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Criticism of Buddhism

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Criticism of Buddhism

Criticism of Buddhism, much like the criticism of religion in general, can be found from those who disagree with or question the 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, for example, agnostics, skeptics, "anti-religion" philosophers, rationalists, proponents of other religions, or by Buddhists espousing reform or simply expressing their dislike.

There are two criteria of criticism of any system of thoughts; one is based on rational evaluation of its doctrines, texts, teachings and practice, and the other criterion pertains to the consistency or inconsistency of the practitioners in applying the teachings.

Historical criticism

Buddhism was founded in India, where Hinduism was prevalent, and to date it remains so. The orthodox Hindus viewed Buddhism as atheistic in a positive manner. Yet as many claim Buddhism to have been "disappeared" from India, various Hindu Scholars such as Swami Vivekananda claimed Buddhism to have merged into Vaishnavism Hindu practices.

Criticism of Buddhist doctrines

Consequently, various teachings - and also their later commentaries – differ widely between various Buddhist schools, depending on which sutra is in concern.[1] For this reason, criticism of a certain Buddhist doctrine may apply only to a certain interpretation of that particular doctrine, or that particular school of Buddhism. Nevertheless there are common teachings to all branches of Buddhism, which are the subject of debate and investigation in academic circles.

Nihilism and focus on sufferings

Although Buddhism was compared with Existentialism, it was criticized by Friedrich Nietzsche, who interpreted Buddhism as a life-negating philosophy that seeks to escape an existence dominated by suffering.[2] The doctrine of the Four Noble Truths was targeted by criticism for its focus on sufferings.[3] There are other Buddhist teachings however, which acknowledge the element of joy in life, for example: the text of the Lotus Sutra contains scenaries of people’s enlightenment, with a mind "dancing with joy".[4] The teaching of Nichiren Buddhism also acknowledges both sufferings and joy: “Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy, regard both sufferings and joy as facts of life”.[5]

Women in Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism has been criticized because it treats women, particularly women monks, as inferior to men.[6] Most schools of Buddhism have more rules for bhikkunis (nuns) than bhikkus (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.[7]

Alexander Berzin referred to the Dalai Lama's statement at the 2007 Hamburg congress:[8]

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.

The most criticised doctrine is found in Amida Buddhism’s vow 35: "The Buddha established the Vow of transformation [women] into men, Thereby vowing to enable women to attain Buddhahood".[9] Earlier limitations on attainment of Buddhahood by women were abolished in the Lotus Sutra which opened the direct path to enlightenment for women equally to men.[10] According to Nichiren” "Only in the Lotus Sutra do we read that a woman who embraces this sutra not only excels all other women but surpasses all men".[11]


Some practitioners argue that the criticisms levied against the Buddhist religion draw on examples from sub-traditions not in consonance to Buddhist principles.[12] These meta-critiques are similar to those from by practitioners in other religious traditions. The lack of evidence of any original teachings or global authority on true Buddhism makes it difficult to substantiate these claims outside of practitioner circles.[13]

Arguments of secular origin

Sam Harris, a prominent proponent of New Atheism[14] and practitioner of Buddhist meditation, claims that many practitioners of Buddhism improperly treat it as a religion, and criticizes their beliefs as "naive, petitionary, and superstitious," and claims that such beliefs impede the adoption of true Buddhist principles.[15] The former Buddhist monk Stephen Batchelor has penned several books in which he claims that Buddhism was originally a mystical but secular system of psycho-spiritual self-improvement.

Leaders and institutions

Some critics claim that certain Buddhist adherents and leaders have been materialistic and corrupt with an improper interest in wealth and power rather than pursuit of Buddhist principles.[16] There have been a number of well-publicised sex scandals involving teachers in emerging Western Buddhist groups,[17] even though the Vinaya expressly forbids any sexual activity among Buddhist monastics.[18]

War and violence

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.[19] Sri Lankan peace activists such as A. T. Ariyaratne have however also drawn on Buddhism for inspiration.

