Criticism of Buddhism

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Criticism of Buddhism, much like the criticism of religion in general, can be found from those who disagree with or question the assertions, beliefs or other factors of various schools of Buddhism. Some Buddhist denominations, many predominantly Buddhist nations, and individual Buddhist leaders have been criticized in one way or another. Sources of criticism can come from, for example, agnostics, skeptics, "anti-religion" philosophers, proponents of other religions, or by Buddhists espousing reform or simply expressing their dislike.

There are two criteria of criticism of any system of thoughts; one is based on rational evaluation of its doctrines, texts, teachings and practice, and the other criterion pertains to the consistency or inconsistency of the practitioners in applying the teachings.

Historical criticism

Kumārila Bhaṭṭa called Buddha the one who "transgressed dharma laid down for kshatriyas and he took himself to the profession of a religious teacher, one who 'deceives himself' and acts contrary to the Vedas."[1]

Criticism of Buddhist doctrines

Various teachings - and also their later commentaries – differ widely between various Buddhist schools, depending on which sutra is in concern.[2]

Nihilism and focus on sufferings

Buddhism has been compared with Existentialism, and the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths has been criticized for its focus on sufferings. Friedrich Nietzsche interpreted Buddhism as a life-negating philosophy that seeks to escape an existence dominated by suffering. According to Omar Moad, Nietzsche misunderstood the meaning of Buddhist doctrine.[3] The term Dukkha has different meanings and is neither pessimistic nor optimistic.[4][5] Dukkha may mean disappointment, desires, cravings, bereavement, unfulfillment, or dissatisfaction.[6]

Lama Surya Das emphasizes the matter-of-fact nature of dukkha:[7]

Buddha Dharma does not teach that everything is suffering. What Buddhism does say is that life, by its nature, is difficult, flawed, and imperfect. [...] That's the nature of life, and that's the First Noble Truth. From the Buddhist point of view, this is not a judgement of life's joys and sorrows; this is a simple, down-to-earth, matter-of-fact description.

There are also other Buddhist teachings that acknowledge the element of joy in life, for example: the text of the Lotus Sutra contains sceneries of people’s enlightenment, with a mind "dancing with joy".[8] The teaching of Nichiren Buddhism also acknowledges both sufferings and joy: “Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy, regard both sufferings and joy as facts of life”.[9]

Women in Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism has been criticized because it treats women, particularly women monks, as inferior to men.[10] Most schools of Buddhism have more rules for bhikkunis (nuns) than bhikkus (monk) lineages. Theravada Buddhists explain that in the time of the Buddha, nuns had such problems like safety if they were to be ordained the same way as monks who traveled around in the forest and between cities. Thus, more rules have to be created for nuns, for instance: nuns are forbidden to travel alone.[11]

Alexander Berzin referred to the Dalai Lama's statement at the 2007 Hamburg congress:[12]

Sometimes in religion there has been an emphasis on male importance. In Buddhism, however, the highest vows, namely the bhikshu and bhikshuni ones, are equal and entail the same rights. This is the case despite the fact that in some ritual areas, due to social custom, bhikshus go first. But Buddha gave the basic rights equally to both sangha groups. There is no point in discussing whether or not to revive the bhikshuni ordination; the question is merely how to do so properly within the context of the Vinaya.

The most criticised doctrine is found in Amida Buddhism’s vow 35: "The Buddha established the Vow of transformation [women] into men, Thereby vowing to enable women to attain Buddhahood".[13] Earlier limitations on attainment of Buddhahood by women were abolished in the Lotus Sutra which opened the direct path to enlightenment for women equally to men.[14] According to Nichiren "Only in the Lotus Sutra do we read that a woman who embraces this sutra not only excels all other women but surpasses all men".[15]


Some practitioners[who?] argue that the criticisms levied against the Buddhist religion draw on examples from sub-traditions not in consonance to Buddhist principles.[16][verification needed] These meta-critiques are similar to those from practitioners in other religious traditions. The lack of evidence of any original teachings or global authority on true Buddhism makes it difficult to substantiate these claims outside of practitioner circles.[17]

Arguments of secular origin

Sam Harris, a prominent proponent of New Atheism[18] and practitioner of Buddhist meditation, claims that many practitioners of Buddhism improperly treat it as a religion, and criticizes their beliefs as "naive, petitionary, and superstitious," and claims that such beliefs impede the adoption of true Buddhist principles.[19]

War and violence

One of the Five Precepts of Buddhist ethics or śīla states, "I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing."[20] The Buddha is quoted in the Dhammapada as saying, "All are afraid of the stick, all hold their lives dear. Putting oneself in another's place, one should not beat or kill others"[21] and the Sutta Nipata says "'As I am, so are these. As are these, so am I.' Drawing the parallel to yourself, neither kill nor get others to kill."[22] The Buddha reportedly stated, "Victory breeds hatred. The defeated live in pain. Happily the peaceful live giving up victory and defeat." These elements are used to indicate Buddhism is pacifistic and all violence done by Buddhists, even monks, is likely due to economic or political reasons.[23]


In medieval Southeast Asia, there were a number of Buddhist states, including the Pagan Kingdom, the Sukhothai Kingdom, and the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa. In Sri Lanka especially, modern monks frequently involve themselves in nationalist politics.[24] These Buddhist nationalists have been opposed by the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, a self-governance movement led by the Buddhist A. T. Ariyaratne and based in Buddhist ideals, who condemn the use of violence and the denial of Human rights to Tamils and other non-Buddhists.[25]

Maung Zarni, a Burmese democracy advocate, human rights campaigner, and a research fellow at the London School of Economics who has written on the violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, states that there is no room for fundamentalism in Buddhism. "No Buddhist can be nationalistic," said Zarni, "There is no country for Buddhists. I mean, no such thing as ‘me,’ ‘my’ community, ‘my’ country, ‘my’ race or even ‘my’ faith."[26]

Accusation of violence

Buddhist self-criticism

Critical Buddhism is a branch of Japanese Buddhist scholarship which aims to reform Buddhism through critical examination of its practices and philosophy.

