10 Misconceptions about Buddhism

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n the series 10 Misconceptions about Buddhism, scholars Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Donald S. Lopez Jr. expand and debunk these popular misconceptions:

1. All Buddhists meditate.

Meditation is often identified as the central practice of Buddhism. However, the majority of Buddhists throughout history have not meditated. Meditation has traditionally been considered a monastic practice, and even then as a specialty only of certain monks. It is only since the 20th century that the practice of meditation has begun to be widely practiced by laypeople.

2. The primary form of Buddhist meditation is mindfulness. 

In fact, there are hundreds of forms of Buddhist meditation, some for developing deep states of concentration and mental bliss, some for analyzing the constituents of mind and body to find that there is no self, some for meeting the Buddha face-to-face. The practice of mindfulness as it is taught in America today began in Burma in the early 20th century.

3. All Buddhists are vegetarians.

Bhikshu, the Sanskrit term translated as “monk,” literally means “beggar.” Buddhist monks and nuns originally begged for their daily meal (some still do) and therefore were supposed to eat whatever was offered to them, including meat. According to some sources, the bout of dysentery that the Buddha suffered before he entered nirvana occurred after he ate pork. In the centuries after the Buddha’s death, vegetarianism began to be promoted in some Buddhist texts. However, even today not all Buddhist monks and nuns are vegetarians. For example, in China they are; in Tibet they are not.

4. All Buddhists are pacifists.

It is often said that a war has never been fought in the name of Buddhism. It is unclear what “in the name of” might mean, but there have been many battles between Buddhists (with some Buddhist monasteries having their own armies). There have also been wars of Buddhists against non-Buddhists. Tibetan Buddhists fought bravely against British forces that invaded Tibet. During World War II, many Japanese priests supported the military expansion of the Japanese empire.

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