Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

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Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Post by LauraJ on Sun Sep 27, 2009 6:36 am

I thought this article was fun, so I wanted to share it. Enjoy!


Top Ten List
By Donald S. Lopez, Jr.

From the Academy Fall
1998The recent spate of interest in Buddhism in magazines (like Time)
and on television (like “The Oprah Winfrey Show”) inspired the students
in my BS (for Buddhist Studies) 230: Introduction to Buddhism to
compile a list of the ten most common misconceptions that Americans
have about Buddhism. The students were the first to admit that they
themselves held many of these very misconceptions just a few months
ago. Now they know better. The list is provided below, with commentary:

1.“ Buddha” is spelled “Buddah.”
Outside
the temple of the Daibutsu in Kamakura, Japan (perhaps the most famous
Buddha image in the world), a sign asks visitors to display a
respectful attitude in the presence of the Bhudda. One of the most
important rock albums of all time, Safe as Milk by Captain Beefheart
and the Magic Band, was released on Buddah records. The problem is the
“floating h syndrome,” which often causes the leader of the Indian
independence movement to be identified as Mahatma Ghandi. The culprit
is the Sanskrit letter dha the aspirate d.

2. All Buddhists meditate.
Meditation
has been identified as the central practice of Buddhism (Edward Conze
said that meditation is for Buddhism what prayer is for Christianity).
It is unclear how many Christians actually pray, but the majority of
Buddhists throughout history have not meditated. Meditation has, until
rather recently, been considered a monastic practice, and even then, as
a practice reserved for only certain monks.

3. All Buddhists are bald.
Although
the shaving of the head has come into fashion of late, the shaved head
is one sign of being a monk or a nun in the Buddhist tradition, where
it is considered to reduce attachment to worldly beauty and to improve
personal hygiene. Anthropologists have seen hair as a symbol of
sexuality. Hence, shaving the head symbolizes castration, that is,
monastic celibacy. (This theory is apparently unknown to Charles
Barkley.)

4. All Buddhists are vegetarians.
It seems that in
the early tradition, monks and nuns were instructed to eat whatever was
put into their begging bowls. (You’ve probably heard the one about the
leper.) According to some sources, the bout of dysentery that hastened
the Buddha’s entry into nirvana was caused by eating bad pork. It was
only after the Buddha’s death that vegetarianism was promoted in
Buddhist texts. It caught on in India and China, but not in Tibet or
Southeast Asia.]

5. The Buddha is the fat guy.
Not simply
found in ashtrays and paperweights, the fat guy sits in the central
position of many Buddhist temples in East Asia. He is Pu-tai, the
hemp-bag monk, a popular figure in Chinese Buddhism (especially Ch’an),
a simple and jolly mendicant beloved by children, who want to see what
he carries in his bag. Some say he is Maitreya. So maybe he is the
Buddha.

6. All Buddhists live in monasteries.
Most Buddhists
throughout history have been laypeople and hence have not lived in
monasteries. They could not do so, because without the laity the
monasteries could not survive. At least that’s the theory. In fact,
many monasteries were self-supporting institutions, owning property and
even slaves.

7. All roads lead to the same mountaintop.
Many
great Buddhist figures, from Dogen to the current Dalai Lama, are
emphatic on the point that enlightenment is only possible by following
the Buddhist path. You can only get so far following other religions:
all roads lead to Everest base camp, but from there, Buddhism is the
only route to the summit.

8. All Buddhists are pacifists.
There
have, of course, been wars between Buddhists (such as the war that put
the fifth Dalai Lama on the throne of Tibet) as well as wars waged by
Buddhists against non-Buddhists (modern Sri Lanka), and Zen masters
have supported war (the Soto hierarchy in Japan during World War II).

9. Buddhism is a philosophy.
The
terms “philosophy” and “religion” need to be scrutinized in applying
either one to non-Western traditions. But to claim that Buddhism is not
a religion because is really about no-self and nirvana is to demean the
daily life of millions of Asians across the centuries. Buddhism is a
religion, by any definition of that indefinable term.

10. Reincarnation is fun.
As
much as anyone might like to come back to play centerfield for the
Yankees, this is just not the way it works. If you are tired of people
saying “Been there. Done that,” just remember that Buddhists have been
saying it in so many words for a couple of millennia. There is no place
you have not been reborn, no form of sentient life that you have not
already been a zillion times. It all should be a tedious bore right
now, and all you should want to do is get out. Unless, of course,
you’re a bodhisattva.

Tricycle

LauraJ

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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Post by malalu on Tue Sep 29, 2009 1:20 pm

This is funny. I have had experience with some of these same misconceptions from others. Especially Buddha being the "fat guy".
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