Buddhism is lost and hopelessly corrupt

If you go to the bookstore and browse through the section on Buddhism, you will find numerous books discussing the Buddha’s teachings, or the ‘dharma.’ You will see commentaries on the Diamond Sutra, the Lotus Sutra and other famous Buddhist works. You will also notice  various histories of Buddhism and its spread through Asia and now through the West. But you probably won’t find any books discussing Buddhism today; you won’t come across any books written about how Buddhism functions in day- to- day life in Asia.

I find that interesting and the subject is one that should be investigated by someone with knowledge of Buddhism,  East Asian cultures, history, and language. I’ve been living in Southeast Asia for almost three years now and Buddhism is in the news frequently, though not for good reasons. Indeed, whenever I see a story in the local news with the word ‘monk’ or ‘temple’ in the headline, I know I am going to be reading about a scandal.

The scandals usually involve a monk being caught doing something not very ‘monk-like’, such as being the first in line to buy a new Iphone,  driving around in fancy cars with 300 dollar sunglasses or having sex with students.  In the age of the smartphone camera and youtube, monks are being caught doing this stuff with more and more regularity. In the old days, they didn’t have to worry as much about being exposed.

Growing up in the West and being reared in a Christian household, I developed a rather cynical attitude toward religion at a young age. As I got older and read more deeply into the history of the Catholic Church with the Inquisition, the witch burnings, the genocide of Native Americans and the rest, my cynicism only grew. Like many young spiritual seekers, I imagined Eastern religions to be somehow less tainted than Christianity. Certainly, there are no comparable stories of Buddhists burning ‘heretics’ at the stake, or Hindus marching across foreign lands with invading armies trying to convert  non-believers.

Yet, the longer I am in Asia, the less pronounced the differences appear to me between Eastern and Western religions and Buddhism is just as tainted with corruption as any other organization, religious or otherwise. Despite their obvious doctrinal differences, all religions appear to function at a basic level of control. In the West, Christianity has always been used to control and manipulate the masses. In the East, Buddhism performs that role.

Buddhism is classified as  a ‘religion.’ It is considered one of the world’s ‘major religions.’ When people fill out census forms, they are given the choice to check the ‘Buddhist’ box under religion. Yet, any Buddhist monk, religious studies professor or anyone who has simply studied Buddhism for just a few hours will tell you that it is most definitely NOT a religion, at least not in the way scholars have typically defined the term. There are no gods or goddesses to worship, no elaborate rituals, no angels. Buddhism is a way of understanding the world and human suffering. It offers a precise psychological method and system for training the mind through meditation to escape suffering. So, Buddhism has been around for 2,500 years and its practitioners are still calling it a ‘religion’ when they know better. What’s the reason?  Here’s my guess: a religion attracts adherents and followers. A ‘meditative system’ or a ‘teaching of the causes of human suffering’ doesn’t sound as important. People need  a religion. It makes them feel good.

Classifying your organization as a religion also has numerous other benefits, mostly financial. Churches pay NO taxes. I am not as familiar with how Buddhist temples operate in Asian countries, but I strongly suspect they play the religion card to avoid taxes and raise money in the same way that Christian churches do in the West.

Well, the temples must be doing something right in the money game they are playing because they are indeed rich. Don’t be fooled by the shaven-headed monk in orange robes you see on the street with his begging bowl. That’s just for show. He is not an accurate representation of how much money these temples really have. How do the temples get the money to buy so much valuable real estate on which to construct their ostentatious structures? Where does the money to build solid gold Buddhas and golden domes come from? Where did that monk get the money to buy a brand new iPhone 5? The answer is, of course, from the poor people who willingly donate their hard-earned money to the temples, in exchange for ‘blessings’ from the monks. It’s a scam.

Buddhism is a huge business in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia. There are hundreds of thousands of temples sitting on prime land and collecting money to build ever grander Buddhist statues and domes. Many of the temples simply whore themselves out to tourists, selling tacky souvenirs and allowing vendors within the temple walls. Many have neon lights, fluorescent lights and televisions. They resemble amusement parks more than they do temples.

