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Beyond Belief: a Buddhist Critique of Christianity

Chapter 4:
God or Buddha - Who is the Highest?
Part 2

Attitude to Disease

Disease, sickness and plagues have been the scourge of mankind for centuries causing untold suffering and misery. The Bible shows us that God has always' considered disease a useful way of expressing his anger and exercising hi vengeance. When Pharaoh refused to release the Jews, God caused festering boil to break out on "all Egyptians" (Ex 9:8-12). God used this affliction to punish men, women, children and babies for the sin of one man. Later God made the first-bon of every male child die. He says:

Every first-born son in Egypt will die, from the first-born son of Pharaoh who sits on the throne, to the first-born son of the slave girl who sits at her handmill. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt - worse than there has ever been or ever will be (Ex 11:5-6).

This is another good example of God's idea of justice and compassion. Countless thousands of men, boys and innocent babies were killed by God because Pharaoh would not obey. In many places in the Bible God promises that he will inflict terrible diseases on those who do not follow his commandments.

The lord will plague with diseases until he has destroyed you... the Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation...(Deut 28:21-22).

The Lord will inflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumours, festering sores, and with itch, from which you cannot be cured (Deut 28:27).

The Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters and severe and lingering illnesses. He will bring upon you all the disasters of Egypt that you dreaded and they will cling to you. The Lord will also bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster (Deut 28:59-61).

Sometimes God even inflicts hideous diseases on people just to test their faith. To test Job God allowed all his children to be killed (Job 1:18-19) and Job himself to be struck with a terrible disease (Job 2:6-8). So unbearable was Job's grief and suffering that he began to wish he had never been born (Job 3:3-26).

God even created some people blind and allowed them to spend their lives begging and groping in darkness just so that Jesus could miraculously heal them and thereby demonstrate God's power (Jn 9:1-4). Obviously, God sees illness, sickness and disease as useful means of punishing people and of demonstrating the extent of his power.

Now let us have a look at the Buddha's attitude to sickness. The Buddha saw sickness and disease as a part of the general suffering from which he came to free mankind. He was called "the compassionate physician". There are no examples of the Buddha ever having caused people to become diseased in order to punish them or because he was angry at them. The Buddha rightly understood that for as long as we have a body we will be susceptible to disease. He urged all to attain Nirvana and be forever free from suffering. While he tried to cut the problem at the root, he also did practical things to comfort the sick and restore them to health. Rather than inflict diseases on people, as God did, he gave practical advice on how to help and comfort the sick.

With five qualities one is worthy to nurse the sick. What five? One can prepare the correct medicine; one knows what is good for the patient and offers it, and what is not good one' does not offer; one nurses the sick out of love not out of desire for gain; one is unmoved by excrement, urine, vomit and spittle; and from time to time one can instruct, inspire, gladden and satisfy the sick with talk on Dhamma (Anguttara Nikaya, Book of Fives, Sutta No.124).

He not only taught this but acted in conformity to his own teaching. When once he found a sick monk, neglected and lying in his own excrement, he bathed him, comforted him and then calling the other monks together said to them, "If you would nurse me, nurse those who are sick" ([Vinaya, Mahavagga, 8). When God was angry he would inflict diseases on people and then watch them suffer. When the Buddha saw people with diseases, out of compassion he did all he could to restore them to health.

Creating Evil

God created all that is good, but because he created everything, he also created all that is evil. God himself says:

I am the Lord and there is no other. I form the light and I create the darkness, I make the good and I make evil (Is 45:7-8). (See also Rom 11:32).

When we think of nature and we remember that God is supposed to have created everything we understand the meaning of these words. Leprosy germs cause untold misery and they were created by God. Tuberculosis germs kill and deform millions of humans each year and they were created by God. God created the plage bacteria, the fleas and the rats that together cause bubonic plague and which hay throughout the centuries killed perhaps as many as a hundred million people. h 1665, 68,000 people died of the plague in London alone. No doubt all this is what God means when he says he created darkness and evil. But God also created other forms of evil. He says:

When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? (Amos 3:4).

This undoubtedly refers to the earthquakes, fires, social strife, wars and other forms of evil which periodically afflict mankind's towns and cities. We also read in the Bible that even evil spirits come from God. In 1 Samuel 16:14-16 we are told that an evil spirit from God tormented Saul.

Did the Buddha create evil? As he was not a creator God, he could not be held responsible for 'darkness and evil'. The only thing he 'created' was the Dhamma which he discovered and then proclaimed to the world. And his Dhamma has brought only light, good and tenderness everywhere it has spread.

