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Barbara O'Brien

All Religions Are False

By February 25, 2010

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I want to share with you this wonderful blog post by the Rev. James Ford, Soto Zen priest and Unitarian Universalist minister, titled "All Religions Are False, or Confessing My Faith."

Please read do read it all. I'm just going to discuss the title, "All Religions Are False." The Reverend Ford said,

I believe all religions are false. And I believe some are a little bit less false than others. That is in varying degree each also contains pointers to our liberation, which is our direct, visceral insight into this now separate, now one, and how our choices count.

Sometimes people complain that Buddhism is too dogmatic, by which (I think) they mean there's all those pesky doctrines in LIST AFTER LIST, and why do we have to bother about that? Isn't it all just about chanting or meditating so we can be happier and more compassionate?

The difference between Buddhism and most other religions is that Buddhism, on the whole, says the teachings are pointers to truth, not truth-in-itself. That's why merely believing in doctrines is pointless.

We can fervently believe in a doctrine of rebirth or a doctrine of anatta, and recite the Four Noble Truths until we turn purple. If we are not struggling to wake up, nothing is going to change.

But while believing in doctrines is pointless, understanding them can be illuminating. Sometimes a teaching opens a door. Sometimes a ritual, or bowing, or lighting a candle, opens a door.

The Reverend Ford says that the "enterprise" of religion is "Awakening to who we are, and learning how to act from that place." If you were to ask people of other religions "What is the most basic point to the teachings of this religion, in 25 words or less," what would they say? Would they talk about waking up, or would they talk about the doctrines they've been taught to believe? That's the difference.

I also liked this paragraph very much:

It does seem to me that religious moral or ethical codes often appear to be little more than crowd control. And codes delivered with the authority of God are to be distrusted on their face. But, at the same time, I think we need a container to create our lives that is formulated out of paying attention to how we relate to life and death, how we speak to each other, how we relate to the things of life, how we treat our sexuality and sexual lives and how we choose to cloud or open our minds and hearts. I think these issues are both personal and belong to the communal sphere.

It's really difficult to explain to people why the Precepts are not a list of rules to follow, like the Buddhist Ten Commandments. Thinking about the Precepts as containers for living our lives that are formulated out of paying attention says it so much better than I could.

February 25, 2010 at 4:17 pm
(1) Jaime McLeod says:

I’ve always appreciated Jane Hirshfield’s seven-word summary of Buddhism: “Everything is connected. Everything changes. Pay attention.”

February 25, 2010 at 4:24 pm
(2) Dhammachick says:

The difference between Buddhism and most other religions is that Buddhism, on the whole, says the teachings are pointers to truth, not truth-in-itself. That’s why merely believing in doctrines is pointless.

Thank you Barbara for summing up rather eloquently what I have been struggling to put into words. This is exactly why I love Buddhism so much.

February 25, 2010 at 6:37 pm
(3) Timothy AKA TVC-16 says:

All Buddhist teachings, according to Shakyamuni, prior to the Lostus Sutra (whether people believe Shakyamuni preached the Lotus Sutra or not), are all false, i.e. partial truths or expedient means. Only the Lotus Sutra gives the full enlightenment to all practitioners.

As far as all other religions, this title reminds me of that punk song from the 80s that said, “All religions suck, All religions make me sick.” Which was very true because regarless of what little good can be gained from them, they such your life force and give you dis-ease.

February 25, 2010 at 8:59 pm
(4) Barbara O'Brien says:

Timothy — If you think the Lotus Sutra, or anything else, “gives” you enlightenment, then you don’t understand what the Lotus Sutra is teaching.

Also, this website is for the education of all Buddhists of all schools. I don’t tolerate intolerance. In future, please don’t proselytize.

February 26, 2010 at 1:09 am
(5) Jerome Ullman akn. says:

If i might leave an opinion without seeming doctrinaire: I think we learn more about God and religious life from all the prophets throughout history — of which, some say, a new one comes every five hundred years — the Messiah being the central setting of all these gems of insight, and the Buddhist tradition being an important preparation for further religious progress.


February 26, 2010 at 5:48 am
(6) Rajeev G says:

“Everything is connected. Everything changes. Pay attention.”

Wow!! Dhamma simplified…I liked it

February 26, 2010 at 7:18 am
(7) M.V.Sankaran says:

We who are embodied beings with sensory organs and the faculties of a mind (like cognition, volition and emotions), naturally seek material acquisitions (‘artha’ — that which ensure our physical welfare), sensory satisfactions (‘kama’ — that which pleases all our senses) and righteous conduct (‘dharma’ — that which regulates our conduct in society), but we also seek the ‘observer’ within — the soul, spirt, ‘atman’, by whatever name called. Buddhism does not dwell on it and that in my opinion appears to be a defect, especially when it seems to accept the doctrine of ‘karma’ and also, ‘reincarnation’ of Buddha himself in so many forms. Is there an answer ?

