Did Buddha miss his family

Lifestyle"When we look at Buddhism, we wear rose-colored glasses"

Gerald Beyrodt: Mr. Schmidt-Leukel, are we in Germany inclined to see Buddhism through pink glasses?

Perry Schmidt-Leukel: That characterizes the situation over long stretches perfectly. In recent decades, the popular perception of Buddhism has developed an image that actually has little or nothing to do with the reality of Asian Buddhism and classical Buddhism.

Beyrodt: Where are the main entries?

Schmidt-Leukel: Perhaps in a somewhat exaggerated way, there is a widespread idea in Germany that Buddhism is a religion without any dogmas or beliefs. In general, a religion that is not about belief at all. A religion without commandments, in which everyone can do or not do, more or less what they want. A religion that is tolerant of everything. A religion that is always peaceful. A religion that is actually not a religion at all, but rather constitutes a kind of lifestyle that is particularly suitable for the current living conditions in western modern societies.

"The image of Buddhism reflects dissatisfaction with church Christianity"

Beyrodt: As you summarize it now, it sounds a bit as if the people in Buddhism see everything that they miss in Christianity, in their everyday lives in Germany. Can you put it that way?

Schmidt-Leukel: Yeah, I think you can really say that. A large part of this image of Buddhism just outlined rather reflects a dissatisfaction with the ecclesiastical forms of Christianity, as has been experienced here in our part of the world. And from that the idea develops what kind of religion one would like to have - and that somehow was then projected onto Buddhism.

Beyrodt: In English they say: the grass is greener on the other side of the hill.

Schmidt-Leukel: Yes, the idea that the neighbors' grass is always greener than your own. Only in that case is the underlying reason for the fact that one hardly has a good knowledge of Buddhism. That may have changed a little lately, because there is now an increased presence of Buddhists - not only in Germany, but in a number of Western countries - and the information about Buddhism is also becoming somewhat more reliable. But this clichéd image of Buddhism can still be found.

Beyrodt: When it comes to Catholicism, many criticize celibacy. There is also that in Buddhism. How is it that it doesn't bother us that badly at all?

Schmidt-Leukel: That's a good question. The religious, institutional backbone of Buddhism is the order of monks and, in part, the order of nuns. Although the order of nuns has its own problems because it has de facto become extinct in a number of Buddhist countries. But just, for both the monastic and the nuns: All in all speaking, in most forms of Buddhism we still have monasticism with celibacy. And with extremely strict rules.

"There are always people who are already further on the way"

Beyrodt: Without the 68s and everything that came after them, Buddhism in Germany would probably never have become as popular as it then became - and yet, in many forms of Buddhism, the relationship between student and master is very important. In other words, a clear relationship of authority, a hierarchical gradient - and we just heard in the article what flowers this can bring. But if you take the hierarchical gradient and the relationship of authority for yourself: How is it that the 68ers and those who came after them accepted it all so without complaint?

Schmidt-Leukel: I don't think everyone accepted this without complaint, but it certainly applies to some. Behind this, there may also be a desire for more orientation, which you may have lost a little. Here too, it must be said, the tendencies in Buddhism are ambivalent. On the one hand, there is such an emphasis on the autonomy of human knowledge in Buddhism. There is a frequently quoted statement in the early texts of Buddhism: One should primarily orient oneself to one's own knowledge and experience - and the word of the wise and the authority of "sacred texts", so to speak, only as an additional comparative yardstick consult. On the other hand, of course, the word of the Buddha himself enjoyed the highest authority! And behind this is the conviction that Buddhism, like many other Indian religions, is primarily about inner spiritual development. So that means that religion has a process, a path character. And you always have the feeling that there are people who are way ahead of you on this path. And you have to learn from these people, you have to let yourself be guided by them. And only those can help you, so to speak, on your own religious path.

There is no such thing as "" Buddhism

Beyrodt: To really understand other cultures, to really get to know other religions, is not terribly easy and there are two dangers: You can see the same thing in another religion, often with Judaism that people say: It's like with us, there is a god. Great, exactly the same! You don't see the differences then. Or you see something completely different - often with Islam. But from what you have just said, I would also rather conclude: In Buddhism in Germany, one sees, often positively, the very different.

Schmidt-Leukel: In my opinion, with regard to the differences and similarities between the religions, there is an enormous range and variety of intra-religious, different characteristics in every major religion. That means: there is no such thing as "Buddhism", there is no such thing as "Islam", "Christianity", "Judaism" and so on. But very, very many different, heterogeneous, sometimes contradicting characteristics. And that means that the religions are neither alike nor completely different from each other. Rather, they are basically similar in the range of diversity that can be found in each of these religions. As far as the popular Western image of Buddhism is concerned, well, this is also based on some clues that exist in Buddhism, but is partly - and perhaps even to a greater extent - the fruit of dissatisfaction with the experience of Christianity.

Beyrodt: That is also your theory, which you advocate again and again: that all religions have great differences and are also comparable to one another. In the introduction to your book you write that you want to look at the world through Buddhist glasses, that you want to look at the world through Buddhist eyes. How is that possible?

Schmidt-Leukel: Yes, of course that is exactly the point. The follower of Buddhism, it's not about Buddhism! Rather, they are concerned with the normal questions in life. It's about how do I get a job? Or how do I keep a job? How do I feed my family? What can I do for the happiness of my children? How do I react to the disasters in life? How do I interpret the good things in life? And so on. And the whole thing happens, so to speak, then through the glasses of Buddhism. That is, Buddhism provides exactly these categories of interpretation, Buddhism helps to understand life in a certain way. And if we therefore want to understand Buddhism, then we must not look at Buddhism, but rather we have to try to put on these glasses and look through the glasses of Buddhism exactly at those life questions and challenges that also affect us from our own lives are known.

Idealized and softened

Beyrodt: So, in our conversation we listed a number of misunderstandings where the West actually looked through pink glasses at Buddhism, which Buddhism recorded. How is it that we were so wrong in some way about this religion?

Schmidt-Leukel: Here, too, the reasons are complex. First of all, we have to note that Buddhism has been a relatively unknown religion to the West for many centuries. That is, it was known that there were Buddhists - there were also - into the early modern era - the ideas were diffuse. For example, it has not been recognized that Buddhism in South Asia is somehow related to Buddhism in East Asia. But there was little concrete information, so to speak. The first concrete information came through missionary reports - from, say, the sixteenth, seventeenth centuries - but they were also very, very selective. And the first Buddhist texts were actually known in the West in the nineteenth century and gradually received and acknowledged, so that in the nineteenth century the main features of a certain clichéd image of Buddhism actually emerged. And they remain relatively stable for a long time, especially in Western religious studies. And then there is another wave, precisely this popular reception of Buddhism, which then sets in, especially in the twentieth century, especially in the second half of the twentieth century, and which then produces a softened, idealized image of Buddhism, on the other hand before that we are dealing with an exaggeratedly negative, pessimistic image of Buddhism.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.

Perry Schmidt-Leukel: Understanding Buddhism. History and world of ideas of an unusual religion, Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus 2017