What makes the Bible accurate and the scriptures/writings of Hinduism and Buddhism not?


#1

One of the things people use against the Bible is that the events, especially the NT, were not written at the time the events actually happened. It was passed down from oral tradition. The skeptics say this leaves alot of room for the story to be altered by word of mouth.

Our rebuttal is oral tradition is reliable and people had significantly stronger memories and storytelling abilities back then that were an accurate reflection on what happened in the past.

…but then we claim the writings about Buddha were made long after the Bible and relied on oral tradition for a long time and used alot of repetitive memorization tactics. Buddhists say the event were passed on alot earlier via oral tradition. Christians claim that this leaves alot of room for people altering Buddha’s story.

The same applies for the Hindu texts. “They could have been altered by word of mouth”

So my question is why should oral tradition be trusted with the Bible but not the older religions? (I imagine people’s memories were even more stronger during the time of those religions)


#2

It is finally a matter of faith.

We can point to meticulous Jewish scribes, archaeological evidence, cohesion with experience, and so on. But impressive as these things might be, they are all on the order of nature. They do not, of themselves, guarantee inerrancy.

What makes the Bible God’s Word written is not that men of our faith were more careful than men of other faiths, but that God intervened miraculously to prevent the natural corruption of information that would have taken place.

And this is something we cannot prove through the natural sciences or human reason alone (though we may offer evidence for consideration); it is an article of faith.


#3

This is why studying comparative religion is so important.
catholic.com/encyclopedia/buddhism might help shed some light. catholic.com/encyclopedia/hinduism


#4

I have read these before.

I appears Buddhists and Hindus have a problem with it though. They claim the CE sections are slanderous, condescending, and take certain things out of context.

Here is one example of their critique.

newbuddhist.com/discussion/10601/catholic-encyclopedia-on-buddhism-why-write-this

Whether their complaints are legitimate or not, I can’t tell.


#5

My two cents.

The Judaeo-Christian Scriptures and Hindu and Buddhist sacred texts are really different creatures. Our understanding of what a ‘sacred text’ is different from theirs.

First off, the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are ‘religions of the book’ because our written scriptures occupy a primary place in our beliefs. But you really couldn’t say the same thing for Indian religions like Hinduism or Buddhism.

See, unlike in Christianity, there’s really no obligation that laymen must read or memorize the sacred texts: those are really the domain of the priests or monks. You could go on your whole life being a Hindu or Buddhist without even reading the Vedas or any one of the hundreds/thousands of Buddhist sutras out there. And even if you read or recite them, it’s not necessary that you have to understand what you’re chanting. This is where the concept of the mantra comes from: words have supernatural power, so the meaning of the words is not so much important as the words (i.e. their correct pronunciation) themselves.

In Hinduism’s case, you might really say that ‘it’ historically didn’t really have ‘scriptures’, because first of all, Hinduism is not so much an ‘it’ as a ‘these’: wildly different schools of thought and practices lumped together in a single catch-all term. The four Vedas do occupy a place of importance among these different schools, but not in the same way as the Bible is in Christianity: it’s not a source of doctrine nor ‘history’ - the Vedas are really a set of hymns and formulae to be chanted in rituals, written in a language that has been essentially dead for two or three millennia. (As a rough Catholic analogy, the Vedas are pretty much like the missal, the hymnal and the GIRM combined.) As such, they don’t really have that much of an impact in the everyday life and belief of the average, non-priestly/Brahmin Hindu.

(The Hindu epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata would probably be more closer analogies, but while these stories were universal and a part of the Indian consciousness in the same way biblical stories have in Western culture, it still wouldn’t be an exact parallel.)

In some schools of Japanese Buddhism, there’s a custom called tendoku (転読, means something like ‘flip reading’), which involves the ‘reading’ of the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra (the Great Perfection-of-Wisdom Sutra). As the name implies, this sutra is very long (600 volumes, 100,000-or so lines) - it’s probably one of the longest sutras in Buddhism - that chanting it normally straight through (as is the custom for sutras) would take days or even weeks, and so is something only rarely done.

