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Buddhism is Not a Religion: The God Problem

posted by Jerry Kolber

by Jerry Kolber

I am going to continue exploring where I
left off last week with my question:  is Buddhism a religion or a way to approach
living?  The ONLY reason I think this
question matters is that the ideas that the Buddha presented 2,000 years ago –
a path to non-violence, compassion, mindfulness, and “right” behavior
– are urgently relevant to our world today, and I have encountered no other
system of personal exploration that offers such a straightforward approach to
liberating one’s mind from a swamp of craving and grasping.  Unfortunately inaccurately calling the system
we refer to as Buddhism a religion means that a huge portion of the world’s
population will never bother to explore the teachings, because they already have
a religion.
But back to why this matters. I see little likelihood that people who have not
learned to at least make a real effort to be present, in this moment, have any
chance of long-term implementation of the behavior changes we need to stop
recklessly destroying our own mental and physical environment.   Talking about “saving the planet” or “personal/communal evolution”
with a list of actions to do and behavior (and lightbulbs) to change, without
the tools to internally calibrate your mind to how to ACTUALLY change your
behavior, is no different than buying plans for a house and a set of tools and
hoping you can build it with absolutely no training or instruction in
carpentry, electrical work, or plumbing. 
You’re just going to end up making a mess of things.

Buddha was careful to not present dogma, or rules, or external authority; his techniques simply create a mental
environment in which you are far more free to make informed choices about your
own behavior, by showing you where your own mind is stuck in habitual grooves and
shining a light on the tricks of your ego.


The Buddha’s teachings offer a uniquely
useful way to learn to take responsibility for your own mind, your own actions,
and your effect in the world. We start from the basic assumption that all acts
of destruction and violence stem from desire, which leads to craving.  Craving happens when you drift from the
present moment, because the present moment is pure, complete, thick, and
inseparable from “you”. You are in the present moment, and alive, and
compete – there is nothing wanting in the present moment.  Leaving this moment by wanting, desiring,
regretting, or fantasizing will by definition lead you to crave, to
dissatisfaction, because you have left the only place in the timeline (THIS
moment) that truly offers satisfaction and completion.

This is what the Buddha discovered, and he offers a pathway to discovering it for yourself. It isn’t religion, or
new age stuff – it’s hardcore, on the ground, slap in the face and wake you up to reality stuff.
Most religions require that you believe
there is a god or gods, said god(s) who created earth and the universe and all
creatures in it, and that this god(s) also created your religion – and that
following god(s) rules will lead to a good outcome in this world, and the next.
The creation myth at the center of each religion is challenging, because it
takes both a broad view – God created everything; and it simultaneously takes a
narrow view – THIS religion is the one true way.  Even the most tolerant religions, when pushed
to the edge, have to say that their religion is accurate and their creation
story accurate and their description of God correct, because to say otherwise
would unravel the very fabric of the religion. 

Buddha offers a path for anyone who seeks to walk it, regardless of other beliefs; religion sometimes offers a beautiful path, but it is most often in a gated community. 
This is why people fight in the name of
religion – this identity with creation myth and god-identity can be so central to a person’s
life that it becomes impossible to tolerate someone taking an opposing view.
Sometimes innocent belief becomes twisted into an idea that true allegiance to
the god(s) requires destroying as many non-believers as possible. The fact
cannot be avoided that with all the religions on planet Earth, most of them chosen not by logic but by birth, we essentially have numerous bloodline tribes,
each with their own belief system, and not all of them (if any) can be
right.
Where major world religions begin with
creation myths, creators, and assertions that “this religion” is the
right way because that religion’s creator made it so, Buddha begins from
recognizing the common traits of the human condition and offering a precise,
logical, almost clinical, prescription for how to overcome this basic
dissatisfaction. In the process you will likely become a more compassionate, less
violent, less destructive human being. 

There is no creator posited in the core teachings of the Buddha – but he
does not expressly say there wasn’t one. 
You might postulate that to him, in this present moment, the human
condition at this moment alone is the only thing that matters, and to concern
himself with gods, creators, and the past was the opposite of what he was
teaching, no different than concerning himself with how well he slept last
night or whether to have red or white wine with dinner. It’s not an error of
omission – it’s an omission of the unnecessary.
Put another way, Buddhism followed to the
logical conclusion suggests that you are inextricably linked with everything
else in this present moment – there is no “you”, there  is just “moment” which includes
“you” and everything else in this moment, and so you by definition are
also everything that you usually consider “not you” (including, for
instance, trees, beer, and God) – “you” cannot be “removed” from the
present moment without making it not the present moment anymore.  

And so if there is a God, it is you, even
though you are not God.  More to the
point – you can follow what the Buddha taught, and also believe in God, or not
believe in God, or not care either way – it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter because it’s totally
irrelevant to your experience of the present moment. When you start to really
pay attention to everything that’s NOT happening between your thoughts, even if it’s
only for a tiny fraction of a second, you have started truly taking responsibility for
being right here, right now, and to stop worrying about all kinds of stuff that’s
totally out of your control.
Though Buddha’s teachings migrated to and
were adopted by various cultures and people throughout history – including many
of us in the West today – the whole myriad of theistic and non-theistic
Buddhist traditions are collectively called Buddhism. 

This leads to the inevitable conclusion
(because God always wins these arguments) that because some Buddhist traditions
have incorporated deities and theism into the teachings, therefore only
Buddhists who incorporate deities and theism into their practice are “true
Buddhists” and everything else is just a light. And just like every other
highly codified religion, there are Buddhist lineages that include gods, that
have run into the same problems that other religions do – smacking face first against the wall of
defensibility.
But the fact that you can
be Buddhist without having to follow one of those lineages – you can follow
Buddha’s teachings and believe or not believe in God – is an important point.
Can you be Christian and not believe in that religions description of
God?Jewish? Muslim? You cannot.  Buddhism
uniquely does not present a unified version of god(s) – because god(s) are not
essential to the practice.

The fact that Buddha himself was careful
– in a time when theistic religions were all the rage – to neither embrace nor
reject the existence of god(s) is not a winning argument with those who want to
dig in and label Buddhism as a religion, to the detriment of the accessibility
of the Buddha’s teachings. They often seem more interested in defending the
particular cultural attachments that THEY have decided are “truly Buddhism”
than they are in the actual teachings of the Buddha himself.
When confronted by a non-Asian person with
the unassailable fact the Buddha himself so precisely did not accept or reject
the presence of god, they often claim racism, imperialism, even ignorance.  But this does not change one simple thing. For Buddha’s teachings to work, no god is necessary – no creator, no higher power –
simply the desire to evolve your mind away from craving and into
non-craving.  This is not a rejection of
god or religion – Buddha’s teaching are not theist, nor are they atheist.  Though most of the people who practice
Buddhism today do so exclusively (largely because of the label of religion),
there is no reason to presume that his teachings are incompatible with
following a religion like Judaism or Christianity. Though his teachings may
lead a religious person to a different understanding of themselves and their
relationship to god, I would consider that a deepening of spirituality rather
than a contradiction.

