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Buddhist criticism, any Buddhist care to disagree?

I’ve studied Buddhism for about five years, and although there are obvious benefits to Buddhism, I want to make some criticisms of it simply for the intellectual benefit, after all the Buddha himself tells us to investigate everything, including what he tells us.

1. although the Buddha was just a man, many of the Buddhist texts display him as a type of god-man. This is interesting since Buddhism is supposed to be against the God centered religions like Christianity, and yet Buddha is the all-wise, all-knowing sage, essentially, a God. And so even if you achieve or at least understand his enlightenment, you still will never reach Buddhahood. In official Buddhism, the next Buddha is Maitreya, so although Buddhism is supposed to bring you closer to enlightenment, you basically can never reach the true goal of Buddhism, that is, being Buddha. While some scholars of Buddhism will argue that enlightenment is all that is necessary, and to be a Buddha is just a useless mythological status, it still remains that many Buddhists have a hard enough time finding enlightenment, and are guaranteed to never receive the full privilege of being the Buddha or the next Buddha.

2. Buddhism’s first truth is “To live is to suffer” and it’s second truth is “Suffering is caused by desire.” This tells us right away that Buddhism does not view life as essentially a good, amazing, or wonderful journey, but essentially hell on earth. Desire, the cause of life and everything we know, is shunned by Buddhism as part of the second Noble Truth. So although it is a good idea not to desire too much, Buddhism tells us to not desire at all. Not only is this impossible, since we would have to desire to end desire, a blatant contradiction since desire would still remain, Buddhism is also self contradictory because the Buddha’s “middle path” otherwise called the “path of moderation” must be abandoned since the only way to reach nirvana is by completely destroying desire, which is an extreme view and thus not one of moderation. Moderation would involve desiring little, whereas Buddhism’s metaphysical philosophy would force us to give up desire completely and absolutely (an impossibility).

3. although Buddhism upholds many fine ideals, such as not stealing or not killing, the rules of being a monk are so rigorous that they also go against the way of moderation. It doesn’t seem very enlightening to essentially deny one’s self or one’s very life.

4. Metaphysically, although Buddhism has a good scientific basis since it believes that all things are relative and arise from a relative dependence on each other, the Buddhist idea of nirvana is essentially a “nothingness” by which all desire, life, and any concept of soul is wiped out so that nothing remains. Many Buddhist scholars will deny this type of Nihilism, assuming that there is such a thing as an immortal soul that is freed of suffering, they still can not prove that such a soul actually exists. This soul is also a contradiction to other points of Buddhism, which is why many Buddhists believe in the “no self theory” of Buddhism, because even if there were an immortal soul, it would have to have some type of life and desire, and thus some type of suffering. Plus, any one who says there is no self is making an absurd statement, after all, who is the one that says “there is no self?”

I can probably think of more, but that is enough for now. Any Buddhists or critical thinkers have any rebuttals to that line of reasoning?

15 Comments

  • 1. There are various definitions of God. An universe-creator god is rejected in Buddhism. A heavenly being god(s) (one who lives in the heaven) is accepted in Buddhism. An all-wise, all-knowing sage is known as a Buddha — not God for the simple reason that a God is not even a sage in Buddhism if he is not enlightened yet. Such all-wise, all-knowing abilities are not inherited or born with naturally, they are attained via uncountable aeons of learning and practicing. Thus, any sentient beings will become a Buddha finally given the same amount of diligent effort (unlike a creator god that cannot be explained how he has appeared).

    In Theravada teaching, one aims for enlightenment as an Arahant, not as a Buddha. There were tens of thousands of Arahants during and after Sakyamuni Buddha. It is within reach in one life if one practices correctly and diligently.

    2) ‘To live is to suffer’ is to overcome our attachment to sensual pleasures. Buddha also has said we have feelings of happiness, sadness and neutral. An enlightened saint is not attached to either (happiness or sufferings).

    Let me give you an example. If a librarian raises his voice and says, ‘keep quiet!’. Would you rebuff him and says, ‘then when did you shouted?’ The librarian uses voice with the intent to stop noise, not to create more. Similarly, a Buddhists uses (good) desire to end (bad) desires and finally all desires. Good desire is a mean, not the intention.

