THE CUSTOM OF SHAKING HANDS was originally a demonstration that people were not holding weapons and therefore came in peace. Smiling was also a sign of friendship. Nor is this limited to humans, but is a characteristic of certain animals, like chimpanzees and monkeys, who draw back their lips and show their teeth as a sign that they mean no harm. Human smiles, however, can mean many things, and are often a disguise for true feelings. We can be such hypocrites!
All words—whether we call them nouns, pronouns, verbs, and so on—are adjectives; that is, they represent or describe (attempt to describe) things. But a word is not the thing it represents or describes. We have words for qualities and words for quantities. The word ‘big’, for example, represents something of size, or quantity; the word ‘good’ represents a quality. We do not say: “Thank you very big”, or “He is a much man”. So, we have to be very careful, and understand that the words we use often limit things and prevent us from comprehending them. Buddhists are fond of using the word ‘Enlightenment’, for example, but what does it mean? Does it mean the same thing to everyone who uses it? Are we in substantial agreement about it? Or have we—like the Godists—only got the word but not the thing? It is such an abstract term that not many people will have really thought about it.
Without being as dogmatic as those who maintain that there is a God by saying that there is no God, let us look into the matter somewhat.
The word ‘God’ is English. Every language probably has an equivalent word, but they are only words, whatever. The words we use—of any language—have come down to us from the past; we have inherited them. Most people just repeat—like parrots—the words they have inherited without ever bothering to investigate them, without ever asking what they really mean, stand for, or symbolize; thus, they live their entire lives on the level of words and derive very little benefit therefrom; not only this, but they become prisoners of them. Words, not understood or misunderstood, cause a lot of trouble.
So, we know the word—everyone knows the word—but what does it mean? Does it mean anything at all? By this, I mean: is there anything behind the word, does the word represent anything real, or is it just a word? Do you, who use the word God, know if it is anything more than a word? Have you seen God, or in any other way experienced It? Be honest and tell the truth: Have you? How could you see It when It is supposed to be infinite, formless, absolute, and transcendent? When you say the word God, are you not speaking about something that you have no knowledge or experience of? Is it not just a matter of imagining or wishful thinking, a mental projection, a thing of ego? You say It is the Divine, the Ultimate, but these are also only words, and what you do with your words is pull down the Absolute—if there is such a thing—to your own grubby level.
When asked about things that are—for the time being—beyond the knowledge of most of us, people sometimes admit their ignorance and say: “I don’t know. Only God knows; God knows everything!” But what are they saying thereby? By saying “God knows everything” they are claiming to be omniscient themselves, otherwise how could they say “God knows everything”? It is a contradictory statement, a statement with no meaning! How do you know “God knows everything” unless you know everything yourself? Do you want to measure the Infinite with your tiny mind?
Although we’ve been to the moon, sent space probes to Mars, Venus, Saturn and wherever else, fathomed the oceans, and performed many other wonders, it is still not uncommon to hear people saying things like “Buddhists will go to Hell! Only through Jesus can you be saved!” I inwardly cringe when I hear such things, and feel embarrassed for them; they are usually people who know nothing of other ways, or even mis-know, and only show off their ignorance thereby. Are they not already in Hell, with such fearful and narrow beliefs, when a little investigation and research would dispel their ignorance?
There was a report in Malaysia’s SUNDAY STAR newspaper on the 24th of October, entitled: “BAPTISTS’ PRAYERS OUTRAGE HINDUS”. I will reproduce it in full here to show that religious bigotry is still alive and well.
“WASHINGTON: US Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant religious group here, outraged Hindu followers on Friday by promising to launch a prayer event to convert the world’s Hindus.
“The prayers are “aimed at dispelling the darkness that holds more than 900 million Hindus in spiritual bondage”, a Baptist statement declared.
““We’re outraged. It’s offensive,” responded Suresh Gupta, president of the Durga temple in Fairfax, Virginia.
““It’s just a call for them to disturb the peace and tranquility of people who want to do good. They should refrain from acting like this,” Suresh added.
