Buddhism and Hinduism have become fantastically popular in the Western world. In fact, we hardly read a negative word about them.
Interestingly, it is not the religion of the people of the East that has been adopted here but a monistic form of it, which asserts that there is only one reality. It is either a matter of the god within us (panentheism) or the god who is us (pantheism). This means that we too are god and the material world is just the world of illusion. If so, we should not have any attachments to this world. Instead, our goal should be to transcend this world so that we can embrace our oneness with the one reality – god.
This ideal is expressed in many ways. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krisha says:
- “You have grieved for those who deserve no grief… Neither for the living nor the dead do the wise grieve.”
Why do not the wise grieve? Because the “wise” understand that they are just grieving for the passing illusion, while the transcendent has no place for grieving. A Buddhist Doctrine communicates the same ideal:
- On desire depends attachment; on attachment depends existence; on existence depends birth; on birth depends old age and death, sorrow lamentation, misery, and despair. Thus does the entire aggregation of misery arise.
Misery and grieving are the result of attachment to this illusory world. By transcending this world, with its various attachments, grief and misery are also transcended, and that’s the goal of life.
This goal is attained through enlightenment. While the Hindus attempted to reach enlightenment through the two extremes of self-depravation and self-gratification, the Buddha taught that it was attainable through a Middle Way. In the Tripitaka, he was alleged to have preached:
- “These two extremes, monks, are not to be practiced by anyone who has gone forth from the world. What are the two? That conjoined with passions and luxury, which is low, common, vulgar, 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, to enlightenment and nirvana. What, monks is the middle path? It is the noble eightfold path…Now this is the noble truth of pain: birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful…In short the five components of life are painful…Now monks, this is the noble truth of the cause of pain: the craving that ends to rebirth, combined with pleasure and lust…”
In any event, both Hinduism and Buddhism preached a message of renunciation of the things of this world – work, commitments, enjoyments, and even family and friends. However, does such a renunciation reduce who we are as human beings?
In “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Robert M. Pirsig’s main character, Phaedrus, studying at Benares Hindu University and spiritual searching, asks a question that changes his life:
- But one day in the classroom the professor of philosophy was blithely expounding on the illusory nature of the world for what seemed the fiftieth time and Phaedrus raised his hand and asked coldly if it was believed that the atomic bomb that had dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were illusory. The professor smiled and said yes. That ended the exchange… He left the classroom, left India and gave up.
Phaedrus could not deny the great tragedy. In contrast to this understanding of life as illusion, “Jesus wept” in the midst of human suffering:
- When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him [their dead brother Lazarus]?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. (John 11:33-35; ESV)
Jesus had compassion, even though this tragedy was soon reversed when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. But isn’t compassion a part of Hinduism and Buddhism? Perhaps superficially, but monism represents a denial of our individuality and suffering. These too are part of the illusion.
In “The King of Knowledge,” a very literalistic commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, Prabhupada, the late head of the Hare Krishna Vishnavite sect of Hinduism characteristically wrote:
- The hospital making business is being conducted by the government; it is the duty of a disciple to make hospitals whereby people can actually get rid of their material bodies, not patch them up. But for want of knowing what real spiritual activity is, we take up material activities.
Monistic thought rules against any compassion, because compassion merely reinforces the illusion of our individual personhood.
How had Hinduism affected its place of birth – India? In “The Book that Made your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization” Indian scholar and Christian convert, Vishal Mangalwadi, wrote about the negative effect of Hinduism on India:
- Our monks did not develop technical aids to improve their eyesight. They took pride in closing even perfectly good eyes in meditation. (108)
If this material world is illusory, then work and technological advancement are counter-productive:
- It is virtually impossible to find a Brahmin guru in traditional India who resembles the apostle Paul – a rabbi who made tents for a living. Brahmins said that manual work was the duty of lower castes, a result of bad karma from their previous births. Mahatma Gandhi was the first Indian leader who used a spinning wheel to try to import the Pauline work ethic into India: “No work, no food.” (109)
Their mis-identification of the problem - along with a disdain for hard work - kept India backward for centuries. Although Gandhi believed in hard work, he disdained technology:
- Gandhi’s idea that technology was evil and that a simple, natural life was morally superior came from British idealists like John Ruskin. Sensitive people like him had become critical of England’s Industrial Revolution because of the exploitation, oppression, and other evils associated with its “dark satanic mills.” Mahatma Gandhi brought this opposition to technology to India. (111)
However, it was technology - and theology that inspired it - that had saved the West. Mangalwadi gives several examples:
- The peasants’ humble wheeled plow generated the economic strength that helped save Europe from colonization by Islam. During the Middle Ages, Islamic forces were able to invade Europe almost at will. Muslims conquered southern Spain and Portugal and invaded France in the eighth century. In the ninth century, they conquered Sicily and invaded Italy, sacking Ostia and Rome in 846. By 1237, they had begun to conquer Russia. Constantinople was captured in 1453, and the battles of 1526 in Hungary and 1529 in Vienna suggested that it was merely a matter of time before the mullahs, caliphs, and sheikhs would rule cities like Rome, Vienna, and Florence. Equipped with a coulter, a horizontal share, and a moldboard, Europe’s new plow increased productivity by tilling rich, heavy, and badly drained river-bottom soil…The net result was the gradual elimination of starvation, the improved health of the people, and a strengthening of the economic foundations of the West relative to Islam. (101-102)
Monism also turns its eyes away from evil and corruption as illusory. Mangalwadi provides an illuminating example from his own country. In 1631, the monsoon failed to come. Consequently, there was a great famine. A British traveler relates the devastation he saw:
- From Surat to this place all the highway was stowed with dead people, our noses never free from the stink of them…women were seen to roast their children…a man or a woman no sooner dead but they were cut in pieces to be eaten. (112)
- My people did not starve because they were stupid, lazy, or unproductive. Instead, immorality killed them! They were taxed 80% of their produce. This left them with little and nothing to store for an emergency. The only way for the people to have any money was to join their exploiters.
Monism failed to identify evil and, consequently, was unable to confront it. Those who want to consider monism must take a look at its historical implications and not just what is currently popular in the West.