Handbook of Today's Religions


Buddhism began in India about 500 years before the birth of Christ. The people living at that time had become disillusioned with certain beliefs of Hinduism including the caste system, which had grown extremely complex. The number of outcasts (those who did not belong to any particular caste) was continuing to grow.

Moreover, the Hindu belief of an endless cycle of births, deaths and rebirths was viewed with dread. Consequently, the people turned to a variety of beliefs, including the worship of animals, to satisfy this spiritual vacuum. Many different sects of Hinduism arose, the most successful being that of Buddhism, which denies the authority of the vedas.

The Buddha

Buddhism, unlike Hinduism, can point to a specific founder. However, in Buddhism, like so many other religions, fanciful stories arose concerning events in the life of the founder, Siddhartha Gautama (fifth century B.C.):

Works devoted to the exposition of philosophical doctrines or religions usually begin with the biography of the founder. Most of these biographies are, however, largely if not wholly mythical. The piety of the average disciples has never failed to make the sages whom they celebrate perform such impossible deeds as are calculated to increase their renown in the eyes of the people, so that often enough within a few years of their death many of these masters are already seen to be transformed into mythological figures.

The Buddha was no exception. Archaeological discoveries have proved, beyond a doubt, his historical character, but apart from the legends we know very little about the circumstances of his life (Alexandra David-Neel, Buddhism: fts Doctrines and fts Methods, New York: St. Martids Press, 1977, p. 15).

Though Buddha, as well as other religious leaders, was deified by later disciples, this was not the case with Jesus of Nazareth. The accounts of His miracles and His claims as to being God in human flesh were recorded from eyewitness testimony rather than having been developed over a long period of time. (See 1 John 1:1-3 and 2 Peter 1:16.)

Early Biography

The Buddha, or "enlightened one," was born about 560 B.C. in northeastern India. His family name was Gautama, his given name Siddhartha. Siddhartha was the son of a rajah, or ruler. His mother died when he was just a week old and Siddhartha was cared for by his mother's sister, who was also the rajah's second wife. There was supposedly a prophecy given at the time of his birth by a sage at his father's court.

The prophecy said that the child would be a great king if he stayed at home, but if he decided to leave home, he would become a savior for mankind. This bothered his father, for he wanted his son to succeed him as king. Therefore, to keep him at home, his father surrounded him with wealth and pleasures and kept all painful and ugly things out of his sight.

Siddhartha eventually married and had a son but was still confined to the palace and its pleasures. One day he informed his father that he wished to see the world. This excursion would forever change his life, for it was during this journey that he saw "the four passing sights."

Although his father ordered the streets to be cleansed and decorated and all elderly or infirmed people to stay inside, there were those who did not get the message. The first troubling sight Siddhartha saw was that of a decrepit old man. When Siddhartha asked what happened to this man, he was told that the man was old, as everyone someday would become.

Later, he met a sick man and was told that all people were liable to be sick and suffer pain like that individual. . He then saw a funeral procession with a corpse on its way to cremation, the followers weeping bitterly. When asked what that meant, the prince was informed that it was the way of life, for sooner or later both prince and pauper would have to die.

The last sight was that of a monk begging for his food. The tranquil look on the beggar's face convinced Siddhartha that this type of life was for him. Immediately he left the palace and his family in search of enlightenment. The night that he left his home to seek enlightenment became known as the Great Renunciation.
The former prince, now a beggar, spent his time wandering from place to place seeking wisdom. Unsatisfied by the truths taught in the Hindu scriptures, he became discouraged but continued on his quest. He tried asceticism but this gave him no peace. The fateful day in his life came while he was meditating beneath a fig tree.

Buddha's Enlightenment

Deep in meditation, he reached the highest degree of God-consciousness, known as nirvana. He supposedly stayed under the fig tree for seven days, after that, the fig tree was called the bodhi, or the bo tree, the tree of wisdom. The truths he learned he would now impart to the world, no longer as Siddhartha Gautama, but as the Buddha, the enlightened one. When the Buddha emerged from his experience under the bo tree, he met with five monks who had been his companions. It was to these monks that the Buddha began his teaching ministry with the sermon at Benares. The sermon contained the following:

These two extremes, monks, are not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the world. What are the two? That conjoined with the passions and luxury, which is low, vulgar, common, ignoble, and useless; and that conjoined with self-torture, which is painful, ignoble, and useless. Avoiding these two extremes the Blessed One has gained the enlightenment of the Middle Path, which produces insight and knowledge, and leads to calm, to higher knowledge, enlightenment, nirvana.

And what, monks, is the Middle Path... ? It is the noble Eightfold Path: namely, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration... Now this, monks, is the noble truth of pain (dukkha): birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful, sorrow, lamentation, dejection, and despair are painful. Contact with unpleasant things is painful, not getting what one wishes is painful. In short the five components of existence are painful.

Now this, monks, is the noble truth of the cause of pain: the craving, which tends to rebirth, combined with pleasure and lust, finding pleasure here and there; namely, the craving for passion, the craving for existence, the craving for non-existence.

Now this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of pain, the cessation without a remainder of craving, the abandonment, forsaking, release, nonattachment.
Now this, monks, is the noble truth of the path that leads to the cessation of pain: this is the noble Eightfold Path (E. A. Burtt, ed., The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, New York: New American Library, 1955, pp. 29, 30).

After the sermon at Benares, the Buddha started to spread his teachings to the people of India. The Indian people, disillusioned with Hinduism, listened intently to this new doctrine. By the time of Buddha's death, at age 80, his teachings had become a strong force in India.

The Death of Buddha

The following discourse is from the Tripitaka. The dying Buddha is instructing a young monk against craving, one of the major doctrines of Theravada Buddhism:

I am old now, Ananda, and full of years: my journey nears its end, and I have reached my sum of days, for I am nearly eighty years old. just as a worn out cart can only be kept going if it is tied up with thongs, so the body of the Tathagata can only be kept going by bandaging it.
Only when the Tathagata no longer attends to any outward object, when all separate sensations stops and he is deep in inner concentration, is his body at ease.

