Friday, September 14, 2007

Karma : Not (Un)pleasant

From the international bestseller “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, here are some ideas on Buddhism (mostly from Julia Sweeney), followed by some of my personal comments on them -

Dawkins: Julia Sweeney is also right on target when she briefly mentions Buddhism. Just as Christianity is sometimes thought to be a nicer, gentler religion than Islam, Buddhism is often cracked up to be the nicest of all. But the doctrine of demotion on the reincarnation ladder because of sins in a past life is pretty unpleasant. Julie Sweeney: 'I went to Thailand and happened to visit a woman who was taking care of a terribly deformed boy. I said to his caretaker, “It's so good of you to be taking care of this poor boy.” She said, “Don't say ‘poor boy,’ he must have done something terrible in a past life to be reborn this way.”' (p.442)

Comments: No comments on Christianity and Islam, but Sweeney was actually “right off target”; not on it - at least, in the eyes of Buddhists. Just because a doctrine is pretty unpleasant does not necessarily render it untrue. Though there is so-called “demotion” in the wheel of rebirth, there is also “promotion”. How one is reborn is dependent on one's self-created karma - via one's own voluntary deeds.

The law of karma is fair. If so, there is nothing particularly pleasant or unpleasant about the doctrine of karma and rebirth. If the doctrine of fair rebirth (which offers infinite second chances) is unpleasant, what other doctrine of the afterlife is truly fair and pleasant? (E.g. Eternal hellfire for a limited lifetime of evil is surely the ultimate unpleasantness, and eternal nothingness sounds bleak too.)

The caretaker does not seem to be genuinely compassionate to the boy, since her reply hinted more blame than empathy. This is contrary to the Buddhist spirit of unconditional loving-kindness to all beings despite their condition. So her attitude does not reflect the Buddhist teachings at all. The Buddha himself famously helped to nurse a sick but neglected monk with great compassion, never once blaming him for his past misgivings which caused his present condition. This is how ideal Buddhist should treat the unfortunate. In fact, the Buddha commented that “He who tends the sick tends to the Buddha”.

Is the above about Buddhism in “The God Delusion” the author's delusion? Sometimes, just because a non-fiction book is an international bestseller, it doesn't mean it sells the truth the best internationally. At least, this is so for the above book's very brief depiction of Buddhism. Am not sure how accurately it depicts other religions. I cannot comment on that anyway, as am no expert on them. The Kalama Sutta as taught by the Buddha advises against blind faith in scriptures. Likewise, we need to be mindfully discerning about what is or is not truth in non-scriptures - even if they are bestsellers.


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