water.” and “Jesus feeds the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish.” Christians literally regard these sentences as the miracles Jesus performed. Jesus also says “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

Q8. In Buddha’s Sutra, there are sentences saying “Buddha walks on water without getting wet, not even a drop.” and “Though nine million people eat one Sweet-Delicious Dish, it is not reduced at all.” However, people who follow Buddha’s Teachings don’t regard them as miracles. In Buddha’s Teachings, they comprehend them in this way; “walking on water without getting wet” means “living in this world which is full of endless desire, anger, and blinded Prajna, but still being not colored by such worldly things, and finally awakening like Buddha did”. It is like how a lotus blooms a pure, white flower in a muddy pond. That is why a lotus is a symbol of Buddha’s Teachings. In the sentence, “though nine million people eat One Sweet-Delicious Dish, it is not reduced at all”, here “One Sweet-Delicious Dish” means “Buddha’s Teachings”, and ”eat” means to “learn and practice Buddha’s Teachings in order to reach Nirvana like Shakyamuni Buddha did”. So, this sentence means that even if all sentient-beings, including human beings and Gods, learn and practice Buddha’s Teachings, Buddha’s Teachings are not reduced at all.

 

There is also a sentence saying “Buddhas and Bodhisattvas give their bone marrows, bone, blood, flesh and skin to all of the sentient-beings.” It means that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas willingly sacrifice their bone marrows, bone, blood, flesh and skin to save all of sentient-beings from the sufferings of samsaras. In the Sutra, there are also sentences saying “I’ve got your bone marrow, blood, flesh and skin” and “By eating your bone marrow, blood, flesh and skin, I’ve earned eternal life.” These sentences mean ‘obtaining Awakening.’ What do you think of the miracles by Jesus?

 

Buddha teaches about samsara, the endless repeating birth-aging-sickness-death cycle in the universe. If one doesn’t awaken, like Buddha, while living in this world, one’s death will be not the end. Based upon one’s karma, things done in the past and present lives, one will continue samsara, wandering the six realms (hell, asura, starving spirits, animals, humans, and heaven), until one finally reaches Nirvana by awakening like Buddha did. What do you think of existence of spirits and after-death etc.?

 

R7 and R8.  Yes, many Christians continue to think that the miracles of Jesus are literally true: he really did these things.  If you had been there, you would have been able to video the events with your I-phone.   But lots of other Christians think this interpretation is unnecessary and problematic, and believe that the miracle stories are meant to convey deeper meanings – for example, Jesus walking on the water shows that he is the one who is superior to all the troubles we face in life, and if we believe in him, we too can surmount our difficulties.

My own view, as an agnostic, is that these miracles did not happen in any sense.   I personally to not believe in spirits or in life after death.  I believe this material world is all there is – as massively and incomprehensibly complex as it is – and that when we die, we simply cease to exist.  This is not a depressing thought to me, one that leads me to despair.  Just the opposite.  It makes me realize how precious this life is, how we should live for the things that really matter to us – our families, our friends, our simple pleasures, and how we should help others too so that they also can enjoy the good things of life.

 

 


Buddhist Interview Questions on Suffering
Interview with Buddhists on the New Testament

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    nichael  February 20, 2020

    As a bit of an aside, do you happen to know Paul Knitter’s book “Without Buddha I Could Not be a Christian”?

  2. Avatar
    veritas  February 20, 2020

    I like your answers as fitted to your life. Your last paragraph, on seeing how life is precious and appreciating everything you have is sincere, although, I feel, comes from your years of studying the Bible and the message of Jesus. I say this because left to our own devices and desires, it is very difficult to live with a *gratitude* for all life knowing so many can’t even drink clean water or children die of malnutrition/disease. That is the Jesus story or even Buddha for that matter, how to love/live with one another and help those in need. It compels us beyond our consciousness to act with love and humility towards all life. It is difficult to love everyone, and help those who needed most. It is not found in our DNA, we have to work at it and that is sometimes the discouragement of many, like myself. because we are bereft of that love we all need to act. Aphorisms, personal stories and great thinkers all reveal exemplary truth of what a well knit society may look and feel like. The question remains , how do we universally apply and harmonize these truths? Good ideas have risen in history, time after time, but never implemented successfully, they don’t last. I think as peoples we enjoy doing what we want, whenever we want, by our choices, it makes us feel important. Those less fortunate become not our problem. Princeton Professor Peter Singer said it best when talking about poverty;” When one is already living comfortably, a further purchase to increase comfort will lack the same moral importance as saving another person’s life”. We are truly fortunate to be alive. Thanks Bart!

  3. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  February 21, 2020

    My goodness, I’m glad you posted this. I’m getting more information about Buddhism among other things. Buddhism seems, on the face of it, very benign compared to Christianity. Apparently, Buddhists don’t require a lobotomy– much better than Luther’s approach. Nice, not having to make war on our own brains!

