Secular Buddhist

Eric Michel Secular Buddhist Ministry

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha, meaning “the awakened one”. According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering through the elimination of ignorance and craving by way of understanding and the seeing of dependent origination, with the ultimate goal of attainment of the sublime state of nirvana.

While Buddhism is practiced primarily in Asia, both major branches are now found throughout the world. Estimates of Buddhists worldwide vary significantly depending on the way Buddhist adherence is defined. Estimates range from 350 million to 1.6 billion, with 350–550 million the most widely accepted figure. Buddhism is also recognized as one of the fastest growing religions in the world.

Buddhist schools vary on the exact nature of the path to liberation, the importance and canonicity of various teachings and scriptures, and especially their respective practices. The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). Taking “refuge in the triple gem” has traditionally been a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path, and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist. Other practices may include following ethical precepts; support of the monastic community; renouncing conventional living and becoming a monastic; the development of mindfulness and practice of meditation; cultivation of higher wisdom and discernment; study of scriptures; devotional practices; ceremonies; and in the Mahayana tradition, invocation of buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Life of Gautama Buddha
This narrative draws on the Nidānakathā biography of the Theravāda sect in Sri Lanka, which is ascribed to Buddhaghoṣa in the 5th century CE. Earlier biographies such as the Buddhacarita, the Lokottaravādin Mahāvastu, and the Mahāyāna/ Sarvāstivāda Lalitavistara Sūtra, give different accounts. Scholars are hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of the Buddha’s life. Most accept that he lived, taught and founded a monastic order, but do not consistently accept all of the details contained in his biographies.

Ascetic Gautama with his five companions, who later comprised the first Sangha. (Painting in Laotian temple) According to author Michael Carrithers, while there are good reasons to doubt the traditional account, “the outline of the life must be true: birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching, death.” In writing her biography of the Buddha, Karen Armstrong noted, “It is obviously difficult, therefore, to write a biography of the Buddha that meets modern criteria, because we have very little information that can be considered historically sound…  We can be reasonably confident Siddhatta Gotama did indeed exist and that his disciples preserved the memory of his life and teachings as well as they could.”

The evidence of the early texts suggests that Siddhārtha Gautama was born in a community that was on the periphery, both geographically and culturally, of the northeastern Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BCE. It was either a small republic, in which case his father was an elected chieftain, or an oligarchy, in which case his father was an oligarch.

The Vajrashila, where Gautama sat under a tree and became enlightened, Bodh Gaya, India, 2011 According to the Theravada Tripitaka scriptures (from Pali, meaning “three baskets”), Gautama was born in Lumbini in modern-day Nepal, around the year 563 BCE, and raised in Kapilavastu.

According to this narrative, shortly after the birth of young prince Gautama, an astrologer named Asita visited the young prince’s father, King Śuddhodana, and prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce the material world to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls.

Śuddhodana was determined to see his son become a king, so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father’s efforts, Gautama ventured beyond the palace several times. In a series of encounters, known in Buddhist literature as the four sights, he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest.

Dhamek Stupa in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India, built by King Ashoka, where the Buddha gave his first sermon Gautama first went to study with famous religious teachers of the day, and mastered the meditative attainments they taught. But he found that they did not provide a permanent end to suffering, so he continued his quest. He next attempted an extreme asceticism, which was a religious pursuit common among the Shramanas, a religious culture distinct from the Vedic one. Gautama underwent prolonged fasting, breath-holding, and exposure to pain. He almost starved himself to death in the process. He realized that he had taken this kind of practice to its limit, and had
not put an end to suffering. So in a pivotal moment he accepted milk and rice from a village girl and changed his approach. He devoted himself to anapanasati meditation, through which he discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way (Skt. Madhyamā-pratipad): a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

Gautama was now determined to complete his spiritual quest. At the age of 35, he famously sat in meditation under a sacred fig tree. Known as the Bodhi tree, in the town of Bodh Gaya, India, and vowed not to rise before achieving enlightenment. After many days, he finally destroyed the fetters of his mind, thereby liberating himself from the cycle of suffering and rebirth, and arose as a fully enlightened being (Skt. Samyaksaṃbuddha). Soon thereafter, he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order. Now, as the Buddha, he spent the rest of his life teaching the path of awakening he had discovered, traveling throughout the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent, and died at the age of 80 (483 BCE) in Kushinagar, India. The south branch of the original fig tree available only in Anuradhapura Sri Lanka is known as Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.

