If You Can’t Take It With You, It Doesn’t Mattter

I have been fortunate in my life to have been challenged by many people along the way.  This story is an example of such a challenge.

This is a conversation I had with a conservative Christian woman who was slightly older than I am.  It began as a group conversation about the checkered history of Christianity, to which I was offering factual accounts of atrocities created during that history.

The woman walked up to me afterward and said, “I’d really like to continue our conversation.  You kind of peeved me a little bit.”

I’m pretty used to that reaction, so it no longer offends me. “How so? If I may ask.”

“Well, you seem to quickly point out the evils of Christianity, but you don’t mention that all religions have such issues in their history. Why not talk about that?”

Without wanting to get into a much deeper discussions of why it seems all religions have such a tortured past, I stuck to the subject at hand.

“I don’t believe that’s true. I don’t seem to remember much history of Buddhist atrocities, or of Buddhism’s evil side. I haven’t read where there were Buddhist inquisitions, or Buddhist crusades, or forced subjugation of people by Buddhists. It may be there, but have you ever heard of any?”

“No, I haven’t.  But give it time, Buddhism isn’t that old.”

I kind of blinked strangely at that comment, and she must have seen it.

“Right?” she added.

“Actually, it may surprise you to find out that Buddhism is about 500 years older than Christianity. And it’s killed far fewer people. In fact, the vast majority of people who have died because of Buddhism have died because their Buddhist.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

“Check it out if you want, but I think you’ll find it’s true.”

“Ok, so let’s go with that. I can also say with some certainty that Buddhism doesn’t contribute to society. At least Christianity does that.”

“Can I ask you some questions,” I went on. ” and would you answer honestly? Keep in mind that I am not asking questions to compare Buddhism to Christianity, but rather want to see if Buddhism contributes to society.”

“Yes, ok, go ahead.”

So, I asked her how many people Buddhist monks have murdered, or of people who have been murdered in the name of Buddhism.

She replied, “none to my knowledge.”

Then I asked how many nations Tibet has invaded.

She said “none.”

So I then asked her how many Buddhists the Dali Lama has ordered to attack non-believers.

She said “none to my knowledge.”

“Then haven’t Buddhists contributed something to society? Isn’t peace something we all can contribute?”

It appeared she had no choice but to say “I guess so.”

Not satisfied with this end, she then started with the clarifiers. You know, the “contributions I mean are jobs, money, income, wealth, prosperity.”

“Can you take money with you to heaven when you die?” I replied.

“No.”

“Can you take your house, your car, or your TV with you when you die?”

“No.”

“Can you take any part of your wealth with you when you pass on?”

“Nope.”

“Can you take peace with you?”

“Yes, I hope so.”

“Then isn’t the very thing that Buddhist monks contribute to society the ONLY thing you can take with you to heaven?”

She again seemed to have no choice but to agree.

“Does it seem strange to you that the very place your faith says you can take peace but not wealth is called “paradise”? Doesn’t it seem ironic to some degree that the Master you believe is the Son of God is also called the ‘Prince of Peace’ and not the ‘Prince of Job Creation’ or the ‘Prince of Sound Finance’?”

She then put her hand on my shoulder, said “thank you” and walked away. I’m not sure what, if any, effect the conversation had on her, but it seemed to confirm in me what I’ve seen since my earliest memory. Peace is the answer, and love is the way to peace.

We all have our own personal Bodhi trees, and for me mine has been the many times I’ve sat simply watching. Watching others. But mostly watching myself. Watching myself in moments of suffering. Watching myself in moments of ecstasy, or regret, or sorrow, or joy. Watching myself when I am challenged and when I am not.

It isn’t easy being a human, or another other physical being on this planet. Yet it can be. We just have to set our sights on that star of Peace and Love and hold our course even when the wild winds blow and the waves try to crack our hulls. We can…

So maybe we need to consider something taught as a matter of life by even the lowliest of Buddhist monks. It we can’t take it with us in our passing it really doesn’t matter. If we can’t hold on to it when we close our eyes for the last time perhaps it isn’t worth holding on to beforehand. Perhaps we have been taught incorrectly, and perhaps each of us, if we listen, can change.

3 thoughts on “If You Can’t Take It With You, It Doesn’t Mattter”

  1. Did a simple search….Buddhist Atrocities. Interesting results.
    Sri Lanka is embroiled in conflict at this present time.
    “The primary example in the 20th and 21st century is in Sri Lanka, where Sinhala Buddhist groups have committed and encouraged violence against local Christians and Tamils.”
    With regard to:
    Kamikaze. The divine wind is a Shinto belief.
    Soka gakkai. Nichiren buddhism. They are evangelical buddhists.
    Aum Shinrikyo. It is a composite belief system that incorporates Asahara’s idiosyncratic interpretations of Yoga with facets of Buddhism and Christianity, and even the writings of Nostradamus.
    Athuraliye Rathana is an example of a Buddhist extremist.
    There was the Aum sect, which poured poisonous gas into a subway station in Japan, during the mid 1990s.

    Etc. etc..

    Not really the topic of you comments though. I agree with the majority of the article. What is of most worth in this life? The experience and the relationships we create.

    1. I’m glad you did that research Vince. I, too, did some.

      Sri Lanka

      The reality is that most of the violence there is caused by the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, who are fighting for autonomy, much like our own colonialist did during our revolution. With one exception, however. Tamil’s are indigenous peoples of Sri Lanka, so it would be much more like how our Native peoples fought whites as foreign invaders.

      Tamils are not Buddhist. They are mostly Hindu, with a smattering of Islam and Christianity thrown in for good measure.

      Sinhalese Buddhists are engaged in an armed religious uprising in Sri Lanka. Still, I am not ready to throw out the nearly 2600 year history of a peaceful Buddhist history because a tiny group of Buddhists in Sri Lanka are engaged in violence. The faith still has an OVERWHELMINGLY peaceful history, especially if compared to Christianity, Islam or Judaism. It’s not even close.

      Shinto

      You mentioned Japan and the Kamikaze. Kamikazes were not Buddhist, but rather Shinto, which is not Buddhist. In fact in the book, “Shinto, a Short History (2003)” by Inoue Nobutaka, Shinto is described in this way: “In modern scholarship, the term is often used with reference to kami worship and related theologies, rituals and practices. In these contexts, ‘Shinto’ takes on the meaning of ‘Japan’s traditional religion’, as opposed to foreign religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and so forth.” So, while Shintos may use some Buddhist rituals, they are not Buddhist.

      Nichiren Buddhism

      I realize this sect of Buddhism has a storied history, but not a lot of atrocity. In fact, it was birthed during a rather tumultuous time in Japanese history known as the Kamakura period because of the war, famine, and other suffering going on at that time. It is not recognized as a violent sect, nor does it have a history of gratuitous violence.

      Athuraliye Rathana Thero

      I’m not sure he’s an extremist Vince.

      Aum Shinrikyo

      “Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph is a syncretic belief system that incorporates Asahara’s facets of Christianity with idiosyncratic interpretations of Yoga, and the writings of Nostradamus.” Not sure I see the word “Buddhism” in that description Vince. They may have used Buddhist ideas in the propaganda, but they at no time are classified as a Buddhist organization.

      Hope this helps, but I bet if we added up the deaths at the hands of the groups you mention here who are actually Buddhist it may not equal the totals of people hanged for being witches in Salem.

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