David's Book: Chanting, Bowing And Rituals
[By Dr.David N. Snyder]
Chanting, Bowing And Rituals
At many Buddhist temples the service includes periods of chanting, bowing, and other rituals.
Chanting of selected Buddhist scriptures or sayings is done to remind us of their importance. In
some cases, the chanting is also a prayer, for example, the loving kindness prayer so that all
beings may be well, happy, and peaceful.
Without a personal-God figure in Buddhism, some wonder how there could be prayer and
bowing to statues. The prayers, such as the loving kindness are prayers to radiate our energies to
help all beings. It is a kind of deep wish that everyone be well. Or the prayers could be to
heavenly beings that can assist others in need. Bowing to a Buddha statue or other Buddhist
statues is not idol worship. The bowing is done out of respect for the Buddha, for providing
the teachings. In Asia it is common for people to bow to each other out of respect. It is the same
as the hand-shake in the west. It does not necessarily mean worship. For some Buddhists, there
is a worship or deep veneration for the Buddha, for reaching the perfect state of nibbana, which
is somewhat like the concept of divine. But, all Buddhists recognize that the statue is just a
symbol of the teacher and the teachings.
Other rituals include offering flowers and incense to the Buddha and other statues that may be on
the altar. Again, this is out of respect and not necessarily a display of worship. The Buddha was
opposed to attachment to rites, rituals, and ceremonies. Today many Buddhist services
include these rituals and use them to help bind the community together. If you do not like
rituals and ceremonies, the non-sectarian form of vipassana described above would be a good fit
For those of us who like the teachings of the Buddha or are already practicing in the Buddha‘s
Dhamma, but still like their birth religion or another religion, no problem. During the Buddha‘s
time there was a young man who came to the Buddha stating that he wanted to practice the
Buddha‘s Path, but his father‘s dying wishes were for him to practice their family religion. The
Buddha informed him to do both. (Rahula, 1959) To this day, throughout the world there are
Buddhists who practice other religions with no conflict to their Buddhist Path.
My family and I have images of Buddha and Jesus on our family shrine / meditation area in our
house. The famous Buddhist monk and leader, Thich Nhat Hanh, also has images of Buddha and
Jesus on his altar. (Thich, 1995) In Vietnam there are two huge sixty foot statues of Buddha
and Jesus hugging each other. (Kornfield, 1993)
There are many legends about both Buddha and Jesus. We do not need to believe in all of the
legends. The important point is that the life experienced, the teachings, and even the legends
are all very similar. (Snyder, 1989)
Before Buddha was born, his mother had a dream. In that dream she saw an elephant coming
down from a heavenly realm and melting into her body. After the Buddha‘s mother, Maya,
informed people of this dream, there was a short-lived legend that Buddha was born of
immaculate conception. The Buddha put that legend to rest by insisting that he was an ordinary
man. Stories of immaculate conception were quite common in many cultures and especially in
Ancient Greece. Greek mythology is full of stories of immaculate conception, and they predated
the gospels of the New Testament. The gospels of the New Testament were written in
Stories of rising to heaven can also be found in the Buddhist scriptures. This travel to heaven is
not by divine force, but rather by human endeavor through meditation. ―I recall, Ananda,
having gone to the brahma world by spiritual power with a mind-made body.‖ Samyutta Nikaya
51.22 In this discourse the Buddha explained that he went to a heavenly realm using the power
of the mind and through the mind as his vehicle. In Christianity, we hear of Jesus rising ―in the
flesh‖ to heaven. After the Buddha explained that he went to a heavenly realm with the mind,
Ananda asks him, ―But venerable sir, does the Blessed One recall ever having gone to the
brahma world by spiritual power with this body composed of the four great elements?‖ [in the
flesh] The Buddha responds, ―I recall, Ananda, having gone to the brahma world by this
spiritual power with this body composed of the four great elements. When Ananda, the
Tathagata immerses the body in the mind and mind in the body, and when he dwells having
entered upon a blissful perception and buoyant perception in regard to the body, on that
occasion the body of the Tathagata becomes more buoyant, malleable, wieldy, and luminous.‖
Samyutta Nikaya 51.22 In this discourse we hear the Buddha explain that he can travel to the
heavenly worlds with the mind or with the mind and body.
