One City

One City


Buddhism is Not A Religion Part 3: The Truth Shall Set You Free

posted by Jerry Kolber

Jerry Kolber is an award-winning film and TV producer and writer and is on the board of directors of The Interdependence Project.  Past projects include Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Eden Myth, and Inked.  Upcoming projects include Bank of Mom and Dad (Fall 2010), and The Tunnel, a National Geogrpahic documentary about the search for a train, the truth, and John Wilkes Booth diary.  Jerry is also a regular contributor to the renegade food revolution at www.ThreeDollarDinner.com.You can follow Jerry on Twitter at  http://twitter.com/JerryKolber.

Before continuing, a moment of shameless self-promotion. Tonight (Wednesday, September 10th) at 10PM Eastern a project I am very proud of premieres on SoapNet, a channel many of you may receive on your cable or satellite subscription.  The show is called Bank of Mom and Dad and takes a look at over-consumption, financial advice, and getting real about life situations through the window of young women in debt.  I co-adapted the format from the UK and produced tonight’s episode along with a great team of fellow storytellers. It’s quite compelling and transformational. 

Now….before getting back to our conversation about why Buddhism is not a religion, let me reiterate that  I am not proposing that the practice of what the Buddha taught is superior to any other religion, nor that there is anything inherently “wrong” with religion. I am advocating the non-religiousness of Buddhism because I have seen the benefit of the practices of meditation, the study of interdependence and the Buddha’s teachings,  and participation in a community of like-minded individuals, without anything that resembles what we commonly refer to as religion.

The potential ramifications of this are profound and game changing, because Buddhist practice as an adjunct to a religious life, or on its own, is astonishingly effective at making you aware of how your behavior both fits in to the “big picture” and how you can become a more awake and responsible human.  And while Buddhism CAN be practiced as a religion, there are a tremendous number of people who are practicing Christians, Jews, or otherwise who have also found the Buddha’s teachings have a place in their life. Thank you to all of you who took the time to share your stories of how the teachings of Buddha co-exist with your religious practice, and please continue to do so.



The converse side to the fact that a growing number of  people are turning to Buddhism either on its own or as an adjunct to a religious practice is that there is not a similar movement of people turning to the teachings of Jesus Christ outside the context of religion.  This is not proof of anything other than the fact that many people following Buddha’s teachings (which, for lack of a better word, I refer to as Buddhists) have discovered for themselves that the core of the teachings – a relentless pursuit of the truth, i.e. present moment awareness – is a path to liberating oneself from the tyranny of ego-domination, self-inflicted suffering, and a path to liberating a great deal of energy to assist others who so desire, without the need to codify it into a religion.

Yes, the end result of a Buddhist practice bears a resemblance to what happens if you truly devote yourself to the teachings of Jesus, Allah, or the God of Abraham, but with the fundamental difference that there is not a huge community of people who follow those teachings in a way that does not require a belief in a higher power to whom your efforts are dedicated. There is not a growing community of people following the teachings of Jesus,Allah, or Judaism outside the context of religion, as there is with Buddhism.

The only salvation in Buddhism is your own ability to salvage your own mind from its relentless assault on itself, and in so doing slowly reveal the truth that lies beneath. It’s not always pretty, or blissful, but this is the truth that the Buddha proposed will set you
free.  Whether you pursue this truth with or without also having a devotional practice to a religion is irrelevant to the efficacy of the teachings.  As has been brought up on this forum over the last few weeks (both in defense of and in opposition to my position), it is possible that pursuing the teachings of the Buddha may lead you to a deeper or different understanding of your religion, be it Christianity, Muslim, Judaism or whatever – or it may not – and so
what if it does?

Yet the same cannot be said of simultaneously pursuing a belief in Christianity or Judaism, or Judaism or Muslim – it’s a bit more all-or-nothing and involves a conversion process before you are “officially” in the religion.  While Buddhism CAN be practiced as a religion, it does not HAVE to be – and that makes it not a religion. Something that can be something some of the time, and something else the rest of the time, cannot be said to be one or the other all of the time.

Again, this only matters because the teachings of the Buddha can be an absurdly helpful non-denominational way to explore the profound implications of being an interdependent being on an overstuffed planet. If the core teachings of Jesus, Allah, or the God of Abraham
included not only the “ideas for living” that are the foundations of the religions and rule books that have been built upon them, but also included a specific set of tools for transcending the obstacles to actually implementing those ideas in your life, we might be here discussing “Christianity is not a Religion”. 

Buddha, in his core teachings, proposed a specific set of techniques for overcoming dissatisfaction in pursuit of greater service to oneself and others, techniques that work whether you believe in salvation by Jesus Christ or a coming Apocalypse or the Messiah or nothing at all, and with no need for judgment, guilt, or exultation of your belief or non-belief.
 While Love Your Neighbor as you Love Yourself is an incredible idea about how to live your life,  it runs up against practical limits when your neighbor is bonking his boyfriend at 2 AM with “Single Ladies” blaring at full volume.  Buddhist practice allows you to make a choice between conditioned or habitual responses and one that is correct for the present moment – based on contemplative practice, study of the four noble truths, and the eightfold path.  Even when you choose the conditioned response, you are aware (maybe right then, maybe later) that you did so, and eventually will have to deal with the effect. 

Put another way, a Buddhist could be a gas-guzzling environment destroying money-grubbing asshole, but it’s unlikely that if they actually practice they can remain that way for long.  Behavior that increases suffering crumples under the harsh light of interdependent reality.   In Buddhism, there’s no one to offer you forgiveness, unless you go and ask someone for it yourself. It’s a shift from unburdening to an external god or authority figure to taking full responsibility for your own actions.  There’s no reason you can’t simultaneously be deeply responsible for your self (or non-self) as you are in Buddhism, and also have a religious practice with external god authority (Christianity, Judaism et al).  Please, no one propose that you cannot simultaneously have an externally devoted religious practice, and engage in a practice that encourages personal responsibility. This would not be fair to the religions of the world.
 
To those Buddhists who don’t agree, I suggest you consider that ultimately all religious constructs have to manifest as concepts and beliefs, no different than any other, and to separate out the belief in Jesus Christ, Allah, or G-d into a special category of concept that
is some sort of electrified fence around Buddhist practice, to create a magic land called Religious Faith where Buddhist practice suddenly fails, is to say “Buddhism goes THIS far but no further,” which is to deny the eternal unfolding of the practice. In other words, if a Buddhist practice cannot also encompass a Jewish, Mormon, Muslim or other practice, then you have decreed that Buddhist the Buddhist path and practice has limits that are considerably more limited than what I believe.

Less conceptually, look at some of what’s been shared in this forum – many people have told us how following Buddhist teachings has been an amazing adjunct to their religious practice, and imagine how many more people might explore this possibility if Buddhism wasn’t labeled as ALWAYS a religion. 



Advertisement
Comments read comments(41)
post a comment
Anon

posted September 30, 2009 at 12:51 pm


Seriously can this stop? These conversations are the most divisive speech conversations that this blog posts. They seemed geared toward loving controversy and angry comments and helping 0 people.
I guess that is successful blogging. But it is dispiriting.



report abuse
 

Ethan

posted September 30, 2009 at 12:55 pm


Anon,
I’m really confused. All the other posts have generated great conversation. I have had a few problems with things Jerry has said in previous posts, but this one is the least divisive of all.
What is it that you want to stop?
I certainly don’t hope we stop talking about this issue.
Can you be more specific? It makes me cringe anytime someone asks for free expression to cease.



report abuse
 

Anon

posted September 30, 2009 at 1:10 pm


I take it back. Disliking these conversations is probably more my personal taste. My comment above is more divisive than the post. To me, arguing about Buddhism as a religion or not seems like arguing to argue. But if people think it is important to talk about then they should go ahead.
apologies.



report abuse
 

Anon

posted September 30, 2009 at 1:13 pm


However I’m not asking free expression to cease, which is a really over-dramatic, needlessly moral accusation. I’m expressing frustration. If I was in any sort of position for these things to actually stop then that would be different.



