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Archive for March, 2006

Why do I enjoy reading Christian Commentaries on other religions? It’s like a fetish of mine. Half the time it is simply bigoted tripe written by a hothead (I can see his eyes glazed over with that blissful sheen that is the purview of the fanatic). Other times, it is sincerely written to “help” the masses (and if we add a dose of guilt for having previously gone astray on the part of the author, then it adds to the saleability of the prose).

Anyhow, I have taken the following text from the website : http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aiia/letter-buddhisminterview.html

Maybe by the time I’m done, I’ll have found some real work to do.

I have placed his questions in quotes and my answers are preceeded by >>>>>>>>>’s

“There are an estimated 500+ million adherents of Buddhism in the world, with up to two million here in America. But whether you’re Buddhist or not–just in the interest of further dialogue–we’d invite your response to the following.

If there is no personal God, and if one can attain nirvana only as a result of the destruction of thirst (tanha) / desire, therefore the destruction of attachment, therefore the destruction of existence–from whence, do you suppose, did personality (or even the sense of personality) ever come? Exactly what is it, and where does it go when one ceases to exist?”

>>>>>>>>>>>You are confusing the “ego,” “personality,” and “soul.” The soul is the true person, a finite aspect of the infinite (God). Ego is believing that you are the thoughts inside your head. Ego is also insane attachment to the physical. When you “go to heavan,” or become unified with God, it is not as we are now. That would be a blasphemy in itself… Imagine the fool in the highest heavans going on and on inside his mind, “oh my, did I leave the oven On.. gee, I hope my robe looks okay.. is that Ghandi? I should go say hi.”

“Without a personal God, on what basis can there ever exist any human moral standard or ethic–and therefore, in what sense do you mean for us to understand the terms noble and truth, i.e. The Four Noble Truths, or the term right in the eight-fold path of right views, resolve, speech, conduct, occupation, efforts, awareness, and meditation?”

>>>>>>>>>>>>Buddhism does allow for God. Buddhism has heavans and hells. Buddhism has saints and Buddhism will point at the delusional and say that they need compassion. In Buddhism compassion is the highest thing, right up at the top with “truth.” A standard of right and wrong is easily accessable as soon as a person believes that he reaps what he sows. This is one of the most basic facts in Buddhism, and is commonly referred to as the law of Karma. I believe that this relationship between actions and effects has been realized by all religions throughout all time.

“If your teaching, which came on the scene in the sixth century B.C., alone represents truth and liberation–what provision was there for the millions who lived previous to the advent of your enlightenment and teaching? Why do you suppose that you, of all humankind, were the one to come on this insight when you did?”

>>>>>>>>>>>>Buddhism is not usually an exclusivist religion. There may be sects which say that Buddhism is the one true path, but an oft cited trope within Buddhism is, “all paths lead to enlightenment.”

“If, as you are reported to have said, nirvana is “beyond…good and evil”, then, in the ultimate sense, there is really no difference between Hitler and Mother Theresa, or between helping an old lady across the street and running her down–correct?”

>>>>>>>>>>>>”There is no difference between Hitler and Mother Theresa” is correct in the sense that we are all engaged in Karma which has its root in the divine. In our universe, everything has a cause. The supreme cause is God. All that occurs has its root through some or another permutation of the initiating force of God. Surely not one thing could exist without God. Consider also that horrible things (like the recent flood in New Orleans) happen all the time, and presumeably God could simply bring them to an end at will. However, He does not. Instead we have a rather complicated material world with a lot of ‘bad’ things happening which we do not, as finite beings, usually understand. One aspect of Nirvana would be that we have become united with God enough that this complicated flow makes sense to us, and we can see the Divine Will expressed through everything from Mother Theresa to Hitler. Then we would clearly understand why God didn’t stop Hitler before he killed all those Jews, Christians, Gays, Gypsys and so on.

“Thich Nhat Hanh, bodhisattva (holy man) and author of Living Buddha, Living Christ © 1995 by Riverhead Books, attempts to homogenize Buddhism and Christianity. Though you never knew of Jesus Christ, it would seem that you too might suggest that one could conceivably be a “Christian Buddhist”. Yet how could that ever be possible given Christianity’s categorical differences with Buddhism on matters like the nature of sin, reincarnation, and salvation–to name just a few. Jesus claimed to be the Truth. The Christian Scripture says that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12″

>>>>>>>>>>>>Refer to my answer two questions above where I state that “all paths lead to enlightenment.” One could be a practicing Buddhist and Christian and with defference to Christianity when a conflict is percieved. This would not affect one’s status as a Buddhist. So far as I can tell, Christianity and Buddhism cross paths at higher levels. Christian saints will describe the kind of surrender to God that we find at somewhat more pedestrian levels of Buddhism. Buddhist saints will describe the sense of holiness and dedication to sacred service that some everyday Christians describe. Perhaps the religions could learn something worthwhile from each other.

