People constantly misinterpreting Buddhism - is it okay to be a little angry about that?

Hey there :slight_smile:

I’ve stumbled lately upon article of Ajahn Sujato about modern movement of secular buddhism and its misinformation, conceit, lack of understanding of suttas etc.:

It is absolutely genius and I agree 100% what Bhante Sujato wrote there.

The thing is that I’m somehow annoyed and concerned that so much people and so many books are saying that Buddha was teaching something that totally contradicts what he was actually saying in the suttas. The are so many distorted dhamma books out there that more and more people know these distorted versions instead of actual dhamma taught by the Buddha and its spreading and spreading. Also there are coming new “dhamma forums” that are based upon this distorted versions of dhamma, and they start to claim that monastic life is religious artifact of the past etc.

A few things that I’ve noticed:

  • People reject notion of Nibbana and Parinibbana and say that Buddha was teaching something like powerful metta, awake to love of this world etc. It is true in terms of practicing goodwill, but it is not all for sure and totally against main teaching of Buddhism relating to panna (wisdom).
  • Even if they agree to rebirth, people reject all teachings of different planes of existence as non-buddhist fairy tales, even thou Buddha was saying many times about devas, brahmas, hellish realms etc. and suttas are full of them, and he was clearly stating that they exist and it is clear that they play big role in motivation for the quest for Nibbana to avoid rebirth in planes full of suffering. And to get a feeling how vast samsara is and how rare existence as a human is.
  • People reject notion of moral perfection and renunciation on the path, while saying that realising no-self through so called hard-core vipassana practice is everything that one needs to be Enlightened. And then there are “enlightened” lay teachers who commit various immoral deeds and people get disheartened with Dhamma. Lately for example famous lay pseudo-buddhist teacher Culadasa was exposed that he used money from donations to be in 10 relationships, with hookers included, without knowledge of his wife. People don’t realize that renunciation is one part of Buddha Dhamma and now they are surprised that their teacher betrayed “teaching of the Budda”. Btw. he was kicked out of his “sangha” which didn’t have a single monastic in it.
  • Organisations of bunch of lay people calling themselves Sangha. Generally using sacred terms for mundane things…
  • People are saying what Buddha said without ever reading a single sutta, and being very sure about their view because “they’ve read that in a book of famous buddhist author”, which content was of course against the Buddha teachings.
  • Worse, authors of popular books on buddhism often write about ideas that are against buddhism, and they claim that it was words of the Buddha.
  • Worse, people who never read a single sutta in their life, make agressive speech towards me, claiming that I live in a dream-world of wishful thinking that I pursuit Nibbana as a Buddhist, and that Nibbana is a fairy tale, and true “Buddhism” is about mindfulness, jhanas, nice insights etc. Everything but not renunciation and moral perfection :wink:
  • People say to me that teaching about Nibbana and path of renunciation is “religious fanaticism” and it is inapropriate for a rational buddhist.
  • People cite only those suttas which confirms their worldview and so they are “buddhist”, while ignoring hundred of suttas that go against their view, still claiming that its buddhism.

I know that we buddhists should be tolerant, always kind, always patient etc. and I try.
But I’m getting here on the edge a little. I’m concerned that more and more people misinterpret Buddhism to such extent, that I’m getting attacked as “deluded” by being actually faithful to the suttas and to my path of long meditation introspection and insight.

Btw. I really have nothing against people following different paths. All I wish here is that people would stop calling buddhism what is not buddhism. And to stop saying that Buddha said something that he didn’t. And stop teachings their theories as buddhism. And sell their books as “teachings of the Buddha” that goes against his teachings.

Why people cannot just call it something else? :frowning: Why they must keep changing buddhism and making fame on it, why our religion/path cannot be respected as other religions as a whole?
People are constantly making a tool of buddhism, without being intelectually honest. They use word buddhism for their convinience, and when something in buddhism don’t suit their new theory/method, they say it was something this stupid buddhists got wrong…

How do you respond to such situations and this situation overall? I must say I’m trying to be patient and educational, but I wish to share my concern for some “connection” because here I feel very alone in this endevour and somewhat overwhlemed by numer of such encounters, both in literature/Internet as well as in human relationships.

