Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

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Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Oct 05, 2013 1:00 pm

In the last two centuries there's evidently been a considerable amount of influence from Christianity on modern Buddhism around Asia and of course in the west.

Samuel explains one example:

    This Protestant model formed a template that was repeatedly applied by Western scholars to Asian religious traditions. At the same time, it provided a model in terms of which nineteenth and twentieth century Hindu and Buddhist reformers, from the Brahmo and Arya Samaj down to the Mahabodhi Society, attempted to reshape their own religious traditions. Buddhism, which had its own narrative of teaching and decay, fitted the model particularly neatly. The Buddha could be seen as a humane religious reformer on the model of Jesus, teaching through parables and other simple and straightforward means. In this perspective the Buddha became a kind of Christ figure reacting against a legalistic and caste-bound Brahmanical priesthood, the Hindu equivalent of the Sadducees and Pharisees of the New Testament account.


Geoffrey Samuel, The Origins of Yoga and Tantra Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century (New Delhi, India: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 16.

There's a few more aspects I'd like to discuss:

- The view that the Pali canon best represents an original Buddhism via a historical Buddha, and that this is worth adhering to as a pure or authentic Buddhism (getting to the "true teachings" of the Buddha, not unlike getting to the original teachings of Christ).

- The new exclusive nature of Buddhism, whereby self-identifying Buddhists are actively discouraged from participating in non-Buddhist religious activities.

- In some modern Buddhist traditions a distaste for rituals, 'superfluous iconography' and archaic liturgy (Protestant influences).

- In some traditions, centralized administrations with a key figurehead and his or her elites in charge of all major decisions and policies with underlings expected to show obedience (Catholic influences).


I think the most pertinent influence from Christianity has quite possibly been the second on the list: the new Buddhist self-identity where exclusivity is now seen as important and worth emphasizing. Of course in the past "Buddhists" existed, but as we know even today were often readily able and willing to participate in all manner of other practices and ideologies, and even incorporate them. Christian-like exclusivity for Buddhists is probably a fairly new development in most cultures.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Malcolm » Sat Oct 05, 2013 1:07 pm

Indrajala wrote:
There's a few more aspects I'd like to discuss:

- The view that the Pali canon best represents an original Buddhism via a historical Buddha, and that this is worth adhering to as a pure or authentic Buddhism (getting to the "true teachings" of the Buddha, not unlike getting to the original teachings of Christ).


Mostly an issue for Theravadins.


-
The new exclusive nature of Buddhism, whereby self-identifying Buddhists are actively discouraged from participating in non-Buddhist religious activities.


False, Tibetan Buddhism has been very exclusionary from the beginning. It has to do with how refuge is defined in late Indian texts.

- In some modern Buddhist traditions a distaste for rituals, 'superfluous iconography' and archaic liturgy (Protestant influences).


Some truth in this.

-
In some traditions, centralized administrations with a key figurehead and his or her elites in charge of all major decisions and policies with underlings expected to show obedience (Catholic influences).


Represents a total misunderstanding of the nature of Tibetan Buddhism, both here and in Tibet.

I think the most pertinent influence from Christianity has quite possibly been the second on the list: the new Buddhist self-identity where exclusivity is now seen as important and worth emphasizing. Of course in the past "Buddhists" existed, but as we know even today were often readily able and willing to participate in all manner of other practices and ideologies, and even incorporate them. Christian-like exclusivity for Buddhists is probably a fairly new development in most cultures.


No, I don't think so. I imagine you can find the roots of Buddhist exclusivity in the post-Gupta environment, actually.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Oct 05, 2013 1:14 pm

Malcolm wrote:Mostly an issue for Theravadins.


Yes and no. In Chinese Buddhism there's an increasing interest in getting back to the Agammas, which Yinshun emphasized. That's something of an elite concern all things considered, as it takes a certain kind of Chinese monk to admit the Māhāyana sutras were not taught by the flesh and blood Śākyamuni.


False, Tibetan Buddhism has been very exclusionary from the beginning. It has to do with how refuge is defined in late Indian texts.


Tibetans didn't have too many alternatives after a certain point all things considered.




Represents a total misunderstanding of the nature of Tibetan Buddhism, both here and in Tibet.


I had modern Chinese Buddhism more in mind, but a few Tibetan organizations might qualify as well.


