Ten Questions I'd Ask If I Could Interview Siddhartha Gautama Today by Daryl E. Witmer, AIIA Executive Director A number of you reading this paper each month are adherents and/or proponents of one of the three major Eastern religious traditions-Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. This month we're continuing our series on the same, with the following addressed particularly to Buddhists. There are an estimated 500+ million adherents of Buddhism in the world, with up to two million here in America. The State of Maine alone (population just over one million), is host to no less than six Sitting/Practice Buddhist Groups, according to one Internet directory. But whether you're Buddhist or not-just in the interest of further dialogue-we'd invite your response to the following. If there is no personal God, and if one can attain nirvana only as a result of the destruction of thirst (tanha) / desire, therefore the destruction of attachment, therefore the destruction of existence-from whence, do you suppose, did personality (or even the sense of personality) ever come, exactly what is it, and where does it go when one ceases to exist? Without a personal God, on what basis can there ever exist any human moral standard or ethic-and therefore, in what sense do you mean for us to understand the terms noble and truth, i.e. The Four Noble Truths, or the term right in the eight-fold path of right views, resolve, speech, conduct, occupation, efforts, awareness, and meditation? If your teaching, which only ever came on the scene in the sixth century B.C., alone represents truth and liberation-what provision was there for the millions who lived previous to the advent of your enlightenment and teaching, and why do you suppose that you, of all humankind, were the one to come on this insight when you did? If, as you are reported to have said, nirvana is "beyond...good and evil", then, in the ultimate sense, there is really no difference between Hitler and Mother Theresa, or between helping an old lady across the street and running her down-correct? Thich Nhat Hanh, bodhisattva (holy man) and author of Living Buddha, Living Christ ©1995 by River-head Books, attempts to homogenize Buddhism and Christianity. Though you never knew of Jesus Christ, it would seem that you too might suggest that one could conceivably be a "Christian Buddhist". Yet how could that ever be possible given Christianity's categorical differences with Buddhism on matters like the nature of sin, reincarnation, and salvation-to name just a few. Jesus claimed to be the Truth. The Christian Scripture says that "there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12 How do you feel about the many variations of your teaching that have evolved down through the years? Please comment on Theravada (38 %), Mahayana (56 %), Tantrism or Vajranaya, Tibetan (6%; Dalai Lama), and Zen Buddhism? Chuck Stanford says: "Like cloudy water, our minds are basically pure and clear, but sometimes they become cloudy from the storms of discursive thoughts. Just like water, if we let our minds sit undisturbed the mud and muck will eventually settle to the bottom. Once this happens we can begin to get in touch with our basic goodness. It is through this basic goodness that the Buddha discovered that we can lead sane lives." But, Mr. Gautama, what if you are wrong about our being basically good? The Bible says that we're conceived in sin. What if there is a personal God to whom we will all one day answer? What if your enlightenment (awakening) was really only a dream? In the film Beyond Rangoon Laura's guide says that the (Buddhist) Burmese expect suffering, not happiness. When happiness comes, it is to be enjoyed as a gift, but with the awareness that it will soon certainly pass. If the ultimate Buddhist hope is to just leave the present wheel of birth and rebirth and enter into the ineffable bliss of Nirvana, where is the motivation to do good, and to actively oppose injustice, in this present life? How do we reconcile the Dalai Lama's observation that "Every human being has the potential to create happiness", with your own teaching that suffering is caused by desire? If one sets out to resist desire, why would one ever then entertain the desire for happiness, and thus work to create it? Personal Trivia: Did you really sit under that bo tree for seven full days-without ever eating any figs? Did your remarkably sensitive, compassionate, nature come more from your mother or father? How did your son, left to grow up without a father, feel about your "Great Renunciation"?
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