The Sword of Wisdom 184

Buddhism guards against two fundamental misconceptions. One is nihilism: the idea that everything is non-existent and meaningless. The other is a belief in permanence, or eternalism: the idea that inside yourself is an eternal soul; that the soul is you ─ your ego ─ and it endures forever, either in heaven, or from one birth to another, changing bodies as one changes clothes. People who believe this say that the soul remains untouched and unchanging through countless births, and they believe that by performing good deeds, it will attain higher and higher levels through each life, until eventually the unchanging soul becomes a deity.

The nihilistic view is wrong in presuming that there is no cause and effect, no karma, no relationship between present, past and future. When people are born, they appear out of nowhere, and when they die, nothing remains. Some people with this belief are very ambitious in life, and they try to accomplish something grand, so that at least their names and deeds will live on. It can be good, but it can also be terrible, as in the case of Hitler.

The eternalistic point of view is more benevolent because people with this belief emphasize doing good deeds and accumulating positive merit.

If an enlightened person meets someone leaning in either of these directions, he will try to help the person from falling headlong into either trap. On the other hand, Buddhism does not advocate evangelism. We do not knock on people's doors. Preachers of other faiths often burst into Buddhist temples in Taiwan and evangelize. It sometimes happens to me, even while I am in the middle of a Dharma gathering. Preachers stand at the exits handing out pamphlets. Once, one of my students asked an evangelist, "Why don't you come inside and listen to a lecture?"

The preacher said, "It says in the Bible, 'Thou shalt not worship false gods or idols.' Buddhism is paganism, and the Bible prohibits my listening to it."