By Dr. Richard Ing
August 15, 2005
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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.
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
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.