So, Ananda, you must be your own lamps, be your own refuges. Take refuge in nothing outside yourselves. Hold firm to the truth as a lamp and a refuge, and do not look for refuge to anything besides yourselves. A monk becomes his own lamp and refuge by continually looking on his body, feelings, perceptions, moods, and ideas in such a manner that he conquers the cravings and depressions of ordinary men and is always strenuous, self-possessed, and collected in mind. Whoever among my monks does this, either now or when I am dead, if he is anxious to learn, will reach the summit.

The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path

The First Noble Truth is the existence of suffering. Birth is painful, and death is painful; disease and old age are painful. Not having what we desire is painful, and having what we do not desire is also painful.
The Second Noble Truth is the cause of suffering. It is the craving desire for the pleasures of the senses, which seeks satisfaction now here, now there; the craving for happiness and prosperity in this life and in future lives.
The Third Noble Truth is the ending of suffering. To be free of suffering one must give up, get rid of, extinguish this very craving, so that no passion and no desire remain.
The Fourth Noble Truth leads to the ending of all pain by way of the Eightfold Path.

The first step on that path is Right Views: You must accept the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
The second step is Right Resolve: You must renounce the pleasures of the senses; you must harbor no ill will toward anyone and harm no living creature.
The third step is Right Speech: Do not lie; do not slander or abuse anyone. Do not indulge in idle talk.
The fourth is Right Behavior. Do not destroy any living creature; take only what is given to you; do not commit any unlawful sexual act.
The fifth is Right Occupation: You must earn your livelihood in a way that will harm no one.
The sixth is Right Effort: You must resolve and strive heroically to prevent any evil qualities from arising in you and to abandon any evil qualities that you may possess. Strive to acquire good qualities and encourage those you do possess to grow, increase and be perfected.
The seventh is Right Contemplation: Be observant, strenuous, alert, contemplative, free of desire and of sorrow.
The eighth is Right Meditation: When you have abandoned all sensuous pleasures, all evil qualities, both joy and sorrow, you must then enter the four degrees of meditation, which are produced by concentration.

The Veneration of The Buddha

Some time after his death, the Buddha was deified by some of his followers. The following description of him is typical of the adulation he was given:

1. The countenance of the Buddha is like the clear full moon.
Or again, like a thousand suns releasing their splendour. His eyes are pure, as large and as broad as a blue lotus. His teeth are white, even and close, as snowy as white jade.

2. The Buddha's virtues resemble the boundless great ocean.
Infinite wonderful jewels are amassed within it.
The calm, virtuous water of wisdom always fills it.
Hundreds and thousands of supreme concentrations throng it.

2. The marks of the wheel beneath his feet are all elegant
The hub, the rim, and the thousand spokes which are all even.
The webs on his hands and his feet are splendid in all parts
He is fully endowed with markings like the king of geese.

4. The Buddha-body's radiance is like a golden mountain's;
It is clear, pure, peculiar, without equal or likeness,
And it too has the virtues of beauty and loftiness.
Therefore I bow my head to the Buddha, king of mountains.

2. His marks and signs are as unfathomable as the sky.
And they surpass a thousand suns releasing their splendour.
All like a flame or a phantom are inconceivable.
Thus I bow my head to him whose mind has no attachments

(Richard Robinson, trans., Chinese Buddhist Verse, London: Greenwood Publ., 1954, p. 48).
Such veneration of the Buddha is against the basic teachings of Buddha himself.

Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism

Early Buddhism was confined largely to India and is usually referred to as Theravada Buddhism. Later Buddhism, which became very popular outside of India (notably in China and Japan), became known as Mahayana Buddhism:

By the time of King Asoka (c. 236-232 B.C.), Indian Buddhism had split into a number of groups generally referred to as Theravada schools. Again, around the beginning of the Christian era, Mahayana Buddhism arose, being distinguished from Theravada Buddhism primarily by its enlargement of the bodhisattva. ideal, according to which certain compassionate beings or bodhisattvas defer their own emancipation in order to save others, and by its consequent enlargement of the offer of salvation, making it available not only to those who enter monastic orders but to all who trust in a bodhisattva.
For several centuries Buddhism continued to evolve in India, developing in interaction with the various Indian religions and philosophies, but due to the Islamic invasion of the thirteenth century, it ceased to exist in the land of its birth (Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japanese Religion: A Survey, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco: Kodansha International Ltd., 1972, 1981, p. 48).

As we can see from the comparative chart below, Mahayana Buddhism had many qualities which differed from Theravada Buddhism but which were very attractive to new converts:

Theravada Mahayana

Man as an individual Man as involved with others
Man on his own in the Man not alone (salvation by grace)
universe (emancipation
by self-effort)
Key virtue: wisdom Key virtue: karuna,
Religion: a full-time job Religion: relevant to life
(primarily for monks) in the world (for laymen as well)
Ideal: the Arhat Ideal: the Bodhisattva
Buddha: a saint Buddha: a savior
Eschews metaphysics Elaborates metaphysics
Eschews ritual Includes ritual
Confines prayer to Includes petitionary
meditation prayer
Conservative Liberal

(Huston Smith, The Religions of Man, New York: Harper and Row, 1958, p. 138).


A key concept in Buddhism is nirvana, the final goal for the Buddhists. Donald K. Swearer gives insight to this important concept.

Nirvana has been a troublesome idea for students of Buddhism. just what is it? The term itself does not offer much help. Like not-self (an-atta), nirvana is a negative term. Literally, it means the "blowing out" of the flame of desire, the negation of suffering (dukkha). This implies that nirvana is not to be thought of as a place but as a total reorientation or state of being realized as a consequence of the extinction of blinding and binding attachment. Thus, at least, nirvana implies that the kind of existence one has achieved is inconceivable in the ordinary terms of the world (Donald K. Swearer, Buddhism, Niles, IL: Argus Communications, 1977, p. 44).

