Buddhism has extremists too

One of my pet peeves is the particular view that Buddhism is some perfect, peaceful, problem-free religion. If only everyone was Buddhist, the world would be such a better place! Unfortunately, when Buddhism has the majority position of power, it has the same problems as other religions:

A Sri Lankan court has given suspended jail terms to three French tourists for wounding the religious feelings of Buddhists by taking pictures deemed insulting.

Two women and one man were detained in the southern town of Galle after a photographic laboratory alerted police.

The pictures show the travellers posing with Buddha statues and pretending to kiss one of them.

[…]They were convicted under a section of the Penal Code which outlaws deeds intended to wound or insult “the religious feelings of any class of persons” through acts committed in, upon or near sacred objects or places of worship.

I don’t personally understand how someone posing to kiss a statue of a figure you revere is “insulting” or “intending to wound.” Maybe if it was…oh, I don’t know, a statue of Hitler, and you were kissing him because you thought he was awesome. …Not that we have many statues of Hitler laying around. But I have no right to tell someone what they should or shouldn’t be offended by.

However, religious people have no right to inflict their religious belief on those who don’t follow it. If you want to set rules for your followers, have a blast. But you don’t get to dictate how everyone else lives their lives.

At least these tourists got off easy. Alexander Aan was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for daring to say he’s an atheist in Muslim-majority Indonesia.


  1. Fred Salvador - The Public Sucks; Fuck Hope says

    Maybe if it was…oh, I don’t know, a statue of Hitler, and you were kissing him because you thought he was awesome. …

    How would that be “insulting” or “intending to wound”?

  2. says

    In Sri Lanka, the dominant form of Buddhism is Vajrayana, which is an extremely rigid form of Buddhism. Even more rigid than Roman Catholicism for those western minds. It’s usually criticized by other sects of Buddhism for being misguided and overly rigid. Sects such as Mahayana criticize Vajrayana teaching, because Vajrayana teach that one should worry more about obtaining Enlightenment before helping others because it’ll fall into place, while Mahayana teaching stipulate that helping others is helpful in the obtainment of Enlightenment.

  3. says

    I was just few weeks ago in the Galle area.What has been written by Keith is a true consideration. Beside the strict vision of Buddhism in Sri Lanka the major problem is the dictatorship of the present governance. A president who cannot leave the country because of of crimes against humanity by the Den Haag Court. A Country where one affirms that the civil war between Tamils and Cingales ended , when it is clear that this is a fake true. A country where tourists risk two -three weeks in jail , at least for taking photos of the Parliament ,or the presidential Palace. A pure dictatorship that will soon collapsed under the weight of its own robberis against its own poor citizens.

  4. M Groesbeck says

    AFAICT, Buddhism may have less of a history of theocratic bullshit…but only because it was a bit of an outsider religion in its place of origin and never really completely dominant elsewhere. Of course, historically various ruling regimes in China, Japan, and elsewhere have had Buddhism as the official state doctrine while being, well, ruling regimes; “peace and love” may be a popular claim of religions, but any religion which lives up to the claim is one that’s never had a chance at secular power for the leaders.

  5. Erista (aka Eris) says

    I like a lot of the tenets of Buddhism (not all of them), and I identify with a lot of what Buddhism has to say, but yeah, Buddhism as a religious institution is not some kind of magical oppressive-free zone. Some of the shit that Buddhists have pulled in the name of Buddhism that has been supported by the institution of Buddhism are really, really, really awful. I know that a lot of people say that Buddhism as a faith is better than other faiths, but I’m not sure where that comes from or if it’s based on data or evidence, so it’s not something that I’m really willing to accept at this point. I think that part of the reason that we think of Buddhism as being more peaceful is that it tends to happen in cultures far from ours, and so we don’t see/experience a lot of what goes on when Buddhism is predominant.

  6. says

    Keep in mind that the official religion of the Mongol Horde was Buddhism, and Ghengis and his descendants established Buddhist monastaries as they conquered new lands. While officially tolerant of other religions, the Khans gave these monastaries exclusive power to enforce Mongol law, including laws prohibiting “blasphemy” and “disrespect” against religious beliefs, adherents and places of worship… laws that were routinely applied only to Buddhist beliefs, adherents and places of worship.

  7. says

    The dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is Theravada. Vajrayana is found in the Himalayas, primarily Nepal and Tibet, Otherwise, you are correct.

    The rivalry between Theravada (“Teaching of the Elders”) and Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) is pretty old, and stretches back almost to Buddhism’s founding. Mahayana polemicists coined the term Hineyana (“Lesser Vehicle”) as a term of ridicule against the Theravada adherents. Vajrayana (“Vehicle of Lightning”) is an amalgamation of Mahayana Buddhism and the Bon religion.