Because Buddhism, by default, has been
described as a religion, it is unlikely to achieve the kind of widespread
acceptance that the Buddha’s teachings would require in order to achieve the
kind of sea change our world so badly needs, from a mindset of selfishness to
one of selflessness (or at least less-selfishness).
I know, based on last week’s response, that I’m going to get comments
that start with “What a load of crap, I don’t know where to
begin”  or “Another ignorant
post from the Interdependence Project” or “Let me tell you why you’re
wrong”.  But I’m not writing this to
start a fight or to push buttons. 

I’m
writing this because my personal experience with Buddhist teachings has been so
transformative and relevant and provided so many specific tools to “build
a new house” in my mind, one that is indisputably creating better
conditions for myself and others on this planet. I cannot take credit for this
change – I must credit practicing Buddhism for beginning to reveal something that was
already within me, and within everyone.
I only came to study
the practice because I fortunately live in a cool spot and happened to stumble
on a community who also saw the value in applying Buddha’s teachings to our
daily urban lives.  I think it’s a huge
shame that his teachings will remain unavailable to so many people who could
benefit from them, simply because a large portion of the Buddhist community is
so attached to a label.

So before you start piling on, ask
yourself this – if you are taking the position that Buddhism absolutely is a
religion, and I am taking a position that Buddhism does not have to be a
religion but can be practiced as one if you choose to follow a religion based
on the Buddha’s teachings,  why does my
inclusionary approach cause you such stress?  And those of you that agree, or have a personal experience with an overlap between Buddhism and religion, please share your stories too.



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Comments read comments(143)
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Greg

posted September 23, 2009 at 5:07 pm


Actually Jerry, the Buddha DOES expressly say there is no creator God. It is an important point of Buddhism, actually.
See
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/godidea.html
“In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world; as, for instance, world-soul, time, nature, etc. God-belief, however, is placed in the same category as those morally destructive wrong views which deny the kammic results of action, assume a fortuitous origin of man and nature, or teach absolute determinism. These views are said to be altogether pernicious, having definite bad results due to their effect on ethical conduct.”



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Jonathan

posted September 23, 2009 at 5:59 pm


I do agree that Buddhism is not a religion. It is more a philosophy with methods but to practice those methods requires clear orientation and commitment.
The Buddha advocated that although gods do exist (they are one of the 6 realms of samsara) they are unreliable and one should not take refuge in them. The Buddha advised that all practitioners of his methods rely, or “take refuge”, in the state they wish to attain (aka Buddha), the methods used to get there (aka Dharma), and the accomplished helpers on they way (aka Sangha). All Buddhists worldwide orient themselves in this way and, as a result, take on a commitment not to rely on other gods, their religions, contracts, or endeavor to reach their paradises. One can of course stay Christian, Jewish, or whatever and use some buddhist advice (its inherently practical) but that is very different that wanting to become liberated and enlightened for the benefit of all.
Having a clear view and orientation towards the goal is essential for real, not intellectual, transformation on the way to enlightenment.



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James

posted September 23, 2009 at 6:53 pm


What can one say or do regarding this age old question? Unless it is to hold up in one’s hand a single flower.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 23, 2009 at 10:19 pm


James.
I think that is the answer.



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ben

posted September 23, 2009 at 10:29 pm


this is a great post – whilst i disagree that buddhism is not a religion, for in many countries such as thailand or sri lanka it clearly is – the buddha’s attitude to gods is possibly one of the most refreshing perspectives on what we in the west term religion.
so much debate at the moment is about atheistic science vs theistic religion. what about a religion where theism doesn’t matter, like buddhism.
the buddha was very clear to point out that yes gods may exist, *but* they are subject to the same conditions of existence as we – impermanence, suffering and non-self – and also kamma, dependent origination and rebirth. if they want to escape samsara they should follow the eightfold path as should we.
there is a marvellous sutta who’s name eludes me at the moment where the buddha and brahma argue about existence – the buddha shows with his usual clarity and incisive humour that brahma (god, allah, yahweh) while he does exist in the same way as any other being, could not be the supreme ultimate deity. he showed that brahma has little way of influencing people from acting as free agents based on their own volition or reaping the results of their actions through kamma. so why do people worship them?
if you look at the buddhist planes of existence you’ll see that gods fit in with all the other beings; hungry ghosts, hell beings, humans, animals, devas, etc. i personally see this as a psychological framework however it is equally applicable if you believe in non-material beings.
similarly the buddhist cosmology shows that universes or world-systems go through a cycle of creation-existence-destruction-creation, etc, and that gods appear based on the kamma of their previous lives. the first god who appears in a newly created world system naturally thinks themselves to be the first and only omnipotent god – like the christian god, yahweh, allah, etc.
so yes buddhism is a religion to me, and has the scope for acceptance of the existence of gods (even though i myself don’t) but the most important thing of all is that although the buddha showed us the way, we have to do the work. god or buddha cannot do it for us



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Bill Webb

posted September 23, 2009 at 10:57 pm


I can say, correctly, that Buddhism is not a religion for me. I cannot, however, speak for the other 300,000,000-odd beings who consider themselves Buddhists. Equally, it matters not what Siddhartha taught so far as the world today is concerned. Over the past 25 centuries his teachings have been reinterpreted and applied in as many different ways as have the teachings of Jesus, or Mohammad, or any of the other great buddhas.
In order for me to say that your brand of Buddhism is — or is not — a religion, I would have to take the position that my brand is the One True Buddhism. And if my path is not a religion, then who decided it was the One True Path? Oops. That was me. *blush*
It is interesting that Asians don’t seem to worry about things like this. They just do their thing. It’s Westerners — especially Americans — who seem to feel the need to box Dharma up and label it and its adherents.
Personally, I don’t worry about it at all. I just sit. If a religious thought pops up, I recognize it and let it go. Thus.



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Dharmakara

posted September 24, 2009 at 12:01 am


**More to the point – you can follow what the Buddha taught, and also believe in God, or not believe in God, or not care either way – it doesn’t matter.**
The Unitarian Univesalist Buddhist Fellowship (UUBF) is a perfect example of how true your statement is.
http://www25.uua.org/uubf/pgroup.html



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ben

posted September 24, 2009 at 12:05 am


great point bill



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~C4Chaos

posted September 24, 2009 at 12:34 am


first of, i think it’s best to define the word “religion”. religion does not necessarily equate to dogma. i would argue that even if i don’t consider Buddhism simply a religion, it’s objectively true that it has religious aspects (e.g. just go to Asian countries that are predominantly Buddhist, or find someone who grew up in a Buddhist and you’ll understand that Buddhism has some aspects that are not that different from Western religion).
that said, when it comes to answering the question whether Buddhism is a religion, i think B. Alan Wallace nailed it in this essay. see section “Is Buddhism Simply a Religion” ~http://bit.ly/YjH27
my two cents.
~C



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Dharmakara

posted September 24, 2009 at 12:59 am


To quote Talal Asad, there cannot be a universal definition of religion because that definition is itself the historical product of discursive processes.