Sacrifices

In Old Testament times when people broke God's commandments he would get angry and the only way the sinner could make atonement and soothe God's anger was to sacrifice an animal. God himself gave exact instructions on how the animal was to be slaughtered.

If the offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, he is to offer a dove or a young pigeon. The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off its head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He is to remove the crop with its contents and throw it to the east side of the altar, where the ashes are. He shall tear it open by the wings, not severing it completely, and then the priest shall burn it on the wood that is on the fire on the side of the altar (Lev 1:14-17).

God tells us that when the meat, fat, skin and bone of the sacrificial victims are thrown in the fire and burned, he likes the smell of it (Lev 1:9, 1:17). But not all the sacrifices God demanded were animals; sometimes he demanded even human sacrifices. God once said to Abraham:

Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about (Gen 22:2).

Abraham took his son to the place God indicated, built an altar, laid his son on it and then took up the knife. Just as he was about to slit his own son's throat, Abraham was stopped by an angel (Gen 22:12). Presumably, Abraham was a good devotee because he blindly, unquestioningly and willingly did anything God told him to do, even to the extent of preparing to butcher his own son as a sacrifice to God.

In later centuries, mankind's sins became so bad that the sacrifice of mere animals could no longer appease God's anger. God required a greater, a more valuable sacrificial victim - his own son Jesus. Once again it was the blood of a victim which most atoned for sin and which is able to reconcile the sinners with God. Thus modern Christians often say that their "sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus".

What did the Buddha think of animal or human sacrifices? At the time of the Buddha, the Hindu deities were offered animal sacrifices just as the Christian God was, and so the Buddha was quite aware of this practice. However, he considered sacrifices to be vulgar, cruel and useless.

The sacrifice of horse or man, the Peg-Thrown Rite, the Sacrificial Drink, the Victory Rite, the Withdrawn Bolt, all these rites are not worth a sixteenth part of having a heart filled with love, any more than the radiance of the moon outshines the stars (Anguttara Nikaya, Book of Eights, Sutta No.1).

Christians believe that Jesus' sacrificial blood will wash away their sins just as Hindus at the time of the Buddha believed that their sins could be washed away by bathing in holy rivers. The Buddha criticised the Hindu idea just as he would have criticised the Christian idea if he had known about it. To believe that blood, water or any other external things can purify the heart, which is an internal thing, is foolish indeed.

In the Bahuka River, at Adhikakka, at Gaya, in the Sundrika, the Sarassati, the Payaga or the Bahumati the fool can wash constantly but cannot cleanse his evil deeds. What can the Sundrika, the Payaga or the Bahumati River do? They cannot cleanse the angry, guilty man intent on evil deeds. For the pure in heart every day is lucky, for the pure in heart every day is holy (Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta No.7).

This being the case, bathing in sacrificial blood or holy rivers is a poor substitute for purifying oneself by acting in a pure way. The only sacrifice that the' Buddha asked us to make was to give up our selfishness and replace it with love, wisdom and compassion.

Love

We are told that God is love and the Bible sometimes mentions love as one God's attributes. However, there are different types of love. A person can love I or her own children but hate the neighbour's children. Someone might have strong love for his own country but a burning hatred for another country. Though we may love someone deeply, we may, due to changed circumstances, grow indifferent or even hateful towards them. This is the lower, less developed, type of love which ordinary people feel - but there is a higher, more universal, type of love than this. This higher type of love is well described in the Buddhist texts and also in the Bible. In Corinthians we read:

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor 13:4-5).

Does God exhibit this higher type of love? Let us have a look. We are told that love is patient. Patience is defined as the ability to wait calmly for a long time, to control oneself when angered, especially at foolishness or slowness. We have already seen that God gets angry every day (Ps 7:11) and that he gets angry very quickly (Ps 2:11). Obviously God has very little patience.

We are told that love is kind. Is God kind? Read Deuteronomy (28:15-68) where God describes in his own words just how cruel he can be. This shocking passage proves beyond all doubt that God is capable of truly terrible cruelty. Obviously God is not always very kind.

We are told that love does not envy. Envy is, of course, very similar to jealousy and God often describes himself as fiercely jealous. He says:

For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God (Deut 4:24).

We are told that love does not boast and is not proud. Is God like this? Certainly the Bible does not give us the impression that God is modest and retiring. God spends a lot of time telling Job how great he is (Job 40:41) and ends by boasting of himself that:

He looks down on all that are haughty, he is king over all that are proud (Job 41:34).

Next we are told that love is not easily angered. We have already seen that God is very easily angered.