  8. Yoritomo says

    I lost all my illusions about “peaceful Buddhism” when I read about the medieval Japanese soldier-monks. Those Mahayana Buddhists at times burned down opposing temples in squabbles over protocol, and they were wont to bully their way into the capital by force of arms and by the power of holy palanquins in order to press their political demands.

  9. says

    My greatest illusion-shattering came in Tibet. Not just the 100-ton silver, gold and gemstone statues and all the other ostentatious wealth accumulated by the lamasery, but also the fact that there existed a hereditary caste of official torturers. You know, just in case those peasants got uppity and didn’t want to contribute to the upkeep of the 100-ton silver, gold and gemstone statues and all the other ostentatious wealth accumulated by the lamasery.

    Curiously, Bhutanese Buddhism is remarkably similar in doctrine, yet they managed just fine with painted wood.

  10. says

    You’re wrong; Sri Lankans practice Hinayana or Theravada Buddhism. Sri Lankan Buddhism is more notorious, backward thinking form of Buddhism. In Sri Lanka, they worship all kind of Hindu gods, goddesses such as Vinayaga, Lord Muruga, Lord Vishnu and so on except the Brahma. Sri Lankan Buddhism has all superstious practices such as astrology, witchery, numerology and many more which are in Hinduism too. Even to certain extent they are practicing the Caste system which has roots in Hinduism. In Sri Lankan Buddhism certain sects doesn’t allow Low caste people to become Monks. Even they stopped Lady Monks or Bikhunis for so many years, until recently a few group started the Bikhuni order.

    Sri Lankans considering the Buddha statue equivalent to God, which again a Hindu practices. Sri Lankan Buddhist are as violent as Islamic Jihadis – Many monks took the guns and short political leaders. Monks are racist too, they don’t like Ethnic Tamil people, Monks influence a lot in Sri Lankan politics, and massacred Hindu Ethnic Tamils so many years.

    I love some of the teachings of Buddha but I never liked the way Buddhism evolved into other superstitious religions of the world.

  11. says

    I too would like a reference. As far as I know, Genghis Khan practiced a mixture of Mongol folk religion/Shamanism and Buddhism, but he was also influenced by many other beliefs; for example, according to the Secret History of the Mongols, a Chinese Taoist holy man was favoured among the Khan’s court and actually encouraged him to impose draconian measures against Buddhist temples (such was the rivalry between Chinese Taoists and Buddhists). There were also Nestorian Christians and Muslims among Genghis’ close relatives (most of the Horde who settled in Persia became Shia Muslims) and the general environment was one of religious pluralism.

  12. Stan Brooks says

    One might be advised to read Christopher Hitchens in regards to hh. A hint: it is not particularly favorable. And Mr Hitchens in not alone in his critiques, though I can’t recall any others off the top of my head.

  13. anders says

    First: Buddhism is not a religion, it’s a philosophy. And do not judge it from a few miscreats behaving in a bad way. That occurs alsi in other philosophies and or religions and has notthing to do with them at all.

    Second: Therawada teaching is the original teaching, taught by Buddha himself. Later the Mahayana sects developed, called by the need to get more ordinary (not actice monks) people to adopt the idea that they did not themselves have to live like the Buddha to reach Nirvana. Simply it was really a way to get more followers that way and going away from the original teaching. In that sense Therawada is more pure.

    Third: The statue of Buddha is revered, not as a god but as a symbol of what he teached and as a pattern of behaviour. Therefore it has a very strong symbolic value and it is not strange at all that folowers react when ignorant people behave in a disrespectfull and joking way against it.

    How would for example americans (many belonging to the most ignorant people in the west) react if someone ridiculed the US flag och other state symbols? Show some understanding for other cultures also please! And do not make fully convinced statement about Buddhism or anythiong else, before you have checked out the facts first, not only listening to rumours, gossip and unverified statements from other ignorants!

  14. Tanya2 says

    Nonsense. Atheism has extremists too.

    You know it, we all know it, but it dare not be admitted.

  15. KG says

    I admit it. So both you and I (I am an atheist) have disproved your stupid contention that it may not be admitted.

  16. KG says

    First, Buddhism is a religion: it has scriptures, priests, monks, belief in the supernatural, doctrines and doctrinal disputes, a founder revered as more than an ordinary human being. You confirm that it is a religion, and in Sri Lanka an intolerant one, by confirming, and attempting to justify the absurd over-reaction to the tourists’ admittedly insensitive behaviour.

    Second, no-one knows what Gautama Siddhartha taught, or even if such a person really existed: the oldest Buddhist manuscripts date from around half a millennium after his supposed lifetime.