Jesus the Awakened One
When one first reads of the amazing things Jesus said and did, one can not avoid being very
impressed and believing that he must have been something supernatural. However, after
learning of the life of the Buddha and the incredible similarities and knowing that Buddha lived
over 500 years before Jesus, one must reconsider their views of both men. Perhaps Jesus was an
awakened one, who has attained the full and deepest enlightenment, like that of Buddha. In the
Gospels, there are many years in the life of Jesus which are not explained. One explanation is
that he lived with the Essenes, a mystical type Jewish sect of that time that practiced
vegetarianism and healing. Another theory or suspicion is that he studied in the East, perhaps
even in India. The famous 19th century philosopher, Schopenhauer, believes
that Jesus must have studied Buddhism and that Jesus was in fact a Buddhist. (Von Glasenapp,
1959 and Nanajivajo, 1970)
Both Buddha and Jesus were submerged in water before they began their teachings. Jesus was
baptized in the Jordan River and the Buddha ate and bathed when he abandoned the ascetic way
of life. Shortly after that both went into the wilderness and became enlightened. In the
conventional gospels of the New Testament we do not hear that Jesus sat and meditated, but
what else could he have been doing? Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. If Jesus was already
divine and already had the ―holy spirit‖ in him through baptism, then why the 40 days and why
At the final stage before enlightenment, we read in the Buddhist and Christian scriptures of three
temptations from Satan. This Satan does not necessarily mean a physical person. Satan or Mara,
as it is known in the East, can mean all the negative mental defilements in us. It can be the fear,
anger, and other bad thoughts that we sometimes have, tempting us to do bad things out of
attachment, aversion, or ignorance.
Archeological findings from the Dead Sea scrolls and other findings from the Palestine / Israel
area have unveiled scriptures (Gnostic texts) markedly different from the Gospels. In the Gospel
of Thomas, recently found, Jesus speaks much like a zen master, with words and riddles pointing
to the one-ness of the universe and the unity of things. (Pagels, 1981) The Gospel of Thomas
was written in Coptic, a Semitic language, like that of the area where Jesus lived. However, the
conventional Gospels found in the New Testament were written in Greek, slightly removed from
the area where Jesus lived.
The Gospel of Thomas does not contain any of the legends about immaculate conception or even
any of the healings and other super natural powers that are said to be possessed by Jesus in
the New Testament. Popular fictional stories, such as the movie Stigmata, or the best seller,
Da Vinci Code, have some historical facts interspersed in the stories. These include the factual
references to several books written about the life of Jesus, which the early Church destroyed
because it did not fit the paradigm or view of the New Testament.
Dr. Elaine Pagels is a scholar of the early church and the Gnostic texts. According to Dr. Pagels,
the Gospel of John was written as a direct counter-attack to the Gospel of Thomas. The apostle,
Thomas, was seen as the skeptic of the group, the ―Doubting Thomas.‖ In the Gospel of John,
we find the most direct references to the Divinity of Jesus and we find the story of Thomas
refusing to believe. Thomas asks to touch the wounds of Jesus after the resurrection, according
to the gospel. After touching the wound, Thomas is in full belief of the Divinity and
resurrection. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus says, ―you believe in me since you have
touched me, blessed are those who do not see me, who do not touch me, but still believe.‖ This
quote in the Gospel of John is a direct attempt to counter the more skeptical teachings found in
the Gospel of Thomas, according to Dr. Pagels.
Since the Gospel of John was written as a counter to the Gospel of Thomas, we can infer that the
Gospel of Thomas is an older text. As an older text and the only gospel written in a Semitic
language, we can also say that the ―Gospel Truth‖ is most likely to be that of the Gospel of
There is now a growing Gnostic Christian religion or sect developing around the world. The
Gnostics see Jesus as the Christ, Messiah, but more as an Awakened One, like Buddha rather
than an all powerful personal-God in heaven. The Gnostics practice meditation, believe in
kamma and reincarnation and overall, their sect is not much different from Buddhism.
Buddhism speaks of the plane of Higher Beings, also known as ―heaven‖ in other religions.
According to Buddhist cosmology all planes of existence, even the heavens, have beings that
face re-birth. Jesus could have been an arch-angel (or god if you prefer) at the highest level of
the plane of Higher Beings. Christians themselves call the birth of Jesus an incarnation.
A conclusion that is not very hard to reach is the following:
Buddha and Jesus had similar life experiences and teachings because both saw Ultimate Truth,
Ultimate Reality as it really is. Both beings are fully enlightened, Awakened Ones in the perfect,
unconditioned state of nibbana. Many Buddhists find it necessary to practice devotion to the
Buddha for reaching the final perfected state and in appreciation for the teachings. The Christian
form of devotion or worship to Jesus is no different and should not be either.
Or alternatively, another conclusion could be:
Jesus, like the Buddha before him had many past lives in human, animal, and the other realms.
The Buddha had several past lives as an ascetic monastic where he was perfecting the ten
perfections on his way to enlightenment. The life of Jesus could be like one of the lives the
Buddha had before being born as Siddhartha Gotama, where the virtues were being
developed. The Buddha, in one of his past lives, perfected the virtue of generosity and then was
re-born in the Tusita heaven. After one lifespan in the Tusita heaven, he was re-born as
Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha.
Using a Buddhist-Christian perspective, we could hypothesize that Jesus was also perfecting the
generosity virtue and that he is now in a heavenly realm too, just like the Buddha, before his last
birth. According to Buddhism, there is a Buddha or ―enlightened teaching Buddha‖ for every
period of time, roughly about every 5,000 to 10,000 years. The next ―teaching Buddha‖ will
appear about 5,000 years after the Buddha and is currently residing in a heavenly realm. The
next ―teaching Buddha‖ will be known as ―Maitreya – Buddha. Jesus could be that being,
currently waiting in a heavenly realm for his return, in about the year 4500. So when Christian
theology states that Jesus is coming back, maybe they are right, it is just that it will be another
2,500 years and it won‘t be for the ―second coming, it will be more like the second-millionth
coming (including all of his past lives).
