The Challenge to Buddhism

The relevance of Buddhism in the modern world.

Table of Contents


The Challenge to Buddhism (PDF)

The Challenge to Buddhism (epub)

The Challenge to Buddhism

The Challenge to Buddhism

‘‘What I would really like to do is
to rewrite the message of our classics
with their penetrating clarity and insight
into the basic principles of a wholesome life
in a new, young idiomatic language’’.

Vijayalakshmi Pandit


A certain Western writer, Mrs. Gertrude Garatt, while speaking on Buddhism, once said: ‘‘It will not be possible ever to say in regard to Buddhism that it is worn out because it is rooted upon certain fixed principles that can never be altered’’.

But it is a pity that even today some Western writers on Buddhism and their eastern followers seem to consider Buddhism to be a cult suited for a dreamy people of a dark age. Either due to their ignorance or to their prejudice they do not see that the doctrines of Buddhism have anticipated in a remarkable way many of the conclusions of modern science.

Buddhism is entirely divorced from blind belief and superstition and its naturalism and humanism have a vital message for our times, an age of scepticism, of rapid revolutionary ideas.

It is true its philosophy seems too profound and difficult even for the intellectuals, yet its ethical principles are easy for any practical man or woman both to understand, follow and also apply to his or her every day life very successfully.

Here we are very glad to see Mr. H. G. A. van Zeyst coming forward to solve some problems in connection with Buddhism and remove some misunderstandings about it. The author sets forth in form of a booklet some of his Radio lectures, in which his skill places him above most of present day exponents of Buddhism. Those who could not listen to his Radio lectures will be very happy to have an opportunity to get them in a book form so that they could read and re-read and make them food for their thoughts.

B. Ānandamaitreya,
Mahanayaka Thera.

Author’s Preface

All over the world, this twentieth century has seen already---perhaps more than any other earlier century---such a considerable amount of rethinking in the different spheres of politics, religion and philosophy, that many people have stopped thinking altogether, as they are not able to keep pace with the rate of changing values, which has usually resulted in a religious devaluation.

A demoralising attitude is frequently experienced as the effect of some uncontrollable catastrophe, when people either expect the end of the world to be near, or fatalistically surrender themselves to the total collapse of economic and other values.

Has Buddhism---the basic Buddhism of the four Noble Truths with its chief three characteristics, its doctrine of karma and rebirth, of dependent origination and cessation---has Buddhism still value in this present world, where even so-called truth is sold at competitive rates, and religion is being peddled from door to door as if it were toothpaste?

The fact that some people entertain this kind of doubt is a healthy sign, for it proves that they are still alive and prepared to kick, if it is worth while. But the challenges are so many, that one is almost sure to lose the battle on some front or other.

That was the challenge presented to me by a friend of mine of many years, speaking on behalf of several fellow travellers. The challenges of modern society, of local and international politics, of economic values, of advancing science, of ethical behaviour, of modern philosophy, of psychological attitudes, are indeed formidable challenges to outdated forms of religion. Do we need the introduction of pop music in church service? Do we need to make religion attractive to our youth who are just bored? Should we make religion appealing enough for those who want excitement? Do we want a reformed Buddhism?

I have taken up the challenge on behalf of Buddhism in a series of eight radio talks, delivered over the National Service of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation in January-February 1970. The Director General of Broadcasting realised the importance of continuity in such a series; and so it happened that the series became a weekly event. From April 1970 on, these talks were published fortnightly in the Radio Times with a circulation of 32,000 copies. And still letters kept pouring in for greater publicity.

Here is the answer, which was made possible by donations towards the printing costs, but mainly by the personal interest and effort of my friend Tissa W. de S. Amarasekera, who was also my first challenger in this connection. Those who appreciate these talks should be grateful to him and to all who contributed to the success of this publication.

H. G. A. Van Zeyst
December, 1970

Table of Contents