DURING WORLD WAR II, my father made a number of good friends in the Army. He also told me of the dastardly things that some soldiers used to do. One of them stuck in my mind until now; it’s shocking that anyone would even think of this: Secretly, someone inserted razor blades into the soap bars in the bathrooms; it was only while washing and getting cut that the blades were discovered. My father and some of his friends mounted a watch to try to catch the culprit(s), but didn’t succeed. And this was during a war! What patriotism! With people like that on your side, who needs enemies?!
It is not surprising to find that, after over 2,500 years, Buddhism—like other religions—is beset by superstition, but this doesn’t mean we should just shrug complacently and accept it lying down, as if there is nothing we can do about it.
After His Enlightenment, out of compassion for others, the Buddha set out to counteract ignorance and superstition, which He saw as the root cause of most of humanity’s sufferings. He knew that this is not something fixed and immutable, and that man may rise above it and become free or enlightened. This was why He left the peace and tranquillity of the forest and went back to the world; what He had found was not for Himself alone.
Originally, the Buddha’s Way was one of Understanding, but today’s Buddhism has often little to do with that, and has devolved into a system of Belief; as such, it is little different than other belief systems. The Buddha tried to show the Way to others, to help them become enlightened. But even with His great wisdom and ability to teach people according to their levels, He couldn’t make anyone understand. It is like the old saying: “You can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink”. He was a Way-pointer, not a Savior, and told, quite clearly, “within yourselves deliverance must be sought; each man his prison makes”. I rejected Christianity, and because I saw something of Dharma, am not about to bedrape myself with the chains of another belief system.
Few people—in any age, it seems—can understand and accept such clear and simple teachings; most are weak minded, lazy and want someone to do it for them. Slowly, so as not to lose such people to other ways, the teachings were modified to accommodate them, and as a result they became diluted and unclear. People began to think of the Buddha as a God—or at least a cosmic Savior—who would answer prayers, bestow blessings, save them from danger, sickness and death, etc.; they began to look upon Him as more divine than human. His Teachings about finding salvation within were ignored as people looked to Him for help, which was something He never taught.
These days, there are spurious ‘sutras’ in circulation, encouraging and strengthening superstition and ignorance, playing upon fear, pandering to greed. One of the most common of them is called The Cause-and-Effect Sutra— otherwise known as The Karma Sutra —running into many editions; people keep reprinting it, thinking to gain merit thereby. If we keep quiet about such ‘sutras’ and false teachings, we thereby give them our tacit consent and support. We must speak out, and this is the purpose of this article, regardless of whom I might upset thereby. The propagators of such anti-Buddhist teachings have their die-hard supporters who are unlikely to change their ideas soon.
Recently (Nov.1997), I came upon a booklet (in English and Chinese) in Malaysia entitled More Vicious than AIDS: The New PNEUMONIA. It was transcribed from a talk by a famous monk in Los Angeles in 1992; he has since died. It is not necessary to mention his name here.
This monk was famous for making grandiose and unfounded claims about his psychic powers (something monks are forbidden to do); he also had a tremendous sense of self-importance, which is reprehensible in a monk. While in Hong Kong many years ago, he stated that as long as he was there, there would be no big typhoon. Later, he established a large center in California, and made an equally unfounded claim: “As long as I’m here, there will be no big earthquake”. Why did he say such things? What have such claims got to do with the propagation of the Buddha’s teachings, which have the effect of reducing pride and egoism rather than increasing it?
I will quote from this ‘doomsday booklet’ about ‘The New Pneumonia’, which is before me now as I write. The spelling mistakes and grammatical errors I will leave exactly as they appear in the book; they are not mine.
“Now we have come to the Dharma Ending Age. What is ‘Dharma Ending’? It means the Dharma is about to fade away and trail off. Few people have real faith in Buddha, and the Buddhists are slandering the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. How can this be called believing in Buddha? Believing in demons, they come to destroy the Buddhadharma”.