Tendoku basically involves a number of monks taking copies of the whole sutra (all 600 volumes of it), and then flipping through these (in East Asia, sutras are traditionally written/printed on paper folded accordion-style) while reciting a short formula. Flipping through the text would then count as ‘reading’ it. (Here’s a video of performance.tendoku)

I think this custom really shows the difference between perceptions about sacred texts and theirs: for them, actually reading the text and understanding what it says is not as important as the action of ‘reading’/chanting itself. Praxis takes prime importance.


#6

You also have to remember that historically, the Indian religions didn’t really subscribe to the idea of ‘history’ as defined in the scientific, Western, Greco-Roman sense. This is really because we have different worldviews. Abrahamic religions have a linear view of the world: there is a beginning and an end. In a way, our religions need history, to be grounded in it. Indian religions, however, are cyclical: there is no ‘beginning’ and no ‘end’. Time is circular, we live infinite lives and we live the same life infinite times. ‘History’ if anything is seen as a delusion, a foolhardy attempt to define and limit the limitless.

(It’s only recently that Hindu fundamentalists (followers of the philosophyHindutva) began to insist on proving the ‘historical’ existence of figures like Rama or Krishna or the supposed ‘scientific’ benefits of Hindu religious practices, and it’s really due to a reaction against early modern stereotypes of Indians as barbarians practicing perverse and backward ‘superstition’ (hence justifying the ‘enlightened’ British rule over these ‘savages’). Ironically, by trying to justify their faith to ‘the West’, Hindu fundamentalists have begun to adopt Western criteria that have been historically foreign to Indian thought.)

Unlike in Christianity or Judaism, where being ‘historical’ is very important, Indian religions like Buddhism or Hinduism historically did not really have that kind of view.

Take Buddhist sutras for example. Many scholars would admit that many of them (especially the later, Mahayana ones) are really not ‘historical’ and are pseudepigraphical or apocryphal. This would include popular texts like the Lotus Sutra (one of the most influential Mahayana sutras and the foundational text for many Mahayana schools) or the ‘Heart’ Sutra. But this wouldn’t really be a problem to Buddhists, because you might say their faith doesn’t really stand or fall on ‘historical facts’.

You might note that the Buddhist idea of Buddhavacana (“the words of the Buddha”) wouldn’t exactly correspond to our standards. “The words of the Buddha” is not really limited to the teachings that the historical Buddha (Siddhatta Gotama) spoke, but also to teachings by his disciples, or even to non-human supernatural creatures like devas (the (demi-)gods) or ancient sages (rishis) or bodhisattvas or past buddhas that lived eons and eons ago. (Buddhism believes that the historical Buddha is simply one of a long list of enlightened beings - buddhas. There have been many buddhas in ages past, and there will yet be buddhas in the future; Siddhatta is simply the buddha of this present age.) It doesn’t matter who the actual speaker was (or even if whether the purported speaker actually existed/exists or not), as long as the teachings do not contradict the Dharma, it counts as ‘the Buddha’s words’. In other words, as long as it is ‘true’, it doesn’t need to have a verifiable ‘historical’ foundation.


#7

Almost if not all ancient history were written much later. NT events were written very early, by living witnesses. Paul, Luke , John were apostles or companions of apostles. John and Luke know Jesus personally. The earliest Buddhist texts were written centuries later. Hindu text were even more ancient.

Our rebuttal is oral tradition is reliable and people had significantly stronger memories and storytelling abilities back then that were an accurate reflection on what happened in the past.

That is not a very credible defense. My story is better than yours? My memory is better than yours? Add a few more thousand years, there will be not much of a difference in the age of any religion.

…but then we claim the writings about Buddha were made long after the Bible and relied on oral tradition for a long time and used alot of repetitive memorization tactics. Buddhists say the event were passed on alot earlier via oral tradition. Christians claim that this leaves alot of room for people altering Buddha’s story.

