Sunday, November 7

Unsent Rebuttal

I wrote a long email (including links to source material) to Contender Ministries pointing out the errors and biased language in their page about Buddhism...

On further reflection, I decided not to send it to them. The researching and writing was a useful process for me to go through, though, so I've decided to post it here.

To: Contender Ministries

Dear Sir or Madam,

The section of your website which discusses Buddhism contains factual errors and biased language. Specifically, I refer to this page in the sections on "The Dharma" and "The Sangha."

In pointing out these corrections, reference is made (mostly) to the website Access to Insight, an authoritative online source of discourses from the Pali Canon.

Quotes from the Contender Ministries website are labeled CM. My responses and corrections are prefaced by BK.

CM: "Following Buddha's death his followers convened to create a system of doctrines that they could all agree on."

BK: No. It is said that, following the Buddha's death, the Buddha's attendant, Ven. Ananda, recited the Buddha's teachings that he had memorized. The Ven. Upali recited the rules of the monastic order (Vinaya, or code of discipline) which he had memorized. Thus the system of doctrine was not created, as you say, but rather formalized and ratified by those present at the First Council.

[couldn't find good reference online to Ven. Ananda's part in the First Council]

CM: "According to Buddha, nirvana, or deliverance from suffering, is extended to everyone who strictly obeys the laws of a monastic life."

BK: Nirvana (nibbana in Pali) is not limited to monastics; the Buddha had many lay followers who reached one of the four stages of awakening. Also, obeying the rules of discipline did not automatically guarantee that monastics would realize nibbana.

CM: "You've reached Nirvana, you're done, you cease to exist.  It's hard to see where the hope lies in this, but rebirth after rebirth could, I suppose, make your complete elimination from existence sound appealing."

BK: This is a commonly held misconception (even among some Buddhists). In fact, the Buddha explicitly rejected this notion.

CM: "1. The universality of suffering - People discover through rebirth, aging, and death that life is full of sorrow.  We suffer this sorrow until deliverance is achieved.
2. The origin of suffering - Suffering is caused by the false desires of the senses that have been deceived into clinging to the impermanent world.  The quest for immortality further aggravates human suffering.
3. The overcoming of suffering - If false desires cause suffering, then the desires need to be suppressed, abandoned, or rejected in order to nullify their effects.  Ignorance of the way of deliverance and the delusion that there is a permanent self are the primary cause of suffering.
4. The way leading to the suppression of suffering - The noble eightfold path is a sacred path with eight branches called right views of understanding, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct or action, right livelihood, right effort or endeavor, right mind control or concentration, and right mindfulness.  These eight branches are not stages that can be lived out in succession or isolation from one another.  They are different dimensions of a total way of life."

BK: Your re-wording of the 4 Noble Truths has changed their meaning. For comparison, see:

BK: It's not "suppression of suffering," it's cessation of suffering.

BK: You have the Noble Eightfold Path out of order. Right Mindfulness should come before Right Concentration.

BK: Referring to concentration as "mind control" is misleading.

CM: "And how long will it take to follow these truths to deliverance and reach this state of spiritual suicide?"

BK: Again, the Buddha specifically rejected this notion, so characterizing deliverance as "spiritual suicide" is incorrect.
Again, see

CM: "After the Buddha's first sermon he continued to preach only to his followers, a group of wandering beggars, rather than to the masses.  These followers became the first monastic order.  This order of Buddhist believers is known as the Sangha.  In order to learn the Dharma and become part of the Sangha, people were required to become one of these beggar-monks."

BK: In a very short time, the Buddha gained a large following of lay people, and he taught the Dharma (Dhamma in Pali) to a wide variety of people, not just monks.

CM: "Followers who chose not to become members of the order were still permitted to follow the Buddha's teachings while living in the world, however they would not be able to achieve nirvana or receive any of the higher fruits of the Dharma, such as inner tranquility."

BK: Firstly, this contradicts what was said above, about only ordained monastics being taught the Dhamma. Secondly, the Buddha stated clearly that among his lay followers were those who had reached the higher fruits of the Dhamma.

Brian Kelley

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