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Dharmakara

posted September 24, 2009 at 2:47 am


In other words, the same holds true in approaching a definition for Buddhism, including whether it’s a religion or philosophy, that any definition would likewise be a product of discursive processes or practices, and then throw a dash of contextual analysis into the mix and it becomes even more murky, not to mention futile.
To borrow another quote, this time from Stephen C. Behrendt, a professor at the University of Nebraska, a contextual analysis is simply an analysis of a text (in whatever medium, including multi-media) that helps us to assess that text within the context of its historical and cultural setting, but also in terms of its textuality – or the qualities that characterize the text as a text. A contextual analysis combines features of formal analysis with features of “cultural archeology, ” or the systematic study of social, political, economic, philosophical, religious, and aesthetic conditions that were (or can be assumed to have been) in place at the time and place when the text was created. While this may sound complicated, it is in reality deceptively simple: it means “situating” the text within the milieu of its times and assessing the roles of author, readers (intended and actual), and “commentators” (critics, both professional and otherwise) in the reception of the text.



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m2c

posted September 24, 2009 at 4:16 am


i think that it is the individual who makes the religion a religion or not.
at the core of most religions if you scrape away all the rules and dogma
are providing people with keys, or a guide to life.
look at the core teaching of Jesus. he taught against dogma, he taught people
to go seek God for themselves.
unfortunately most of what we see as religions are used to control people, or
they are there for the people who are too lazy to do the hardcore work themselves.
so in conclusion. buddhism is NOT a religion if you choose to make it that way.
i see here in Japan, plenty of people who make Buddhism into a religion.
explore your own soul. and relation to that universal spirit.
peace



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Wes

posted September 24, 2009 at 5:42 am


I think that the late Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennet, of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives (http://obcon.org), talks eloquently on this subject in this audio Dharma talk:
http://www.obcon.org/Dhrmatlk/RM%20Jiyu%20Intro%20to%20Zen%20Training.mp3
Homage to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sanga.



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Lee

posted September 24, 2009 at 9:23 am


When I studied Buddhism it was not a religion. When I began to practice Buddhism it became a religion. If your goal is to make people believe it is not a religion so they can be sucked into the study and thereby help the world gashho. Maybe it’s like the Buddahs story of the house on fire and the guy lied to get the people out of the house. To lie to save them was OK but the person still has to live with the consequences of breaking a precept. I don’t believe ‘a God’ is necessary for it to be a religion. You are not God but all of you is of God. A buddhist concept. Maybe it’s just not a God of the ‘Daddy in the sky’ type. I would like to hear more about what your personal intent is with this discussion! I’ve found that our intent is critical to everything we do.



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Greg

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:09 am


My biggest problem with these discussions is that they seem to be so often predicated on misinformation about Buddhism. Jerry’s whole thesis in this post seems to rest on the assertion “Buddhism says nothing about the existence of a creator god,” which is totally untrue.



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Dharmakara

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:25 am


Lee: When I studied Buddhism it was not a religion. When I began to practice Buddhism it became a way of life. Would it not be appropriate to apply the prinicple of one vehicle (ekayana) to the issue of whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy? When one uses a phrase like “sucked into the study” it comes across as contempt due to a false belief of superiority, it is no different than the use of “hinayana” when referring to the Theravada tradition.



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Anon.

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:31 am


I’m really aggravated by Jerry’s articles. I’ve studied Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Yogic philosophy for ten years and I have a very strong meditation practice and for many years a teacher. I have found in my studies and through my personal practice that ALL the religions start out with the same wish: to liberate people from their suffering, to help them find their true Self, to prepare for death, and to give meaning to their lives. And not just that. Prophets come again and again to renew this wish and their teaching. There is a law in the spiritual world: everything becomes its opposite. Buddha himself said that what he brought would look and sound completely different in five hundred years. The Bal Shem Tov–the leader of the hasidic movement–one day was found crying by his disciples. Why, they asked him, are you crying? Because my teaching will eventually be lost. St. Francis himself was pushed out of his own monastary by his own disciples.
My own teacher has been dead only six months and I see the people he left in charge gradually changing things….
A friend of mine who was raised in Viet Nam saw the Buddha as a very frightening all seeing person. Very similar to the God of the Old Testament. It’s possible that American buddhism is a renewal of the Buddha’s wonderful teaching. Just as Buddha himself sought to renew what had once been the wonderful science of the Yoga Sutras, etc. But to suggest its superiority is crazy to me. In some places it is a religion, in others its a psychology. It is by no means the only way.
We who seek the truth must be on guard to ever become complicit in the idea that we have found the Way.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:45 am


Greg…where does Buddhism posit a creator god? -I’m confused by the statement above but may have read it wrong. A Creator God is something VERY different from meditation deities and bodhisattvas found in some Buddhist traditions. Can you clarify?



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Jerry

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:45 am


@Greg – My understanding is that Buddha did not expressly say that there is a creator god, nor did he expressly say there is not and that there is no “Supreme Creator” in the teachings. My understanding is that he discourages focusing on creation or not creation, and encourages focusing on what affects your belief in a creator (or there not being a creator) has on your own mind – no different than considering what effect any other thought has on your own mind. Please clarify for me where the Buddha says that a creator God exists.
@Dharmakara – deep stuff for sure. It’s entirely possible that no religion exists as we think it does – because people selectively created traditions, selected which to pass on, and in present moment select which to practice.
@m2C – thanks for the perspective from Japan. It is true of course that Buddhism is practiced as a religion in Asian countries and elsewhere. But as everyone seems to agree, it can also be practiced as a non-religion. I do not know any who practices Christianity or Judaism as a non-religion.
@Lee – Please do not make the logical leap that because you believe Buddhism is a religion, my encouraging people to realize that it is also a non-religion therefore means I am lying to seduce people into it. That is a deep misrepresentation of what I said, and you are restating my point but within the context of your own opinion. Your perspective is much appreciated, but please do not conflate it with mine in order to keep the discussion meaningful.
@Ben – thank you for elaborating so eloquently on my point and your own experience with the issue.
@Bill – precisely – I do not speak for anyone other than myself, and agree that Buddhism can certainly be practiced as a religion. But it can also be practiced as a philosophy and set of techniques and study that is extremely useful to anyone, even as an adjunct to a personal religious practice.



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Jerry

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:51 am


@Anon In no sense do I suggest that Buddhism is the only way , or superior. Is there anything non-factual about my observations about religion? Why do you assume that if I propose Buddha’s teachings as useful on their own or as an adjunct to a religious practice, that I am suggesting they are superior? That’s a pretty mighty leap you are making in your own mind.
You say my articles aggravate you, then you perfectly and succintly say exactly what I’ve been saying: “In some places it is a religion, in others its a psychology. It is by no means the only way.”
I’m confused about why you find my article aggravating, when you and I are saying precisely the same thing.