The following texts mention nirvana:

Dispassion is called the Way. It is said: "Through dispassion is one freed" Yet, in meaning, all these (words: stopping, renunciation, surrender, release, lack of clinging) are synonyms for nirvana. For, according to its ultimate meaning, nirvana is the Aryan Truth of the stopping of suffering (Edward Conze, et. al, Buddhist Texts Through the Ages, New York: Philosophical Library, 1954, "Path of Purity 507," p. 100).
"Venerable Nagasena, things produced of karma are seen in the world, things produced of cause are seen, things produced of nature are seen. Tell me, what in the world is born not of karma, not of cause, not of nature" (Ibid., "The Questions of King Milinda," p. 97).

There is, monks, that plane where there is neither extension nor... motion nor the plane of infinite space... nor that of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, neither this world nor another, neither the moon nor the sun. Here, monks, I say that there is no coming or going or remaining or deceasing or uprising, for this is itself without any support ...
There is, monks, an unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded, and... because there is,. . . an escape can be shown for what is born, has become, is made, is compounded (Ibid., "Udana 81," pp. 94, 95).

Swearer comments on these passages:

These three passages point to different aspects of the concept of nirvana. The first passage illustrates our initial claim about nirvana, namely, that it is the negation of attachment and suffering (dukkha). The second, a question from King Milinda, is answered, as you probably guessed, by nirvana. Nirvana, then, is the one thing that is not caused by anything else. The third quotation pushes this idea even further. Nirvana as the Absolute Truth cannot be adequately expressed in words. Nonetheless, the term implies that there is a goal to be reached and that this goal surpasses anything experienced in this world of conventional understanding (Swearer, op. cit., p. 45).

Sacred Scriptures

In Theravada Buddhism there are three groups of writings considered to be holy scripture, known as "The Three Baskets" (Tripitaka). The Vinaya Pitaka (discipline basket) contains rules for the higher class of Buddhists; the Sutta Pitaka (teaching basket) contains the discourses of the Buddha; and the Abidhamma Pitaka (metaphysical basket) contains Buddhist theology The total volume of these three groups of writings is about 11 times larger than the Bible.
In Mahayana Buddhism the scriptures are much more voluminous, as Clark B. Offner reveals:

"A Mahayanist is one who reads Mahayana scriptures" is the definition given by one ancient Buddhist scholar. In contrast to the comparatively limited scope of the Pali canon used by Theravada Buddhists, Mahayana scriptures have multiplied to the point where standard editions of the Chinese canon encompass over 5,000 volumes. While the oldest scriptures are based on Sanskrit and contain much that is parallel to the Pali canon, other scriptures which have no Sanskrit prototypes have been written in Nepalese, Tibetan and Chinese.
Since there are no clear limits to the Mahayana "canon," comparatively recent works by later innovators are often given de facto canonical status in the sects which adhere to their teachings. As there are such a number and such a variety of scriptures, most Mahayana sects have chosen certain favourite ones to which they refer exclusively. The fact is that some such selection is necessary, for this extreme bulk and breadth of the scriptures make it impossible for believers to be acquainted with, let alone understand and practise, the often contradictory teachings found in them (Clark B. Offner, in The World's Religions, Sir Norman Anderson, ed., Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976, p. 181).

The Laity

Conze explains how the laity can gain religious merit:

The layman's one and only religious task at present can be to increase his store of merit. The Buddhist religion offers him four avenues for doing so:

1. He must observe the five precepts, or at least some of them. On feast days, every fortnight, he may add to them another three, i.e., he fasts, avoids worldly amusements, and uses neither unguents nor ornaments. A few observed still two more precepts, i.e., they did not sleep on a high, big bed and they accepted no gold or silver.
2. He must have devotion for the Three Treasures and faith is the virtue apposite to a householder's state of life. But this faith is not an exclusive one and does not entail a rejection of his ancestral beliefs and of the Brahmanic religious usages of his social environment. The Triple jewel is not a jealous God and is not displeased by the worship of the deities of a man's country or caste.
3. He must be generous, especially to the monks, and give as much as possible to them, not only for their upkeep, but also for religious buildings inhabited by no one. To some extent the merit produced by gifts depends on the spiritual endowments of the recipient, and therefore the sons of Sakya muni, and in particular the Arhats, are the best possible "field for planting merit."
4. He may worship the relics of the Buddha. The actual attitude of the Buddhists to these teeth and bones is difficult to describe in terms readily understood in the West. It is obviously impossible for them to "pray" to the Buddha, for the reason that He is no longer there, being in nirvana, i.e., extinct as far as this world is concerned (Edward Conze, A Short History of Buddhism, London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1980, p. 39).

Buddhist Precepts

There are five precepts taught by Buddhism that all Buddhists should follow:

1. Kill no living thing (including insects).
2. Do not steal.
3. Do not commit adultery.
4. Tell no lies.
5. Do not drink intoxicants or take drugs.

There are other precepts that apply only to monks and nuns. These include:

6. Eat moderately and only at the appointed time.
7. Avoid that which excites the senses.
8. Do not wear adornments (including perfume).
9. Do not sleep in luxurious beds.
10. Accept no silver or gold.