“Southern Baptists will begin their prayer event on Nov 3 and have published a prayer booklet to guide their followers on how to participate in the effort.
“”As Deepavali begins, we want to invite Southern Baptists to pray that the world’s Hindus might be convicted of sin and see Jesus is the Light of the World,” said Randy Sprinkle, director of the International Mission Board (IMB) prayer strategy office.
“The mission board’s press release said Hindus “worship a total of 330 million gods and goddesses, from whom they seek power and blessing.
“”Achieving unity with their Gods represents the only hope Hindus have of escaping the circle of birth, death and reincarnation in which they believe they are trapped.”
“Sprinkle also said that “Hindus believe life is an endless cycle of reincarnation and appeasement of the Gods. Most know little or nothing of God and His great, saving love for them in the Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
“”We believe it is the Christian’s responsibility to evangelize everyone. The New Testament talks about reaching people from every tribe, tongue and nation,” said Bill Merrill, vice president of communications for the 15.8 million member Nashville-based group.
“”We believe (evangelism) is the task of telling the ‘Good News’ of Jesus Christ to people. That’s it. It’s not coercion . . . each individual is competent to make his own decision before God.”
“The IMB Hindu prayer guide is the third in a series of publications.
“The first two similarly covered Muslim and Jewish religious festivals.
“A fourth is to focus on Buddhism, the statement said.
“Suresh has asked US President Bill Clinton to step in and comment on the Southern Baptists’ statements, which the Hindu leader described as “offensive literature.”
Although it has come near to it once or twice, until now, Japan has never really apologized for its war crimes. In an attempt to assuage its guilty conscience, it even tried to re-write its history and gloss over its bloody past, but there were worldwide protests about this. There are people too, who claim the Nazis never perpetrated the Holocaust. We must not let their words confuse us, nor time dim our memories. Though we can forgive, we must never forget, because if we do, the world may again fall victim to this kind of horror.
The Pope and other Christian leaders are concerned about the spread of Buddhism and other Eastern religions in the West, and not without reason; their thrones are shaking and they are losing their followers. But why is Buddhism spreading in the West? It is spreading not just because it is a reasonable and rational way that does not demand blind faith or insult our intelligence, but because Christianity is not. Dogmatism and intolerance help Buddhism to spread by providing such a contrast. After so many centuries of darkness and suppression, the West is now free to choose, intelligently. (Some people will say we’ve been free to choose for a long time, and this is true, too; but not until quite recently has the man-in-the-street had access to many alternatives to choose from). Who will choose to continue living in a cave with candles for light when he can live in a modern house with electricity? As time passes, more and more people will abandon Christianity to embrace Buddhism. But the Pope need not fear that one day he’ll be left all alone in the Vatican; Buddhism will not be adopted by the average Westerner. I don’t imagine it will ever become popular in the West, and indeed, I hope it doesn’t, because when something becomes popular, and the masses get hold of it, it loses its meaning; I want it to be something for those who will think about and appreciate it. (If this sounds elitist, I’m sorry, but I won’t retract my words).
I am often asked why I am against Christianity. I admit it, and will not pretend otherwise; I am against Christianity. Why? Because I regard it as pernicious, and feel I have no choice but to oppose it. If Christians were content to follow their way and leave other people alone, I probably would not say anything (don’t think that I enjoy complaining and wasting my energy this way! I only wish it were not necessary!). But because they are not content, and because their agenda is still to convert the world to their belief system, I cannot and will not keep quiet, and will speak out to expose this fraud.
It is fashionable today for prominent religious leaders to engage in ‘dialogue’ with each other. Inter-religious conferences are called to discuss war, crime, terrorism, injustice, human rights, and other things affecting the world. And while this is laudable and a step in the right direction, I feel that such gatherings often avoid the real issues, and degenerate into smug little hypocritical meetings of “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine”. People attend wearing their insignia and smiles, claiming to represent vast bodies of followers, and prepared to make concessions on minor points, but with self-righteous thoughts of, “Ours is still the best way” in their hearts. Little is resolved—nor ever can be—with such attitudes; indeed, if we will just look back a little, we will see that they have caused countless conflicts! And unless and until we bring this erroneous way of thinking out into the open and confront it, we are not going to get very far with our stage managed conferences. We’ve been burdened with these illusions since prehistoric times, and need to get rid of them.