report abuse
 

Lee

posted September 30, 2009 at 1:23 pm


While Buddhism CAN be practiced as a religion, it does not HAVE to be – and that makes it not a religion — I agree! But I would ask a question … when one begins to practice meditation most Buddhist groups would say they should have a teacher (or someone they can talk with as they proceed along the path). If I’m a Baptist I doubt my preacher would be much help if I suddenly had an unexplainable meditative experience… Is there not some responsibility incurred by encouraging people to just do this practice … I don’t necessarily disagree with you … when I first began practice I felt exactly the same way… I wanted to tell everyone to begin practice to meditate and it would be so good for everyone…however later I realized there is a great responsibility in being a teacher and trying to encourage others…



report abuse
 

Damaris

posted September 30, 2009 at 1:26 pm


Anon & Ethan – its the reason why I’ve called him Jerry “Springer”
From what he’s written, he doesn’t seem to know much about other religions yet consistently makes comparisons with Buddhism. Which makes me wonder if he’s well versed in Buddhism. I don’t know. I’m just asking.
Also he tends to aggrandize Buddhist as if they are the only ones making changes. BTW I’ve seen teachers riding in gas guzzlers.
I wish I had the time to point this out in terms of what was written above. As in pulling out quotes, perhaps later if some else doesn’t do it before me. I think it’s helpful. Well I hope you see it as helpful and please don’t get your knickers in a bunch.
Also Jerry has a great creative talent for description which is useful but creates misunderstandings (and I am assuming they are misunderstandings and not out right insults).
Then again if you make $$$$$ off of post and visits then perhaps you do. Would that make you a money grubbing asshole?



report abuse
 

Jerry Kolber

posted September 30, 2009 at 3:05 pm


Damaris – I don’t make any money off these posts. I think money grubbing asshole-dom is all in the eye of the beholder – to someone somewhere in the world, we are each a money-grubbing asshole. I was looking at it from my perspective, which of course is the only perspective (and body of knowledge) I can look at anything from. I cannot say I have experienced being a member of every religion, but I can say that I learned amazing things about myself and ethics and life from the religion I was raised in, and that there are wonderful things and equally disturbing things about this religions history and the way it frames past and current events. And I’ve repeatedly said that I have been on this path for a few years – I’m not a scholar, nor do I follow a religious version of Buddhism. I am offering my perspective as a person working with these ideas in my work, personal life, etc.
If you’ll take a moment to re-read all my posts, I hope you’ll see that I do not dispute the merit in religious faith, nor is the merit or non-merit of religion relevant to my point. I also have never said that Buddhists are the only people making changes – that would be an absurd thing for me to say. I’m not sure where you got that from.
@Lee – totally agree that a teacher is a key part of a Buddhist practice. However, for those for whom access to a teacher is impossible (i.e. because they are in a living situation in which seeking a Buddhist teacher would result in their being ostracized, or someone who geographically cannot seek a teacher) this should not be an obstacle to at least beginning a practice.



report abuse
 

theo

posted September 30, 2009 at 3:33 pm


I agree that this post is less contentious than the previous two, because Jerry has been making less dramatic claims. My only real complaint is that it still seems to be coming from a myopic Western perspective where Buddhism is basically vipassana plus some other stuff. Put another way, Jerry seems to habitually use the word “Buddhism” when he apparently means “insight meditation.” The entire post would be utterly bizarre to one of the hundreds of millions of Buddhists in the East who practice very little (if any) meditation.
I suppose this is mostly a semantic problem, but sentences like “While Buddhism CAN be practiced as a religion, it does not HAVE to be” are seriously confusing unless Jerry explicitly defines what he includes and excludes from the term.
Outside of this issue of terminology, Jerry’s point, as far as I can divine, is basically “meditation is great, everyone should do it” (a notion few who post here would disagree with) couched in many paragraphs of dubious speculation about the philosophy of religion. I’m not saying that discussion about the (ir)religious nature of Buddhism and Buddhist practice is pointless or needlessly controversial; rather, I would like to see Jerry (who is an engaging writer) discuss more interesting aspects of the secular meditation movement and its application for members of other religions. For example: can enlightenment/awakening/Nirvana be a secular goal, or is it inherently religious? Does the concept of anatta/anatman conflict with the Judeo-Christian concept of the soul? If so, is vipassana possible without one of the Three Characteristics?
(Jerry: in your first post on this topic, I asked similar leading questions, and you replied to them one by one as if I simply wanted to know the answers. I meant them as possible topics for future posts, not a pop quiz!)



report abuse
 

Jerry Kolber

posted September 30, 2009 at 7:19 pm


@Theo – I remember answering your questions, sorry I did not understand they were meant as deeper topics for exploration – they are all good ideas (as are these) for further essays, so thank you.
In terms of this ongoing confusion about the term Buddhism, I think you are clarifying a new level of confusion. I’ve avoided bringing it up so as not to be called an imperialist racist again, but since you’ve brought it up I’ll go there.
We’ve had several people explain quite reasonably that to be Buddhist you must follow the teachings of the Buddha as well as follow the religious aspects that have evolved over the millenia. Then you have others (including me) explaining quite reasonably that to be Buddhist you must simply follow the Buddha’s teachings (including meditation practice), have a teacher, and follow the various suggestions about living properly (the eightfold path).
Theo, you and several other people have presented a third option. Specifically, and this is not the first time this has been brought up in this discussion, you say “The entire post would be utterly bizarre to one of the hundreds of millions of Buddhists in the East who practice very little (if any) meditation.”
So I have to ask – is meditation practice not essential to calling yourself Buddhist? Considering that meditation was at the core of what the Buddha taught – it is THE personal excercise that lays the foundation for liberation from suffering – it sure seems important. But as you point out hundreds of millions call themselves Buddhist without meditating.
So there is what appears to a contradiction here – one that I would love to hear you, or anyone else, explain.
How are hundreds of millions of those who are what you call “Buddhist” lacking a meditation practice, but those of us writing here who do have a mediation practice, and study the teachings of the Buddha and do our best to follow them, are not, according to you, Buddhist?



report abuse
 

Dharmakara

posted September 30, 2009 at 9:42 pm


Meditation isn’t so much an essential, as it is a tool for proper practice… I would say that anyone accepts of the Four Noble Truths and embraces the Eightfold Path as a foundation of their practice is a “Buddhist”, whether they perceive their practice as a religion or a philosophical way of life.



report abuse
 

theo

posted October 1, 2009 at 2:04 am


“So I have to ask – is meditation practice not essential to calling yourself Buddhist? Considering that meditation was at the core of what the Buddha taught – it is THE personal excercise that lays the foundation for liberation from suffering – it sure seems important. But as you point out hundreds of millions call themselves Buddhist without meditating.
So there is what appears to a contradiction here – one that I would love to hear you, or anyone else, explain.
How are hundreds of millions of those who are what you call “Buddhist” lacking a meditation practice, but those of us writing here who do have a mediation practice, and study the teachings of the Buddha and do our best to follow them, are not, according to you, Buddhist?”
There’s no contradiction. The apparent paradox stems from the fact that you continue to define Buddhism as “insight meditation + other optional stuff” when in fact it is a whole constellation of related religions, many of which place little emphasis on meditation or reserve it for a monastic few. The reason you’ve been called imperialist or racist is because you seem to think that your practice is better because it includes “the core of what the Buddha taught” and that millions of Thai upasakas, Japanese Pure Land devotees, etc. are somehow doing it wrong, even if they are devout followers of the precepts.
It’s strange to find myself arguing this position, because I’m a secular meditator with little personal interest in ritual or devotion (although I find it culturally interesting). I also agree with you that vipassana meditation is a valuable practice that can be used alongside theistic religions. (I’m wary of saying that it’ll aid “spiritual growth” or otherwise contribute to the first religion, but that’s another topic I don’t want to get into here.) My point is that you should use the words “mindfulness” and “meditation” when you’re talking about those things, and avoid making sweeping statements about “Buddhism.”
Arguments about labels – whether Buddhism is a religion, who’s Buddhist and who’s not – aren’t very interesting to me. The evolution of an ancient religion in a new hemisphere; the possibility of a nonreligious sangha; the interplay and conflict between faith and practice; THIS is what I want to read and talk about.



report abuse
 

Robert

posted October 1, 2009 at 4:12 am


“So I have to ask – is meditation practice not essential to calling yourself Buddhist?”
Wow to this entire conversation. The bigger question may be, should those trying to use what the Buddha taught spend any time or effort on such concepts?
If you find anything the Buddha taught useful, use it. If you believe in magic and want to call what you use a religion, use it anyway. If you do not believe in magic and want to call it not-a-religion, use it anyway.
Just my way of thinking.



