Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby Sati1 » Sat Jan 25, 2014 7:10 am

Hello,

I have been struggling with this question recently, having been raised as a Christian, where it was often emphasized that one must try to convert non-believers. From the doctrine of kamma, I would think that there is no point in trying to "convert" someone, since their kamma might prevent them from understanding the teachings, no matter what one says. This idea makes sense from my own experience in talking about Dhamma to others. None of the 5 Precepts, or the 8-fold Path encourage trying to convert others. On the other hand, it seems like bringing someone to the Dhamma must be a tremendously compassionate and meritorious act. While it often seems easiest just to live my Buddhist faith in private, that also feels like a selfish strategy. Any thoughts on this? And does anybody have a citation from a sutta on this topic?

Many thanks
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
User avatar
Sati1
 
Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:54 am

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby culaavuso » Sat Jan 25, 2014 7:24 am

Intention is key. If the intention is to share insight into Buddhism in a way that benefits others for their sake and not for the sake of gain, praise, fame, or pleasure and it is in line with the principles of right speech then it is the compassionate thing to do. It's not about converting others, it's about helping others to find happiness. This can include just sharing small helpful suggestions that might have come from Buddhism without labeling those suggestions as Buddhist.

AN 2.31-32
AN 2.32: Katannu Suttas wrote:"I tell you, monks, there are two people who are not easy to repay. Which two? Your mother & father. Even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder & your father on the other shoulder for 100 years, and were to look after them by anointing, massaging, bathing, & rubbing their limbs, and they were to defecate & urinate right there [on your shoulders], you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. If you were to establish your mother & father in absolute sovereignty over this great earth, abounding in the seven treasures, you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. Why is that? Mother & father do much for their children. They care for them, they nourish them, they introduce them to this world. But anyone who rouses his unbelieving mother & father, settles & establishes them in conviction; rouses his unvirtuous mother & father, settles & establishes them in virtue; rouses his stingy mother & father, settles & establishes them in generosity; rouses his foolish mother & father, settles & establishes them in discernment: To this extent one pays & repays one's mother & father."


AN 8.26
AN 8.26: Jivaka Sutta wrote:"And to what extent, lord, is one a lay follower who practices both for his own benefit & the benefit of others?"

"Jivaka, when a lay follower himself is consummate in conviction and encourages others in the consummation of conviction; when he himself is consummate in virtue and encourages others in the consummation of virtue; when he himself is consummate in generosity and encourages others in the consummation of generosity; when he himself desires to see the monks and encourages others to see the monks; when he himself wants to hear the true Dhamma and encourages others to hear the true Dhamma; when he himself habitually remembers the Dhamma he has heard and encourages others to remember the Dhamma they have heard; when he himself explores the meaning of the Dhamma he has heard and encourages others to explore the meaning of the Dhamma they have heard; when he himself, knowing both the Dhamma & its meaning, practices the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma and encourages others to practice the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma: then to that extent he is a lay follower who practices both for his own benefit and for the benefit of others."


MN 58
MN 58: Abhaya Sutta wrote:[1] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[2] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[3] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

[4] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[5] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[6] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings."


SN 45.8
SN 45.8: Magga-vibhanga Sutta wrote:"And what is right resolve? Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill will, on harmlessness: This is called right resolve.

"And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, abstaining from divisive speech, abstaining from abusive speech, abstaining from idle chatter: This, monks, is called right speech.


AN 5.198
AN 5.198: Vaca Sutta wrote:"Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

"It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.

"A statement endowed with these five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people."


MN 117
MN 117: Maha-cattarisaka Sutta wrote:Of those, right view is the forerunner. And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong speech as wrong speech, and right speech as right speech. This is one's right view. And what is wrong speech? Lying, divisive tale-bearing, abusive speech, & idle chatter. This is wrong speech.

"And what is right speech? Right speech, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right speech with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions; there is right speech that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.

"And what is the right speech with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions? Abstaining from lying, from divisive tale-bearing, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter. This is the right speech with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions.

"And what is the right speech that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path? The abstaining, desisting, abstinence, avoidance of the four forms of verbal misconduct in one developing the noble path whose mind is noble, whose mind is without effluents, who is fully possessed of the noble path. This is the right speech that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.

