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Buddhism

 

By Dr. Richard Ing

August 15, 2005

PURPOSE

            The purpose of this writing is to acquaint the Christian reader with some of the facts of Buddhism, especially as practiced by the Chinese and Japanese in Hawaii so that evangelism in connection with these groups can be more effective.  We include only brief and very general areas because of the limited scope of our study.

IN THE UNITED STATES

            Buddhism has enjoyed an increasing following in the United States of people who have rejected Christianity and opted for the more esoteric mysteries of Eastern religion.  Most of these have rejected the Bible and have not really had teachings on the New Testament.  Some have come out of the New Age Movement and are focused on Buddhism at the present time.  Buddhism has many different schools of thought, even as Christianity has many denominations.  Therefore, it would be profitable to understand the history of Buddhism and perhaps a few popular ideas.

INTRODUCTION OF BUDDHISM INTO CHINA

            Buddhism was introduced into the world around 500 B.C. and came from India to China around the 2nd century A.D.  It did not find many adherents at first.  But, by the 6th century A.D. millions of Buddhist monks and thousand of monasteries prospered in China.  Buddhism came to Japan in mid-500 A.D.

RECENT HISTORY IN CHINA

            The present Communist regime systematically eliminated all religions, including Christianity and Buddhism, in every aspect of Chinese society, although it is reported that the government is somewhat lax when it comes to elderly people who continue to burn incense.  Buddhism has not recovered in China as Christianity has.  However, many Far East countries continue to claim Buddhism as their main religion.

EXISTING RELIGIONS AT TIME OF INTRODUCTION

            Confucianism and Taoism (sometimes “Daoism”) already existed in China at the time Buddhism was introduced around the first century A.D.  Confucianism was more concerned with family relations, public service and proper relationships in society and with mankind. 

            Taoism was a more mystical religion based on magic and a complex belief system that worshiped various gods such as Kwan Yin, the goddess of mercy, the monkey god, pig god and various deities.  The supposed Taoism is also the religion of most kung fu practitioners and is known for its extraordinary power in martial arts.  Initially, there was much conflict among and between the three major religions.  Over time, however, it became profitable to merge the three.

            Buddhism soon divided into two major schools:  philosophical and mystical aspects of Buddhism adopted by intellectuals and businessmen; and a Buddhism that was mixed in with local superstitions and many local gods and goddesses which became popular with the lower classes of society. 

            In Japan, local religions and Shintoism were combined with Buddhism to present the unique brand of Buddhism found there.   Shintoism worships a golden snake that also appears as a white, magical snake supposedly a beneficent deity to its supporters.  The most famous school of Buddhism is Zen Buddhism which was derived primarily from the Chan Buddhism of China and which concentrates on the inner self.  Zen Buddhism in Japan probably uses meditation much more than the Chan of China.

            Buddhism also made great inroads into Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Tibet and many of the neighboring countries.  Each country seems to have planted its own peculiar stamp on Buddhism.

   
MIXTURES

            Today, there are at least nine different schools of Buddhism in China, too complex to discuss in this paper.  There are people in each school who are well-educated in their particular brand of Buddhism and it is probably beyond the scope and ability of this writing to discuss the differences.  Most of the local people in each region, however, have added their own local or indigenous flavor to Buddhism.  In Hawaii, Chinese Buddhism has become a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and local superstitions and folklore.  Frequently, the same Buddhist temple will incorporate many other forms of worship and accept local gods and goddesses.  The same person who claims to be a Chinese Buddhist will quote Confucian proverbs and worship Taoist deities such as Kwan Yin and Kwan Dai Gung.

            The same is true with Japanese Buddhism.  Shintoism is deeply ingrained in the local style of Buddhism, with its more esoteric nature.  As with Chinese Buddhism, there are many schools and branches of Japanese Buddhism.  In modern times, the Nicherin Shosu branch has prospered in Hawaii and America.

FROM PHILOSOPHY TO IDOLATRY

            The originator of Buddhism never intended to be worshiped or create a religion.  He merely taught a way of life based on eight truths regarding the source of suffering and the path to enlightenment.

