A talk by Professor Shu

President of the United States Committee on Humanistic Studies
January 1978
City of Ten Thousand Buddhas

In this world religion has been going on for a long time. There are all kinds of believers and there are all kinds of non-believers. But if you look over all the world, you do find that religion, namely the belief in the supernatural is a universal trait of humankind. However what is not universal is a belief in a particular diet. In this world, from our anthropological point of view, there are three main kinds of religions.

1) Polytheism, meaning the belief in many, many different kinds of spirits, gods, ghosts, and souls.

2) Monotheism. The belief in one diety only.

3) Pantheism. The belief in many, many dieties but at the same time believing that these dieties are the expression of an overall god in India he would be called Atman.

Throughout the world there are only three monotheistic religions: (1) Christianity, (2) Islam, and (3) Judaism.

There is only one pantheistic religion; others are variations. It is the belief of India, namely Hinduism. And from one point of view, Buddhism is the Protestantism of Hinduism. Hinduism says you can only reach nirvana by going through many, many reincarnations. But when you are in a certain reincarnation, you belong to a certain caste within the Indian caste system of the Brahmans, Ksatriayas, vaishya, shudra, and the pariah, or the untouchables.

The Lord Buddha said, however, that you do not have to go through so many reincarnations to reach nirvana. You can reach nirvana now, in this world, in this life. That is why in Chinese you have such phrases as,

You lay down your butcher's knife

And immediately become a Buddha.

Another phrase is;

The sea of bitterness (meaning life) has no shores as you look out at it.

But a turn of the head and you reach the other shore (Buddhahood).

This is the main difference between panthistic Hinduism and "protestantistic" Buddhism.

All the rest of the world's religions, whatever they are, are polytheistic, which means namely that they believe in many, many different gods.

One interesting variation on these three is near-pantheism, an example of which is the Bahai religion. It started in Iran originally and has now spread to the United States. That religion believes god is but one god but that he sends prophets over to the world, one every thousand to fifteen hundred years to different parts of the world. So that religion believes in Christianity in the person of Jesus, Judaism in the person of Moses, Zoroastrianism in the person of Zoroaster, Buddhism in the person of Buddha and so forth. These various prophets are all manifestations of the one god Allah. That religion also says that god will send forth other prophets in other lands in the future.

If you consider the western world, it is primarily Christian with a minority of Judaism, (generally speaking, most of India is Hindu. In Burma, Thailand, Indo-China, and parts of Indonesia, and most of China and Japan, the predominant religion is some form of Buddhism. Some of these people believe in Buddhism more zealously than others.

Religion is a manifestation of people's wishes. People would not have gone into religion but for the intense desire to deal with the problem of life and death and of evil and goodness. But many of these different religions really have not solved these problems. The most intense problem today is that religions are now dividing people instead of uniting people.

Men and women have fought each other, have separated from each other—whether it be in a marriage, an occupation or a living situation; whether it be among friends and sometimes even among parents and children. Humankind has become divided among itself--because of religion.

I will say the major mission of Buddhism in the United States and the Western World--or what I hope it will consider it's major mission—is to make religion not a divider of humankind but a uniter of humankind. This is not an easy problem to solve. Christianity, for example, speaks of unity all the time—there are ecumenical movements from time to time—but it never has really come together and I do not see how in the future it will do so. But I feel that the most important mission of the Buddhists in the Western World is how to unite human beings through Buddhism.