How you react to such situations and how do you feel about this situation overall?

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I think it’s wonderful that so many people are engaging with Buddhism!

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I mean, it’s tempting to get annoyed. I feel you, we find a path that is so beautiful and perfect, and we want others to find the same solace.

But then you remember, the Buddha spoke about those with little dust in their eyes. And you realize, crikey, is that me or am I actually wandering around with thick dust caked in my eyes?

I see the foolishness of the world and it makes me weep. Then I realize that from the Buddha’s point of view, I’m far more foolish than that.

My favorite of the Mahayana bodhisattvas is named “Sadāprarudita”, “Ever-weeping”. He just wanders across the land weeping for the follies and sufferings of humanity. That seems about right!

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Not everyone knows what you might think they “should” know. Not everyone will “like” what you feel is more correct when you explain it to them. People are imperfect. The afflictions like ignorance, delusion, conceit, doubt, et al make these things a kind of attrition war of seemingly random preferences and reactions.

The trouble is that afflictions often appear to be justified if you focus on what triggers them. Getting angry with someone who rejects what you believe is correct may seem more justified than getting angry because someone corrects you when you are mistaken (or the reverse depending on your personality). Either way, the afflictions are tormenting you and others when they arise.

I think this is also a larger cultural process that we are seeing. People tend to be more attached to the belief systems that are native to a cultural. They grow up with them, their parents hold those beliefs, so they seem more appropriate and acceptable. Heck, I still use Christian-inspired curses when I encounter frustrations because I grew up with them. Now and again, I stop and think, “How ironic or contradictory is that?” But I’m a product of many different influences, starting with Midwestern America and radiating out to China and Japan over the years.

I can think of an example from my studies in Chinese Buddhism. Buddhism and Daoism had a lot of superficial commonality, in the way the modern scientific viewpoint seems to have a lot in common with Buddhism’s dependent origination and atheism. For a long time, the Chinese regarded Buddhism as a kind of Daoism, and Daoism ended up becoming a hybrid of its old beliefs and Buddhism. It took quite a few centuries for Indian Buddhism to really be understood in China, and it was mainly through Chinese missionaries who went to China, Indonesia, and Central Asia to study.

Buddhism had a golden era in China for a few hundred years, then Confucianism reasserted itself with its own internalization of some of Buddhism’s ideas.

So, I guess the lesson is that we are all individually part of much larger cultural and historical processes. It’s like a big maelstrom of ideas and customs swirling around, always evolving and recombining in people’s lives. It has patterns that are far larger than individual people.

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I think it’s wonderful that so many people are engaging with Buddhism!

This is very optimistic perspective :slight_smile: I can see that this is a good thing as well.

My favorite of the Mahayana bodhisattvas is named “Sadāprarudita”, “Ever-weeping”. He just wanders across the land weeping for the follies and sufferings of humanity. That seems about right!

Haha, this made me laugh. :smiley: Sometimes I’m considering to activate this mode of being :stuck_out_tongue:

I see the foolishness of the world and it makes me weep. Then I realize that from the Buddha’s point of view, I’m far more foolish than that.

Yes, it seems that I’m too attached to that wish of people understanding and not distorting buddhism, being intelectually honest etc., while clearly their understanding is anicca and anatta (beyond my control and I can’t keep it to my liking). I wish I wasn’t so attached to that. It seems my ego got identified with dhamma :stuck_out_tongue: a trap I guess a lot of people are getting into. I feel that I take distortions of dhamma somewhat personally, especially when people criticise me for “wrong understanding” even when I’m actually right.

@cdpatton:

It is true that in history it took a lot of time to assimilate stuff. I understand that processes need time and indeed we are seeing huge change in this aspect. It all comes down to patience and compassion.
But sometimes I just think, it takes a moment to just browse Internet, find a sutta and read that. If poeple who constantly tell all these distortions would take some time, instead of browsing facebook to check the actual word of the Buddha, they could at least see what it is, and if they don’t agree just say “I don’t agree with that” instead of claiming that it is true buddhism.
I’m all for intelectual honesty.

