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Special Characteristics of Buddhism
Yat-Biu Ching


1. Buddha Was a Man, Not God

In many religions in the world except Buddhism, the ultimate head of the religion is always a God with supernatural power. This God is almighty, who knows the past and the future, and controls all beings in the universe. This God is worshipped by mankind. Only those who believe in this God can be saved and attain eternal happiness.

Buddhism teaches that every man in the universe is his own lord, controls his own destiny, and is not controlled by any other man or any supernatural God. Sakyamuni attributed His own enlightenment, achievements and results to His own great efforts and wisdom.

Buddhism teaches that a person's luck or misfortune, success or failure is determined by that person's deeds - good or bad, and his efforts. The Buddha can show him the way, but he has to do the work himself. In Buddhism, there is no superior being like God that is higher than all men. The Buddha was a man, and every man can become a Buddha.

2. Buddhahood Is Attained, Not Born

Sakyamuni, like all of us, was an ordinary man. Through His wisdom and practice, He was enlightened and became a Buddha. Every man can follow Sakyamuni's footstep to practise Buddhism and become enlightened.

"Buddha" is only a term we use to refer to a person who has been enlightened. it is like referring to someone who can "preach, teach and solve confusion" as "teacher". There is not only one teacher. Anyone can become a teacher, and there can be teachers everywhere. Similarly, Buddha does not refer to Sakyamuni only. Everyone can become a Buddha. There can be Buddhas everywhere, in this world, in another world, and in another universe.

3. Buddhism Does Not Reject Other Religions

Most of the religions in the world only recognize their religion to be the only "truth faith", and reject other religions as "superstition."

Buddhism teaches that among all religions in the world, there is only difference in the complexity of the teachings, with very little difference in good or bad, right or wrong. Every religion which can exist in this world for over one thousand years must provide useful benefits to mankind, to be accepted and followed for such a long time. Otherwise, these religions would have been filtered by human wisdom and be discarded.

In the 2500 years of the history of Buddhism, it has always existed peacefully with other religions, there has never been any incident in history where the spreading or preaching of Buddhism had created conflict with other religions resulting in bloodshed. Buddhism is truly a most tolerant, understanding or peaceful religion.

Buddhists are taught: "Do not only respect your own religion and snub other religions, you should also respect other religions. This way, besides helping your own religion to grow, you also fulfil your responsibility to other religions. Otherwise, while hurting other religions, you are hurting your own religion as well." This kind of tolerance and sincerity is one of the most treasured characteristics of Buddhism.

From the perspective of Buddhism, "true faith" has no country boundary, and it doe require the trademark of a religion. It does not belong to any one religion, or to any one person at any one time. The "true doctrine" preached h the Buddha is not His exclusive possession, the Buddha was simply one of the discoverer of the Truth. Just like Newton discovered the law gravity, he did not possess the law.

That is why Buddhism teaches that all reasonable, and everlasting doctrines of any religion are also considered to be Buddhist principles, and many Buddhist principles are also part of the teachings of other religions.

"Love thy enemy" came from the Christian bible. Buddhism unquestionably recognizes this virtuous truth, and this saying is also stressed in a similar manner in the teachings of Buddhism. A number of the Christian Ten Commandments are also very similar to the five Precepts (rules) of Buddhism.

4. Buddhism Is Compatible with Science

There is no conflict between Buddhism and science, their mutual goal is to pursue "truth" and "fact". Many teachings of Buddhism are actually compatible with the modern science discoveries.

a. The Buddha said "Space has no end, and there are endless number of worlds." This means that the universe has no limit, and has an endless number of stars and planets.

It was only after Galileo started to observe stars with a telescope, that man has a more advance knowledge of astronomy. Man began to understand and accept that the earth is not the centre of the universe. The earth is only a small planet in this solar system, and the universe has an endless number of solar systems.

Over 2500 years ago, without a telescope, the Buddha told us about the endless space and countless number of stars, He was indeed an enlightened wise man to describe the truth about the great mysterious and overwhelming universe.

b. The Buddha also talked about endless lives in this world and other worlds. He pointed to a cup of water and said that there were eighty four thousand lives in the water (84,000 signifies a large quantity).