It continues: “And so all kinds of evil phenomena appear in this world, be they natural disasters, man-made calamities, or the spread of epidemics. Natural disasters include swarms of locusts, droughts, and floods. Man-made calamities include plane crashes, derailed trains, and car collision, all happening without any apparent reason, and resulting in a multitude of human crises. Then there are earthquakes which have been occurring everywhere, frightening people.
“But people only know how to become scared when the catastrophes occur. They don’t know to look for the root of it. Natural disasters do not belong to Nature. Nature has no disasters. It is the human species which suffers disasters. Man-made disasters are disaster which we bring upon ourselves. Earthquakes occur because people are fond of war, have big tempers, and kill countless people. “Do you want to die? Fine, we can all die together!” and so the earth quakes. These are all various kinds of evil phenomena. We people! Why do we fail to investigate and find out where the roots are at? Let me tell you, that these natural disasters, man-made calamities, and earthquakes, all the various accidents of planes crashing, train derailing, ships sinking, and cars colliding, are all created by the minds of people. People’s minds are not as they used to be, and virtue and morality have deteriorated, and so these unusual phenomena have appeared”.
It is embarrassing than anyone can spout such unabashed nonsense today, let alone a Buddhist monk! It is no better than the fundamentalist Christian belief that God created the universe only 6,000 years ago, or such preposterous claims made by the charlatan Ching Hai that whoever recites Homage to Ching Hai, the Supreme Master will be saved and liberated!
Although he uses two terms on page 10—Dharma and Buddha-Dharma—he uses them interchangeably and seems unaware of the distinction, and there is a distinction, a big one. The Buddha did not invent Dharma, but only discovered it. Dharma has no beginning and no end; it does not come and does not go. What ends, because it did have a beginning, is Buddha-Dharma, the Teachings of the Buddha, whereby He tried to help others realize the Dharma for themselves. So there is no such thing as ‘Dharma-Ending Age’. He talks about “believing in Buddha”. The Buddha did not call people to believe in Him or follow Him, but to examine what He taught and find out for themselves. Buddhism is not a way of Belief like other religions, but a way of direct and personal experience, for which there is no substitute. So there is no question of ‘believing or not believing the Buddha’. We must strive to know!
He goes on about “evil phenomena” like “natural disasters, man-made calamities, or the spread of epidemics”, attributing them to human activities. After talking of natural disasters, he says that nature has no disasters, and that “earth-quakes occur because people are fond of war”, etc. Well, I don’t know where or if he went to school, but it doesn’t say much for his teachers, or for his realization as a meditator (perhaps this is a classic case of how meditation may easily become maditation!) Earthquakes occur because of tremendous pressure beneath the earth’s surface, causing the tectonic plates of the crust to shift and move against each other; it has nothing to do with man’s activities. Does he think there were no earthquakes before humans appeared on this Earth?
On page 16, he increases the tempo of his fear mongering and expresses his homophobia:
“The most frightening thing in the human world now is homosexuality. Homosexuality is a practice which opposes the life principle of the universe, which goes against the creative energies of Yin and Yang, and which violates the laws of the nation.
“This kind of behavior will cause the country to perish and the human race to become extinct. If the country perishes, then it’s no longer a country, and the human race is also cut off. Although homosexuals are so infatuated with one another, they cannot reproduce, so the seeds of the human race will be lost. To plant corn, corn seeds are required. To plant melons, melon seeds are needed. To plant beans, bean seeds are needed. Not only do corn and beans have seeds, everything has seeds. Humans also have human seeds. If the human seeds are destroyed, then humans will all perish, and humanity will come to an end”.
Without appearing to condone homosexuality, I must protest his fear that the whole population of a country or countries will become homosexual and thus cease to procreate; it is simply inconceivable. There have always been homosexuals, but they formed—and still do—only a tiny minority. We are more aware of homosexuality now because it is out in the open to a degree unknown before. That the human race is in no danger of extinction through homosexuality is clearly shown by the ongoing population explosion. Maybe he would like witch hunting reintroduced?—”Burn the damn gays!”
On page 20, he goes on: “The practice of homosexuality has produced AIDS. Some say AIDS originated in Africa, but Africa is not the source of AIDS. The source of AIDS is homosexuality. When homosexuals catch this disease, they have no medicine to treat it, and no way to cure it. The doctors all have their hands tied, with no strategy for dealing with it”.
