Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bad Buddhists, Persecuted Christians

In this story, Christians are being beaten and persecuted by Buddhists. I don't know the background but it is definitely the case that having a Buddhist cultural background is no guarantee that you will be a good Buddhist. Homogeneous cultures often include belief in a single religion. In these cases, religion gets very confused with culture. For example, people often confuse Arabic culture with Islam. In Asia, some culturally homogenous Buddhist groups can be quite intolerant and even racist. One of the advantages of Buddhist Christianity is that it forces one to sort out what is culture and what is the essence of the religion

Strange stuff

An article warning Christians not to practice yoga because of its connections to Buddhism and Hinduism


Crazy advice for Christians dating Buddhists


Monday, September 20, 2010

The Restaurant Theory of Religion

Here is a question put to the Dalai Lama (from http://hhdl.dharmakara.net/hhdlquotes2.html)
Q: Do you think it is possible to be both Christian and Buddhist at the same time?
A: I ... [previoiusly--see later] replied to this question indirectly when I said that belief in a Creator could be associated with the understanding of emptiness. I believe it is possible to progress along a spiritual path and reconcile Christianity with Buddhism. But once a certain degree of realization has been reached, a choice between the two paths will become necessary. I recently gave a series of teachings in the United States and one of these teachings was about patience and tolerance. At the end there was a ceremony for taking the Bodhisattva Vows. A Christian priest who was in the audience wanted to take these vows. I asked him if he had the right to, and he replied that yes, of course, he could take these vows and still remain a Christian.

I think this is a reasonable answer, especially if we understand that "a certain degree of realization" means a considerably advanced state compared to the average practitioner. To be a monk, for example, would require choosing a dominant practice, since you would be engaged in that practice all day long. However, even at that point it would still be possible, and I think beneficial, to understand how another path could lead in the same direction.

However, there is another sense in which religions should not be mixed. Traditional religions, such as Buddhism and Christianity, are associated with a lot of art, music, story, ritual, architecture, philosophy, etc. These go together and make an artistic whole that can promote strong religious experiences. In this sense, religions are like different types of food. Very few people would mix Italian and Chinese food in the same meal because it would wreak the flavours. But it is OK to go for Italian food one night and Chinese food on another night. It is also OK to favour one food over another. For example, in China, most people eat Chinese food every day, but I also noticed that a lot of people (in China) like to go for a pizza every once in a while.

Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from MeatSharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

End of days

Another similarity between Christianity and Buddhism is a sense of urgency. Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven being immanent. By this I think he means two things - (1) that we are literally close to it, that it is a state that we can touch on now, and (2) that life is very short so we have only a short time to transform ourselves to live in the kingdom, both now and after death (more on the meaning of the afterlife in another blog). Buddhism also takes this point of view. Dogen said life is like bolt of lightning, meaning it is over very quickly. Again in Buddhism we see a pressure to transform before it is too late, to achieve enlightenment in this life. Like with the attitude toward family we see a break here with older religions such as Judaism and Hinduism (note I'm not saying they don't have this but that it is not emphasized as much)

So life is short and meditation and (real) prayer are hard. Therefore there is an urgency in these paths

It is true, the world, this world, will end, when you die. This is often symbolically portrayed in stories about the end of the world, such as Revelation. These are stories about the fact that you will die and the people you love will die. It is also the case that our civilization could end due to natural disaster and/or our own folly (e.g., nuclear war, global warming). This has happened in the past and we can realistically imagine it happening in the future. So these stories are also cautionary tales about the fragility of our society. Also, because we are social animals we care about others sometimes as much or more than we do about ourselves. These stories are also about the others that we love and reminders not to take our relationships for granted because they can disappear with no notice.

The point of the end of days is to focus on the now and on what's important. Treating such stories as if they truly portray the events leading to the end of the world is a complete waste of your short time on earth and can actually be dangerous. You might as well believe that Arnold Shwarzenegger movies are true. Here are two accounts of the end of the world with the same title and equal credibility.

End of DaysThe End of Days: Armageddon and Prophecies of the Return (The Earth Chronicles)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Leave your family

One similarity between Jesus and the Buddha was that both advocated leaving your family. The Buddha actually did leave his family, including wife and child, to seek enlightenment, although when his son was old enough he had him join him as a monk. Jesus had his family around him and they played an important role in the early church, but he was clear that family ties meant nothing to him and were not to be regarded as important. One clue about this comes from the Buddha's advice to an untouchable (the lowest class in Hinduism) who wanted to follow him. Because the boy had two younger siblings that he supported (they were orphans), the Buddha requested that he wait until they were able to support themselves and then join him (which he did). This shows that, although family has no special meaning, we should be compassionate toward our families. We are all in situations where, due to our relationships, we have much more influence over some people than others. Life (or karma) presents us with certain opportunities where our actions, compassionate or otherwise, have a much bigger effect. Therefore, we have to treat these situations with extra care. Family can be viewed in this way. It is an opportunity where compassionate actions can have a profound effect. However, it is also the case that family can oppress and damage individuals. In the past, the family you were born into determined most things and you were stuck with it. Becoming a monk or a nun was, for most people, the only way out, which was important since families can be controlling and abusive. Now many of us have the option of divorce if things are not working out. Officially, the Catholic Church does not believe in divorce. Given Jesus's attitude toward family, I do not think this is right, especially when abuse is involved. To a certain degree it is admirable to tolerate personal suffering out of compassion for others. In families this often happens when two parents do not get along but stay together for the sake of the children. However, this type of situation is very tenuous, and requires careful judgement. If the effect of this on one or both parents can no longer be hidden from the children then it is time to move on.

So here is my understanding of this - Family is not important but compassion is. Therefore we should make decisions concerning family based on compassion and not fixed views about what a family should be.

Old Path White Clouds is a beautiful book by Thich Nhat Hanh that describes the Buddha's entire life
Family Guy - funny but not recommended for kids

Family Guy, Vol. 7Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha