Originally posted by Knights
Firstly, just a minor thank you for your detailed and enlightening input.
You have voted Astyanax for the Way Above Top Secret award. You have two more votes this month.
Many thanks, Knights.
One thing I did noticed through the attrocities is the fact that none (atleast to my knowledge) were recent massacres/ killings?
Unfortunately, this is not true. Check this link
for news of a very recent massacre
perpetrated by people who call themselves Buddhists.
The Khmer Rouge despoiled Cambodia in the 1970s. The troubles in Burma have been going on since 1948; they continue to this day.
You may also remember the atrocities committed by Japanese troops during WWII, particularly in China, and the well-known horrors of their
prisoner-of-war camps. Many of those Japanese soldiers and prison guards were Buddhists.
I'm sorry to say that I don't know of any religion whose adherents are all free from violence and hatred. Buddhism hasn't propagated itself with
fire and sword, as Christianity and Islam have done, but there's been plenty of violence associated with it -- even religious wars, usually between
Now for your question about nirvana. There is a substantial difference in Buddhist thought between nirvana and enlightenment.
Enlightenment is the understanding (not an intellectual understanding, but a kind of instantaneous gestalt perception, felt as much as known) of the
so-called Four Noble Truths
. The Buddha is supposed to have achieved enlightenment after
years of wandering, study and meditation. At that moment, he became free of attachment and achieved Buddhahood, becoming the Thathagatha, the 'one
who has crossed over.' His karmic burden fell away, leaving only a small residue that he would work out during the remainder of his natural life. At
the end of that life he was not reborn, as other beings are, but simply ceased to exist in any form whatsoever.
This cessation of existence is called nirvana, or as Theravada Buddhists pronounce it, nibbana
. Nirvana is, simply: ceasing to be reborn.
Nothing -- no self, no soul, no spirit, no atman
, nothing -- survives nirvana.
This may be a little difficult for someone raised purely in the traditions of Western thought to understand. The culture into which the the
Buddha-to-be, Siddhartha Gautama, was born believed in rebirth. It was thought that everyone lived for ever, not in a single unbroken span but it in a
near-infinite succession of mortal lives, punctuated by death and rebirth.
The Buddha's basic insight (if you can call it that) is that, since all life entails suffering and death, the only way to escape suffering and death
is to stop living. In effect, the only way to 'save' oneself is to get off the wheel. Lovers of life, such as myself, may consider this 'cure' to
be worse than the disease.
It is karma, the principle of action and reaction, that binds beings to life; all karma, good and bad, has to be discharged before existence can
cease. This is almost impossible since every human action, word, or thought has a karmic effect. The only way to stop accumulating karma is to stop
acting, speaking and thinking. When these manifestations cease, karma dissolves and the being ceases to exist.
But how does one stop acting, speaking and thinking? According to the Buddha, one does this by finding less and less to do, say and think. This in
turn is achieved by detaching
oneself from life and society, which one can only do by ceasing to want
things. In the end, one even has
to stop wanting nirvana.
When one finally does that, one attains it. And ceases to exist.
Buddhism is not a sociable religion. In its purest form it is a monkish discipline that renounces the world entirely. The monk lives as a parasite on
the society he has spurned, begging for his sustenance and repaying it only with instruction in the Four Noble Truths, the
, etc. If everyone, or even a large minority of human beings became
Buddhist monks, society would collapse. This would be perfectly in keeping with Buddhist ideas so long as everyone attained Enlightenment before dying
of starvation and disease.
But since the monks need society to sustain them, there is a more lenient kind of Buddhism that lay folk can practise. This will not lead to the
attainment of enlightenment, at least not for the next few dozen, or hundred, or thousand lives. It will, however, allow the practitioner to be reborn
into happier circumstances than he or she currently enjoys.
Most Buddhists practise the lay rule, hoping to be reborn into a better life (one can even be reborn as a god and live for ages in perfect felicity,
but even the gods must die and be reborn, usually into much unhappier circumstances since divinity tends to accumulate lots of karma). In this sense,
Buddhism is even more corrupting than the monotheistic religions which offer salvation and an eternal afterlife, because what it sets out on its stall
isn't even some mystical, spiritual state of eternal disembodied life, but straightforward, corporeal existence, only better than the one you're
If you'd like to learn more about Buddhism, from the Theravada perspective at least, you'll find everything you need -- in massive detail -- at
. It contains introductory material, philosophical exegesis and the Theravada scriptures
in their entirety -- as well as lots of insightful commentary from the author of the site, a deeply committed Buddhist.
The other site I've linked to above is also useful.
If you would like to read a brief and sympathetic -- if somewhat blandly accepting -- account of the Buddha's life and teachings, try
by Karen Armstrong.
Like all religions and probably more than most, Buddhism has a lot in it that is good. But -- again, like all religions, at least in my opinion -- the
harm it has done mankind far outweighs any good to which its adherents might lay an honest claim.