“If we are going to teach creation science as an alternative to evolution, then we should also teach the stork theory as an alternative to biological reproduction.”
- Judith Hayes

“Creationist critics often charge that evolution cannot be tested, and therefore cannot be viewed as a properly scientific subject at all. This claim is rhetorical nonsense.”
- Stephen Jay Gould

Recently, the Indiana Senate approved a bill that would allow public schools to teach Christian creationism alongside evolution in science classes as long as the schools include origin of life theories from various religions including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Scientology.

On the surface, it would look like the lawmakers are attempting to forge a fair and balanced approach. But in reality, this is just nuts.

First of all, whether you want to call it creationism or intelligent design, this theory is little more than fantasy. I don’t think I need say more in that regard. And Scientology? Their creation story is about as crazy as you can get. Something about a galactic overlord 75, 000, 000 years ago who ruled a number of planets, killed all his people and froze their souls (thetans), and sent them to Earth. These lawmakers really want school children exposed to that?

Another small problem: Buddhism has no creation story per se. So, it would be hard to teach. When I say no “creation story,” I am referring to the notion that life and the universe were created by a supernatural being. As  Nyanaponika Thera writes in “Buddhism and the God-idea”,

From a study of the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Pali canon, it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha’s teachings. On the other hand, conceptions of an impersonal godhead of any description, such as world-soul, etc., are excluded by the Buddha’s teachings on Anatta, non-self or unsubstantiality. … In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world.”

This notion doesn’t fly in Mahayana either. Nagarjuna explained with his logic that creation would be impossible since there is neither a subject or object of creation.

Now, Buddhism does have a story about a man named Malunkyaputta who approached the Buddha and asked him explain the origin of the universe.  According to this tale, the Buddha refused to answer basically because it would amount to rank speculation. The Buddha was not there at the beginning of the universe, so how could he know?

Malunkyaputta had some others questions as well, and you’ll find more on that at the end of this post.

But back to creationism: I have never really understood why Christians in particular have such an aversion to evolution. It certainly has more of an empirical foundation than their present theory. And why couldn’t God have created evolution? How would that in any way diminish their god’s greatness? Sounds reasonable to me, but no, say the creationists, evolution is false.

From what I have heard in the public discussions about this issue, most Christians are unable to come up with a coherent explanation for why evolution is false. I suspect most of them don’t understand why either, but have come to that opinion merely because their parents and church elders and teachers have told them it’s false. I have also long suspected that the seeds of this aversion to evolution are racial in nature. For instance, when reading about the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925, it becomes obvious that those opposed to evolution didn’t mind being related to monkeys as much as they objected to being related to “Negros.”

In any case, I think the bottom line is summed up very well by Claire Vriezen at iowastatedaily.com

Creation stories are not equivalent ideas to tested and refined scientific theories and, as such, should not be taught alongside evolution. They cannot be falsified, nor do they have predictive power. On a further note, the state legislature of Indiana should not be spending time arguing about whether to amend the curriculum to allow for the addition of religious ideas in a science classroom. There are surely better uses of the time and resources of the state legislature.”

Or, as the Buddha is quoted as saying below, “wasting valuable time on such metaphysical questions and unnecessarily disturbing their peace of mind.”

Here’s how Walpola Rahula tells the story of Malunkyaputta in What the Buddha Taught:

The Buddha was not interested in discussing unnecessary metaphysical questions which are purely speculative and which create imaginary problems. He considered them as a ‘wilderness of opinions’. It seems that there were some among his own disciples who did not appreciate this attitude of his. For, we have the example of one of them, Malunkyaputta by name, who put to the Buddha ten well-known classical questions on metaphysical problems and demanded answers.

One day Malunkyaputta got up from his afternoon meditation, went to the Buddha, saluted him, sat on one side of the road and said:

‘Sir, when I was all alone meditating, this thought occurred to me: There are these problems unexplained, put aside and rejected by the Blessed One. Namely, (1) is the universe enternal or (2) is it not eternal, (3) is the universe finite or (4) it is infinite, (5) is soul the same as body or (6) is soul one thing and body another thing, (7) does the Enlightened One exist after death, or (8) does he not exist after death, or (9) does he both (at the same time) exist and not exist after death, or (10) does he both (at the same time) not exist and not not-exist. These problems the Blessed One does not explain to me. This (attitude) does not please me, I do not appreciate it. I will go to the Blessed One and ask him about this matter. If the Blessed One explains them to me, then I will continue to follow the holy life under him. If he does not explain them, I will leave the Order and go away. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is eternal, let him explain it to me so. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is not eternal, let him say so. If the Blessed One does not know whether the universe is eternal or not, etc, then for a person who does not know, it is straightforward to say “I do not know, I do not see”.’

