Logical Criticism of Buddhist Doctrines

A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

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15. Historical perspectives


1.    Buddhist historicity

Buddhism emerged in northeast India about 6th or 5th Cent. BCE. It did not, of course, emerge in a cultural vacuum. India already had a rich religious culture, based on the Vedas and Upanishads, which gave rise to other religions, notably the Hindu.

It seems to be historical fact that Buddhism was founded by a man called Siddhartha Gautama, though historians disagree as to the exact dates of his life; most of them, in India and the West, suggest he lived in 563-483 BCE, others, in Japan, suggest 448-368 BCE.[1]

Whatever the case, it seems reasonable to assume that Buddhism began with this single man’s teachings, and over time expanded and evolved. It does not follow, of course, that all the stories that have come down to us concerning him are historically true, nor that all statements made in his name were indeed made or implied by him.[2]

More significant philosophically is the issue as to whether this man’s claim of “complete enlightenment and liberation” is true or not. No historian can ever answer that question. It is not inconceivable that such a metaphysical experience and event is humanly possible, but it would be hard to prove or disprove it. The one claiming such “Buddha” status can only be truly understood and justified by another person with the same privilege; and all others can only take it on faith, or refuse to do so.

It is as with any witness – the witness was there and saw and heard what he claims; but others, who were not present, have still to decide whether or not to believe his say-so. His testimony supports but does not definitively prove the hypothesis. We have to take into consideration the possibilities that he misunderstood or deluded himself, or exaggerated or lied to impress or manipulate others, or that reports concerning him were or have become distorted. These things do happen, even today; and in olden days, the boundary between fact and fiction was perhaps more tenuous still.

Notwithstanding the speculative presuppositions, it seems fair for us to still conventionally call this man the “Buddha” (meaning the enlightened one). Insofar as the doctrine of Buddhism depends on faith in certain metaphysical possibilities, it must be regarded as a religion. Even so, it includes some very philosophical insights and discussions, and so may also be regarded as a philosophy.

This philosophical tradition is very broad and varied, and subject to very divergent interpretations. I do not claim to know more than a small fraction of this field of study, but nevertheless feel justified in sharing my reflections concerning the little I do know. For a start, this could be viewed as a record of one man’s gradual assimilation or rejection of Buddhist ideas. But moreover, I feel impelled to comment by virtue of the original and extensive logical tools I bring to bear.

I have sometimes been criticized concerning my criticism of Nagarjuna’s philosophy, through arguments that I did not exactly represent it. But my answer is always this: though I cannot vouch that my arguments are perfectly applicable to Nagarjuna’s philosophy as it really is, I stand by my arguments with regard to their applicability to the ideas I presented under the label of ‘Nagarjuna’s philosophy’. From a philosophical point of view, my arguments are interesting and valid, even if from a historical viewpoint some issues may be left open. In any event, historians have varying interpretations, too.

Philosophy is concerned with ideas, and the issue of who precisely proposed them and when exactly is not so important. A philosopher (X) may represent, analyze and criticize an idea, without having to be absolutely accurate as to whether his formulation of the idea is exactly identical to its original formulation by some historical person (Y). So long as we understand that it is the idea as here and now represented that is being considered and discussed, the account given is philosophically respectable. Historians may debate whether X’s account corresponds exactly to Y’s initial idea, and to what extent X’s discussion is relevant to Y’s philosophy, but this is historical debate, not philosophy.

Concerning the credibility of Buddhism, we may also ask questions from the specific point of view of Judaism (and its derivative religions: Christianity, Islam and their derivatives in turn). A crucial question would be: if the claim of Buddhism to enlightenment and liberation is true, how come such a major human breakthrough to spirituality was never predicted or mentioned in the Jewish Bible and later books? Another question would be: if the Buddha went so high, how come he did not meet or mention meeting God?