Today I’ve sent suttas to a friend with whom I had hard discussion, so he can check for his own instead of quoting all these secularist buddhists. Sending suttas and sharing them seems like good idea. (I’ve also shared suttas today for the first time on my facebook meditation group). It didn’t get many likes (not hot topic I guess) :stuck_out_tongue: :wink: but it got at least some attention.
Seems like sharing suttas is the way :stuck_out_tongue:

I’m also thinking to actually buy one copy of “In the Buddha’s words” to my meditation class centre, so people can always read that and then I could reffer to that in discussions.

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When I read …

The problem is not that the secularists present only a small part of Buddhism; it’s that they, implicitly or explicitly, regard their own small viewpoint as better .

… I laughed (a little).

It might be helpful to review some doctrines about conceit – about how it’s a fetter.

There are quite a few suttas about not arguing.

Are you saying you’re trying to teach people, then?

There is another word – “dhammavinaya”.

The word “Buddhist” is Western, apparently, from the early 19th century.

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It might be helpful to review some doctrines about conceit – about how it’s a fetter.

Thanks, this seems like a good remainder that comparing to others is a hindrance. I’ve read the whole thing and it says a lot. I really should focus practice to lessen my own conceit :wink: Loving-kindness and compassion and understanding of anatta seems to be the way to go. Most of the time it comes down to this, ah, the practice… Thank you for that post!

There are quite a few suttas about not arguing.

Yes, but what about when someone else start arguing first? How to you leave situation of argument? It is quite easy to avoid such situation, but when you’re being “challanged” by the other side, things can get pretty sensitive.

What I’ve meant was when someone says things like “Buddha did not teach about Nibbana after death” I can say that he was, and point to specific sutta where Buddha was speaking about these things, so this person can check for him/herself that reference.

is it okay to be a little angry about that?

Maybe not okay .

The article Getting the Message includes the quote,

When asked if there was anything whose killing he approved of, the Buddha answered that there was only one thing: anger.

And when I asked here what affect the Buddha displayed, whether he ever “thundered” for example, Ven. Yuttadhammo answered that his affect seems …

Pretty tame, but then that’s to be expected; he was, after all, a fully enlightened Buddha.

… (I guess you don’t need more references about that).


Maybe you’re asking whether “righteous anger” is ever even a thing in Buddhism, whether it’s justified?

There are “wrathful” Buddhas as deities – that’s in Tibetan Buddhism – according to this answer they’re pretending to be angry, like a skilful parent, to be protective.

That idea reminds me of someone I met once, who lives on a tidal estuary (so there’s a risk of drowning), saying of her children, “They would never dare take the boats out without permission: because they know we’d murder them!” – “murder” is just a figure of speech, there, meaning “scold or punish”.

But I don’t know that you can do that with people, unless you have that kind of relationship – parent or teacher.

The Akkosa Sutta: Insult might be relevant.

Earlier you wrote, “I’m getting attacked” – but the Buddha can scarcely be attacked.

Saying nothing, might be an option. Breathe.

The “Four Great References” suggest that when someone says something, the first reaction is to neither delight nor disapprove.

Online, just don’t reply. In person too, why not. Or there are polite ways to reply that you’re not sure you agree with what they’ve just said – for example, “Is that so?”

Anyway I don’t like becoming angry, if I can’t discuss something without getting angry, then … … I hope that anger is temporary; that if I leave it alone (perhaps abandon the situation in which it arose) it will stop existing; and that later, not while angry – or never – might be a better time to continue.

I met someone when I was younger, who said, “I’ll discuss anything with anyone, but if it turns into an argument I walk away” – maybe that was good advice?

So you started your reply by contradicting them – i.e. you replied, “I can say that he was”. Instead, if they make an assertion (e.g. “The Buddha did not etc.”), and if you reply, it might be less argumentative to just begin your reply with a question instead of a contradiction – for example reply, “How do you interpret this sutta?”

“Least said, soonest mended”.

And should you be conversing with people whose views you don’t respect? Doesn’t it risk not being good for either of you?

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Thank you for that answer. :slight_smile:

Answers in this thread that I’ve received was something I needed.

