Introduction

This is another of our Essays that evaluates an important world religion or spiritual path. Our aim has been to compare each of them to our own Practice — the path of Continuing Creation: The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos

As we go along, we have been explaining the Strengths and Shortcomings of each major religion as compared to our own Path of Continuing Creation.

For the Western Religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) we recommend new editions of their sacred works, with the mythical and fantastic passages crossed thru with a fine line.  The fine line would also mark the passages advocating outdated morality, such as the ancient practice of slavery.  Footnotes could explain each particular use of the fine line and describe the metaphorical meanings of various myths.

Fine-lining may be less needed for Hinduism and Buddhism, which have long traditions of accepting virtually all texts that are written within them.  In fact, in India the whole of Buddhist ended up be absorbed back into Hinduism, where it has the status of a Hindu “school of thought.”  This openness to new interpretations and free speech is a Strength of Buddhism.  

There Is No Creator God in Buddhism

The first image of Buddhism in western minds is of the Buddha, portrayed as a large heavyset man, sitting cross-legged, and meditating with a slight beatific smile on his face.  We Westerners usually think that this is the Buddhist image of God.  (It is appropriate to portray him as well-fed, because he rejected the Hindu doctrine of self-denial. And Meditation is major component of Buddhism.)

However, there is no supernatural, Creator-God in original, core Buddhism. Even today, the Buddha is not seen as a God.  He is recognized as an historical human person who was a great spiritual teacher.  A couple of centuries after his death he came to be known by the title “Buddha,” which means “Awakened One” or “Enlightened One.”  1

There are systems of thought which the world usually calls religious, and yet which do not positively assume a God. Buddhism is in this case. Popularly, of course, the Buddha himself stands in the place of a God; but in strictness the Buddhist system is atheistic.”
     — William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. 2

Thus, core Buddhism is not a religion, but a spiritual path and practice.  However, as Buddhism was popularized for the masses over the centuries, it evolved a set of gods and goddesses to whom people appeal for supernatural help in solving the problems of daily living. These later (Mahayana) forms of Buddhism are correctly called religions.   

Buddhist thought consistently rejects the notion of a creator-deity. It teaches that the many gods and goddesses of Hinduism, and later of popularized Buddhism are personified representations of aspects of perfect understanding, perfect conduct, perfect care, and so on.   
Buddhism holds that even the powerful popular deity of Tibetan Buddhism, Mahabrahma (or Brahma, for short) is misconstrued to be a Creator-god. 3

The Buddha eschewed the idea that traditional gods and goddesses had magical powers that could accomplish favors for humans. He said: “Gripped by fear, men go to the sacred mountains, sacred groves, sacred trees and shrines.”4  Hundreds of years later, many modern sociologists and psychologists, including Bertrand Russell, also said that religious ideas, especially the god idea, have their origin in human fear.  5, Instead, the Buddha taught that a Path of meditation and virtuous living was the way to eliminate suffering.

The Human Being Who Became the Buddha

The man Siddhartha Gautama (English spellings vary), who became the Buddha (which means “The Enlightened One,”) was originally a well-to-do prince who lived in India likely between 550 and 490 BCE.  Wikipedia gives us this summary of the Buddha’s life:

“Siddhartha Gautama was born into an aristocratic family, but eventually renounced lay life. According to Buddhist tradition, after several years of mendicancy, meditation, and asceticism, he awakened to understand the workings of the cycle of rebirth and how it can be escaped. The Buddha then traveled through North India teaching and building a religious community. The Buddha taught a middle way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the Indian śramaṇa movement. He taught a training of the mind that included ethical training, self-restraint, and meditative practices such as jhana [deep meditation] and mindfulness. The Buddha also critiqued the practices of Brahmin priests, including animal sacrifice and the caste system.” 6

It is a Strength of original Buddhism that the Buddha was seen as a human being and not a God. The fact that he opposed the caste system and animal sacrifices are also Strengths of Buddhism.

 A Short History of Buddhism

The Buddha’s original teaching is called Theravada, “School of The Elders,” or “Monastic” Buddhism.

Starting in the first century A.D., and growing rapidly between the 7th and 13th centuries, a new school rose up called Mahayana, “Great Vehicle,” Buddhism.  This school popularized Buddhism by adding a pantheon of mythical figures that appealed to a much wider, less-educated audience.  These figures are not creator gods and goddesses, but approachable characters who could help people with their everyday problems.

The Mahayana School also encouraged people to follow and even to dedicate themselves to various entrepreneurial teachers whose practices promised to provide “Spiritual credit” without the extensive discipline required by the Theravada School. 

7

Today, across Asia, (but outside India) about 36% of Buddhists are Theravada; 53% are Mahayana, and 11% are in other schools.  Inside India, Buddhism was reabsorbed by Hinduism, and the Buddha now resides within Hinduism as another wise teacher in a long line of wise teachers.

We will return to the Popularization of Buddhism near the end of this Essay. 

Over the centuries, Buddhism spread across Asia.  In China it picked up both Confucian and Taoist influences. From China, Buddhism was exported to Japan, where it became Zen Buddhism (now usually called simply Zen).  However, many scholars, including Alan Watts, believe that Zen was more influenced by Taoism than by Buddhism. In our Book of Continuing Creation, we elected to evaluate both Taoism and Zen in a single Essay titled, Evaluating Taoism and Zen.

From central China, Buddhism also migrated west, becoming popularized into Tibetan Buddhism, (also called Vajrayana Buddhism) which is characterized by a wild assembly of deities, tantric rituals, and the sand-painting of mandalas.  Although Tibetan Buddhism has hundreds of deities, these are technically taught to be projections or aspects of the student’s awareness of reality, and not supernatural entities. Still, many followers may regard them as supernatural.

 In our modern era, the Vietnamese Boddhisattva and best-selling international author Thich Nha’t Hanh, has done much to make Buddhism more active in social reform. Will discuss this further later in our Essay.

Buddhism Arose in Reaction to the Problems of Its Day

Most religions and spiritual paths arise in reaction to the societal problems of their day:

  • Taoism – Arose in reaction to formality and over-socialization of Confucianism.
  • Judaism – Arose in reaction to over-exposure of the Jewish people to too many foreign cultures and foreign pantheons of gods. The Hebrews needed a God of their own, one who solely looks out for them.
  • Christianity – Arose in reaction to over-regulation of life in Judaism, to division of society into strata, to Roman domination and Pharisee lackeys.
  • Protestantism – Arose in reaction to the central control and corruption within the Catholic Church, and its retention of God-like saints.
  • Islam – Arose in reaction to illogic of Trinity, and to the Arab culture’s need for a strong paternal authority who would lay down absolute rules.
  • The Way of Continuing CreationIs written in response to the need to find life’s meaning and purpose in Nature, Reason, and Science, not in myths and miracle stories.

In creating Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama was reacting to these three things:

  1. To the suffering he saw all around him – both the natural suffering from poverty, disease and death and the man-made suffering caused by the caste system. The Buddha also saw that this pervasive suffering never got better, generation after generation. 
  2. To the self-defeating, health-destroying Hindu asceticism of the day.
  3. To the wild, supernatural world of Hinduism, whose many capricious gods and goddesses clearly had no real

Thus, Buddhism started out not as a religion, but as a Discipline, a Program, a Way, or a Path of personal spiritual development.  8 We use these same words to describe our own Program, Way, Discipline, and Path of Continuing Creation.

The Nature of Reality According to Buddhism

The Three Marks of Existence

Buddhism says that all existence (including human existence) is marked by three conditions: Impermanence (Anicca), Unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha), and Non-selfhood (Anatta). We will discuss each of these, but we will do it in this order:

  1. Impermanence (Annica, in Sanskrit)
  2. Non-selfhood (Anatta)
  3. Unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha)

1. Impermanence (Anicca)
Everything is impermanent, including our health and our lives. Everything is always changing, and each single thing is attached to myriad other things, all of which are changing.