These are of course questions for those who choose to adhere to Jewish (or Christian or Moslem) beliefs, for the Buddhist would simply regard the failure of the Judaic traditions to foresee or notice the Buddha’s attainment, or the failure of the Buddha to acknowledge God, as a problem of theirs and not of his.

Personally, I prefer to keep an open mind in both directions, and emphasize the positive teachings on both sides, rather than stress conflicts between West and East. It is a historical fact that different segments of humanity have evolved spiritually in different ways – and that may well be God’s will. Our evolutions are still ongoing, and we may yet all come to an agreement. We can surely learn from and enrich each other, and the current historical phase of globalization can profit us all spiritually.


2.    About Buddhist idolatry

I am comforted in my conviction that Buddhism is not originally and intrinsically idolatrous[3] after reading some of Mu Soeng’s historical comments, like the following.


“For the Sthaviras, the Buddha Shakyamuni was a historical personage—a great teacher but not a divinity. The Mahayanists, however, saw the Buddha as a transcendental principle rather than a mere individual in the phenomenal world.” (P. 19.)


This confirms that the deification of this flesh and blood teacher is a late event in Buddhist history – occurring a few hundred years after the fact. It should be pointed out and emphasized that such deification was logically in contradiction to the essential message of Siddhartha Gautama (the founder of Buddhism).

Why? Because the message of this teacher was that he, a mere human being, was able to transcend samsara (the domain of karma) and attain nirvana (the domain of freedom). If it turns out that this apparent man was in fact not a man at all, but a “god” intending or predestined to save mankind, then the practical demonstration of the possibility for humans of liberation from the wheel of birth and death would not have been made!

If, as later Buddhists depicted him, he was a god, then his essential existential condition was not comparable to that of a man, and it could well be argued that his achievement could not be replicated by other men. The whole point of his story is that an ordinary human being can by his own intelligence and effort, even without the supervision of an accomplished teacher[4], develop understanding and overcome all suffering forever. To change that story is to miss the point.

Some, of course, would argue that, though he was not a god incarnate at birth, he became “divine” upon attaining buddhahood, and more so at the end of his life (when he entered parinirvana). This scenario was also, however, a later interpretation of events, motivated by devotionalism.


“…the rise of devotionalism in Mahayana. …around the time of the beginning of the common era, in north-western India, under Greek and Mediterranean influences, Buddha statues were sculpted for the first time. In early Buddhism, as in the contemporaneous Upanishad literature, we find that the idea of a personality cult was frowned upon. In ancient India the veneration of a holy person took the form of worshipping a memorial shrine (stupa) rather than a physical image.” (P. 91.)


Originally, Buddhism was not a religion of devotion, but of morality and meditation. It did not consist in worship of the Buddha (as a god or later still as God), or of a multitude of Buddhas, but in following his example (as a successful spiritual explorer and teacher). Moreover, the adoration of statues (as a specific form of devotion) representing the Buddha and other figures in the Buddhist pantheon was, it seems, a possibly separate and still later phenomenon.

It may be, as the above quotation suggests, that idolatry was not a religious behavior pattern indigenous to India, but one imported from the West. One might have assumed idolatry to have been an older cultural habit in India (in view of its ubiquity there today), but historians have apparently[5] not found evidence in support of such a hypothesis. However, it remains true that in regions of Asia farther north and east, Hindu or other forms of idolatry may have preceded the arrival of Buddhism, and that Buddhism merely accommodated them.

In this regard, we must probably distinguish the geographical movements of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism, being itself relatively more idolatrous from its inception, would merge more readily with preexisting local idolatries; whereas, Theravada Buddhism, although relatively less idolatrous originally, would rather begin by tolerating the local customs it encountered, by considering them as among the human foibles that it had to deal with to gradually effect liberation.