report abuse
 

Literata

posted October 1, 2009 at 8:21 am


I look forward to parts 4, 5, 6 and so on of this wonderful series. Mr. Kolber has the deepest understanding of Buddhism in the modern world that I’ve seen on this blog. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!



report abuse
 

Evelyn

posted October 1, 2009 at 10:25 am


This was probably the best post of the series (IMHO) and I have a ton of thoughts, I’ll only share a couple of things at this point, but I might be back later.
Jerry,
You touched on many of the reasons I chose to take refuge and practice Buddhism as my “religion.” When I was in that “shopping for religion” stage of my life, I attended a UU congregation but I always felt that I wanted a deeper spiritual practice. Eventually, I found Buddhism. Like Islam and Judaism, Buddhism puts greater emphasis on practice, “walking the path” than on maintaining faith. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I was brought up in the “Black Church” where faith is paramount and (as you mentioned in your post) there are few instructions on how to truly live out Christ’s teachings about loving your neighbor as yourself. That being said, I do think that truly practicing any of the world’s major religions will result in a postive change in ones life. I’ve personally seen it first hand in my family. Buddhism has worked much better for me than Christianity but I know that Christianity has worked for others. I happen to think that it comes down to what works for a given individual. As my teacher said to me (and he was quoting someone else) “children like their fish cooked different ways, so mother cooks it the way they like it.” I like my fish baked in Soto Zen, seasoned with Vipassana with maybe a side of Tibetan, others might like it sauteed with Insight Meditation and covered with Non-Denom Christianity sauce and that’s fine too. As long as you’re committed to whatever spiritual practice you’ve chosen and you can accept that your way is not the only way, I’m cool. (btw, Jerry — I’m not saying that you were saying that only Buddhism can help people, I know you’re not. These are just my thoughts inspired by your post.)
theo, you wrote:
“Arguments about labels – whether Buddhism is a religion, who’s Buddhist and who’s not – aren’t very interesting to me. The evolution of an ancient religion in a new hemisphere; the possibility of a nonreligious sangha; the interplay and conflict between faith and practice; THIS is what I want to read and talk about.”
…and if I may say it: Amen to that. The whole argument over what to call Buddhism just decends into nearly endless back and forth and I totally agree: its not an intereesting discussion to read or engage in. I’ve often thought about some of the issues you brought up: are the Buddhist teachings of not-self and the Christian belief in the soul really compatible? If the ultimate goal of Buddhism is full enlightenment and a letting go of all attachments, can this truly be practiced along side a deep devotion and attachment to a creator god? Or, at some level, does Buddhist teaching contradict Christian (or Muslim or Jewish) teaching? How does the Buddhist contemplative tradition compare to Christian mysticsm, Sufism or Jewish mysticsm?
I don’t have ready answers but I agree that these are much more compelling questions than the exhausting labeling discussion. I’ve thought about blogging on these topics more than once but I just feel that I don’t have the time, resources or background to truely do them justice. You may have inspired me to at least take a crack at it… if nothing else, it may start the discussions that I think we’d all like to see.



report abuse
 

Literata nails it

posted October 1, 2009 at 10:46 am


Evelyn raises some very good questions. But given her superficial knowledge of modern Buddhism, might someone as gifted as Jerry address them instead? Please? I would love to see the level of discussion raised to Kolberian heights.



report abuse
 

Evelyn

posted October 1, 2009 at 11:22 am


Jerry, it looks like you’ve got yourself a groupie ;)



report abuse
 

Prasangika Buddhist

posted October 1, 2009 at 11:57 am


I can’t speak for the others and their status as groupies, as Evelyn apparently can (Buddhism has taught me to be free of assumptions), but I will add that I find Jerry’s contributions to be of the highest quality. As a writer, he offers nothing less than what Flaubert called les mots justes; as a thinker, he offers us profundities that rival those from the mind of Nagarguna. I am no one’s groupie; but let’s all show immense gratitude for Jerry’s presence on this blog.



report abuse
 

Damaris

posted October 1, 2009 at 12:36 pm


@ Jerry – ” I cannot say I have experienced being a member of every religion, but I can say that I learned amazing things about myself and ethics and life from the religion I was raised in, and that there are wonderful things and equally disturbing things about this religions history and the way it frames past and current events.”
Now if only you reflected that in your blog and filtered out the inflammatory descriptions and imaginary scenarios. Don’t get me wrong they are entertaining. Most evidently here; your friends, seem not to have much issue.
And you know what, perhaps someone in your social, political,..yadda, yadda, would also like the tone that your using but that’s not the rest of the world. No I don’t think your some Nazi Slave Massa nor anything equating oppression. But I don’t think your current method of convincing folks is at all skillful.
I’m thinking about how would you convince someone whose not in your social, political…. yadda, yadda. How do you reach out to them?
It reads well when you write of what you know and everything else is just stuff that should be filtered.
With that said.
There are plenty of practicing Christians who don’t belong to an organization nor take sacrament. I’m sure there are folks in all spiritual traditions who do so as well.
There are also plenty of non-Buddhist out doing there best to make our world better.
And if we are to convince folks that they need to do more, I sure we can find a better way to communicate that without insulting their lives.



report abuse
 

Damaris

posted October 1, 2009 at 12:56 pm


@ Jerry – BTW
I don’t know if you know but just in case you don’t.
Harriet Tubman was a runaway slave who returned to the south 30 times to free other slaves. She carried a pistol and the bible memorized in her head. (she was illiterate). She aimed to use that pistol not on the people who would try to capture her but to insure that none of the slaves would be put at risk if one slave should decided to change his mind.
Sometimes the one who seems most peaceful is the most harmful. Sometimes the one who seems most dangerous turns out to be beneficial.
We all have to develop bigger minds, bigger ways of being. All of us. Isn’t that the whole point.



report abuse
 

Damaris

posted October 1, 2009 at 12:59 pm


Correction: She aimed to use that pistol not ONLY on the people who would try to capture her but to insure that none of the slaves would be put at risk if one slave should decided to change his mind.



report abuse
 

Frequent Reader

posted October 1, 2009 at 3:40 pm


Excellent Post Jerry, the best of your series. Really like how you write.
@Damaris and Anon: Sorry, I don’t see any divisiveness here. I think Jerry is talking about presentability and access, not much else, certainly not dissing or converting anyone. Clearly the Interdependence Project has done great work presenting Buddhism as not religious in nature, and clearly that movement is catching on and helping some people (yours truly, etc). I hope Jerry keeps writing these great posts!
Also, what does Harriet Tubman have to do with the thread? You lost me with that one.
namaste.



report abuse
 

Jerry

posted October 1, 2009 at 5:20 pm


@Damaris – I think I get the Tubman reference
@ Evelyn, Literata, Prasangika Buddhist and Frequent Reader (do I know any of you people? I don’t think I do…)
.. you better not go disagreeing with me now that you’ve agreed… something might go DOWN….
Your pistol packing maybe-Buddhist friend,
Jerry



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted October 1, 2009 at 6:12 pm


There have been historical figures that attained ‘enlightenment’ without meditating. If people are interested in Buddhist practice as a way to end suffering or simply to relieve a headache I believe practice can help them however it should not be ‘played’ with and finding a ‘good friend’ (teacher) is quite important so as not to get caught up in the eddy’s of the river. And those of us who wish to teach must be very careful of our intent so as not to harm those we wish to help. My opposition to Jerry’s initial premise of making the practice easier for people to get into (take away the word religion) centers on the serious nature of practice. When I began practice I was miles from any teacher and an executive in a major corporation. I learned, rather late, to keep my practice under my coat and finally found a way to get help when I needed it. I would rather see less people practice with good teachers than more people practice because we ‘make it easy for them to get into it’…without teachers or with bogus teachers who are trying to build a ‘following’. Jerry I also see this discussion as mostly very good. Gashho!



report abuse
 

Jerry

posted October 1, 2009 at 8:20 pm


Thanks Your Name for the insight. I agree a good teacher is very very important. I try to keep my own practice non-goal-oriented which is a challenge, and is I suppose part of a serious practice. What part of the world are you in these days?