Marxist criticism

Several critics have criticized Tibet for maintaining a feudal society that exploited peasants and treated them like serfs.[27] The current Dalai Lama, however, has stated that he is in favor of a Buddhist synthesis with Marxist economics, as he believes that internationalist nature of Marxism shows compassion to the poor, which is in line with Buddhist teachings, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability.[28]

See also


  1. Hindu Response to Religious Pluralism, Page 34, by Pi. Es Ḍāniyēl
  2. "A Basic Buddhism Guide: Differences betweenTheravada and Mahayana". Retrieved 25 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Buddhism and Nietzsche". Retrieved 25 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Rupert Gethin (1998), Foundations of Buddhism (PDF), Oxford University Press, p. 62<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Walpola Rahula (2014), What the Buddha Taught, Oneworld Publications, pp. 525–541, ISBN 9781780740003<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "BBC - Religions - Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths". Retrieved 25 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Surya Das (2009), Awakening the Buddha Within, Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony, ISBN 9780385530989<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "The Lotus Sutra[3] - Simile and Parable". Retrieved 25 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Happiness in This World". Retrieved 25 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Keyes, Charles F. "Mother or Mistress but Never a Monk: Buddhist Notions of Female Gender in Rural Thailand", American Ethnologist, Vol. 11, No. 2 (May, 1984), pp. 223-241.
    • Gutschow, Kim (2004). Being a Buddhist nun: the struggle for enlightenment in the Himalayas. Harvard University Press. p. 207,225,240.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Lucinda Joy Peach (2001), "Buddhism and Human Rights in the Thai Sex Trade", in Religious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women, Courtney W. Howland (Ed)., Palgrave Macmillan, p. 219.
    • Janell Mills (2000), "Militarisim, civil war and women's status: a Burma case study", in Women in Asia: tradition, modernity, and globalisation, Louise P. Edwards (Ed.), University of Michigan Press, p. 269.
    • Campbell, June (2002). Traveller in Space: Gender, Identity and Tibetan Buddhism. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8264-5719-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Women in Buddhism (English)
  11. Berzin Summary Report Human Rights and the Status of Women in Buddhism
  12. "Women In Buddhism Part IV by Rev. Patti Nakai". Retrieved 25 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "The Enlightenment of Women". Retrieved 25 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Writing of Nichiren Daishonin, vol1.p 463
  15. *Christine J. Nissen, (2008), "Buddhism and Corruption", in People of virtue: reconfiguring religion, power and moral order in Cambodia today, Alexandra Kent (Ed.), NIAS Press, p. 272-292.
  16. *Jerryson, Michael (2010). Buddhist Warfare. Oxford University Press. pp. 4–5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Daniel Dennett have been described as the "Four Horsemen" of the "New Atheism". See 'THE FOUR HORSEMEN,' Discussions with Richard Dawkins: Episode 1, RDFRS - and » Blog Archive » The Four Horsemen of the New Atheism
  18. Killing the Buddha by Sam Harris
  19. "Access to Insight: the Panca Sila (with Pali)". Retrieved 2011-03-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Dhammapada Verse 130 Chabbaggiya Bhikkhu Vatthu". Tipitaka Network. Retrieved 13 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Sutta Nipata 705". Georgetown University. Retrieved 13 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Buddhist Ethics". buddhanet. Retrieved December 6, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Ananda Abeysekara, "The Saffron Army, Violence, Terror(ism): Buddhism, Identity, and Difference in Sri Lanka". Numen 48.1 (2001).
  24. Thomas Banchoff; Robert Wuthnow (2011). Religion and the Global Politics of Human Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 178. ISBN 9780199841035. Retrieved 17 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Anuradha Sharma Pujari; Vishal Arora (1 May 2014). "Nirvanaless: Asian Buddhism's growing fundamentalist streak". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Goldstein, Melvyn C. (1991). A history of modern Tibet, 1913-1951: the demise of the Lamaist state. University of California Press. p. 5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Goldstein, Melvyn C. (2009). A history of modern Tibet: The calm before the storm, 1951-1955. University of California Press. p. 440.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Florida, Robert E. (2005). Human Rights and the World's Major Religions: The Buddhist tradition, Volume 5. Praeger. p. 190.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Luo, Zhufeng (1990). Religion under socialism. M.E. Sharpe. p. 40.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Friendly Feudalism - The Tibet Myth
  26. "Dalai Lama Answers Questions on Various Topics". Retrieved 25 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Baskind, James; Bowring, Richard (2015). The Myōtei Dialogues: A Japanese Christian Critique of Native Traditions. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-30729-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>