Here, we can quote Stephen Batchelor[6] with regard to Tibet in the ninth century, to illustrate the movement and adaptation of Buddhism:


“Padmasambhava’s presentation of Buddhism through the medium of tantric deities and forces struck a very sympathetic and receptive chord within the minds of the Tibetans. The subsequent widespread popularity of tantric practice can probably be attributed to the innate spiritual disposition of the Tibetans to respond more readily to religious truths that are embodied and personified. In this way the teachings of Buddhism came alive for the Tibetans and ceased to be mere abstract ideas and doctrines.” (P. 48.)


Each people or culture, at a given time in history, has its particular spiritual predispositions. These will somewhat determine what they will accept in the way of imports, and how they will interpret it, and what they will disregard or reject. This too can be illustrated with reference to Tibet. Thus, Batchelor writes:


“The Tibetans seem to have been entirely unaffected by the teachings of …  the two great doctrinal traditions which flourished across the border in China. Neither were they aware of the commentarial tradition … prevalent in the Theravada schools of Sri Lanka and South-East Asia. Yet the most remarkable instance of the Tibetans’ resistance to other forms of Buddhism is found in their reaction to the attempted introduction of the Ch’an (Zen) school from China during the eighth century.” (P. 64.)


The above criticism of Mahayana has perhaps an exception in the case of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism. Although the modern Zen meditation centers I have seen all had statues of the Buddha on display, the philosophy of Zen is essentially non-devotional or even anti-devotional. This can be textually confirmed, for instance by the following extract from the Bloodstream Sermon traditionally attributed to Bodhidharma[7]:


“But deluded people don’t realize that their own mind is the buddha. They keep searching outside. They never stop invoking buddhas or worshipping buddhas… Don’t indulge in such illusions… Even if a buddha or bodhisattva should suddenly appear before you, there’s no need for reverence. This mind of ours is empty and contains no such form… Why worship illusions born of the mind? Those who worship don’t know, and those who know don’t worship.” (Pp. 25, 27.)


This passage clearly reasons that attachment to religious visions, and all the more therefore to representations, is antithetical to the core Buddhist belief. In the Breakthrough Sermon, replying to the question as to whether “casting statues” and other such external practices apparently taught in some sutras are of any use to achieving enlightenment, the Zen master answers that these are mere “metaphors”; he explains:


“The Tathagata’s sublime form can’t be represented by metal. Those who seek enlightenment regard their bodies as the furnace, the Dharma as the fire, wisdom as the craftsmanship, and the three sets of precepts and six paramitas as the mold. They smelt and refine the true buddha-nature within themselves and pour it into the mold formed by the rules of discipline. Acting in perfect accordance with the Buddha’s teaching, they naturally create a perfect likeness.” (Pp. 95-96.)


Note well the phrase “within themselves”. Repeatedly, he insists on the redundancy and uselessness of any such external works and deeds; the essence of the Way is working on oneself, from the inside.

Even today, some Buddhists, at least some Zen teachers, seem to eschew idol worship. Note for instance Shunryu Suzuki’s statement:


“In our practice we have no… special object of worship. … Joshu, a great Chinese Zen master, said, ‘A clay Buddha cannot cross water; a bronze Buddha cannot get through a furnace; a wooden Buddha cannot get through fire.’” (P. 75.)



3.    Buddhist messianism

Mu Soeng also writes:


“The notion of past Buddhas was most likely accepted even during the lifetime of Shakyamuni…. By first century C.E., …the notion of past and future Buddhas seems to have been well established. We can only speculate what influence the concept of world savior to come (sayosant), from the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, might have exercised on these developments.” (P. 55.)


With regard to the idea of a world savior, i.e. the messianic idea, I would not agree that it was probably imported. It is intrinsic to Buddhism, in the way of a prime given, that Buddha Shakyamuni[8], by finding his own way to Realization (assuming he did), and then preaching that way to others, broke the ground for all humanity and showed them a way to salvation. By definition, his achievement (if it indeed occurred) is extraordinary and of universal significance.

The story goes that he could have been satisfied with his own personal escape from samsara; but out of compassion (karuna) for other sentient beings, he chose to put off his final departure (parinirvana) so as to help them out first. We may therefore consider him as an unselfish person, one wishing to save others, and admit that Buddhism from its inception had ambitious soteriological motives.