A Buddhist Creed

In 1981, Colonel H. S. Olcott, one of the founding presidents of the Theosophical Society, proposed a common platform for all Buddhist schools of thought. Various representatives of different Buddhist persuasions reviewed his work and found it to be satisfactory. It was published as an appendix to his Buddhist Catechism. The fundamental Buddhistic beliefs are:

1. Buddhists are taught to show the same tolerance, forbearance, and brotherly love to all men, without distinction; and an unswerving kindness towards the members of the animal kingdom.
2. The Universe was evolved, not created; and it functions according to law, not according to the caprice of any God.
3. The truths upon which Buddhism is founded are natural. They have, we believe, been taught in successive kalpas, or world periods, by certain illuminated beings called Buddhas, the name Buddha meaning "enlightened."
4. The fourth teacher in the present kalpa was Sakya Muni, or Gautama Buddha, who was born in a royal family in India about 2,500 years ago. He is an historical personage and his name was Siddhartha Gautama.
5. Sakya Muni taught that ignorance produces desire, unsatisfied desire is the cause of rebirth, and rebirth the cause of sorrow. To get rid of sorrow, therefore, it is necessary to escape rebirth; to escape rebirth, it is necessary to extinguish desire; and to extinguish desire, it is necessary to destroy ignorance.
6. Ignorance fosters the belief that rebirth is a necessary thing. When ignorance is destroyed the worthlessness of every such rebirth, considered as an end in itself, is perceived, as well as the paramount need of adopting a course of life by which the necessity for such repeated births can be abolished. Ignorance also begets the illusive and illogical idea that there is only one existence for man, and the other illusion that this one life is followed by states of unchangeable pleasure or torment.
7. The dispersion of all this ignorance can be attained by the persevering practice of an all-embracing altruism in conduct, development of intelligence, wisdom in thought, and destruction of desire for the lower personal pleasures.
8. The desire to live being the cause of rebirth, when that is extinguished rebirths cease and the perfected individual attains by meditation that highest state of peace called nirvana.
9. Sakya Muni taught that ignorance can be dispelled and sorrow removed by the knowledge of the four Nobel Truths, viz:
1 . The miseries of existence;
2. The cause productive of misery which is the desire
ever renewed of satisfying oneself without being able ever to secure that end;
3.The destruction of that desire, or the estranging of
oneself from it;
4. The means of obtaining this destruction of desire.
The means which he pointed out is called the Noble Eightfold Path, viz: Right Belief; Right Thought; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Means of Livelihood; Right Exertion; Right Remembrance;Right Meditation.
10. Right Meditation leads to spiritual enlightenment, or the development of that Buddha-like faculty which is latent in every man.
11. The essence of Buddhism summed up by the Tathagata (Buddha) himself is:
To cease from all sin,
To get virtue,
To purify the heart
12. The universe is subject to a natural causation known as "karma". The merits and demerits of a being in past existences determine his condition in the present one. Each man, therefore, has prepared the causes of the effects which he now experiences.
13. The obstacles to the attainment of good karma may be removed by the observance of the following precepts, which are embraced in the moral code of Buddhism, viz: (1) Kill not; (2) Steal not; (3) Indulge in no forbidden sexual pleasure; (4) Lie not; (5) Take no intoxicating or stupefying drug or liquor. Five other precepts, which need not here be enumerated, should be observed by those who would attain more quickly than the average layman the release from misery and rebirth,
14. Buddhism discourages superstitious credulity Gautama Buddha taught it to be the duty of a parent to have his child educated in science and literature. He also taught that no one should believe what is spoken by any sage, written in any book, or affirmed by a tradition, unless it accord with reason.

Drafted as a common platform upon which all Buddhists can agree (Cited by Christmas Humphreys, Buddhism, London: Penguin Books, 1951, pp. 71-73).

Sayings of the Buddha

The following extracts are from the Dharnmadada, which contains a collection of sayings attributed to the Buddha:

VIGILANCE is the way of immortality (the Deathless). Heedlessness is the way of death. Those that are vigilant do not die. Those that are heedless are already as though dead.
Those who know these things, those who know how to meditate, they take this delight in meditation, and in the knowledge of the noble.
By meditation and perseverance, by tireless energy, the wise attain to nirvana, the supreme beatitude.
He who meditates earnestly, he who is pure in conduct and mindful of every action, he who is self-restrained and righteous in his life, the fame of such a one shall increase.
By diligent attention, by reflection, by temperance, by self-mastery, the man of understanding makes for himself an island that no flood can overwhelm.
Do not give yourselves over to heedlessness. Have naught to do with the lusts of the flesh. The vigilant man, who is given to meditation, he will attain to abundant happiness.
When the wise man in his vigilance puts away heedlessness and ascends the tower of wisdom, he looks down, being free from sorrow, upon the sorrow-laden race of mankind. As from a mountain-top, the wise man looks down upon the foolish men in the valley.
Vigilant among the heedless, waking among those who slumber, as a fleet courser outstrips a sorry nag, so the wise go their way.
By yourselves must the effort be made: the TathAgatas do but make known the way.
Conquer wrath with benevolence, overcome evil with good. Confound the niggardly with liberality, and with truth the speaker of falsehoods.
Even as a solid rock is unshaken by the wind, so are the wise unmoved by praise or by blame.

Whoso seeks his own welfare by devising injury to another, he is entangled in hatred, and does not attain to freedom.
Let your words be truth, and give not way to anger; give of your little to him that asks of you; by these three things men go to the realm of the gods.
He who refrains from action when it is the time to act, he who in his youth and strength, gives himself over to idleness, he whose will and whose spirit are feeble, this slothful man shall never find the way that leads to Wisdom.
Stem the torrent with all thy might, O Brahmana. Having understood how the formations (samskaras) are dissolved, thou wilt understand that which is not formed (which is not a group of impermanent elements).
It is not plaited hair, nor birth, nor wealth that makes the Brahmana. He in whom truth and justice reside, he is happy, he is a Brahmana.
Of what avail thy plaited hair, O witless one? Of what avail thy goatskin garment? Within there is disorder: thou carest only for the outer man.
I do not call him "a Brahmana" who is born of such a family or such a mother. He may be arrogant, he may be rich. He who is poor and detached from all things-him I call a Brahmana.
He who has shattered all bonds, he who is inaccessible to fear, he who is free from all servitude and cannot be shaken-him I call a Brahmana.
He who has broken the thong, the cord, and the girth, he who has destroyed all obstacles, he who is the Awakened -him I call a Brahmana.
He from whom the delights of the senses fall away as water from the petal of the lotus or a mustard seed from the point of a needle-him do I call Brahmana.
He who in this world has been able to set a term to his suffering, he who has set down his burden, he whom nothing can trouble, him do I call a Brahmana.
He whose knowledge is profound, he who possesses wisdom, who discerns the right path from the wrong, who has attained the highest aim, him do I call a Brahmana.
He who holds himself apart, both from laymen and from monks, who contents himself with little and does not beat upon other men's doors -him do I call a Brahmana.