  17. says

    In Sri Lanka Buddhism has become tightly fused to national and cultural identity, and to them disrespecting the Buddha is disrespecting Sri Lanka as well. And it’s doubly offensive to them when the offender is European.

    For more than four centuries part, and eventually all, of Sri Lanka was a European colony — first of Portugal, then the Netherlands, then Britain. During that time the people of Sri Lanka often were ill treated by Europeans. A lot of invaluable Buddhist art and relics were destroyed by Christian missionaries. By the mid 19th century most of the Buddhist monasteries had been closed and temples were falling into ruin. About the only education available to Sri Lankans were Christian missionary schools, where children were taught that Buddhism was ignorant and backward and nice European Christianity was much superior.

    In the late 19th century the few remaining monks and their followers began to push back, opening Buddhist schools and re-converting Sri Lankans back to Buddhism. Over time this resistance was joined by various political factions and eventually led to a series of armed uprisings, the last in 1971. Sri Lanka achieved full independence from Great Britain in 1972.

    By that time the ethnic majority in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese, were almost entirely Buddhist. But there was another ethnic group, the Tamils, who are mostly Hindu. The Tamils and Sinhalese fought a particularly nasty and bloody civil war from 1983 to 2009. During this war the Sinhalese Buddhist establishment supported military action against the Tamils, which was not entirely Buddhist of them. But the Buddhist establishment today has a lot of political clout in Sri Lanka, and as I said nationalism, patriotism, and Buddhism have gotten mixed up together there, and no good will likely come of that.

    But my point is that, given this history, it’s understandable that Sri Lankans are twitchy about Europeans who treat the Buddha’s image disrespectfully. The French tourists were being jerks, and I hope they learn something from this. Whenever you are visiting a foreign country, it really won’t kill you to show some respect and sensitivity to the people of that country, would it?

  18. Sam Barnett-Cormack says

    I could understand it more (at least in terms of finding them guilty) if they’d been miming fellatio on the statue…

    The law should also not exist, at least not in those terms. It sounds like it could be aimed at hate speech, and there being some legal parameters around hate speech and hateful acts can be sensible (entirely separate to anything related to religion), the law being applied in this way is frankly absurd.

  19. Pramod says

    Good point. Calling this a free speech issue – “I should be able to do whatever as long as I don’t hurt anyone” – is oversimplifying matters. Context matters and the context here is that us brown people have been oppressed for the longest time by westerners. We’ve been consistently and repeatedly told that we’re inferior, our culture is inferior, our religions are inferior and so on and so forth and now that we’re no longer directly ruled by westerners we’re understandably a little wary of jerks coming over and being disrespectful.

    Think of it this way. If a white guy were to do something similar to, say a statue of Rosa Parks, wouldn’t you be uncomfortable?

    A side note: Tibet has been a sexually repressed all-male theocracy for something like a thousand years, right? Who thinks of this as being perfect and problem-free?

  20. Erista (aka Eris) says

    Yeah, mine came with becoming more familiar with the history of Tibet, too. The shit that the Dahlai Lamas and the other assorted members of the Buddhist hierarchy put everyone else through is mind boggling.

  21. pipenta says

    Jen, I’m on the same page! Westerners give Buddhism a get-out-of-jail free card. It is not part of our cultural heritage, so it appears to be baggage-free. Instead of confessionals or hellfire & brimstone preachers, there are meditation retreats in elegant austere spaces decorated with natural fibers and wooden folk art. It seems relaxing and tasteful. If Martha Stewart were to design a religion, this would be it.

    Many of the teachings are useful, especially for dealing with stress. But I’ve only been exposed to the cherry-picked, edited, interpreted versions of Buddhism. It has been marketed. So have other religions, but Buddhism is an upscale brand, like Patagonia. It has been sanitized for your convenience.

    I have several friends who identify as Buddhists, friends I very much respect. When I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, Buddhist teachings were offered to me from all sides and I explored some of them. I learned meditation techniques. It helped me step back and examine my emotional responses in the moment. Good stuff, no doubt. But no one tool works for all purposes and Buddhism is not the answer to everything as some would have it. And when the topic of reincarnation came up, they’d lose me every time.

    I reached a point where I had to resist the urge to roll my eyes when yet another Dalai Lama quote or koan or whatever teaching was invoked.

    I think the reason Buddhism appeals to many people is that, at its best, the teachings insist that you face reality. Buddhism tells you “Suck it up, bitch.” That’s useful and more productive than mooning after pie in the sky. When you start talking about a magical afterlife, or reincarnation without taking any responsibility for explaining a possible mechanism, then it is as much woo as any other religion. And when you bring in the claptrap, the rigid rituals imposed on communities, the rivalries between cults, the abuses and the cruelties and the violence that we see in any established religion, it isn’t really better or different.