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Greg

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:00 am


@Ethan & Jerry – per my first comment (comment #1), he expressly says there is NO creator god throughout the Pali Suttas – see the link I provided earlier for further info.



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Dharmakara

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:03 am


Ah, arm-chair scholarship rears it’s ugly head… Francis of Assisi wasn’t pushed out of his order by his disciples, but by the hierarchy at the Vatican.



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Greg

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:14 am


So Dharmakara, let me get this straight. One person makes an unsubstantiated statement, “the Buddha never taught X.” Someone else says, “actually he did, in one of the most primary sources, right here.” And that is “armchair scholarship”?
Care to explain, or was that just an ad hominem attack?



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Ian

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:16 am


Jerry writes,
“So before you start piling on, ask yourself this – if you are taking the position that Buddhism absolutely is a religion, and I am taking a position that Buddhism does not have to be a religion but can be practiced as one if you choose to follow a religion based on the Buddha’s teachings, why does my inclusionary approach cause you such stress? And those of you that agree, or have a personal experience with an overlap between Buddhism and religion, please share your stories too.”
Well, we could take exception with you insisting on using ‘Buddhism’ and ‘religion’ as nouns for an equation rather than verbs for poetry..
What would you say ‘religion’ is, at heart? Is it a set of books, practices and uniforms? Or is it a rarefied emotional-cognitive state.. something one moves in and out of as a result of reading such books, doing such practices, and wearing such uniforms?
Or perhaps, is it the cause of such things..?
What do you think?



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Dharmakara

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:26 am


Sorry, Greg, it wasn’t a comment on that or anything you’ve said… it was related to Anon’s post, the claim of having studied Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Yogic philosophy for ten years, yet the poster made a statement about Francis of Assisi that most high school parochial students would know is incorrect.



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Anon.

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:35 am


Really? This statement does not suggest that you find in Buddhism some kind of superiority?
Because Buddhism, by default, has been described as a religion, it is unlikely to achieve the kind of widespread acceptance that the Buddha’s teachings would require in order to achieve the kind of sea change our world so badly needs, from a mindset of selfishness to one of selflessness (or at least less-selfishness).
I have had experiences and interactions with American Buddhists at the Shambhala center and elsewhere in America that do not suggest that everyone adhering to Buddhist principles or practices will produce this sea change you are so hopeful for. Rather, every transformation is deeply personal, in my humble opinion and will probably not create sea changes, or utopic societies. A good friend of mine, for instance, who was raised on Trungpa Rinpoche’s center in Colorado was deeply disturbed by what he saw there. So much so that he will have nothing to do with Buddhists in general. I write this not to in any way denigrate these institutions. I’m sure they are helpful to the majority of people who seek refuge there. But one man’s salvation can be the opposite for another. I am nervous when people begin to promise from their spiritual way things that are unpromisable (turning They might help and they might harm. I am glad buddhism helps you, but for another, it might be evangelical Christianity that leads them to the same conclusions you have come to. “In the process you will likely become a more compassionate, less violent, less destructive human being.” Are you sure?
But you are right, friend. We mostly agree :)



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Dharmakara

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:45 am


**Because Buddhism, by default, has been described as a religion, it is unlikely to achieve the kind of widespread acceptance that the Buddha’s teachings would require in order to achieve the kind of sea change our world so badly needs, from a mindset of selfishness to one of selflessness (or at least less-selfishness).**
Anon, you hit it on the head. It’s hard to believe that any religious institution could establish a culture of peace and non-violence if it clings to an idenity or a belief that one practice is superior to the other, especially when one considers that the history of organized religion is a blood soaked battlefield in most cases.
There is also an issue that can be raised with the idea that the Dharma can only be properly applied within the context of Asian societial and cultural heritage, as this would imply that the Dharma is far from being a universal Truth beyond approach.



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Ian

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:59 am


Anon writes,
“Because Buddhism, by default, has been described as a religion, it is unlikely to achieve the kind of widespread acceptance that the Buddha’s teachings would require in order to achieve the kind of sea change our world so badly needs, from a mindset of selfishness to one of selflessness (or at least less-selfishness).”
the Buddha’s teachings require widespread acceptance..? In order to achieve..? I think this gets into the general debate about spirituality– about whether it is descriptive or prescriptive..
“I am nervous when people begin to promise from their spiritual way things that are unpromisable (turning They might help and they might harm. I am glad buddhism helps you, but for another, it might be evangelical Christianity that leads them to the same conclusions you have come to. “In the process you will likely become a more compassionate, less violent, less destructive human being.” Are you sure?”
Evangelical Christianity has a hint of their practice built into the name.. “Evangelical” — preaching the good news. Buddhism, on the other hand, has a hint of its practice built into the name.. “Buddha” — one who is awake.
I would agree that one should be wary of promises made by a particular tradition, church, or teacher.. However, one would do well to be quite curious about the understood fruition of following the tradition of their choice.. is it salvation? Awakenment? Becoming one of the chosen?
Which is it?



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Damaris

posted September 24, 2009 at 12:56 pm


@ Ian
Christians seeking salvation from the enemy which brings confusion into this world.
Becoming one with the chosen speaks of omniscience.



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Spence

posted September 24, 2009 at 1:05 pm


I’ve always thought of Buddhist techniques and theory more akin to modern psychotherapy than religion…The cultivation of self awareness, the right mind/right action concept, for example, are tennets emraced by both communities..BOTH Buddhism and psychiatry are tools used for a achieving some sanity in this troubled world…
Religion demands that you “worship” some thing or things outside of yourself…You must have ‘faith”, and believe in phenomena that are supposed to exist beyond natural law…



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Johan P Venter

posted September 24, 2009 at 6:17 pm


As a committed Christian I have agonized over the very issues you mentioned about being right and wrong and birth rather than choice being the root of where you find yourself. I seriously searched for a while and eventually accepted that childlike spiritual experience probably was the key. And instead of trying to find a religion – and please I do not buy the idea that Buddhism is not a religion, I think one can use your born into religion to express your decision to believe and choose goodness.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 24, 2009 at 8:00 pm


@Everyone: again, I think the point is that you can define religion as you like. By most definitions I’ve hear, what Siddhartha Gautama taught simply does not qualify. It is a psychological path to freedom from suffering. In intent and execution, the theory of mind he taught is no different from what Freud or Lacan were striving for, except the Buddha also presented an in-depth methodology to freedom from suffering (as well as a notably more profound goal than Freud was looking for). You can argue this all you want (some people here didn’t even try, instead going the “everybody already knows it’s a religion” route of non-argumentation), but I can counter-argue and we will just be back in semantic chains of disagreement based on a failure to agree on a shared definition of religion. There are many competing definitions of religion.
The point is that everyone means something different when they use the word Buddhism. I approach it entirely as a psychology and ethics system of practice, a subjective science of mind. You can approach it however you want, but neither one of us has to claim that we “possess” the word Buddhism (which, admittedly Jerry does in his titles – but making bold claims also gets debate going).
Given that language is subjective and everyone’s experience of the teachings is personal, the next question -the only REALLY IMPORTANT QUESTION – is one of skillful presentation. If Buddhist teachings and practice have helped us, then how can they help others?
Here we run into a problem, because most people who consider themselves Buddhist in the West are actually in the tiny minority. Because historically it’s been called a religion and lumped in as one, the dharma has so far mostly attracted Westerners who a) don’t have a strong aversion (or are able to overcome it) to religion and b) don’t have a pre-existing faith that would get in the way of them investigating something that they’ve heard is another religion competing with theirs.
I submit that this group, this tiny band of non-atheists-AND-non-christian-muslim-jews-still-somehow-open-to-religion etc. Is a very small and peculiar minority in America and elsewhere, compared to those with A)a strong aversion to any religion (atheists) and B) those with a tradition already who aren’t willing to give that tradition up (christians/jews/muslims etc). For atheists and religious people both, “Buddhism as a Religion” sends a prohibitive message, it is a non-starter, DOA.
We are sending a prohibitive message, therefore, to most of the western world, except for us few people who got into meditation and Buddhist philosophy despite it being called a religion (WE are the weirdos here, We are the minority here, We with strange karmic predispositions and circumstances not shared by the vast majority of people who could benefit from many different buddhist meditation techniques!) We can’t take the perspective “Well it worked for me, and I was ok with calling it a religion!” because we will end up just talking to ourselves (and we are a small and insular group indeed!)
I see this everyday, friends. At best, a few people who come to my classes are not bothered by the idea that Buddhism is seen as a religion. Most are put off by that idea, because they are either atheist or already have a tradition. And those who are ok with it as a religion (nobody is PSYCHED about it being a religion), they ARE NOT against it being viewed as a secular humanist ethic and psychological system (which is exactly what I believe Siddhartha Gautama taught), so what’s the point of me as a teacher, having taken vows to help people with their minds and life, throwing up brick walls to entering the path? The mind presents all of us as students with plenty of obstacles. If a student asks me: “Is this a religion?” I say “Some might say yes. I think the historical data points in the other direction, and more importantly, I have never been able to relate to this as a religion. So, you’ll get different answers, but I can’t relate to it as such, and that’s where I have to teach from.”
Since we can define Buddhism as either religious or non-religious depending on our usage of the terms, focusing on that aspect seems silly. Why don’t we instead focus on message, intention, and skillfulness? I think practicing Buddhist meditation in some form can be useful to a vast majority of human beings, like 99.5%. Jerry agrees. If we call it a religion, it will only appeal to those it already appeals to. Us. The tiny band of comfortably spiritual weirdoes who have carried the dharma this far in the west.
(Note that I am oversimplifying categories of people to make my point.)
Thanks for reading.
I love the people who post and comment on the One City Blog!



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Damaris

posted September 24, 2009 at 8:50 pm


@ Ethan – it’s not that what your saying doesn’t make sense. It does.
The issue lies in Jerry’s presentation and in the thought that those spiritual traditions are lacking compassion, wisdom and skillful means. As if Buddhism sans anything resembling “religious” would not have practitioners who would engage in ignorance, aggression, etc.
Also, presenting it in that manner that Jerry has done opens itself to the same ignorance perpetrated by others in other spiritual traditions. Thereby making Buddhism san religion no different than all the rest.
We all know that people inspired by their spiritual traditions have done great things and harmful things.
Presenting it in a us vs them mentality is not useful and also isn’t this what we are trying to overcome in the first place.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 24, 2009 at 8:59 pm


@Damaris: I agree. In last week’s post, Jerry seemingly switched from “Buddhism is not a religion” to “Buddhism is better than other religions.” without much cause.
That’s not what I’m arguing.
I’m arguing “Let’s find a way for Buddhism to fit with the religion of those who already have one.” I actually think that’s exactly what the Buddha did, as a secular humanist teacher in Vedic caste culture. He did not deny the culture he was teaching in, he used it.
And also, let’s find a way for Buddhism to fit for those who hate religion, which is a lot of people I know too.



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RJ

posted September 24, 2009 at 9:15 pm


The point is not so much that I don’t agree with Jerry. It’s that Jerry doesn’t agree with Jerry.
I agree with the Jerry who concludes: “I am taking a position that Buddhism does not have to be a religion but can be practiced as one if you choose to follow a religion based on the Buddha’s teachings, why does my inclusionary approach cause you such stress?”
But that’s not the Jerry who wrote the rest of the post. That Jerry isn’t “inclusionary” at all. He is adamant that Buddhism is a “pathway” and “isn’t religion.”
I agree with Jerry II – the guy who wrote the conclusion. Buddhism is about recognizing nonself, not create more than one self! It’s a valuable discussion, and I appreciate Jerry’s contribution. But this religion debate seems to always end up with one side asserting its separateness and superiority, although Jerry – to his credit – takes great pains to avoid that.



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Greg

posted September 24, 2009 at 9:58 pm


@Ethan
What I would say in reply is, I think it is better to build a more specific “brand” for the people you have in mind, the way Jon Kabat Zinn has done.
As I stated earlier, the problem I often see with “Buddhism is not a religion,” which is blatantly obvious here, is that it often involves misinformation. This whole post revolves around the assertion that “Buddha had nothing to say about creator gods” which is demonstrably false” as shown by the link I included.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:24 pm


@Greg: HOLD ON BUDDY. In one version of what Buddha said, he refused to answer the question. In other suttas (not throughout, just in a few) he expressly says there is not a creator god: “In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected,” (YOUR QUOTE).
In yet other suttas, students tell him of their worship practice and he does NOT reject their worship as invalid.
So in some places he stays silent (respectfully), and in others, he rejects a creator god, usually arguing for the co-dependent orgination of interdependence.
So you pointing that out, that he occasionally rejects creationism makes “Buddhism is not a religion” a STRONGER point. I think you HELPED Jerry’s case, unless you are twisting logic in a direction I can’t follow.
In other places, the Buddha’s silence on the matter of creation is well-recorded. Never does he say there IS a creator god, which would be – from my perspective – the ONLY statement that could support “Buddhism IS a religion.”
You have managed to thoroughly confuse me. Are you saying that because Jerry could’ve made an even STRONGER case if he had known more about the Suttas, and didn’t know how, that somehow invalidates the thesis? It seems like your saying “you went for a layup when you could’ve slamdunked it, therefore I’m not giving you the two points.”
Yours, confusedly.



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DD

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:21 pm


Why do we in this modern day seem to care so much about “the Buddha said this” and “the Buddha didn’t say that”? Why assume that what this great man actually said has been perfectly carried forward for thousands of years or, even if it was said, that it was a perfect unquestionable truth? Why not take a step back, as Jerry is doing, look for what is truly valuable about the process the Buddha brilliantly defined and see how to best apply that to our lives?
Truth can only be determined by examination and implementation of the process to measure the results, not by who said it. The process works in my experience, everything else is guesswork – no matter who said.



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Greg

posted September 25, 2009 at 9:21 am


@Ethan – that is not exactly correct. As far as I know, he never declined to answer the question, “Is there a creator God?” He declined to answer the question, “How was the world created?” There is a big difference. As Nyanaponika Thera explained:
“In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world.”
Therefore when Jerry writes: “There is no creator posited in the core teachings of the Buddha – but he does not expressly say there wasn’t one.” – that is flat out wrong. He does expressly say there wasn’t one.



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Ian

posted September 25, 2009 at 9:57 am


Some links for you to peruse at your leisure:
http://thebuddhistblog.blogspot.com/2006/08/teaching-of-poisoned-arrow.html (parable of the poisoned arrow)
http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Thus_Have_I_Heard:_Buddhist_Parables_and_Stories (#27: more on the poisoned arrow)
Cheers,
Ian



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 25, 2009 at 10:00 am


@Greg, you still didn’t answer my question. Your objection makes Jerry’s argument stronger, not weaker. Do you disagree?



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Greg

posted September 25, 2009 at 10:30 am


Ethan, if you are talking about his argument that it is no problem being a Christian Buddhist because the Buddha did not reject the existence of a creator god, I think that argument is in tatters.
Jerry writes:
“When confronted by a non-Asian person with the unassailable fact the Buddha himself so precisely did not accept or reject the presence of god, they often claim racism, imperialism, even ignorance.”
In this case the “unassailable fact” is that the Buddha himself DID reject the existence of a creator god, and to say otherwise IS ignorance.



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Rob

posted September 25, 2009 at 10:54 am


Your own practice can show you the truth. Your own experience is all that counts.
– Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, “Mindfulness in Plain English”
My link to One City was attached to the above quote, which I think is rather fitting. Also consider the definition of reality,which Buddhism does not claim is absolute as religions do. Your reality isn’t the same as mine. You looking at the east side of the house, me at the west, both looking at the same house, have two different perspectives, no matter what we look at. Traditional dogmatic religion can’t go there.
However, I might question Jerry’s statement, “Though most of the people who practice Buddhism today do so exclusively (largely because of the label of religion).” I for one would ask, that of those who practice Buddhism exclusively, how many of those do so because they took refuge, and have been convinced of Buddhisms benefits because of experience? That in my perspective is an altogether different reason to practice than because a person might think Buddhism a better “religion.” Religion and experience are two different things.



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Jerry

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:15 am


@Everyone. Wow. What a land mine of a non-issue. I practice Buddhism, and it’s not a religion – same for Ethan and many others. Some people practice it is a religion. But if something can be (A) sometimes and (B) sometimes, you cannot say it is (A) or (B). It is something else. Please find a Christian, Jew or Muslim who follows the teachings of their organization but say “but I don’t believe that what I practice is a religion”. Then let’s go on from there.
Or, conversely, let’s just say that Buddhism has to be called a religion, and requires that you follow it as a religion. Pick whichever version of religion Buddhism you want. But then, I’m out – you can’t call me Buddhist anymore. I’ll come up with a different name that means “I follow the teachings of the Buddha, especially his advice to question everything and the stuff he said about impermanence.”
Maybe I’ll call myself Buddhastic. Or just “A Buddha”. I love the dharma and see it as way to approach and appreciate life. As Cole Porter wrote “You can’t take that away from me.”
@DD, Ethan and a few others – Thanks for getting what I’m talking about without burying it under scholarship.
@Everyone – this conversation contains the perfect seeds of religious war – a portent for bloodshed and violence in defending positions even with the Buddhist (or formerly known as Buddhist) commmunity. Do you all realize that?



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Anan E. Maus

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:19 am


Some guys in the Mafia believe they are good Christians.
They just excise the portions of Christianity that are inconvenient for them.
The Buddha mentioned reincarnation, that he lived past lives…the very definition of the existence of a soul…yet people argue against it.
The Buddha mentioned the existence of the gods, which implies the Hindu hierarchy, and does imply the existence of a Supreme God (since that was implicit in Hinduism).
What the Buddha says is that limited human ideas about what God is can be obstructive.
Somehow that has gotten perverted into agnosticism or atheism.
Neither have anything to do with the Buddha.
Now if folks want to say, well, Buddhism is this modern evolution of what the Buddha taught…you can say that, but it justifies anything and everything.
Make up what you want a path to be, then call it Buddhism and dare anyone to defy your assertion.
If you excise the Infinite Supernatural from Buddhism, you take away 99% of the depth of what it is…and leave only a form of psychological self-help. If that is what you want, why bother with calling it Buddhism? What need does that serve in you? Just call it psychological self-help with meditation…and there you go, you have your path.
Why must you claim our path to be something different than it is?
Why do you even care?
Take whatever it is you want to do, name it whatever you want and there you have it.
But, the name “Buddhism” is already taken. So, please don’t assume the license to re-work what it has meant to millions of people over the course of 2500 years.



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Terry

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:23 am


I agree that most of Buddhism is not a religion. It is a way of life, except for Vajryana Buddhism, which is part of the Nyigma school. The lama who teaches me said that Vajryana Buddhism is the one school of buddhism that is a religion. I’m new to it all, and I have yet to find out how.



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Tamara

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:32 am


Thoroughly enjoyed your piece – great read – thank you for putting my thoughts into words – I humbly & sincerely agree across the board – still learning and striving to get to where I wish to be in my mind – continue your wisdom for those of us whom enjoy and benefit from it.



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Jack Hansen

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:41 am


Nicely written and poignantly relevant. We need mindfulness in individuals creating a more mature, higher caliber society that would appear evolutionary in contrast to what exists in the world today.



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Dharmakara

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:43 am


Jerry: sometimes scholarship isn’t a bad thing, otherwise a person stands the chance of placing a tradition above historical fact.



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Durren

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:47 am


I practice Buddhism as a religion. A Philosophy or “way of life,” rarely features moral instruction, liturgy, ritual, or the existence of, let alone the study of scriptures or sutras. That said, I know many who seek to follow or practice Buddhism as a way of life. That’s all to the good, and I certainly applaud it. Still there is much that I receive from my more “devotional” way of practice that simply is not there in a purely ethical approach.
A Christian theologian that I admire wrote a book entitled “Jesus For The Non-Religious.” It’s a great gesture on the part of a committed Christian to invite others to consider the powerful ethical imperative that exist in Christianity apart from religious or devotional concerns, yet leaves the “Christian Religion” intact. My view of Buddhism is similar. And Buddhism seems big enough to accommodate both views.



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fayla

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:51 am


Buddha was a Hindu and, for one thing, would undoubtedly have believed in the innermost teaching of Hinduism which is that there is one unifying being or godhead behind the many faces of the divine and formlessness beyond that.
That said, so what? The teachings of the Buddha were to enable each and all to do individual journeying to truth and to move beyond these mindless disputations which are the chattering of madmonkeybrain.
As for what anyone else thinks in his or her own madmonkeybrain, who cares. You can’t walk someone else’s pathway. Only your own.