The same applies for the Hindu texts. “They could have been altered by word of mouth”

I can accept that Buddhist text or Hindu text are true and fair. And that sincere people wrote them down and kept them intact. It really is a moot point to argue whether anything got altered or not because evidence to support any position is just not available. If one claims anything is altered, they must have evidence of the unaltered version to claim it.

So my question is why should oral tradition be trusted with the Bible but not the older religions? (I imagine people’s memories were even more stronger during the time of those religions)

It is not that the other religions oral traditions are not accurate. They may well be. But the message they bring is different. The founder of my faith claims he is God, the others don’t. My God promises us everlasting life and that we can all live together in heavenly bliss. The others don’t. I believe they promise or aim towards “nothingness” or some other state… That is not much to look forward to. In terms of outlook, not very much different from atheism (of which some branches of Hinduism subscribed to) which pretty much believe that when we are dead , we are dead and nothing left to talk about after that. At least for Buddhism/some denominations of Hinduism there is still some talk of an afterlife which is supposedly a temporary state until they reach nothingness.

If we have to choose between the words of God and the words of mere mortals no matter how wise they are, surely one would choose the word of God. If one were to rely on the promises of God vs the promises of men, surely one would choose God.


#8

Well said ericc :thumbsup:.


#9

You are quite right. You can not really study comparative religion by reading only one religion’s view of the other. The study has to be at least a little more objective than that. However I would not call these CE sections slanderous, but they are definitely biased and quite incomplete.

You may be interested in reading this comparison in addition to those: hinduismexposed.org/


#10

Although skeptics may have a problem with the NT, there are events, particularly Jesus’s existence, His baptism and crucifixion, that are universally recognized as historical. And, even most critical scholars believe that the books were written before the end of the first century, not that long after, by ancient standards. The events in the OT are honestly more controversial.

I would also add, that the revelation contained in the Hindu/Buddhist scriptures is either false (like polytheism) or that which can be known with reason alone (like virtue makes for happiness). In other words, there’s no real revelation being described here. Now, one could level a similar objection against the Old Testament, given that the existence of God, His oneness and the like are also knowable by reason alone, but first of all, there is nothing false in the revelation of the Old Testament, so it cannot be ruled out that it is revealed, and moreover, there are things which cannot be known by reason alone (like the promise of the Redeemer), and the prophecies contained therein, thus the supposition is false.

Also, the many miracles worked in favor the Christian religion, as opposed to the Hindus and Buddhists prove that it is in fact, the revealed religion.

Benedicat Deus,
Latinitas


#11

Y’know, I find it interesting that the author dated Hinduism to the birth of Rama (which he pinpoints to 6000 BC).


#12

Correct.

Also, the many miracles worked in favor the Christian religion, as opposed to the Hindus and Buddhists prove that it is in fact, the revealed religion.

Benedicat Deus,
Latinitas

Not necessarily a proof methinks. Hindus also have quite a number of miracle stories of their own, and so does Buddhists. (Now whether those miracles are real or not is something I’ll leave open here.) By itself, claims of miracles do not authenticate a religion IMHO - otherwise just about every other religion in the world would be ‘true’.


#13

Just my two cents. When we speak about Indian-style ‘atheism’, that’s really various views across the spectrum lumped in a single term. Many varieties of Indian ‘atheism’ isn’t exactly the same as the nihilistic, materialistic modern Western atheism, which flat-out denies the existence of anything that is supernatural. (Now there were supposedly historically one school of Hinduism that taught something like that - schoolCharvaka - though, given that many of their teachings were preserved in the writings and teachings of people opposed to them, it’s hard to say whether the teachings ascribed to them are accurate.) It’s probably more accurate to call these schools ‘non-theistic’

For the most part, ‘atheism’ in an Indian context can either be essentially just the denial in the belief that there is an eternal, supreme being who created the universe or a ‘personal god’, or (in the case of Buddhism) the rejection of the Vedas. (This is really two different terms confusingly translated using the same English word: nirishvara ‘godlessness’ for “atheism” proper, and nastika ‘heterodoxy’ for Veda rejection.) It may not even be an outright denial: it could be just that their philosophy has no real place for an eternal, supreme being or sees it as irrelevant and unimportant (neither confirmed nor denied).

