Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

What’s In a Name

August 13, 2013

Here is another picture I saw on Facebook.

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The sentiment here is that all of the various religions are essentially the same and therefore we shouldn’t fight over religious differences because they are not really very important. Well, we shouldn’t fight over religious differences not because they are unimportant, but because no one has ever discovered the truth or been convinced by people shouting past one another.

In a superficial sense, the sentiment expressed by this picture is true. Most of the great religions have rather similar expectations on how people ought to be behave. They all preach variations on statements like, “do not kill”, “do not steal”, “treat others as you would want to be treated”, and others. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. If right and wrong really exist and are not merely social conventions then you might expect people all over the world to have similar rules, even if they seldom follow them. As the apostle Paul stated,

14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.                (Romans 2:14-16)

Actually, religion is not really about morality. You can be a moral person of any faith or of no faith at all, if the law is truly written on human hearts. Religion is about approaching or coming to know God, again as Paul says,

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring. (Acts 17:22-28)

This is another way in which the sentiment expressed in the picture is superficially true. All of the great religions teach that there is something more than the material world that we sense. In most cases they teach that there is a god or gods or some divine principle that rules the universe and is the source of all goodness.

In the more profound sense, however, the sentiment that all religions are essentially the same is simply not true. Every religious tradition makes claims about the nature of the divine principle and these claims tend to be exclusive ones. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in one God, but Jews and Muslims are uncompromising monotheists with a simple view of God as One. The Christian view is more complicated involving three Persons in one Godhood, with one of the Persons becoming a man named Jesus. Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet but deny his divinity. Jews reject both Jesus and Mohammed as prophets. Muslims also regard the Christians and Jews as having corrupted their holy texts while their Koran is the true Word of God. Many Hindus believe in many gods but also believe that the many are one universal spirit. Many Hindus believe otherwise as it it is a diverse religion. Buddhists are unconcerned about gods seeking to liberate themselves from the cycle of rebirth and suffering, but many Buddhists worship traditional deities. There are many other beliefs. They cannot all be true.

Do these differences matter? I think they do. If religion is a means of coming to know the creator of the universe, then we had better have accurate information about Him. If I decided to travel to California, I had better go west. If I go north or south or east, I’ll never get there. If I decide to fly to California, I’ll get there quickly. Driving will take a little longer. Walking would take a very long time, weeks or months, assuming I manage to get there at all. If I decide to go to Australia, I am going to have to fly in an airplane, or go by boat. I cannot drive or walk to Australia, no matter how much I might want to.  In like fashion, if I want to know about God, I should try to go in the right direction and take the right means of travel. Some might say that is doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere. Well, I could sincerely believe that I could get to Australia by walking north. I would be sincerely wrong and never reach Australia.

So, does God care what name we call Him? Perhaps not, but He does want us to know Him and He does want to save us from our own sins and bad decisions. If the Christian beliefs are correct, then God is good, infinitely good, and we humans are not. By our nature and our actions, we have estranged ourselves from God and there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves with him. Fortunately, He has provided a means by which we can be reconciled by the sacrifice of His Son. The problem with all the other religions as well as that vague sentiment that all religions are equal is that by following their precepts, we may come to believe that we can approach God and be saved by our own efforts, through rituals, good deeds and the like. God is infinitely good however, and He is not likely to be impressed by anything we do. As Isaiah wrote,

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; (Isaiah 64:6)

Or, to put it a little less dramatically, no matter how good we think we are, next to God we aren’t really very good at all. We cannot save ourselves. We have to trust in God to save us.

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The Religion of the Samurai

May 5, 2013
Cover of "The Religion of the Samurai: A ...

Cover via Amazon

 

The Religion of the Samurai by Kaiten Nukariya is somewhat misnamed in that this book does not really deal with the religious beliefs or practices of Japan’s warrior class. Rather, this is a book about the Buddhist sect known as Zen that many of that class followed. There are many Buddhist sects or denominations practiced in Japan and the Zen Buddhism has had a wide following beyond the Samurai, yet somehow Zen has become especially associated with the Samurai and with Japan generally.

 

Zen Buddhism is part of that branch of Buddhism known as the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) or Northern school, as opposed to the Theravada (Teaching of the Elders) or Southern school of Buddhism. Zen Buddhism is distinguished from other Buddhist sects by the belief in sudden, inspired enlightenment through meditation and personal instruction from a teacher. Zen Buddhist deemphasizes the study of scripture and doctrine, holding that enlightenment cannot be truly described by dead words in books. Even the instructor does not so much teach truths or beliefs as encourage the student to experience enlightenment on his own.