    And while meditation is useful to reduce stress. But is it a more profound experience than, say, jogging? I doubt it. What I found more useful were the emotional exercises to improve empathy. It is hard to fault something like that. Still, I’d like to ask Pema Chödrön what she makes of the official torturers, or the traditional Tibetan Buddhist sculptures of demon god things in the American Museum of Natural History, all bulging eyes and fangs simultaneously pleasuring themselves with nubile young women while stomping and crushing the rib cages of writhing men. That art can only have been commissioned by sociopaths. I’d like to ask her about it, but I could never afford the fees to attend one of her seminars.

    Happily, we can use what we want without buying the whole package. I can tuck into a zeppole with nary a thought to Saint Joseph. I can meditate without Buddha.

  22. Reginald Selkirk says

    You’re all missing what I think is the really amazing and funny part of the article: they were turned in by a photo lab. They must have been using a film camera.

  23. leftwingfox says

    Think of it this way. If a white guy were to do something similar to, say a statue of Rosa Parks, wouldn’t you be uncomfortable?

    Uncomfortable? Sure. Angry. Sure. Angry enough to use mean words and shouty tones in major newspapers? Sure.

    Sending them to jail? FUCK NO. BIG RED LINE.

    It does no-one any favours to conflate criminal punishment solutions to assholishness with free speech solutions to offensive speech.

  24. pramod says

    Did you actually read the article? They’ve been given a suspended sentence and didn’t actually go to jail. Basically they’ve been given a very stern warning against fucking up again.

    I don’t agree with the law, but I certainly don’t think the punishment was disproportionate to the crime here.

  25. leftwingfox says

    Yes, I am aware they were given a suspended sentence. That doesn’t change the fact that they were 1: Arrested
    2: Tried
    3: Convicted
    4: Fined

    I’m not happy about ANY of that.

    The fact that the law allows for six months of hard labor for being rude is horrifying, and the judge “mercifully” excused them from that in favour of a fine doesn’t make the other 4 aspects of that magically go away. The article also mentions two other cases under this same law, so it’s not isolated, either.

  26. Nepenthe says

    The traditional Tibetan Buddhist sculptures of demon god things in the American Museum of Natural History, all bulging eyes and fangs simultaneously pleasuring themselves with nubile young women while stomping and crushing the rib cages of writhing men.

    Wrathful deities are meant, literally, to scare the hell out of you. They’re benevolent bodhisattvas who attempt to use the stick rather than carrot to lead sentient being to enlightenment. See here for more details. So no, sociopathy is not what I’d call it.

    Plus, Tibetan Buddhism is, in particular, big on the reminders of death and eventual corruption of the body. It seems icky, but it’s no more disturbing than the memento mori theme in European art.

  27. says

    First: Buddhism is not a religion, it’s a philosophy.

    Uh, no. There are plenty of supernatural elements in buddhism, although there are “cafeteria buddhists” who choose to leave those parts out. Buddhism has plenty of teleology and an undetectable supernatural balancing force that recycles people by undetectable processes to enforce justice and inflict punishment. Add to that the majority of branches of buddhism that practice intercessionary prayer (disguised to some degree or another) and the often-made claim that the founder was a godlike being – yeah, it’s a religion. Sorry to pop your bubble, butterfly.

  28. says

    If you can not show that a thing exists in this reality then it must be considered to be woo, and dealt with accordingly. Because woo allows anything to be done it it’s name. Buddha sits on the same level of the Parthenon as Joe Smith, Mohammed and Jesus. Some say they are not gods, but when you turn away they are treated as gods.

    We don’t need gods to be good, did you all forget that one?

  29. Rory says

    Yes, you have achieved a stunning triumph in proving a point which no one actually contested. Would you care for a freshly-squeezed orange juice before you carry on?

  30. captainahags says

    How would for example americans (many belonging to the most ignorant people in the west) react if someone ridiculed the US flag och other state symbols?

    It might not go over well, but the offenders wouldn’t get jailed.

  31. captainahags says

    I don’t understand why this keeps being parroted. Yes, atheism may have extremists, but are any of them suggesting jail time for those who offend them? Do they threaten mob violence or murder against people who desecrate “The God Delusion?” This “both sides are just as bad” bs is absolutely ridiculous.

  32. eric says


    Not that we have many statues of Hitler laying around.

    Fear not! If you have a hankerin’ for some historical, dictatorial statue kissin’, there is always Stalin World.

  33. joachim says

    Its obvious. She is showing that atheists are no better than anyone else, and that atheism offers no moral advantage.

  34. says

    “A side note: Tibet has been a sexually repressed all-male theocracy for something like a thousand years, right? Who thinks of this as being perfect and problem-free?”