The Buddhist concept of Impermanence (continual change) is similar to our own concepts of Continuing Creation and Evolution.  But while our idea of Change is positive, the Buddhist idea of change is negative. Evolution and Continuing Creation have a direction: they are creative, constructive, and progressive forces.   

Of course, it is a Shortcoming of Buddhism (and of all the other major world religions) that it arose too early to experience the power of modern science and its ability to cure illness and improve hygiene and nutrition. 

Buddhism is right when it says that all things are impermanent.  A nail may be made of iron, and in the open air it becomes iron-oxide (rust). Nevertheless, the nail is a nail for its allotted time!  It comes down to the pessimism of Buddhism versus the optimism of our Way of Continuing Creation.  

Buddhists ask, “Why bother creating a nail?” 
Followers of C.C. ask, “How soon we can begin forging nails!  We want to build a house!

Switching to theological terms, we can say that Buddhism stresses “Being” and eschews “Becoming.”  But our Path of Continuing Creation shows us that both Being and Becoming exist, and both are important.  They are in fact interdependent.  This is symbolized by the Yin-Yang Symbol of Taoism.

  1. Non-selfhood (Anatta) — and The Doctrine of Dependent Existence

Buddhists contend that there is no self.  “Self” is an illusion.  Part of awakening (Nirvana) is realizing that there is no “self,” no “soul.”  We are inextricably intertwined with all of nature around us, and with our past and future. 

Buddhism goes even further:  It says that a thing’s existence depends on all other things and all other forces.  All things are transient, in a constant state of flux.  Buddhist doctrine holds that nothing is independent; nothing exists on its own.  Everything is part of a great and continuing chain of cause and effect, and there are always many tangled causes and many tangled effects.  This is called the Doctrine of Dependent Existence (pratityasamutpada). Everything is made of something else and will become something else. An electric light bulb cannot be comprehended apart from a comprehension of a candle, or from a comprehension of sunlight. Further, the origin of an electric lightbulb depends on the existence of other things, e.g., on the existence of electric wiring. Continuing Creation agrees with that analysis. 9

But then Buddhism draws a conclusion that we do not agree with.  Buddhism says that since every single thing depends on other things for its existence, no one thing has an intrinsic identity, a unitary “self.” Therefore, no single thing is even real; no single thing even exists. 10

Because things are not real, Buddhism says that people must meditate to let go of all things, all concepts; only then will the student comprehend the one unified reality – Nirvana.

We Co-Creators think this conclusion is nonsense.  We hold that individual things are very real.  For example, individual hydrogen atoms are clearly real.  When hydrogen atoms are joined to oxygen atoms, the combination, water, looks and acts very differently from pure hydrogen, but the hydrogen atoms themselves are still there.  When they are separated from the oxygen the hydrogen atoms look and act as they did before. 

How about a mathematical concept like the circle?  Is the concept of a circle an individual thing that really exists?  Buddhists would say no. They would say that the concept of the circle takes its reality from space itself.  But the Practice of Continuing Creation says that the concept of the circle is an individual thing that’s part of our reality, and our reality is all we need care about.

Buddhism does gain support from Western philosophers like Immanuel Kant, who argued that our human perceptions of space and time are creations of the Human mind. 11 Indeed, Einstein showed mathematically that space and time are one! They are Spacetime.  12 Perhaps our perceptions of space and time, and our tendency to perceive discreet individual things, were evolved so that we can better survive on Earth. 

Nevertheless, for most humans, and surely for practitioners of Continuing Creation, Buddhism’s failure to acknowledge the reality of individual things and its doctrine on non-selfhood are fundamental Shortcomings.

For us, quite a few things are individual and quite real for all intents and purposes!  Among them are the circle, atoms, and the identity of each person as long as that person is alive, and even as long as that person is remembered.

Of course, over one’s life, our personhood partly changes and partly remains the same.  So, we can agree with the milder Buddhist concept of Impermanence… meaning change.  But as the philosophy of Existentialism teaches us, each individual living human still exists even as he or she changes over time; and even though we may never completely understand each person’s essence.  Existence precedes essence.”

The truth of Continuing Creation is that everything, including each human being, is both dependent and independent. Each human being is intertwined with many other things, but each of us is also an independent life form and an independent person.  In fact, it is the wealth of our varied interconnections that makes each of us unique. Love requires interconnection, as do discovery and invention.

Readers might be thinking, “Isn’t the Book of Continuing Creation all about the fact that ‘The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts’?”  Yes, that is the central miracle-like principle of Continuing Creation.  But it doesn’t mean that we only recognize the existence and importance of the Whole.  We also must recognize the Parts used to construct the Whole.  Thirdly, we recognize the reality and importance of the Processes that construct the Whole out of the Parts!

Buddhism also argues this:  If there is no soul, there can be no ownership.  All our “possessions” are on loan from Earth, and none of them survive entropy.  No ownership means no clinging, and no clinging (no attachment) means no suffering.  Note that this doctrine leads to the same kind of universal, radical sharing as advocated by Christianity. 14 Again, the Way of Continuing Creation disagrees.  We grant that our possessions are on loan from the Earth, but it is our purpose and destiny to use them to increase knowledge, increase pattern, cure diseases, stop pollution, and eventually travel to other planets.

 3. Unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha)

 Dukkha is a Sanskrit word meaning “unsatisfactoriness, suffering, pain”. 15

Dukkha includes:

  1. Physical and mental sufferings: pain, injury, aging, illness, dying.
  2. Dissatisfaction from getting bad outcomes and from not getting desired outcomes.
  3. Frustration that nothing lasts; that everything is relative, impermanent, and without essence.

In the West, however, our post-enlightenment and post-industrial societies understand that change can be good; that relativity can mean creative, constructive interaction.

The Book of Continuing Creation holds that dukka is often just Buddhism’s inability to see progress and improvement in the real world.  This profoundly negative attitude toward life is a pronounced Shortcoming of Buddhism. 

Buddhism’s dukka-attitude arises from absence of science and technology and the lack of social mobility created by the rigid system fixed castes in India. We can’t really blame the Buddha and his early followers for seeing life as dominated by “unsatisfactoriness.” In that time and place, they knew nothing of germs, penicillin, vitamins.  While Buddhism is not to blame for its ignorance of science, that lack of scientific knowledge is nevertheless a major Shortcoming of early Buddhism.  

The Buddha did argue against India’s debilitating caste system, but to little avail.  We must also point out that modern Buddhists who are not monks or nuns do have families, do work, and do pursue practical goals.  But the Buddha, like Jesus, did not do or preach those things.

Nirvana – Transcending Suffering to Reach “True Reality”

The word “Nirvana” means extinguishing, or (blowing out).  In Buddhism it means the extinguishing of desire, ignorance, craving, the illusion of permanence, and all other “ignorance.”  This includes freedom from the otherwise endless cycle of repeated births and deaths.  Nirvana in Buddhism is very similar to Moksha in Hinduism. (See also our Essay, Evaluating Hinduism.)

The Buddha taught that since everyday life is dominated by suffering, the solution is to escape everyday life through meditation and right living. Through meditation, the mind “transcends” the body and merges with the one true reality, which is Nirvana.  Nirvana does not need reference to other “things” to define its reality; it stands alone.  Nirvana is pure, “unconditioned” Reality.  Nirvana is supposedly permanent, positive, and unchanging. 