report abuse
 

Damaris

posted October 1, 2009 at 10:39 pm


@ Jerry & Frequent reader – Tubman – Buddhist Part1.
@ Frequent reader – “Clearly the Interdependence Project has done great work presenting Buddhism as not religious in nature, and clearly that movement is catching on and helping some people (yours truly, etc).”
I am in no way saying anything contrary to that. It’s a great thing. That’s why I’m there. That’s why I’m taking the time to explain this to Jerry. Just a different perspective.
@ Jerry – ” Evelyn, Literata, Prasangika Buddhist and Frequent Reader (do I know any of you people? I
don’t think I do…) .. you better not go disagreeing with me now that you’ve agreed…
something might go DOWN….”
I wrote my comment before I saw theirs. Bozo.
Now go ahead and carry a pistol. Give me a reason to bitch slap ya.



report abuse
 

Damaris

posted October 1, 2009 at 10:41 pm


@ Jerry & Frequent reader – Tubman – Buddhist Part1.
@ Frequent reader – “Clearly the Interdependence Project has done great work presenting Buddhism as not religious in nature, and clearly that movement is catching on and helping some people (yours truly, etc).”
I am in no way saying anything contrary to that. ITS A GREAT THING!!!
@ Jerry – ” Evelyn, Literata, Prasangika Buddhist and Frequent Reader (do I know any of you people? I
don’t think I do…) .. you better not go disagreeing with me now that you’ve agreed…
something might go DOWN….”
I wrote my comment before I saw theirs. Bozo.
Now go ahead and carry a pistol. Give me a reason to **itch slap ya.



report abuse
 

Anan E. Maus

posted October 2, 2009 at 12:04 am


I think “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy” did more for gay rights than maybe 10 years of difficult activism. If you were at all involved in that effort, you are a hero for both gay rights and human rights.
But that does not mean that I can support your reasoning on this issue.
Religion is just a term. It is semantics, a construction, for a purpose. It has wide meanings. The things that you do not like about the word religion and its connotations…have been debated, not only in Buddhism, but in every major world religion. Just about every major world religion has produced a sect to directly address your very concerns.
The way you reference Judeo-Christian religions is by taking the fundamentalist experience within those religions and making that the sole experience there. It is not. There are extreme socially active progressives in every major world religion. There are very politically liberal people in every major world religion. And there are people who do not like the dogma in religion, in every major religion.
The Muslims responded with Sufism. The Buddhists responded with Zen. The Christians responded with the American Friends and many other sects. The history goes on and on and on. What you are proposing is not new and there are current sects in every major world religion which do pretty much exactly what you would have done.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted October 2, 2009 at 10:03 am


Jerry: I’m in Portland Oregon.



report abuse
 

Donny

posted October 2, 2009 at 10:30 am


Buddism is not a religon. According to my teacher, there is no such thing as a buddist. In Zen there is no goal, just me.
Gassho



report abuse
 

Jerry Kolber

posted October 2, 2009 at 2:16 pm


Anon E Maus:
Thanks for the props for Queer Eye. Yes I was part of the production from the launch and produced some 40 or 50 episodes. I cringe every so slightly at the word hero as I was merely hired to do a job, fell in love with the show and the team, and spent a couple of years of my life doing almost nothing but producing it. “just doin my job” is about how I would put it, and if you think it had a good effect beyond being entertaining then that is fantastic.
I’m not proposing by the way that what I’m offering here is anything new or something I’ve come up with. Just trying to move the bar a little in terms of the accesibility of Buddhist teachings.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted October 3, 2009 at 4:38 pm


Anon, dear MAUS : What you are proposing is not new. Having gone to many a church for several decades, and to many a denomination, I have heard the repetitions and their clever variations so often that one such as you would have tired of them long ago and left. Judaism repeats. Islam repeats. Buddhism repeats. They all in fact repeat. And not because of beans.
Beanless, in fact, repetitions like mantras waft over the seekers of Good. Maybe those who think themselves wiser by pointing to the pointers who would parse this with analysis are above this. Just remember, however, that there’s a dialectical loop, a dialogue of a sort, persistently running thru each of our heads, wherein subliminally, sometimes consciously, we forever repeat our less than spiritual lives to ourselves in our wakefulness and dreams. The point of it all is to condition this loop into something more spiritual in order be freed of it eventually, we pray. And every now and then to ourselves and to each other, if we dare to be so free, we repeat, with the prompting of reminders, that within us and without us an intrinsic commonality pervades, … in order that the fears that divide us might dissolve, … the ultimate aspiration of religion to transcend even itself.
Beyond its primal definition, … its principal denotation, … which you would deem not principal and far from ever primal, I am sure,… I sincerely would like to know, dear Maus : What exactly are the connotations of the word ‘religion’ that would render it logically effete, thus emotionally ineffective, in the interreligious dialogues, both formal and casual, of the faiths, and in the interpersonal dialogues of the throngs?



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted October 5, 2009 at 2:14 pm


Basically, I think what some here are saying, is “Don’t ask the tough questions” as such. No, I think it is important to ask tough questions, in the pursuit of truth, even if it offends some. The Buddha himself no doubt offended some religious teachers of his time. (Unintentionally of course)
The Samanas were apparently upset and disgruntled, when the Buddha decided to part their company, finding their practices and deprivations, no longer useful to him. Is it wrong for a Buddhist to ask- What would the Buddha himself think about the millions of Buddhists who know little of his actual teachings, worship him as a God like figure, and just offer fruit, flowers and incense?
Perhaps it is wrong to ask that, and perhaps it is unproductive? I certainly don’t judge them and I do consider themselves Buddhists. I don’t consider my practice any better, and perhaps theirs is a superior form of Buddhism than mine, and they also have a higher level of understanding than mine.
I’m also curious why a Buddhist forum would turn “Jerry Springer like” with name calling, and accusations flying about. Can we not discuss these questions dispassionately, logically, and rationally? Is that not what being a Buddhist demands of us? In any case, I don’t fault Jerry for asking a question such as this.
A lot has been posted here in regard to defining Buddhism. I’m more interested in defining the word “religion.” If I recall correctly, most assign that term to belief in a supreme being of some sort. I would say that Buddhism in many ways, transcends the traditional human concepts of a “religion.” After all, “religion” is basically just a shallow term that humans have invented.



