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?
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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.