A New Translation of some key verses
in the Bible
This section will provide a new translation of certain key verses in the Bible. This is not another
interpretation of the Bible, nor is it a criticism of the Bible in an attempt to disprove it. This is a
translation of some key verses to show how the actual words of the Bible can fit in with the
Like other religious scriptures the Bible was written hundreds of years after the events that are
discussed. In many translations the Bible has gone from one translation to one language to
another and another and so on. The best ―view‖ we have of the Bible is from the original
(The author studied Biblical and modern Hebrew in Israel and again in the U.S. as part of his
doctoral program and research.)
The Bible was written in Biblical (ancient) Hebrew. The characters and some words were a little
different from modern Hebrew. The grammar of Biblical Hebrew proceeded with the following
formula: verb, subject, object. Biblical Hebrew differed from modern Hebrew with the use of
the ―wa‖ character currently not available in modern Hebrew. The ―wa‖ sound was dropped and
converted to the ―vav‖ sound in modern Hebrew.
The following is the first verse from the Bible:
Pronounced: Beresheet bera elohim et ha-shemayim v-et ha-aretz.
Translation: ―In the beginning the gods created the heaven and the earth.
At first when you read the above translation you are thinking that this must be the translation
from some polytheistic religion, but it is actually the first verse in the Judeao-Christian Bible.
The original Biblical Hebrew clearly puts God in the plural: (yod-mem-sofit) at the end of the
word god, signifying plural. When I was in high school in Israel I asked all of the teachers and
rabbis I met about this and no one could provide an answer. Perhaps a logical answer is that
there are other planes of existence and indeed the author of the Bible has roots from a ―higher‖
heavenly realm, but not God, with a capital ―G.
In Biblical Hebrew as well as modern Hebrew, the plural for any word is:
These plural characters are the equivalent to the ―s‖ at the end of English words. Hebrew is
read from right to left and if you look at the third word from the right you will see the characters:
The above is the word that is translated as ―God‖ in our Bibles. If you look at the last two
characters you will clearly see the plural form pronounced yod-mem-sofit. Another important
point to make here is that there are NO capital letters in Hebrew! The translators simply made
up the capital G! There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and none are in capital form.
Therefore, the correct translation of the Hebrew characters: is the English word: gods.
Other words in the Bible which are also translated as God include:
These words are pronounced: yahweh, el, and shadai
The translations of these words are: ―Jehovah (Latinized), ―god, and ―powerful‖
The characters (pronounced: yahweh in biblical Hebrew) has been Latinized to Jehovah.
This Jehovah name is strictly used when the Bible refers to the god of Israel. The name Jehovah
in its Biblical Hebrew pronunciation is not to be spoken out loud according to the Bible, thus,
at times other terms are used to signify the god of Israel, such as ―god or the ―powerful‖
sometimes translated as ―almighty.
When the Bible is not talking about the god of Israel, the characters are used which
translates to ―gods. In our Bible this is translated to the word ―God‖ which is either a bad
translation or a purposeful translation to fit the prevailing philosophy at the time.
In the Bible the god Jehovah is seen and reported as a jealous god. Jehovah tells his people (the
Hebrews) that they are to have no other gods before him. This is even the first commandment in
the ten commandments (Exodus 20: 3):
This translates to: ―you will not have any other gods before me.
In our Bibles the translation is the same as my translation. But guess what? In our Bibles the
translators have translated the characters:
as ―gods this time, but at the beginning of the Bible these same characters were translated as
This happens again and again throughout the Bible. When Jehovah refers to other gods or how
his people should not worship other gods, the same Hebrew characters are used which were
previously translated as God with a capital G (even though there are no capital letters in Hebrew)
and with the plural characters ignored.
There are numerous examples of this. Here is another one in Deuteronomy 4: 28:
This is translated as follows:
―And there you will serve gods, the work of men‘s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor
hear, nor eat, nor smell.
In this passage from Deuteronomy there are warnings to the Hebrew people should they not obey
Jehovah‘s commandments and when they do not, they will be punished and scattered through-out
the nations where they will serve ―other gods.‖ In this passage the meaning is clearly other gods
in the plural, both in the standard Bible translation and my translation.
The word for ―gods is the third word from the right and again it has the same Hebrew characters
from the beginning of the Bible, but this time these characters are translated correctly as ―gods‖
instead of ―God.
At the beginning chapters of the Bible there is a clear emphasis on the plural form of god,
making it ―gods‖ but the translation somehow becomes ―God‖ in our Bibles. When we find the
word ―gods‖ in our Bible the same Hebrew characters are used which were previously used to
signify a singular term with the addition of a capital letter.
The god of Israel is almost always represented by the name ―Jehovah.
-------------to be continued---------------