report abuse
 

Christopher Mohr

posted October 10, 2009 at 2:33 pm


Your name – Buddha would not have as much of a problem with it as our hosts here would have us think. It’s called Upaya – the Doctrine of Skillful Means. And Jerry et al. should get a better handle on it. And about the Samanas – they looked at him not in a disgruntled way, but with contempt when he left, because they felt themselves spiritually superior for maintaining the discipline of asceticism. Buddha gave up, after all. Later they realized he was right, but initially, they thought he was just too weak spiritually to continue.
Jerry – Thank you for having the courage to link to a definition of religion, which I will be dissecting shortly, in addition to shredding your rationale for saying Buddhism isn’t [your chosen definition]. Not as courageous as actually studying from relevant sources and formulating a definition from such studies, but it’s a start. As I and others have said before, you have a bad case of confusion. You are saying that Buddhism isn’t a religion when you more probably mean to say is that it either SHOULDN’T be one or that it would work better if it wasn’t one. Never once do you address the reality on the ground (read: the FACT) that Buddhism, just as it is, IS a religion and that it actually is more attractive (outside of ultra-liberal progressive hotbeds where moderates, non-ultra liberal liberals, and conservatives live. What you see in New York or San Fran does not apply to reality in Chicago or Detroit, or Columbia (SC), or Orlando, or Boise, or Green Bay, or Albuquerque, or Memphis, or Billings, or Portland, or Youngstown, or St. Louis, or Minneapolis, or Honolulu, or anywhere else. Even in heavily liberal spots like Madison, WI they understand this fact, and Buddhism as a religion has grown in these and other places. Buddhism just works better as a religion because it offers more solace and soteriological capacity as a religion outside of the Judeo-Christian concept. I’m not saying that your way isn’t transformational, only that you lack the majority of the path to make it even more truly transformative and salvific when you focus on narrow concepts like the Four Noble Truths (a religious statement if ever I’ve seen one) and the Eightfold Path (which we take on faith will lead us to the goal of spiritual liberation) while ignoring the bulk of the Buddha’s teachings that happen to be religious and not in keeping with your understanding.
Now on to your linked-to definition of religion, simplistic as it is, declares that a religion is:
1a : the state of a religious b
1b : the service and worship of God or the supernatural; commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2) : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.
Now, to dissect these: 1a&b refer to those who follow the religion (aka the community or individuals therein) and the doctrines they hold. Now, disregarding the fact that they used the term in the definition ( that is, “devotion to religious faith”), if one takes the last part of that definition, “devotion to religious faith or observance, and removes the above mentioned flub, one gets “devotion to faith or observances”, which is ritual actions. We’ll look at this later. 2 refers to the ritual, beliefs, and doctrinal aspects of religion. 3 looks at one’s level of commitment to what one believes. 4 refers to the institutional aspects of religion. So, in short we have: community, devotion, ritual actions, ritual practices, beliefs and doctrine, commitment, and some sort of institution.
In terms of Buddhism:
Community – clearly the Sangha. There can be no question there.
Devotion – the taking of the precepts and the refuges qualifies there
ritual actions/practices/beliefs – all the various forms of meditation
doctrine – Either canonical set of works will do here. Pali Canon is earlier, but both are valid expressions of Buddhist practice.
commitment – can you say “right effort”. Yeah, Eightfold Path.
institution – the master-disciple relationship established by the Buddha fits that bill. So as you see, even when you provide the definition, Buddhism is still defined by the term “religion”. All of the above examples came from your own description of your practice except doctrine, which I somehow doubt you’ve studied. Your rationale betrays a severe lack of anything more than superficial knowledge of Buddhism.
What you are practicing is a religion and you don’t even know it, or you refuse to recognize the fact of reality that what you at the IDP are doing is practicing religion. Not always well, but that is the nature of the beast. The self-promotion with which you started the piece flies directly in the face of the Eightfold Path, you must see that. We all have our faults in practice. Most of us choose not to advertize them so blatantly. Everything done in Buddhism is to get the practitioner to see that they are not a seperate, unchanging self. Self promotion, by definition, goes against that. Try some real humility, it will do you good.
Now, as for your contention that “While Buddhism CAN be practiced as a religion, it does not HAVE to be – and that makes it not a religion. Something that can be something some of the time, and something else the rest of the time, cannot be said to be one or the other all of the time.”, your logic is faulty and flawed. here’s how: utilizing a Western, either-or approach does not apply to Eastern both-and traditions. This is like saying my table is used as a chair sometimes, so it cannot be said to be a table or a chair, so it must not be a table. You see the flaw in that argument? It’s not subtle enough to miss. We’ll use Western logic for a second to disprove your theory:
Sometimes X = A
Sometimes X = B
Sometimes X not = A
Therefore X always = B
We’ll put this into practice:
Sometimes a table =a food service device
Sometimes a table = chair
Sometimes a table not = a food service device
Therefore a table always = chair
This is the basic logical theorem you are positing. the logical flaw there is in the last line. The reality, using the above example is that both X = A (ALL the time) AND X = B ALL the time, (Buddhism is also an inseparable philosophy and a way of life ALL the time). That’s some deductive jelly-noggining, there.
Now for some point by point critiquing of your post. It needs to be done.
“The potential ramifications of this are profound and game changing, because Buddhist practice as an adjunct to a religious life, or on its own, is astonishingly effective at making you aware of how your behavior both fits in to the “big picture” and how you can become a more awake and responsible human. And while Buddhism CAN be practiced as a religion, there are a tremendous number of people who are practicing Christians, Jews, or otherwise who have also found the Buddha’s teachings have a place in their life.”
Two things here. First, every other religion already has a similar practice, which is just as effective IF it is applied (the Eastern Orthodox Jesus Prayer comes to mind). Most Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, etc. are neither more nor less religious than their Buddhist counterparts, and apply the teachings at equal rates. Second, the reasons they can do that is because Buddhism as a religion is, outside of mainstream Paganism, possibly the only really inclusionary, inclusivist religion. That it has that characteristic does not, by your own definition, preclude it from being a religion.
The converse side to the fact that a growing number of people are turning to Buddhism either on its own or as an adjunct to a religious practice is that there is not a similar movement of people turning to the teachings of Jesus Christ outside the context of religion.
Here, we have to go back to logic class. This is one of many attribution fallacies you make. You were wise to say that it isn’t proof of anything, because *logically* you have no valid argument there.
This is not proof of anything other than the fact that many people following Buddha’s teachings (which, for lack of a better word, I refer to as Buddhists) have discovered for themselves that the core of the teachings – a relentless pursuit of the truth, i.e. present moment awareness – is a path to liberating oneself from the tyranny of ego-domination, self-inflicted suffering, and a path to liberating a great deal of energy to assist others who so desire, without the need to codify it into a religion.
These people, these… “for lack of a better word”, as you say, “Buddhists” also came to realize that what you have just described is but one tiny little bit of the path. See, for example, Access to Insight’s “Guide to Befriending the Suttas”, in which you will find this nugget: “To reap the greatest reward from the Canon, explore many different suttas, not just a select few. The teachings on mindfulness, for example, although valuable, represent just a small sliver of the entirety of the Buddha’s teachings. Rule of thumb: whenever you think you understand what the Buddha’s teachings are all about, take that as a sign that you need to dig a little deeper.” The rest of the path is found through faith and devotion. You like to use terminology that is suggestive of rebellion. You are rebelling against the mind and the tyranny of the ego, but you fail to see that that is interconnected with reality. Rebelling against it yields the same results as putting a twig into a river and expecting the river to stop. The important thing here is to see the mind, just as it is, and to let go. Self-inflicted suffering at the hands of a tyrannical mind is a very, very shallow understanding to what Buddha taught. It fails to understand that there are more causes than just the ego which drive suffering. You’re entirely dismissing the Three Poisons (greed, avarice, and ignorance) which are the roots of desire, which the Buddha said is the root cause of suffering. Do not forget that the Four Noble Truths revolve around getting rid of desire, even your desire to spread the Buddha’s teachings to a wider audience. You don’t practice the Eightfold Path “just because it’s a good way to live your life”, you do it to free yourself from desire and “unsatisfactory-ness” (dukkha). We take it on faith that that path actually works to liberate us.
Yes, the end result of a Buddhist practice bears a resemblance to what happens if you truly devote yourself to the teachings of Jesus, Allah, or the God of Abraham, but with the fundamental difference that there is not a huge community of people who follow those teachings in a way that does not require a belief in a higher power to whom your efforts are dedicated. There is not a growing community of people following the teachings of Jesus,Allah, or Judaism outside the context of religion, as there is with Buddhism.
Again with the attribution fallacies. Further, you cannot expect two very different socio-cultural and religious constructs to behave in the same manner in two very different cultures. Further, your community is tiny. When you can get five to ten thousand on a beach for a single service EVERY YEAR (and you get it broadcast to a dozen countries simultaneously so another TWO MILLION can watch and “attend” the service), then you can call yourself a medium-sized community. When your community is so large that you can shut down an entire country if need be, then you are a huge community. Point is, numerically, you people don’t matter to Buddhism as it exists in the real world.
The only salvation in Buddhism is your own ability to salvage your own mind from its relentless assault on itself, and in so doing slowly reveal the truth that lies beneath. It’s not always pretty, or blissful, but this is the truth that the Buddha proposed will set you
free.
Prove, first, that this actually works and you aren’t taking it on faith, second, that this soteriological construct is not religious in nature, and third, that the Buddha phrased it in such a way that he said the mind is “assaulting” itself, if that is even possible. Your use of terminology once again shows your shallow knowledge of Buddhism.