Older than Christianity.

Was it possible the authors of Christianity copied their ideas from Buddhism?

East meets West – trade and religious influence

Trade between East and West is of great antiquity. Cuneiform tablets as early as 2400 BC describe shipments of cotton cloth, spices, oil, grains, and such exotic items as peacocks from the Indus Valley region to the Middle East. We can be certain that the silk and spice routes carried more than trade goods. An Oxyrhynchus papyrus fragment from Egypt even contains a passage in a South Indian language.

Long before the word ‘missionary’ came to be synonymous with Christianity, Buddhist monks (‘Dharma-hanukas’) were traipsing across Asia. From the Buddhist heartland on the Ganges, notions of the sacred accompanied the spice and incense. Travelling the trade routes they spread their doctrines all the way from Khitan in central Asia to Antioch and Alexandria in the west.

One such visit is documented in 20 BC in Athens. A Buddhist philosopher, Zarmarus, part of an embassy from India, made a doctrinal point by setting himself alight. His tomb became a tourist attraction and is mentioned by several historians.

Clearly, the evangelists of Buddha were committed to their cause. Is it simply coincidence that the hero of the Buddhist tale is just a tad similar to the Christian superman? In both the story of the Buddha and the story of Jesus we read of a mystic or holy man, travelling from village to village. Each lives off the hospitality of the people and gets into trouble with the ruling elite by ignoring social status and taking food and refuge from prostitutes.

Alexander and Asoka

Alexander (336-323 BC) carried Greek civilization to the east. Cities along the trade route,   Merv, Bactra, Taxila etc. – became Greek military colonies. The Indian province in the north west, Gandhara, had been a Persian satrap before the arrival of the Greeks and here in the 2nd century BC, Greek kingdoms with a distinctive Graeco-Bactrian culture emerged.

But the flow of culture was two way. for example, the Greeks adopted the Indian war elephant and a great deal of speculative Indian thinking. Greek philosophers, like Anaxarchus and Pyrrho, had been in the train of Alexander and had mixed with the Indian gymnosophists or ‘naked philosophers.’ Even the more ancient Pythagoreans may have been influenced by Indian ideas – vegetarianism, communal property and the transmigration of souls.’

After their conquest of the Indus valley the Greeks never again returned to the simple pantheon of their Olympian gods – and founded their first school of Skepticism (see Flintoff, E. (1980), ‘Pyrrho and India’, Phronesis 25: 88-108.).

At the time of Alexander, the Magadha empire had dominated the middle and upper Ganges but Alexander never got that far. Yet into the vacuum created by Alexander’s departure, and bringing east and west closer together, moved Chandragupta (Sandracottus to the Greeks), founder of the Mauryan empire. He conquered Magadha, and also the Greek kingdoms of the north west and much of northern India. His empire included the northern province of Kosala, where a Hindu reformer Gautama Siddhartha (aka “Shakyammuni Buddha”) began advocating his ‘Middle Path’ between greed and asceticism.

Siddhartha’s philosophising had little consequence during his own lifetime but in 270 BC, the grandson of Chandragupta, Asoka, ascended the Mauryan throne. Initially a ruthless imperialist he seems , like Marcus Aurelius – to have spent his later life in soul-searching and pondering the afterlife.

In an action that anticipated Constantine’s religious revolution five hundred years later, Asoka adopted Buddhism as a unifying and pacifying ideology for his vast empire and propagated it’s doctrines with all the usual zeal of a new convert.

Judging by his still extant edicts, inscribed on rocks and stone pillars to be found everywhere from Afghanistan to south India, Asoka sought further ‘conquest’ beyond his frontiers by dispatching Buddhist missionaries in all directions – “Conquest by Dhamma”. Carved in stone is Asoka’s urging of Forgiveness:

“The killing, death or deportation of a hundredth, or even a thousandth part of those who died during the conquest of Kalinga now pains Beloved-of-the-Gods. Now Beloved-of-the- Gods thinks that even those who do wrong should be forgiven where forgiveness is possible.”

By this stage the Buddha’s words of wisdom had been codified into a number of “sutras”, propagated by a growing number of rival sects.