I haven’t read last link you’ve (ChrisW) provided yet, so just the short answer first, and later/tomorrow longer one.

According to my question: yeah, I know that it is not okay to be even a little angry. But now this awareness is deeper when wise people advised it and reminded it.

I should just work more on compassion and loving-kindness and patience. I clearly see that it is something I have to work on, and not expect from others to be such and such.
Thanks for that.
Tomrrow I’ll read all the links you provided :slight_smile:

Also thanks for the practical advices regarding argument situation. These are very good points. :slight_smile: :anjal: Thank you for your time for such thorough answer.

When you face this kind of situations, you should follow
guidance in the Kakacūpamasutta.

Mendicants, there are these five ways in which others might criticize you. Their speech may be timely or untimely, true or false, gentle or harsh, beneficial or harmful, from a heart of love or from secret hate. When others criticize you, they may do so in any of these ways. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected. We will blurt out no bad words. We will remain full of compassion, with a heart of love and no secret hate. We will meditate spreading a heart of love to that person. And with them as a basis, we will meditate spreading a heart full of love to everyone in the world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.’ That’s how you should train.

Even if low-down bandits were to sever you limb from limb, anyone who had a malevolent thought on that account would not be following my instructions. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected. We will blurt out no bad words. We will remain full of compassion, with a heart of love and no secret hate. We will meditate spreading a heart of love to that person. And with them as a basis, we will meditate spreading a heart full of love to everyone in the world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.’ That’s how you should train.

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@Invo, a great question, and one that I have asked myself in the past. There can be a tendency to get frustrated, when one can look on Facebook for example, and see so many iterations of what is called “Buddhism” in the west. Frustrating to me is that western Buddhism in so many ways has devolved to such a point that the core teachings of the Dhamma is largely lost. And that, yes, is sad. It’s sad that like a medicine that could cure cancer being withheld from the market by a conspiracy of Big Pharma, the Dhamma has been lost or distorted as a cure to the ills of greed, hatred and delusion in modern society. People that might truly benefit from the Dhamma are being misdirected. (and, respectfully, I do not intend to denigrate with my comments any other approaches to Buddhism. My point here is a narrow one)

I liken this to a hypothetical involving Einstein. Supposing that, over time, Einstein’s theories were ignored, and new theories of the universe introduced that were easier to understand, easier to learn, yet were wrong. Or that left bits out: E=mc. Many in the public domain might never really understand how the universe works, how time and space and issues of relativity work in the fabric of space/time. There are people today that think the Earth is flat; what to say to these folks? https://www.history.com/news/here-are-6-things-albert-einstein-never-said

Yet today and hopefully in the future, there will be physicists that understand Einstein’s teachings and theories and will remind the public as to what they are. Minds and eyes with little dust in them will wish to explore the actual teachings of Einstein further, so as to embrace the core truths of the universe.

I’ve not verbalized this idea very well, above, but at the end of the day, rather than being angry, I’m just grateful. Grateful for Sutta Central, which has opened my dusty peepers and allowed me to study the Dhamma comfortably and energetically in the company of excellent monastic and lay spiritual friends. Maybe over time, each of us will have a chance to help ourselves and maybe others around us, to benefit from this medicinal path of training as an antidote to western society’s ills. We can all let people know of SC through various portals, and hope that wise and inquiring minds will seize the opportunity.

Here in the US, telling some people that the Earth is a sphere, and that climate science is real, earns you a punch in the nose. Maybe the best we can do is cultivate this Path as best we can, and hope that those around us with open eyes can learn and benefit, too.

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So there are three groups then: real Buddhists, pseudo-Buddhists, and non-Buddhists? These categories lead into convoluted (and unfair) thinking. There are for example many ‘pseudo-Buddhists’ among monastics as well (the monastic reform movements are there for a reason).

How about ‘the’ suttas? As if they are a trove of sanctity and purity - instead of a historically grown corpus of texts satisfying different needs at different times, utilizing different strata of material which are only partly ‘authentic’?

Many Buddhists are just as biased towards the suttas as non-Buddhists, quoting out of context, cherry-picking the nice and deep messages they like and ignoring the shallow ones.

