COMMON THINGS PEOPLE BELIEVE ABOUT BUDDHISM THAT AREN'T TRUE
Text by Barbara O'Brien (About.com Guide)
Buddhists want enlightenment so they can be blissed out all the time. They believe in reincarnation. If something bad happens to you, it has to be because of something you did in a past life. Buddhists have to be vegetarians. "Everybody knows that." Unfortunately, much of what "everybody knows" about Buddhism isn't true.
What follows is a kind of Un-FAQ that lists common but mistaken ideas many people in the West have about Buddhism. [If you can think of any more, please add them through the "Readers Respond" link at the end of this article, or discuss them in the Buddhism forum].
1. BUDDHISM TEACHES THAT NOTHING EXISTS
I've read many diatribes against the Buddhist teaching that nothing exists. If nothing exists, the writers ask, who is it that imagines something does exist?
However, Buddhism does NOT teach that nothing exists. It challenges our understanding of "how" things exist. It teaches that beings and phenomena have no intrinsic existence. But Buddhism does not teach there is no existence at all.
The "nothing exists" folklore mostly comes from a misunderstanding of the teaching of anatta [egolessness] and its Mahayana extension, shunyata [emptiness]. But these are not doctrines of non-existence. Rather, they teach that we understand existence in a limited, one-sided way.
"DEPENDENT ORIGINATION" - "MADHYAMIKA" - THE SELF - BUDDHIST TEACHINGS - BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHY - SHUNYATA - BUDDHIST MORALITY
* BUDDHISM TEACHES WE'RE ALL ONE
Everyone's heard the joke about what the Buddhist monk said to a hot dog vendor -- "Make me one with everything." Doesn't Buddhism teach we are one with everything? In the Maha-nidana Sutra, the Buddha taught that it was incorrect to say that the self is finite, but it is also incorrect to say that the self is infinite. In this sutra, the Buddha taught... Understanding the self requires going beyond concepts and ideas. "What is the Self?"
* BUDDHISTS BELIEVE IN REINCARNATION
If you define reincarnation as the transmigration of a soul into a new body after the old body dies, then no, the Buddha did not teach a doctrine of reincarnation. For one thing, he taught there was no soul to transmigrate. However, there is a Buddhist doctrine of rebirth. "Reincarnation in Buddhism"
* BUDDHISTS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE VEGETARIANS
Some schools of Buddhism do insist on vegetarianism, and I believe all schools encourage it. But in most schools of Buddhism vegetarianism is a personal choice, not a commandment. "Buddhism and Vegetarianism"
* KARMA IS FATE
The word "karma" means "action," not "fate. Karma for Buddhists 101"
* KARMA PUNISHES PEOPLE WHO DESERVE IT
Karma is not a cosmic system of justice and retribution. There is no unseen judge pulling the strings of karma to punish wrongdoers. Karma is as impersonal as gravity. Karma is not the only force... "Buddhism and Morality"
* ENLIGHTENMENT IS BEING BLISSED OUT ALL THE TIME
People imagine that "getting enlightened" is like flipping a happy switch... The Sanskrit word ["bodhi "or" budh"] often translated as "enlightenment" actually means "awakening. The Eight Awarenesses of Enlightenment"
* BUDDHISM TEACHES THAT WE'RE SUPPOSED TO SUFFER
This idea comes from a misreading of the First Noble Truth, often translated "Life is suffering." People read that and think, Buddhism teaches that life is always miserable.... Life is "dukkha "[unsatisfactory]. "Dukkha" is a Pali word that contains many meanings. "Life is Suffering? What does that mean?"
* BUDDHISM IS NOT A RELIGION
"It's a philosophy" or "It's a science of mind." Well, yes. It's a philosophy. It's a science of mind, if you use the word "science" in a very broad sense. It's also religion. Of course, a lot depends on how you define "religion." Most schools of Buddhism are highly mystical, which puts it outside the bounds of simple philosophy. "Buddhism: Philosophy or Religion?"
* BUDDHISTS WORSHIP THE BUDDHA
The historical Buddha was a human being who realized enlightenment through his own efforts. Buddhism is non-theistic -- not that there are no gods, just that worshiping gods is not conducive to realizing enlightenment. But the iconic image of the Buddha and other enlightened beings are objects of devotion and reverence for their human potential not as gods. "Atheism and devotion in Buddhism, Introduction to Buddhist Tantra, Gods, Goddesses, and Buddhist Tantra."
* BUDDHISTS AVOID ATTACHMENTS, SO THEY HAVE NO RELATIONSHIPS
When people hear that Buddhists practice "non-attachment," they sometimes assume it means Buddhists can't form relationships. But that's not what it means. "Why do Buddhists avoid Attachment?"
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