    3) Moderation are relative. As a layperson, you view monk’s precepts as rigorous, but have you compared it against other religions precepts especially those in Ancient India who self-torture? The absence of self-torture and indulgent enjoyment is considered as moderation.

    4) ‘if this exists, that exists; if this arises, that arises. if this ceases, that ceases; if this extincts, that extincts’ — dependents arising theory, a key Buddhism teaching. Nothing exists in reality, if it does, nihilism holds. If it doesn’t, disappearance is simply the dispersal of causes and conditions, nothing really has disappeared (it has never really existed in the first place) !

    Buddhism rejects a real self, but accept a conditional existent self — that is the one that says, ‘there is no self?’

    You should try to understand the difference between conventional truth and ultimate truth.

    May you be well and happy.

  • St Thomas of Borg has given a very great answer to your question. I don’t know what else I could add to it. Most of the things about becoming a perfectly enlightened Buddha come from the Mahayana tradition which came much later after the Buddha’s parinibbana.

    As for the first Noble Truth, there are different translations I’ve read. The one I read was that there is suffering in life, not that to live is to suffer. The Buddha himself said that there is also gratification in the world, but it would be suffering to cling to such gratification.

    On the question of “Non-Self”, the Buddha stated that if you thought that according to his teaching of “non self” that you do not exist or that you will cease to exist after death, then you do not understand the teaching and it would be considered wrong view.

  • I have been a practicing Buddhist for many years and I have to say that I admire the amount of effort that you put into this, as well as the intelligent answers you have placed here. Normally when my faith is criticized, it is by uneducated people who just want to attack for the purpose of attacking so I appreciate your approach. In addition to that, I can say that I agree with a lot of your points – however, this does not rattle my faith at all. I could write for hours on how I agree with your points and add my own faith into that but I will try to keep it simple for the purpose of this posting. Although, I would certainly not disagree to a future conversation about this if you are interested.

    Buddha said: “Believe nothing, whether you hear it from Me or anyone else unless you know it to be true.” My perception of this statement is what keeps my faith in spite of all the difficulties and human error that have encircled the faith. I know that a lot of things contradict each other and the reason is obvious – If you take a faith and spread it around to different cultures it will develop into something that closely resembles the culture that has taken it. Even I am guilty of this but I feel that it is necessary for my basic understanding. You can’t change what we are and what we are is human. Human’s seem to have an innate need for a “god” figure and even though it is against the Buddha’s ideals, he has become a “god” in a sense. Still, I refute this belief as an educated person does the best they can to do what is right and that is the basic principal of faith in general. If we split straws on what people have done, the good in Buddha’s words may never inspire people. Inspiration is the key but still human error has warped a lot of things. This is true in every faith, Judaism, Taoism, Hindu, Christianity and Islam. I think the great Messiah’s, Profits, and “gods” are more interested in making our hearts pure and being good but I understand the difficulties of blind faith and thoughts of Nihilism. So, I will end my debate with a quote from the Dali Lama, he said that the faith is good but it is not for everyone. You should be true to you and if that means being other than Buddhism, please do that because the point is to find your happiness.

  • You said:
    “Buddhism’s first truth is “To live is to suffer” and it’s second truth is “Suffering is caused by desire.” This tells us right away that Buddhism does not view life as essentially a good, amazing, or wonderful journey, but essentially hell on earth.”

    This might tell YOU that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are correct. Although, in your defense, pretty much every religion thinks of the world as a place of hardship because of original sin (or whatever).

    The noble truths, in a very small nutshell, relate to rejecting materialism and lust in order to become enlightened. Don’t read too much into it, you’ll end up skipping over the truth. The word ‘desire’ that you’re using, is supposed to be used like the word ‘lust’ (which totally changes the meaning of it).

    Good questions! Sorry I only knocked one out….

  • If you take everything literally in buddhism, you will misunderstand it.
    Teachings in buddhism are essentially antidotes to false views. But if these antidotes are taken as unconditional truths, they will in turn become false views.

    “A Buddha is not a Buddha”.

  • As someone who has supposedly “studied” for five years, you have certainly misinterpreted and completely misunderstood what was being taught.

    Perhaps if you studied again and sought the assistance of knowledgeable practitioner in your area you might make better progress.