Serve the Lord with fear and trembling, kiss his feet or else he will get angry and you will perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled (Ps 2:11).

Finally we are told that love does not keep a record of wrongs that are done, that is, love soon forgives and forgets. Does God keep a record of wrongs that are done? God tells us that he will punish the children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of those who sin (Deut 5:9). In order to do this he must keep a record of the wrongs that have been committed andlong remember them. Jesus tells us that God will never forgive those who insult the Holy Ghost (Lk 12:10).

We are told that God casts sinners and non-believers into eternal hell. In other: words, he refuses to ever forgive them. In short, he keeps a record for eternity of the wrongs which have been done. Quite clearly, God does not exhibit the highest type of love.

What about the Buddha? Did he exhibit the highest type of love? The first characteristic of this highest kind of love is patience, and there is not one incident recorded in the Tipitaka of the Buddha being impatient. Even when he was abused he remained calm. His every action displays a calm, strong patience. When Asurinda cursed and abused the Buddha, he calmly replied:

He who abuses his abuser is the worse of the two. To refrain from retaliation is to win a battle hard to win. If one knows that the other person is angry but refrains from anger oneself, one does what is best for oneself and the other person also. One is a healer of both (Samyutta Nikaya, Chapter Seven, Sutta No.3).

As he was always patient, he was also free from anger. Even when his cousin Devadatta tried to murder him, the Buddha displayed only pity and tolerance.

We are also told that love is kind. Was the Buddha kind? Again there is not a single hint of the Buddha being anything other than kind and compassionate - not only to those who accepted his teachings but also to the followers of all faiths, not only to the good but also to the evil, not only to humans but also to animals. He says:

One should do no unkind thing that wise men might condemn and one should think, "May all beings he secure and happy. Whatever beings there are, moving or still, tall, middle-sized or short, great or small, seen or unseen, whether living far or near, existing or not yet come into existence, may they all be happy." One should not harm another or despise anyone for any reason. Do not wish pain on another out of either anger or jealousy. Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own life, even so, one should develop unbounded love towards all beings in the world (Sutta Nipata, Verses 145-149).

The Buddha did not only teach this but he also practised everything he taught. God tells us that he is jealous and by this he means that he is jealous of other gods and other religions. He wants everyone to worship and revere him alone. So jealous is he that he says his devotees should kill even their own children if they worship other gods (Deut 13:6) and that God hatesfollowers of other religions.

I hate those who cling to worthless idols (Ps 31:6).

I gain understanding from your precepts, therefore I hate every wrong path (Ps 119:104).

Was the Buddha jealous of other faiths? Indeed, he was not. A man called Upali was a follower of the Jain religion. The Buddha explained the Dhamma to him after which he decided to become a Buddhist. The Buddha did not exult nor was he anxious to 'win' Upali. Rather, he advised him to think carefully before making such an important decision:

Make a careful investigation first, Upali. Careful investigation is good for well-known people like yourself (Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta No.56).

The Buddha then advised Upali to keep offering donations to the Jain religion. He said this because he could see the good in all religions and because he was free from envy and jealousy.

Vacchogatta said to the Lord, "I have heard it said that you say that charity should only be given to you, not to other teachers, to your disciples, not to the disciples of other religions." Then the Lord said, "Those who say this are not reporting my words, they misrepresent me and tell lies. Truly, whoever discourages anyone from giving charity hinders in three ways. He hinders the giver from doing good, he hinders the receiver from being helped and he hinders himself through his meanness." (Anguttara Nikaya, Book of Threes, Sutta No.57).

Even today many Christians, especially fundamentalists and evangelicals, will refuse to have anything to do with non-Christians and would certainly refuse to help non-Christian charities.

The Buddha was not boastful or proud, he was not rude or self-seeking, he was not easily angered and he did not keep a record of wrongs that were done to him. From the day of his enlightenment, his every thought, word and action was an expression of love and compassion. As one of his contemporaries said:

I have heard this said, "To abide in love is sublime indeed", and the Lord is proof of this because we can see that he abides in love (Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta No.55).

The Bible passages we have just looked are deeply shocking and Christians will try to repudiate them by saying that" the Old Testament does not show God as he really is but nearly reflects man's understanding of God at that time". How amusing is it to discuss Theology with Christians! When it suits them they will quote the Old Testament as God's eternal word, when it does not suit them they will move away from this position and say that the Old Testament reflects man's attempts to understand God. The Christian claim that the Bible is divine infallible revelation means that the Old Testament is as true as the New and that the same God speaks in both.

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