He who uses no violence, whether to the weak or the strong, who neither slays nor causes to be slain -him do I call a Brahmana.
He who is tolerant with the intolerant, gentle with the violent, without greed among the grasping-him do I call a Brahmana.
He from whom envy, hatred, pride and hypocrisy have fallen away like a mustard-seed placed on the point of a needle-him do I call a Brahmana.
He whose speech is instructive and truthful and without harshness, offending none -him do I call a Brahmana.
He who no longer covets aught, whether in this world or another, he who is unattached and inaccessible to trouble-him do I call a Brahmana.
He who is free from all ties, whom knowledge preserves from questioning, who has attained to the depths where death is not -him do I call a Brahmana.
He who in this world has shaken off the two chains; the chain of Good and the chain of Evil; who is pure and exempt from suffering and passion -him do I call a Brahmana.
He who in his serenity, his purity, his changeless peace is radiant as the flawless moon, who has dried up within him the source of all joy-him do I call a Brahmana.
He who has traversed the miry path, the inextricable world, so difficult to traverse, and all its vanities, he also, having achieved the passage, and has reached the further shore, who is meditative, unshaken, exempt from doubts, unattached and satisfied -him do I call a Brahmana.
He who, putting off all human ties, has risen above all divine ties, who has liberated himself from every tie -him do I call a Brahmana.
He who has rejected that which causes pleasure and that which causes suffering, he who is impassive, liberated from all germs, the hero who has raised himself above all the worlds-him do I call a Brahmana.

Nichiren Shoshu Buddbism

One form of Buddhism that has seen a revival of sorts in the past 50 years is a Japanese mystical sect known as Nichiren Shoshu. Its recent growth has been astounding, as chronicled by Walter Martin:
Nichiren Shoshu continued as a small sect of Buddhism until the founding in Japan of the Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society), by Makiguchi Tsunesaburo in 1930. Known first as Soka Kyoiku Gakkai and founded by Makiguchi Tsunesaburo and josei Toda, Soka Gakkai is the Japanese lay organization of Nichiren Shoshu and has become the evangelistic arm of the religion.
When the Japanese government attempted to unify all of Japan under Shinto Buddhism in 1940, only Nichiren Shoshu refused to obey. (NSB claims to be the only orthodox sect among the many sects claiming Nichiren Daishonin as their founders.) In 1940 there were only 21 members, all of whom were arrested. Nineteen of those members converted to Shintoism and were released. Leader Makiguchi died in prison, and the only remaining member, josei Toda, was released from prison in 1945, shortly before the end of World War Two.
Under Toda's leadership, the movement began growing and elected Toda the second president of Soka Gakkai. In 1960 Daisaku Ikeda was inaugurated president over 1.3 million members. Ikeda expanded NSB's evangelism in foreign countries, opening a branch in the United States in 1960. The quickly growing branch of the sect held its first convention in 1963 in Chicago, with representatives from ten chapters. By 1973, membership was more than 250,000. From 1960 to 1973, NSB in the United States increased threehundredfold! Japanese growth was even faster. The number of practicing Japanese families grew from three thousand in 1951 to more than seven million in 1971 (Walter Martin, ed., The New Cults, Santa Ana, CA: Vision House Publishers Inc., 1980, p. 323).
The origins of Nichiren Shoshu go back to a Japanese reformer named Nichiren Daishonon, who lived in the 13th century A.D.


Nichiren was born the son of a fisherman in Japan in A.D. 1222 (and died in A.D. 1282) during a time of turmoil in Japan. Christmas Humphreys sets the historical background of the time of Nichiren's birth:

In the last half of the twelfth century, the Kyoto Government had so degenerated that civil war broke out. After fifty or more bloody years of strife, in which Buddhist monasteries were more than once engaged, a few of the stronger feudal lords gained power, and after fighting each other to a standstill left the Minamoto family, with the great Yorimoto at its head, in control at the new capital of Kamakura. Thereafter, until 1868, the Emperor was more or less a puppet, and Japan was ruled by hereditary Shoguns.
The civil wars had developed and perfected the cult of Bushido, the eastern equivalent of the western cult of knighthood, and the cult was ripe for spiritual guidance. The existing Buddhist sects, discredited to some extent by participation in the political wars of Kyoto, were not suited to the needs of the new capital, and the people as a whole, as well as their feudal overlords, needed new forms of Buddhism. The need produced the supply, and within a century three new schools arose, the lodo of China, elaborated in Japan into fodo-Shin or Shin, the Chinese Chan, now to be known as Zen, and the School of the firebrand Nichiren (1222-1282) (Christmas Humphreys, op. cit., pp. 174, 175).
Nichiren studied the various schools of Buddhism until deciding upon which of the teachings were true. He was convinced that the true faith was taught by Dengyo Daishi (named Saicho before his death) who had introduced Tendai Buddhism to Japan in the eighth century. Dengyo Daishi taught that only one scripture was of supreme authority, the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren believed if he could get his people back to the Lotus Sutra, which he believed was the true interpretation of the words of Buddha, the country could be saved.
Nichiren went about preaching his newly discovered truth, condemning all others as false religions. This did not go over well with the authorities, making Nichiren the object of persecution. Nichiren was both arrested and exiled for his preaching, many times narrowly escaping with his life. At the time of his death in 1282 he had attracted many followers to his rediscovered truth.

