Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

August 12, 2012

The Lord Our God is not so special

Filed under: Buddhism,Conversion — Razib Khan @ 12:00 am

As per the comment below there is a perception by many that monotheistic and non-monotheistic religions are fundamentally different. This is not a totally unfounded position, there are broad familial differences. But, the reality is that the the differences are not nearly as great as people may think. One can see this evident in the fact that Chinese and Japanese routinely confused Christianity with Pure Land Buddhism, while Vasco da Gama paid homage to Hindu Brahmins when first encountering them, assuming them to Christian clerics.

But each in its own turn. Let’s tackle one item. It is clear that monotheism overturns old customs and traditions. How about the dharmic religions? The same can be said for them. We have a great deal of documentation of the conflict which Buddhism caused in early China and Japan, so I can point you to something concrete for further investigation, Bulssi Japbyeon:

The Bulssi Japbyeon (roughly translated as ‘Buddha’s Nonsense’) is a late 14th century Korean Neo-Confucian polemical critique of Buddhism by Jeong Dojeon. In this work he carried out his most comprehensive refutation of Buddhism, singling out Buddhist doctrines and practices for detailed criticism.

Jeong stated that this book was written with the objective of refuting Buddhism once and for all “lest it destroy morality and eventually humanity itself.” The charges leveled against Buddhism in the Bulssi japbyeon constitute a full inventory of the various arguments made by Confucians and Neo-Confucians from the time of the introduction of Buddhism into East Asia during the 2nd century CE. These arguments are arranged in eighteen sections, each of which criticises a particular aspect of Buddhist doctrine or practice.

The Confucian critique of Buddhism is an old one. In the Chinese context Buddhism introduced radical ideas, which destabilized society. Buddhists encouraged individuals to leave their families, and become celibates in monasteries. Buddhism also introduced very alien metaphysics, such as the concept of reincarnation, which was at variance with indigenous beliefs. In fact, Buddhism arguably introduced metaphysics in a philosophical rich manner to the Chinese! On an institutional level Buddhism popularized the idea of organized religion, which was imitated by religious Daoists. Customs such as vegetarianism were also introduced by Buddhists.

This cultural intrusion was the reason that the 9th century saw massive religious conflict in China. In particular, the Chinese state stripped away Buddhism of its independent temporal power, and defrocked hundreds of thousands of religious. After this period Buddhism was no longer an aggressive and assertive institution within Chinese society, but a secondary cult which was patronized by the Confucian rulers, only moderately above the station of rural superstition. The contemporary modus vivendi of Buddhism in China, seamlessly interleaved with other religious customs and folkways, is in part a function of the fact that as a vital and vigorous force the religion was crushed nearly 1,000 years ago. Many Chinese are Buddhist, but to be Chinese is not to be Buddhist (in contrast, to be Thai is close to being Buddhist, and to be Spanish is close to being Catholic).

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