To Buddhists, entering nirvana looks like a merging with ultimate reality, and maybe like merging with ultimate good, but to travelers on the Path of Continuing Creation it looks like escape – escape from being human and escape from working to improve our everyday world.  This escapism is a clear and major Shortcoming of Buddhism.

To your author, J.X. Mason, mentally merging with The One — seems a lot like death.  “Extinguishment,” the cessation of desire, ambition, action, work sounds “deadly” to me.  Sitting in meditation, a person creates nothing and helps no other person. 

Putting it more mildly, when Buddhists transcend, they “leave behind.” When We Co-Creators transcend, we “gather, connect, and put to use.”

How About Simpler Living?

There’s much to be gained from simplifying one’s life. Getting rid of dukkha-generating annoyances, reducing the frenzied pace of activities, and selling off our unneeded furniture.  Countless numbers of non-Buddhist people do this as they age, and many do it much earlier.

 But the idea for Co-Creators is not to merge into abstract, disembodied “Nirvana.” Our idea is to stay positive and increase one’s total satisfaction with our Earthly lives by delving more deeply into a fewer number of activities.  We take up things like bridge, gardening, and community service. We treasure our positive attachments, including our best memories, and we share them with other people!  We meditate, but instead of counting breaths or repeating a mantra, we contemplate the flow of a beautiful stream and its myriad life forms.

Of course, the Buddha chose not to immediately dwell in a state of Nirvana.  Instead, he returned to the everyday world as a Bodhisattvaa person who delays Nirvana in order to save other suffering beings by teaching them the Path of Buddhism.  16 (However, the ultimate goal of every Boddhisattva is still to reach Nirvana… after death.)

It is quite true that modern schools of Buddhism, such as the one taught by the recently deceased Vietnamese monk, Thich N’hat Hanh, are a good deal more focused on doing works of practical good than original Buddhism is.  Hanh’s school of modern “Engaged Buddhism” is known as The Plum Village Tradition. This school teaches that Meditation should be extended to everyday activities, thereby becoming Mindfulness. 17

In Zen, the Buddhist path finds expression in the practical arts of warfare, pottery-making, gardening, and flower arranging (ikebana). 18 Zen also drew practicality from Chinese Taoism’s advice for governing. Many passages in the Tao Te Ching are about the art of governing. 19

Buddhism vs. American Transcendentalism

In contrast to the pessimism (“suffering is everywhere!”) of original Buddhism, American philosophers in the 1850’s such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau, gave us a more positive and practical form of philosophy or spirituality called Transcendentalism.  (For more about this, see our Essay, Forerunners to Our Path and Practice.) These writers advocated meditation not as an escape from life, but as a way to rest and reset the mind; a way to renew one’s spirit to live more happily and creatively. 

A wonderful example of their positive attitude are the opening lines of Whitman’s famous poem, “Song of the Open Road,” from Whitman’s 1855 volume, Leaves of Grass:

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

“Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

“The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

“(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)”   

Could we say that Whitman was a man who had reached his own personal Nirvana, and was now stepping back into the world as a Bodhisattva, a teacher of others on The Open Road?  I think a modern-day Buddhist could say that, but original Buddhism had little playfulness; it carried no “delicious burdens.”  It was a program of strict discipline and meditation aimed at escape.

Like Buddhism, American Transcendentalism also does not assume a God, but while Buddhism is pessimistic about life, Transcendentalism is optimistic about it. 20 Today’s Unitarian Universalism draws a great deal from American Transcendentalism.  And so does the Practice of Continuing Creation. 

What Does Nirvana Feel Like?  Is Nirvana Ecstasy?  Is it Bliss?

What does Nirvana Feel like? With most human thought and feeling eliminated from Nirvana, does “ecstasy” remain? We don’t really know – the Buddha doesn’t describe it.  Nirvana is a “you’ll know it when you’re there” proposition.

Islam’s heaven supposedly provides 72 virgins to Jihadist warriors. 21 Nirvana doesn’t appear to promise anything like that.  But there isn’t much to go by in the early Buddhist literature.  To this day, Buddhist scholars debate what Nirvana includes and does not include.  Some say it is not necessarily related to ecstasy or bliss, while other commentators see such experiences as part of nirvana. 22

Do people who have reached Nirvana feel similar to the fictional humans who convert themselves to Jovians (inhabitants of Jupiter) in the classic 1952 science fiction novel City, by Clifford D. Simak?  In one section of City, nearly all the humans on Earth decide, one by one, to decamp to Jupiter and turn themselves into creatures called “Jovians.” The Jovians spend their lives galumphing across Jupiter in carefree ecstasy, with all their needs abundantly supplied by the atmosphere and surface of Jupiter. They experience no violence, no disease, no suffering, no worry; and they do no productive work. 

Alas, a terrible side effect follows from Simak’s Human-to-Jovian conversion: The ex-humans no longer create anything – no culture, no knowledge, no science, no technology, nothing.  Simak’s story goes on to tells us that back on Earth, human civilization dies out because there are no humans left!

Without ecstasy, would humans find Nirvana worthwhile?  Without a human body, how could a disembodied mind, merged into Nirvana, even be able to sense bliss or ecstasy?    

Is Nirvana Perfect Peace? Perfect Wisdom?

Instead of ecstasy, maybe Nirvana feels like perfect wisdom and perfect peace. Well, even this sounds kind of boring to a healthy, active, living human.  After all, a person’s mind, if merged with Nirvana would no longer even be human. 

The Book of Continuing Creation says:  Nirvana, as we best understand it, is not the path we humans should choose!  The purpose of humans in Continuing Creation is not to passively enjoy ecstasy, experience bliss, or even to be wise.  We are here to actively and wisely create!  If Nirvana is intended to be disembodied, passive ecstasy or passive wisdom and bliss, that constitutes a major Shortcoming of Buddhism.

Karma and Reincarnation

Of course, the great majority of Buddhists (and Hindus) never reach Nirvana “on their first try.”  What happens to them?  They are reincarnated into new lives.  If they have done good things (good karma) in their past life (or lives), they can expect to be reincarnated into a more comfortable and/or important life.  Traditionally, this meant rebirth as a member of a higher caste.  But if bad behavior (bad karma) has been accumulated, the dying person will be born into a lower caste, into greater suffering, or even into life as an animal or an insect.  (This is a reason why many Buddhists (as well as Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs) do not eat meat.

Karma is Buddhism’s law of moral causation.  It says that the good and the bad you do in this life will affect the nature and quality of your subsequent reincarnated lives.  Karma is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism. This belief was prevalent in India before the advent of the Buddha. Nevertheless, it was the Buddha who explained and formulated this doctrine in the complete form in which we have it today.

Most individuals cannot understand why so many people get more suffering than they deserve.  Rather than accept the vast inherent unfairness of life, Hindus and Buddhists were taught to believe that a person’s “extra” misfortune must result bad deed done by that person in a previous life. We ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and misery.  We are the architects of our own fate.

Toward the end of his life’s teaching, the Buddha included karma and rebirth in the teaching of Buddhism.  Without any gods to punish the evil and cruel in their afterlives, some other kind of enforcement mechanism was needed to keep them in line. Therefore, karma was borrowed from Hinduism. 

Historically, Spiritual Paths have handled bad behavior in several ways:

  • Appease the gods with sacrifices of humans and/or animals.
  • Appease the gods with less bloody offerings.
  • Obey God’s commandments or risk punishment in this life.
  • Lead a moral and righteous life in order to avoid hell and reach heaven.
  • Carry your past transgressions into your next life. Bad leads to bad. Karma.

On the Path of Continuing Creation, we Co-Creators hold these things to be true:

  • One’s actions affect the lives of others, and their lives affect still others.
  • These affects can happen through direct interaction, or through published media.
  • All these effects can attenuate as they spread, or
  • Or they can grow as they spread.
  • We can do good altruistically – good for goodness’ sake.
  • We can also do good because it is rewarding, because it garners respect and love.