He clearly didn’t know that heterosexuals are susceptible to AIDS as well as homosexuals; no one is immune; the virus doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. And though it is claimed that it cannot be transmitted by mosquito bites as is dengue or malaria, I wonder; if it can be transmitted by shared hypodermic needles, why not by the shared proboscis of a mosquito, which is very similar to a syringe?
More: “What kind of disease is AIDS? It’s an epidemic which cannot be cured by any medicine. There are still people studying AIDS right now, trying to find a way to cure it Alas! This is called knowing something cannot be done, yet insisting on doing it anyway. Attempting to cure it by force, they not only fail to cure AIDS, but what happened is that from AIDS came another “AIDS”, which is pneumonia”.
What makes him such an authority on AIDS? If a cure for AIDS has not yet been found it doesn’t mean it won’t be. Does he suggest we give up the search for a cure, and accept it as ‘fate’? If everyone in the past had had his mentality, no one would have done any research, and found cures for the numerous diseases that have been brought under control. Such thinking is quite unBuddhistic!
“This pneumonia is even more vicious than AIDS, once you catch it. This illness can be transmitted through the mere shaking of hands. If the sick person merely opens his mouth to speak, he can pass the disease to you. Not only ordinary people have no way to treat this disease; even among the doctors and nurses, in the last year alone in the US, nearly 20,000 have died from the new variety of pneumonia. There’s no way to avoid it—even facemasks don’t work. When there is body contact, the infection is transmitted. It can even be passed through the air”.
Well, just because I’ve not heard of his ‘new pneumonia’, it doesn’t mean there is no such thing, of course, but if it is as widespread as he claims, how come no-one else I know—including doctors—has heard of it? Surely, it would be front page news, and wouldn’t take five years for everyone to know of it. Where has he got this disease from? From where are his statistics?
“This kind of illness is more devastating than the atomic bomb. It’s more devastating than the hydrogen bomb. That’s why this is a catastrophe of epidemic proportions. Now that this epidemic has struck, not only do men have this disease, a great number of women have also been infected. And not only do women have it, even babies are getting born with this kind of pneumonia and with AIDS. Just look! How terrifying this is!
“Throughout the world now, if we count it up, we find that the number of people with AIDS and this pneumonia is not small, for some are infected with the germs of pneumonia while still in the womb. That’s why all over the world, the final days of the human race have arrived. The so-called final days means that all will be annihilated, all will disappear”.
I can imagine this prophet of doom on the streets of San Francisco or L. A. with a sandwich board around his neck bearing the words: “Repent! The end of the world is nigh!”
“Among the human population in the entire world, more than half are infected with the germs of this disease, so when this disease breaks out, it will be like an overwhelming deluge which cannot be stopped by anyone.
“So what should the human race do when it encounters this kind of calamity? We should recite the Great Compassion Mantra with the utmost sincerity and earnestness. The Buddha said that the Great Compassion Mantra can cure the eighty four thousand illnesses of the world. All the eighty four thousand kinds of diseases are covered, including AIDS and pneumonia”.
We’ve all heard of magic wands, but only in fairy tales. Does he wish Buddhism to become a laughing stock with such teachings? How do we know what the Buddha said? A thing is not true just because it is written in books; we should not be so naďve as to believe that! Buddhism was—and still should be, still could be—based upon reason and common sense, instead of upon such superstition and hocus-pocus.
“We should bring forth a mind of utmost sincerity, and be as earnest as when we are eating, as earnest as when we are dressing, and as dedicated as we are to sleeping, so much so that we cannot miss any sleep. We have to merge the Great Compassion Mantra into our daily activities, so that it becomes an integral part of our everyday life. If we can do this, then AIDS will be afraid and pneumonia will also be afraid. But this requires our utmost sincerity”.
