The Problem With Buddhism – 2
April 19, 2011 37 Comments
In this post I will argue that Buddhism has a theistic element and that it is no different than the theistic religions of the world (in a functional sense).
Most Buddhists LOVE to talk about how their religion is devoid of metaphysical contrivances. Theistic “explanations” are rejected. In some sense this is a strange development since Buddhism borrowed many of its ideas from some of the major theistic religions of the region during its birth, nearly 2500 years ago. Hinduism is in some sense the parent religion of Buddhism. Siddhartha was born into a Hindu belief system and it is not surprising that he “borrowed” ideas such as reincarnation, samsara and karma from the prevalent belief system (the status quo was taken as a given). He took the status quo for granted and built his teachings around them. Fundamentally therefore, when one considers the “core” of Buddhist teachings it is no different than Hinduism. However it would be naive to claim that Buddhism can somehow be simplified and reduced to Hindu teachings, there are major differences between the two systems. In Hinduism the actions of the Gods play a central role in our day to day lives, the Hindu narratives confirm this assertion. In Buddhism the Gods are merely in the background – a series of beings no different than any other life forms living in a plane of existence divorced from ours. Gods are subjected to the same samsaric rules etc. So Siddhartha does away with the pantheon of Gods, at least in terms of their importance with regard to our lives and re-introduces rebirth, samsara and karma as the driving forces behind how the universe works. All living creatures are subject to these rules. Karma is recast as a sort of “moral cause and effect” and samsara and rebirth is linked to the idea of “suffering” from which the self must be emancipated by following the eight fold path to nirvana. There is no room for God in Buddhist teachings.
From a functional/operational standpoint how is the idea of rebirth, samsara and karma any different than a omnipotent entity governing over us? Buddhism does not invoke God but merely gets around it by invoking 3 principles and mechanisms by which the universe is governed. Karma is a form of moral cause and effect, samsara is an inevitable cycle of death and rebirth and rebirth leads to suffering. These ideas have displaced the concept of the divine (which was present in Hinduism) but serve the same operational purpose. The “universe” tallies ones karma by essentially having an elaborate bookkeeping system (who keeps the books?) and allocates roles for all the creatures based on their “karmic points”, new lives are allocated based on these points, the quality of ones life is determined by these points (who arbitrates these decisions?). Thus these central ideas are nothing but operational definitions of some system/entity otherwise referred to as “God(s)” in other religions. Buddha has stripped Hinduism of its unnecessary bells and whistles, taken its theistic core, wrapped a new set of bells and whistles, craftily repackaged it as “novel” and “true” and preached it to the unfortunate masses.
Furthermore the supernatural nature of these 3 elements cannot be denied. The existence of karmic cause and effect cannot be proven, rebirth cannot be proven and samsara merely depends on these supernatural ideas. These concepts have all the characteristics of the supernatural and yet Buddhists continue to deny this fact. The ideas were borrowed from a supernatural belief system and continue to retain their dimensions despite being integrated from Hinduism (with a divine “imperative”) into Buddhism (divine imperative plays no role).
I hope that you are convinced that the core of Buddhism assumes a functional existence of a theistic “entity”. This claim is not explicit but is tacitly implied when one invokes the bookkeeping and arbitration required for the samsaric system to function.