No, I don't think so. I imagine you can find the roots of Buddhist exclusivity in the post-Gupta environment, actually.


It wasn't that exclusive when you consider how many Vedic deities were embraced. Just look at the art record alone with all the Hindu epics being splashed around temples.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Malcolm » Sat Oct 05, 2013 1:50 pm

Indrajala wrote:
It wasn't that exclusive when you consider how many Vedic deities were embraced. Just look at the art record alone with all the Hindu epics being splashed around temples.


Those deities were there from the start. But you can see Buddhist exclusivity rising in Indian Mahāyāna texts that define refuge, and so on.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat Oct 05, 2013 2:38 pm

Malcolm wrote:Those deities were there from the start. But you can see Buddhist exclusivity rising in Indian Mahāyāna texts that define refuge, and so on.


Nevertheless, there is plenty of heterogenetic development to be discerned.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Malcolm » Sat Oct 05, 2013 2:56 pm

Indrajala wrote:
Malcolm wrote:Those deities were there from the start. But you can see Buddhist exclusivity rising in Indian Mahāyāna texts that define refuge, and so on.


Nevertheless, there is plenty of heterogenetic development to be discerned.


I see it as appropriation.

There are three modes of conversion in Buddhism:

Setting a good example (early Buddhism)
Charity (Middle Buddhism)
Subjugation through appropriation (Late Buddhism, esp. Vajrayāna).

M
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Astus » Sat Oct 05, 2013 7:22 pm

On what bases are those influences attributed to Christianity? The 19th and 20th century Western intellectual elite was (and still is) secular. Those who did not reject Buddhism completely as idolatry were secular thinkers and not God fearing theologians. The romantic view of Buddhism as a human achievement was made up by those who did not agree with the whole idea of religion as it was perceived in Europe. Therefore to say that "The Buddha could be seen as a humane religious reformer on the model of Jesus, teaching through parables and other simple and straightforward means." is inappropriate. Turning Jesus into a mere human being is a detestable belief by all mainstream Christians and a heretic idea since 325 (First Council of Nicaea). Also, viewing Jesus as some sort of counter-culture hero is far from the Christian perspective, especially of the 19th century and before, since it has been the established order in Europe from the beginning of the Middle Ages that it is God who ultimately gives legitimacy to kings and other worldly rulers.

All in all, Christianity is the wrong place to look at for modern sources of changes in Buddhism. It is rather the secular thinkers (philosophers, artists, politicians, scientists) who made the greatest impact.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Oct 05, 2013 9:59 pm

Astus wrote:On what bases are those influences attributed to Christianity? The 19th and 20th century Western intellectual elite was (and still is) secular.
All in all, Christianity is the wrong place to look at for modern sources of changes in Buddhism. It is rather the secular thinkers (philosophers, artists, politicians, scientists) who made the greatest impact.


:good:

Those reformations and changes are found in all religions. It is more of the way all religions tend to evolve. You can find movements that want to get "back to the original teachings" or to reform the teachings in one way or another in all religions. Also, there is a huge segment of convert Buddhists who grew up in agnostic, atheist, and Jewish homes, with no connection to Christianity.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby rory » Sat Oct 05, 2013 11:42 pm

So does this modern Humanistic Buddhism movement that wants to build a Pure Land on earth not resemble Christian utopianism or is it a response to Communism's utopian aim because it surely isn't Buddhist.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Oct 06, 2013 12:07 am

Which religions are not utopian?

Christians have the second coming
Muslims have the 12th Imam (Shia)
Jews are waiting for the messiah
Jains have the next Tirthankara
Buddhists have Maitreya

etc, etc
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby rory » Sun Oct 06, 2013 1:44 am

First of all the 'renewed heaven on earth' concepts you find in Judaism, Christianity, Islam come directly from Zoroastrianism. Maitreya is simply the next buddha, Tushita heaven is just that a heaven and there are many in Buddhism. Maitreya will come to earth to preach the dharma to humans suffering in Samsara; nothing utopian about that. You cannot change samsara by building hospitals and social work.

Also I can certainly tell you that the 19th Century Reform Judaism movement did come about due to secularism but think who were those secularists? German Protestants. I can assure you modern Reform Judaism is no different in content than a mainline Prebyterian church. Rabbis traditionally interpreted the law; now they are basically Protestant ministers heavily involved in social justice. I'm Jewish not Christian and it's obvious to me many 'secular' Westerners are imprinted with their Protestant culture and aren't analytical enough to realize it.