It isn’t necessarily a denial of the existence of supernatural beings - which could include ‘god’-like entities - or supernatural powers or a ‘law’ that regulates the universe (cf. karma). Buddhism for examples, despite being called an ‘atheistic’ philosophy, still believes in the existence of entities like the devas (the (demi) ‘gods’) or asuras or rakshasas.


#14

I do agree that the article is biased. But then again, it’s a Catholic encyclopedia, so, nothing we can do about that. As openmind said: “You can not really study comparative religion by reading only one religion’s view of the other.”

As an aside, It reminded me of an old 19th-century book about Hindu deities. In the book’s preface, the author really lambasts modern Hinduism, accusing it of the usual ‘polytheistic superstition’ and ‘idolatry’ charge and then, claiming that the reason why it became that way is due to the Brahmin priests’ “priestcraft.” He claims that originally, Hinduism was essentially like a proto-Christianity - essentially, a Protestant fantasy of what ‘pure’ Judaeo-Christianity is:

There is reason to believe that, in the earlier periods of time, before the Priests of the Hindoos (sic) had found it expedient for the firmer establishment of their sway over the minds of the people, to raise a huge superstructure of emblematical worship; the temples erected to the Supreme Being were plain and void of personification, dedicated to the Creator of the world, in which the prayers of those who entered, were addressed to the Deity, without supplicating the intercession of an intermediate agent; when no image, or symbol of Divine power, had a place.

This was a common tactic among early modern writers/missionaries tackling Hinduism: they would praise ancient Hindu literature (the Vedas and the Upanishads) claiming that they really represent a sort of proto-Christian - more specifically, proto-Protestant - worldview (belief in one God, a simpler form of worship without all those ‘idols’ and smells and bells :rolleyes:), and then accuse modern Hinduism as being a corruption of that ‘pristine’ philosophy.

I think there’s a whiff of anti-Catholicism in this mentality as well. The author accuses the Brahmins of the same things anti-Catholics accuse the Church of: corrupt, power-hungry priests misleading the innocent flock by turning what was pure and simple into meaningless pomp and ritual, . :shrug:


#15

Some of the writings of Hinduism and Buddhism are accurate – not particularly in their supernatural appeal to people of other faiths, but in this historicity. There are tidbits of historical information: The Buddha, much like Lord Jesus, was a living, breathing person at one point, too!

God bless!


#16

The Buddha is no longer a living person, but Jesus still is!


#17

I should add: yes, while the four Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda) were passed down for about three thousand years with a high degree of fidelity using a complex system of oral memorization techniques (in fact, until fairly recently it was even considered taboo to write the Vedas down*), and while we can assume that the Vedas as they are are handed down reasonably accurately, that doesn’t mean that the transmission was 100% perfect, or that there are absolutely no variants or recensions of the same texts (there are) or changes to the texts along the way.

For an example of ‘alteration’ (not always necessarily intentional), you have for example sound changes.

The Vedas, for example, has mainly come down to us in two main versions: ‘continuous’ recitation (saṃhitā-pātha), the ‘normal’ version that students of the Vedas first learn and the one that is commonly chanted, and the deritative ‘word by word’ recitation (pada-pātha), where the whole text is broken up into its basic components. Let’s say for example, the second verse of the very first hymn of the Rigveda:

“Worthy is Agni [the god of fire] to be praised by living as by ancient seers; he shall bring hitherward the gods.”