The Lotus Sutra

Nichiren believed that the Lotus Sutra contained the true teaching of the Buddha, but the facts contradict his belief. The Lotus Sutra was composed somewhere between the second century B.C. and the second century A.D. The work differs in several aspects from traditional Buddhist beliefs. Edward Rice elaborates:

The work stresses the eternal Buddha-principle, represented in innumerable forms to work out the salvation of all suffering humanity In the Lotus Sutra, Buddha is the eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent; creator-destroyer, re-creator of all worlds -concepts borrowed from Hinduism and carried over into Mahayana Buddhism ... Its central thesis is that of universal salvation: Everyone and everything have within the potentiality of Buddhahood (Edward Rice, Eastern Definitions, New York: Doubleday, 1980, p. 238).

The following is an extract from the Lotus Sutra:

Those among the living beings,
Who have come into contact with former Buddhas,
And have learned the Law and practiced charity,
Or have held on to discipline and endured forbearance and humiliation,
Or have made serious efforts at concentration and understanding,
Or have cultivated various kinds of blessing and wisdom
All such beings as these
Have already achieved Buddhahood...
Men who possess a tender heart. .
Those who have offered relies,
Or have built hundreds of millions of pagodas. . .
Those who have had pictures of the Buddha embroidered,
Expressing the great splendor
Which he achieved from a hundred merits and blessings, Whether embroidered by himself or by others,
Have all achieved Buddhahood.
Even boys at play
Who have painted Buddha figures
With straws, wooden sticks, brushes, or finger nailsAll people such as these,
By gradual accumulation of merits
And with an adequate sense of compassion,
Have already achieved Buddhahood.


Central to Nichiren Shoshu belief is the "gohonzon. " The gohonzon is a black wooden box containing the names of important people in the Lotus Lutra and is used as a private altar. The gohonzon supposedly con-tains universal forces that control the devotee's life. There is, they believe, a direct connection between events in a person's life and the treatment of the gohonzon.
The worship ritual practiced by Nichiren Shoshu members is called "gongyo." The practice consists of kneeling before the gohonzon, the recitation of passages from the Lotus Sutra, then the rubbing of rosarytype beads while chanting the daimoku-"nam-myoho-renge-kyo."
The chief object of worship in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism is a shrine known as the Dai-gohonzon located at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan. The individual gohonzons are mystical representations of the Daigohonzon.

Missionary Emphasis

Nichiren Shoshu's recent accelerated growth (1970 figures by the Japanese Office of Cultural Affairs put membership at over 16 million*) can be attributed directly to its missionary emphasis. Their members practice a proselytizing method called "Shakubuku," their goal being to convert the world to the one true faith:

Soka Gakkai regards itself as not only the one true Buddhist religion, but the one true religion on earth. Its principal aims are the propagation of its gospel throughout the world, by forced conversion if necessary, and the denunciation and destruction of all other faiths as "false" religions... Soka Gakkai is unmistakably a church militant in Japan geared for a determined march abroad. Its significance to America and all nations cannot be ignored. Its target is world domination (Richard Okamoto, "Japan," Look, September 10, 1963, p. 16).

Zen Buddhism

Zen is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism that has become widely known in the West.
The Chinese added to the many schools of Buddhism a new school, whose name reveals its history. Dhyana is the Indian word for meditation; it was changed in China to Chan and in Japan to Zen, which is now the best-known title of this sect (Elizabeth Seeger, Eastern Religions, New York: Crowell, 1973, p. 145).
The exact origin of Zen is unknown. Legend has it that Zen!s teaching was derived from Bodhidharma, a wandering Buddhist master living in India 600 years before Christ. Bodhidharma supposedly told a Chinese emperor that the basic tenets of Buddhism are not dependent upon the scriptures; its teachings were directly transmitted from mind to mind and do not need to be explained in words. This sums up Zens unorthodox approach to its teaching, for they have no sacred literature which they use for their instruction but employ any writings, Buddhistic or not, they deem necessary to further their religion. Bodhidharma summed up the Zen viewpoint with this famous saying:

A special tradition outside the scriptures,
No dependence on words,
A direct pointing at man,
Seeing into one's own nature and the attainment of wisdom


Zen actually developed about one thousand years after the death of the Buddha. However, it contains Buddha’s emphasis on meditation which led to his enlightenment. One statement attributed to the Buddha has become a frequent reference by Zen teachers: "Look within, you are the Buddha."
This goes along with Buddha's deathbed statement that his disciples must find their own ways through self-effort. This self-effort is the foundation of Zen practice, for only through disciplined individual work can one attain enlightenment, known in Zen as "Kensho" or "Satori."

Zen has found great popularity in the West, with a large selection of literature available on the subject, including such titles as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Zen of Seeing, and Zen and Creative Management. The list of titles is long and varied.
One famous story tells about a man who desired to be a Zen master. He asked to be taught Zen. The Zen master did not speak but began to pour a cup of tea for his visitor, using a cup that was already filled. The extra tea overflowed and ran across the table to drip to the rice-mat-covered floor. Still the Zen master kept pouring until the pot was empty. He finally spoke: "You are like this cup," he said. "You are full. How can I pour Zen into you? Empty yourself and come back."


Central to Zen practice is zazen. Zazen is the method of sitting in Zen meditation, which is done daily at specific times with occasional periods of intense meditation lasting one week. The goal is final enlightenment. The practice of zazen is done under the guiding hand of a master (roshi). Nancy Wilson-Ross elucidates:

The very heart of Zen practice lies in zazen, or sitting meditation done at specific times daily, with longer and more intensive periods on occasions of sesshin, in which concentrated "sitting" may endure for as long as a week. Zazen is a formalized procedure which consists of active meditation interspersed with the chanting of sutras. In this daily Zen chanting the sutra known as the Praina Paramita is always included. The actual sitting itself is preceded by prescribed use of bells, wooden clappers and the exchange of formal bows. Practitioners sit facing a wall or the center of the zendo, depending on the tradition of the specific sect to which the group belongs or the preference of the presiding Zen roshi.
The usual zazen posture is the full lotus or half-lotus cross-legged sitting position on a specific type of round cushion. The position of the hands is strictly specified: they are held in front of the abdomen, the back of the left in the palm of the right, the thumbs lightly touching. The eyes are not closed, although the gaze is directed downward and is fixed a little in advance of the sitter. Zazen is terminated by the sound of wooden clappers, the ringing of a bell three times and the chanting of the Four Great Vows. Periods of formal sitting may be interspersed by walking meditation, known as kinhin. This is essentially a method for giving the body relief from the prolonged sitting posture, but it serves also as a way of practicing concentration, whether during a slow circling of the zendo or in a brisk walk outside (Nancy Wilson-Ross, Buddhism: A Way of Thought, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1980, p. 143).