    You can’t separate religious institutions from the cultures in which they plant themselves. As Buddhism spread throughout Asia, the people who entered the monasteries and became the local Buddhist establishment brought their cultural attitudes with them. As a result, the Buddhist establishments in many parts of Asia are as stubbornly patriarchal as any religion anywhere. And the Tibetans are downright feminist compared to, say, the Thai establishment. Talk about male chauvinist pigs.

    But in other parts of Asia nuns are highly respected and have a long tradition of asserting their independence from the menfolk. There were female Zen masters in China as far back as the 6th century, for example. Today women are assuming important leadership positions in Buddhism, both in Asia and the West, and there is no scriptural or doctrinal reason why that’s a problem. So it’s not the religion as much as it is culture.

  35. says

    A lot of stuff goes on in Sri Lanka that I think is over the line. They are really, really conservative in Sri Lanka. But, y’know, it’s their country. That means they get to make their own laws.

    And keep in mind they just wound up a big, honking civil war between Buddhists and Hindus in which a whole lot of people got killed, and people are still feeling pretty raw about it. So it’s not surprising they have laws about wounding or insulting “the religious feelings of any class of persons” through acts committed in, upon or near sacred objects or places of worship. That may be necessary to keep the peace.

  36. gworroll says

    Penn and Teller came down hard on him in an episode of Bullshit!.

    I’m mixed, the Dalai Lamas words today are wonderful. But the system he came out of when Tibet was occupied was fucked up to put it mildly.

    Someone needs to ask him one question, and we’ll see what sort of a man he really is. “If the Chinese left Tibet, and you returned to power, what about post-occupation Tibet would differ from pre-occupation Tibet?”. See if he’s proposing something along the lines of his peace and love that he talks about nowadays.

    I should do some more research, see if he’s said anything on that topic.

  37. pramod says

    The Dalai Lama has given up political leadership of Tibet. They have a democratically elected leader now. [1]

    I’ve actually been to their headquarters in Dharamshala and came away very impressed with him and his colleagues’ work. He really is a good guy, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of religious “leaders” that I’m familiar with.

    [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13190731

  38. Armored Scrum Object says


    No, seriously, do you have a statement of principles or at least a somewhat enlightening blog post or similarly personal article defining or calling for “B+” that you could link? Because that’s the bare minimum of what it would take to equate “B+” to A+.

    I’m honestly sympathetic to some of the principles of primitive Buddhism (if you assiduously cherry-pick, you can even get a sense of skeptical humanism out of it; see in particular the parable of the poison arrow in the Shorter Instructions to Malunkya), but it would be another thing altogether if there were a genuine call within any form of traditional Buddhism to embrace social justice and secular government. That would at least be worthy of a modicum of support,

    Do you have that much?

  39. says

    It does no-one any favours to conflate criminal punishment solutions to assholishness with free speech solutions to offensive speech.

    And how much good does it do us to pretend racist asshattery is merely ‘offensive’?

  40. Sergio says

    Recently the Buddhist in Myanmar have been working to kill or forcibly remove the Muslim minority from there country so extremism in the name of a religion is every where

  41. says

    Yes, that doesn’t detract from my point. Firstly, according to the legends, Ashoka only converted to Buddhism as an act of repentance for the bloody massacre he’d committed in the conquest of Kalinga, so he’d done kicking shit out of people before Buddhism became a royally patronised religion of his Empire.

    Whether or not that’s true, M Groesbeck suggested that Buddhism had never been a dominant religion in South Asia – the Maurya Empire is just one famous counterexample – and he also suggested that Buddhism’s minority status was responsible for its reputation of tolerance, and if it had gained official status it would have become tyrannical. Again, the Maurya empire is a famous example of a state in which Buddhism had official status but religious tolerance and diversity was protected.

    My purpose is not to whitewash or defend Buddhism in any way. Clearly it can have extremists, and sadly the Sri Lankan government has a much less tolerant approach than Ashoka.

  42. James says

    Depends on what aspects of Buddhism you’re talking about. Eastern religions can often be separated between their supernatural elements and philosophical ones. In the case of Buddhism, its founder was rather clear that one shouldn’t follow his teachings dogmatically (“Kill the Buddha” if he stands in the way of Enlightenment) and thus its foundations are less of a basis for religion compared to, say, Christianity. Hasn’t stopped people from turning the brand towards religious purposes however.

  43. captainahags says

    I would agree with the first point- we’re just human- but the second? Well, considering the atrocities that have been committed in the name of religion (many- see the crusades, the inquisition, etc.) vs the atrocities committed in the name of atheism (none that I know of) I’d say atheism does in fact offer some sort of moral advantage, or at least has a disadvantage in that it can’t motivate people to commit atrocities as religion can. Unless Dr. Kevorkian was engaging in his euthanasia specifically because of his atheism (an idea for which there is zero evidence) then it’s a completely irrelevant point; a red herring. Contrast this to the situation described in the post, where, specifically because they offended religious sensitivities (aka hurt someone’s feelings) several tourists were convicted of a crime.

