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Currently when I walk to work I frequently pass Christians of various denominations passing out free books and talking to passers by. I have never heard of a Buddhist group doing the same. I think it is a common perception that Buddhism is not an evangelical religion and Christianity most definitely is. I think this one of the reasons is why people (in the UK) are generally fairly well disposed to Buddhists.

But are my perceptions correct? Is Buddhism really not an evangelical religion? It is a universal religion like Christianity and in both there are notions of personal salvation (liberation/nirvana) that surely everyone would benefit from. Is there something in the scriptures or teachings that make Buddhist less evangelical? Or is it just something cultural and in a different place and time things might look very different? Or am I just flat wrong and Buddhism wants to spread the word just as much as Christianity but I'm just not seeing it.

  • I'm not sure what you mean by evangelical. Do you mean that Buddhists don't put as much effort into gaining converts as Christians or do you mean that we just aren't as pushy? – Bakmoon Sep 7 '14 at 20:55
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SGI is, or was, very evangelical, keen to prosthelytize. In the US, the various immigrant communities, by the fact that they provide service only in Thai or Vietnamese or what have you, might be prothelytizing, but it would be invisible to me since I don't speak Thai.

Ancient Buddhism was not content to wait for people to just magically show up and learn the Dharma,

"The Sangha had grown to 60 in number .. and Buddha sent them out in all directions to travel alone and teach the Dharma. " ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarnath

There is a better quote for this, but I can't find it.

In China, Thailand, India for a while, Japan, it was a state supported religion. As such, it has a massive advantage in getting adherents. In fact, in Japan, the government would just assign you to the county Buddhist temple.

And finally, when people talk about growing membership, all they can think about are Jehovah Witnesses at the door with Watchtower trying to do essentially door to door personal sales in a world where nothing is sold that way anymore. Marketing is done with online media, writing books and getting them on book store shelves, getting the military to recognize your religion so it can participate in the chaplain program. All of that is a million times more effective at getting more members than tacky, pushy person to person sales.

In the Brahma Net Sutra, there are several precepts obliging precept takers to teach the dharma and to teach it well, which as a side effect may result in more self-identifying Buddhists.

So Buddhist doesn't lack in prothylthizing, what it lacks (other than the example of SGI) is a marketing campaign involving tacking person to person sales. Just about everyone else is working on "growing membership" but by other means.

(This contrasts to what a lot of atheist think-- that no one should teach anyone, not even children, anything about any religion unless that person spontaneously and enthusiastically asks for it)

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Is there something in the scriptures or teachings that make Buddhist less evangelical?

One thing is that Buddhist scripture has some emphasis on teaching 'skillfully'.

Some explanations of 'right speech' include the requirement that speech be beneficial, welcome, and at an appropriate time; for example:

The Abhaya Sutta elaborates:[34][35]

In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, yet unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, yet unendearing and disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them.

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

In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing and 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.

In every case, if it is not true, beneficial nor timely, one is not to say it. The Buddha followed this, for example, when asked questions of a purely metaphysical nature, unrelated to the goal, path or discipline that he taught. When asked a question such as "Is the universe eternal?", the Buddha dismissed the topic with the response: "It does not further." (or: "The personal possibilities (goals) assigned you are not furthered by an answer to an ultimate question about the universe's fate.")

Conversely, "The gospel" is from a Greek word meaning "Good news": and the word "news" implies that it's meant to be broadcast? And the Christian Parable of the Sower seems to me to imply "broadcast" instead of "person-to-person" speech.


Currently when I walk to work I frequently pass Christians of various denominations passing out free books and talking to passers by. I have never heard of a Buddhist group doing the same.

To some extent some Buddhists do pass out free books: for example I picked up one free book by walking in to a Buddhist temple and looking in the book store.

I've also seen a "free book" left in a hotel room in Singapore (in the same way that you might find a "Gideon's Bible" there).

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Most Christians believe, based on Matthew 28:18-20, that they must spread Christ's message. In other words, if they don't do it, they aren't following Christ's instructions:

'Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.'

And one possible reason Jesus himself gave that instruction was because the Christian view of existence is one where this human life is pretty much your one and only chance to get into heaven. If you screw up here, there's no rebirth, no time-limited lower realms, and not even simple extinction -- it's the Bad Fire and the Jaggy Stick Up The Bum Fandango, for eternity.

Obviously we can find some sense of urgency in Buddhism too: e.g. the illustration of practising as if one's hair was on fire. But nothing scares the bejeezus (literally) out of people the way the Christian notion of eternal perdition does.

protected by Andrei Volkov Sep 6 '14 at 18:08

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