The Buddha’s reply to Malunkyaputta should do good to many millions in the world today who are wasting valuable time on such metaphysical questions and unnecessarily disturbing their peace of mind:

‘Did I ever tell you, Malunkyaputta, “Come, Malunkyaputta, lead the holy life under me, I will explain these questions to you?” ’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Then, Malunkyaputta, even you, did you tell me: “Sir, I will lead the holy life under the Blessed One, and the Blessed One will explain these questions to me”?’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Even now, Malunkyaputta, I do not tell you: “Come and lead the holy life under me, I will explain these questions to you”. And you do not tell me either: “Sir, I will lead the holy life under the Blessed One, and he will explain these questions to me”. Under the circumstances, you foolish one, who refuses whom? (i.e., both are free and neither is under obligation to the other).

“Malunkyaputta, if anyone says: “I will not lead the holy life under the Blessed One until he explains these questions,” he may die with these questions unanswered by the Enlightened One. Suppose Malunkyaputta, a man is wounded by a poisoned arrow, and his friends and relatives bring him to a surgeon. Suppose the man should then say: “I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know who shot me; whether he is a Ksatriya (of the warrior caste) or a Brahmana (of the priestly caste) or a Vaisya (of the trading and agricultural caste) or a Sudra (of the low caste); what his name and family may be; whether he is tall, short, or of medium stature; whether his complexion is black, brown or golden; from which village, city or town he comes. I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know the kind of bow with which I was shot; the kind of bowstring used; the type of arrow; what sort of feather was used on the arrow and with what kind of material the point of the arrow was made.” Malunkyaputta, that man would die without knowing any of these things. Even so, Malunkyaputta, if anyone says: “I will not follow the holy life under the Blessed One until he answers these questions such as whether the universe is eternal or not, etc,” he would die with these questions unanswered by the Enlightened One.’

Then the Buddha explains to Malunkyaputta that the holy life does not depend on these views. Whatever opinion one may have about these problems, there is birth, old age, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, distress, “the Cessation of which (i.e. Nirvana) I declare in this very life.”

‘Therefore, Malunkyaputta, bear in mind what I have explained as explained, what I have not explained as unexplained. What are the things that I have not explained? Whether the universe is eternal or not, etc, (those 10 questions) I have not explained. Why, Malunkyaputta, have I not explained them? Because it is not useful, it is not fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is not conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquility, deep penetration, full realisation, Nirvana. That is why I have not told you about them.

‘Then, what, Malunkyaputta, have I explained? I have explained dukkha (suffering), the arising of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the way leading to the cessation of dukkha. Why, Malunkyaputta, have I explained them? Because it is useful, is fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquility, deep penetration, full realisation, Nirvana. Therefore I have explained them.’

What we  want to do is eventually go beyond Buddha, go beyond Buddhism. I don’t mean in any organized manner, but rather collectively as individuals, conceptually. If the goal of putting an end to conceptual thinking is to be realized, then we must also let go of our concepts about Buddha and dharma.

The teachings are a raft that ferries all beings across the sea of suffering to the shore of nirvana. When we reach that shore, we no longer need the raft. In this way, the Buddha as the teacher, or the oarsman, and the teachings as the raft, are implements for our liberation, vehicles we use to reach our destination. As Robert Thurman says in the quote I love to quote, “Buddhism is a bunch of tools.”

This does not mean we cannot revere the image of Buddha, honor his memory or chant his name. However, when we celebrate the Buddha’s enlightenment we should keep in mind that the Buddha’s awakening represents our own awakening, or potential for it. And when we chant the Buddha’s name, we are actually chanting our own true name.

We will never know the true Buddha, the historical person. His time is too remote from us for that. We can try to gaze past the layers of mythology and interpretation to see the historical Buddha but it is only an exercise in futility. As a human being, he walked, talked, sat, itched and scratched, yawned and laughed, ate and attended to his bodily functions, and yet, we can never know exactly how he did those things. We can never know what it was like to look into his eyes or how the timber of his voice sounded.


Statue of Chih-i, founder of the T'ien-t'ai School

Yet, there is a way to know the true Buddha. The Buddha is here, is ever present, always with us. As Chih-i suggests in this passage, we can know the real Buddha, for we are the True Buddha:

All phenomena are not other than the realm of reality; hearing of this nonduality and nondifference, do not give rise to doubt.

If you can see in this way, this is seeing the ten epithets of Buddhas. When seeing Buddha, one does not consider Buddha as Buddha; there is no Buddha to be Buddha, and there is no Buddha-knowledge to know Buddha. Buddha and Buddha-knowledge are nondualistic, unmoving, unfabricated, not in any location yet not unlocated, not in time yet not timeless, not dual yet not nondual, not defiled, not pure. This seeing Buddha is very rarefied; like space, it has no flaw, and it develops right mindfulness.

