Buddhism and Materialist Western Culture
One reason why Buddhism has come to the world's attention is not because of its existence in the Far East—its traditional home—but thanks to propaganda spread in the West. The beginning of this propaganda goes back as far as the 19th century and attracted more interest in the second half of the 20th century when it became a fad for those looking to be more "original."
The beginning of this fad dates from the pop-culture of the 1960's when a large number of western youth and some western intellectuals turned away from traditional Christianity looking for something else and found what they were seeking in far-eastern religions. The main impetus for this search was the desire to attract interest by going against the established order. When the late George Harrison of the Beatles, who helped define the pop culture of the '60s, stated that he had become a Hindu (a pagan religion that preceded Buddhism) and later recorded his own composition, "My Sweet Lord," a song to Krishna, many Beatles' fans followed suit. John Lennon used Buddhist mantras in his song entitled "Across the Universe." Buddhist hymns, styles of dress, and artworks were very popular among hippies in the '60s and '70s.
Interestingly, the most important architects of popular cultural expressions are imposing Buddhism on Western society. In this process, Hollywood has taken the lead. It's generally accepted that Hollywood reflects the ideas of American society's liberal wing, often supporting anti-religious ideas and values contrary to Christian morality and belief. For example, most films strongly impose the theory of evolution on the minds of viewers. In the evolution-versus-creation argument, "scientific" films are almost always come down on the side of Darwinism. (Hollywood's anti-religious, pro-Darwin propaganda began with the famous film, Inherit the Wind.) And the tendency of today's films to disparage Islam is a highly evident strategy.
But though Hollywood is generally unfavorable towards revealed religions like Christianity and Islam; when it comes to Buddhism, it takes a totally opposite line, depicting this religion in a most attractive light as peaceable and humane. Films like Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt, and Kundun, about the life of the Dalai Lama, directed by Martin Scorcese, have undertaken to popularizing Buddhism among the movie-going masses.
For spreading Buddhist propaganda, the private lives of actors and actresses are as important as the films they star in. The Supreme Head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism has declared Steven Seagal, well-known for his roles in action films, to be the reincarnation of a 15th century lama (a Buddhist monk of Tibet or Mongolia)! Famous actor Richard Gere, in addition to writing books promoting Buddhism, has founded the Tibet House in New York with Richard Thurman, father of actress Uma Thurman. Other well-known Buddhists include Tina Turner, Harrison Ford, Oliver Stone, Herbie Hancock and Courtney Love.
"If you call on them, they will not hear your call, and were they to hear, they would not respond to you. On the Day of Rising, they will reject your making associates of them. No one can inform you like One Who is All-aware."(Qur'an, 35: 14)
Of course, a person's private life and personal beliefs concern no one else. People are free to choose any religion they wish. But if these individuals learned about true Islam, certainly their hearts would be warmed. But the picture presented so far brings us to an important conclusion: Buddhism is attracting interest, being adopted and promoted in the West wherever a materialist culture predominates. Materialism Western culture has become alienated from the Judeo-Christian basis of its own spirituality.
But why? To answer this question, we must first determine the basic characteristics of Western materialism. This culture's foundations were laid in the 18th century; its theoretical framework was established in the 19th and—despite the gradual erosion of the theoretical framework—it became a mass movement in the 20th. Essentially, it:
- denies the existence of God and believes the universe to be the result of chance.
- believes that living things arrived at their present state through evolution, and that Darwinism explains the phenomenon of life and the "origin" of species.
- believes that human beings are simply a higher species of animal and downplays the existence of any human spirit.
- rejects the idea of life after death, resurrection, Judgment Day and the existence of an eternal Paradise and Hell.
These assumptions of a materialist culture, every one of them false, naturally contradict all revealed religions. But significantly, all these erroneous assumptions are shared by another culture—Buddhism.
Many ancient statues of Buddha are truly gigantic. It is believed that Buddha is honored by statues such as these. But no matter how large, they cannot save anyone from the coming judgment of God. In the Qur'an (7: 191-192), God addresses pagan communities in these words:"Do they make things into partner-gods which cannot create anything and are themselves created; which are not capable of helping them and cannot even help themselves?"
Huxley's Discovery of Buddhism
A caricature of Thomas H. Huxley
An atheist religion, Buddhism doesn't accept the existence of God, an everlasting hereafter, Paradise, or Hell. It supposes that the human spirit is no different from that of an animal and believes in continual karmic returns to the natural world. According to Buddhists, a fish could come back as a mammal in a later life, and a human could come back as a worm. This idea of the "transmigration of souls" between species has important parallels with Darwin's theory of evolution.
One Buddhist researcher has described as follows the relation between Buddhism and evolution:
Buddhism. . . is quite happy with the theory of evolution. In fact, Buddhist philosophy actually requires evolution to take place—all things are seen as being transient, constantly becoming, existing for a while, and then fading. The idea of unchanging species would not be compatible with Buddhist ontology.6
For this reason, Darwinists have felt sympathetic toward Buddhism and promoted it ever since the 19th century.