So, do we Travelers in Continuing Creation in any sense have “future lives?”  Are we in any way reincarnated?  Or at least partially reincarnated?  Partially, yes, to the extent that one’s traits are passed on genetically and/or through the influence of our actions while we’re alive.  I could say that my “future life” is not a full blown “re-personization” or reincarnation, but it is the sum of all the effects that my genetics and my conduct while alive will have on future people, future culture, future knowledge. 

But we Co-Creators have plenty of questions about heritage and future justice:

  • What is the cause of the inequality that exists among mankind?
  • Why should one person be brought up in the lap of luxury, endowed with fine mental, moral and physical qualities; and another in absolute poverty, steeped in misery?
  • Why should one person be a mental prodigy, and another an idiot?
  • Why should one person be born with saintly characteristics and another with criminal tendencies?
  • Why should some be linguistic, artistic, or mathematically inclined from the very cradle?
  • Why should others be congenitally blind, deaf, or deformed?

Nirvana vs. Heaven

One might judge that Hinduism and Buddhism don’t really “have” a heaven.  But if Hinduism’s moksha and Buddhism’s nirvana entail ending of the cycle of death and rebirth, and attaining awakening – what is that, really, except a description of heaven?  Awakening is likely a kind of disembodied, purely spiritual “heaven.”

Nirvana is not like a Christian or Muslim “heaven,” where deceased people get perfect new bodies and do perfect things. The Book of Continuing Creation finds them both so highly improbable, that it’s hard for us to prefer one over the other.  (If pushed to make a choice, we’d say that the purely mental merging of Nirvana makes more sense than Christian humans sitting on clouds and playing harps; or Viking humans lounging around the Great Longhouse of Valhalla, drinking beer and sharpening their swords.) Nevertheless, from our point of view, both Nirvana and Heaven are superstitious Shortcomings of their respective Old Religions. 

The Four Noble Truths

Buddhism’s list of The Four Noble Truths describes the unsatisfactory nature of our lives and previews how we can go about reversing this condition and reach Nirvana.  23

Here are the Four Noble Truths in short-form:
#1.  Life is filled with suffering and dissatisfaction, i.e., dukkha.
#2.  Suffering and dissatisfaction arise because we are attached to things.
#3.  We can stop experiencing dukkha by “letting go” of our attachments.
#4.  Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path provides the instructions for “letting go.”

Noble Truth #1.  Life is filled with suffering and dissatisfaction, or dukkha.

Dukkha includes suffering, anxiety, stress and “unsastisfactoriness.”  Buddhism says that all conditioned (evolved) phenomena and experiences are ultimately unsatisfying.

Dukkha is commonly broken down into to three categories: 24

  1. The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness, injury, and dying.
  2. The anxiety or stress of trying to hold on to things that are constantly changing.
  3. The basic “unsatisfactoriness” pervading all forms of existence, because all forms of life are changing, impermanent, and without inner core or substance. This type of dukkha is an innate characteristic of our existence in the realm of worldly existence (samsara). [2][3][4]

In Our Practice of Continuing Creation, however, suffering and dissatisfaction are not things to escape, but things to improve in the course of daily, real-world living. They are spurs to progress and creativity.  Pessimistic Escapism is a Shortcoming of Buddhism.

Noble Truth #2. The Truth of the Origin of Dukkha

When Buddha saw suffering, he concluded it was due to our human experience of change and impermanence. He taught that the problem is our Attachment (Upadana)– we are attached to our pleasures and security.  We crave them when we don’t have them, and we cling to them when we do have them. When we inevitably lose those things, we experience suffering in its various forms. “Suffering arises from wanting something other than what is.”  [ref= footnote 12 to Prothero’s chapter 5]. 

In contrast, Followers of Continuing Creation are often in favor of wanting something other than what is. Dr. Jonas Salk wanted to find a vaccine for polio.  Buddhism’s inability to see secular progress is a Shortcoming.  What Buddha did not see (and maybe could not see, given his society) was the positive, progressive change that can be brought about by open social, political and economic systems where structure and change are in creative balance. This failure to see positive change is a related major Shortcoming of Buddhism.

What really causes suffering is not change, but certain kinds of change: change from entropy (wearing out), from natural disaster, war, and from attack from other creatures who are trying to survive and evolve by eating us. Real suffering comes from any harm that is sudden and/or unfair. 

 The Three “Root-poisons” of Dukkha (Suffering):

  1. Ignorance
  2. Attachment
  3. Craving

This short list of “Root Poisons,” is inadequate and unrealistic. What about natural disasters, wars, and plagues? They cause real suffering on a massive scale.  That suffering is not caused by the mental states of Ignorance, Attachment and Craving!   Is it better to mentally detach from being killed by an approaching tornado, or to step down into an underground storm cellar?  Is it better to accept the attacks of bacteria, or work to discover the antiseptics and antibiotics that will kill them?  This impracticality is a real Shortcoming of Buddhism.

Continuing Creation’s View of “Attachment”

What about “Attachment”?  Well, J.X. Mason’s life partner has said this: “A life without Attachment is not really living.”  Principal among these is our attachment to family members and close friends.  Siddartha Gautama may have fathered children, but after he became the Buddha, he made little or no mention of them.  This lack of “family values” is a Shortcoming of original Buddhism.

Similarly, learning about the biology of trees increases the number attachments a person has to trees. The Practice of Continuing Creation holds that such attachments are good, not bad.

Continuing Creation’s View of “Craving”

The third Root-Poison, Craving, is a legitimate and major cause of suffering. It is a clear feature of the many forms of human addiction – to alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, spending, exercising power, and many others.  Meditation on the steps of the Eightfold Path can be very helpful with this type of suffering.  But the Eightfold Path can achieve this by educating and changing the addict, not by providing a way to escape the real world. 

Noble Truth #3. The Truth of Cessation (ending) of Dukkha can be attained by the renouncement or letting go of this attachment. [7][8][9][10]   Well, it depends on the nature of the suffering and on the person who is suffering.  A person who clings to an unpleasant job might meditate and mentally renounce his or her attachment to the job.  Or, the person may go out and find a different job.

Noble Truth #4. The Truth of the Path of Liberation from Dukkha — the Noble Eightfold Path Following the steps and/or precepts of the Noble Eightfold Path are intended to lead a Buddhist to renouncement and cessation of dukkha.  The steps of the Noble Eightfold Path call for behaving decently, cultivating discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation.  These disciplined daily activities will put an end to craving, to clinging, to becoming, to dissatisfaction, and to the cycle of death and rebirth.

Buddhism Is Organized into Lists, Making It Easy to Understand

Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism is not based on mythical stories, nor illustrated by stories as is Judeo-Christianity, but on reasoned, practical categories, building blocks, and steps.

“The Buddha may have “believed implicitly in the existence of the [Hindu] Gods since they were part of his cultural baggage, but he did not believe them to be much use to mankind…they had not helped him to achieve enlightenment…”  25

There are many lists in Buddhism.  Lists of practices, character traits, community traits, features of reality, features of Nirvana, lists of things to do, and more. We lay out several of these lists below.  Buddhism’s lists of moral and ethical behavior are particularly comprehensive and well-reasoned.  Compared to Hinduism, a major Strength of Buddhism is that it systemizes its concepts, principles, and precepts by shortening them and listing them out in numbered lists.

The Noble Eightfold Path – The Steps to Reach Nirvana

The most important of all Buddhism’s Lists may be the Noble Eightfold Path – the “building blocks” of Nirvana.  We take it up next.  