Saṃhitā: Aghniḥ pūrvebhir ṛṣibhir īḍyo nūtanair uta / sa devām̐ eha vakṣati
Pada: agniḥ | pūrvebhiḥ | ṛṣi-bhiḥ | īḍyaḥ | nūtanaiḥ | uta | saḥ | devān | ā | iha | vakṣati

You might notice the linguistic phenomenon called *[sandhi]("[I) (saṃdhi) in the saṃhitā version. Sandhi refers to the “combination” of two sounds that sit next to each other. Let’s say, for example the two words synthesis and symbol: both words contain the same prefix syn-, but before the letters ‘b’, ‘m’ and ‘p’ the ‘n’ of syn- changes to ‘m’ due to sandhi (hence ‘symbol’, ‘symmetry’, and ‘sympathy’ versus ‘synthesis’ or ‘synopsis’).

To go back to the example, in the phrase pūrvebhir ṛṣibhir īḍyo nūtanair uta, ‘worthy to be praised by ancient sages (rishis) and present ones’ you could notice sandhi working: -ḥ for example changes to -r, -aḥ to -o.

One way of ensuring that the hymns - the mantras - were passed down accurately was to apply rules of pronunciation and sandhi onto the hymns, which however were not always accurate, and sometimes, even obscured the original meaning. (Which is not necessarily a drawback: in Indian thought, the words themselves, not so much the meaning of the words, are what was important and seen to carry power.)

One of the famous Vedic mantras is the so-called Gayatri mantra. The word gāyatrī refers to a particular Vedic poetic meter: three lines with eight syllables each, which is what the mantra (originally) was. The mantra was originally an invocation to the solar deity Savitr, one of many Vedic gods that have fallen by the wayside in later Hinduism. (So the interesting thing is, Savitr as a god is no longer really worshiped, but the mantra bearing his name continues to have an important position in Hinduism not unlike the Our Father in Christianity.) The mantra goes:

Tat Savitur vareṇyaṃ
bhargo devasya dhīmahi
dhíyo yo naḥ pracodayāt

“May we attain that excellent glory of Savitr the god:
So may he stimulate our prayers.”

Now here’s the thing. The mantra as handed down isn’t completely metrical: the first line has just seven syllables (tat-sa-vi-tur-va-re-ṇyaṃ). It turns out that originally, the word vareṇya would have been pronounced as vareṇiya, thus yielding eight syllables: tat savitur vareṇiyaṃ. The later simplification of -niya to -nya obscured the original poetic meter.

  • For an interesting comparison, ancient Persians/Iranians - who were descended from the same ancestors as the Indo-Aryan peoples of India, the Indo-Iranian nomads - once had the same sentiment towards the sacred hymns of Zoroastrianism (which are in Avestan, a language - or rather two different dialects of the same language - closely related to Sanskrit, the sacred language of the Indo-Aryans; in fact, Avestan is closer to the ancient Sanskrit of the Vedas than Vedic Sanskrit is to later Sanskrit).

Zoroastrian priests at first considered writing to be the domain of ‘barbarians’ (three thousand years ago, only their Semitic neighbors really wrote down stuff) and insisted at first on passing down their knowledge orally, even after the Persians had developed their own writing system. Compared to Indians however, the Persians adopted the idea writing down a sacred text fairly quickly; by the 3rd-4th century, Zoroastrian sacred texts were already being written down. However, at the same time, they made sure that the text represented the sounds of Avestan (as it was passed down in their time) accurately.*


#18

Not necessarily a proof methinks. Hindus also have quite a number of miracle stories of their own, and so does Buddhists. (Now whether those miracles are real or not is something I’ll leave open here.) By itself, claims of miracles do not authenticate a religion IMHO - otherwise just about every other religion in the world would be ‘true’.

Good point. The claims themselves must be examined. Further, the rational mind would need to determine if the context and miracle event were consonant with the supreme being.

The Judaeo/Christian GOD has established miracles as a Divine signature. So they must be studied carefully whenever encountered for authenticity.


#19

It means the Buddha have no soul? :whistle:


#20

the Word of God is never primordially correct, rather eternally true, and essentially correct.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.