"One makes an effort for the abandoning of wrong speech & for entering right speech: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong speech & to enter & remain in right speech: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right speech.
culaavuso
 
Posts: 1174
Joined: Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:27 pm

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby pilgrim » Sat Jan 25, 2014 8:51 am

"Go forth, o bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, for the good, for the happiness of gods and men. Let not two go by one way. Preach the doctrine that is beautiful in its beginning, beautiful in its middle, and beautiful in its ending. Declare the holy life in its purity, completely both in the spirit and the letter." ~ Mahavagga, Vinaya Pitaka.

'I shall not come to my final passing away, Evil One, until my bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen, have come to be true disciples — wise, well disciplined, apt and learned, (knowers and) preservers of the Dhamma, living according to the Dhamma, abiding by the appropriate conduct, and having learned the Master's word, are able to expound it, preach it, proclaim it, establish it, reveal it, explain it in detail, and make it clear; until, when false teachings arise, they shall be able to refute them thoroughly and well, and to preach this convincing and liberating Dhamma.' - MahaParinibbana sutta

Buddhists don't seek to convert for conversion sake, but to benefit others. So we make the Dhamma available for those who wish to learn and benefit from it.
User avatar
pilgrim
 
Posts: 974
Joined: Mon Oct 19, 2009 2:56 pm

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby binocular » Sat Jan 25, 2014 9:32 am

Sati1 wrote:I have been struggling with this question recently, having been raised as a Christian, where it was often emphasized that one must try to convert non-believers. From the doctrine of kamma, I would think that there is no point in trying to "convert" someone, since their kamma might prevent them from understanding the teachings, no matter what one says. This idea makes sense from my own experience in talking about Dhamma to others. None of the 5 Precepts, or the 8-fold Path encourage trying to convert others. On the other hand, it seems like bringing someone to the Dhamma must be a tremendously compassionate and meritorious act. While it often seems easiest just to live my Buddhist faith in private, that also feels like a selfish strategy. Any thoughts on this? And does anybody have a citation from a sutta on this topic?


If you have a Christian background, then you are surely familiar with "When the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."

If one is absolutely sure that one can unilaterally propose oneself to others as a teacher of the Dhamma, that's one thing.

If one doesn't have that surety, that's somethign else.

It's not selfish to want to spare others from one's own greed, anger and delusion.
binocular
 
Posts: 1351
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby appicchato » Sat Jan 25, 2014 11:49 am

No...
User avatar
appicchato
 
Posts: 1603
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:47 am
Location: Bridge on the River Kwae

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby Hickersonia » Sat Jan 25, 2014 4:24 pm

I think if "try" is the operative word here, I have to echo appicchato.

Surely there is nothing wrong with talking Dhamma among friends -- those who actually inquire upon you for advice -- but for one to make the assertion that one should "try" to convert others is, in my opinion, and indication of such a one's arrogance and ego.

Please be well, friend! :anjali:
Hickersonia
http://hickersonia.wordpress.com/


"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of
throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned."
User avatar
Hickersonia
 
Posts: 260
Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 1:40 pm
Location: Cincinnati, OH

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby Mkoll » Sat Jan 25, 2014 8:51 pm

I'd agree that you shouldn't "try".

In teaching others about wholesome actions, I wouldn't use the "B" word at all. Just phrase it in secular terms. For example, if someone is talking about feeling guilty over their unvirtuous behavior, one could advise them to maintain their virtue because it is unvirtuous people like murderers and thieves who society condemns and virtuous behavior is what sets one apart from those kinds.

:anjali:
Peace,
James
User avatar
Mkoll
 
Posts: 3852
Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2012 6:55 pm
Location: California, USA

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby Sati1 » Sat Jan 25, 2014 9:21 pm

Thank you very much for your answers. This all makes a lot of sense.

binocular wrote:It's not selfish to want to spare others from one's own greed, anger and delusion.


Mkoll wrote:In teaching others about wholesome actions, I wouldn't use the "B" word at all. Just phrase it in secular terms.