I wonder how many Buddhist statues are made in factories every year and sold to tourists? Millions? If all that is not vulgar enough, what’s really depressing is that the Buddha shouldn’t even be worshipped. Buddhists should not be placing Buddha statues on their altars to pray to. The Buddha stated clearly, “I am not a god. I’m just a normal man like yourselves  who discovered some fundamental truths about the human condition.” However, so strong is the human disposition to deify our heroes that we’ve made him into a god. Again, the abbots and monks know this, yet they allow the commoners to come to their temples, prostrate themselves, burn incense, and pray to the Buddha. I’ve read a number of interviews with monks who try to explain away why they allow this, and it’s hilarious to see the logical  and verbal contortions they wrap themselves in to justify their actions. If you read carefully between the lines, what they’re really saying is this: ‘the poor and the peasants  are simpletons. They don’t know any better. They either can’t or don’t read and will never understand the inner, deeper teachings of Buddhism. So, we give them something to worship, tell them to lead a pure life and send them on their way. ‘ But not before taking some of their money, of course. It’s a rather cynical stance, would’t you say?

The fact that Buddhism has been able to penetrate so deeply into so many different Asian cultures shows that it has great flexibility and adaptability. But I submit that while many will say this is one of its strengths, it  really demonstrates that Buddhism has a weak foundation. Notice how easily Buddhism has rolled with modernity. Smart phones and other electronic gizmos, neon lights, television, whatever. Buddhism absorbs it all and tells its followers that they can be a consumerist, a capitalist, a communist -even a Christian or Muslim!- and still be a Buddhist. In reality, it demands little from its adherents. In contrast to this, we can point to Islam where the imams at least  have strong criticisms of modernity and urge their followers to hold onto tradition.

I was in Singapore recently and I bumped into a young monk at a museum. He was strolling around taking selfies with his nice camera and selfie stick. Huh? What do they teach in the temples these days? Isn’t there anything about letting go of the ego and moving our concentration away from egoic concerns?

Buddhism has also tried to attach itself to various movements over the years in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. For example, in the  1990s, there was a push by various Buddhist leaders to claim that Buddhism was really a ‘nature religion.’ You know, eco-groovy. They found some obscure quotations by the Buddha saying we should all love the animals or something, and voila! Seriously. Go back and look through back issues of Tricycle magazine from the 1990s.

Some might say that countries with a strong Buddhist influence are more peaceful and the people more gentle. Is that really the case? Thailand is 95 percent Buddhist and many young boys go through a period of training in temples. Are the Thai people generally more honest, moral, and peaceful than anyone else? Look at the amount of corruption and criminal gang activity throughout the country and you will have your answer. Thailand is currently being ruled by a military junta. The Buddhist leaders in Thailand don’t seem to have a problem with that. Of course they don’t want to step on many toes, as they might have some privileges stripped.

Some argue that Buddhism, with its emphasis on the acceptance of suffering, is a perfect religion to keep the poor and downtrodden in their place and was set up for just that purpose. I don’t know. It’s possible. The Buddha said, “Life is Suffering.” If you take that to heart and don’t go beyond it to analyze the subtleties of the teachings, you might interpret it to mean, ‘Don’t protest. Accept my oppression.’

The bottom line is that you don’t need the ‘religion’ of Buddhism to study the dharma. All you need is a copy of the Diamond Sutra, some determination, and perhaps a few companions to share your discoveries with when you practice meditation. The monks don’t have any magical powers. Many are outright charlatans are many more are corrupt.


20 thoughts on “Buddhism is lost and hopelessly corrupt”

  1. Whatever religion, they teach us one thing ” being human”. Anything has good side & bad side. We cant choose our religion, but we can choose the WAY we are.

  2. I agree, it is a philosophy and not a religion. God/ Buddha is within not without and that spells trouble for the control machine. So the minions contort it’s meaning to fit their control grid. It’s also not good to tell people that we are God and everything is God. Easier to tell them there is this easily pissed off wrathful eternal character that only the selected priests can communicate with and intervene with on our puny human behalf. How else do you get to live for free in the multitude of religious castles? Pretty obvious ploy to those unafraid.

  3. Since I went to an American school, where 90% of the students are Christian, I have avoided talking too much about religion. However, this post just urges me to write a comment because I love to read about religion, especially about Buddhism in the view of foreigner.

    The corruption of Buddhism is not a novel thing. In fact, corruption existed hundreds of years ago, when Vietnam was still a feudal country. I remembered a history lesson that shows there was a time the majority of Vietnamese converted to monks in order to receive the benefit from the king. Yes, a monk’s country. Consequently, the king( or his heir) had to declared a policy to coerce these monks to get back to their role as civilians thank to the dearth of labors.