  4. Avatar
    janpona  February 21, 2020

    I have an odd question. You may not know the answer to this, but-
    How did Jesus use the bathroom in 1st century palestine? Did they dig holes or use pots or something else? What about when they were traveling? Would they have brought their pots with them?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 21, 2020

      I think urination was simply done on the ground usually. Defecation was too, but in some texts there is talk of it being covered up. THere *are* ancient public toilets in urban areas, but I doubt if rural areas had any.

      • Avatar
        nichael  February 22, 2020

        Concerning public toilets: While there use may not have been characteristic of the general population, weren’t there latrines identified at the “Dead Sea community” at Qumran?

        (As I recall there has been a lot of discussion about where they were positioned. That is, for cleanliness reasons the latrines were required to be at least “Distance X” from the building of the community, but the members in the ultra-observant community were allowed to travel no more than “Distance Y” on the Sabbath. Since X was greater than Y there’s been a fair amount of speculation about how, exactly, the members handled this particular issue on the Sabbath.)

        • Bart
          Bart  February 23, 2020

          At Qumran? Hmmm… I’m not remembering. There were instructions about distance and hiding nakedness and covering waste.

  5. Avatar
    Boltonian  February 21, 2020

    Interesting. My wife is Thai and a Therevada Buddhist. One distinction with the Abrahamic religions (apart from being agnostic about the existence of God) is that Buddhism is non-doctrinaire in the sense that one takes what one wishes from the teachings: it is not necessary to buy the whole package. It is not even necessary to believe that Siddartha Gautama existed as a historical figure. My wife, for example, believes in re-incarnation and that one’s behaviour in this life will determine one’s fate in the next but is completely relaxed about almost everything else. That is not to say there aren’t fundamentalists, refreshingly rare thankfully, who think that everything in the Pali canon is absolutely true and one’s life should be governed accordingly. I am not sure how Korean Buddhism differs from Therevada Buddhism in this regard.

  6. Avatar
    dr.bosch  February 21, 2020

    My views on birth and death drastically changed when I discovered the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh a Buddhist monk from Viet Nam and one of the most important spiritual leaders of our time. According to him birth and death are just notions. There are only remanifestations of things to other forms because the death of one thing leads to the birth of another thing. In this very moment I’m typing this text thousands of cells in my body are dying, but also thousands of new cells are being born. So in this moment I’m literally dying and being born. When a cloud falls down as rain you might think that it died, however this is not true. The water of this cloud as it arrives the ground gets into all the rivers, lakes, trees and flowers. Now, next time when you drink your tee it could actually be that a part of the “dead cloud” is in your cup of tea. When you pic a flower it may be that the a part of the that dead cloud is also in it. According to the Buddha there is no real unchanging self in us. Modern science confirms this. There is no unchanging self (Center-CEO-point) in our brains. We ourselves cannot heal our bleeding wound – our body does it on its own- so it is not the self. We cannot change and switch our thoughts and emotions just as we would like to. They have their autonomy on their own so we cannot consider them as mine or what I am. We are entirely made of non-me/non-human elements. The Buddha also taught the inderdependent nature of reality. That means that nothing can exist by itself. “When this is, that is. From the arising of this comes the arising of that…” That’s why we all inter-are. From something you cannot become nothing!
    So now a story: Last week was the funeral of my beloved grandma. As a former Evangelical, now an agnostic pantheist I don’t believe in an afterlife. What prevented me from uncontrolled crying were exactly these teachings: I have got 25 % of her genes. I and the other children/grandchildren of her-we are all her continuation. Her deeds still affect us today. The gentle manner how she treated my father affected my father treating me whith his=her gentleness.

  7. Avatar
    remliw  February 21, 2020

    I agree with most of Bart’ s answers.
    However, I am not sure that after death a person ceases to exist ,at least not in an absolute sense.

    A person continues to exist in the following senses:

    1. The physical part of a person may not stay in its same form after death, but I don’t think the atoms or energy in that physical part is lost to reality. It continues on and may become part of other biological life.

    2. A person’s life appears to affect other humans epigenetically. When this happens, particularly with a younger person, part of the older person’s characteristics continue on in the life of others.

    3. The more our lives become digitalized, it becomes more likely that our thoughts and ideas will continue.

    4. Philosophically, I would say reality may change form but it continues on. Will there ever be a time when there is absolutely nothing? If not, i would say that reality always remains real aling with our part in it.

    5. Beyond these observations, I simply trust in God.

  8. Barfo
    Barfo  February 21, 2020

    Two thumbs up with regard to life after death in your last paragraph. I like to say the prospect of eternal nothingness will be heavenly.

    • Avatar
      Duke12  February 28, 2020

      Alternatively, when your self-awareness ceases to exist because your brain has permanently ceased to function, self-awareness will come into existence again because an embryo’s brain has developed far enough to achieve it. One of the terms for this is “Generic Subjective Continuity.” This may sound like re-incarnation, but no “soul transmigration” is involved whatsoever. It’s simply one emergent property being followed by another. (kind of the figurative equivalent of going to sleep and awakening with your memory wiped).

  9. Avatar
    Boltonian  February 24, 2020

    Another thought occurs to me concerning your last paragraph: Nirvana is exactly that – nothingness. It cannot be equated with the Christian heaven because what ever else that might be, it is not nothingness.

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