This does not mean that Shakyamuni’s breakthrough was necessarily unique. There is no logical reason to exclude that there may have been past Buddhas before this one or that there would be future ones after this one. On the contrary, granting that Shakyamuni’s achievement was ‘natural’ (in a large sense, allowing for the transcending of immanent nature, i.e. of physical and mental identity), we would expect past and future Buddhas to be possible and likely.

Shakyamuni may have been the first, or there may have been others before him whose existence and whose possible teaching may not have left a historical trace. As for future Buddhas, the very fact that Shakyamuni taught implies that he considered that others could also attain buddhahood.

In this perspective, the Mahayana ideal of the bodhisattva appears like a perfectly natural development. By his own altruism, in delaying his parinirvana to teach, the Buddha gave the example of this practice. However, in time the bodhisattva ideal was perhaps taken to extremes. As Mu Soeng points out:


“The bodhisattva was thought to embody not only a spirit of compassion but also one of voluntary suffering. At times, the resolve of the bodhisattva was expressed in almost Christian terms. The idea of the suffering savior may have existed in some form in the Middle East before Christianity arose, but it did not appear in Buddhism until after the Christian era. The suffering bodhisattva so closely resembles the Christian conception of God in the form of Jesus who gave his life for others that we cannot dismiss the possibility that Buddhism borrowed this doctrine from Christianity, which was vigorous in Persia from the third century C.E. onward.” (P. 55.)[9]


There is (in my opinion) little in the original teaching of Buddhism to justify this particular development. Though Shakyamuni gave the example of altruism, he did not take it to the extreme of personal sacrifice, i.e. of suffering greatly for others. This notion could even be conceived as antithetical to original Buddhism, which after all is intended as a path for removing and avoiding suffering. Its teaching was positive, intended to make people healthy and happy, and not to cause them difficulties. The Buddha remained serene all his life, according to reports.

We should perhaps here distinguish two ways of suffering for others. A person wishing to help others may accept to suffer incidentally or accidentally in this pursuit. The suffering involved is not per se the means to the helpful goal, but only an unfortunate side effect. For example, a war hero goes first into battle, hoping to clear the way for his friends; he knows he may get killed or wounded, but that is not his intention; on the contrary, the more unscathed he gets through, the better (for he can then carry on fighting).

More prosaically, one may carry an old lady’s shopping bag to stop her suffering muscular pains. The Christian ideal is not this – but rather one of “taking up the suffering of others”. This means, not just relieving others’ burdens (which cause them suffering), but experiencing their suffering in their stead. Jesus on the cross is depicted as suffering in the place of sinners, so they do not have to pay the price for their sins. This is a distinctive concept of altruism, which I doubt was originally intended in Buddhism.

I do not see how suffering as such can have any utility to anyone. To free someone else of suffering one must neutralize the causes of that suffering. Such intervention may occasionally cause oneself suffering – and it is easy to appreciate the virtue, value and beauty of such ‘selfless’ acts. If one realizes the relativity and impermanence of this world, one is not afraid of such personal sacrifice. But it is not one’s suffering that relieves the person one helps, but one’s effective action. The bodhisattva’s role is not to suffer, but to be effective[10].


4.    Assimilating Buddhism

The migration of Buddhism to the West is bound to produce something new in many respects. Shunryu Suzuki[11] admitted as much when he said to his students: “Here in America we cannot define Zen Buddhists the same way we do in Japan…. You are on your way to discovering some appropriate way of life.”

This would not be a phenomenon particular to Buddhism, but concerns any religion or cultural product. We can observe for example the movement of Christianity into Africa, South America and Asia. In each case, there are noticeable differences from the European original. And indeed, even among Europeans (and North Americans), Christianity has a variety of expressions. The same applies to Buddhism in Asia, and can be expected to apply to Buddhism in North America and Europe.