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John Daly

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:53 am


Buddhism is indeed a religion, in my opinion. And yet, even though I call myself a Christian, one who thanks Jesus for all the good things that happen to me, prays for guidance, etc (BTW, I’d be considered a lousy Christian too: I never go to church, and I don’t have the faith as the center of my life), it doesn’t preclude me from learning from the wisdom that the Buddha imparted. I guess that makes me a Messianic Buddhist (need a religion? there’s one!)
Here’s my view: Take a piece of paper, tear off a tiny corner. That’s what we see of all existence. Then tear off a bit more: that’s what the prophets saw. There’s still a whole lot of paper left: that’s what IS. ANYONE who thinks they have all the answers must be wrong. Christianity gives me a focal point and a personal spiritual relationship; Buddhism gives me peace. The two are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, I think they complement one another quite nicely.
Right for everybody? Probably not. Works for me, though…



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ellen9

posted September 25, 2009 at 12:05 pm


I agree with this. “I think practicing Buddhist meditation in some form can be useful to a vast majority of human beings, like 99.5%. Jerry agrees.”
Yup. What I find interesting is that the tools of mindfulness and contemplation, the buddhist method, as it were, “in some form,” can actually be found in many other religions, world views, practice systems — what ever you want to call them.
What matters is whether people pick up and use the tools. A human can wake up in Christianity, Sufism, Hasidism, Hinduism, as a Baul, Jain, Krishnamurtian, or Zen master and probably dozens of other ways. Some methods seem to be more effective than others, but I can only speak from my own experience. That’s all.
What matters is whether that human wants to wake up or not. You can wake up in any way you chose, if you actually do the necessary work at hand. Delusion and awakening are not the exclusive province of buddhism, and they are called many different things.
I had to come to buddhism and practice to see that the tradition I was born in, Christianity, has had those tools, and awakened beings, all along. And the tradition I joined by choice, Judaism, has had these tools, and awakened beings, too. But I couldn’t find them easily and couldn’t use them well, and who knows why.
So I’ll also agree, “Let’s find a way for Buddhism to fit with the religion of those who already have one,” because a lot of people should have the chance to find and use those those tools too. Besides we “tiny band of comfortably spiritual weirdos.”



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cat

posted September 25, 2009 at 12:09 pm


Thanks for this, being an atheist I have often struggled to reconcile these ideas and you did it well.
Regarding your statement “Can you be Christian and not believe in that religions description of God” I do think that you can follow the teachings of Christ in the same way as Buddha’s and not be a Christian I have read the Sermon on the Mount which I suppose to be a fairly accurate summation of Christs teachings, and I agree with most of what was said and find it a useful guide.
I think that they are just useful in different ways



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Jerry

posted September 25, 2009 at 12:17 pm


Dear Mr. or Mrs. Maus:
What I practice is not psychological self-help with meditation. I study and devote myself to the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and am beginning to study and practice other aspects of the Buddha’s teachings.
Also I was looking around and noticed that there’s like a LOT of different groups of people that say they practice Buddhism and they all have really different ideas about god (or gods), and some of them seem to be in a state of evolution.
So please, Mr or Mrs Maus, when you have a second, let me know which one is the real one, so that I can make sure I’m not following the result of someone (like maybe a government, or ruler, or potential religious leader) in the past few thousand years doing what you feel I am doing: “Make up what you want a path to be, then call it Buddhism and dare anyone to defy your assertion.”
Sincerely,
Jerry



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Craig

posted September 25, 2009 at 12:24 pm


Vajrayana deiteis are for practice. There is a reason that Tibetan sand mandalas are destroyed shortly after completion and ritual use. I was taught that one need not rely on a god to achieve enlightenment. Nevertheless, Buddhism definitely has a huge spiritual component. I can’t imagine practicing Buddhism without spirituality. The various methods of practice seem to be tools to gain better understanding. Different personalities may be better suited to different tools. If God works best for you, then so be it. Buddhism may not be the only appropriate spiritual path, at least at the beginning. I doubt that this would be much of an argument among the spiritually advanced.



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Your Name

posted September 25, 2009 at 12:43 pm


Very interesting. i believe all religions and spirituality has a purpose as long as it make all of us, better humans.



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AllandNone

posted September 25, 2009 at 1:56 pm


Total agreement, thank you for such a short and to the point explanantion. Buddhism is not a Religion and was never intended to be. A lot of improvement in human nature can be made by following the 8 Fold Path.



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Dennis

posted September 25, 2009 at 2:06 pm


Our ideas and beliefs are like tools. We select various kinds of tools depending on the specific task we wish for them to accomplish. There are no “right” or “true” tools independent of context. The belief in a “true” religion is primarily a matter of indoctrination and political territoriality rather than utility. A full tool chest is best.



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Erin

posted September 25, 2009 at 2:56 pm


I usually don’t read the articles when I receive the daily buddhist wisdom emails, but the title of this one intriqued me. I think you did a great job in explaining that you can be any religion and still follow the Buddha’s teaching. I myself am a Christian and love the teachings of Buddha and find the religion/philosophy of Buddhism to be similar to the teachings of Christ in the way you treat everything around you. Very nicely written.



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Mark

posted September 25, 2009 at 3:09 pm


Greg,
You cite the following to support your argument that the Buddha rejected the notion of a creator-god:
“From a study of the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Pali canon, it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha’s teachings. On the other hand, conceptions of an impersonal godhead of any description, such as world-soul, etc., are excluded by the Buddha’s teachings on Anatta, non-self or unsubstantiality.
In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected…”
To speak of “incompatib[ility],” “exclu[sion],” and rejection “in Buddhist literature,” does not seem to me to be the same thing as quoting express statements attributed to the Buddha himself — which I think is the point Jerry and Ethan were making.



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Ruby

posted September 25, 2009 at 3:31 pm


Thank You for this, as a Christian I have gotten so much flack for reading about Buddha , starting to try to add/ follow wisdoms from Buddha teachings into my daily life and way of doing things and well also collecting Buddhas ( they remind me to stay centered and calm in what right now is a very upsetting and crazy life I am leading….the same thing my bible and even the symbol of the cross does). For some reason it is almost like they are threatened, also that these people, in my life feel I am almost “devil worshiping” …it is so silly and unfounded and I truly just do not get it….it is nice to know that there are other Christians out there that also find peace and a way to be a better person in this world by applying the teachings of Buddha and yet still staying true to their chosen religion, and that it is ok to do so.



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Greg

posted September 25, 2009 at 3:35 pm


Mark, that is a good point, but in this case the “Buddhist literature” is often by “the Buddha himself” – the Kevatta Sutta and the Brahmajala Sutta being prominent examples.