The Noble Eightfold Path is a list of things to be and things to do to reach Enlightenment. The path is “Noble” because it is the path of Bodhisattvas — enlightened people who are on the very difficult journey toward Buddhahood. The word “Bodhisattva” refers to a sentient being (sattva) that develops enlightenment (bodhi).

These Eight “building blocks” are not in a sequence; not “stepping-stones” along a way. They are equally important because they reinforce each other in the creation of a unified “staircase or bridge.” However, an apprentice student often learns his or her practice by meditating on and mastering the Eight “Steps” in their numbered order. 

One of the functions of the Eightfold Path is to teach novice Buddhists the truth of the Three Marks of Existence, the Four Noble Truths, and the other lists that so helpfully introduce the Buddhist Path to newcomers. 

In his Britannica article, “Eightfold Path,” Professor Donald S. Lopez, defines the eight steps of the Eightfold Path as written out below.

  1. Right View (Correct Understanding and Attitude) – having an accurate understanding of the true nature of things, specifically The Four Noble Truths.
  2. Right Intention (Correct Attitude and Resolve) — avoiding thoughts of attachment, hatred, and harmful intent.
  3. Right Speech (Correctly refraining from verbal misdeeds) — such as lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, and senseless speech.
  4. Right Action (Correct Conduct) — refraining from physical misdeeds such as killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct.
  5. Right Livelihood (Correctly avoiding trades that directly or indirectly harm others — such as selling slaves, weapons, animals for slaughter, intoxicants, or poisons.
  6. Right Effort, (Correctly abandoning negative states of mind and sustaining positive states of mind.
  7. Right Mindfulness (Correct awareness of body, feelings, thoughts, and phenomena.)
  8. Right concentration (Correct single-mindedness, doing one thing at a time.)

The Buddhist Treatment of Animals and Voluntary Vegetarianism

 We pause here to point out that the first of the five Precepts bans the taking of life. Narrowly interpreted, it prohibits the killing of human beings; however, the broader interpretation is that it applies to all sentient beings, which includes not just mammals, but all animals including insects and invertebrates. 26

From the beginnings of Buddhism, The Buddha taught that all sentient beings, possess “Buddha- nature” and therefore can attain enlightenment.  From infinite rebirths, all animals have been, in times past, our past relatives, sisters, mothers, brothers, fathers and children. Therefore, it is against the first precept to harm, kill or eat sentient beings because it is the same as harming, killing or eating the flesh of our own family members.  Monks in particular were forbidden from intentionally killing an animal or drinking water with living creatures in it. 27 Buddhism’s treatment of animals and voluntary vegetarianism are important Strengths.

Note: In Jainism, vegetarianism is mandatory for everyone.  In Hinduism and in the later, popularized “Mahayana” Buddhism, it is advocated by some influential scriptures and religious authorities.

The 10 Ethical Precepts (a.k.a. “The 10 Boddhisattva Precepts”)

Right Living is essential for one to attain Nirvana. Buddhism lays out a list of ten moral precepts, ten “do’s” and “don’ts” that govern a Buddhist’s behavior in the day-to-day world.  Together, these 10 behaviors more fully delineate what is meant by “Right Action, which is #4 in The Eightfold Path. (This list is also called the 10 Grave Precepts or the 10 Major Precepts.)

The Ten Ethical Precepts

  1. Respect life. Do not kill or encourage others to kill.
  2. Be giving. Do not steal or encourage others to steal.
  3. Honor the body. Do not engage in licentious acts or encourage others to do so. (Buddhist monks are expected to abstain from sexual conduct entirely.)
  4. Manifest truth. Do not lie or encourage others to do so.
  5. Proceed clearly. Do not sell alcoholic beverages or encourage others to do so.
  6. Do not broadcast the misdeeds or faults of the Buddhist assembly, nor encourage others to do so.
  7. Realize self and others as one. Do not praise oneself and speak ill of others; or encourage others to do so.
  8. Give generously. Do not be stingy or encourage others to be stingy.
  9. Actualize harmony. Do not harbor anger or encourage others to be angry.
  10. Do not to speak ill of the Buddha, the Dharma or the Sangha or encourage others to speak in that way.

The first five Precepts, when simplified to their “Do Not” versions, are for the everyday workers who consider themselves Buddhists. The full list of 10 Precepts, stated in their long form, are for people who are committed to the Boddhisattva Path, such as Buddhist monks and nuns. In some schools of Buddhism, there are also as many as 48 “Minor Precepts.”

The Practice of Continuing Creation finds that the above Ten Ethical Precepts of Buddhism to be clearly preferable to the Bible’s Ten Commandments.  The Precepts are both broader and more exact than the Commandments.  This is a significant Strength of Buddhism.

The Ten Perfections (analogous to “Virtues”)

Buddhism’s Ten Perfections are as follows 28

  1. Generosity, giving of oneself
  2. Morality, proper conduct
  3. Renunciation
  4. Wisdom, discernment
  5. Energy, diligence, vigor, effort
  6. Patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
  7. Truthfulness, honesty
  8. Determination, resolution
  9. Goodwill, friendliness, loving-kindness
  10. Equanimity, serenity

The Four Divine Abodes [Four Additional Virtues]

It turned out that the list of Ten Perfections (virtues) was not really sufficient.  Buddhist writers thought of four more and decided to name these “The Four Virtues“ or “The Four Divine Abodes.”  Traditionally, when a bodhisattva fulfills all four, he or she is said to be a Buddha, i.e., “Enlightened One.”

The Four [additional] Virtues are:

  1. Loving-kindness (metta)
    2. Compassion (karuṇā)
    3. Empathetic joy (mudita) and
    4. Equanimity (upekkha)

Buddhism’s 14 “Virtues,” i.e, its 10 Perfections plus 4 Divine Abodes, correspond with the Book of Continuing Creation’s list of Virtues.  The completeness of the Buddhist Virtues is a Strength of Buddhism.

Practical Works of Compassion in Buddhism

The Noble Eightfold Path clearly calls for the exercise of compassion toward others. Buddhists say that they value compassion above all virtues as it encompasses or is the source of

many other virtues. A compassionate person will not harm others, will be generous to others, honest, and it will lead to a sense of serenity.

But “compassion” is largely an emotion.  Unless compassion is complemented by action, by practical “good works,” it falls short of being helpful in the real world.

 What About Romantic and Familial Love?

Little mention is made of either romantic or familial love in Buddhism. Generalized kindness and Compassion are as close as Buddhism gets. This is a Shortcoming of Buddhism, because compassion is not as fulsome as romantic or familial love.  Love reaches out.  Love is proactive.  Love creates. Compassion waits until something bad happens, then reacts and helps in a limited way.

 The Three Refuges (a.k.a., The 3 Jewels or the 3 Treasures)

The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels, also known as The Three Refuges:

  1. The Buddha: Take refuge in the Buddha (the person)
  2. The Dharma: Take refuge in the Dharma (the teaching), or “the way of what is,” or “the law of Nature”)
  3. The Sangha: Take refuge in the Sangha (the Buddhist community)

In each of the refuges, the Buddhist can find help, encouragement, inspiration, and comfort. “Taking refuge” in the Three Jewels has traditionally been a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path, and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist. [14]

To become a lay Buddhist, a person simply recites that he or she takes refuge in The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sanga.  This simplicity of membership is a Strength of Buddhism because it implies that a person does not have to follow Buddhism exclusively.  A Unitarian Universalist could also be recognized as a Buddhist (and many of them are), and so could a Taoist.  