The Koan

The master, in attempting to aid his pupil toward enlightenment, gives him a verbal puzzle known as a koan. Solving the koan supposedly leads the pupil into greater self-awareness. Commonly used koans by Zen masters number about 1,700, each of which may have hundreds of "answers" depending upon the exact circumstances of the students' training, Knowing the answer is not nearly as important as experiencing or realizing the answer. The following are some examples of koans:

A master, Wu Tsu, says, "Let me take an illustration from a fable. A cow passes by a window. Its head, horns, and the four legs all pass by. Why did not the tail pass by?"
What was the appearance of your face before your ancestors were born?
We are all familiar with the sound of two hands clapping. What is the sound of one hand? (If you protest that one hand can't clap, you go back to the foot of the class. Such a remark simply shows you haven't even begun to get the point.)
Li-ku, a high government officer of the Tang dynasty, asked a famous Ch'an master: "A long time ago a man kept a goose in a bottle. It grew larger and larger until it could not get out of the bottle anymore. He did not want to break the bottle, nor did he wish to hurt the goose; how would you get it out?"
The master called out, "O Officer!"
"Yes" was the response.
"There, it's out!"
A monk asked Chao-chou, "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's visit to China?" "The cypress tree in the courtyard," replied Bodhidharma.
A monk asked Thich Cam Thanh, "What is Buddha?"
"Everything." The monk then asked, "What is the mind of Buddha?" "Nothing has been hidden." The monk said again, "I don't understand." Cam Thanh replied, "You missed!"


In Zen the sudden illumination or enlightenment is known as satori. Satori is an experience beyond analyzation and communication, bringing the practitioner into a state of maturity. The experience of satori comes abruptly and momentarily, but it can be repeated. It cannot be willed into existence.


Huston Smith gives an insightful evaluation of Zen belief:

Entering the Zen outlook is like stepping through Alice's looking glass. One finds oneself in a topsy-turvy wonderland in which everything seems quite mad -charmingly mad for the most part but mad all the same. It is a world of bewildering dialogues, obscure conundrums, stunning paradoxes, flagrant contradictions, and abrupt non sequiturs, all carried off in the most urbane, cheerful and innocent style (Huston Smith, op. cit., p. 140).

Part of Zen's attraction is that one is not required to be responsible in evaluating anything in the world or even in his own thoughts. One loses his capacity to think logically and critically. While the Bible commands Christians to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21, 22), Zen mocks critical analysis.

Buddhism and Christianity

There are radical differences between Buddhism and Christianity that make any attempt of reconciliation between the two faiths impossible. The Buddhistic world view is basically monistic. That is, the existence of a personal creator and Lord is denied. The world operates by natural power and law, not divine command.

Buddhism denies the existence of a personal God.

Any concept of God was beyond man's grasp and since Buddhism was a practical approach to life, why not deal with practical things? India, where Buddhism was born, had so many Hindu gods that no one could number them. They were often made in the image of men, but Buddhism was made in the image of concepts, great concepts about life and how life should be lived. If the truth were known, you often tell yourself, Buddhism has no God in the Hindu or Christian sense, nor does it have a saviour or a messiah. It has the Buddha. And he was the Enlightened One, the Shower-of-the Way (Marcus Bach, Had You Been Born in Another Faith, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1961, p. 47).

There are those who deify the Buddha but along with him they worship other gods. The Scriptures make it clear that not only does a personal God exist, but He is to be the only object of worship. "'You are My witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'And My servant whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me"' (Isaiah 43:10 NASB). "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and His Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me"' (Isaiah 44:6 NASB). "'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me"' (Exodus 20:2, 3 NASB). "Then Jesus said to him, 'Begone, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only"' (Matthew 4:10 NASB). "Jesus therefore said to them again, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved and shall go in and out, and find pasture"' (John 10:7-9 NASB). There is no such thing in Buddhism as sin against a supreme being. In Christianity sin is ultimately against God although sinful actions also affect man and his world. The Bible makes it clear, "against thee, thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in thy sight" (Psalm 51:4, NASB). Accordingly man needs a savior to deliver him from his sins.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is that Savior and He offers the gift of salvation to all those who will believe, "The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"' (John 1:29 NASB). "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is he who will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21 NASB). "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23 NASB).
According to Buddhist belief, man is worthless, having only temporary existence. In Christianity man is of infinite worth, made in the image of God, and will exist eternally. Man's body is a hindrance to the Buddhist while to the Christian it is an instrument to glorify God.

The Scriptures reveal, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth!" (Genesis 1:26 NASB). "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Corinthians 6:19 NASB).

Another problem with Buddhism is the many forms it takes. Consequently, there is a wide variety of belief in the different sects with much that is contradictory. John B. Noss makes an appropriate comment:

"The rather odd fact is that there ultimately developed within Buddhism so many forms of religious organization, cultus and belief, such great changes even in the fundamentals of the faith, that one must say Buddhism as a whole is really, like Hinduism, a family of religions rather than a single religion" (John B. Noss, Man's Religions, New York: Macmillan Company, 1969, p. 146). With these and other differences, it can be seen readily that any harmonization of the two religions simply is not possible.