How did Buddhism migrate westward? First, Europeans came in contact with Buddhism (and other Oriental religions) in Asia. Some there showed their curiosity and willingness to learn, and eventually brought back some oral teachings, practices and texts to Europe. They gave lectures, and wrote articles and books, passing on Buddhist ideas. Documents were translated, as conscientiously as possible, both by Westerners and Orientals. Eventually, some Orientals came to Europe and North America to teach in person.

Translation is impossible without some interpretation. Every teacher carries a large part of tradition, but also a small part of personal interpretation. Necessarily, when any religion or cultural product arrives at a new region or country, it has to mix somewhat with the local culture, resulting in a new variation on the theme[12]. However purist the recipients try to be, their vision cannot help but be colored to some extent by their cultural antecedents. This is true of peoples – and it is true of individuals.

Some individuals pick and choose what pleases them in the import, while others try to go all the way and become orthodox. But whatever external appearances suggest, what goes on inside each individual is a commonplace process of assimilation of new ideas. Each individual has to digest the new outlook in accord with his or her personal psychological and intellectual parameters. In some cases, some rejection sooner or later occurs; in some cases, the individual finds his or her needs largely satisfied.

My own writing on Buddhism can accordingly be regarded as an account of my personal reactions, as a Western and Jewish philosopher, and especially as a logician, to this incoming wave of ideas, at a particular place and time. I am not standing aloof on some pedestal. I make no claim to superiority or omniscience, but simply share my thoughts – frankly evaluating, criticizing, praising, rejecting, adapting, and conflating as seems appropriate. Not liking to be fooled or intimidated, I try not to take anything for granted; but I keep an open mind and a humble willingness to learn.

I have certainly over time learnt a lot, and often been pleasantly surprised and affected. I am always grateful for any knowledge, wisdom or virtue transmitted to me. Certainly, Buddhism – and the Orient in general – has a lot to teach us. I do not however believe it is omniscient and immune to feedback and correction. I do believe the philosophical and spiritual confluence of East and West can be of benefit to both sides; it is not a one-way street, either way. With maturity, we can jointly evolve some common understanding and direction.


5.    Reason and spirituality

In Judaism, the rabbis consciously practice non-contradiction (and the other laws of thought) in most of their discourse; but in some cases, they desert this virtue.

For example, it often happens that equally authoritative commentators have divergent interpretations of the same text; nevertheless, both their positions are upheld as traditional and true so as to avoid any suggestion that any important rabbi might ever be wrong. In such cases, the rationale given is that the different, even conflicting, perspectives together deepen and enrich the overall understanding of that text. In non-legal contexts (haggadah), there is no pressing need to decide one way or the other, anyway; while in legal contexts (halakhah), a decision is often made by majority[13].

Also, as I have shown in my Judaic Logic, some of the hermeneutic principles used in the Talmud are not in conformity with syllogistic logic; some yield a non-sequitur in conclusion, and some even a contradiction. In such cases, the absurdity occurs on a formal level, within a single line of reasoning (rather than in relation to conflicting approaches); yet the conclusion is often accepted as law anyway, because the (erroneous) form of reasoning is considered traditional and Divinely given.

However, it is interesting to note in this regard that there is a Talmudic law[14] about two people who find a prayer shawl and bring it together to the rabbinical court, both claiming it as their property (on a finders-keepers basis); these people are not permitted to both swear they found it first, since these oaths would be in contradiction and that would make one of them at least a vain use of God’s name (a grave sin).

This Judaic law shows that the rabbis are ultimately forced to admit the logical law of non-contradiction as binding, i.e. as indicative of objective reality.

Similarly, in Buddhism, there are many teachers who insist on the importance of keeping one’s feet firmly on the ground even while one’s head is up in the heavens. They teach that karmic law should not be ignored or denied[15] – meaning that one should not act as if there are no laws of nature in this world and anything goes. To act irresponsibly is foolish and at times criminal. I would include under this heading adherence to the laws of thought; for without the awareness, harmony and clarity that they enjoin, healthy respect for causality would not be possible.