Whether you pursue this truth with or without also having a devotional practice to a religion is irrelevant to the efficacy of the teachings. As has been brought up on this forum over the last few weeks (both in defense of and in opposition to my position), it is possible that pursuing the teachings of the Buddha may lead you to a deeper or different understanding of your religion, be it Christianity, Muslim, Judaism or whatever – or it may not – and so
what if it does?
This argument does nothing to disprove the fact that Buddhism is a religion, it just proves that Buddhism is inclusive and permissive of other teachings.
Yet the same cannot be said of simultaneously pursuing a belief in Christianity or Judaism, or Judaism or Muslim – it’s a bit more all-or-nothing and involves a conversion process before you are “officially” in the religion. While Buddhism CAN be practiced as a religion, it does not HAVE to be – and that makes it not a religion. Something that can be something some of the time, and something else the rest of the time, cannot be said to be one or the other all of the time.
This is not necessarily the case. Most of the Abrahamic will allow other beliefs in if you can show that they will bring you closer to God. Look at Islam – Jesus is a great prophet and it is said in the Koran that what he taught was good. Indeed, they even have an entire chapter in the Quran devoted to Mary, mother of Jesus. I’ve read it. It’s good stuff. Also, there are people similar to you in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam who advocate for just giving people the teachings of Jesus/Mohammed/Moses, and by that means allow them to live a good life that isn’t necessarily religious. Indeed, a relative majority would say that, even if you are not a part of C/J/I, you can still follow the teachings of C/J/I and you will benefit. A majority of American Christians believe that even nonbelievers who live a righteous life will go to heaven (
http://blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2008/12/-when-the-pew-forum.html). You use popular conceptions of what these religions are to say that those venerable religions are all a certain way. Again, back to reality. Your homework is to actually transcend your base assumptions of what other religions teach and take an open look. Would they like you to join them? Yes, it helps if you are a part of the community. We even understand that in Buddhism. Do they require it? By and large, no.
.
If the core teachings of Jesus, Allah, or the God of Abraham included not only the “ideas for living” that are the foundations of the religions and rule books that have been built upon them, but also included a specific set of tools for transcending the obstacles to actually implementing those ideas in your life, we might be here discussing “Christianity is not a Religion”.
Problem is, they do include a “specific set of tools for transcending the obstacles” that all religions and religious adherents face. Their toolbox includes multiple forms of prayer, chanting (esp. Eastern Orthodox), and meditation (yes, meditation) that are powerful parts of those traditions as well. You don’t see much of it in pop culture, but they are practiced. These are very religious practices, and a very “specific set of tools…yadda yadda” for getting past the self (which they utilize to come closer to God, but are universally applicable). Your ignorance is showing again.
Buddha, in his core teachings, proposed a specific set of techniques for overcoming dissatisfaction in pursuit of greater service to oneself and others, techniques that work whether you believe in salvation by Jesus Christ or a coming Apocalypse or the Messiah or nothing at all, and with no need for judgment, guilt, or exultation of your belief or non-belief.
The longer you deal with Buddhism, the longer you’ll find that very judgmental attitude in the Buddha’s words, not to mention his followers. An example from the Cullavagga, “Ven. Up?li: “Having split a Community that was united, what does one beget?”The Buddha: “Having split a Community that was united, one begets an iniquity that lasts for an aeon and is boiled in hell for an aeon…” Ven. Up?li: “Having united a Community that was split, what does one beget?” The Buddha: “Having united a Community that was split, one begets brahma-merit that lasts for an aeon and rejoices in heaven for an aeon…” — Cv.VII.5.4. I told you it was canonical, but you only have eyes on setting religious Buddhists against your tiny fellowship of non-religious (aka dabbler) Buddhists. Well, the Buddha is pretty clear on that one.
While Love Your Neighbor as you Love Yourself is an incredible idea about how to live your life, it runs up against practical limits when your neighbor is bonking his boyfriend at 2 AM with “Single Ladies” blaring at full volume.
According to your own opening of this post, so too does the Eightfold Path. If you were really following the Eightfold path, you would not have even entertained the notion of “shameless self-promotion” because it is violates Right Understanding, Right Speech, Right Thought, etc.
Buddhist practice allows you to make a choice between conditioned or habitual responses and one that is correct for the present moment – based on contemplative practice, study of the four noble truths, and the eightfold path. Even when you choose the conditioned response, you are aware (maybe right then, maybe later) that you did so, and eventually will have to deal with the effect.
Even Christians realize that being saved isn’t a “get out of sin free” card. Any reputable pastor (and his parishioners) will tell you that. And they will also tell you that you have a choice between doing what is right and wrong. They figure out what that means with “contemplative practice”, study of the Bible, and practice. It’s called prayer. The only difference between that and the practice of Buddhism is the semantics.
Put another way, a Buddhist could be a gas-guzzling environment destroying money-grubbing asshole, but it’s unlikely that if they actually practice they can remain that way for long. Behavior that increases suffering crumples under the harsh light of interdependent reality. In Buddhism, there’s no one to offer you forgiveness, unless you go and ask someone for it yourself. It’s a shift from unburdening to an external god or authority figure to taking full responsibility for your own actions. There’s no reason you can’t simultaneously be deeply responsible for your self (or non-self) as you are in Buddhism, and also have a religious practice with external god authority (Christianity, Judaism et al). Please, no one propose that you cannot simultaneously have an externally devoted religious practice, and engage in a practice that encourages personal responsibility. This would not be fair to the religions of the world.
On this count, you are entirely wrong. Because Buddhism posits rebirth and an afterlife based on karma, even sincerely practicing Buddhists don’t have to care about liberal yuppie causes like global warming. They do one of two things: 1) just accept the fact that their way of life will cause them to gain rebirth in the lower realms, or 2) play lawyer and ask for a concrete, specific definition of the “right” in “right livelihood” and the rest of the Eightfold Path. When none can be definitively and exhaustively posited, they feel free to live as they think best, declaring their Lincoln Navigator to be “wholesome” and therefore in keeping with the Buddha’s teachings. It would be nice if it weren’t so, but that’s how it is. Like I said, you’re an idealist. But this is reality, wake up and smell the petrochemicals. It’s the next line that kills your argument. You are arguing a religious premise when you get preachy like you do when you say, “Behavior…crumples under the harsh light of interdependent reality”. Prove it. You are taking it on faith that ANYTHING crumples under the harsh light of interdependence. You sound like Jim Jones and his people (pre-moving to South America). Next up, unburdening. Are you seriously using that term for Nibbana??? If so, please understand, that is outright ridiculous. You will always be burdened, you will always suffer. That’s the nature of life – Dukkha. The best you can hope for is to finally get off the wheel of Samsara and be liberated from the never ending cycle of rebirths. Do we even know that will happen? No, but that’s what the Buddha taught. We have to have faith in what he achieved to come to accept that. It’s a belief that cannot be either proven or disproven, and it is not only something the Buddha taught, it is essential to Buddhism. Why practice Buddhist meditation if you don’t have the Buddhist goal of liberation in sight? Because you think Buddhism is some sort of whacked out, hard core self-help system that will help you calm your mind. What happens when you start to experience the Nimittas and the four Jhanas? Quit meditating because you think you’re hallucinating? Only if you don’t believe that by pressing on you will achieve liberation.
To those Buddhists who don’t agree, I suggest you consider that ultimately all religious constructs have to manifest as concepts and beliefs, no different than any other, and to separate out the belief in Jesus Christ, Allah, or G-d into a special category of concept that
is some sort of electrified fence around Buddhist practice, to create a magic land called Religious Faith where Buddhist practice suddenly fails, is to say “Buddhism goes THIS far but no further,” which is to deny the eternal unfolding of the practice. In other words, if a Buddhist practice cannot also encompass a Jewish, Mormon, Muslim or other practice, then you have decreed that Buddhist the Buddhist path and practice has limits that are considerably more limited than what I believe.
You do realize that you’ve just as much as admitted that you believe Buddhism is a religion without saying it, right? If not, it is through deliberate ignorance or such a piercing swirly confusion that even you don’t know what you’re saying. Let’s see concepts and beliefs? Eightfold Path, Four Noble Truths. Check. Not separating out central figures from teachings? Buddha is still central to Buddhism, so Check. Doctrine of limitlessness/ universality of the Teachings. Check. No one was arguing that you have to put limits or “some sort of electrified fence” around these special categories. This was the true genius of Buddhism: upaya. That skillful means can be utilized to help non-Buddhists and that Buddhism chose to include rather than exclude these people it spread out is nothing new. The religious connotation of upaya should be clear. It is the very thing you are trying to do, but it exists as a religious construct – a belief and a practice. And you are only partially right about religious constructs ultimately manifesting as non-differentiated concepts and beliefs. They also manifest as practices, rituals, actions and doctrines. And they are differentiated. There may be one summit, but there are numerous slopes. You are aware that the concept of Bodhisattva has been found in certain ancient Middle Eastern texts right? When Asoka sent his missionaries forth, they took with them texts and translated them. So the concept, while obscure in Jewish religious life, was not totally unknown. We even think of Jesus as one, indeed a very powerful Bodhisattva, that one.
Less conceptually, look at some of what’s been shared in this forum – many people have told us how following Buddhist teachings has been an amazing adjunct to their religious practice, and imagine how many more people might explore this possibility if Buddhism wasn’t labeled as ALWAYS a religion.
The problem here is that, as I’ve repeatedly shown, Buddhism does better as a religion everywhere (except a select few super-liberal hotspots, and even there we grow faster using our methods than you do using yours). While your heart is in the right place, your head is in la la land. We have more success bringing Buddhism to people through the religious route than you will ever have if you strip it of the very spiritual basis on which it necessarily rests.