  44. says

    “Uh, so what? They failed to help. They’re as complicit as catholics in the structures they created.”

    “They,” who? Feminist Soto Zen nuns in Japan, for example, didn’t have anything to do with creating Buddhist establishment structures in Thailand. Over the past couple of millennia, many schools of Buddhism had no direct contact, never mind collusion, with other schools of Buddhism in other parts of Asia until the past 50 years or so. It’s only been very recently that Buddhists of the various schools scattered across Asia have begun talking to each other all that much.

    There is no ecclesiastical authority responsible to all of Buddhism in the same way the Pope is responsible for all of Catholicism. Most of the time, even among monasteries in the same order in the same country there is no hierarchy equivalent to a groups of bishops or cardinals determining what everybody does. As a rule, abbots and abbesses of Buddhist monasteries operate with a great deal more autonomy than is true of Catholicism. And if you are looking at sects operating at great geographical distance, such as between Korea and Burma, there was no contact at all between them for centuries.

    So today Buddhist establishments in Asia are widely diverse in their policies toward women, and nuns from various schools, in Asia and in the West, are organizing to improve the lives of their sisters in the more backward establishments. And my point is that the differences were created by culture, not religion.

  45. says

    Buddhism is not monolithic; there are many different schools that treat “supernatural” things in very different ways. Zen, for example, for many centuries has discouraged belief in anything supernatural. There are very widely different understandings of rebirth, also; some schools see it as you describe, and others don’t. There’s so much diversity that just about any time somebody says “Buddhists believe …” he’s already wrong.

    It’s also the case that, in many parts of Asia, much of the Buddha’s teaching was reserved for monks and nuns and not given to laypeople, so that laypeople came up with their own version of Buddhism that is more like a conventional animistic religion. So for centuries laypeople have been blending Buddhist iconography and the practice of the Precepts with all kinds of folk traditions involving ghosts and spirits and local deities. So in effect in many parts of Asia there’s a “classic” or “formal” Buddhism inside monasteries and a “folk” or “popular” Buddhism outside monasteries that are very different.

  46. says

    Y’know, I’ve been a formal Zen student in the Soto tradition since the late 1980s and now write about Buddhist topics (and other things) for a living, and I have never heard of “B+” Buddhists. What is that?

  47. YES THEY DID says

    Many atheist leaders killed, or set up camps for killing, believers BECAUSE of their atheism.

    I.E., they hated religion and wanted to eliminate it.

    Hitchens even admitted in GING that Lenin and Trotsky were dedicated atheists determined to eliminate religion.

    Sam Harris has famously said that people can be killed for their Beliefs…not just action, Beliefs. (TEOF, pages 53-54)

    You are in denial. Fact it, it happened and their is a movement in the churches that is educating believers about what they did.

  48. pramod says


    You’re missing the point that there isn’t any doctrinal support for atheists killing any one else. This is stark opposition to the bible which offers support for the killing of gays, the quran which supports the killing of non-believers or some hindu books which support the torture of those who step outside the duties as definied by the caste system.

    Of course, people who were atheists have done horrible things and some of them may have claimed that they did so because of their atheism, but their claims are invalid. This may seem like a No True Scotsman fallacy but isn’t because atheism only makes claims about the (non-) existence of deity and you really can’t extrapolate any further than this, and you certainly can’t come up with a moral code based on just that statement.

    If you’re now going to suggest that there isn’t any such thing as secular morality, save your breath ‘coz there is and might I point out that google is your friend?

  49. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    @YES If you think that atheism was the driving motivation behind the red terror then you are staggeringly ignorant of history.

  50. Curt Nelson says

    I guess Dr. K. is considered to be evil by religious people. He helped terminally ill people to die well. To me, he was a very good man who recognized that “natural” death is not guided by God but by nature, which is mindless and can be improved upon.

  51. Curt Nelson says

    Jesus Christ was an extremist, too. So was Copernicus. And everyone else who thought outside the box to improve the world.

  52. The Rose says

    er…alls I gots is sarcasm. sorry. sorry.

    …just don’t like the “A+” brand.
    shouldn’t have brought it here. sorry.

    ‘course I’m all for what it stands for…just don’t like how it sounds; it doesn’t really help me; and I think grade school teachers already own “A+”.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just go back to being an A Whole.

  53. Nepenthe says

    But the system he came out of when Tibet was occupied was fucked up to put it mildly.