It is important, at this juncture in the history of philosophy, that people understand the danger of denial of all, or any, of the laws of thought. Due to the current influx of Oriental philosophies, and in particular of Buddhism, some would-be philosophers and logicians are tempted (perhaps due to superficial readings) to take up such provocative positions, to appear fashionable and cutting-edge. But while predicting that Western philosophy will be greatly enriched by this influx, I would warn against abject surrender of our rationality, which can only have destructive consequences for mankind.

Logic is one of man’s great dignities, an evolutionary achievement. But it is true: logic alone, without meditation, morality and other human values, cannot bring out the best in man. Taken alone like that, it can and sometimes does apparently lead people to narrow-minded and sterile views, and dried-up personalities. But in the last analysis, people of that sort are simply poor in spirit – their condition is not the fault of logic as such. In fact, they misunderstand logic; they have a faulty view of it – usually an overly deductive, insufficiently inductive view of it.

The current ills of our society are not due to a surfeit of logic. Rather, our society is increasingly characterized by illogic. Many media, politicians and educators twist truth at will, and people let themselves to be misled because they lack the logical capacity or training required to see through the lies and manipulations. Rationality does not mean being square-minded, rigid or closed, as its opponents pretend – it means, on the contrary, making an effort to attain or maintain spiritual health. To give up reason is to invite mental illness and social disintegration. Taken to extremes, unreason would be a sure formula for insanity and social chaos.

Aristotle’s answer to irrationality was effectively to train and improve our reason. I do not think this is “the” single, complete solution to the human condition – but it is for sure part of the compound solution. Logic is only a tool, which like any tool can be unused, underused, misused or abused. Logic can only produce opinion, but as I said before it helps produce the best possible opinion in the context of knowledge available at any given time and place. It is not magic – only hard work, requiring much study.

Rationalism is sometimes wrongly confused with ‘scientism’, the rigid state of mind and narrow belief system that is leading mankind into the spiritual impasse of materialism and amorality. On this false assumption, some people would like to do away with rationalism; they imagine it to be an obstacle to spiritual growth. On the contrary, rationality is mental health and equilibrium. It is the refusal to be fooled by sensual pursuits—or spiritual fantasies. It is remaining lucid and open at all times.

The ‘scientific’ attitude, in the best sense of the term, should here be emphasized. For a start, one should not claim as raw data more than what one has oneself experienced in fact. To have intellectually understood claims of enlightenment by the Buddha or other persons is not equivalent to having oneself experienced this alleged event; such hearsay data should always be admitted with a healthy ‘grain of salt’. Faith should not be confused with science; many beliefs may consistently with science indeed be taken on faith, but they must be admitted to be articles of faith.

Note well that this does not mean that we must forever cling to surface appearances as the only and final truth. There may well be a ‘noumenal’ level of reality beyond our ordinary experience and the rational conclusions we commonly draw from such experience. Nevertheless, we are logically duty bound to take our current experience and reasoning seriously, until and unless we personally come in contact with what allegedly lies beyond. Those of us who have not attained the noumenal may well be basically “ignorant” (as Buddhism says), but we would be foolish to deny our present experience and logic before such personal attainment.

Wisdom is an ongoing humble quest. An error many philosophers and mystics make is to crave for an immediate and incontrovertible answer to all possible questions. They cannot accept human fallibility and the necessity to make do with it, by approximating over time towards truth. I suggest that even in the final realization we are obligated to evaluate our experience and decide what it is.

The phenomenological approach and inductive logic are thus a modest, unassuming method. The important thing is to remain lucid at all times, and not to get carried away by appearances, or worse still by fantasies. Even if one has had certain impressive meditation experiences, one should not lose touch with the rest of one’s experience, but in due course carefully evaluate one’s insights in a broader context. Logic is not an obstacle to truth, but the best way we have to ensure we do not foolishly stray away from reality. Rationality is wise.


