Boleh Tahan ~ HOW BIG IS BIG?
THE CUSTOM OF SHAKING
HANDS was originally a demonstration that people were
not holding weapons and therefore came in peace. Smiling
was also a sign of friendship. Nor is this limited
to humans, but is a characteristic of certain animals,
like chimpanzees and monkeys, who draw back their
lips and show their teeth as a sign that they mean
no harm. Human smiles, however, can mean many things,
and are often a disguise for true feelings. We can
be such hypocrites!
All words—whether we call them nouns,
pronouns, verbs, and so on—are adjectives; that
is, they represent or describe (attempt to describe)
things. But a word is not the thing it represents
or describes. We have words for qualities and words
for quantities. The word ‘big’, for example,
represents something of size, or quantity; the word
‘good’ represents a quality. We do not
say: “Thank you very big”, or “He
is a much man”. So, we have to be very careful,
and understand that the words we use often limit things
and prevent us from comprehending them. Buddhists
are fond of using the word ‘Enlightenment’,
for example, but what does it mean? Does it mean the
same thing to everyone who uses it? Are we in substantial
agreement about it? Or have we—like the Godists—only
got the word but not the thing? It is such an abstract
term that not many people will have really thought
Without being as dogmatic as those who maintain
that there is a God by saying that there is no God,
let us look into the matter somewhat.
The word ‘God’ is English. Every
language probably has an equivalent word, but they
are only words, whatever. The words we use—of
any language—have come down to us from the past;
we have inherited them. Most people just repeat—like
parrots—the words they have inherited without
ever bothering to investigate them, without ever asking
what they really mean, stand for, or symbolize; thus,
they live their entire lives on the level of words
and derive very little benefit therefrom; not only
this, but they become prisoners of them. Words, not
understood or misunderstood, cause a lot of trouble.
So, we know the word—everyone knows
the word—but what does it mean? Does it mean
anything at all? By this, I mean: is there anything
behind the word, does the word represent anything
real, or is it just a word? Do you, who use the word
God, know if it is anything more than a word? Have
you seen God, or in any other way experienced It?
Be honest and tell the truth: Have you? How could
you see It when It is supposed to be infinite, formless,
absolute, and transcendent? When you say the word
God, are you not speaking about something that you
have no knowledge or experience of? Is it not just
a matter of imagining or wishful thinking, a mental
projection, a thing of ego? You say It is the Divine,
the Ultimate, but these are also only words, and what
you do with your words is pull down the Absolute—if
there is such a thing—to your own grubby level.
When asked about things that are—for
the time being—beyond the knowledge of most
of us, people sometimes admit their ignorance and
say: “I don’t know. Only God knows; God
knows everything!” But what are they saying
thereby? By saying “God knows everything”
they are claiming to be omniscient themselves, otherwise
how could they say “God knows everything”?
It is a contradictory statement, a statement with
no meaning! How do you know “God knows everything”
unless you know everything yourself? Do you want to
measure the Infinite with your tiny mind?
Although we’ve been to the moon, sent
space probes to Mars, Venus, Saturn and wherever else,
fathomed the oceans, and performed many other wonders,
it is still not uncommon to hear people saying things
like “Buddhists will go to Hell! Only through
Jesus can you be saved!” I inwardly cringe when
I hear such things, and feel embarrassed for them;
they are usually people who know nothing of other
ways, or even mis-know, and only show off their ignorance
thereby. Are they not already in Hell, with such fearful
and narrow beliefs, when a little investigation and
research would dispel their ignorance?
There was a report in Malaysia’s SUNDAY
STAR newspaper on the 24th of October, entitled: “BAPTISTS’
PRAYERS OUTRAGE HINDUS”. I will reproduce it
in full here to show that religious bigotry is still
alive and well.
“WASHINGTON: US Southern Baptists,
the largest Protestant religious group here, outraged
Hindu followers on Friday by promising to launch a
prayer event to convert the world’s Hindus.
“The prayers are “aimed at dispelling
the darkness that holds more than 900 million Hindus
in spiritual bondage”, a Baptist statement declared.
““We’re outraged. It’s
offensive,” responded Suresh Gupta, president
of the Durga temple in Fairfax, Virginia.
““It’s just a call for
them to disturb the peace and tranquility of people
who want to do good. They should refrain from acting
like this,” Suresh added.