Japanese Buddhism 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.[20]

Christopher Hitchens summarized these issues as a specifically Buddhist desire to "put their reason to sleep, and to discard their minds along with their sandals."[21] In 2010 Hitchens wrote 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."[22][23]

Buddhists also have a record of both passive and active nonviolence, often reflected by national culture. Monks have advocated nonviolence during the 2007 Burmese anti-government protests among many other occasions; Engaged Buddhism arose in Vietnam as a means of protest prior to the Vietnam War. More recently, Buddhists in Burma have been accused of ethnic cleansing of minority Rohingya Muslims.[24][25]

The Buddha is quoted in the Dhammapada as saying, "Life is dear to all. Comparing others with oneself, one should neither kill nor cause to kill."[26]

Accusation of violence

In the 1990s, Bhutan expelled or forced to leave its Hindu population in the name of preserving its Buddhist culture and identity.[27]

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.[28]

The Colombo Telegraph reported that "Sri Lanka’s minority Muslims continue to be subjected to violence and persecution, often at the hands of militant Buddhists, who are very active at the grassroots level."[29]

Since March 2013, anti-Muslim riots have flared up in various cities in central and eastern Burma. The violence has coincided with the rise of the Buddhist 969 Movement.[30]

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 or not attached to the original teachings of the original Buddha, including Sōka Gakkai, the Nichiren Shōshū, the Dhammakaya Movement, and participants in the Dorje Shugden controversy.

Marxist criticism

Several critics have criticized Tibet for maintaining a feudal society that exploited peasants and treated them like serfs.[31] 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.[32]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
    • 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.  
  7. ^ Women in Buddhism (English)
  8. ^ Berzin Summary Report Human Rights and the Status of Women in Buddhism
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Writing of Nichiren Daishonin, vol1.p 463
  12. ^ *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.
  13. ^ *Jerryson, Michael (2010). Buddhist Warfare. Oxford University Press. pp. 4–5. 
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ Killing the Buddha by Sam Harris
  16. ^
    • 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. 
  17. ^ Michael Downing. Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center. Counterpoint, 2002.
  18. ^ 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.  
  19. ^ Ananda Abeysekara, "The Saffron Army, Violence, Terror(ism): Buddhism, Identity, and Difference in Sri Lanka". Numen 48.1 (2001).
  20. ^ Zen at War (2nd ed.) by Brian Daizen Victoria / Rowman and Littlefield 2006, ISBN 0-7425-3926-1
  21. ^ God Is Not Great, p 204. Atlantic, New York, 2006
  22. ^ Vernon, Mark (March 10, 2010). "The new Buddhist atheism". The Guardian. Retrieved October 24, 2011. 
  23. ^ Hitchens, Christopher. "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"Review of . Retrieved October 26, 2011. 
  24. ^ "'"Rights Group: Myanmar Unrest Is 'Ethnic Cleansing.  
  25. ^ Human Rights Watch (2013): "All You Can Do is Pray" Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State, Report 2013, ISBN 978-1-62313-0053 PDF
  26. ^ Buddhist Quotes
  27. ^ "Refugees warn of Bhutan's new tide of ethnic expulsions". The Guardian . April 20, 2008
  28. ^ "'"China Steps Up Attacks, Brands Dalai Lama Supporters 'Scum of Buddhism. Fox News. 2008-04-02. Retrieved 2010-08-11. 
  29. ^ "Hate Incidents Report: Muslims Continue To Be Subjected To Violence And Persecution Often At The Hands Of Militant Buddhists – SFM". Colombo Telegraph. May 8, 2013. 
  30. ^ Nirmal Ghosh (Apr 8, 2013). "Myanmar Buddhist supremacy leaders under microscope".  
  31. ^
    • 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
  32. ^ The Dalai Lama Answers Questions on Various Topics

External links

  • Speculative Non-Buddhism
  • The Non-Buddhist
  • Der Unbuddhist (in German and English)
  • Non-X Reader
  • Dharma i okolice (in Polish and English)
  • Non-X Discussion Group
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