Drawn from Logical and Spiritual Reflections (2008-9), book 4, chapters 12-15, and book 3, chapter 21.



[1]              According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

[2]              The following illustrates of the inaccuracy of transmission of information by tradition: Dogen writes at one point (p. 242): “It has been twenty-two hundred years since the Buddha’s pari-nirvana”; assuming this is not an error of translation or a typographical error, and considering this text was written in 1246 CE, Dogen was mistaken by some 500 years!

[3]              Note that my use of this epithet is not intended to disparage Buddhism as a whole or Buddhists in general. My concern over “idolatry” is of course an expression of my Jewish roots and values (starting with the first two of the Ten Commandments). I admit frankly that I find such behavior patterns silly and extraneous. Nevertheless, I also have great respect and admiration for the more essential Buddhist beliefs and practices. When I read the stories or writings of past Buddhist teachers, I am readily convinced they are great souls, deeply moral and profound in their spiritual achievements. Moreover, my opposition to idolatry does not prevent me from appreciating the artistic value of Buddhist statuary and temples, some of which (notably, Angkor) I have visited. Perhaps, then, we should say that Buddhism (like Christianity) merits respect in spite of the forms of idolatry (deification of people and worship directed at statues) that have become attached to it. Certainly, Jews at least should always remain vigilant and be careful not to get drawn into anything suggestive of idolatry.

[4]              See the Dhammapada, v. 353: “I myself found the way. Whom shall I call Teacher?” The author (i.e. the Buddha, presumably) adds: “Whom shall I teach” – suggesting this attainment is not something that can simply be taught, like mathematics or English.

[5]              According to Mu Soeng’s account. Note that in my Buddhist Illogic, chapter 10, I assumed that the worship of statues in India antedated the advent of Buddhism. In any case, idolatry is a wide concept not limited to the worship of statues. It includes all forms of polytheistic worship, and even the idea of an incarnation of a unique God. In this sense, at least, the religious culture of India (viz. Vedism) that preceded Buddhism was certainly idolatrous.

[6]              In his Introduction.

[7]              The reputed Indian founder of specifically Ch’an Buddhism in China (c. 490-528 CE). Some modern scholars attribute this sermon to later monks, perhaps “of the Oxhead Zen School, which flourished in the seventh and eighths centuries”, according to Red Pine, the translator, though he accepts the traditional attribution (see his Introduction).

[8]              This name simply means “the Sage from Shakya”, referring to his place of origin.

[9]              The Christian trinity is another doctrine which has a very close parallel in Buddhism, viz. the trikaya (three bodies of the Buddha). The resemblance between “father, holy ghost and son” (mentioned in Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14) and “dharmakaya, samboghakaya and nirmanakaya” (see Mu Soeng, pp. 89-90) is striking, although some differences can no doubt be pointed to. Here again, whether there has been an influence either way, or this is a similar response of the human intellect to the same problem of unification, is a moot issue. Judaism, for its part, has no recourse to a trinitarian concept of God.

[10]            Suffering when helping others is not necessarily proof of unusual goodness; it is often just a sign of incompetence. Sometimes risks are taken and may result in personal pain, damage or destruction, but this is usually due to lack of skill. Tragedy is usually indicative of some weakness and failure.

[11]            P. 133.

[12]            An interesting example, because of its overt and extreme eclecticism, is the Cao Dai religion in Vietnam.

[13]            Although in some cases, centuries later, scattered groups of Jews may follow different interpretations of the same decision.

[14]            I unfortunately cannot find the exact Mishna reference at this time, but I heard it discussed by two Rabbis.

[15]            I give you for example Dogen, who quoting Baizhang (“don't ignore cause and effect”), Nagarjuna ([do not] “deny cause and effect in this worldly realm... in the realm of practice”), Yongjia (“superficial understanding of emptiness ignores causes and effect”) and others, decries “those who deny cause and effect” (pp. 263-9).

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