As I see it, I necessarily get into a pickle when I start defending (why actually?) a concept, an ideal of ‘Buddhism’ that I have fallen in love with.

When did people start needing years of study before having an opinion about something? And actually why should people be convinced and have faith in the reality of nibbana? Because it’s mentioned in ancient scrolls?

People apparently do what they do without asking us for permission. What are your chances of changing that? Or, to put it in the immortal words of Depeche Mode:

People are people so why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully
So we’re different colours
And we’re different creeds
And different people have different needs

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Thank you for that. Works for me.

I don’t want to necro Ajahn Sujato’s old post, though I have to say, Robert Wright’s work is part of what got me really into Buddhism in the first place.

He never disparages anything regarding rebirth, devas, etc., he simply states he won’t talk about them, one way or another.
His main dilemma was (paraphrasing) “I am an evolutionary psychologist. I understand why our brain tricks us, but not what to do about it. Here, the Buddha reached many of the same conclusions, and he actually has an answer regarding what to do!”

I think these kind of books are a good stepping stone for the Western Atheist. Knowing that “hey, science actually says Buddha was on to something” really made me want to look into it more.

The problem comes when people cling to their old views, trying to make Buddhism into something it’s not. Many of these “science agrees with Buddhism” turned out to be a misrepresentation of what the Buddha was actually saying. I was also part of the “rebirth is metaphorical” camp for like a month, until I realized that’s really not the case.

All one can do is say what they believe is factual and why, others need to decide for themselves. There will be much frustration, but acting on it serves no purpose.

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I too have felt the gravitational pull of righteous indignation, but I have to be careful how I respond.

In a similar vein, I live in the United States and don’t read the news because it’s rather pointless. A large percentage of the population here has been enchanted by the spell of just calling disagreeable reporting fake news and then utter fantasy becomes delusional reality for them and then the entire well is poisoned. It’s nearly impossible to watch it happen over and over again and accept it knowing that it is leading towards dire consequences. I can do nothing about it except live this life with joy to the best of my ability in my thoughts, speech and actions. I can influence the political landscape here as well as I can Robert Wright, Stephen Batchelor, et al.

When the Buddha taught his monks and they all paid attention, he dwelled in equanimity.
When the Buddha taught his monks and some paid attention and some didn’t, he dwelled in equanimity.
When the Buddha taught his monks and none paid attention, he dwelled in equanimity.

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Recently I watched an episode of the popular U.S. television program “House Hunters International” (wherein a person, couple, or family look for a new home and choose among three properties to buy or rent). One of the house hunters in this episode described herself as a “Buddhist minister” (perhaps the producers told her to use this term to make the concept accessible to American viewers unfamiliar with Buddhist titles). Turns out the “Buddhist minister” in question was really more of a Unitarian minister whose orientation was towards Buddhist teachings and practice. In addition to her apparent affiliation with Unitarianism (as opposed to any specific strand of Buddhism), she described how she enjoyed drinking wine. I guess for this particular “Buddhist minister” the Fifth Precept wasn’t that important.

On watching the episode I suppose I could have gotten angry at the misrepresentation of Buddhism to a U.S. viewing audience. But my response was more in line with how I respond to most episodes of “House Hunters,” that is, to laugh and just take it in stride. Equanimity is usually the best response.

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Just this morning I saw and read an article by an Australian mindfulness therapist entitled “A Brief History of Buddha’s Awakening”. Instead of seizing the opportunity to highlight a few of the Buddha’s beautiful insights and teachings, he repeated some of the fictional myths from later traditions.

Yes, I know the feeling, but I have it with many things. Politics here in the US is a prime example. People seem to have a basic bias of liking to research support for the opinions they already have and avoiding anything that contradicts it; and for many people emotions and self-image can get in the way, too. Or complexity may be a turn off for some people; they like simple answers. It makes these kinds of conversations difficult to navigate because you don’t really know what the reactions will be.

All we can do is engage when there’s receptivity and try to be objective about it. Checking ourselves is as important as what others think.

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“Pick your battles.” Is that what they say?

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Drop all the battles is what comes to mind in the context of this forum ;-).

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