Wednesday, January 27, 2010
If you are a Christian, by definition you believe in God. But the real question is about the nature of the God you believe in. One of the four seals of Buddhism is that Nirvana is beyond all concepts. Similarly, for Buddhist Christians and for many other Christians, Jews, and Muslims, God is beyond all concepts. We can’t talk about God with any accuracy and neither can the Bible. Talk about God is talk about people’s experiences with what they label as God. For me, believing in God means believing that the universe is good and that there is a way of knowing this that is beyond our ability to describe it using language. That is the best I can do with language. (I will have more to say about what “good” means later)
Monday, January 18, 2010
In a comment I was asked if I had read "What Makes You Not a Buddhist"? by Dzongsar. I will read it (because it looks good) but in the mean time I got some of it off the web here. Although I'm not sure all Buddhists would agree with this it seems right to me. Basically, according to this, you are a Buddhist if you believe in the 4 seals, which are (1) all compound things are impermanent, (2) all emotions are pain, (3) all things have no inherent existence, and (4) Nirvana is beyond all concepts. As Dzongsar notes, the comprehension of the 4 seals is the tea, everything else: the practices, the rituals, etc., are the cup. However, it is important to note that the terms used in the 4 seals are translated and do not have exactly the same meaning as the english words used in translation. For example the (Tibetan) Buddhist concept of emotion is very different from what we normally mean by emotion in the west (e.g., see Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion by Paul Ekman and the Dalai Lama). I'll try to post some more on this issue, but properly understood I don't think holding any of these beliefs precludes being a Christian. In fact, the metaphor of the tea and the cup is very helpful in understanding how someone can be a Buddhist Christian. If we think of a chalice for the Christian religion then we can see that the same substance can be held by a cup or a chalice. The cup and the chalice are there to hold a substance and allow us to drink it in. Being a Buddhist Christian means understanding that the cup and chalice contain the same thing.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Having a good inner life is the goal for Buddhism and Christianity that is monastic or leans in that direction. The relationship between the inner life and the outer life is an interesting issue. What I think is that the outer life has a coarse effect on the inner life and the inner life has a subtle effect on the outer life. If your outer life is bad (e.g., bad actions, bad thoughts, too much stress, etc.) your inner life cannot be developed. This is why both Buddhism and Christianity stress the need for a moral life. As your inner life develops it transforms how you experience life. This is its own reward but it should also have subtle effects on your outer life. That is, when you are done meditating or contemplating you should be calmer and more peaceful in your outer life. However, I think it is possible to get some very profound mind states in meditation that do not have an effect on your outer life. I’ll call these mind effects to distinguish them from inner life. Mind effects are probably a sign your on the right track to developing an inner life but they are not the same thing and it is possible to get stuck on them. A good strategy therefore is to regard any positive inner state you achieve as good, but not the real deal (I suspect that fully realized Saints and Bodhisattvas continue to believe this – e.g., Saint Francis frequently made statements along these lines). Another really important point is that a good inner life will not necessarily lead to a less problematic outer life. It will lead to a more principled and compassionate outer life, but that can actually get you in a lot of trouble (Jesus is a good example but there are lots of others). The inner life is undertaken as its own reward and as a way of helping others, which feeds back to strengthen your inner life. Also, having an inner life gives you a place to go when you need a break from problems in your outer life.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
In my job as a professor I have to practice good scholarship, but if I do that in this blog it will be too much like work. So I'm just going to write based on things that I've read without referencing them for the most part. I'll try to make a list of my main sources in the book list at the bottom