Also look at the influence in Sri Lanka of Henry Steel Olcott?. You just have to read this title "The Buddhist Catechism" to see the Protestant influence on Buddhism in the East. We can do it with Japan as well.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Stee ... techism.22
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Oct 06, 2013 3:45 am

Sure there is some influence, but it is in both directions. I have some family members who recently attended Kabbalah classes on reincarnation. There are also meditation sessions now being conducted at some synagogues.

I just don't think everything can be or should be credited to or blamed to European-Christians. Sure the terminology such as catechism is certainly from Olcott's birth-background, but Buddhism was in serious decline at the time and he helped to revive it in Sri Lanka. And in some old translations of sutras you find some terms like Sabbath (for moon phase days) and other such terminology. This is already being corrected for the most part in more recent translations.

On the one hand, there is a sort of arrogance that the European-Christian colonizers are the ones to come in and make everything better. On the other hand is the blame game, blaming anyone with European-Christian ancestry for trying to take over, when they hold or attain any position of power within a non-European tradition, such as lamas, zen masters, etc.

Regardless if Christianity existed or not, there would have still been reformations in all religions just as there were in Asia long before Christianity had any significant presence there.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby disjointed » Sun Oct 06, 2013 4:27 am

Indrajala wrote:In the last two centuries there's evidently been a considerable amount of influence from Christianity on modern Buddhism around Asia and of course in the west.

Samuel explains one example:

    This Protestant model formed a template that was repeatedly applied by Western scholars to Asian religious traditions. At the same time, it provided a model in terms of which nineteenth and twentieth century Hindu and Buddhist reformers, from the Brahmo and Arya Samaj down to the Mahabodhi Society, attempted to reshape their own religious traditions. Buddhism, which had its own narrative of teaching and decay, fitted the model particularly neatly. The Buddha could be seen as a humane religious reformer on the model of Jesus, teaching through parables and other simple and straightforward means. In this perspective the Buddha became a kind of Christ figure reacting against a legalistic and caste-bound Brahmanical priesthood, the Hindu equivalent of the Sadducees and Pharisees of the New Testament account.


Geoffrey Samuel, The Origins of Yoga and Tantra Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century (New Delhi, India: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 16.

There's a few more aspects I'd like to discuss:

- The view that the Pali canon best represents an original Buddhism via a historical Buddha, and that this is worth adhering to as a pure or authentic Buddhism (getting to the "true teachings" of the Buddha, not unlike getting to the original teachings of Christ).

- The new exclusive nature of Buddhism, whereby self-identifying Buddhists are actively discouraged from participating in non-Buddhist religious activities.

- In some modern Buddhist traditions a distaste for rituals, 'superfluous iconography' and archaic liturgy (Protestant influences).

- In some traditions, centralized administrations with a key figurehead and his or her elites in charge of all major decisions and policies with underlings expected to show obedience (Catholic influences).


I think the most pertinent influence from Christianity has quite possibly been the second on the list: the new Buddhist self-identity where exclusivity is now seen as important and worth emphasizing. Of course in the past "Buddhists" existed, but as we know even today were often readily able and willing to participate in all manner of other practices and ideologies, and even incorporate them. Christian-like exclusivity for Buddhists is probably a fairly new development in most cultures.


This is a really interesting topic.

I think a lot of your asserted aspects are the product of a judeo/christian-centric world view.

The idea that the perspective of the Buddha being reinvented as a Jesus like reformer I think is unfounded because Buddha Shakyamuni did assimilate the teachings of other sects and reform them. This can be seen in the Sigalovada Sutta where Buddha Shakyamuni assigns new meanings to the worship of the 6 directions, also in the Adittapariyaya Sutta using fire descriptors to the recently converted fire worshipers, and again in the Tevijja Sutta where he gave reformed instructions to Brahmins on how to join Brahma. More examples of Buddha Shakymuni reforming other religions can be mentioned but I don't want to exhaust myself on this point. Lol, but I did, so I will stop here and prepare for sleep. Good night
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby greentara » Sun Oct 06, 2013 4:29 am