Attempts to teach might actually cause more harm than good to the other person. Perhaps the safest is to keep it secular, until the other person expresses a deeper interest in the ideas. I have found that otherwise open conversations can quickly result in a wall of resistance when topics about religion are brought into the conversation (as in the "B" word, "kamma", or "Dhamma"). It helps to remember that the views that prevent others from even just considering the Buddhist ideas are the result of the other person's own past kamma (clinging to views), which we will not be able to dissolve away, even if our arguments are perfectly sound.

:anjali:
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
User avatar
Sati1
 
Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:54 am

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby pulga » Sat Jan 25, 2014 10:46 pm

You might consider Ven. Buddhaghosa's example. From Ven. Ñanamoli's précis of the Buddhaghosuppatti:

One day the question arose in his mind: "Who has more understanding of the Buddha-word, I or my preceptor?" His preceptor, whose cankers were exhausted, read the thought in his mind and rebuked him, telling him to ask his forgiveness. The pupil was then very afraid, and after asking for forgiveness, he was told that in order to make amends he must go to Sri Lanka and translate the Buddha-word (sic) from Sinhalese into Magadhan. He agreed, but asked that he might first be allowed to convert his father from the Brahman religion to the Buddha's teaching. In order to achieve this he had a brick apartment fitted with locks and furnished with food and water. He set a contrivance so that when his father went inside he was trapped. He then preached to his father on the virtues of the Buddha, and on the pains of hell resulting from wrong belief. After three days his father was converted, and he took the Three Refuges. The son then opened the door and made amends to his father with flowers and such things for the offence done to him.
pulga
 
Posts: 510
Joined: Sun Nov 14, 2010 3:02 pm

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby cooran » Sat Jan 25, 2014 11:01 pm

appicchato wrote:No...

I agree with Bhante. After people come to know you well and trust and like you, they may ask questions about Buddhism. Keep it low key, and on a surface level unless they ask further questions. Maybe occasionally mention when you are going to go to a meditation retreat etc.

With metta,
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
User avatar
cooran
 
Posts: 7763
Joined: Tue Jan 06, 2009 11:32 pm
Location: Queensland, Australia

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby binocular » Sun Jan 26, 2014 4:45 pm

Sati1 wrote:It helps to remember that the views that prevent others from even just considering the Buddhist ideas are the result of the other person's own past kamma (clinging to views), which we will not be able to dissolve away, even if our arguments are perfectly sound.


Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.
CS Lewis
binocular
 
Posts: 1351
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby Sati1 » Sun Jan 26, 2014 6:24 pm

Hi binocular,

Great citation by CS Lewis. It hadn't occurred to me that proselytizing is actually a way of taking freedom from the other person. As such, it actually goes against the goal of increased freedom that this Path is after.

Metta,
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
User avatar
Sati1
 
Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:54 am

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby Goofaholix » Sun Jan 26, 2014 7:18 pm

The word "convert" doesn't seem right, it implies it's a definitive moment and I can do it to somebody else, this might be the case for fundamentalist religion but it's not the case for Buddhist practice.

In the 19 years I've been involved in this there are a lot more monasteries and retreat centres available for westerners, a lot more retreats, a lot more teachers, many are booked up and difficult to get into, there are a lot more people talking about Buddhism online.

I don't think we need to be focussing on "converting" others, our task is to "convert" ourselves.

My rule of thumb is that any product that has to be marketed by pushy people coming to your door or phoning you up un asked for etc is not worth having.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 2030
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby ES06 » Sun Jan 26, 2014 10:47 pm

I think good question would be why try to convert?

If there is no rebirth or afterlife, Buddhism is more like lifestyle choice and philosophy. If my non-Buddhist friend is happy with their own conviction, there is no reason to convert. In that case only important think in the end of life would be whether we led good life or not.

If someone is unhappy, and some Buddhist idea or practice would help him/her, I would try to introduce them without mentioning Buddhism. But, of course, if someone is interested in Buddhism, I am always happy to share Dhamma...