“Southern Baptists will begin their
prayer event on Nov 3 and have published a prayer
booklet to guide their followers on how to participate
in the effort.
“”As Deepavali begins, we want
to invite Southern Baptists to pray that the world’s
Hindus might be convicted of sin and see Jesus is
the Light of the World,” said Randy Sprinkle,
director of the International Mission Board (IMB)
prayer strategy office.
“The mission board’s press release
said Hindus “worship a total of 330 million
gods and goddesses, from whom they seek power and
“”Achieving unity with their
Gods represents the only hope Hindus have of escaping
the circle of birth, death and reincarnation in which
they believe they are trapped.”
“Sprinkle also said that “Hindus
believe life is an endless cycle of reincarnation
and appeasement of the Gods. Most know little or nothing
of God and His great, saving love for them in the
Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
“”We believe it is the Christian’s
responsibility to evangelize everyone. The New Testament
talks about reaching people from every tribe, tongue
and nation,” said Bill Merrill, vice president
of communications for the 15.8 million member Nashville-based
“”We believe (evangelism) is
the task of telling the ‘Good News’ of
Jesus Christ to people. That’s it. It’s
not coercion . . . each individual is competent to
make his own decision before God.”
“The IMB Hindu prayer guide is the
third in a series of publications.
“The first two similarly covered Muslim
and Jewish religious festivals.
“A fourth is to focus on Buddhism,
the statement said.
“Suresh has asked US President Bill
Clinton to step in and comment on the Southern Baptists’
statements, which the Hindu leader described as “offensive
Although it has come near to it once or twice,
until now, Japan has never really apologized for its
war crimes. In an attempt to assuage its guilty conscience,
it even tried to re-write its history and gloss over
its bloody past, but there were worldwide protests
about this. There are people too, who claim the Nazis
never perpetrated the Holocaust. We must not let their
words confuse us, nor time dim our memories. Though
we can forgive, we must never forget, because if we
do, the world may again fall victim to this kind of
The Pope and other Christian leaders are
concerned about the spread of Buddhism and other Eastern
religions in the West, and not without reason; their
thrones are shaking and they are losing their followers.
But why is Buddhism spreading in the West? It is spreading
not just because it is a reasonable and rational way
that does not demand blind faith or insult our intelligence,
but because Christianity is not. Dogmatism and intolerance
help Buddhism to spread by providing such a contrast.
After so many centuries of darkness and suppression,
the West is now free to choose, intelligently. (Some
people will say we’ve been free to choose for
a long time, and this is true, too; but not until
quite recently has the man-in-the-street had access
to many alternatives to choose from). Who will choose
to continue living in a cave with candles for light
when he can live in a modern house with electricity?
As time passes, more and more people will abandon
Christianity to embrace Buddhism. But the Pope need
not fear that one day he’ll be left all alone
in the Vatican; Buddhism will not be adopted by the
average Westerner. I don’t imagine it will ever
become popular in the West, and indeed, I hope it
doesn’t, because when something becomes popular,
and the masses get hold of it, it loses its meaning;
I want it to be something for those who will think
about and appreciate it. (If this sounds elitist,
I’m sorry, but I won’t retract my words).
I am often asked why I am against Christianity.
I admit it, and will not pretend otherwise; I am against
Christianity. Why? Because I regard it as pernicious,
and feel I have no choice but to oppose it. If Christians
were content to follow their way and leave other people
alone, I probably would not say anything (don’t
think that I enjoy complaining and wasting my energy
this way! I only wish it were not necessary!). But
because they are not content, and because their agenda
is still to convert the world to their belief system,
I cannot and will not keep quiet, and will speak out
to expose this fraud.
It is fashionable today for prominent religious
leaders to engage in ‘dialogue’ with each
other. Inter-religious conferences are called to discuss
war, crime, terrorism, injustice, human rights, and
other things affecting the world. And while this is
laudable and a step in the right direction, I feel
that such gatherings often avoid the real issues,
and degenerate into smug little hypocritical meetings
of “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll
scratch mine”. People attend wearing their insignia
and smiles, claiming to represent vast bodies of followers,
and prepared to make concessions on minor points,
but with self-righteous thoughts of, “Ours is
still the best way” in their hearts. Little
is resolved—nor ever can be—with such
attitudes; indeed, if we will just look back a little,
we will see that they have caused countless conflicts!
