Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

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Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Fri Sep 25, 2009 9:07 am

I found this article at Tricycle and thought it was kind of fun. 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.

http://www.tricycle.com/columns/from-academy-top-ten-list
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Sep 26, 2009 4:53 am

Great thread! We can turn this into a sort of game, by adding another to the above list in each successive post.

11. "All Buddhists are hippies."
Hardly, many Theravadins are quite conservative, as are some Zennies and Vajrayana Buddhists. Some follow what might be called rigid precepts and do not even drink alcohol.
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Sat Sep 26, 2009 9:03 am

TheDhamma wrote:Great thread! We can turn this into a sort of game, by adding another to the above list in each successive post.

11. "All Buddhists are hippies."
Hardly, many Theravadins are quite conservative, as are some Zennies and Vajrayana Buddhists. Some follow what might be called rigid precepts and do not even drink alcohol.


Good one!

12. Buddhists worship a statue of a chubby guy :)
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Sep 26, 2009 3:20 pm

Ngawang Drolma wrote:12. Buddhists worship a statue of a chubby guy :)



13. "Buddhists are idol worshipers."
Not true, some traditions don't even use statues much. And those that do, do not worship them, just pay respects to the teacher and teachings. There is a Zen saying that if it is cold and your statue is made of wood, throw the Buddha statue in the fire to keep warm.
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Sep 26, 2009 11:40 pm

14. "The Dalai Lama is the head of Buddhism"
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Sep 27, 2009 3:23 pm

15. "Buddhists believe in reincarnation."
It is actually rebirth, not a transmigrating soul.
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Mon Sep 28, 2009 3:31 am

Good ones! :twothumbsup:
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Sep 28, 2009 8:25 pm

16. "Buddhists must wear robes."
Buddhists wear whatever they like and are not required to wear robes. Some Zen sects wear a robe, but that is only for the meditation session and it is immediately taken off before leaving the zendo. It is also worn over the regular clothes. Other schools of Buddhism, such as Vajrayana and Theravada do not wear any robes even during meditation and retreats (except for monastics of course).
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Sep 30, 2009 7:11 pm

17. "The Buddha is a God or one of the gods."
The Buddha was as mortal as any of us and got sick and died too. Although I think some Mahayana schools may have a slightly different view, but still see Buddha as someone who was at least one time mortal and then became THE Buddha. Anyway he was certainly not considered a Son of God, as in Christian-Greek-Brahmin mythology.
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby Luke » Wed Sep 30, 2009 9:26 pm

Ngawang Drolma wrote:I found this article at Tricycle and thought it was kind of fun. Enjoy!
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).
http://www.tricycle.com/columns/from-academy-top-ten-list


Although people in the past who were officially Buddhists have waged wars, I think that anyone who is sincerely living according to Buddha's teachings has to be against all forms of killing, and therefore must also be against war (although many non-lethal types of resistance are still possible). Killing a human intentionally breaks the refuge vow and creates incredibly bad karma.

Just like many have killed in the name of Jesus, some have also killed in the name of the Buddha, but I doubt that either would have approved.
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Oct 01, 2009 1:15 am

Greetings,

I've moved a couple of posts to...

Was the Buddha enlightened before he appeared as Shakyamuni?http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=39&p=2989#p2989

It seems an important enough discussion to warrant its own topic.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Thu Oct 01, 2009 6:33 pm

TheDhamma wrote:17. "The Buddha is a God or one of the gods."
The Buddha was as mortal as any of us and got sick and died too. Although I think some Mahayana schools may have a slightly different view, but still see Buddha as someone who was at least one time mortal and then became THE Buddha. Anyway he was certainly not considered a Son of God, as in Christian-Greek-Brahmin mythology.


Hi TheDhamma,

I hear this a lot, thanks for mentioning it :)
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Oct 02, 2009 4:41 am

18. "Buddhism is a pessimistic religion."
The first noble truth is the noble truth of suffering. But there are 4 Noble Truths, not one. The rest deal with us getting out of suffering. ;)
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Oct 02, 2009 5:06 am

19. Buddhism is a reformation of Hinduism
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby Luke » Sat Oct 03, 2009 2:20 pm

20. "Buddhists are all dreadfully serious people who never have any fun."

I've seen plenty of lamas laugh gleefully and make jokes.... The Dalai Lama certainly has a good sense of humor.
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Mon Oct 05, 2009 6:36 pm

Luke wrote:20. "Buddhists are all dreadfully serious people who never have any fun."

I've seen plenty of lamas laugh gleefully and make jokes.... The Dalai Lama certainly has a good sense of humor.


Good one! :thumbsup:
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Oct 05, 2009 10:05 pm

21. "All Buddhists who meditate sit in full lotus."
Very few Buddhists sit in full-lotus when they meditate. The Buddha advocated for mindfulness at all times and not just when sitting or in a certain posture. All postures are acceptable and used.
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Oct 05, 2009 10:08 pm

Ngawang Drolma wrote:
Luke wrote:20. "Buddhists are all dreadfully serious people who never have any fun."
I've seen plenty of lamas laugh gleefully and make jokes.... The Dalai Lama certainly has a good sense of humor.

Good one! :thumbsup:


Yes, lots of good ones above! I have compiled some of our findings here at a new Dhamma Wiki page on this subject, with credit to Dharma Wheel and Mr. Lopez of Tricycle:

http://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=M ... t_Buddhism

I left out some of the 'misconceptions' from the original Tricycle list as I didn't think they were that good, but included all of the Dharma Wheel contributors here.
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Oct 06, 2009 1:45 am

Nice collation David.

:twothumbsup:

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: Top Ten Misconceptions About Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Oct 06, 2009 7:32 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Nice collation David.
:twothumbsup:


Thanks! It was a nice team effort. I think that might be the end of the "good" ones which people often have about Buddhism. I'm sure there are plenty more, but the most common misconceptions and the best ones which need to be debunked, are those above.
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