            Buddhism was originated by a person by the name of Siddhartha Gautama who was a prince in what is now called Nepal (originally part of India), around 500 B.C.  His father was very protective of Gautama and did not allow him to go out of the palace or experience the real world.  At 16, he was married and at 29 sired a son.  One day, the curious young man wandered outside the palace walls to see what the outside world was like.  He was totally shocked at the turmoil, suffering and poverty and began pondering the meaning of life.  One day after much meditation, he reached what is described as enlightenment or nirvana (the highest state of consciousness).  He experienced a paradigm shift in his mind and realized why there is suffering in the world and how to eliminate it.  He began to teach his philosophy and ended with a large following.  He died of food poisoning at the age of 80. 

            From India, Buddhism expanded into neighboring countries such as China, Thailand and Japan.

            Like Hinduism, Buddhists believe that everyone is a god or Buddha.  Secondly, both Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation.  Reincarnation is the belief that when one dies, his spirit returns to the place where it awaits its next assignment - to be born again over and over on earth, either as a human or as another animal form, until the person has attained perfection or nirvana. 

            Inherent in the system is the idea of karma.  Karma is either good or bad.  If one does good deeds, he will have good karma and vice versa.  A person with good karma will likely be born into a social strata or position higher than in the former lifetime.  The quest of all humans is to reach perfection or nirvana and thus get off the perpetual wheel of life.  Conversely, if a person commits bad deeds in this lifetime, it produces bad karma and in the next life, he will be more unfortunate than in his former life.  He may even be born an animal.  That is one of the reasons why many Buddhists and Hindus are vegetarians.

            As with Hinduism, meditation and chanting is a daily activity in some schools.  Meditation and chanting are supposedly necessary to neutralize negative karma.  Good deeds and other forms of “goodness” are also necessary to burn off bad karma.  There is no effort to change inwardly and there is no belief in sin and therefore, no need for repentance.  Self-help and good works is the preferred way.  Since karma is important to them, Buddhists are normally involved in good works.  However, these good works are most self-promoting and allow the practitioner to go on living an otherwise purely secular life. 

            As with Hinduism, Buddhism provides a way for man to be completely atheistic - believing in no God but himself.  As the Hindus say, “Worship the God who is in you, who is you.”

VARIETIES OF BUDDHISM

            As mentioned earlier, Buddhism has incorporated local legends, practices and gods and goddesses.  Therefore, Buddhism in Japan, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Tibet and other countries all have a different slant from the others.  Some are more ritualized and others are more formal.  Some are deeply involved in occult practices and superstition.  In one sense, all modern forms of Buddhism are involved in magic, superstition or the occult.  In Hawaii, good luck charms, magic words and fortune-telling are common.  The I-Ching or fortune-telling book is used extensively.  A priest will shake a bamboo container full of thin, long bamboo sticks with writings on them.  When one falls out of the container, the priest reads the writings on it that refer him to a large book called the I-Ching.  He turns to the specific chapter heading printed on the stick and from the book reads the future or gives advice.

            Most so-called Buddhists do not meditate, chant or attend temple functions except for special days such as Chinese New Years, or to ask favor from the Gods, etc. 

      
IDOL WORSHIP

            Buddhism has become an idol-worshiping religion.  Many statues and paintings adorn temples, homes, gardens and businesses.  Offerings of incense, fruits and even fish and pork are made periodically and on special days.  The Chinese tend to be artisans and the use of gold leaf to adorn statutes and other items. 

KWAN YIN AND THE MONKEY GOD

            Kwan Yin is the goddess of mercy and originated from Taoism.  She is the Queen of Heaven and most powerful.  Legend has it that there was once a monkey who was very good at martial arts.  He had a heavy metal staff that he could shrink into a toothpick and place in his ear.  When he needed it, he could command it to turn back into a staff for fighting purposes.  The monkey caused many problems because of his impetuous ways.  Every 100 years or so the gods would have a big feast and eat peaches from Kwan Yin’s garden.  These peaches were able to give immortal life to those who ate them.  One day, the monkey climbed over the wall and into Kwan Yin’s garden.  There, he began eating the peaches.  He soon fell asleep and was captured by Kwan Yin and placed under a mountain for many years.  Finally, she agreed to release and forgive the monkey if he would undertake a very dangerous journey to bring back sacred books.  He succeeded in doing so, along with the pig god and others and was rewarded with freedom. 