Today, scientists cannot deny the possibility of the existence of life in other stars or planets. Under a microscope, a cup of water has millions of micro living organisms. Over 2500 years ago when the Buddha was able to reveal such true fact without a microscope he certainly had amazing wisdom.

c. One Of the principles Of Buddhism states that nothing is unchangeable, substance can be destroyed and can be created.

This contradicted with scientific theories until Einstein's atomic theory E=MC2 proved that matter can be converted into energy (disappearance of substance) and matter can also be converted from energy (creation of substance).

d. The Buddha once said that for the time it took him to finish a sermon on earth, thousands of years have passed in another world. This seemingly unbelievable tale did not seem so absurd any more after Einstein invented his Theory of Relativity.

In the history of mankind, science had been regarded as a threat to religious conceptions of man and the universe from the time of Galileo, Bruno and Copernicus who were instrumental in altering erroneous notions of the universe. The theory of evolution and modern phycology went against accepted principles of many religions dealing with man and his mind as recorded in their "sacred writings." However, basic principles of Buddhism are in harmony with the findings of science and not opposed to them in anyway.

On May 19th, 1939, Albert Einstein, the great scientist of the atomic age, delivered a remarkable speech on "Science and Religion" in Princeton, New Je rsey, U.S.A. He said that "There is no conflict between science and religion, science asks what the world is, and religion asks what humankind and society should become." Einstein expressed this appreciation of Buddhism, "The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description." Highly appreciative references to Buddhism were also made by philosophers, scientists, historians, psychologists and thinkers of modern age including H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, C.G. Jung, Erich Fromm etc.

Science without morality spells destruction. Science plus religion like Buddhism can save the world and make it a happy place for people to live in. More importantly, Buddhism moves beyond the limitations of science.

5. Buddhism Is Democratic and Free

In other religions, the words spoken by the founder are "orders" that cannot be refused, and "gospel truth" that cannot be doubted. Anyone who doubts or does not follow the gospel will be "punished" by God. There were stories in other religion's "holy book" that men were punished severely by God because they did not follow God's orders.

In Buddhism scriptures, there is no record of any anger expressed by the Buddha. There was no punishment exercised by the Buddha. In the forty-five years of the Buddha's teaching life, He had always been kind, calm, and peaceful, to both good and bad people.

The Buddha never forced His disciples to accept His teachings. He constantly encouraged them to doubt and to question. He said "small doubts result in small realization, only great doubts result in great realization, no doubt results in no realization."

In His last days, the Buddha said to His followers: "I never think of you as my students or my disciples, I am just one of you, being with you frequently. I never force anyone to listen to me, and I do not want anyone to obey me." How kind and touching!

People cannot be forced to accept true faith. They cannot be persuaded to accept what they do not understand, or what they do not like. That is politics, not religion. True faith will only flourish under democracy and total freedom. After careful thoughts and repeated differentiation, the spirit and value of a true faith will truly shine.

In Buddhism, the spirit of allowing and encouraging its disciples to freely doubt, question or even explore the teachings of the founder of the religion, is certainly unique amongst the world religions. Among all religions in the world, only Buddhism's founder and its scriptures are permitted to be doubted, discussed and explored and questioned. Buddhism welcome people with research spirit, independent character, and wisdom to study Buddhism.

Buddhism invites anyone to come and see for himself and permits him to accept only those facts, which agree with reason, logic and truth. It encourages the seeker of a new way to discard hearsay, blind faith, miracles and magic. Principles of Buddhism invite criticism and testing. Buddhism is therefore a most appealing and most compelling factor that leads the modern minds in the world today.


[Originally published in Yat-Biu Ching, Buddhism You Too Can Understand, (Canada: True Faith Buddhism Association of Canada, 1992), pp. 28-35.]


Sincere thanks to Phramaha Somnuek Saksree for retyping this article.


Updated: 1-3-2000

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