Copyright © 2004 by Kenneth Humphreys

Impermanence or Change (anicca)
Suffering or Unsatisfactoriness
(dukkha) Not-self or Insubstantiality

Anicca (Sanskrit anitya) “inconstancy” or
“impermanence”. This refers to the fact
that all conditioned things (sankhara) are
in a constant state of flux. In reality there
is no thing that ultimately ceases to exist;
only the appearance of a thing ceases as it
changes from one form to another. Imagine
a leaf that falls to the ground and
decomposes. While the appearance and
relative existence of the leaf ceases, the
components that formed the leaf become
particulate material that may go on to form
new plants. Buddhism teaches a middle
way, avoiding the extreme views of
externalism and nihilism.

Dukkha (Sanskrit duhkha) or dissatisfaction
(or “dis-ease”; also often translated
though this is somewhat misleading).
Nothing found in the physical world or even
the psychological realm can bring lasting
deep satisfaction. Anatta (Sanskrit anatman)
or “non-Self” is used in the suttas both as a
noun and as a predicative adjective to
denote that phenomena are not, or are
without, a permanent self, to describe any
and all composite, consubstantial,
phenomenal and temporal things, from the
macrocosmic to microcosmic, be it matter
pertaining to the physical body or the
cosmos at large, as well as any and all
mental machinations, which are

  1. Suffering does exist
  2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
  3. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
Potential For Compassion; Next Dalai Lama
May Be Female

Buddhist influences on Christianity
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Suggestions have been made about possible connections between Buddhism and Christianity, in
particular Christianity being influenced by Buddhism. The majority of modern scholars who have studied both Buddhism and Christianity hold that there is no historical evidence of any influence by Buddhism on early Christianity. Scholars generally consider any such influence implausible given that first century Jews are highly unlikely to have been open to far eastern concepts that appeared opposed to some of their basic beliefs.

There have also been suggestions of an indirect path in which Indian Buddhism may have influenced Gnosticism and then Christianity. However, both Gnostic, a term applied to Christians well after the time of Jesus, and Indian teachings were rejected by early Christians as heresies, and there is no historical evidence of any such influence. Scholars generally hold that the suggested similarities are coincidental since parallel traditions may emerge in different cultures.

Despite suggestions of surface level analogies, most scholars hold that Buddhism and Christianity have inherent and fundamental differences at the deepest levels, such as monotheism’s place at the core of Christianity and Buddhism’s orientation towards non-theism and its rejection of the notion of a creator deity which runs counter to teachings about God in Christianity.

Suggestions of influence
Will Durant, noting that the Emperor Ashoka sent missionaries, not only to elsewhere in India and to Sri Lanka, but to Syria, Egypt and Greece, speculated in the 1930s that they may have helped prepare the ground for Christian teaching. Nicolaus of Damascus, and other ancient writers, claimedthat in AD 13, at the time of Augustus (died AD 14), he met in Antioch (near present day Antakya in Turkey just over 300 miles from Jerusalem) an embassy with a letter written in Greek from the Soutnern India Pandya Empire was delivered while Caesar was in the Island of Samos. This embassy was accompanied by a sage who later, naked, anointed and contented, burnt himself to death at Athens. The details of his tomb inscription specified he was a Shramana, “his name was Zarmanochegas”, he was an Indian native of Bargosa, and “immortalized himself according to the custom of his country.” Cassius Dio  and Plutarch  cite the same story.

In his Buddhism Omnibus Iqbal Singh similarly acknowledges the possibility of early interaction and, thus, influence of Buddhist teachings upon the Christian tradition in its formative period. Michael Lockwood has argued for a Christian borrowing of Buddhism, based on parallels, most of which were previously pointed out by others, and by examining and agreeing partly with Christian Lindtner The historian Jerry H. Bentley (1993) notes “the possibility that Buddhism influenced the early development of Christianity” and that scholars “have drawn attention to many parallels concerning the births, lives, doctrines, and deaths of the Buddha and Jesus”.

Rejection of influence
The Crucifixion (1622) by Simon Vouet; Church of Jesus, Genoa. The crucifixion of Jesus is central to
Christian belief. Most scholars agree that there is no historical evidence of any influence by Buddhism on Christianity, Paula Fredriksen stating that no serious scholarly work has placed the origins of Christianity outside the backdrop of 1st century Palestinian Judaism. Leslie Houlden states that although modern parallels between the teachings of Jesus and Buddha have been drawn, these comparisons emerged after missionary contacts in the 19th century and there is no historically reliable evidence of contacts between Buddhism and Jesus.