Recently a friend told me they went to Kabbalah classes. I asked to see some of the distributed material, some covering reincarnation, it seemed to be cherry picked from Yoga and Buddhism, nothing really original, It struck me as no more then a money making excercise. The teacher being a businessman 'wannabe' guru.
It doesn't seem that Kabbalah has been infiltrated by Christianity but it appears to have been influenced by Eastern religion.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby rory » Sun Oct 06, 2013 4:35 am

Oh I agree with you. In a grad seminar I took some years ago we had precisely this discussion and the influence does go both ways, the influence of the first translations of the Indian Vedas and Buddhist sutras was huge on European and American intellectuals.
I do see a distate for 'rituals' and belief in deities etc in Western Buddhism, certainly in Japanese precincts, it's all kind of purged. I remember distinctly seeing a Nichiren sutra book that turned thanking the 'benevolent protective deities' into 'harmonious elements.' I doubt if any U.S. Zen priest knows how to performa a goma ritual which is common in Japan. This is all purged and the rest rationalized, secularized, and of course faith is never mentioned.

But I have to say your use of 'reformations' in this discussion is a good commentary on the unconscious projection of Christian terms.... Kamkura Buddhism in Japan until I think the 1970's had been framed by Japanese and Western scholars as a Reformation with the 'corrupt' Tendai and Nara schools vs the 'new egalitarian reformers' Nichiren, Honen, Shinran, Dogen etc.. until Kuroda Toshio posited another way of viewing things.

The current text I'm reading James L Ford's"Jokei and Buddhist Devotion in Early Medieval Japan" discusses all this and how bias for 'reformers' has led to scholarly neglect of Jokei, an eminent Hosso scholar-priest. All very interesting.

fyi that modern Kabbalah is a new age fakery; nothing to do with real Kabbalah.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Astus » Sun Oct 06, 2013 12:07 pm

Humanistic Buddhism is not necessarily a new idea. Maitreya cults existed in China centuries before and they tried to create a Pure Land on Earth (even with violent means). Taixu, who is said to be the founder of this modern movement, was influenced by the political changes in early 20th century China, and it's said he also participated somewhat in overthrowing the Qing dynasty. But it is only in Taiwan that the idea could actually manifest through the works of people like Yinshun, Xingyun, Shengyan and others. In some sense we could say that this idea of "modernising Buddhism" is a good way to distance oneself from continental ("communist") Buddhism as it exists now, and deflect attacks that Buddhism is outdated and backward. However, this has very little, or rather nothing, to do with Christianity or even direct Western influence.

It is easy to make biased claims when one has a very partial knowledge of the various processes that took place in a far away land. For example, that reincarnation and meditation are strictly Eastern ideas is such an uninformed view. While New Age embraces Asian ideas, it is less an implementation of Indian thoughts than a renewal of Western esoteric ideas. See for instance metempsychosis and gilgul. Also, ancient Christian teachers rejected the idea of reincarnation (see quotes in this article) without having a direct contact with Buddhism or any Hindu religion.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby plwk » Sun Oct 06, 2013 12:36 pm

This topic somewhat reminds me of the Ven Master Zhèng Yán who's known as the other 'Mother Teresa', founder of the international Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Association and her encounter with some Roman Catholic nuns which led to the Tzu Chi's founding...
http://tw.tzuchi.org/en/index.php?optio ... Itemid=198
One day in 1966, while Dharma Master Cheng Yen was visiting a patient at a small local clinic, she saw a pool of blood on the floor. Dharma Master Cheng Yen was told that the blood was from an indigenous woman suffering from labor complications. Her family had carried her from their mountain village. They had been walking for eight hours, but when they arrived at the hospital, they did not have the NT$8,000 (then US$200) required fee. They could only carry her back untreated. Hearing this, Dharma Master Cheng Yen was overwhelmed with sorrow. She thought to herself: as an impoverished monastic barely supporting herself, what could she do to help these poor people?

A short time later, three Catholic nuns visited Dharma Master Cheng Yen, and they had a discussion on the teachings of their respective religions. When Dharma Master Cheng Yen explained that Buddhism teaches love and compassion for all living beings, the nuns commented: Why have we not seen Buddhists doing good works for the society, such as setting up nursing homes, orphanages, and hospitals?