    The answers you seek are in the text you probably already have however, the Buddha said that if someone, from his or her own personal experience, found what was taught as not working for him or her then he or she should seek their own answers elsewhere.

    This one would suggest that you look within yourself for your own answers.

    namaste

  • There are so many aspects to a religion after being passed on for so many years. We might even see exaggerations created by enthusiastic followers. We can choose what to believe in and which specific buddha to believe in. We don’t have to agree with everything in the religion.

    Personally I am a buddhist who don’t study buddhism and just plainly pray to Earth Treasure Bodhisattva just because how much his will to save the people in pain inspired me.

    With great vows of salvation as numerous as sands of the Ganges,
    Devoted to the rescue of all beings suffering in transmigration,
    Willing to attain Enlightenment only after all others have so attained,
    Earth Treasure, the great Bodhisattva of compassionate vows!

    His merits, benevolence and benefits, all so inconceivable;
    Seeing, gazing, saluting, prostrating to his statue brings peace,
    Hearing, reciting, chanting, remembering his name yields grace;
    Earth Treasure, the great Bodhisattva of compassionate vows!

    With expedient means numbered in billions of trillions,
    Never thought of giving up the attempts to help sinful beings;
    Everywhere in the Dharmadhatu appears some of his transformations;
    Earth Treasure, the great Bodhisattva of compassionate vows!

    Mighty power with awe-inspiring presence is his to command;
    The solemn and arduous career to salvage suffering beings
    With Buddha’s approval and appointment is his to sustain;
    Earth Treasure, the great Bodhisattva of compassionate vows!

    Whenever I become selfish or become addicted to my own luxuries..I will see Bodhisattva and remind myself who I want to be. The man who can bring strength to others.

    To me buddha is not a person…BUT a collective noble will of the generations of wisdom to soothe sufferings in this world. At least that is what he is to me.

  • 1. The idea of obtaining Buddhahood as the goal of Buddhism came much later. In the earlier schools of Buddhism, such as Theravada, the goal was liberation from Samsara by destruction of the fetters (arhantship), which did not require one to become a Sammasambuddha like Gotama. As such, many people attained the goal. Some modern schools of the Mahayana traditions, such as Dzogchen, teach that you can attain full enlightenment in this very life, in effect attaining the goal of Buddhism. This is consistent wiht the teachings of the earlier school of Buddhism. The deification of the Buddha came later. The earlier texts, specifically Digha Nikaya 16 Majjhima Nikaya 71 and 72, specifically deny the Buddha’s deity, eternity, and omniscience.

    2. It does appear self-contradictory. Many people look at Buddhism as a philosophy. When one looks at it this way, then it is self-contradictory. But look at the Buddha’s teachings as instructions for practice, and then the meaning of desire changes. Desire is the source of suffering, and the practice cannot begin and cannot exist without desire. Once the practice has reached its end, there is no desire, and there is no longer any need for the practice. This was taught by the Buddha in the simile of the raft. Once one has reached the other side of the river of samsara, you abandon the raft of the dhamma. You let it go. If you continue to carry it, it’s a burden. This is one of the Buddha’s most famous similes (Majjhima Nikaya 22). But seeing the dhamma as a philosophy in this regard would be wrong view since it lands you into a thicket of views and further suffering. It has been grasped wrongly (cf: the snake simile, also in MN 22). Yes, the Dhamma can be let go of, and so can desire. Meeting one’s needs can be met without generating further karmic formations–which is the outcome of desire and aversion.

    3) How is being a monk denying oneself or his life? Some people are suited to monastic life, and some people are not. I myself am not well-suited to monastic life, so I would not take ordination. Others are ideally suited for it, and would not disrobe. Others take ordination and find that it’s not for them, and they disrobe. It’s all about exploration and finding where you’re best at. We all have our places and our roles to play. The denial comes when we try to play a role that we are plainly unhappy with and are unsuited for.

    4) Nirvana or Nibbana as a sort of “heaven” makes no sense. It simply means the extinction of craving. It of course is used in the sense of some heaven one attains after-life, but it is not consonant with what the Buddha taught in the Pali canon, and is not consonant with with how he used Nibbana in his discourses.