    In Vietnam war, Buddhist was also a tool manipulated by the Communist to undermine the Southern Vietnam. Nonetheless, because the South was notorious for its tendency to Christianity, the North felt more easily to agitate the monks to fight against the government. As the majority of Vietnamese follow Buddhism, the Southern government received a powerful pressure from its citizens and this pressure contributed a prodigious credit to the collapse of Southern Vietnam..

    Last but not lease, Vietnamese government now is still manipulating the Buddhism as a opium to lure its gullible civilians. Buddhism adhered to Vietnamese thousands of years so their beliefs are too strong to eradicate. Thus, the government setup some spies as monks so they can control the religion and avoid being Southern Vietnam. Vietnamese government also combine Buddhism with the government regarding the motto of Vietnamese Buddhism “Religion-Nation-Socialism”.

    In brief, I totally agree with Karl Marx quotation:”Religion is opium for the masses”.

    1. Thank you for these insightful comments. I didn’t know this bit of Vietnamese history, but I am not surprised. It seems that the Buddhist leadership always aligns itself with whoever is in power at the moment.

    2. Hello Minh,

      Thank you for giving me some wonderful insights into the history of Buddhism in Viet Nam. There is always something going on behind the scenes which we are unaware of. Buddhism is now a deeply entrenched institution throughout Asia and, as such, it is susceptible to corruption, power dealing, greed, and scandals.

  4. Budda once said “for the few who understand” Religion is not a cut and dry thing. I know western people think and want it to be that way, but with spirtiutality, it is not. It is a house of mirrors and truth guarded by endless delusion.

  5. Made me laugh to see Thai monks tagged in a Viet Nam post. Bold claims albeit generalizing opinion rather than fact based but this is the internet and comment wars are tacky. Hint of culture shock on the part of the blogger. Interesting read and choice of topic overall. Thanks!

    1. I’m based in Viet Nam but I travel a lot in Asia and comment on what I see. Yes, I do generalize a bit in this article, but I’m just reporting on what I read and what I have observed. Thanks for your comment.

    2. Doan,
      While it may be a generalization it is certainly far from baseless.
      Buddhism, as a whole, has seldom actually adhered to the teaching of Siddhartha.. If it had there would be no Temples, no statues, and every serious adherent would wander from park to park with nothing but robes, sandals, and a begging bowl.
      There would be no abbots, no masters, no heirarchy to speak of… Only guidance would be the four noble truths and the eightfold path, because THAT is what Siddhartha taught and the example he left.

      No one has followed that… No Monk, and no Temple… All are perverting the Dharma.

      1. I agree my friend there are too many posing in all religious traditions and they only put off people who are really looking for answers to questions I say to folk Think For Yourself Do Not Follow Like Cattle Buddha Was Genuine Not A Cheat
        If you want to talk tweet Friend 650 Twitter posted 26 9 2017

  6. Im Buddhist, but just like all organized religions they are nothing more than a money grabbing scam., and I agree with everything you say.

    There are only very few that have understanding of the Dharma weather it be a lay person or a ruesi or a monk.

    I no longer go to temples. It dont matter which temple they are or country.

    Im in Adelaide Australia and the temples here are so corrupt its ridiculous.

    Just as a few examples:

    The Khmer temple monks come over here and they all disrobe within a fews years and they have money to buy cars houses and what ever they want. The temple committee siphons money out into their own pockets . They fight over who will be the president, not just argue but punch ups even to the state of burning down the monks living quarters . When one don’t get their own way he will start a new temple which can receive government funds of up to $100,000 so they can corrupt this even more.

    The lao Temple had $100,000 missing which was traced back to the president swindled it and wasted it at the casino. Also work carried out at the temple for free/donated was also charged for. I know this personally because i donated my labor to the temple and found out the committee charge them $14000. Nice isnt it I do the work for free and these scum suckers get paid for nothing.

    Thai temple. These monks are shit. They always ask for money. Money money money….. Just give us money.

    They come here buy million dollar properties to set up temples scab money from hard working people and dont even give anything back.

    Do they help spread the words of the Buddha to the Australian people NO.
    Do they do anything for the community. NO.

    Every temple is Corrupt,

    I guess there is plenty of room for more in the realm of the Preta.

    1. Hello Paul,

      Thank you so much for your insightful comments. The situation in Australia appears to be depressingly similar to what I see here in Southeast Asia. What a sad state of affairs. The first thing we need to do is immediately and irrevocably remove all tax-emempt privileges from religious organizations. The prime real estate which has been taken over by these lazy and corrupt religious orders should be confiscated and put to some productive use. As for the monks, teach them a trade and put them back to work in the real world. Enough with this grotesque scam.

