I have stumbled upon a very well written criticism of Buddhism that I can highly recommend. Of course, I had to add my comments – this is what I posted in response to Vexen’s analysis:
Thank you so much for posting your criticism of Buddhism, Vexen. As I mentioned in another comment, it is so desperately needed here in the West because everybody – from Sam Harris to Richard Dawkins – seems to think that Buddhism is harmless, peaceful, and consistent with science.
I would like to add a few comments, though.
At least in Japan, the social programs you laud were developed as a competition to Christian programs to enable missionary success, i.e., get people to convert to Buddhism rather than Christianity (see Brian Victoria “Zen at War”, p.17)
3. Western Buddhism
I think there is a Sangha at least here in the US. But it is different and rather commercialized. People meditate together and listen to Dharma talks and paying for that with “dana” – donations that enable some teachers to afford luxury cars. I do agree with you that the Buddhism that is known in the West is a rather sterilized version that conveniently ignores any of the questionable beliefs or historical abuses.
5. Nirvana and Self (any reason for having 5 before 4 😉 )
It is interesting that a lot of the Buddhist apologists seem to miss the ultimate goal of Buddhism: to reach enlightenment or nirvana. Anybody who says that is criticized: Buddhists don’t have goals, you’re misunderstanding things, well, just look through the comments here… But if you read Buddhist text (I have only read them in English), it is clear, though, that this is what the goal is. And that’s why we’re reborn here on Earth because it’s the perfect middle ground. Of course, then your question comes up: why do so few of us reach that state? (changing your question slightly, hopefully, though maintaining the idea).
4. World Buddhist Morality
I am afraid that record is so clean because we Westerners are largely (kept) ignorant of the bloody parts. Read Brian Victoria’s “Zen at War” and your statement will, unfortunately, be shown to be false. Maybe there is less blood but Buddhism is not the peaceful religion that we’ve been led to believe. (Okay, so maybe I’d just reword the last sentence of your first paragraph: “Compared with other powerful religions, Buddhism appears to be saintly.” – rather than “is”).
6. Inhumane Dismissal of Suffering
I think this is really the most central element of Buddhist teaching: suffering. I would add to your arguments that “suffering” in Buddhism is defined solely as an individual problem and thus the solution can only be found at that level. Buddhism ignores completely any systemic creation of suffering, which makes the Four Noble Truths incomplete at best, false at worse. I will shamelessly advertise my own Website now, by asking you to look there for more details on that argument. Btw, the Zen priest Ichikawa Hakugen would agree with your assessment here, at least according to Brian Victoria’s summary of Hakugen’s argument (Victoria is a Soto Zen priest): “The doctrine of karma, with its corollary belief in good and bad karmic retribution, tends to serve as a kind of moral justification for social inequality.” Keep that quote handy the next time someone accuses you of ignorance – a Zen priest ignorant of Buddhism?!?
7. Buddhist Psychology is too idealistic
Wow! That is a point I hadn’t thought about yet.
Because of my comment to #4, I don’t agree with your assessment of Buddhism as “a wonderful religion socially, participating as a principle player in all forms of global peace & stability movements.” I think because of #6 and #7, it is inherently dangerous, just like any other religion. I completely agree with your second paragraph, though.
I would add that at least one of the tools developed in Buddhism might have some usefulness for some people: mindfulness meditation. It has been shown to reduce stress, help with pain management, lower blood pressure, and prevent the recurrence of depressive episodes (see the work around Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy). As you pointed out in #7, this tool is certainly no panacea and it might not be useful for everyone.