Criticism of Buddhism

Criticism of Buddhism
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The criticism of Buddhism, much like criticism of religion in general, can be found from those who disagree with or question assertions, beliefs or other factors of various schools of Buddhism.

Some Buddhist denominations, many predominantly Buddhist nations, and individual Buddhist leaders have been criticized in one way or another. Sources of criticism can come from examples such as agnostics, skeptics, anti-religion philosophy, proponents of other religions, or by Buddhists espousing reform or simply expressing dislike.


Not true to Buddhist principles

Criticisms include the beliefs that among the various Buddhist cultures and institutions, not all are true to original Buddhist principles.[1] Sam Harris, a prominent proponent of New Atheism[2] and practitioner of Buddhist meditation claims that many practitioners of Buddhism improperly treat it as a religion, and their beliefs are often "naive, petitionary, and superstitious" and that this impedes their adoption of true Buddhist principles.[3]

Some critics claim that Buddhist adherents and leaders have been materialistic and corrupt with an improper interest in wealth and power rather than pursuit of Buddhist principles.[4] There have been a number of well-publicised sex scandals involving teachers in emerging Western Buddhist groups.[5]

War and violence

Michael Jerryson argues that Buddhism has been connected to government since its genesis. This "inability to conceive of a state without Buddhism alludes to a kind of religious nationalism," and this is found in a variety of Buddhist conflicts.[6] In medieval Southeast Asia, there were a number of Buddhist states, including the Pagan Kingdom, the Sukhothai Kingdom, and the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa. In Sri Lanka especially modern monks frequently involve themselves in nationalist politics,[7] although the Buddha never condoned political involvement beyond passive advisory roles. Sri Lankan peace activists such as A. T. Ariyaratne have however also drawn on Buddhism for inspiration.

East Asian Mahayana Buddhists also often received state support. The Zen priest Brian Daizen Victoria documented in his book Zen at War how Buddhist institutions justified Japanese militarism in official publications and cooperated with the Japanese Army on the battlefield. In response to the book, several sects issued an apology for their wartime support of the government.[8]

Christopher Hitchens summarizes these issues as a specifically Buddhist desire to "put their reason to sleep, and to discard their minds along with their sandals".[9] However, this is in contrast to the Buddha's teaching:

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."[10]

Hitchens changed gears when he wrote in 2010 for the cover of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, "...Stephen Batchelor adds the universe of Buddhism to the many fields in which received truth and blind faith are now giving way to ethical and scientific humanism, in which lies our only real hope."[11][12]

Buddhists also have a record of both passive and active nonviolence, often reflected by national culture. In Burma, monks have advocated nonviolence during the 2007 anti-government protests amongst many other occasions; Engaged Buddhism arose in Vietnam as a means of protest prior to the Vietnam War. (see pacifism)

Buddha himself is quoted in the Dhammapada as saying:

Life is dear to all. Comparing others with oneself, one should neither kill nor cause to kill.[13]

Accusation of violence

After the 2008 unrest in the Tibetan area of the PRC, the official Chinese government stance has been that the Dalai Lama helped to orchestrate the unrest and violence. A Chinese Ministry of Public Security spokesperson claimed searches of monasteries in the Tibetan capital had turned up a large cache of weapons, including 176 guns and 7,725 pounds of explosives.[14]

Buddhist self-criticism

Critical Buddhism is a branch of Japanese Buddhist scholarship which aims to reform Buddhism through critical examination of its practices and philosophy.

Many individual schools of Buddhism are criticized by other practitioners as spiritually insincere, including Sōka Gakkai, the Dhammakaya Movement, and participants in the Dorje Shugden controversy. The San Francisco Zen Center has been one focus of controversy in the United States.[15]

Marxist criticism

Several critics have criticized Tibet for maintaining a feudal society that exploited peasants and treated them like serfs.[16] The current Dalai Lama, however, has stated that he is in favor of a Buddhist synthesis with Marxist economics, as he believes that internationalist nature of Marxism shows compassion to the poor, which is in line with Buddhist teachings, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability.[17]

Feminist criticism

Buddhism has been criticized because it treats women, particularly women monks, as inferior to men.[18] Most schools of Buddhism have more rules for bhikkuni (nuns) than bhikku (monk) lineages. Buddhists explain that in the time of the Buddha, nuns had such problems like safety if they were to be ordained the same way as monks who traveled around in the forest and between cities. Thus, more rules have to be created for nuns, for instance: nuns are forbidden to travel alone.[19]

Alexander Berzin referred to the Dalai Lama having said on occasion of the 2007 Hamburg congress

Sometimes in religion there has been an emphasis on male importance. In Buddhism, however, the highest vows, namely the bhikshu and bhikshuni ones, are equal and entail the same rights. This is the case despite the fact that in some ritual areas, due to social custom, bhikshus go first. But Buddha gave the basic rights equally to both sangha groups. There is no point in discussing whether or not to revive the bhikshuni ordination; the question is merely how to do so properly within the context of the Vinaya.

taken from Berzin Summary Report [20]

Christian criticism

Before becoming the present Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger criticised Buddhism in 1997 as "a spiritual self-absorption" without "concrete religious obligations". However, he was not being asked about Buddhists in general but only about Catholics who practice Buddhism.[21]