February 26, 2010 at 9:00 am
(8) Barbara O'Brien says:

M.V. — The teachings of karma and reincarnation in Buddhism differ considerably from Hinduism. I have articles explaining what Buddhism teaches — “Buddhism and Karma” and “Reincarnation in Buddhism,” so I’m not going to go into a long explanation here.

You are mistaken when you say Buddhism does not dwell on “atman.” The most basic practice of Buddhism is to look deeply at the nature of “I” in order to realize that “I” is an illusion. Every other teaching of Buddhism is built on top of that realization of no-self. It is enormously important.

February 26, 2010 at 10:20 am
(9) Pete R. says:

From the ultimate point of view all religions or any other conceptual activity is false. From the relative point of view the precepts and so forth are indispensable. Padmasambhava said that his view is as high as the sky, and he watches his actions as fine as flour.

February 26, 2010 at 10:40 am
(10) JoeBuddha says:

I understand the title was meant to be provocative, but I would claim that “All Religions Are True”. Religion tends to be an attempt to understand the world, and as such, necessarily starts with someone’s life experience and observation. Given the right perspective, studying any religion can lead one closer to true insight and understanding, and this potential makes them true and correct. I also believe all religions are INCOMPLETE, but that’s an entirely different discussion.

February 26, 2010 at 11:16 am
(11) Barbara O'Brien says:

Joe — we’re saying exactly the same thing. :-)

February 26, 2010 at 5:51 pm
(12) Cuong says:

Ford is absolutely correct. If you look for truth, look somewhere else. Don’t waste your time with religion. Also, it depends on how we define the word religion. However we define it, Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching is certainly not a “religion”. A lot of Mahayana teachings (like that of the Lotus Sutra) seem to meet the criteria of what we would characterize as “religion”. They are NOT the teaching of Shakyamuni.

February 26, 2010 at 6:24 pm
(13) DoubleCincos says:

I have embarked on J. Krishnamurti’s, “The Book of Life”. In February’s readings he speaks to how belief in God and religion separates us from the experience of the actual.

He says: “As long as you do not understand your relationship with your neighbor, with society, with your wife and children, there must be confusion; and whatever it does, the mind that is confused will only create more confusion, more problems and conflict.”

It seems that you and Rev. Ford, and many of your commenters, get this nicely! I say, Yea for that!

February 26, 2010 at 7:58 pm
(14) Lerissa says:

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting with a friend, trying to explain what I found in Buddhism that was so different than anything else I had looked into. She asked if it was the attitude that all roads lead to the same destination, and it really wasn’t that … but I floundered, trying to explain. And then this comes along – how timely! That Buddhism *points* to the truth, rather than declares the truth – that’s it! Thank you, Barbara, for another really useful blog.

February 28, 2010 at 9:54 am
(15) lisa says:

“Look where I’m pointing, not at my finger.” :-)
~Joseph Wilson

February 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm
(16) Bruce says:

“Don’t think … feel! It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

~ Bruce Lee

February 28, 2010 at 10:40 pm
(17) Keerthi Wijayatunga says:

Thank you Barbara for being bold in posting this.

Yes, all religions are false. All religions are based on belief. The follower has to believe what the master teaches.

In all religions there is no stopping of mind from its natural extremely fast rolling. Mind is in its normal activity called “rolling”. Every being tries to see the truth while the mind is rolling. In ll our mental and physical activities the mind is rolling. When you pray, chant, worship or meditate the mind rolls!!!!

When you stop the mind from rolling and use it to see the truth the story is different!

When you stop the mind (or detach the mind) the mind becomes The Buddha. Then “your Buddha” starts to preach! Your mind becomes the master’s mind. You see exactly what the teacher saw. (This is what you find as “attaining Buddha hood as the only salvation” in Mahayana and as Arahant hood in Therawada).

Only then you get rid of belief. Today in any religion you cannot do this.

It is only in Buddha Dharma you can do it. Unfortunately hardly any knows Buddha Dharma.

March 1, 2010 at 7:14 am
(18) Rich says:

Hi Barbara

I am in agreement with your post entirely. Nothing more to say :)


March 2, 2010 at 10:30 pm
(19) Grady says:

Religions are neither true nor false. They are ineffable.

December 19, 2010 at 9:36 pm
(20) skylight says:

blah blah blah I just realized our condition…it is called ‘having a point of view’. ‘The Lotus Sutra is supreme, all else is inferior’ says one. “No, only the Theravada is authoritative’ say some. “Jesus is the only way to be saved!’ shout so many. Well thank you to all. I’m even more convinced that religion is not for me. I’m going off to meditate to find the truth for myself.

December 19, 2010 at 10:28 pm
(21) Barbara O'Brien says:

I’m going off to meditate to find the truth for myself.

Good luck.

February 24, 2011 at 12:25 am
(22) Richard Kent Matthews says:

I prefer to think of Buddhism as more of a method than a religion. When I see it that way, I am free to release any dogma attached to it by well meaning gurus and others.

Blessings and a continued good journey.

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