    No shit. Are you aware of where Tibet is? It’s fucking hard to get to. Non-Tibetans who go there tend to spend a lot of time vomiting and being exhausted. Not a great deal of cultural exchange was going on there and it was hardly a step down from the basically feudal adjacent Chinese territories of the time. I hate when people act shocked that an isolated government of a huge, sparsely populated, resource poor country didn’t independently come up with the approved version of Western democracy and secularism.

    We have no idea what sorts of reforms Tenzin Gyatso would have initiated; given his affinity for Western ideas, I imagine something would have happened. Unfortunately, the Chinese came in with a fun violent occupation, with the ensuing mass imprisonment, slaughter, and starvation (but hey! it’s not theocracy! And atheistic too!), so we’ll never know.

  54. leftwingfox says

    I’m sorry if that term is too mild. I’m also not counting harassment, threats of incitements to violence under that umbrella; I feel those _should_ be prosecuted under the law. I also feel it’s the moral obligation of individuals to criticize and shame racist and sexist behaviour.

    My concern is that “offence” laws which aren’t narrowly defined become ways of prosecuting legitimate criticism, and also serve to amplify institutionalized hierarchies.

    For the former, there’s the issue of irrational Islamophobia (The president is a secret muslim, Halal soup is creeping Sharia) versus legitimate criticism of Islam (Violence against women, religiously justified discrimination in the market). Those who support Islam unconditionally call ALL criticism “islamophobia” and eagerly exploit outrage over the madness of Frank Gaffney, Mark Stein and Pam Gellar to the much more precise criticisms of actual positions, policies and speech.

    For the latter, the issue is when racist, sexist, authoritarian cops, prosecutors and judges choose who is arrested, charged, and sentenced under those laws. Too often it’s the radical rabble-rouser, or the scary alien outsider who gets hit with these laws, not the mainstream columnist who can do the most damage with dog-whistle racism in a major publication.

  55. David Hart says

    “The statue of Buddha is revered, not as a god but as a symbol of what he teached and as a pattern of behaviour.”

    Anyone who venerates a statue is going to have a very hard time persuading me that they are not being religious.

  56. says

    I have long been well acquainted with Engaged Buddhism. EB is not really new and not really separate from the rest of Buddhism. It’s more of a re-thinking of how Buddhism engages in the modern world on a global level, but it’s all based on long-established teaching. So I still don’t get the references to “A+” or “B+.”

  57. Pen says

    I don’t know about this – you don’t just march into an active religious site belonging to someone else and start posing with the statues, do you? You wouldn’t, I suppose, walk into a consecrated church, sit down cross-legged in the middle of the altar and start eating your sandwich. Would you? If you visit a religious site, you take your shoes/hat off/put them on/cover your shoulders/… when asked to do so and stay out of areas you’re not wanted in, I suppose? And if you don’t want to do that, you stay away. Not believing in something doesn’t give anyone the right to treat other people’s institutions as if they were at Disneyland. Equally institutions that admit visitors should try to make their requirements and expectations as plain as possible. In active Buddhist sites I’ve visited, it was obvious that the Buddha figure was not to be approached, though I don’t know about this one.

    All this isn’t to say that Buddhism and/or Sri Lanka’s regime shouldn’t be subject to criticism, but in this case, I’m not so sure.

  58. James says

    That doesn’t seem like much of a “Buddhist” extreme to me. I don’t know of any texts that disallow kissing statues (or even mention any type of ‘holiness’ of statues to begin with). This seems more like a prudish repressive government extreme to me. In other words, I don’t see where buddhism directly led to this. Yet, Christianity (all abrahamics) DIRECTLY lead to killing/discriminating against homosexuals.

  59. williamcaulfield says

    I’m new here myself, so I’m not the perfect candidate to explain this. The A+ is referring to Atheism +, which I gather is an attempt to create a positive social movement within Atheism.

    One poster referenced B+ as a play on A+. A later poster didn’t seem to get the joke and asked for references to B+ (Buddhism +).

    As you already know about Engaged Buddhism, you’ll probably agree with me that it is a “positive social movement” within Buddhism and could meet the mark on being referred to as B+.

  60. eean says

    I think your confusing “things which indicate you are a douche” and “what should be illegal”.

  61. eean says

    Basically your argument is the No True Scotsman fallacy with an assist from the assumption that religions are defined by their holy texts.

  62. James says

    Actually what she is committing is a fallacy of composition.

    Your assumption is analogous to “so you assume nationality is based on where you’re born?”

    Well, yes. Those religious texts are there for a reason. If you’re not going to base criticisms of a religion on its tenets (or fundamentalism on the fundamentals, as Harris would say), then you’ve opened up all fallacies of composition including, “well stalin was an atheist, therefore atheism killed millions.”