Can we imagine the viruses quaking in terror at the sound of this mantra? He has personified the AIDS virus and endowed it with consciousness. In the 13th century, when The Black Death (Bubonic Plague) swept through Europe, wiping out about one third of the population, such was the ignorance and superstition of the people that they attributed it to demons or witches; they had no idea at all about hygiene or sanitation, and because the microscope was not invented until several centuries later, they knew nothing about germs, viruses, bacteria, etc. Nor did they know that the plague was spread by rat-fleas. So, most of the cats having been killed—together with everyone suspected of being a witch (in their simple minds, witches and cats were always associated)—the rats multiplied uncontrollably and consequently the fleas, too. Terrified, the people flocked to the churches to pray for deliverance, but in such close proximity to each other’s sweaty and smelly bodies, the fleas had a ball.
“Over half of the human population in the world is going to perish, and those who will be left will be people who cultivate the Way, who cultivate truly, those who recite the Buddha’s name, those who recite sutras, those who are vegetarian—these people will be able to remain”.
Only half will perish? We’re all going to perish, but not because of his ‘new pneumonia’; we are going to die because we’ve been born.
“I am not saying this to terrify you. It’s just that the time has come when I can no longer refrain from shouting and crying out, to tell all of you that this current age is not a time of peace. It is very dangerous, and each morning we have no guarantee that we will see the evening, for the danger can come at any moment”.
So, what else is new? When has life ever been any different? It is not just at this time that life is insecure, but all the time; such is the nature of life.
I’ve written at length about this baseless book as there are so many gullible people who would accept whatever this monk says just because he was so well known. Well, I don’t care who he was or how well known; what he said in this book (unfortunately, it is not his first and only book containing such gross superstition and false Dharma; there are others), is still a lot of b. s. Although he claimed to represent “orthodox Buddhism” and strongly hinted that he was enlightened himself, the author of the above book is responsible for the decline of Buddhism, and we can quite understand people rejecting Buddhism on the basis of his garbled ideas, which are diametrically opposite to the rational way of the Buddha.
I do not want people to believe me, any more than I want them to believe him; in fact, I don’t want people to believe any-one, but to use their intelligence, and think for themselves; if they did, they wouldn’t be cheated or exploited so much, and religion would not be the mass of superstition it has become.
Another very active and vocal charlatan, is self-styled Living Buddha Lian-sheng (meaning ‘Lotus-born’: Padma-sambhava), a.k.a. Grand Master Lu, who, it goes without saying, claims to be Perfectly Enlightened. From where is this ‘Grand Master’ title? It sounds like the Ku Klux Klan’s ‘Grand Wizard’! Next he’ll be styling himself Chief High Priest of the United States and Canada!
In 1996, he was granted an interview with the Dalai Lama, who “favorably received Grand Master Lu and the information he offered .... about the True Buddha School and of the Grand Master’s personal achievements in knowledge and cultivation”; he also told the Dalai Lama about his “thirty temples and 300 Buddhist chapters, and the over four million disciples from around the world”. (Quotes from an article by one of his four million disciples). His audacity and arrogance is amazing, and he is now using this interview to extol and elevate himself even further. I will quote now from his Spring ‘97 Purple Lotus Journal:
“I met with the Dalai Lama and conversed with him for thirty minutes. The Dharma Protectors had told me ahead of time what I would run into, but I was not afraid. While there, the Dalai Lama asked me many questions which I answered. When it was my turn to ask him questions, he stood up. [laughter and applause].
“The Dalai Lama kept asking me questions, one after another, and I kept answering them. He asked some pretty tough questions, relating to Tantric practice. The questions might have rendered another person mute, but my answers elicited only nods from him. So he kept asking and I kept answering, until finally it was my turn to ask him and for him to be stumped, and he stood up. [audience laughter and applause].
“I was going to ask him two questions ........... but he knew he probably could not answer them, so he quickly stood up. Well, I let that go. Those are difficult questions because only direct experience could have provided one with the answers”.
He might have 4,000,000 disciples—probably has some psychic power, too—but that no more impresses me than his arrogance. It is just another example of how stupid people can be. And being highly educated in a particular area doesn’t alter this, either; it doesn’t mean that one is wise, or even intelligent; there are many highly educated fools in the world.
