Saturday, 9 July 2016

Deflections Into False Hope

No Nirvana

We have been reading about the remarkable life of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is at present serving as the effective democratically elected leader of Myanmar, at the pleasure of its military overlords.    It remains to be seen whether the military will retire itself from politics and government and allow itself to be transformed into a servant, not master, of the state.

Aung San Suu Kyi is, like most Burmese, a Buddhist.  But her faith is held seriously, in a dedicated fashion.  She is a true believer.  In one of her published books, she gives a brief description of Buddhism in Myanmar.
The one single factor which has had the most influence on Burmese culture and civilization is Theravada Buddhism.  In all parts of the country where Burmese people live there are pagodas and Buddhist monasteries.  The graceful tapering shape of a pagoda, painted white or gilded to a shining gold, is a basic part of any Burmese  landscape.  Burma is often called the "Land of the Pagodas".  [Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom From Fear (New York: Penguin Group, 2010), p.66.]
It is true that the visitor to Myanmar is immediately confronted with pagodas around every corner.  It is the most striking and visible form of the hold which Buddhism has over the hearts and minds of the people.

Aung San provides a brief overview of Buddhist teaching and doctrine.

Buddhism teaches that suffering is an unavoidable part of existence.  At the root of all suffering are such feelings as desire, greed and attachment.  Therefore to be free from suffering it is necessary to be free from those undesirable feelings.  This freedom can be obtained by following the Noble Eightfold Path:
Right Thought
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration
Right Understanding
This path is known as the Middle Way, because it avoids two extremes: one extreme is the search for happiness through the pursuit of pleasure, the other extreme is the search for happiness through inflicting pain on oneself.  The final goal of a Buddhist is to be liberated from the cycle of existence and rebirth, call samsara.  Once this final liberation is achieved, one may be said to have attained nirvana; this word means "extinction" and might be explained as Ultimate Reality for all Buddhists.  [Ibid., p.67]
The concept of extinction being the ultimate achievement explains why many in the materialist West have an attachment to Buddhism.  At root it is a "salvation by good works" religion--which is condign with what the vast majority of  Westerners believe.  But the "salvation" to be achieved by the Noble Eightfold Path is conceptually the same as the Western atheist religion: namely, extinction.  A ceasing to exist.  All that is left is matter--electrons, neutrons, protons, and waves and such.

It also explains why some Buddhist leaders, notably the Dalai Lama of Tibet, have shows such a great fascination with advances and developments in quantum theory, because at the end of all things there ain't anything else.

Aung San continues:
All good Buddhists undertaken to abide by the Five Precepts, not to take life, not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to tell lies, not to take intoxicating drinks.  Although the taking of life is considered such an evil that many Burmese will go out of their way to avoid stepping on an insect, there are few who avoid eating meat.  This is considered inconsistent by some people.  The Burmese would probably argue that the Lord Buddha himself ate meat.  The Burmese are a practical people.  They have also been described as happy-go-lucky.  [Ibid.]
These precepts reflect an echo of the Law of the Living God written upon the hearts of all men.   Buddhism itself cannot provide a justification, a foundation for these precepts in the sense of an absolute morality.  Such transcendent authority for right and wrong simply does not exist in the Buddhist worldview.  The ultimate is nothingness.  Nothingness can have nothing to say about the good or evil of taking a life.  In the final analysis, within the Buddhist worldview, it is neither here nor there.

But just as the law of God is written on the hearts of the Burmese and all Buddhists, so is the truth of God's infallible existence and infinite personality.  We are all rebels against Him.  We must all appear before His judgment seat [II Corinthians 5:10] to receive what is due.  And we must appear knowing this: that all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God. [Romans 3:23].  There is no escaping into non-existence.

The Bible teaches that all men already know this.  They all know of God's existence, and of the judgement to come.  And it is because of this that doctrines like nirvana, or "extinction" are attractive: they represent an escape from having to give an account for all the evils of thought, word, and deed of our lives.

The only hope is the one God Himself has provided.  And because He has provided it, the hope is sure and certain.  His Son was sent forth to be the Saviour of the world--for all who would repent of their sins and unbelief, and believe and entrust themselves to him.  This includes Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Myanmar.  It includes us all.

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