Is the Pope prepared to humbly abandon the supremely arrogant concept of ‘papal infallibility’, and the ‘frog-in-the-well’ belief that only in the Catholic Church is salvation to be found? Dare he be honest and admit that he doesn’t know what happens after we die? (Dare we all admit this?) Or will he continue to cling to these dogmas—and expect his flock to adhere to them unthinkingly? He is in a very difficult position, caught between a rock and a hard place, as it were. But is he aware of it? He gives no sign of it, and is as conservative and unbending as ever. Will he be the last of his line, as predicted by Nostradamus? Meanwhile, many Catholics, are questioning things (and why not?); their formerly narrow little world, wherein everything was neatly mapped out for them, has burst open at the seams, and they can no longer live in a comfortable cocoon of priestly spinning. This is a multi-cultural and multi-religious world; we can remain ignorant of other ways only by choosing to.
How can we ever move towards peace in the world when people cling to medieval beliefs in the supernatural, thinking that they are right and others are wrong? Only when we are prepared to say, honestly and humbly, “I don’t know”, can peace stand a chance. But how hard it is to say this, when we have, for so long, held the belief of being ‘chosen people’ and others as ‘rejects’! How hard it is to let go, and accept oneself and others as simply human! But if we are not to destroy ourselves, we must come back, eventually, to the basics; life on this earth should be our primary concern, not what happens (if anything) after death. We will find out about that soon enough. If we do not live well on this earth, how should life for us in the hereafter be any better? Maybe we should regard this as a trial run for what comes after; if we did, we might take better care of our planet, instead of polluting and destroying it. Really, our profligate use and abuse of our poor suffering planet is an indication that we think there is nothing at all after we die. And if there is, what will we do to that world? Will we treat it any better or differently than we treat this one?
For too long has the world suffered under religious darkness. Why do we continue to put up with it? Let’s challenge the dogmas and unsubstantiated theories we’ve been fed, and demand proof—or at least, better explanations than we’ve been given so far. Does the Pope really believe he is infallible? Someone should put him on the spot and ask him about this. Let us put our skepticism to good use by debunking some of these illogical claims.
Buddhists: you are so attached to words like Karma, Re-birth, Nirvana, Enlightenment? What would happen if you honestly and fearlessly admitted that you know nothing about such things and let go of them? Would your spiritual foundations immediately crumble? Is it not enough to understand something of the Law of Cause-and-Effect? Is it not enough to feel part of this world, to know that you belong, and that you can and do make a difference? Is being Buddhist a matter of calling oneself so, or of loading up our already cluttered minds with a set of beliefs? What do we know of Enlightenment? Does it help us make sense of life, and to see all living things as fellow travelers, or does it give us a feeling of superiority: “I’ve got it and you have not”? Fear of-and-for self can only be overcome by understanding, only by seeing who and what we are, only by opening ourselves and becoming vulnerable, only by love.
Christians: Ignorance is ignorance, not Buddhist or Christian. Are you any better than Buddhists in your unknowing? Dare you offer your self, your ego—that feeling of ‘I, me and mine’—for crucifixion by admitting that you do not know, instead of arrogantly thinking and claiming you do? It requires courage, as it is not easy to do. Belief and faith are two different things. We believe when we do not know; when we know, we do not believe. Faith, however, arises from direct personal experience of things. Which do you have: Belief or Faith? Can you honestly say that you have Faith instead of Belief? Remember and take care: one of the cardinal sins of Christianity is spiritual pride—the very thing that persuades one into feeling superior to others.
Only when religion becomes a thing of living, instead of a name to hide behind, only when we stop playing games and saying “My religion is better than yours”—like children with their toys: “Mine’s bigger than yours!”—shall religion have a serious role to play in the world. If it cannot or will not update itself, it will become anachronistic, and we shall eventually outgrow it. Hasten the day!