May 6, 2009

Don’t Believe in Buddha

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:46 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

I have been studying Buddhist thought for more than thirty years, since I first got a copy of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones in high school.  For more than ten years I have been learning about Buddhist practice, integrating meditation into my life and attending Buddhist ceremonies of various sorts.  Thus, as I was listening to All Things Considered yesterday to a report from Sichuan China, I was surprised to hear about someone who had lost his faith in Buddha.

Some NPR reporters had returned to Sichuan a year after the terrible earthquake.  One year ago a reporter had spent a day with a couple who were looking for their child in the rubble.  The body of the child was eventually found in the arms of his grandparents who had also been killed.  A year later the couple felt too fragile to talk to the reporter, but the man’s sister was willing to tell how her brother and sister-in-law were doing.

What struck me was how she described her brother’s religious thinking.  I paraphrase here: “He says he no longer believes in Buddha.  There is no point in burning incense, no point in praying.  He says, “My parents were good people, they lived a good life, my son was an innocent two year old.  There can be no Buddha or Heaven if such people die like this.” ”

I thought this kind of tragicly flawed thinking, that if you pray good things will happen to you (and when bad things happen faith is lost), was only a product of Christianity, or monotheism and the idea that ‘God is in charge.’   I have been trained to think of the Buddha as a man who said, “Don’t put faith in me; test everything I say with experience; hold to the light within as the only light.”  I have been trained to think that Buddhism is about awakening the mind, not about calling upon the protection of supernatural powers.  (Though as I think about it I can remember several counter examples.)

The point is that many things are universal, including tragic and hurtful forms of magical thinking.  Superstition is not a creation of any one religion, or of any, but of the human mind, of our desires, craving, sin or tanah.  Thre will alwys be misplaced faith, trust in the wrong things.  Thus there will always be people who need the balm of a liberal faith, one that explains why we should live by love, ‘agape’ or ‘metta’, that helps us to face death and disaster with courage and an affirmation of life, that does not give us false hope, but an enduring and cosmic hope that transcends all time and tides.


  1. Sabio Lantz said,

    Well said, this is also my experience !

  2. I would like to ask something, it will be great if you can offer some answer.

    I’ve a story (I think it was from Tripataka) of a woman who lost his husband and her two child. After that she became mad and wondered around aimlessly. Then the story said that when she met the Buddha she regained her senses, took refuge in the Buddha, became a nun, and enventually attain enlightenment.

    I would like to know, what do you think the Buddha did to help her?

    • This is an ancient story. The woman carries her dead child about looking for medicine to cure her child. The Buddha asks for a handful of mustard seed from a house that has never known death of a child, spouse, parent or friend. She can not find such a house but hears the stories of all who have lost family members and friends. Finally she realizes her selfishness. Lets the Buddha bury her child’s body and she takes refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sanga.

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