The vajra: cutting through to the truth

3 Sangharakshita’s Teachings in Theory and Practice

IV Buddhism and Christianity

Christians will be treated with contempt due to their inferior beliefs and will be expected to blaspheme, both for their own well being and as well as that of society... and the doctrines of Nietszche, with which Hitler hoped to rule the world, will finally have their day. Sangharakshita’s views actually have nothing whatsoever to do with the Buddhist attitude towards Christianity. [ The FWBO Files p.32 ]

The FWBO Files alleges that Sangharakshita and the FWBO are strongly — indeed pathologically — anti-Christian. The first point that needs to be made in response is that Sangharakshita’s insistence on the differences between Buddhism and Christianity is well-founded; secondly, the way he articulates these differences is simply an aspect of religious discussion and does not imply hostility to Christians.

Sangharakshita’s claim then, that throughout its history Buddhism has rejected the notion (of a personal God) as detrimental to the moral and spiritual development of mankind is simply not true. [ The FWBO Files p.29 ]

Sangharakshita’s first suggestion here is that Buddhism has rejected the idea of a personal God. This is not the place for detailed theological disputation and it will suffice to say that many scholars of Buddhism, both Eastern and Western, would agree with him. Professor Dr. H. von Glasenapp’s Buddhism: A Non-Theistic Religion is the standard text on the subject and cites numerous canonical Pali and Sanskrit sources [ 153 ] to suggest that “Buddhism is atheistic”. In an accompanying volume of essays Glasenapp cites numerous leading Buddhist scholars who support this view. [ 154 ] Sangharakshita’s view that Buddhism is non-theistic (no source is cited for The FWBO Files’ assertion that he says it is atheistic) is wholly traditional, and shared by many other knowledgeable Buddhists. Ironically, the Dalai Lama, cited by The FWBO Files as an exemplar in such matters, has himself often publicly stated that the idea of a creator God is at odds with the Buddhist idea of dependent origination. [ 155 ]

Secondly there is Sangharakshita’s suggestion that the reason for the Buddhist rejection of the idea of a personal God is that such a notion is detrimental to the moral and spiritual development of mankind. Glasenapp provides a useful summary of the canonical sources for this view:

In the Pali Canon there are several passages in which (the Buddha) criticizes in a most outspoken way the opinion that the world may have been created by God or may be governed by Him. So he said according to Anguttara Nikaya 3, 61 (Vol I, p.74): People who think that the will of God (issara-nimmana) allots to men happiness and misery, must think that men become murderers, thieves etc. by the will of God. A similar argument occurs also in the Jatakas (no. 528, V, p.238; No.543, VI, p.208). In the “Brahmajala Sutta” (Digha Nikaya I, 2, 2 Vol I, p.17) Buddha propounds even a theory as to how the wrong belief in a creator has arisen. [ 156 ]

The theoretical basis for this approach is that belief in a personal God is a false view (micchaditthi) and, according to all Buddhist schools, false views are detrimental to moral and spiritual development. The Buddha’s reasoning for this in the Anguttara Nikaya is that Those who rely on the creation of a supreme god, those lack the desire, and the energy, to do what is to be done and to refrain from what is not to be done.157 ] More specifically, from a Buddhist philosophical perspective, belief in God is a form of eternalism (sassataditthi). As Glasenapp says, Buddhism is a philosophy of becoming; consequently it cannot acknowledge the existence of an eternal, permanent, and personal God.158 ] One may disagree with Buddhist teaching, but one can hardly blame a Buddhist for repeating it, considering that it is important, or exploring its consequences.

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153 ]
For an English translation of this book, see Helmuth von Glasenapp, Buddhism: A Non-Theistic Religion, Trans. Irmgard Schloegl (Allen & Unwin, 1970).
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154 ]
Glasenapp, “Buddhism and Comparative Religion”, Wheel No. 111, Buddhist Publications Society, Kandy, Ceylon. The scholarly sources he cites are Malalasekera, “Buddhism and the Enlightenment of Man,” The Listener, 7/1/54; Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy, Takakusu, 2nd ed. (Honolulu, 1949), p.45; L. de La Vallee Poussin, “Atheism (Buddhist)” in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 2, p.184.
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155 ]
See for example his comments at the John Main Seminar in London, published in The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus (Wisdom Publications, 1998).
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156 ]
Glasenapp, op. cit.
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157 ]
The Book of Gradual Sayings, 5 Vols (Pali Text Society, 1933–36), Vols. I-III, Ch. 61.
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158 ]
Buddhism: A Non-Theistic Religion, op.cit., p.35.
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