Seeing the embellishments of Buddha is like looking into a mirror and seeing one’s own features, first you see one Buddha, then the Buddhas of the ten directions. You do not use magical powers to go see Buddhas; you stay right here and see the Buddhas, hear the Buddhas’ teaching, and get the true meaning. You see Buddhas for all beings, yet do not grasp the form of Buddha. You guide all beings toward nirvana, yet do not grasp the character of nirvana. You produce great adornments for all beings, yet do not grasp the forms of adornment . . .

In this way, you see living beings as the true reality realm of Buddha.

From the Mo-Ho Chih-Kuan or Great Stopping and Seeing, translated by Thomas Cleary

Upaya or “skillfulness” or “skill in means” is a term that has been much misunderstood and misused, particularly in Japanese Buddhism, where upaya or “hoben” has been understood in the sense of “convenient; expedient; make things convenient (for somebody)”, tantamount to “the ends justifies the means.”

This is not a term that was used much, if at all, in early Buddhism, essentially it is a Mahayana concept. The Soothill Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms, defines upaya as “Convenient to the place, or situation . . . a mode of approach, an expedient, stratagem, device. The meaning is – teaching according to the capacity of the hearer, by any suitable method . . .”

Mahayana used this as a way to legitimize its sutras, which were not taught by the historical Buddha, a fact that they were well aware of. They claimed that the Buddha taught different teachings to different audiences based on the people’s capacity and the correctness of the time. That is why he preached so many different sutras, and since the people of the world were not ready to grasp the full meaning of the “Mahayana” sutras, that is why they were hidden at the bottom of the sea and guarded over by sea-dragons until Nagarjuna, who apparently possessed the ability to breath underwater without a breathing device, traveled to the bottom of the sea to retrieve them.

It’s a story. A fable. A myth. To put it more bluntly, the Mahayanists lied. They lied about their sutras and a number of other things. They believed that the end, in this case legitimizing their teachings, justified the use of lies. I do not, or will I ever, believe that this conception of upaya or skills in means, is proper Buddhism. And I consider myself to be a Mahayanist.

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Apr 262010

The San Francisco Arts Commission has announced it has won a $70,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support their acquisition of internationally acclaimed artist Zhang Huan’s 26-foot tall, 15-ton copper sculpture of the Three Heads Six Arms Buddha.

zhang huan three heads six

© Zhang Huan Studio, from sfartscommission.org

I like statues of the Buddha. I own a couple myself. But, $70,000! How many starving Buddhist artists could they feed with that? And what about all that copper? It doesn’t grow on trees, you know.

The big money seems to be flowing up there in San Francisco. A little park over at 16th and Bryant could get a fancy new entrance gate as long as it is named after Daisaku Ikeda and the Board of Supervisors accepts up to a gift up to $180,000 to do it, according to the SF Examiner. Ikeda is president of the Soka Gakkai, the world’s largest Buddhist organization.

Now here is a guy who needs another park, building, monument, and/or gate named after him about as much as he needs a hole in the head. He must have hundreds by now. He holds the world record for honorary academic degrees. He and his followers (I can criticize, I used to be one) seem to crave these things. Over 200 so far, and it was just recently announced that Ikeda has racked up another one. According to PRWeb, “Daisaku Ikeda will receive a doctor of humane letters degree, honoris causa, from UMass Boston for his work as a Buddhist leader, peace builder, and founder of the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in Cambridge.” The SF Examiner, in their article on the gate monument, calls Ikeda a “peace activist.”

Well, if talking about peace a lot qualifies one as an activist, I guess so. However, if truth be told, Ikeda has done little else in his life other than chase after honors and dole out pithy bits of guidance to his followers.

PRWeb says that “[Ikeda’s] dialogue partners have included Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks”, while neglecting to mention, out of ignorance perhaps, that some of them were paid to dialogue with him.

I don’t want to go off on a rant about Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai, the unseemiliness of pursuing worthless honors, or about spending obscene amounts of money on statues or gates.

I do think it is worth noting that the Buddha expressly asked his followers not to worship his relics after his death. Buddha didn’t need any statues or honorary degrees. Ok, they didn’t have honorary degrees back then, but you get my point. For several hundred years, Buddhists abided by his wishes and a bodhi leaf, a footprint, or the Wheel of Dharma represented his persona. Then human nature took over, and the statues began to appear.

Money is supposed to be in short supply these days, and it seems to me that a better use could be made of what is available. If UMass Boston just has to give someone an honorary degree, how about me? I don’t have any at all. I would also be glad to sell the San Francisco Arts Commission one of my Buddha statues. Dirt cheap. Only $1000 dollars. I’ll keep $500 (I could use it) and feed some hungry people with the rest.