The nuns' message struck a deep chord with Dharma Master Cheng Yen. Buddhism, she responded, teaches people to do good deeds without seeking recognition. However, she knew in her heart that without organization, what could be accomplished was very limited.
Of course, if only the Ven Master knew how long it took the Christians themselves to be socially engaged in their own history before they start talking about others.. So in this case, Christian influence? I dunno but in interfaith interactions, the two global faiths sure have done much and have more to do...
In some modern Buddhist traditions a distaste for rituals, 'superfluous iconography' and archaic liturgy (Protestant influences).

I doubt it's about the Protestants and perhaps more about the administrators of centres/temples, especially the minimalist ones, both in the East and West, who want a more modern and simplified outlook. Let's not forget too easily that the Protestants themselves have no generic nor cookie cutter definitions of ritual, liturgy and iconography. Ranging from the high church traditions of the Church of England and the Old Lutherans to the open air and format-less revival style, one should specify which ones are being referred to.

And the monastic/contemplative system found in Christianity? Was this in imitation of Christ or the Buddhists or other Eastern religious influence?
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby rory » Mon Oct 07, 2013 2:48 am

t is easy to make biased claims when one has a very partial knowledge of the various processes that took place in a far away land. For example, that reincarnation and meditation are strictly Eastern ideas is such an uninformed view. While New Age embraces Asian ideas, it is less an implementation of Indian thoughts than a renewal of Western esoteric ideas. See for instance metempsychosis and gilgul. Also, ancient Christian teachers rejected the idea of reincarnation (see quotes in this article) without having a direct contact with Buddhism or any Hindu religion.

gods you need to catch up with modern scholarship. Scholars now realize that divisions between Indianology, the classical world, Iranology are entirely false. And have found that people travelled in the ancient world and ideas indeed spread. Buddhists were in Iran. The Greeks were in India. I suggest you begin with Thomas McEvilley's book "The Shape of Ancient Thought." Also this is a fun read "Pyrrhonism : how the ancient Greeks reinvented Buddhism / Adrian Kuzminski.

Western esotericism derived from Jewish and Christian magic and Kabbalism and that derived from Greek and Egyptian magical treatises (see the above). Western Esotericism resulted in the modern hermetic movement of which Yeats was a proponent. It in no way was a part of the American Transcendentalist movement of whom Thoreau and Emerson are the most famous names. that were powerfully affected by the Gita and Sutras, Schopenhauer in Europe and others. Try reading Heinrich Dumoulin's "Buddhism and 19th Century German Philosophy." If you wish to read a serious book by a scholar-rabbi on Kabbalah try "The Thirteen Petalled Rose" by Adin Steinsaltz.

I'm sorry but quoting "Catholic Answers" as some kind of resource is kind of funny....
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby smcj » Mon Oct 07, 2013 3:26 am

David N. Snyder wrote:Sure there is some influence, but it is in both directions. I have some family members who recently attended Kabbalah classes on reincarnation.

Kabbalah influenced rabbis accept reincarnation. See "The Way Of God" by Rabbi Luzzatto, an 18th c. Italian Kabbalahist rabbi. The jewish organization Chabad references him quite a lot and accepts his teachings. Also the rabbi that suggested I read that book was an Orthodox rabbi that teaches religion at a state run school in Jerusalem (seems like he'd be representing the current party line), who is not a Kabbalahist, and he accepted Luzzatto's descriptions of the afterlife as well. (Reincarnation is just one possible scenario according to Luzzatto.) So it seems that the idea has crept into current day Orthodox Judaism through the back channel of Kabbalah. I tried writing the aforementioned rabbi to ask for more material about how Luzzatto, and Kabbalah, got those ideas, but he shot me down, saying Kabbalah is for Jewish men over the age of 40 and to be taught in private only. I had been dating his sister, and I think he didn't want to hear from me ever again. He was politely but firmly dismissive, so that's as far as I got with it.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby rory » Mon Oct 07, 2013 5:01 am

It is no great mystery Flavius Josephus 37-100 C.E. the famous Jewish historian mentions with great approval Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher who taught reincarnation, vegetarianism and was reputed to have visited India. Here read this reliable source. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pythagoreanism/
Pythagoreanism was very influential during the Renaissance....

Here are some nice quotes from the philosopher Heraclitus 535- 475 B.C.E : "All is flux, nothing stays still."The only constant is change."This universe, which is the same for all, has not been made by any god or man, but it always has been, is, and will be an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measures and going out by regular measures."
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