And unless and until we bring this erroneous way of
thinking out into the open and confront it, we are
not going to get very far with our stage managed conferences.
We’ve been burdened with these illusions since
prehistoric times, and need to get rid of them.
Is the Pope prepared to humbly abandon the
supremely arrogant concept of ‘papal infallibility’,
and the ‘frog-in-the-well’ belief that
only in the Catholic Church is salvation to be found?
Dare he be honest and admit that he doesn’t
know what happens after we die? (Dare we all admit
this?) Or will he continue to cling to these dogmas—and
expect his flock to adhere to them unthinkingly? He
is in a very difficult position, caught between a
rock and a hard place, as it were. But is he aware
of it? He gives no sign of it, and is as conservative
and unbending as ever. Will he be the last of his
line, as predicted by Nostradamus? Meanwhile, many
Catholics, are questioning things (and why not?);
their formerly narrow little world, wherein everything
was neatly mapped out for them, has burst open at
the seams, and they can no longer live in a comfortable
cocoon of priestly spinning. This is a multi-cultural
and multi-religious world; we can remain ignorant
of other ways only by choosing to.
How can we ever move towards peace in the
world when people cling to medieval beliefs in the
supernatural, thinking that they are right and others
are wrong? Only when we are prepared to say, honestly
and humbly, “I don’t know”, can
peace stand a chance. But how hard it is to say this,
when we have, for so long, held the belief of being
‘chosen people’ and others as ‘rejects’!
How hard it is to let go, and accept oneself and others
as simply human! But if we are not to destroy ourselves,
we must come back, eventually, to the basics; life
on this earth should be our primary concern, not what
happens (if anything) after death. We will find out
about that soon enough. If we do not live well on
this earth, how should life for us in the hereafter
be any better? Maybe we should regard this as a trial
run for what comes after; if we did, we might take
better care of our planet, instead of polluting and
destroying it. Really, our profligate use and abuse
of our poor suffering planet is an indication that
we think there is nothing at all after we die. And
if there is, what will we do to that world? Will we
treat it any better or differently than we treat this
For too long has the world suffered under
religious darkness. Why do we continue to put up with
it? Let’s challenge the dogmas and unsubstantiated
theories we’ve been fed, and demand proof—or
at least, better explanations than we’ve been
given so far. Does the Pope really believe he is infallible?
Someone should put him on the spot and ask him about
this. Let us put our skepticism to good use by debunking
some of these illogical claims.
Buddhists: you are so attached to words like
Karma, Re-birth, Nirvana, Enlightenment? What would
happen if you honestly and fearlessly admitted that
you know nothing about such things and let go of them?
Would your spiritual foundations immediately crumble?
Is it not enough to understand something of the Law
of Cause-and-Effect? Is it not enough to feel part
of this world, to know that you belong, and that you
can and do make a difference? Is being Buddhist a
matter of calling oneself so, or of loading up our
already cluttered minds with a set of beliefs? What
do we know of Enlightenment? Does it help us make
sense of life, and to see all living things as fellow
travelers, or does it give us a feeling of superiority:
“I’ve got it and you have not”?
Fear of-and-for self can only be overcome by understanding,
only by seeing who and what we are, only by opening
ourselves and becoming vulnerable, only by love.
Christians: Ignorance is ignorance, not Buddhist
or Christian. Are you any better than Buddhists in
your unknowing? Dare you offer your self, your ego—that
feeling of ‘I, me and mine’—for
crucifixion by admitting that you do not know, instead
of arrogantly thinking and claiming you do? It requires
courage, as it is not easy to do. Belief and faith
are two different things. We believe when we do not
know; when we know, we do not believe. Faith, however,
arises from direct personal experience of things.
Which do you have: Belief or Faith? Can you honestly
say that you have Faith instead of Belief? Remember
and take care: one of the cardinal sins of Christianity
is spiritual pride—the very thing that persuades
one into feeling superior to others.
Only when religion becomes a thing of living,
instead of a name to hide behind, only when we stop
playing games and saying “My religion is better
than yours”—like children with their toys:
“Mine’s bigger than yours!”—shall
religion have a serious role to play in the world.
If it cannot or will not update itself, it will become
anachronistic, and we shall eventually outgrow it.
Hasten the day!