report abuse
 

Abby

posted October 10, 2009 at 3:33 pm


@Christopher: Honestly, the way you talk to people, I’d personally be surprised if you were successful at spreading much of anything other than bad vibes.
But also, seriously, why do you put so much energy into dissing secular psychological buddhism if your way is more effective (highly doubtful based on the buddhist communities I’ve seen – IDP being the most accessible of all – but i’ll take you at your word). If that’s true, why not just present buddhism the way you want? If you already won the “proof-is-in-the-puddin” argument, then why not just do it?
Why diss Jerry? Why diss Ethan, who has also been highly effective at touching the lives of thousands of people for the better?
Why not just do what you want to do and help people? It’s clear that Ethan has done a ton of good in the secular way he presents buddhist practice. If your way is even better, stop talking about it and do it. The fact that you have to SAY you are more effective makes me think you feel a bit insecure about your position. I’m sure Ethan and Jerry want nothing more than you to succeed in helping yourself and others, and are discussing this on that basis.
The fact that you don’t extend their valid perspectives and paths the same courtesy is troubling, and it makes me pretty sure you aren’t nearly as effective as you claim to be.



report abuse
 

Christopher Mohr

posted October 11, 2009 at 9:54 am


Abby -
I say those things in that way on this blog for a very specific reason. Jerry et al need to get past whatever it is they have against religion, as much as they say otherwise. Outside, in the real world, you would find me calm, gentle, pastoral, and with a bit of a quirky sense of humor. What you would expect from a minister in training. I am trying to show them what they are doing, and pulling the chair out from under them so they wake up. They refuse to see past the secular liberal bubble (as is evidenced by Ethan’s consistent posts recently about health care and Obama) that they live in and in that way limit Buddhism to what they have seen, thinking it will work better to spread it the way they have seen it work in the bubble. Buddhism is not a liberal plaything that they can use to justify their secular thoughts and words. I have no troth with conservatives, but I have no troth with liberals, either. Both sides of that debate lack the Eightfold Path. Unfortunately Jerry et al live in a world where that fact is ignored. I live in reality, outside of that bubble, and anyone who takes any real look at the history of Buddhism sees that what they are saying is both false and slanderous of the teachings of the Buddha that they say they are promoting. Also, if you take a look at the numbers – and this is borne out by recent research and evidence – the total number and percentage of (religious) Buddhists in the US alone says that the religious way works better. If estimates of those answering that their religion was Buddhism from 1990, (1995), and 2000 are accurate, over the last 15 years, Buddhism has seen a jump from ~1 million in the US to a current estimate of 5 million, meaning a four-fold jump. The numbers for “secular” Buddhism? 40 years of so after the Peace Corps started bringing back their adulterated form of Buddhism, counting all the retreats that have been done by these groups, you still probably get less than 100,000 active practitioners of Buddhist meditation or “Insight Meditation” as they call it. There’s your proof in the pudding. I have no real problem with Buddhist teachings being utilized by the secular community, but I do have a problem when the teachings themselves are then declared to be secular and that therefore Buddhism is secular. It isn’t and never was. From the moment Gautama left the royal palace, he gave up on secular life. the six years he spent wandering from samana to samana, seeking the answer were years spent forging a faith centered around the mind’s capacities and how to utilize those. During that time, he encountered devas and devils, demons and gods, all the while saying that even they are subject to the laws of the universe, rather than the omnipotent beings of the ancient near east. He is shown throughout the Scriptures (both the Pali Canon and the Mahayana writings) as both encountering and possessing supernatural powers, setting up and organizing into an institution the Sangha as a community of monastic renunciates who left their secular life to become contemplatives who followed what the Buddha called Dhamma-Vinaya – meaning the Teachings (or Law, which is a better translation for dhamma) and the Discipline. The simple fact that he set up both communities for lay followers (male and female) who remained “householders” and engaged in secular life, and monastic followers (and eventually, but *grudgingly* female monastic communities) who gave up everything and lived a religious life, as separate orders shows that his teachings were not meant to be strictly secular. They could be used by the Laity, but they were designed around the principle of religious discipline, which holds to this very day. That is why I have to show them the quick way to the floor, deliberately using inflammatory (but true) words, so they wake up and see reality, just as it is. I utilize this approach for them as a form of upaya, or skillful means. And unfortunately for them, that mens seeing Buddhism as a religion, which it very much is, by any definition, even the ones they chose. I showed them using their own definition why they are wrong, and i know they don’t like it. Reality is that way.
Now, if they were to call themselves “Friends of Buddhism” or “Buddhist-inspired” only, or even call themselves a lay branch of the Buddhist religion, I’d have no problems with that. That is what they are. That is reality, just as it is. But to claim that they are Buddhists and what they represent is ALL of Buddhism, and therefore Buddhism isn’t a religion is false at best. For these IDP-ers to claim that other Buddhists are not Buddhists because they don’t follow the exact same meditation practices as Jerry et al is deliberately excluding somewhere between 500 million and 1.3 billion Buddhists (depending on how you count the Chinese Buddhists who are not “oficially” counted because China doesn’t keep records on religoius practice, being atheist officially) who practice the Buddha’s teachings in a different way more suited to the realities of the world that they live in. That is cultural imperialism, saying, we have learned this tradition, and now we’re going to tell you what you are because we know it better than you.
Until Jerry gives up everything (renounces his secular life) to follow the holy life (which the Buddha himself said was the only way to fully practice the Buddhist path), and actually takes the time to read the Suttas and Sutras and follow every proscription in the Vinaya (all said and done, more than 200 major and minor rules for monks found in the Patimokkha, 227 for nuns), he has no right to say who is and is not a Buddhist. That is why I countered them so forcefully – to get them to stop thinking with the arrogance that they present, and start working on some humility. Did I go a bit overboard? Yes, absolutely. And, without any question, deliberately. It was necessary. Sometimes, Skillful Means are not what is nice and happy. Sometimes, they require going over the top.
In gassho,
Christopher A Mohr
2LT, SS, CAARNG (as of last week)
Chaplain Candidate



report abuse
 

abby

posted October 11, 2009 at 10:49 am


Christopher – you are making a TON of assumptions about Jerry, Ethan, and IDP.
I don’t really know Jerry, but Ethan has said in class that he definitely believes in God.
Also, nobody is saying others aren’t true Buddhists…except..well..you…when you claim that Buddhism MUST be practiced as a religion. You are saying I’m not practicing true Buddhism. You are saying Ethan, who is one of the most highly regarding young Buddhist teachers in the country, is not practicing true Buddhism. Ethan and Jerry never said that about people who do view it as a religion. Do what you want. You are ascribing views to them that they don’t hold.
I think you aren’t arguing in good faith, operating on assumptions about the people you have issues with. This whole liberal-bubble thing is just a strawman. You have NO idea who you are talking to. I have no idea who you are and wouldn’t presume to.
Again, if your way is better, then just do it. No need to diss people who are doing great things if you can do greater things. There doesn’t have to be a conflict. Do what you do, and let others have their opinions and practice, and we’ll see whose is more skillful.
Nobody’s stopping you from writing a “Buddhism is a Religion” blog. Go for it. Nobody’s stopping you from starting a Religious Buddhist Org that helps thousands of people. If you can do it, go for it.
Perhaps, just maybe, however, the fact that this blog is so popular reflects the accessibility of IDP’s approach.
Good luck!



