10 Misconceptions about Buddhism

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5. Buddhism is a philosophy and not a religion.

Buddhism has many philosophical schools, with a sophistication equal to that of any philosophical school that developed in Europe. However, Buddhism is a religion by any definition of that indefinable term, unless one defines religion as belief in a creator God. The great majority of Buddhist practice over history, for both monks and laypeople, has been focused on a good rebirth in the next lifetime, whether for oneself, for one’s family, or for all beings in the universe.

6. The Buddha was a human being, not a god, and the religion he founded has no place for the worship of gods. 

Buddhism has an elaborate pantheon of celestial beings (devas; the name is etymologically related to the English word divinity) and advanced spiritual beings (bodhisattvas and buddhas), who occupy various heavens and pure lands and who respond to the prayers of the devout.

7. Zen rejects conventional Buddhism.

Zen masters burn statues of the Buddha, scorn the sutras, and regularly frequent bars and brothels. Zen monks follow a strict set of regulations, called “pure rules,” which are based on the monastic discipline imported from India. Most Zen monks have engaged in extensive study of Buddhist scriptures before beginning their training in the meditation hall. And although a celebrated verse in Zen speaks of “not relying on words and letters,” Zen has the largest body of written literature of any tradition of East Asian Buddhism.

8. The four noble truths are noble 

The famous phrase “four noble truths” is a mistranslation. The term “noble” in Sanskrit is aryan, a perfectly good word meaning “noble “ or “superior” that was ruined by the Nazis. Aryan is a technical term in Buddhism, referring to someone who has had direct experience of the truth and will never again be reborn as an animal, ghost, or hell being. The four truths of suffering, origin, cessation, and path are true for such enlightened beings. They are not true for us; we don’t understand that life is suffering. So the term means the “four truths for the [spiritually] noble.”

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