[ INSERT IMAGE ]   

The Dharma Wheel – The Symbol of Buddhism

The Eightfold Path is so important, it inspired the universal symbol of Buddhism itself, the Dharma Wheel (dharmachakra).  The Dharma Wheel has eight spokes – one for each of the

Dharma Wheel

steps in the Eightfold Path. Over the centuries, various teachers and traditions have proposed diverse meanings for these parts. For example, the hub represents moral discipline. The three swirls often seen on the hub are sometimes said to represent the Three Refuges: The Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha.


Early Buddhism – Little Effort on Social Reform

The original Buddhist Theravada tradition was to live a life of monastic retreat from society; retreat from the caste system, from war, from politics, and from economic competition.  This is what Buddhist monks did and still do.  It is also what Christian monks and nuns did and still do. Why? Because in those times and places social reform seemed impossible. As a result, there was little effort to reform society.  

Remember that Mahatma Gandhi, the champion of assertive and successful non-violent political action, was a Hindu, not a Buddhist.  However, under the leadership of people like Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhism has become much more socially active in modern years.

It is also true that many people are just “not cut out” for dangerous political action, especially in times of war or violent totalitarian repression. Nevertheless, such folks can still have a strong impact through the sheer example of their lives of retreat and peace. Thus, in the West, we have the Amish, the Quakers, and Christian and Buddhist monks and nuns.  

Buddhism and Family Life

We’ve said that Early Buddhism makes little mention made of familial love.  It also makes little mention of family life, which is likely the strongest of all human “refuges.”    

 As we have discussed, Buddhism calls for kindness and generosity—what they call “compassion.” But love, real in-the-life love, also requires intimacy and involvement.  It calls for the close sharing of lives among each other.

Familial life has been made strong by mammalian and human evolution, which resulted in our innate need to raise children through their long early years of need and vulnerability.  Theravada Buddhism’s monastic tradition failed to emphasize the “refuge” of family life and family love. This is a major Shortcoming of early Buddhism.

Similarly, Jesus also preached abandonment of one’s family (get the verse) for a higher calling. Jesus, of course, expected the Last Judgement to come very soon; so if he needed to separate people from their families in order to save their souls, that separation would be well worth it.  29

Of course, millions of modern Buddhists (and Christians) lead lives having strong family bonds.  But this does not come from Buddhism as it was originally preached.  It comes from biology and familial tradition.   

(Note: In all our evaluations of the world’s religions and spiritual paths, we try to look at the words of the original preacher and the early texts, not at how today’s adherents have departed from those original doctrines.)

The Practice of Buddhism

Since its early days, the Path of Buddhism was known as “The Middle Way.” The Middle Way of the Noble Eightfold Path avoids the ascetic Hindu practices of severe discomfort, self-denial, and bodily punishment. Buddhists adopt a calm lifestyle midway between outrageous pleasures and ascetic practices such as self-flogging and severe fasting.  For example, the middle way of eating avoids both fasting and gluttony. 

Traditionally, the ultimate goal of any Buddhist has been to attain Buddhahood and often, as a Bodhisattva, to help others do the same.  However, through the centuries of Buddhism, most middle and lower caste “lay-Buddhists” have been content with improving their future-lives by accumulating sufficient good karma to “move up” to the next-higher caste after their death. 30

The Ten Meritorious Deeds [or Practices]

To do any good in the real world, virtues be translated into repeated actions. These are called “deeds” or “practices” in Buddhism.  

A person’s development along the Buddhist path is generally accomplished by practicing some or all of the Ten Meritorious Deeds; however, the first three items in this list, called “The Threefold Practice,” of generosity, virtue, and meditation are often given special emphasis.  (Note: this list varies somewhat, depending on the commentator.)  31

The Ten Meritorious Deeds

  1. Generosity, i.e. giving or charity 
  2. Virtue, i.e., internalized morality 
  3. Meditation 
  4. Paying due respect to those who are worthy of it.
  5. Helping others in need, helping them perform good deeds.
  6. Sharing of merit after doing some good deed. 
  7. Rejoicing in the merits of others. 
  8. Teaching the Dharma. 
  9. Listening to the Dharma (dharmassavana)
  10. Correcting one’s view.

Other Buddhist practices include the study of scriptures; cultivation of higher wisdom and discernment; renouncing conventional living and becoming a monastic; devotional practices; ceremonies; and the invocation of buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Note that none of this is dogma; none of it is “divine revelation.”  This absence of magical methods (prayer, offerings, rituals, visions, performance of miracles) is a Strength of Buddhism.  

Meditation

The Buddha Meditates

In Buddhism, one needs to practice meditation in order to end of suffering.  Meditation is not a simple exercise of sitting down and trying to think about nothing. Buddhist meditation extends to become “mindful-living” as it should be in our every action. When we walk, eat, talk, and work, we should be aware at all times of what we are doing and all the emotions passing through us. Doing so will help develop insight, effort and serenity which are some of the 10 Perfections.

Note: While your author, J.X. Mason, voices many criticisms of Buddhism in this Essay, he does in fact practice meditation and he attends a Sangha conducted by an Insight Meditation Community, which has its historical roots in Buddhism. Although Mason belongs to an Insight Sangha, his meditation follows the secular techniques of Lawrence LeShan’s 2016 book, How to Meditate.

The Stages of Meditation

Here is what the William James says about the seven stages of Buddhist Meditation in his classic, The Varieties of Religions Experience (pages 401-2)

  1. Concentration upon one point,
  2. Intellectual functions drop off, leaving a satisfied sense of unity.
  3. Satisfaction departs, and indifference begins.
  4. “There exists absolutely nothing.”
  5. There are neither ideas nor absence of ideas.
  6. The absolute end of both idea and perception.
  7. Nirvana – which remains undescribed.

If William James is correct, Meditation for monastic Buddhists was a lengthy process of eliminating (we might say suppressing) all thought, all satisfaction, all indifference, and all perception. What remains? The Buddha thought it was something desirable and called it Nirvana. But to Followers of Continuing Creation, it sounds like brain-death from severe dementia or severe head injury!  We regard the severity of these seven steps as a Shortcoming of traditional Buddhism. We Followers of Continuing Creation do not want to go all the way to Stage 7 of Buddhist meditation.  We are happy to stop after Stage 1 or Stage 2.

Buddhism sees our “attachment” to the interconnections of life as bad. This is a clear Shortcoming of Buddhism. It recognizes no Arrow of Progress. Like all the major religions, Buddhism was invented before there was much understanding of evolution — biological, technological, or cultural.  Invention was rare; medical knowledge was limited.

Excessive Meditation 

   Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching

The Buddha is almost always portrayed meditating in a sitting reclining position. These positions reflect the passivity of Buddhism.  In contrast, the founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, is often portrayed as writing, hiking, or riding a water buffalo into the forest.  Lao Tzu travels, explores, and sees nature after spending years teaching leaders how to govern.  Buddhism’s excessive meditation really does “empty the mind.” Without things, concepts, processes, patterns, words, people, and actions in the mind, the mind does become empty.  But Continuing Creation holds that this as a Shortcoming.  

[insert image of Lao Tzu]

We Participants Continuing Creation say that Buddhism is too contemplative, not progressive, not practical.  Some writers say that Buddhism spends a lot of time trying to “pull out the arrow of suffering.” (Prothero 173.)  But We Co-Creators would say that Buddhists are “trying to ignore the arrow of suffering.”  This is a Shortcoming of Buddhism.

