& 2 - A Point of View
By Arunasiri Dias
(A Response toRev.Fr Leopold Rathnasekera's Articles
in The Island 15th & 18th Oct.2008)
From recent times the comparison of religions has gained publicity
resulting in the conclusion that all religions are the same. This theory
was propounded and repeated by our politicians and even religious dignitaries.
It may be even fashionable to say that all religions are one and the
same. Yet, it can also lead to much misunderstanding and wrong interpretations
as seen in the two part article of the Rev.Father which appeared on
15th & 18th October 2008 in The Island newspaper.
When scholars compare religions they group the Abrahamic religions
Judaism , Christianity and Islam in one group while Hinduism and Buddhism
are grouped separately. When the dividing line is theism as against
atheism, Hinduism changes sides and Buddhism stands alone. There are
other different aspects of Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity is
a revelation and Jesus Christ was Divine. At the same time it is obscurant.
The Buddha was a human being and very much a historical figure. The
birth place, place of Attaining Enlightenment, place of the first sermon
and place of the Great Parinibbana are archeological sites in Nepal
and India.The Buddha's teachings are based on self-realization after
experimenting for six years. It is open and the Dhamma is "Ehi
Passiko" - come and see, not come and believe.
The practise of comparing The Buddha's teachings with that of other
teachers prevailed even during the Buddha's life time. Mahadukkakandha
Sutta (Stems of Anguish, Majjhima Nikaya, Vol.1) deals with such an
instance. According to this Sutta some monks who went for alms to Sravasti
found they were too early and approached the park of the wanderers belonging
to other Sects. There the wanderers of other Sects who spoke to the
monks and said that " They too laid down the full understanding
of sense pleasures, full understanding of material shapes, and full
understanding of feelings." They informed that there was no difference
between the recluse Gothama and their views. The monks on retiring to
the Vihare met The Buddha and reported the comparison by the wanderers
of other sects. The Buddha explained to them why the teachings of other
teachers were not the same as His teachings. Those days such comparisons
were aimed at winning over the followers of The Buddha.
Religion is very sensitive terrain to enter. The privilege of religion
is immense. To quote an example, on 21st February 2006, the US Supreme
Court allowed a Church in New Mexico to use hallucinogenic drugs, the
use of which is not allowed for others. Faithful members of the Centro
Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal believe that they can understand
God only by drinking hoasca tea which contains Dimethyltryptamine: an
illegal hallucinogenic drug.
The comparison of religion is not a desirable exercise unless for academic
purposes because such efforts can lead to misinterpretations, misunderstandings
and wrong use of terminology as found in the Reverend Father's article.
For example take the sentence " Lord Buddha was married when he
left the palace to seek refuge in the wilderness and to follow the great
Teachers of this time in search of Victory over suffering."
To say that " Lord Buddha was married when he left the Palace
Is an error bordering on insult. It was Prince Siddhartha who left the
Palace. If the preposition "before" was used instead of "when",
the error would not have been prominent. After leaving the palace, Prince
Siddhartha became a wandering ascetic but did not seek refuge in the
"wilderness". This error could well have been the unfamiliarity
with the Texts.
The article states " Both speak of how we are to transcend the
passing nature of this world of time and space and bodily nature using
the higher powers of the mind and heart in the best use of freedom that
leads to joy and contentment." Yet on reading the Sermon on The
Mount one gets the impression that the will of the Heavenly Father is
predominant and mind is not a factor. Heavenly Father is frequently
mentioned and as regard the mind it is said " Set your mind on
God's Kingdom and Justice before everything else
." Can it
be concluded that the " higher powers" of the mind is a dominant
factor as in the Teachings of The Buddha. On the other hand, Arya Ashtaangika
Magga embodied in the Dhammachakkappavattana Sutta has four components
related to the mind. If one lists them they would be Right Thought (Samma
Sankappa) . Right Understanding ( Sammaditti), Right Mindfulness ( Samma
Sathi), and Right Concentration (Samma Samadhi)/ The best discourse
on mindfulness is the Sathipattana Sutta; the foundations on which to
be mindful are the meditator's own body, feelings, state of mind and
the mental content.
Western scholars who have studied the mind aspects of Buddhism feel
that the Teachings of The Buddha are incomparable. I quote Sam Harris,
a sceptic who comments on consciousness. He extracts some lines from
Padmasambhava on consciousness and remarks " even the contemporary
literature on consciousness which spans philosophy, cognitive science,
psychology and neuro-science cannot match the kind of precise phenomenological
studies that can be found throughout the Buddha Canon."
Another point raised in the Reverend Father's article that needs clarification
is the notion that Buddhism is
" other worldly" for the article says " both doctrines
are other worldly
." Buddhism is a teaching for the
present; here and now. To say that Buddhism is other worldly, is to
overlook the worldly aspect of Buddhism. One has to lead a successful
lay life to gain a better life in the next. Many discourses of The Buddha
are meant for the advancement of a spiritual lay life. The most popular
discourses in this respect are the Maha Mangala Sutta and Sigalovada
Sutta. There is no aspect in lay life on which The Buddha has not advised
The noble effects of The Buddha's Path could be felt in this world.
One could be "Sothapanna" in this world, the first stage of
emancipation. It is different for the Christians because they will meet
the Heavenly Father only after death.
In this article under discussion there is an attempt to use Buddhist
terminology to explain Christian concepts as " Jesus Christ is
the only Magga." For a Buddhist Magga means, the path that has
to be followed as a course of action for emancipation. The Buddha would
not intervene one the Path is shown. He was only the guide and the individual
is supreme. On the contrary the Bible says " Whoever then will
acknowledge me before men, I will disown him before my Father in Heaven"(
Mathew 10-11:32,33). For a non-Christian it is difficult to understand
the meaning when Jesus Christ is called the Magga. In the Alagaddupama
Sutta, the layman and the disciples are advised to abandon The Dhamma
once the objective is achieved as when one crosses the "stream
of Samsara" the raft which helped to get across is not carried
with him on his head.
Again, the article claims that "Jesus Christ is the only Aryasachcha."
This needs explanation. Ariyasachcha, is the Noble Truth. Buddhists
learno not one but four Aryasachchas.
Robert H.Thouless, M.A. PhD, ScD, the British Psychological Society,
Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University, is a distinguished
Christian scholar. In his tract on Buddhism and Christianity, he points
out the two religions can say the same but for two different reasons.
For instance, when Christianity says "love your enemy and pity
your persecutor " it is to become the children of their Heavenly
Father. When a Buddhist repeats the same idea it is to free the mind
of defilements, which is hatred. He points that the difference between
the two is most marked "in the central position given in Christianity
to the Heavenly Father and the absence of that motivating centre in
Buddhist thought. "
Thouless, does not compare the first discourse of The Buddha to any
religious teaching as the "Sermon on The Mount." On the contrary
he says " if one reads the Discourse on the Foundation of the Kingdom
of righteousness to discover what was the insight that Gotama gained
while sitting in meditation under a tree we find that this insight is
not different in its outline from that which has guided the development
of Science." What is required is respect for other religion, not
comparisons. As civilized society, we have a tradition to respect the
dead without knowing who it is. Similarly, we must learn to respect
other religions even if the teachings are unknown.