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A Buddhist’s Response

To the Editor of Time Magazine in response to a serious misrepresentation in the October 8, 2001 issue of the magazine.
呂黛麗中譯 Chinese translation by Daili Lu








Chinese translation by Daili Lu

Philip Elmer-Dewitt's "America's First Bioterrorism Attack" (Time Magazine, October 8, 2001) opens with: "In the fall of 1984, members of the Rajneeshee, a Buddhist cult devoted to beauty, love and guiltless sex, brewed a 'salsa' of salmonella and sprinkled it on fruits and veggies in the salad bar at Shakey's Pizza in The Dalles, Oregon. It was the first large-scale bioterrorism attack on American soil." Though true the charlatan Rajneesh and his misguided followers did in fact do this, it is untrue and misleading to call them "Buddhist."

The fundamental teachings of Buddhism, shared by millions of believers through its 2500 year history, be they Thai, Chinese, Tibetan or American, begin with an ethical commitment to kindness and to cherishing all life. For a Buddhist, what one does counts more than what one professes. Buddhist practice begins with vows to abstain from killing, theft, sexual misconduct, false speech and intoxicants of any kind.

Mr. Elmer-Dewitt's review of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War faults its three authors for "repeating uncritically the most alarmist anecdotes." Characterizing the Buddhist religion as "devoted to beauty, love and guiltless sex" reads like gratuitous sensationalism of the very sort he criticizes in his review.

Buddhism encourages practitioners towards gentle, life-affirming, virtuous behavior. Wisdom and compassion are the sine qua non of a genuine Buddhist lifestyle. Buddhist teachings on morality are not fuzzy, do-it-yourself, or libertarian. Buddhism is not a synonym for license. Recklessly pasting the name Buddhist on behavior as outrageously lawless as that of Rajneesh and his followers during their stay in Oregon strains credulity and does Mr. Elmer-Dewitt and your fine magazine a disservice.

The excesses of Rajneesh's followers are simply that: excesses of Rajneesh's followers--not Buddhism. A quick internet search reveals the late Rajneesh's eclectic beliefs as concocted by whim, changeable and amorphous. He cut and pasted together pieces of many religions as they served his hedonistic and acquisitive desires. Careless labeling of Rajneesh's poisoners, weapons-stockpilers, and tax-evaders as "Buddhists" is both an insult to Buddhism and to good journalism.

It took a calamity to educate the non-Muslim world that the religion of Islam does not encompass terrorism. After the terrorist attacks last month the world has had a crash course in correct reading of the Holy Koran, and what a blessing for peace it has been to learn to appreciate and to respect the religious faith of one billion neighbors on our planet. Perhaps we need to learn more about Buddhism as well.

Rev. Heng Sure, Director

Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, Berkeley, California


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