    Before we get into Nibbana, let’s deal with “anatta,” since it’s one of the most misunderstood ideas in Buddhism. Thanissaro Bhikkhu dealt with this issue in an essay entitled “Not-Self or No-Self?” or something to that effect. Through out the Pali Canon, never once did the Buddha say that there is no soul or anything to that effect. What he did say, and this formula was repeated over and over again, occurs as sort of a type again, in Majjhima Nikaya 22:

    “What do you think, monks — Is form constant or inconstant?” “Inconstant, lord.” “And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?” “Stressful, lord.” “And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?”

    “No, lord.”

    “…Is feeling constant or inconstant?” “Inconstant, lord.”…

    “…Is perception constant or inconstant?” “Inconstant, lord.”…

    “…Are fabrications constant or inconstant?” “Inconstant, lord.”…

    “What do you think, monks — Is consciousness constant or inconstant?” “Inconstant, lord.” “And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?” “Stressful, lord.” “And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?”

    “No, lord.”

    “Thus, monks, any form whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every form is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.’

    “Any feeling whatsoever…

    “Any perception whatsoever…

    “Any fabrications whatsoever…

    “Any consciousness whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every consciousness is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.’

    “Seeing thus, the instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is fully released. With full release, there is the knowledge, ‘Fully released.’ He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’

    This formula doesn’t say that there is no self. What it says is to regard anything that is conditioned and compounded and impermanent as not-self. The distinction is important because by teaching that there is no soul or no self, one still becomes locked in identity view and therefore a Nihilism, which the Buddha condemned in Digha Nikaya 1. So it is important to remember the distinction. Anatta is best remembered as an exercise to reduce clinging to the aggregates. This the formula that the Buddha uses over and over in the Pali Canon.

    This brings us to Nibbana. Is it really a sort of Heaven? The answer I think is no. Digha Nikaya uses a different word for what happens at death: Parinibbana: final Nibbana. One can obtain Nibbana in this very life, as indicated by the descriptors in the final paragraph of the long exerpt from MN 22 that I posted.

    As far as who is making the statement that there is no self, the Buddha responded to the “who” question along these lines: that is not a valid question. “Who makes” is not valid because it leads to identity view and clinging. “What makes” is the valid question, and the answer is mental proliferation itself is what makes it. When we talk about “who,” we are using a convention. Mental proliferation is the process that leads to all these thoughts and questions, but there is no one behind the curtain formulating them. At least, there is no one there that we can point to. It goes back to that anatta thing again. There’s nothing that we can point to and say, “this is me.” It all (even our bodies) changes too quickly for us to take any such claim very seriously at all.

  • 2. All religions are going to have contradictions. Since they’re all based on a world view that is simply false, and people can make up whatever they want, AND most religions were made up before we really had a rigorous, empirical philosophy/science, they are going to be full of holes.

    As for “desire to end desire is a desire in itself”, this is a common criticism on buddhism.

    3. True, most monasteries are fairly austere, but they are trying to get the monks to focus in the inner life and not material things.

    4. I agree entirely that nihilism is the only real position from which buddhism makes sense. Many things about zen especially seem paradoxical or nonsense, but when looked at from a nihilist persepctive, suddenly make sense.

  • Buddhism is the religion of no religion. The Buddha never claimed that there were Gods or even an after life necessarily. It would be better to think of Buddhism as a form of psychology or method of introspection. There are too many permutations in Buddhist thought, it seems inevitable that they needed to deify the Buddha, but the Buddha himself never claimed anything of this nature.

    About your second point the way I understand desiring to end desire is much like a ladder, the contradiction only holds for so long, but once you reach the top you throw away the ladder and then the contradiction dissolves itself.

    On your third point I would agree, and there are other problems as well, such as the doctrine of acceptance when it comes to political issues and other forms of social activism. In Buddhism it’s all maya, or illusion, so I can see this form of thinking degenerate in a form of passivity that can be extremely dangerous for a society. We need critical thought and engagement with the world, there are no quick solutions, and we can’t turn a blind eye to suffering.

    The last point I actually think it is one of the more profound ideas in Buddhism, this idea of nothingness or sunyata. I see no need to introduce the soul or spirit into this metaphysical concept. As I understand it, it is not necessarily that it is nothing but that it is everything, it is non-duality, or the property of having all properties and no properties. I think this is intuitively true about the deeper nature of reality and it is that which we come into contact with through spiritual practice. Enlightenment is a process and not a goal in the general sense of that word.