      1. I can solve the world debt problem, homeless, and hunger with one simple policy.

        Tax all religious organizations and their companies, and the world debt problem will be solved overnight.

  7. I’m Buddhist and I wholeheartedly disagree with this article. Yes, Buddhism is becoming corrupted in some ways, some places, and some branches. But you are disregarding the thousands of temples that take their worship seriously. You have many facts wrong about the teachings of Buddhism as well. For example, Korea has many rural, run-down temples where the monks are honest and poor. You supported your argument way too extravagantly. Buddhism is not lost and hopelessly corrupt, and neither are most other religions.

    1. What would be considered to be a poor monk? Where as the teachings of the Buddha taught not to have clinging/desire and accumulate wealth.

      Monks are not supposed to own anything but the bare essentials. They are taught not to worry about where the next meal is coming from and in some cases go without food for weeks. These however are more the forest monks that dont live in temples.

      The majority of “monks” yes are good but the temples are corrupt. This is why the Buddha said no temples.

      Why are there so many monks in poorer counties?
      Do you think maybe because its a means of survival?

  8. it is already predicted by the buddha shakyamuni that the buddhism is going to degenerate . but for me buddhism is a very long life time journey and takes many lifetimes before one can reach to bodhisattva and buddha stage. we are still lucky because it is said that buddhism are likely going to last for another 1000 years. so it is possible for one to still find good monk and temple to learn.

    for those interested to learn buddhism in their next life, i recommend checking the maitreya sutra. maitreya is going to be the next buddha when the human lifespan reach 84000 in this earth. one also can chant amitabha mantra to increase the chances to reborn in amitabha pureland and learn buddhism directly from amitabha( said to be the easiest pureland one can go) .

    without the genuine temple and monk, i think i won’t be able to even know the content of diamond sutra copy. and i will be very cruel and evil person by now because my compassion heart was repeatedly activated by teachings that come from buddha and monks teaching . not to mention that i probably still jobless now at home and coughing out at midnight if i haven’t meet specific buddha mantra.

    generally speaking, the buddha already know that human are on degenerated level spiritually and morally as things do change. that evil people will be more than good person. and that good person will drop till like 1 or 2 only. but there are still some good teaching left . one just need to work harder to find it than in the past.

    monks and temple play important role not only for us in the present but also for the future generations (your child, your grandchildren a hope and a future) a chance to understand the actual truth saw and teach by the buddha and ways to end one suffering permanently.

  9. to know whether you have meet with a good monk , find the one that teach compassionate. for example, encourage vegetarian lifestyle, saving animal from being kill or ending up as meal. it is said that the one who do life release to animal will be compassionate in future (i personally try it and i think it really works). in other word, a beneficial monk. there is a particular sutra that tell you how to find a genuine teacher. i can’t remember the exact name title but you can find it in here

  10. Very interesting article Brian. I’m also an expat in Vietnam (5 years) and have come to a similar conclusion. The first thing that struck me was when a Vietnamese friend told me that she wad going to pray for her business, I inquired and found out that it’s common practice to pray for money and wealth. I asked if that didn’t contradict with the idea that desire is at the root of suffering but apparently it didn’t.
    My point is that in a deeply unfair society where some drive Rolls Royce and others live in absolute squalor Buddhism doesn’t seem to be challenging the system but rather propping it up. Instead of discouraging selfishness it seems to be encouraging it.
    It’s true that in many cases Christianity has become such a pillar of the establishment that it can no longer challenge that establishment but the idea of praying for wealth is certainly alien to the faith that I was brought up in.
    Are you familiar with Slavoj Zizek? Check out his lectures on youtube on Buddhism.
    Another point I would make is that a lot of the practices in Vietnam are not really Buddhist at all such as ancestor worship, they pray to an ‘earth mother’, basically Buddhism didn’t require that the previous folk beliefs (superstitions) stop but allowed it all to mix together. Whearas Christianity was more revolution not evolution, the pagan stuff had to go.

    1. Hi Gus,

      You bring up some good points and I agree with your observations about Viet Nam. I too see the people going to the temples and praying to the Buddha for wealth, happiness, success, etc. This they do even though Buddha never claimed divinity and would be horrified to see people praying to him.
      I’ve seen Zizek’s books at the bookstore though I haven’t gotten around to reading him. I will definitely look for those lectures online. Thanks for the tip.

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