The first to express Darwinist admiration for Buddhism was Thomas H. Huxley who, after Darwin himself proposed his theory, played the next most important role in the spread of Darwinism. Huxley appeared on the scene as Darwin's most passionate supporter and became known as "Darwin's bulldog." His debates with scientists and clergy defending the idea of creation, and the passion of his writings and speeches have made him the 19th century's most famous Darwinist.
One little-known fact about Huxley was his keen interest in Buddhism. Even while struggling with representatives of revealed religions like Judaism and Christianity, he regarded Buddhism as appropriate to the kind of secular civilization that he wanted to see established in the West. This is elaborated in the Philosophy East and West article, "Buddhism in Huxley's Evolution and Ethics," which includes the following description of Buddhism from Huxley's book of that name:
[Buddhism is] a system which knows no God in the Western sense; which denies a soul to man; which counts the belief in immortality a blunder and hope of it a sin; which refuses any efficacy to prayer and sacrifice; which bids men look to nothing but their own effortsfor salvation . . . . yet [it] spread over a considerable moiety of the Old World with marvelous rapidity and is still, with whatever base admixture of foreign superstitions, the dominant creed of a large fraction of mankind.7
The only reason for Huxley's admiration of Buddhism is that it—like Huxley and other Darwinists—did not believe in God.
According to Vijitha Rajapakse, a professor at Hawaii University and the author of "Buddhism in Huxley's Evolution and Ethics," Huxley saw a parallel between Buddhism and the atheistic pagan ideas of ancient Greece. This contributed to his admiration:
Huxley's evident tendency to link Buddhist thought with Western ideas, which comes to the fore strikingly in his comments on the concept of substance, was further exemplified at other levels of his discussion as well. He found the nontheistic stance taken by the early Buddhists to be analogous to the outlook of Heracleitus and referred, in addition, to "many parallelisms of Stoicism and Buddhism.". . .8
Rajapakse notes that some other 18th and 19th century atheists or agnostics were also great admirers of Buddhism. Parallels between Buddhism and the materialist Western philosophy of the time form part of the thought of David Hume, an 18th century Scottish philosopher and atheist with an antipathy towards religion. Rajapakse writes, "Interestingly enough, the parallelisms that exist between Buddhist and Humean standpoints on the question of a substantial soul were duly noted by certain early commentators on Buddhism" and continues:
Mrs. Rhys Davids [a pioneer translator of early Buddhist texts from Paali into English], for example, remarked that "with regard to the belief in an indwelling spirit or ego, permanent, unchanging, unsuffering, Buddhism took the standpoint two thousand, four hundred years ago of our own Hume of two centuries ago."9
As Rajapakse maintains in his article, Buddhism intrigued many thinkers in Victorian England because they found it in harmony with the ascendant philosophies of the 19th century—atheism and Darwinism. Friedrich Nietzsche, the famous German philosopher, looked with favor on Buddhism for the same reason.
Nietzsche's Sympathy for Buddhism
Nietzsche, one of the 19th century's most avid atheist thinkers, nurtured a passionate hatred for Christianity and promoted in its stead a pagan culture and morality. His views helped form fascism in the 20th century, especially Nazism. Nietzsche battled with Christianity for espousing the virtues of compassion, mercy, humility and trust in God. Therefore, in fact, he was also against the moral principles of Islam and genuine Judaism. He hated revealed religions not only because of their moral principles, but mainly because of his fanatic atheism. In his article on Nietzsche, American researcher Jason DeBoer writes that "atheism is a crucial part of Nietzsche's thought," adding that:
His is not an unbiased critique: Nietzsche burns with hatred toward Christianity, and his atheistic writings are extremely vitriolic.10
Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the 19th century's most avid atheists
As we can imagine, Nietzsche directed his hatred at revealed religions only, not at pagan ones. On the contrary, as DeBoer writes:
. . . Nietzsche, although one of the fiercest atheists in history, was in fact not entirely anti-religious . . . [He] respected and admired many of the aspects of other religions, including paganism and even Buddhism.11
In his review of Robert G. Morrison's book Nietzche and Buddhism:A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities, English academic David R. Loy says the following on this matter:
Comparing Nietzsche with Buddhism has become something of a cottage industry, and for good reason: there seems to be a deep resonance between them. Morrison points out that they share many common features: both emphasise the centrality of humans in a godless cosmos and neither looks to any external being or power for their respective solutions to the problem of existence . . . Both understand [a] human being as an ever-changing flux of multiple psychophysical forces, and within this flux there is no autonomous or unchanging subject ('ego', 'soul').12
The sources of these erroneous ideas that Nietzsche shared with Buddhism were certainly nothing more than ignorance and arrogance. Anyone who looks at the universe and the world of nature with conscious intelligence can see clear proofs of God's existence. This has been supported by modern, scientific discoveries: the Big Bang theory and the Anthropic Principle (the principle that every detail in the universe has been carefully arranged to make human life possible) have crushed the idea of a godless universe as proposed by Nietzsche and other atheists. Science has clear proofs that the universe was created and ordered in an extraordinary balance. These proofs show the invalidity of Darwin's theory of evolution, but do support the existence of an intelligent design and prove the truth of creation. The results of scientific and sociological discoveries have also discredited the ideas of 19th century thinkers like Marx, Freud, and Durkheim. (For more information, please refer to Harun Yahya's article "A Turning Point in History: The Fall of Atheism" at www.harunyahya.com/70the_fall_of_atheism _scie34.php)
Buddhism: False Spirituality to a Materialist Culture
Ironically, this scientific testimony against atheism is closely related to why Buddhism is spreading in the Western world. Architects of atheism and materialist culture see that their theory is collapsing. To prevent the rapidly growing movement towards revealed religions, they counter it by promoting pagan faiths such as Buddhism. In other words, Buddhism—and other Far Eastern religions like it—are spiritual reinforcements of materialism.
