(Detailed) Clarifications of Misconceptions in Pastor Rony Tan’s Videos on ‘Buddhism’
[A concise version of this article is available at http://tinyurl.com/ronytan2]
Though Pastor Rony Tan has already apologised for his gross misrepresentations of Buddhism in his video interviews, many of these misrepresentations remain unclarified in a point by point manner. As the videos are publicly viewable, clarifications on them should be publicly available too. Since the videos are full of misconceptions, please do not view them without also reading the clarifications. Please do not circulate them without the clarifications either. May this article serve to create more right understanding of Buddhism. May all co-exist in peace and harmony.
Interview with an ‘Ex-Nun’
1. If the account by the interviewee is true, she was offering probable proof on the validity of the phenomenon of rebirth that is worth further investigation. Rebirth remains to be the only viable explanation of how children and adults in deep meditation have fresh memories of detailed past experiences in past lives, many of which are verifiable upon proper research. For more about time-tested scientific research on rebirth, please refer to the detailed works of Dr. Ian Stevenson.
2. ‘Pu Men Pin’ is the ‘Chapter on the Universal Door’, from the Lotus Sutra; not as mentioned, the ‘Goddess of Mercy Sutra’, though the chapter does centre around the enlightened Guanyin (Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva, who personifies perfect compassion, and is commonly mistaken as a mere goddess.
3. The voice the interviewee heard could be that of a guiding unseen being with good intentions, instead of a demon. To know if such voices are evil or illusory, we should use our wisdom to mindfully discern if that heard makes sense objectively. Even those of other faiths do hear supernormal voices at times.
4. Though the interviewer could not look ‘behind the scene’ to objectively expose what he believed to be a magic trick, he jumped to the conclusion that it was simply so.
5. It is not true that all males are better than females as it is obvious that there are many females who are more virtuous, wise and successful than many males.
6. As many animals take various initiatives to protect and rescue humans, their kind and even other animals in need, some animals can be more proactively moral than some humans.
7. It is indeed impossible to become a high-ranking monk in one’s first lifetime because there is no discernible first lifetime in the innumerable rounds of rebirth. There must also be something done to deserve whatever one experiences due to karmic cause and effect.
8. The Buddha’s last words were ‘Subject to change are all conditioned things. Strive on with diligence.’ He was urging us to strive on the way (the Noble Eightfold Path) to liberation that he already discovered, walked and shared.
Interview with an ‘Ex-Monk’ (Part 1)
1. Details of the temple that asked the so-called ex-nun to leave should be given – for further investigation as to whether such an incident did happen. Genuine healing happens very often in many religions, including Buddhism.
2. The interviewee wasn’t a real Buddhist monk, as he was only a novice for two weeks. A real monk would not have such poor and erroneous knowledge of Buddhism, as demonstrated in these videos.
3. No true Buddhist monk would only aspire to go to an impermanent heaven after death; but aspire for Nirvana instead.
4. There are no Buddhist mantras in Pali as mantras are in Sanskrit (which might be transliterated into other languages).
5. Mantra-chanting is not merely for protection, but for nurturing certain virtues too.
6. Buddhists have no need to protect themselves from gods, who are mostly good, unless it is Mara (the chief heavenly demon) and his minions. However, when one protects one’s mind with high moral integrity, there already is protection with the natural force of truth and goodness. The term ‘devils’ is not used in Buddhism.
7. The interviewee should have learnt more about the so-called ‘mantra’ before practising it. Not doing so was to follow blindly – which the Buddha would not approve.
8. Mantras are not arbitrary strings of words with arbitrary meanings like ‘oo oo ee ah ah tink tank wala bing bang’. They are specific sacred syllables with profound meanings.
9. As Buddhism sees the existence of a creator God as illusory, it is not a Buddhist goal to be greater than God. Buddhism teaches that nature (re)creates nature naturally. However, the Buddha did teach that there is a god who had mistaken himself to have created the world, who acknowledged the spiritual superiority of the Buddha. In Buddhist cosmology, even wise gods, who were previously very virtuous humans, seek to learn the path to liberation from the Buddha before they eventually fall from their heavens due to the depletion of their limited positive karma. The Buddha is thus greater than all gods, who has broken free of the cycle of rebirth, and is also known as the ‘Teacher of Humans and Gods’. The Buddha taught that we can all become Buddhas like him – an enlightened one with perfect compassion and wisdom.
