Monday, May 15, 2006

Buddhism sans Saviour

sans = without

A few days ago blogger MENJ whom Malaysian bloggers know as a very staunch Muslim, wrote that he would soon be releasing his book on Buddhism, titled Buddhism: A Muslim Primer, under a licence over the web. He assured us that this means his book will be available for free.

As most of you know, KTemoc is such a well-known cheap skate that anything ‘free’ automatically grabs my attention, so I bookmarked his ping on Petaling Street Project and decided to wait a short while in the hope of getting a free peep into his book.

I went over to his blog last night and was a bit startled to note his brief summarisation of his publication as 'a critical introduction to the beliefs of Buddhism and its soteriology, as well as its ethics and social order from the Islamic viewpoint'.

‘… soteriology …’? Such a big word yet so inappropriate and incorrect in describing Buddhism. I decided to pull down a couple of pdf pages he offered for a wee glimpse to see what he had actually written on Buddhism but alas, the attempted download screwed me up good and proper, causing a couple of crashes - don't know what happened but my machine went into deep freeze each time I tried to download.

So I’ll just comment on his use of the word ‘soteriology', but of course qualifying that I make these comments without the opportunity to see a bit more of his book.

Soteriology means:

(i) the theological doctrine of salvation as effected by Jesus, or
(ii) the branch of Christian theology that deals with salvation as the effect of a divine agency.

OK, let us put aside the specific association of this word with Christianity, and use it in the manner that he wanted to apply to Buddhism, namely 'the religious doctrine of salvation through a saviour'.

Well, I am afraid to disappoint MENJ because he is patently incorrect to use this word to describe Buddhism. As I blogged in Sneaky Buddhists, Scary Buddhists! Buddhism is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, religion to practise. One cannot merely believe in Buddhism or Buddha to become a Buddhist; one actually has to practise the principles or beliefs of Buddhism. Even then, one would wonder whether one has reached the required standards for a Buddhist yet?

Why is this so? Because according to Buddhist belief, there is no such avenue of relying or having faith in a saviour or Almighty to reserve for oneself a nice place in the correct upmarket housing estate in one’s after-life. For a start, there is no Saviour or Almighty in Buddhism. To Buddhists, Buddha is not the saviour but a teacher who had shown them the Truths. The rest is up to them.

What about icons or idols, thus making people suspect Buddhism is all about idol worship? Well, what about photographs of our loved ones? In times before the camera was invented, people created statue or statuettes to remind them of loved or respected ones. Also, a statuette is used as an object by Buddhist in meditation. They can also use any object, like a flower, light, etc to focus their minds.

But wait a minute, what about the supplication of hands before a Buddha statue in the traditional Asian gesture of prayer? Surely that must be idol worship!

Hmmm, why do Indians, Thais, Burmese, Cambodians, Laotians, Javanese, and Balinese put up their hands like so when they meet someone, even a stranger? It's just an Indian cultural mark of respect, not unlike the courteous bow of the Chinese, Japanese or Koreans. Even Malaysians perform such a gesture of respect for their rulers (except for one who would slap you if you do it - he believes you are 'praying' to him).

So when a Buddhist puts up his or her hands in a prayer-like manner, it's a mark of respect to their 'teacher', Buddha. Sometimes you can see this gesture in Karate or Tae Kwon Do when opponents make their customary gestures of respect before they start to spar with each other.

As I had blogged earlier, while Buddhist belief do not dismiss the existence of ‘devas’ or ‘gods’, it treats those ‘devas’ as just another form of life, a species that’s like homo sapiens, dolphins or butterflies – perhaps with a longer life span like say, zillions of years, and possessing supranormal properties (that modern science hasn’t come to grips with yet), but nonetheless subject to the Buddhists’ belief of continuous cycle of life, sufferings, death and reincarnation, called samsara. Yes, those ‘devas’ will eventually perish too, like all of us - no exception.

A little digression here - in sad reference to the tragic death of a young Australian, Nguyen Trung Van, who was cruelly executed by hanging in Singapore recently for a drug offence, KTemoc being a wannabe poet (of half-past six standards) wrote a piece titled The Door, describing our inevitable encounter with ‘death’. In that poem I wrote:

in life’s journey
down a corridor,
everyone arrives
soon at the door

marked DEATH;
not one can say
I am turning back
or here I’ll stay;

long corridor,
short corridor,
all must open
the inevitable door;

what lies behind?
no one has a clue,
but all will know
when they step thru'

the door one day;
we want to know more
about that gateway;
is it the final door

to a
divine kingdom
or dreadful Gehenna
or one of many doors
of eternal

My last two paragraphs pose man’s eternal question and concerns about his fate, his destiny and what he hopes, his salvation.

Well, Buddhists know one thing, they will all end up in eternal wandering in samsara, the endless cycle of birth and suffering and death and rebirth, unless they break the tedious endless cycle by their own efforts. Sorry, there's no saviour to cry out to for help.

In other words, Buddhists believe their fates are not dependent upon the mercy or goodwill of those ‘devas’. Their ability to break free of samsara depends on their own efforts of right actions, right thoughts and right understanding of the Truths.

OK, I will stop here as undoubtedly the Buddhists will be horrified to know KTemoc has the bloody cheek to even talk about their religion, so to borrow MENJ's word, just consider this as a ‘primer’ ;-)

But it's a religion that has in recent years terrified the clerics and officials of other religions, especially the Christian Church, because of its paradoxical simplicity in its beliefs and difficulty in practice.

Many centuries ago, it faced the same problem with Hinduism, which it was gradually replacing in Indian beliefs, until some smart Hindu priests claimed that Buddha was an avatar (reincarnated human form) of Lord Vishnu. Buddhism was thus absorbed into Hinduism, with its spread as a new religion checked.

Whatever, associating the word 'soteriology' with Buddhism is completely misplaced.


  1. Deficient dictionary - with a Christian slant. Buddhism has everything to do with soteriology... salvation.

    The only question is 'whom' is doing the saving?

    With kind regards.

  2. MENJ = ignorant nut.

    Wish I could be there on the day when he realizes this fact.


  3. In Buddhism it's self help. The Teacher has revealed the 4 Truths and recommended the Noble 8-fold paths (consisting of right actions, right mental efforts and right wisdom, not unlike the pyramidical shape of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). It's now up to the Buddhist to work at it.


    Sorry meleephd, no Saviour to appeal to, except a Teacher (Buddha) to emulate and be inspired by, his Teachings (Dhamma) to follow, and his holy order (Sangha) to tutor and guide and counsel.

    Buddhism is a religion of doing, not just for believing! In simple layperson's formula - cultivate the good, avoid the not-good. Seek Truth for it's the greatest gift [note Truth spelt with a capitalised 'T'].

  4. Oh sorry I missed this one - salvation!

    Buddhism is about moving from samsara to nirvana - if you term this as 'salvation' well, I am not going to argue though I wouldn't call it that. It's about taking the logical choice - to break the endless wandering in samsara.


    In previous message I placed my 'Regards' in wrong place ;-) but it's sincerely extended

  5. Buddhism is a way of life, a philosophy, a psychology, a way of thinking, a belief. Definitely is not a religion. (But it do on how you define religion.)