 

The Religion of the Samurai is a short book, only about 160 pages in print, but it covers the subject fairly well. The book was written a century ago, but the basic facts about Zen Buddhism haven’t changed and the book does not seem to be out of date, except for a few expressions here and there. The author begins with a quick and very general survey of both major schools of Buddhism before moving to the beginnings of Zen or Ch’an in China, placing the origins within the Mahayanist context. He goes on to tell of the transmission of Zen to Japan and the sect’s influence on Japanese history and culture.

 

The bulk of this short book is taken up with an attempt to explain the teachings of Zen. I say attempt not because the author is unsuccessful, but because by Zen’s own teachings, it is impossible to fully understand Zen without experiencing it. Still, Mr. Nukariya does an adequate job explaining Zen’s views on the nature of the universe, human nature, good and evil, and Enlightenment and its attainment. There are a few faults, though. The Kindle version of this book is not well formatted and the footnotes are interspersed in the main text. This problem may have been corrected in later versions of the ebook. I also noticed that the author tends to disparage other Buddhist sects; especially those of the Theravada school, which he, along with many other Mahayanists refer to as Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle). This is not really a fault, but it should be noted that Mr. Nukariya was promoting Zen with this book, not providing an unbiased account.

 

 

 

I can recommend this book to anyone wishing for an introduction to this fascinating religion.

 

 

 

The Dalai Lama

June 19, 2011

I’ve never been much of an admirer of the Dalai Lama. This is not because he is the leader of a major sect of Tibetan Buddhism, but because I have always wondered what kind of ruler of Tibet he would have been if he were not in exile. Although I cannot condone the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet, I don’t imagine that the theocracy of the Dalai Lamas was exactly a paradise either. Tibet was a backward,  feudal country. I doubt very much of the Dalai Lama would have been a force for democracy or reform.

It would seem that his holiness is an admirer of Marxism. It might seem strange that he would have anything good to say about the ideology of the country that drove him into exile but he seems to feel that Marxism has moral ethics while capitalism is only about profits.

I will quote some of the comments of Mark Stuertz from whom I got this story.

So how can the Dalai Lama possibly square his pleas for nonviolence toward “all sentient beings” with Marxism? His answer: Marxism has moral ethics, as opposed to capitalism, which is all about profits.

Let’s chew on that for a moment. Virtually every socio-political movement has some noble ambition — some set of ethics — that can be teased from its viscera. The Nazi Party platform, for example, contains calls for equal rights, profit-sharing, national health care, pensions, education access, employment opportunities, and the rights of citizens to select political leaders and make laws.

By implication, isn’t the Dalai Lama saying these are sufficient grounds to legitimize, exonerate — even embrace — Nazism? And if not, why not?

It’s one thing to promote cooperation and egalitarianism. It’s quite another to publicly endorse a specific ideology that espouses such goals but consistently delivers a dramatically different outcome. According to The Black Book of Communism, Marxist regimes over the 20th century systematically slaughtered between 85 and 100 million people. Millions more were terrorized, tortured, and enslaved. And these atrocities were not breaches of practical Marxist orthodoxy — they were critical elements of Marxist statecraft. Terror tactics and atrocities, The Black Book’s authors point out, are found in every regime claiming to be Marxist in origin.

The Marxist-Communist record is “the most colossal case of political carnage in history.” It represents the triumph of inhumanity over compassion on an unprecedented scale. How can this Nobel Peace Prize winner embrace a political ideology in theory without any consideration of its effects in practice? Is this mindful?

Buddhism, perhaps more than any of the other major religions, places special emphasis on compassion. It is incumbent upon the Buddhist to strive for mindfulness and compassion in all circumstances. Essential to this striving is the cultivation of an awareness of how ego aggressively disrupts mindfulness and compassion while denying the impermanence of existence. These aggressive disruptions cause suffering.

There is perhaps no other realm that engorges, fattens, and unleashes the aggressiveness of ego and its handmaiden, suffering, quite like the political realm. Yet the Dalai Lama doesn’t seem to consider this. He makes no mention of Marxism’s glaring internal contradictions. He glosses over how it fails to consider humanity as it is: beset with the confusion and ignorance of ego. He disregards the critical component Marxism requires to function successfully: a mythical human, one free of self-interest.

That’s why, for all of its seductive allure — its appeal to ego — Marxism has proved impossible to peacefully implement.

He has more to say and his article is worth reading. I will just add that it is the big ideas, Marxism, socialism, Fascism, etc that have caused so much suffering in the world. That is, the idea that all of society must conform to an ideology that will, of course, make everything perfect for everyone, if only everyone does as they are told. Capitalism may indeed be all about profits, and greed, and so on, but it is also about leaving people alone to make their own lives as they see fit. What people like the Dalai Lama will never see is that that is the morally superior system.


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