            Some kung fu practitioners worship the monkey god as their warrior god. 

KWAN DAI GUNG

            You will find statues and idols of Kwan Dai Gung in many temples, homes and restaurants in Hawaii and elsewhere.  “Gung” means uncle.  He is the warrior god who protects businesses and homes.  He is also worshiped by kung fu practitioners.  He is the one usually dressed in long flowing, green robes.  He is flanked with another person who appears older, and another warrior with a red complexion.  These three “gods” were once actual human beings who fought valiantly in the emperor’s army 5,000 years ago.  Unfortunately, the emperor’s army was defeated in the far north and many soldiers were forced to fight their way back to the capital city.  Many were killed by the local war lords and others starved to death.  Four warriors bound themselves together and swore undying loyalty to each other.  These made up the four families - Lau, Kwan, Chu and Chong, that exist today.  It took the four warriors 20 years and many battles to get back to the capital city.  Thereafter, they formed the Lung Kong Kung So society that is in existence almost all over the world.  Any person with one of the four last names can show up at the local Lung Kong Kung So and ask to be given lodging and even money and he will be accommodated.  In Hawaii, there is a Lung Kong Kung So on Liliha Street.  

            The three idols represent three out of the four warriors.

OTHER LOCAL GODS

            Even in Hawaii, there are temples and worship to other gods and goddesses.  The worshipers consider themselves to be Buddhists but also have a particular patron deity.  There is a goddess of the sea, a kitchen god and other deities.  In Taiwan, a particular local goddess is particularly revered.

MARTIAL ARTS

            Today, there are many forms of martial arts that originated in the Far East.  We know of kung fu, karate, kempo, tai kwando, aikido, jujitsu, judo, etc.  Others are a combination of the various arts.  Some forms in one discipline are almost-identical or have similar traits with other forms in another country.  Jujitsu is said to be derived from an earlier Chinese form of grappling.  Judo, however, appears to be unique to Japan.

            Kung fu has existed for thousands of years.  In the late 1800’s, a group from Okinawa lived in China for a number of years.  Kat Yamaguchi, for instance, claims that he learned martial arts in Peking (Beijing) for over 11 years.  When he returned to Okinawa, he began teaching martial arts and combined his forms with existing martial art forms indigenous to Okinawa.  He called the resultant art “kempo.“  In the early 1900’s he traveled to Japan with some of his students and formed the Japan Karate Association in 1912. 

            Karate incorporated native Japanese martial arts into kempo. The word “kara” originally meant “Chinese” and the word “te” means “hands.”  “Kara” was later changed to mean “open.”  The pronunciation is the same, but the character or kanji was altered.    These martial art forms are very similar to one another, with different emphases, however.  Some use kicking almost exclusively.  Others concentrate on hands and short kicks.  Still others use the “soft style.”

            Tai Kwando was invented in 1959 by a colonel in the South Korean army.  It employs a style that uses long kicks almost exclusively.  Aikido is a style of martial arts that focuses on inner strength and flowing with the power of the adversary as a way of neutralizing his strength.  Various wrist and arm twists inflict great pain.  Each of these martial arts styles are deeply involved in Far Eastern religion.  Kung Fu practitioners are mostly Taoists (or Buddhism with a Taoist leaning); Karate, aikido and other Japanese martial arts forms observe Zen Buddhism with some leaning towards Shintoism.  Each, however, worship strange gods outside of Christianity.  Most classes bow towards an altar with incense and statues of warrior gods.  Practitioners are often infested with these spirits.

CHUNG MAI

            Buddhists in Hawaii follow the Taoist tradition of visiting the graves of ancestors once a year during a month-long period called “Chung Mai.”  Superstition has it that the ghosts of the dead are allowed to return to earth once a year around this time.  Chinese Buddhists are required to honor their ancestors by going to the cemetery where their ancestors are buried, burn firecrackers and present food, usually consisting of rice, fish and pork.  Specific gods of the dead are supposed to observe the offerings to them and bring good luck for the following year.  The eldest son in the family has the duty to observe this yearly event.  During this time, practitioners are careful not to go swimming or engage in activities that might bring bad luck.  This custom is actually more derived from Taoism and Confucianism, both of which promote ancestor worship.


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