But why should materialist Western culture need any such reinforcement? English writers Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln have examined the development (and degeneration) of ideas in the Western world over the past 2,000 years. In the 20th century, they explain, the Western world has fallen into a "crisis of meaning." In other words, the way of life imposed on Western societies by materialist philosophy has stripped people's lives of meaning by cutting them off from their belief in God's existence and from worship of Him. These three authors put it this way:
Life became increasingly bereft of meaning, devoid of significance — a wholly random phenomenon, lived for no particular purpose.13
Adding to this crisis of meaning, the collapse of materialist theories on a scientific level has opened the way for a new return to revealed religions, especially Islam. For this reason, the monotheistic faiths are growing in their numbers of adherents; the number of those who believe and practice their religion is increasing; and religious concepts and values are assuming much more important places in social life.
Buddhism and other pagan belief systems find increasing support in the Western world. After the rapid decline of materialism and atheism in today's world, many superstitious beliefs— particularly Buddhism—engage in much propaganda to stem the tide of a return to true religion. To understand these vain doctrines' real nature, one needs only think a little and put them through the sieve of reason.
Buddhism and similar pagan beliefs are eager to curtail this movement by offering, to those confused by the crisis of meaning brought on by the materialist culture, a false route to salvation. Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and versions of it like the Hare Krishna sect, Wicca and other New Age trends that bring together various pagan teachings, UFO religions that busy themselves with so-called holy messages believed to have come from space—these are all false teachings embraced by those who do not want to break with atheist and materialist dogmas, while eagerly search for spirituality at the same time. Besides, many who become Buddhists are largely influenced by a desire to unwittingly and blindly imitate something they do not understand, simply to attract attention and pretent that they are, indeed, aware and sophisticated.
To understand why these doctrines are unfounded, we need only pass them through the sieve of logic. We have already examined the concept of karma, the foundation of several Far Eastern religions, and shown it to have no rational basis. (For a more detailed discussion, see Harun Yahya's Islam and Karma, Ta Ha Publishers, London, 2003) These religions do not believe in the existence of God, nor in an ultimate place of divine judgment for mankind. How, then, can they believe that every person will receive a reward for what he has done—in a subsequent life? Who will determine this? Those who revere "Extraterrestrials" also believe in similar nonsense. How can a person build a philosophy of life on UFOs, whose reality is quite debatable? Even if beings from outer space did exist, they too would, necessarily, have to have been created. But what is the guarantee that they could show humans the true path?
Those caught up in such superstitious ideas should think about these words of God from the Qur'an (56: 57): "We created you, so why do you not confirm the truth?" They should follow His way, as He has commanded:
This is My Path, and it is straight, so follow it. Do not follow other ways, or you will become cut off from His Way. That is what He instructs you to do, so that hopefully you may do your duty. (Qur'an, 6: 153)
7. Thomas Henry Huxley, Evolution and Ethics, p. 74; Vijitha Rajapakse “Buddhism in Huxley's Evolution and Ethics: A note on a Victorian evaluation and its comparativist dimension,” Philosophy East and West, vol 35, no. 3 (July 1985), p. 298
8. Thomas Henry Huxley, Evolution and Ethics, p. 90; Vijitha Rajapakse “Buddhism in Huxley's Evolution and Ethics: A note on a Victorian evaluation and its comparativist dimension,” Philosophy East and West, vol.35, no. 3 (July1985), p. 301
9. Ryhs Davids, Buddhism-A Study of the Buddhist Norm, (London, n.d.), p. 79; Vijitha Rajapakse “Buddhism in Huxley's Evolution and Ethics: A note on a Victorian evaluation and its 'comparativist dimension',” Philosophy East and West, vol. 35, no. 3 (July 1985), p. 299
12. Robert G. Morrison, Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities, Reviewed by David R. Loy. Asian Philosophy, Vol. 8, No. 2, (JUly 1998), pp. 129-131, http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw//FULLTEXT/JR-EPT/ loy.htm