  • Buddhism is Throwing a Foolish Task up on all his followers. “Buddhism tells us to not desire at all”
    ” Not to desire at all or Burn the Desire is Itsself a Desire” says Sadhu sunder singh.
    Desire is a Gods Gift. If we dont have Desire to Love GOD. How can we Know Truth.

    To Solve our Problems GOD Became Flesh.

    All We need is Salvation(Moksha, Nirvana). Salvation is in JESUS CHRIST.

    He became one of us.
    He lived among us.
    He felt our pain.
    And so that we might live with Him forever, He gave His life to pay the penalty for our sin.

    Then, He proved that He is who He claimed to be, by overcoming death.

    Jesus is unlike any other. And He desires to make His story, your story. He’s inviting you to come and follow Him. He is offering you help for today, and hope for tomorrow.

    His invitation will not be open forever, but it is open for you now. Won’t you say yes?

    If you want to know and follow Jesus, then simply tell Him so. Confess to Him your need for forgiveness. Acknowledge your trust in Him as the One who died for your sins so that you might be restored to your heavenly Father… Who loves you. Receive the Spirit of God, and allow Him to direct your life.

    In doing this your deepest longings will be fulfilled… and you will bring glory to God!

    Jesus Loves you

  • you misunderstand buddhism- it is not about limiting desire, but about accepting reality. complete acceptance is the goal, not the total (and as you correctly mentioned, impossible) dismissal of desire. after all, buddhists still eat. if there was a tasty piece of cake infront of them, they’d eat it. the difference between practicing buddhists and other people is, they don’t go after things that are not yet available. they limit their expectations and thus proportionality multiply their experience of the current state of life. the buddhist philosophy is an extremely effective one for getting out of your head and being one with nature- therein lies its spiritual and humanistic potential.

    that being said, in my opinion certain parts of this religion (like most religions) are incompatible with reality as it currently stands. continually we are being bombarded by messages, explicit and otherwise about how to live our lives, what it means to be happy, what we should be doing and not doing. most of these messages promote a sense of lack- “i don’t have a car, therefore i’m poor,” “I lack a degree, therefore I’m stupid” etc. which compels us to attain those things which we feel we are absent of and thus propagates a sense of DESIRE. this desire can be a very good thing- it’s what drives people to their limit and get things they couldn’t have otherwise. success (in the conventional sense of the word) is largely a matter of desire. but when circumstances are brought about that hinder one’s success despite a strong desire, that’s when depression sets in. that recurring sense of being blocked by a wall of unfortunate circumstances is what buddhism tries to combat. it gets people to accept everything, including those things that prevent their attaining what they want, so that their desire doesn’t eat them up inside.

    a balanced attitude is probably the most healthy (and useful) when it comes to limiting desire. keep your goals within reason, and never aim more than can be reasonably expected to be attained. you might not be a shooting star with this attitude, but neither will you be crushed by the weight of unrelenting disappointment. the old folks were right- moderation is everything, and that includes the incorporation of religious philosophies into your everyday thinking.

    i wish you the best of luck. thanks for giving me a chance to relate my thoughts about buddhism here to you.

  • Please read; “The Inner Experience” Thomas Merton, “The Interior Castle” Tresa of Avila, and “The Imitation of Christ” Thomas a Kempis. It is my view that Buddha was touched by the Holy Spirit and since he lived 500 years prior to Christ he was indeed a great man but far short of being anything other than a man. All dramas have the same source. That source for man is the Holy Spirit. Now, Christ promises us that Holy Spirit and through him that Spirit gives life, knowledge, love, contentment, joy and all that we are meant to be. Our separation and belief in that separation from God is the source of our delusion.

    You must not look at what they have made of it, Christianity, and investigate for yourself the Desert Fathers and Mothers form of spirituality. And then ask yourself this question; is that same Spirit available to me today?

  • You must think of religions as a boat with a bunch of port hole windows. You have one for Buddha and another for Mohammad and even one for the Great I Am and ETC. But the only port hole that the Great I Am has open is the one that say Jesus the King of King and the Lord of Lords.
    I hope this helps you with understand that our wisdom’s are as nothing next to God Almighty. Maybe even childish to Him?

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