Now, before I end this, to show that the above is not an isolated instance of such blatant superstition being presented as Dharma, I will tell briefly of several other cases of the same thing, one of which has gone on for many years, and the others that I came across recently; it won’t take long.
There is a Thai temple in Penang with a huge image of the Buddha in a reclining position. Not only local Buddhists frequent this temple; it is also visited by many foreign tourists. I once counted no less than forty donation boxes in the hall housing the main image! There are many smaller images of the Buddha, each with a donation box in front of it, bearing messages like: “If you pray to this Buddha, you will be happy”, “If you pray to this Buddha, you will be wise”; “If you pray to this Buddha, God will bless you”; “If you pray to this Buddha, you will be lucky”, and so on.
Now, gullible people—and unfortunately, there is no shortage of them in the world—desirous of all these ‘benefits’, will put money in each box, which is just what the temple authorities want. But what impression will foreign visitors and others get from such a temple, when they otherwise might be quite sympathetic towards Buddhism? They could be excused for thinking: “Well, if that’s Buddhism, I want nothing of it!”, could they not? I would, if I didn’t know better.
The first of the other cases is from the notice board of a Buddhist Society and is a way of raising funds for their new building. It was headed: “Some Benefits of Donating a Buddha Image” beneath which was a list, thus:
Good health and longevity.
Increase prosperity and good affinity.
Rebirth in Pure Land.
Upbringing of wise and dutiful children.
Happy and harmonious family.
Steady accumulation of wealth.
Now, what has donating a Buddha image—or, rather, a sum of money (and also not a small sum) for a Buddha tile to be stuck on the wall, with the donor’s name beneath—got to do with all these things? What is the connection? Are such things for sale? Can they be bought? If people think so, how will they feel when they fail to materialize? Are they not inviting disappointment? Everyone knows that funds must be raised for building temples, but to do it in this way is contrary to the purpose of a temple and only leads to the increase of ignorance and superstition instead. A Buddha image symbolizes enlightenment, not superstition. In my opinion, it’s better not to have a temple if it’s going to be the cause of that!
The second case I came across on the notice board of another Buddhist Society where I have stayed several times and also concerned mantras. It was written by a Tibetan ‘Rinpoche’. It stated that by reciting a certain mantra, and then spitting on the soles of one’s feet, any insects or tiny creatures that one might accidentally tread on thereafter would immediately be reborn as devas in heaven! So easy to go to heaven now, is it? Come on!
Then, there are stories that people hear and repeat like the following: In ancient China, damp scripture books would sometimes be laid out in the sun to dry. A cow once happened to sniff at such books, and consequently, was reborn as a human, became a government official, and later even became enlightened. All this because of sniffing at books laid out to dry!? Why should we go to such lengths to discipline ourselves when we may become enlightened merely by sniffing sutras?
Another such ridiculous story I heard from a Tibetan Lama during a meditation course he conducted in Nepal many years ago: There was once a fly that flew from pile to pile of dung around the Great Stupa at Bodnath, and because of this it became enlightened! I recently heard a variation on this theme told by a Lama in Malacca, only it was a pig instead of a fly going around the Stupa! Do these Lamas really believe such things themselves, or do they take us for complete idiots, thinking that they can foist off any old crap on us?
A recent letter from someone in Australia told me that a big new temple outside Sydney is persuading people to part with their hard earned cash by offering what they call a ‘Long life Candle/Lamp’ to the image of Kwan Yin, costing up to or even more than A$2,500, depending upon its proximity to the image, the implication being that the closer to the image one’s candle/lamp is placed, the more blessings one will get and the longer one will live. So, an image—of wood or stone!—is able to lengthen one’s life, when even the best doctors are unable to do so, eh? What is this but idolatry? How foolish can we be to believe such things!
Conclusion: There will always be ignorance and superstition in the world, and people to cheat, deceive and exploit the unwary, too. Is there anything we can do about it? Of course there is; lots! We cannot prevent it, but what we can do is try to understand things clearer and overcome ignorance ourselves, and help others to do so, too. Begin by not allowing all this to go unchallenged. Speak out and expose it—even if you risk becoming unpopular as a result—because if you do not, you are thereby giving it your approval and prolonging it.