10. Reincarnation refers to the idea of an unchanging soul taking upon a new form from one life to the next, while rebirth refers to the truth of an ever-changing consciousness that goes from one life to the next. It is due to this constant change that spiritual betterment and perfection is possible.
11. With the precise and intricate workings of the law of karma, one’s rebirth is guaranteed to never be by chance, but by virtue of the quality of one’s intentional thoughts, words and deeds before dying.
12. There are many animals in this world because it is relatively not easy to have the precious human rebirth, which requires more positive karma, virtue and wisdom.
Interview with an ‘Ex-Monk’ (Part 2)
13. A novice who does not understand the Buddha’s teachings well cannot bless any devotee effectively.
14. The rationale of some monastics’ refraining from entertainment (e.g. television and radio) is to keep sensual indulgence of sight and sound to a minimum, so as to better cultivate their minds for greater calmness and clarity.
15. The rationale of refraining from handling money in some Buddhist traditions is to minimise attachment to material wealth, which could distract them from seeking spiritual wealth.
16. The temple should be named for verifying any truth in the interviewee’s account.
17. The interviewee confessed that he didn’t practise his meditation well due to having many stray thoughts. He is thus not a good candidate to testify for the efficacy of Buddhist meditation, much more of the path to Nirvana.
18. The interviewee described the path to Nirvana haphazardly and incompletely. A brief yet comprehensive way to describe it is that it requires walking at least the Noble Eightfold Path.
19. The interviewer says Buddhists go ‘ang chang yang yang’ in temples, and that it’s music to him. Suttas (and Sutras) chanted are not arbitrary strings of words with arbitrary meanings. They are specific sacred teachings with profound meanings. The tunes used are to facilitate rhythmic pronunciation, pacing and memorisation.
20. Nirvana is not easy to define in words just as the personal experience of happiness is hard to be put into words. Nirvana is the perfectly blissful state of liberation from all causes of suffering, that the historical Buddha realised in person and taught about. The speed at which it is attained depends on how diligently one practises the Noble Eightfold Path to realise the necessary wisdom. Nirvana is eventual with practice and many have attained it in history. The goal of Nirvana is thus not a blind idea promoted by the blind; but a state of awakening led to by the awakened.
21. When something bad, such as being sick happens, it is due to past karma ripening and/or one’s present karma created in this moment. For example, if one has an inexplicable illness that cannot be traced in origin within this life, it is probably due to negative karma ripening from a past life. If one eats too many cookies and becomes sick, it is clearly present negative karma of unchecked greed bearing fruit.
22. There are countless cases of active healing in Buddhism both in the past and in the present. However, Buddhism seldom uses cases of healing to attract devotees, while focusing on its core teachings of practising compassion and realising wisdom.
23. As the workings of karma are dynamic, Buddhists do not believe in fatalism or predestination. The effects of our past negative karma can be diluted by our present positive karma which we actively choose to create now, while our present karma can shape our future at will too.
24. We can learn from our past lives by recollecting them through practising proper and deep meditation – just as the Buddha did. If we find this challenging, we can look at the physical and spiritual state of our present lives and our habitual tendencies to know what we could have done or were like in the past.
25. Many young children with no preconceived ideas can recall their past lives vividly. All babies also exhibit specific untaught character traits which are probably forces of habit carried over from their past lives.
26. The Buddha taught that both men and women have the ability to attain Nirvana. He was also the first founder of a world religion who permitted women to enter monasticism full-time. While one being born a man or woman is a result of karma for various reasons, it is not true that all men are greater than all women, as there are many women who are spiritually greater than men – even in the Buddha’s time.
27. In Buddhism, it is ultimately us who realise timeless liberation ourselves. However, there is the great assistance of many enlightened ones (Buddhas and Bodhisattvas) available to guide us to realise it too.
Interview with an ‘Ex-Monk’ (Part 3)
28. The point of becoming a celibate monastic is to focus fully on the spiritual path, which is why monks-to-be voluntarily choose not to marry – without feeling any loss.
29. Like the interviewer did eventually, the interviewee should consider apologising for his very unsettling misunderstanding of Buddhism. According to the Buddhist teachings, unrepented intentional slander of the Buddha’s teachings, which endangers the spiritual lives of others can lead to rebirth for a long time in the hells. However, just as there is no eternal heaven in Buddhist cosmology, there is no eternal hell due to the limitations of one’s negative karma.
30. We hope the interviewee will no longer testify his highly misleading ‘Buddhist’ experiences, especially in the Sunday School that he teaches.
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