report abuse
 

Christopher Mohr

posted October 12, 2009 at 7:20 am


Abby – look back at parts one and two of this series. BOTH Ethan AND Jerry claim that if you don’t regularly practice meditation, a teacher, and a community you aren’t Buddhist. Look before you leap. And I wasn’t saying that they aren’t practicing Buddhism. Rather the opposite, that they are practicing, but that they are leaving central elements out. That’s why I threw that “lay Buddhist” bone out there. I think that even in most Buddhist communities, they would be considered a part of the Lay community.
If I am to be judged by my words, then so are Jerry and Ethan. You don’t technically know me, either, yet you are judging me as well…and I’m okay with it. I realize that your opinion of me does not matter. They post consistently to the far left of center, and I call them on that. more on that later.
The reason I constantly bring up the liberal bubble thing is because it is true. Outside of liberal-heavy areas, in places such as the midwest, the deep south, and the mountain west (excepting enclaves on the west coast), the statistics show strongly that people are more religious and that they tend to be more open to religion. Jerry et al are speaking to the choir in the less-religious and less open to religion regions of the country: the Northeast, portions of the West Coast, and occasionally you get Austin, TX thrown in there, as an up and coming liberal hotspot. In these liberal areas, Jerry is right that religious, traditional Buddhism won’t spread as well. What I’m getting at is that most people don’t live in those areas. Most people don’t have the hang-ups about religion that cause problems in the rich, liberal, and educated hot spots that breed the classically defined “yuppie”. And most places are growing religious converts to a religious form of Buddhism.
As for religious Buddhist ogranizations in the US, there are already 1013 of them according to the IRS. Why start another one when I am already connected (at least tangentially, and supporting) three others?
As for why this blog appears to have a modicum of popularity…In terms of page counts and numbers, I don’t know that it actually is. If it were not connected to Beliefnet (which does have a fairly large base and gets clicks from the curious), it would probably still be one of those tiny backwater blogs on a list serve somewhere. The majority of people who read it are already either A) IDP people or b) beliefnet people. That the IDP had the sense to put this blog on a religious network, but say it what they practice isn’t a religion (which I’ve proven time and again that it is), is some pretty good irony or cold, calculating marketing to drive up revenue for the IDP. And there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s what marketers do.
What I am concerned with is that Jerry is deliberately trying to stir up the pot, rather than utilizing his skills in better ways.
You put to much stock in your teacher. He is neither widely known in the Buddhist community nor is he one of the most respected young teachers. A decent teacher perhaps, but not more respected that the young Venerables at any temple or monastery. The reality is that most teachers of Buddhism, young and old are equally respected in their communities. If you’re talking about those who are not Buddhists respecting him, I don’t see that either, and now we’re back to the bubble again. There is this bubble that exists around the IDP that no other religious group has successfully managed to completely avoid, mine included, in which the members of the group think of themselves as the only group in the world that matters. Did you know that there are already three other “interdependence” charities out there (according to the IRS)?
Seriously, All of them are out of California except one in Philadelphia. And since the IRS says the IDP exists in california, under open records laws, they should have filed a 990. I would be very interested in seeing that document, and seeing how much of IDP’s funding really goes to its charitable programs versus administrative expenses. But there I go on a tangent. Back to the root of the matter. The fact that you hold Ethan in high regard does not mean that he a well-known or respected teacher outside of your tradition. Until I stumbled across this blog by happenstance on Beliefnet, I, like most Buddhists, had never heard of the guy. Why because we don’t do social activism. We do things like Engaged Buddhism instead. We don’t taint the Dhamma with the filth of the political world, but we do work to relieve suffering in the ground in communities. My Order, for example, despite being a Japanese order, does things like provide medicine and vaccinations to children in Cambodia, in addition to funding research and translations (and nice fellowships) at prestigous universities and providing funds for poverty initiatives, disaster relief, and the restoration of temples and cultural artifacts. All that from a small Buddhist order. Why aren’t we publicizing that kind of social outreach, strutting and puffing out our feathers? Because we don’t need the egoic suffering that would entail.
I can already see your argument, so we’ll kill it off here. I am NOT using those examples to strut about. they are merely examples, nothing to be proud of, nothing to deny. They are simple facts, on the ground realities, and should be regarded that way. So don’t bother thinking that I think because we do that we are special. I know we are not. We are just doing what the Buddha’s teachings tell us we should do – practicing the Paramis and paramitas (esp. dana, or making joyous altruistic offerings to others for the sake of letting go of attachments). Nothing special, nothing overt.
The entire concept of rising up against the man, which is what most reasonable people will instantly think of when they hear “rise up” in itself is egoic, no matter the intention. We just do what we do quietly, and no one hears about it, but it works. People see our good works and they come to us with open minds. You don’t hear about us pulling stunts like the “sit down, rise up” style bits of activism with a hint of Buddhism. Maybe it was just a bad choice in terms on the IDP’s part, but that sort of marketing is the very thing I’m talking about when I say they are doing more harm than good to the very Buddhist causes they think they are helping. That terminology instantly alienates (most) independents and all conservatives and yes, even some liberals. So they want the Buddha’s teachigns to be accessible? Give up the politics and the activism, and it will be. That’s what we offer, and that is why our approach is more accessible. Conservatives see in us a force which, as my conservative friends would say and have said, “would be really great, but they can’t shake off those damn hippies”.
How to appeal to those people? Keep the gravitas, the traditionalism, and the authority from the religion of Buddhism (an umbrella under which Buddhist Philosophy, Buddhist Psychology, and Buddhist Art, etc. exist), and ditch the activism of the secular side. The former most non-yuppies respect, the latter, they hate. They will not listen so long as we espouse causes they despise. I see this especially in my soldiers (of whom, less than 10% are liberal). Start spouting off about “rise up” against (insert whatever perceived inequality or injustice here) being how Buddhists think, and you have already lost the entirety of them. You’re done. You’re just plain done. They will not listen to you after that. It is the activism that dooms things like the IDP to the waste bin of the Big City social elite, who make of it their darling plaything when they want to show off their “open minds” or their “sensitivities”.
I don’t say this to put you and the IDP off of working to stop suffering. I agree that that is a noble goal. I do say this to show you and them that, by and large, the style and methods that they are using to make Buddhism “more accessible” (i.e. stripping it bare like a prostitute so it sells better) don’t work where it matters, where it could actually have a lasting, positive impact because that approach has already become a dirty word. Activism is a dirty word in America. It is Ethan and Jerry’s misconception that they can better help people by activism and “accessibility” than by real accessibility which entails giving more of yourself and leaving the door open. That’s the reality.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted October 12, 2009 at 9:12 am


I second Abby’s message to Christopher.
Good Luck!



report abuse
 

mirthquake80

posted October 29, 2009 at 10:51 am


Whether Buddhism constitutes a “religion” depends on your definition of religion. In my (admittedly limited) understanding, Buddhism is more concerned with practicing to alleviate suffering than with answering the “eternal” questions (god, afterlife, etc.) that typically defines religion. And are we not to measure the Buddha’s teachings against our own experience, rather than assume they are “divine” and therefore infallible? The argument in the comments seems to stem more from political posturing than from a legitimate attempt to discuss whether Buddhism fits the definition of religion. While some may argue that politics have no place, others feel that our political opinions and actions should/must reflect our practice. Room for debate here, but irrelevant to the discussion of whether Buddhism is a religion.



report abuse
 

Pingback: Mindfulness and the Brain - One City

mark sibert

posted February 29, 2012 at 8:50 am


I know this was from a long time ago, but I just found this and want to read the previous posts. I can’t seem to find them on Belief.net and wonder if you could send the links to me?



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting One City. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Most Recent Buddhist Story By Beliefnet Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!

posted 2:29:05pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Mixing technology and practice
There were many more good sessions at the Wisdom 2.0 conference this weekend. The intention of the organizers is to post videos. I'll let you know when. Here are some of my notes from a second panel. How do we use modern, social media technologies — such as this blog — to both further o

posted 3:54:40pm May. 02, 2010 | read full post »

Wisdom 2.0
If a zen master were sitting next to the chief technical officer of Twitter, what would they talk about? That sounds like a hypothetical overheared at a bar in San Francisco. But this weekend I saw the very thing at Soren Gordhamer's Wisdom 2.0 conference — named after his book of the same nam

posted 1:43:19pm May. 01, 2010 | read full post »

The Buddha at Work - "All we are is dust in the wind, dude."
"The only true wisdom consists of knowing that you know nothing." - Alex Winter, as Bill S. Preston, Esq. in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure"That's us, dude!" - Keanu Reeves, as Ted "Theodore" LoganWhoa! Excellent! I've had impermanence on my mind recently. I've talked about it her

posted 2:20:00pm Jan. 28, 2010 | read full post »

Sometimes You Find Enlightenment by Punching People in the Face
This week I'm curating a guest post from Jonathan Mead, a friend who inspires by living life on his own terms and sharing what he can with others.  To quote from Jonathan's own site, Illuminated Mind: "The reason for everything: To create a revolution based on authentic action. A social movemen

posted 12:32:23pm Jan. 27, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.