Buddhistic Terms

An-Atta -Literally, "not self." A concept in Theravada Buddhism denying the permanent existence of self as contained by physical and mental attributes.
Bhikkhu -A Buddhist monk who wanders about depending upon others for his basic necessities.
Bodhi -A Buddhist term for the wisdom by which one attains enlightenment.
Bodhisattva -In Mahayana Buddhism, one who postpones attaining nirvana in order to help others achieve this goal. In Theravada Buddhism, it is one who is on the way to becoming a Buddha. Gautama was called a Bodhisattva before he attained enlightenment.
Buddha - "The enlightened one. " This title was given to Siddhartha Gautamal the founder of Buddhism, upon his enlightenment. Likewise, a person can attain this position through following the fourfold path to enlightenment.
Buddhism -The religion based upon the teachings of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama). The Buddha!s main teaching revolved around the causes for human suffering and the way to salvation from this suffering could be achieved. The two main branches of Buddhism are called Mahayana and Theravada or Hinayana.
Dalai Lama -The title of the head of the hierarchal system of Tibetan Buddhism. Worshipped as the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Chenresi. Dhamma -The teachings of the Buddha. Related to the Sanskrit Dharma, or virtuous principles.
Dukkha -Suffering, which is rooted in desire and attachment.
Gohonzon -A small black wooden box used as an object of religious devotion, an altar, in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism.
Heart Sutra-One of the most important scriptures to Zen Buddhists.
Koan -A verbal puzzle in Zen Buddhism which aids the pupil in loosing himself from this world and moving toward enlightenment.
Mahayana -The form of Buddhism prevalent in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Literally translated, means "the great vehicle. "
Maya -In Buddhism the mother of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha). (See under Hindu Terms for additional meanings.)

Nirvana -A difficult, if not impossible, word to define. In Buddhism, it is basically a blissful spiritual condition where the heart extinguishes passion, hatred and delusion. It is the highest spiritual plane one person can attain.
Pitaka -Literally, "basket." Refers to the "three baskets" (Tripitaka) of sacred Buddhist writings.
Pure Land-Refers to a teaching in the Lotus Sutra which emphasizes faith in the Buddha of immeasurable light (Buddha Amitabha) and the goal of rebirth in his heaven of the pure land. Emphasizes easy attainment of nirvana. There are also Chinese and Japanese Pure Land sects.
Pure Land Buddhism -A sect that bases its faith in the Amida Buddha (the Buddha of the infinite light) as its saviour who will lead his followers into a celestial paradise. Salvation is achieved by repeating Amida's name (the Nembutsu).
Samsara-The cycle of birth, suffering, death and rebirth.
Sangha -The Buddhist monastic order literally translated as "group" or "community!'May be the oldest order in Buddhism.
Satori-The term for enlightenment in Zen Buddhism.
Soka Gakkai -The Creative-Value Study Society. The modern revival of a thirteenth century Buddhist sect, Nichiren Shoshu.
Stupas- Originally, burial mounds, now used as relic chambers or memorials, especially of the Buddha.
Theravada -Literally the "teachings of the elders". The form of Buddhism that arose early among Buddha's disciples. Also called Hinayana Buddhism. Prevails in Southeast Asia.
Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism) -A sect of Buddhism that began in Tibet in the seventh century A.D. It combined Buddhist principles with the occult religion of Tibet, producing Lamaism. The priests are all called Lamas and at the head is the Dalai Lama, a man who is worshipped as the reincarnated Bodhisattva Chenresi (Avalokita).
Tripitaka- See Pitaka.
True Sect of the Pure Land-A sect emphasizing the teachings of Pure Land (see above entry), founded in the thirteenth century by Shinran. Today it is the largest of any Buddhist sect in Japan.
Vinaya-The first of the three parts of the Pitaka, or scriptures of Buddhism, containing the rules of discipline of the Buddhist monastic order. Zazen -Zen meditation, concentrating on a problem or koan (see below).

Buddhism Bibliography

Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japanese Religion: A Survey, Tokyo, New York, and San Francisco: Kodansha International Ltd., 1972, 1981.
Bach, Marcus, Had You Been Born in Another Faith, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1961.
Burtt, E. A., ed., The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, New York: New American Library, 1955.
Conze, Edward, A Short History of Buddhism, London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1980.
Conze, Edward, et. al, Buddhist Texts Through the Ages, New York: Philosophical Library, 1954.
David-Neel ' Alexandra, Buddhism: Its Doctrines and Its Methods, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977.
Humphreys, Christmas, Buddhism, London: Penguin Books, 1951.
Martin, Walter, ed., The New Cults, Santa Ana, CA: Vision House Publishers Inc., 1980.
Noss, John B., Man's Religions, New York: MacMillan Company, 1969. Offner, Clark B. in The World's Religions, Sir Norman Anderson, ed., Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.
Rice, Edward, Eastern Definitions, New York: Doubleday, 1980.
Robinson, Richard, trans., Chinese Buddhist Verse, London: Greenwood Publ., 1954.
Ross, Nancy Wilson, Buddhism: A Way of Thought, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1980.
Seeger, Elizabeth, Eastern Religions, New York: Crowell, 1973.
Smith, Huston, The Religions of Man, New York: Harper and Row, 1958.
Swearer, Donald K., Buddhism, Niles, IL: Argus Communications, 1977.

Home What is a Cult? The Characteristics of Cults The Beliefs of Orthodox Christianity Hare Krishna Jehovah's Witnesses Mormonism Transcendental Meditation Theosophy EST The Unification Church/ "Moonies" Christian Science Unity Cult Ministry Referrals Astrology Hinduism Janism
Buddhism Confucianism Taoism Shintoism Zoroastrianism Judaism Islam Sikhism Atheism, Agnosticism, and Skepticism Marxism Secular Humanism Existentialism The Authority of the Believer Print this page

Note: This text material represents only a limited portion of the book pertaining to this issue
 and it is Copyright © 1983 by Josh McDowell. All Rights Reserved.
Modifications can not be made to this material without the express written permission of the rights holder.
To obtain the complete work, along with other pertinent resources, you may order
Handbook of Today’s religions from Amazon.com

Handbook of Today's Religions