On the other hand, Buddhism is practical in the sense that it “wastes” no time trying to answer unanswerable metaphysical questions – like “How did the world begin?” or “Are body and soul the same?”  For Buddhism, experience is more important than belief.  Stephen Prothero writes that Buddhism is “indifferent to the scriptures, ceremonies, and status of high-caste Brahmins.” This type of practicality is a Strength of Buddhism. 32

Yoga — Meditation Involving the Body

Yoga, invented in India by the Hindus, involves the body in meditation.  Yoga’s postures and movements calm the mind and also strengthen the body and make it more flexible.  It is a Strength of Buddhism to have carried physical yoga over into its own Practice. 33

Government Support for Buddhism — in Japan

In our Essay, Evaluating Jesus’ Teaching, we saw how Christianity gained enormous power and influence when it was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine, who ruled from 306 to 337 A.D. 

Similarly in Japan, the adoption of Buddhism was also slow until Japanese Empress Suiko (554-628) encouraged all Japanese to accept the new faith, which had been introduced from China via Korea in 538.  Buddhism grew in Japan, building many temples and gaining political influence.  By the end of the 700’s the Imperial government felt so threatened by Buddhist influence that they moved the capitol from Nara Province to the city now called Kyoto in 794.  34

The Popularization of Later Buddhism

Later Buddhism in India

In India, Buddhism followed the example of Hinduism’s popularization, and ended up with its own “elaborate pantheon of Buddhas and other supernatural beings…”  35

But by the 13th century, Buddhism all but died out in India.  This was partly due to arrival of Islam in India, and partly due to Hinduism’s own popularization, called “The Bhakti Movement” – a devotional trend emerging in India around 700 AD and peaking around 1600.  Today, the Bhakti movement involves pilgrimages, ceremonies, offerings, and prayers to one of the popular Indian deities – particularly the popular Vishnu, Shiva, or the Shakti goddesses.

Popularization of Buddhism in the Rest of Asia

In the rest of Asia, outside of India, Buddhism survived and prospered by becoming popularized and less rigorous.  Easier ways of attaining Nirvana were promised and popularized.   

Religions that start out as philosophies, with ordinary individuals as the seminal teachers, often become popularized and sensationalized over the decades and centuries. The original teachers often become supernatural or take on supernatural powers.

For example, Christianity was a popularization of Judaism.  In his letters to various regional Christian Churches, Saint Paul wrote that congregants need no longer adhere to the hundreds of Jewish laws governing what to eat, when women must bathe, how men must wear their sideburns, and many other behaviors.  After Jesus, all that a newly-minted Christians need do to enter the Kingdom of God is earnestly declare Jesus Christ to be his or her personal Savior, (and get baptized).  This new, shorter and easier method of getting to Christian Heaven was called the “The Way of Grace,” or the “Way of Faith” as opposed to the earlier “way of observance and good works.” 

This popularization and simplification takes place because common people do not have time, money, or literacy to completely dedicate themselves to a rigorous philosophical discipline. They must earn a living and take care of their families. 

In Asia, outside India, the popularized version of Buddhism was called Mahayana “Great Vehicle” Buddhism.  (“Great Vehicle” because it can carry many, many people to Nirvana.)  Mahayana remains the most popular form of Buddhism today. Its many followers don’t worry so much about nirvana.  Instead, combine family life, economic occupations, and sufficient virtue to hopefully achieve a better reincarnation. 

Mahayana teaches that if you are devoted to the “god of your choosing,” 36 or to a popular Teacher (bodhisattva; “Awakened One”) of your choosing, your Buddha-god or awakened teacher will supply you with the spiritual power you need.  Today, most Mahayana Buddhists say they do not meditate.  Instead, they express Bhakti-style devotions (food offerings, temple viewings) to one of the popularized quasi-gods or quasi-goddesses. 37 

Mahayana Buddhism is also far more about compassion and sharing than is the earlier “Way of the Elders” (Theravada) school of Buddhism.

Amida or “Pure Land” Buddhism: The “Buddha of Infinite Light”

Today, the post popular of the “new Buddhas” is “The Buddha of Infinite Light” (Amida in Japanese).  The Amida, or Amitabha, is considered to have been (like the Buddha) an historical person.  Followers draw on his immeasurable store of good karma to bestow an eternal home of bliss, called the “Pure Land”, on his true followers.  38

This Pure Land sect was popularized in Japan by the Buddhist monk Honen around the year 1180. To attain the paradise of the Pure Land, all a follower needs to do is chant the name of the Amida Buddha.  Nothing else is required; no meditation, no austerities; no study.  This approach is like fundamentalist protestant Christianity today — a faith of grace and devotion, where all one needs for salvation is an earnest and sincere public dedication. 39

A few decades after Honen, the Japanese monk Shinran made a further simplification.  He taught that extensive chanting was not really necessary.  One sincere invocation would do. This produced the True Pure Land school of Buddhism, which today is the most popular faith in Japan. 

A third Japanese reformer, Nichren, said that the best thing to do is chant the Lotus Sutra: “Hail the Marvelous Teaching of the Great Lotus.”  Out of Nichren’s teaching grew a number of even newer “positive-thinking” offshoots, including Soka Gakkai International – popular today in the U.S., Japan, and Brazil. 40

Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism (also referred to as Himalayan Buddhism) is the form of Mahayana Buddhism practiced in Tibet and Bhutan, where it is the dominant religion.  Tibetan Buddhism also includes tantric practices, such as mantras, deity yoga (visualization of the deity), and sand painting of mandalas. Its main goal is traditional Buddhahood. Tibetan Buddhism has been led by a succession of Dalai Lamas, with the 14th, Tenzin Gyatso, now holding that position.  

Buddhism can go off the deep end in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism.  At a recent (2021) art exhibit at The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, patrons could view elaborate statues of sex acts between bull-headed gods and human-looking goddesses.  

Was the historical existence of Tibetan tantric sex a strength or a Shortcoming of Buddhism?  We’ll let readers consider that question on their own.  But we’d like to learn what you think!  Please send your thoughts about it to us via the “Contact Us” page of our Continuing Creation.org website.   

In China – the Beginning of Zen Buddhism

In China, Buddhism absorbed aspects of Taoism, resulting in the stripped-down Buddhism called Zen 41 which remains free of gods, idols, and other trappings.  It is a Strength of both Original Buddhism and Zen that they have no miracles, no gods, no magic. From China, Zen was exported to Japan.

Zen in Japan

For followers of the Book of Continuing Creation, the most significant “new” school of Buddhism in Japan is Zen.  It is important for our Practice because instead of seeking an escape from life into nirvana, as original Buddhists do, Zen practitioners seek satori – “moments of awakening” that bring qualities of spontaneity and openness to everyday life.  This Zen view makes meditation an important tool for leading a creative and productive life within the Way of Continuing Creation.  42

We agree with Alan Watts, who made a compelling case that Zen owes more to Chinese Taoism than it does to Buddhism. Therefore, we have written about Zen in a separate chapter called, Evaluating Taoism and Zen.       

Engaged Buddhism

In the last 20-40 years, until his death in January, 2022, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh spearheaded a new movement called “Engaged Buddhism.” It does not have a pantheon of Gods.  It aims to apply the Buddhist principle of compassion to help solve social problems through collective action 43.  While J.X. Mason is not a fan of Hanh’s many and highly popular books, Engaged Buddhism is an important example of how the ancient religions can be revised and updated to be more relevant in the modern world. 

Modern Buddhism has also learned to acknowledge and accept the benefits of science.  According to David McMahon, professor of religious studies at Franklin & Marshall College, modern Buddhism has no problem with Evolution, nor with scientific concepts of natural causation, and places little emphasis on miracles.  “Mindfulness” is now championed by both Buddhism and science.  The Dalai Lama even likes quantum theory, and endorses the scientific study of attention, the mind mapping, and neuroplasticity.  44

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APPENDIX A: 

Why New Religions Arise

— J.X. Mason’s Blog Post of 6-21-2022.

