Saturday, January 19, 2013

Imagery

Imagery is very powerful in religion. In this blog I try to synthesize the beliefs of Buddhism and Christianity with words but it also needs to be done visually. Buddhist Christians can arrange Buddhist and Christian images and items together for their meditation space in a way that is personally meaningful. I have seen this done in a number of places. Even my Grandmother, who was a deeply devout anglican and would not have been comfortable with this blog, kept a very small statue of Guanyin, a female Chinese Buddha, known as the Goddess of Mercy, on her fireplace along with all of her Christian imagery. I asked her about it and she just said she liked it. I think she liked the sense of calm Buddhist peacefulness portrayed in the tiny statue. Here are two images from the web




Prayer


Asking God or Jesus for things makes no sense. Why would an all powerful, all wise being be influenced by our whining and begging. The asking actually benefits ourselves. By asking for something that is in line with the will of God we sync ourselves to the will of God. Asking or begging for things that we just really want, attachments, should bring us to this realization eventually through the absurdity of the act, but still, it is human nature so we need to work with it constantly. So we keep asking. In Asia, many buddhists pray to the buddha and ask for things they want, even though that makes no sense either. In both Christianity and Buddhism, the end point- God or enlightenment - is mysterious to us, but in both cases the practices that lead there are aimed at letting go of attachments. Buddhism is more explicit about it but I think it is obvious in the mystical teachings of Christianity. Both Buddhism and Christianity have a lower form that involves begging for things you want and being good in order to get what you want - ultimately a spot in heaven or a favorable rebirth. Believing literally in this lower stuff results in fundamentalism and the problems that always follow. However, if done with a knowledge of the absurdity of it all, these practices help us to live with the part of ourselves that is neurally wired to think in this way. In particular, in a crisis, these practices may be essential for coping. Praying for things does not cause God to give you those things, but if the prayer is out of compassion then it is good, in and of itself and it is heard in some way. Expressing beliefs about fairness and being heard are two very human needs, but they will not help in a crisis. Prayer can fulfill the need to be heard and let us get on to dealing with the actual problem

Redemptive Suffering


Redemptive suffering is the Roman Catholic belief that human suffering, when accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, can remit the just punishment for one's sins or for the sins of another. Like an indulgence, redemptive suffering does not gain the individual forgiveness for their sin; forgiveness results from God’s grace, freely given through Christ, which cannot be earned. After one's sins are forgiven, the individual's suffering can reduce the penalty due for sin. (From Wikipedia).

I was just just watching a debated between Richard Dawkins and a Catholic clergy from Australia and the issue of redemptive suffering came up. The concept of redemptive suffering is very close to the concept of merit in Buddhism. When it comes to lowering suffering, Buddhists start with themselves, and attempt to lower their own level of ignorance, which is the cause of suffering. In Buddhism it is believed that you should be as concerned with the suffering of others as you are with the suffering of yourself, but that you need to lower your own level of ignorance first, otherwise your attempts to lower the suffering of others will be just as likely to cause more suffering. A similar sentiment was expressed by Jesus when he pointed out that you should first remove things (logs!!???!!) from your own eye before trying to remove things from other people's eyes. This is good advice, there are many examples in Christianity of well meaning people causing great suffering by trying to "save" others, although in Buddhism it can also be (wrongly) used as an excuse to ignore the the suffering of others and to engage in a selfish (and fruitless) practice.

In Buddhism, when you have successfully lowered the suffering of yourself or another, you generate merit. Merit is used to lower the the suffering that has been banked by karma every time you acted to increase suffering in the world. It is the punishment that is in store for you for sinning (I.e., missing the mark because you acted out of ignorance). At the end of meditation, after somewhat lowering their own level of suffering, Buddhists can offer the merit that was generated to lower the suffering of others. Likewise, when a Buddhist suffers through an event without reacting out of ignorance (i.e., by loosing faith in the Dharma) they generate merit, which reduces their karmic debt.

Although both Buddhism and Christianity use an accounting metaphor, this metaphor should not be taken literally. The key is to accept the situation you are in that is causing the suffering, because you are in it and it cannot be otherwise. This will get rid of suffering due to not accepting the will of God This is sometimes referred to as the suffering of suffering in Buddhism. Basically, you’re in a bad place and stewing over whether or not that is just or right will make your suffering worse and cause you to act out of ignorance and generate more suffering. This is not easy but through practice you can get better at it and increasingly enjoy the benefits of being able to access joy and peace in the midst of suffering. The Passion of Christ is a very powerful model for this, but it is important to understand it in the right way. Jesus did not want to be crucified and prayed for a way out. Suffering is to be avoided if possible, not sought out. Remaining calm in the midst of suffering more often than not increases your likelihood of finding a way out and not making it worse. In Zen they say, plan not worry. In other words, be calm and try to find the best solution