“How do you feel about the many variations of your teaching that have evolved down through the years? Please comment on Theravada (38%), Mahayana (56%), Tantrism or Vajranaya, Tibetan (6%; Dalai Lama), and Zen Buddhism?”

>>>>>>>>>>>>As Christianity varied a lot depending on where it was practiced, so too has Buddhism evolved differently in different parts of the world. Mahayana Buddhism was an evangelical tradition that spread into China by about the time of Christ. Chineese religions usually incoporate elements from folks beliefs and “whatever works” in a very practical sense (this was observed by Christian Jesuit monks in the middle ages who conceited that asking Chineese to abandon all their syncretic traditions would be to ask them to no longer be Chineese). Tibetan Buddhism is an offshoot of Mahayana, where the Dalai Lama is considered to be the incarnation of Kuan Yin. Tantraism and Vajranaya, I believe, emphasize doing things which are “Buddha-Like” in order to avoid the foolishness of the commenting mind. As for how the Buddha feels about all this? The Zen Buddhist would answer, “peaceful.”

“Chuck Stanford says: “Like cloudy water, our minds are basically pure and clear, but sometimes they become cloudy from the storms of discursive thoughts. Just like water, if we let our minds sit undisturbed the mud and muck will eventually settle to the bottom. Once this happens we can begin to get in touch with our basic goodness. It is through this basic goodness that the Buddha discovered that we can lead sane lives.” But, Mr. Gautama, what if you are wrong about our being basically good? The Bible says that we’re conceived in sin. What if there is a personal God to whom we will all one day answer? What if your enlightenment (awakening) was really only a dream?”

>>>>>>>>>>>>Buddhism emphasizes objectivity. Your senses are clouded by your preferences and your concepts. When you see a sign for a Wendy’s restaurant, you pile on all your ideas of what that sign is so quickly that you don’t see what is there, the way a child would. All you see is an idea. Moreover, if you want a Hambuger and I give you a Hamburger, you experience satisfaction, in part, because your preference is being assented too. If I refuse you the Hamburger, you experience your preference being denied. When do you actually experience eating a hamburger? Once you are not clouded by preference and concept, then you know what it is to eat a hamburger. Buddhism asks no one to take belief blindly. You are encouraged, if not required, to determine the answers to your questions through direct observation. Without preference as to whether or not there is a God, and withour piling all your concepts of what God is or is not, you would be in a far better position to determine whether there is a personal God to whom we will all one day answer, and he’s an evangelical Christian, and sends everyone to hell who isn’t also of the same type.

>>>>>>>>>>>>If I am to answer your question more directly I’ll have to point out that it reduces discussions of the divine to game theory. Philosophers debate that if there is a Christian God, and we believe in Him as the Bible supposedly requires us to, then we are in good shape. But if there is a God and we don’t do whatever we’re supposed to then we suffer. And if it turns out that there was no God all along, then our Christian faith has cost us nothing. I think this is an insult to genuine people of any faith.

“In the film Beyond Rangoon Laura’s guide says that the (Buddhist) Burmese expect suffering, not happiness. When happiness comes, it is to be enjoyed as a gift, but with the awareness that it will soon certainly pass. If the ultimate Buddhist hope is to just leave the present wheel of birth and rebirth and enter into the ineffable bliss of Nirvana, where is the motivation to do good, and to actively oppose injustice, in this present life?”

>>>>>>>>>>>>As one becomes more sane and enlightened, one also becomes more aware of the unity of life. Compassion plays a very important role in Buddhism, and compassion stems from seeing our connectedness with each other. True compassion can never come from a commandment to do good, but only from right perception. When one sees the Godliness and the beauty in each, compassion naturally arises.

How do we reconcile the Dalai Lama’s observation that “Every human being has the potential to create happiness”, with your own teaching that suffering is caused by desire? If one sets out to resist desire, why would one ever then entertain the desire for happiness, and thus work to create it?

>>>>>>>>>>>>”Desire” would be better translated as “Craving.” In other words, most people run around like a mouse inside a maze, just trying to get to the piece of cheese they want. Other people, spend their lives trying to avoid the electric plates in the maze. A very small few people have no preference as to whether they move towards what they want, or away from what they don’t want: They can do both equally. A still smaller group of people realizes that they are truly a human soul, and that all this craving is senseless and causes the suffering that they experience. These people have the capacity to be motivated solely by compassion, love, honor, and Godliness, without craving interfering.

Personal Trivia: Did you really sit under that bo tree for seven full days–without ever eating any figs? Did your remarkably sensitive, compassionate, nature come more from your mother or father? How did your son, left to grow up without a father, feel about your “Great Renunciation”?

>>>>>>>>>>>>Tradition has it that after Sidhartha returned, he radiated with the light of enlightenment, and his wife and son joined him in renounciation. Of course, during the twelve years he was gone, they would have been well taken care of, since his son was of royal lineage.

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