  63. says

    From the perspective of the Sinhalese (the mostly Buddhist ethnic majority in Sri Lanka) for Europeans to show disrespect to a Buddha is somewhat akin to a skinhead painting a swastika on a synagogue. There’s a few centuries of the history of Europeans in Sri Lanka behind this attitude that goes way beyond religion.

    The law itself, as I understand it (and I could be mistaken), protects the religious art and symbols of all religions in Sri Lanka, not just Buddhism. Note that Sri Lanka recently ended a very bloody civil war between the Sinhalese and mostly Hindu Tamils, and maybe the law was needed to discourage people from vandalizing each other’s temples. I’m just guessing there; I don’t know that for a fact.

    My point is that people here are seeing this incident purely as one of conservative religion versus freedom of speech, and it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. There’s no particular prohibition of kissing Buddha statues within Buddhism. In other parts of Asia, kissing some sorts of Buddha statues is considered good luck, I understand. So while there is Buddhist extremism, unfortunately, especially in Sri Lanka, this particular episode doesn’t strike me as being all that outrageous.

  64. says

    What would happen if some Japanese tourists visiting Notre Dame de Chartres were to photograph each other groping a statue of the Blessed Virgin? IMO it’s possible the gendarmes would arrest them for being a public nuisance, at least.

  65. yohei72 says

    “I certainly don’t think the punishment was disproportionate to the crime here.”

    You have absolutely got to be kidding me. They were arrested and put on trial. No matter what the outcome, that alone is outrageous for kissing a frigging statue. The fact that the judge managed to find it in his heart to not throw them in prison doesn’t excuse that.

    And who decided that kissing a statue is some grave sacrilege anyway (as opposed to just tacky)? And who decided that a foreign tourist ought to automatically know that? I just spent a few minutes finding some images of the photos in question online and they look like the sort of goofy, dopey pictures that foreign tourists often take while posing in front of all sorts of sites and sights (not me, I try to act at least slightly dignified when traveling), not some deliberate act of sacrilege.

  66. yohei72 says

    I’m not sure where “racist” comes into this. In fact, I’m not even sure I know what you’re referring to, that’s how confused I am by that. Are you describing the pictures with the statues? Like I said elsewhere in this thread, they just look like typical, tacky goofball tourist photos to me, not like anything that comes out of prejudice, malice or a desire to offend.

  67. says

    “I’m not sure where “racist” comes into this.”

    The racial component would be invisible to western white people, yes. But after several centuries of being a European colony overrun with white Christian missionaries telling them they are backward and uncivilized, the people of Sri Lanka see it a bit differently.

  68. says

    The video is entertaining but not really analogous to what we’re discussing. A big, plain wooden cross does not have the cultural or religious value as a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin in a major cathedral. Further, the “perp” is a white woman who is speaking French and is, I assume, French herself. Her act is making a particular political statement. A bunch of Japanase tourists groping the Blessed Virgin in Notre Dame de Chatres just to amuse themselves is an entirely different act that I suspect would offend even non-religious French people.

  69. KG says

    As I’ve already noted, we don’t know what Siddhartha Gautama taught, or even if there was such a person: the oldest Buddhist manuscripts date from roughly half a millennium after his supposed lifetime. Before that, there are some brief inscriptions on stelae, but that’s it.

  70. dhoelscher says

    “Buddhism is not a religion”

    That’s not at all true, at least where Sri Lankans are concerned. To Buddhists here, most of them anyway, it is very much a religion.

    How do I know? I’ve been living in Sri Lanka for the past nearly 14 months, I’ve read a fair amount about the country, and my wife is a Sinhalese Buddhist.

    Theraveda is the “pure” form of Buddhism?

    I don’t see how. Well educated Sri Lankan friends tell me that the monks here very often don’t know what they’re talking about when they teach lay people about Buddhist doctrine. If that’s true, and I have no good reason to doubt it, it seems unlikely that what lay people learn has anything to do with the Pali Canon, the most authoritative texts about the life and thought of the Buddha.

  71. Becky says

    I’m a non-theist who has been reading Blag Hag for years, and I’ve always felt perfectly at home – until people started in on MY religion. I’m feeling quite the hypocrite, at the moment. I’ve never believed that Buddhism was exempt from criticism, or that Buddhism as an institution was all goodness and light, but I must admit that some of the tarring-with-one-brush accusations and flippant dismissals of anything Buddhism might have to offer the scientific, non-theist community were pretty irritating to me. Still, these things will happen in any open discussion of religion, which I consider essential, so I guess I’ll just have to take it on the chin and move on. :) I might approach Christians a little more sensitively in the future, though. Live and learn.

  72. mohammadsaiful says

    Good and impressive. Focusing on what sets you apart from other providers is crucial. So many things like to go straight to the bottom line and use it as a basis of comparison.

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