If there is rebirth, they will probably find Dhamma in a future live when it is right time. Trying to convert someone who is not interested in Buddhism would only make them even less interested.
ES06
 
Posts: 29
Joined: Wed Dec 25, 2013 12:31 pm

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby pilgrim » Sun Jan 26, 2014 11:46 pm

Many Buddhist converts I know have one regret, that no one told them about the Dhamma earlier.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
User avatar
pilgrim
 
Posts: 974
Joined: Mon Oct 19, 2009 2:56 pm

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby clw_uk » Sun Jan 26, 2014 11:47 pm

I would say no

People who are interested in Dhamma will seek it, those who arent wont :)
“ Your mind is likewise blocked. But the right road awaits you still. Cast out your doubts, your fears and your desires, let go of grief and of hope as well, for where these rule , then the mind is their subject." Boetius
User avatar
clw_uk
 
Posts: 3479
Joined: Sun Jan 11, 2009 2:36 am
Location: Wales, United Kingdom

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby binocular » Mon Jan 27, 2014 8:48 am

pilgrim wrote:Many Buddhist converts I know have one regret, that no one told them about the Dhamma earlier.

Doesn't mean they would have preferred to have the Dhamma rammed down their throats.


Sati1 wrote:Great citation by CS Lewis. It hadn't occurred to me that proselytizing is actually a way of taking freedom from the other person.

I'm not sure inasmuch proselytizing takes freedom from the other person.

The main problem I see with proselytizing is that the proselytizer sees themselves, and expects - even demands - to be seen as the obligatory link between the person and nirvana.

As if to say "Nobody gets to nirvana except through me, Joe Buddhist!"

When people request to be instructed - as in actually request, saying something like "Will you please teach me?" - that's one thing.

But unilaterally imposing oneself on others as their teacher - that can get really nasty, especially if the supposed teacher isn't all that knowledgeable and skilled.
I think that constitutes abuse.
binocular
 
Posts: 1351
Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:13 pm

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby Aloka » Mon Jan 27, 2014 9:00 am

Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?


No. The word "convert" makes me think of Christian missionaries and the people who ring my doorbell on Sundays !

:)
User avatar
Aloka
 
Posts: 3771
Joined: Wed Jan 21, 2009 2:51 pm

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby Spiny Norman » Mon Jan 27, 2014 9:18 am

Sati1 wrote:On the other hand, it seems like bringing someone to the Dhamma must be a tremendously compassionate and meritorious act. While it often seems easiest just to live my Buddhist faith in private, that also feels like a selfish strategy. Any thoughts on this? And does anybody have a citation from a sutta on this topic?


Maybe you could help to support a local Buddhist group / class / centre?
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
User avatar
Spiny Norman
 
Posts: 2942
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Spam, wonderful spam

Re: Should one try to convert non-Buddhists?

Postby dhammafriend » Mon Jan 27, 2014 2:11 pm

I have been struggling with this question recently...


Hi Sati1

No need to convert or share the dhamma without anyone asking about it. If its a theoretical discussion on religion then express your views.
Usually those who seek Dhamma (whether they know it or not) will be more receptive that those who have no inclination.

This is what I do, if its my birthday or a special day like Vesak etc I invite friends to join me in offering a meal and other assistance to the monks.
This way they will have some kind of kammic connection in this life that might bear fruit. No need for them to listen to long deshana etc. Just spend time with monks and share a meal together.

You are right to be cognizant of kamma:

"I am the owner of my deeds (kamma):
I inherit my deeds.
I am born of my deeds.
I am related to my deeds.
I live supported by my deeds.
Whatever deeds I create, whether good or evil, that I shall inherit."

The Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya V.57 - Upajjhatthana Sutta

Here's one story for you. I once had a conversation with a close friend about Dhamma, which gave him a lot of food for thought. We never spoke of it again. Later he left for Taiwan for work and came back a (Mahayana) Buddhist. He met a master who inspired him, asked for refuge vows, and stayed a bit longer in Taiwan for the formal refuge ceremony. He's quite devoted, even though he still works closely with local church groups (but does not participate in prayers), he's openly Buddhist.

Kamma came to fruition for him. :anjali:

Dhammafriend
Metta
Dhammafriend

Natthi me saranam annam buddho me saranam varam
For me there is no other refuge, the Buddha is my excellent refuge.
Etena saccavajjena vaddheyyam satthu-sasane
By the utterance of this truth, may I grow in the Master’s Way.
User avatar
dhammafriend
 
Posts: 113
Joined: Sat Aug 07, 2010 9:19 am

Next

Return to Theravāda for the modern world

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 7 guests