July 19, 2009

A book Buddhists were "too lazy to write"

Mark Hattaway's Peoples of the Buddhist World profiles almost 250 Buddhist "people groups," and touts itself as the "first ever book produced that profiles all the Buddhist peoples of the world." Replete with hundreds of "superb full-color photographs" and 13 essays on aspects of Buddhism, the book offers an added bonus: It will help its readers "pray more effectively."

Pray more effectively? That's right, according to the promotional claim made by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF), the UK evangelical organization that published the book. OMF adds:

This book is a must for all Christians interested in the advance of God's kingdom on the earth, and is sure to become a classic.

OMF has its roots in the 19th century, when James Hudson Taylor, founder of what was originally called the China Inland Mission (CIM), began evangelizing the Middle Kingdom in 1865. Peoples of the Buddhist World is designed to familiarize Christian evangelists with the culture and habits of the Buddhist peoples in order to better understand them and to help them see the light.

This doesn't sit well with Bhikkhu K. Tanchangya, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk. And he blames Buddhists worldwide for the missionaries' success. While Christians provide sustenance, education and medical care for the "forgotten Buddhists," Buddhist organizations, he says, do not. That, along with a misunderstanding of Buddhist teachings:

It is time for the progressive Buddhists to meditate on this.

Yes, these Buddhist communities are illiterate and poor. They are easy targets for evangelism. But they deserve education and material prosperity before they could think of religion. And evangelical missionaries are providing just that.

Why can't the richest monks, richest temples and richest Buddhist organizations of the affluent world mobilize work teams to visit and look into the grievances of these forgotten fellow Buddhists? Why are we just shouting at others who are helping them when we chose not to act ourselves?

The Buddhist teachings of karma, rebirth, suffering, selflessness, and contentment have all been part and parcel of a deeper level of misunderstanding of Buddhism even among the most educated and affluent civilized Buddhists, and their misunderstanding has been a boon for the greedy missionaries to take advantage of these Buddhist teachings.

Maybe somebody is born poor because of his karma. And someone else out there is suffering and dying without proper hospice care. So what? He's got lots more rebirths coming up next. Somebody is poor but wants to have a better life. So instead of providing skills and opportunities, they are asked to "practice contentment". This is the unfortunate mentality of Buddhists towards those who are at the bottom rung of society.

No matter how openly they deny it, sadly this has been proved to be the case over and over again. Highly spiritual monks and committed practicing lay Buddhists tend to overlook the necessity of material development.

But what these people forget to realize is that there cannot be spirituality where there is widespread hunger and poverty; and healthy spirituality cannot exist where there is widespread illiteracy, ignorance and superstitions...

And this raises the extreme Buddhist need to establish cohesive, well-financed, dedicated and inspired international Buddhist organizations to safeguard the very existence of the peoples of the Buddhist world through active participation on field.

The monk also decries the unwillingness of the different Buddhist schools to work together—and Buddhist inertia: Peoples of the Buddhist World, he says, is a book Buddhists were "too lazy to write."

Here's more.

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Marcus's picture

Thank you Clark,

The book looks fabulous - and is definitely at the top of my wish list!

All the very best and thank you again,


Clark Strand's picture

Hi, Marcus. I actually wrote the book already. It's called HOW TO BELIEVE IN GOD: Whether You Believe in Religion or Not, and it's basically a Pure Land Buddhist reading of the Bible which uses the teachings on Other Power and Self Power as a way of unlocking the western spiritual canon's hidden teachings on universal salvation. My thinking has developed a bit since I wrote that article, but the experience it recorded still stands--I just interpret it a lot more broadly and liberally than before. Click on my name to check out my blog if you want to know more.

BlindRob's picture

Marcus, thanks for the Amida link. His is indeed a faith-based practice but I was referring more to a tested belief in the Dharma, including such important Buddhist concepts as karma and so on. Buddha said to test it, he did not say to dismiss it- which tendency is my major concern here in the west and on the pages of Tricycle et al.

Marcus's picture

I love that article by Clark Strand! When is his book coming out?

James Shaheen's picture

Thanks to both of you for your comments.

BlindRob: Take a look at a piece on Buddhism and faith by contributing editor Clark Strand. It may interest you.

NellaLou's picture

Thanks for bring this matter up. It has been of concern to some of us for quite some time. Agree with the comment above too.

BlindRob's picture

If only/only if.... There's a lot of topics to choose from here, so let me comment on just a few: firstly, if one is looking for Buddhist militancy here in the Americas, it will be hard to find because so many of us are basically non-believers who like a little meditation. As one author says, 'Buddhism without faith'- it's sad but it seems to be a fact at least judging from much of what one sees on Tricycle. Secondly, Buddhist inter-denominational rivalry is all too strong here: I learned that when I drifted over from Zen/Pureland practices into, amongst others, a convert Thai Theravadan community and got to see the reactions of those clerics to any hint of the Mahayana, or especially of Amida. Since the clerics in question are indeed converts, I've been hoping those reactions were based on their upbringings in their original faiths- but that hope is fading with further experiences. Thirdly, there seems to be a general feeling of desperation amongst even those western Buddhist leaders who operate "without faith" that they have to hang on to every member they have with clenched fingernails- I guess it's that old old need for financial success. Perhaps if we could develop some sort of solidarity here in the west, we could try the same with the Asian countries. Wouldn't it be lover-ly? Anyway, I hope Bhikkhu K. Tanchangya gets a chance to act some more on this cause and thereby acquires further merit in promoting the Dharma. And, I refer every good Buddhist to look up "the Panadura Controversy"- in Sri Lanka they know how to do it first and do it right.