What are the biggest misunderstandings about Sanskrit

Paul Williams: Buddhism is hopeless

Buddhism researcher Paul Williams explains why the Dalai Lama admires Christian virtue, the misunderstandings that the West has, and why an enlightened person is incapable of loving.

The Press: What Are The Biggest Misconceptions About Buddhism In The West?

Williams: That it is simply a religion of experience and calm contemplation that requires little or no belief. Or that Buddhists meditate so much; in fact, meditation is quite rare. Or that Buddhism has no ethical requirements. Or that all Buddhist teachers are spiritual or "holy" people - there have been many scandals around Buddhist teachers. But perhaps the biggest misconception is that Buddhism is a completely peaceful religion.

You once said that when the Dalai Lama visits the West, he only says what people want to hear ...

Williams: He is very good at speaking in the cultural terms of the people who are listening to him. In fact, this skillful use of the means, which is called "upayakaushalya" in Sanskrit, is a special achievement in the Dalai Lama's Buddhism. Those who have not studied it for very long can hardly understand what the Dalai Lama really means. I have heard myself how he explained to a group of Christians that he believed in a loving God. But what the Dalai Lama described by the word "God" was very different from what these Christian theologians would have meant by it.

How do you characterize him?

Williams: He is very clever, comes from a completely different world, is deeply familiar with his Tibetan tradition and in many ways extremely traditional. The key to him is concern for the survival of the Tibetan people and their religion. Behind his visits, his laughter with the Western people, there is always only one thing: “How will this situation, how will these people serve the cause of the Tibetan people?” This is another reason why he says different things in different environments. The Dalai Lama is not concerned the West, he's only concerned with Tibet.

The Dalai Lama is telling the people here to stay Christians, why?

Williams: He doesn't know Christianity well and doesn't seem to care much about it. I think he doesn't think Christian philosophy is that high. But one thing he admires: the history of Christian virtue. Since we will not become enlightened in this life anyway, the Christian faith is a useful way for the Dalai Lama to be virtuous - and thus to gain a favorable rebirth. After many lifetimes, he thinks, people may then find their way to Buddhism. Many think that for him all religions are the same, nothing could be more wrong. The Dalai Lama is absolutely convinced of the truth and superiority of Buddhism.

He also talks a lot about "love", what does that mean exactly?

Williams: I don't know, maybe you should ask him that. In contrast to the Judeo-Christian community, Buddhism aims at total self-sufficiency. All Buddhist traditions also agree that "nirvana" is a state of freedom from all suffering. Pope Benedict, on the other hand, emphasizes that love necessarily includes the possibility of suffering. It would follow from this that the enlightened person in Buddhism is incapable of loving. If a Buddha cannot suffer, then he is simply incapable of making himself vulnerable and consequently incapable of taking the risk that true love requires. In making the end of all suffering, the Buddhist must also end love To have a goal.

You were a Buddhist for two decades. How did that happen?

Williams: I've always been religious. I was raised as a member of the Anglican Church and have been very active in my Christian faith. In my youth - the 1960s - I gave up Christianity and eventually became a Buddhist in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which is that of the Dalai Lama. The main thing that attracted me to Buddhism was that it is a complete religion with a deep spiritual tradition that at the same time totally negates the existence of a personal creator. Some Buddhist sources even poke fun at the idea. I was just very busy with theodicy, the question of God and evil in the world, and Buddhism solved all of these problems in one fell swoop. On top of that, of course, in the 1960s Buddhism was very, very exotic and fashionable.

You converted to Catholicism in the late 1990s. What was the impetus for that?

Williams: In the course of a scientific paper, I first understood the meaning of the standard Buddhist claim that the person born again is not the same person as the person who died. It is said that it is neither the same nor a different one, but it seems to me that it must be different. Even in the highly unlikely event that I would be reborn as a human, it would not be "I." The person's identity cannot survive the changes that come with being born again, especially the changes that come with a radical break in physical continuity Influential Buddhist scholars have argued in exactly the same way. That is also one reason why Buddhists have always thought of rebirth as something "terrible." Since we will certainly not reach enlightenment in this life, our death is the end. In this respect, Buddhism is hopeless. In contrast to Christianity, it also gives no hope for our human relationships, no matter how essential they are, how deep the love is.

But that does not affect the question of truth.

Williams: But then I began to think deeply about the coherence of Buddhism and whether it really makes more sense than the most profound Christian theology. Most Buddhist scholars are not trained in Western philosophy, and even if they do, they often take care not to analyze Buddhism for its coherence. In addition, most Westerners have very little knowledge of Christianity. But when we study Buddhism, we start right away at a high level - and then compare that with our primitive conception of Christianity. I delved into the arguments of the great Christian thinkers, especially Thomas Aquinas, for the existence of God, and why the existence of evil in the world need not mean that there is no creator God. I believe today that there is one, and that belief is a rational belief.

Can Christians Benefit From Buddhist Meditation?

Williams: Usually it means "calming meditation". Relaxation and better concentration are good for everyone, but they do not have a religious value per se. Relaxing has as much to do with prayer as enjoying a glass of wine after a hard day's work with Receiving Holy Communion.

Can western people become "real" Buddhists?

Williams: Yes, but it takes a lot of time. The question is whether Western Buddhism has this time. Although people often know very little about what Buddhism belongs to - the real, lived Buddhism as it has been believed and practiced for centuries in Buddhist-influenced cultures - and although it is often just a matter of fashion to call oneself Buddhist , there are many people in the West today who have very good knowledge and who try to practice Buddhism as it is taught by traditional Buddhist teachers. Overall, however, "Western Buddhism" is developing into an independent phenomenon that has in many ways only very indirectly to do with the roots. I am not saying that this is bad, in any case it is inevitable. But I think It is sometimes very frustrating to hear claims about Buddhism in the West that would be very questionable from the standpoint of traditional Buddhism as it has existed for nearly two and a half millennia. Already many people in the West are leaving Asian teachers in favor of Western teachers, who often do not Speak a word in an Asian language and sometimes never have been to Asia.

To person

Paul Williams is Professor Emeritus of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy at the Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of Bristol. He has translated the Dalai Lama into English and was President of the United Kingdom Association for Buddhist Studies. Williams was a practicing Buddhist for two decades and converted to Catholicism in the late 1990s.

("Die Presse", print edition, May 25, 2012, long version)