Friday, July 21, 2006

Buddhism is Christianity?

The Anchoress links to an interesting essay by Patrick O'Hannigan who questions Thich Nhat Nahn's arguments while discussing Buddhism and Christianity. The whole concept of "Oneness" and enlightenment, and even salvation get evaluated. Flannigan quotes here philosophy professor Peter Kreeft:

"We shall use 'Eastern' and 'Western' here in an oversimplified way in order to make our main point as simple as possible...the West claims that the East is wrong on some points, and the East claims that there is no such thing as being wrong. A Hindu can believe everything, including Christianity, as a partial truth, or a stage along the way to total truth. Even contradictory ideas can be accepted as true: the stumbling block of East-West dialogue is the law of noncontradiction. The East's argument is that its notion of truth includes the West's, but not vice-versa; that the East is inclusive, the West exclusive. This is probably the main reason for the great popularity of Eastern religions in the West today, especially on an informal, unofficial level. Not many Americans are Hindus, but most prefer the Hindu notion of truth to the Western one, at least in religion."

Hanh confirms the accuracy of that summation by Kreeft and his co-author, one Ron Tacelli: "For a Buddhist to be attached to any doctrine, even a Buddhist one, is to betray the Buddha," Hanh writes.
O'Hannigan goes to the heart of circular Buddhist thinking:

Somewhere over the Pacific, and well before I realized that Hanh subscribed to a worldview that gave him a pass on the law of noncontradiction, I wondered how Hanh would square the notion of non-self with the well-known injunction of one Zen master to his student, "when you meet the Buddha, kill him!" On its face, that doesn’t seem to be the most enlightened advice. But as Hanh points out, a Buddha is anyone who is awake. Siddhartha, the original Buddha, showed the way, but in Buddhist thought, we're all potential Buddhas. In that light, Jesus was a Buddha, too, although of course he never identified himself as such. And what the Zen master of the harsh advice meant, Hanh says, is that "the student should kill the Buddha concept in order for him to experience the real Buddha directly."

Westerner that I am, Hanh’s explanation strikes me as something of a dodge. Given the non-self constraints in which Buddhism is working, wouldn’t the “real Buddha” be as ephemeral as any other self? Killing the Buddha is a waste of time if the Buddha is not really there, in a way that dying to self or emulating a grain of wheat (“if it die, it will yield a rich harvest”) are not wastes of time for Christians.
My problem with Buddhism is that the notion of nothingness, no attachment, no desire is just a mask for nihilism. It doesn't matter anyway, so who cares? This foundation allows stupid beliefs to flourish: I am born at this level therefore I stay at this level. Women are lesser, therefore I must accept society's expectations.

Futility and helplessness suffuse this system. If we are all one, and the same at that, if we are all Buddha or Christ, then why do the heavy lifting? I mean really, let someone else be good. I'll be the bad "balance". And why not?

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