Other scholars such as Eddy and Boyd state that there is no evidence of a historical influence by outside sources on the authors of the New Testament, and most scholars agree that any such historical influence on Christianity is entirely implausible given that first century monotheistic Galilean Jews would not have been open to what they would have seen as pagan stories. The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism states that theories of influences of Buddhism on early Christianity are without historical foundation

Modern scholarship has roundly rejected any historical basis for the travels of Jesus to India or Tibet or influences between the teachings of Christianity and Buddhism, and has seen the attempts at parallel symbolism as cases of parallelomania which exaggerate the importance of trifling resemblances. There are inherent and fundamental differences between Buddhism and Christianity, one significant element being that while Christianity is at its core monotheistic and relies on a God as a Creator, Buddhism is generally non-theistic and rejects the notion of a Creator God which provides divine values for the world.

The central iconic imagery of the two traditions underscore the difference in their belief structure, when the peaceful death of Gautama Buddha at an old age is contrasted with the harsh image of the crucifixion of Jesus as a willing sacrifice for the atonement for the sins of humanity. Buddhists scholars such as Masao Abe see the centrality of crucifixion in Christianity as an irreconcilable gap between the two belief systems.

Post Apostolic Age

Church Fathers
Clement of Alexandria referred to Buddhists and wrote: “Among the Indians are those philosophers also who follow the precepts of Boutta, whom they honour as a god on account of his extraordinary sanctity.”  Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Miscellanies), Book I, Chapter XV

In the 3rd century Indians were viewed by Christian as heretics, with Hippolytus, writing around 235: There is … among the Indians a heresy of those who philosophize among the Brahmins, who live a self-sufficient life, abstaining from (eating) living creatures and all cooked food . . . They say that God is light, not like the light one sees, nor like the sun nor fire, but to them God is discourse, not that which finds expression in articulate sounds, but that of knowledge (gnosis) through which the secret mysteries of nature are perceived by the wise.

Early 3rd–4th century Christian writers such as Hippolytus and Epiphanius write of one Scythianus who visited India around 50 CE, whence he brought the “doctrine of the Two Principles”. Scythianus’ pupil Terebinthus supposedly presented himself as a “Buddha” (“he called himself Buddas” Cyril of Jerusalem) and became well known in Judaea and was said to have conversed with the apostles and to have brought books back from his trade with India. The same author says his books and knowledge were taken over by Mani, and became the foundation of the Manichean doctrine.

“Terebinthus, his disciple in this wicked error, inherited his money and books and heresy, and came to Palestine, and becoming known and condemned in Judaea he resolved to pass into Persia: but lest he should be recognized there also by his name he changed it and called himself Buddas.”
Cyril of Jerusalem, Sixth Catechetical Lecture Chapter 22-24. Saint Jerome (4th century CE) mentions that the Buddhist belief of Buddha’s birth from a virgin as their “opinion […] authoritatively handed down that Budda, the founder of their religion, had his birth through the side of a virgin.” (the Buddha was, according to Buddhist tradition, born from the hip of his mother).

Irenaeus of Lyon first used the term “gnostic” in the 2nd century to describe heresies
Gnosticism refers to a number of small Christian sects which existed in the 2nd-5th centuries, and were rejected by mainstream Christians as heretics. There were some contacts between Gnostics and Indians, e.g. Syrian gnostic theologian Bar Daisan describes in the 3rd century his exchanges with missions of holy men from India (Greek: Sramanas), passing through Syria on their way to Elagabalus or another Severan dynasty Roman Emperor. His accounts are quoted by Porphyry (De abstin., iv, 17 ) and Stobaeus (Eccles., iii, 56, 141).

This has given rise to suggestions by Zacharias P. Thundy that Buddhist tradition may have influenced Gnosticism and hence Christianity. Thundy has also considered possible influences through the Jewish sect Therapeutae, which he suggests could have been Buddhists in the first century.

However, Gnosticism was harshly rejected by Christians and c. 180 Irenaeus wrote against them at length in his On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, generally called Against Heresies. By the third century Indians were also considered heretics by the Christians who condemned their practices.

Elaine Pagels has encouraged research into the impact of Buddhism on Gnosticism, but she holds that although intriguing, the evidence of any influence is inconclusive. She further concludes that these parallels might be coincidental since parallel traditions may emerge in different cultures.

Web theme graphics, courtesy of: Crystal Cloud Graphics Copyright 1997-2006

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close