See also


  1. ^
    • Christine J. Nissen, (2008), "Buddhism and Corruption", in People of virtue: reconfiguring religion, power and moral order in Cambodia today, Alexandra Kent (Ed.), NIAS Press, p. 272-292.
    • Lopez, Donald S. (1999). Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. University of Chicago Press. p. 3. 
    • John K. Locke (2005), "The Unique features of Newar Buddhism", in Buddhism: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, Vol. 6, Jane Williams (Ed.), Routeledge; p 295.
    • Lopez, Donald S. (2008). Buddhism & science: a guide for the perplexed. University of Chicago Press. p. 30. 
    • Seager, Richard Hughes (2000). Buddhism in America. Columbia University Press. p. 119. 
    • Powell, Andrew (1995). Living Buddhism. University of California Press. p. 13. 
  2. ^ Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Daniel Dennett have been described as the "Four Horsemen" of the "New Atheism". See 'THE FOUR HORSEMEN,' Discussions with Richard Dawkins: Episode 1, RDFRS - and » Blog Archive » The Four Horsemen of the New Atheism
  3. ^ Killing the Buddha by Sam Harris
  4. ^
    • Laird, Thomas (2007). The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama. Grove Press. p. 278. 
    • Kieschnick, John (2003). The impact of Buddhism on Chinese material culture. Princeton University Press. pp. 12–13. 
    • Tarling, Nicholas (1992). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia: From early times to c. 1800. Cambridge University Press. p. 245. 
    • Rinpoche, Samdhong (2006). Samdhong Rinpoche: uncompromising truth for a compromised world : Tibetan Buddhism and today's world. World Wisdom, Inc. pp. 139–140. 
    • Mabbett, Ian W. (1985). Modern China: the mirage of modernity. Taylor & Francis. p. 112. 
  5. ^ Bell, Sandra (2002). "Scandals in Emerging Western Buddhism". In Charles S Prebish & Martin Baumann. Westward Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Asia. University of California Press. pp. 230–242. ISBN 0520226259. 
  6. ^ Jerryson, Michael and Mark Juergensmyer (2010). Buddhist Warfare, ch. 1, "Introduction."
  7. ^ Ananda Abeysekara, "The Saffron Army, Violence, Terror(ism): Buddhism, Identity, and Difference in Sri Lanka". Numen 48.1 (2001).
  8. ^ Zen at War (2nd ed.) by Brian Daizen Victoria / Rowman and Littlefield 2006, ISBN 0-7425-3926-1
  9. ^ God Is Not Great, p 204. Atlantic, New York, 2006
  10. ^ The Buddha and Critical Thinking
  11. ^ Vernon, Mark (March 10, 2010). "The new Buddhist atheism". The Guardian. Retrieved October 24, 2011. 
  12. ^ Hitchens, Christopher. "Review of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist". Retrieved October 26, 2011. 
  13. ^ Buddhist Quotes
  14. ^ "China Steps Up Attacks, Brands Dalai Lama Supporters 'Scum of Buddhism'". Fox News. 2008-04-02.,2933,344811,00.html. Retrieved 2010-08-11. 
  15. ^ Michael Downing. Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center. Counterpoint, 2002.
  16. ^
    • Goldstein, Melvyn C. (1991). A history of modern Tibet, 1913-1951: the demise of the Lamaist state. University of California Press. p. 5. 
    • Goldstein, Melvyn C. (2009). A history of modern Tibet: The calm before the storm, 1951-1955. University of California Press. p. 440. 
    • Florida, Robert E. (2005). Human Rights and the World's Major Religions: The Buddhist tradition, Volume 5. Praeger. p. 190. 
    • Luo, Zhufeng (1990). Religion under socialism. M.E. Sharpe. p. 40. 
    • Friendly Feudalism - The Tibet Myth
  17. ^ The Dalai Lama Answers Questions on Various Topics
  18. ^
    • Keyes, Charles F. "Mother or Mistress but Never a Monk: Buddhist Notions of Female Gender in Rural Thailand", American Ethnologist, Vol. 11, No. 2 (May, 1984), pp. 223-241.
    • Gutschow, Kim (2004). Being a Buddhist nun: the struggle for enlightenment in the Himalayas. Harvard University Press. p. 207,225,240. 
    • Lucinda Joy Peach (2001), "Buddhism and Human Rights in the Thai Sex Trade", in Religious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women, Courtney W. Howland (Ed)., Palgrave Macmillan, p. 219.
    • Janell Mills (2000), "Militarisim, civil war and women's status: a Burma case study", in Women in Asia: tradition, modernity, and globalisation, Louise P. Edwards (Ed.), University of Michigan Press, p. 269.
    • Campbell, June (2002). Traveller in Space: Gender, Identity and Tibetan Buddhism. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0826457193. 
  19. ^ Women in Buddhism (English)
  20. ^ Human Rights and the Status of Women in Buddhism
  21. ^ A Straight Shot of Politics "Un chrétien ne peut pas renoncer à sa connaissance de la vérité, révélée pour lui en Jésus-Christ, fils unique de Dieu. Si le bouddhisme séduit, c'est parce qu'il apparaît comme une possibilité de toucher à l'infini, à la félicité sans avoir d'obligations religieuses concrètes. Un autoérotisme spirituel, en quelque sorte. Quelqu'un avait justement prédit, dans les années 1950, que le défi de l'Eglise au XXe siècle serait non pas le marxisme, mais le bouddhisme."

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