Historically, populations can become distressed by poverty, disease, oppression, natural disasters, war, and violence. They can also become distressed by their fear of one or more of those things. Under such conditions, the population may take collective action. This particularly happens when the people are unified in one or more ways — by ethnicity, by geographic boundaries, or by common culture and language. The collective action they take can be any one of the following:

Real-World Solutions
— Achieve a better life here and now through revolution or conquest
— Achieve a better life through group migration to unoccupied land
— Achieve a better future through work, creativity and technology
— Achieve rescue by a richer, more enlightened country or international agency   
— Reform the present culture: more justice, more peace, better agriculture & medicine.

B. Spiritual / Mental Solutions – i.e., Invent New Religions or Spiritual Paths
— Promise of rescue by a hero or messiah; and/or
— Promise of a second, superior life-after-death in a supernatural heaven, and/or
— A means of mentalescape from suffering and fear (e.g., “withdraw to a higher plane.”)

Note:
The Things in Group “A” may combine with things in Group “B” things to create “Secular Religions” – such as propaganda-rich communism or fascism.

Examples of Why Religions Arose (these are short, simplified answers)
Judaism arose to unify the twelve Hebrew tribes, whose combined strength could conquer Canaan, “the land of milk and honey.”
Buddhism arose in reaction to the overwhelming length, imprecision, and ineffectiveness of Hindu texts; in reaction to India’s caste system; and in reaction to its poverty and illness.
Protestantism arose in reaction to the monopolistic economic power of Catholic monasteries, to Rome’s refusal to allow translation of the Bible into native languages, to Rome’s corrupt sale of “indulgences,” and so on.
Islam arose in response to the Arab desire for a faith written in Arabic, reflecting Arab culture, and eliminating the illogical Trinity.
The Practice of Continuing Creation arises to integrate spirituality and modern science.

  1. Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World, 2010, Harper One, p. 186.
  2. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, 1902, Longmans, Green, and Co., Penguin Books edition 1982, p. 31.
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creator_in_Buddhism. See also Ven S. Dhammika, “Good Questions and Good Answers,” buddhanet.net.  See also, Peter Harvey, 2019, Buddhism and Monotheism, 2019, Cambridge University Press, p. 1. See also, Matthew T. Kapstein, The Buddhist Refusal of Theism, Diogenes, 2005; pp. 52, 61.
  4. Buddha, The Dhammapada, 188. See also https://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/qanda03.htm
  5. Clare Carlisle, “Is Religion Based on Fear?,” The Guardian, December 2, 2018.
  6. From the Wikipedia article, Gautama Buddha, retrieved April, 2022.
  7. Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World, 2010, Harper One, pp. 186-190.
  8. Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One, 2010, Harper One, pp. 170-1.
  9. Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One, 2010, Harper One, p. 179 and 191.
  10. Norman Fischer, “Impermanence is Buddha Nature,” 6-15-2021, Lion’s Roar: Buddhist Wisdom for Our Time, Retrieved 7-18-2022.
  11. Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization: Rousseau and Revolution, 1967, MJF Books. pp. 571-574. ISBN 978-1-56731-021-4.  See also, Nigel Warburton (2011). “Chapter 19: Rose-tinted Reality: Immanuel Kant”. A Little History of Philosophy, 1971, Yale University Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-300-15208-1.
  12. Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, The Evolution of Physics: From Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta, 1938, p. 31, Simon and Schuster.
  13. “One of the fundamental teachings is that all the constituent forms (sankharas) that make up the universe are transient (Pali: anicca), arising and passing away, and therefore without concrete identity or ownership (atta). 13 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality_in_Buddhism, retrieved 7-18-22.
  14. Malcolm Huxter, Healing the Heart and Mind with Mindfulness: Ancient Path, Present Moment, 2016, Routledge. p. 10. See also, Peter Harvey, A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy, 2015, Steven M. Emmanuel (ed.). John Wiley & Sons. pp. 26–31. ISBN 978-1-119-14466-3.
  15. See William James, Ibid. p. 401.
  16. Stephen Prothero, Ibid., p. 180.
  17. Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, 1957, Vintage Books, pp. 191-7.
  18. See Lao Tzu, The Way of Zen, translated by Stephen Mitchell, 1988, Harper Perennial, Chapters (all only one or two pages long) 2, 3, 7, 17, 19, 27, 30, 31, 49,57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 66, 69, 72, 75, and 80.
  19. William James, Ibid., p. 34.
  20. Quran 44:51-54; also 55:54-56, also 78:31-33, also Sunan Ibn Majah Volume 5, Book 37, Hadith 4337.
  21. Gwinyai H. Muzorewa, The Great Being, 2000, Wipf. pp. 52–54. ISBN 978-1-57910-453-5. See also, “Nirvana” in Dictionary.com. See also, Robert Wright, “Chapter 14: Nirvana in a Nutshell,” Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment, 2017, Simon & Schuster.
  22. Carol Anderson, Pain and Its Ending: The Four Noble Truths in the Theravada Buddhist Canon, 2013, Routledge, pp. 1, 22 ISBN 978-1-136-81332-0, Quote: “… “the three characteristics of samsara/sankhara (the realm of rebirth): anicca (impermance), dukkha (pain) and anatta (no-self).”
  23. Malcolm Huxter, Healing the Heart and Mind with Mindfulness: Ancient Path, Present Moment, 2016, Routledge. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-317-50540-2.  See also, Peter Harvey, “Translating Dukkha as Unhappiness,” June 2017, A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy, Steven M. Emmanuel (ed.), John Wiley & Sons, 2017, pp. 26–31. ISBN 978-1-119-14466-3.
  24. Karen Armstrong, A History of God, 1993, Ballantine Books, p. 32.
  25. David Grubin, “The Buddha;” a film shown on PBS. See Also, Buddha-nature, an article on Wikipedia.
  26. Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, 2008, Routledge, p. 109.
  27. In the Pāli Canon, the Buddhavaṃsa of the Khuddaka Nikāya lists the ten perfections (dasa pāramiyo).  Dhammapala, Acariya. (1996). A treatise on the Paramis : from the commentary to the Cariyapitaka (PDF). Translated by Bodhi, Bhikkhu. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. pp. 2–5. ISBN 955-24-0146-1. OCLC 40888949. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-06-22. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  28. Matthew 12:48-50.  See also Mark 3:34. See also Karen Armstrong, A History of God, Ibid., pp. 31-32.
  29.  https://www.japanese-buddhism.com/principles-of-buddhism.html.
  30. See, for example, Wikipedia on Ten Meritorious Deeds, versus Stephen Prothero, Ibid., p. 183.
  31. Stephen Prothero, Ibid., p. 175.
  32.  https://www.yogabasics.com/connect/yoga-blog/yoga-and-buddhism-how-are-they-different/.
  33. Chris Rowthorne, Kyoto: A Guidebook, Lonely Planet, 2014, p. 147.
  34. Stephen Prothero, Ibid. p. 186.
  35. Steven Prothero, Ibid., p. 188.
  36. Stephen Prothero, Ibid., p. 177.
  37. Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, 2nd Edition, 2008, Routledge, p. 215.
  38. James C. Dobbins, Jōdo Shinshū: Shin Buddhism in Medieval Japan, 1989, Indiana University Press. pp. 13–18. ISBN 0-253-33186-2.
  39. Stephen Prothero, Ibid., p. 191.
  40. Alan Watts, The Way of Zen.  See also, Stephen Prothero, Ibid., p 186.
  41. Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, Ibid., pp.21-25.
  42. Stephen Prothero, Ibid. p. 180.
  43. Linda Heuman, “Shifting the Ground We Stand On: Buddhist and Western Thinkers Challenge Modernity,” A Tricycle E-Books.  See also The Dalai Lama on Quantum Physics and Spirituality – Exploring your mind.