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Jerry

posted September 25, 2009 at 4:33 pm


@Erin – THANK YOU so much for contributing to the conversation. It means a lot to hear from someone who has actually incorporated the teachings of Buddhism into a life that also includes Jesus Christ. I’m curious, what made you realize that you could accommodate both?



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San

posted September 25, 2009 at 6:12 pm


I practice Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism, and I chant Nam myoho renge kyo. The very best thing that has ever happen to my life as well as my family and friends. I live in bible belt, and I see how people are really suffering by being puppets on a string. I consider Buddhism to be my religion, because I practice everyday, twice a day. I can not believe that people are so blind to what life is presenting them. So much is going on in the world you have wonder where is this “GOD” in all of this negativity. My good friend tells me that God is not dealing with you guys any more. He is not coming down off his throne and helping people. WOW! I feel that Christianity is loosing its power. In all hearts of hearts we know the truth.



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Raymond

posted September 25, 2009 at 6:13 pm


Excellent writeup Jerry. Thank you for putting the time and energy into it.
Raymond



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Your Name

posted September 25, 2009 at 6:59 pm


I to am a Christian that has embraced Buddhist teachings and practices. I have become completely blown away with studying and practicing mindfulness. I believe that whatever tools and practices that I come upon that help me to be a better person, to be more mindful, to be more accepting, to be more loving, to be kinder – these are in the light and they are ministering to me and are good. I am at a place in my life where I am seeking – seeking peace and understanding and simplicity and a more accepting and gentle world. Buddhist teachings together with the christian teachings from my early life speak to me as I seek. I have enjoyed this thoughtful dialogue.



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Alvin

posted September 25, 2009 at 9:29 pm


I have only read about the teachings of Buddha and never talked with anyone in person that has been taught about Buddhism but, I think that any name you give your belief system whether it be Christian, Muslim or Hindu, you are labeling, and labeling is a form of attachment in my opinion. And even the newest student of Buddha knows that attachment isn’t what we want.



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Your Name

posted September 25, 2009 at 10:26 pm


One of my mentors said it very simply, “Merely to believe is not to know. Knowing comes from the expression of The Truth of Love in your daily living.” Stated another way by Ram Dass, my friend…Something like this….it’s very easy to be holy when you’re sitting on top of a mountain,meditating 10 hours a day and having your meals brought to you. It’s another thing altogether to maintain your center of integrity and the truth of yourself while standing in the fire of the world. Yes, thoughts are causal to creating your heaven (or hell)and Law of Attraction works, as The Universe responds to our individual and collective Intention. And a little off the wall…I love Groucho Marx’s phrase, “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” Big smiley face here. You are loved, All is as it should be.



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John

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:28 pm


Amen! (If I may use that term) Although I am not a deeply practicing Buddhist, I have gradually accumulated knowledge of Buddhism from various sources over many years and have at least sought to apply some of the concepts in my day-to-day life – mostly with very beneficial effect. This particular issue of ‘buddhism as religion’ is one that has troubled me over the years, and this is by far the clearest and most comprehensive, yet concise, examination of this topic that I have encountered. Bravo! I believe you are exactly on the dot with your comments. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I will refer to it – and refer others to it – in future, I’m sure.



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Mike Harring

posted September 26, 2009 at 5:55 am


I tend to agree with Jerry,Buddha was not concerned whether his followers were believers in God or not or indifferent.He left all that up to the individual and what works out best for them.I am a Christian who has incorporated Buddhist teachings into my faith.I see the Buddhism I practice as a philosophy that compliments my faith not competes with it.Much of what Buddha taught is analogous to Christianity such as compassion,non-violence,humility etc.I once knew a Catholic priest who was a devotee of Plato,but it did not detract from his service to Christ.He incorporated Plato’s teaching into his faith and feels it has been enhanced.



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Christopher Mohr

posted September 26, 2009 at 6:57 am


@ Jerry –
“a huge portion of the world’s population will never bother to explore the teachings, because they already have a religion.”
And you know what? The same teachings, under different names are present in those religions as well. You want mindfulness and getting rid of the ego? Try Orthodox Monasticism, or Sufism. Both teach the same concept under a different name. I could go, on, but the point is made.
“Buddha was careful to not present dogma, or rules, or external authority”
Who are you kidding? Ever heard of the Vinaya? 220+ RULES about how to conduct oneself as a follower of the Buddha. Dating back directly to Gotama. There was also a separate list of RULES for the laity.
“Most religions require that you believe there is a god or gods, said god(s) who created earth and the universe and all creatures in it, and that this god(s) also created your religion – and that following god(s) rules will lead to a good outcome in this world, and the next”
There is so much wrong with this statement, one barely knows where to begin. First, you are inaccurately conflating ontology and ontological subjects with the concept of founders of religions. You are also conflating the role of the divine with faith in the divine. Even a cursory look at the Pali Canon (not to mention the Mahayana scriptures) tells you that the gods are everywhere in Buddhism. This, the Buddha inherited/incorporated from the Vedanta most likely.
For example (one of many, Ethan, I’ll come back to you later): Majjhima Nikaya 57, 10. “And what is bright kamma with bright ripening? Here someone produces a (kammic) bodily process not (bound up) with affliction, he produces a (kammic) verbal process not (bound up) with affliction, he produces a (kammic) mental process not (bound up) with affliction. By doing so, he reappears in a world without affliction. When that happens, unafflicting contacts touch him. Being touched by these, he feels unafflicting feelings entirely pleasant as in the case of the Subhakinha, the gods of Refulgent Glory. Thus a being’s reappearance is due to a being: he reappears owing to the kammas he has performed. When he has reappeared, contacts touch him. Thus I say are beings heirs of their kammas. This is called bright kamma with bright ripening.
Without there being a belief in “gods of Refulgent Glory” there is no way to talk about the state in which they exist, or the state reached by people when follow what buddha taught them. Also, one is reborn owing to the kammas (actions) they have performed. Sounds a bit, oh, I don’t know, dogmatic? What of your “Buddhism lacks dogma” comment? You are wrong.
“This is why people fight in the name of religion – this identity with creation myth and god-identity can be so central to a person’s life that it becomes impossible to tolerate someone taking an opposing view”
You don’t seriously believe that Buddhists have never fought in the name of Buddhism, do you? History proves you wrong again and again. China, Thailand, Burma, Japan (lots and lots of times), even early Buddhism in India. Buddha himself even gave explicit (and canonical) instructions in how to conduct warfare, though he was the first to say try every other means first.
I’ll leave the nitpicking at that. Your points are invalid because you are whining about Buddhism not being what you want it to be. Buddhism is a religion, and must be so. Without the religious component, all of the Buddha’s teachings would be meaningless, without context, and nothing more than New Age kitsch.
Let me ask you this: If Buddhism as a religion causes YOU such grief, why bother with it? Why not simply admit that you don’t know what you are talking about and say your practice is Mindfulness with a hint of Buddhism? Or simply say, inspired by but not Buddhism? Because you, too, are attached to the concept that Buddhism is not a “religion”, though you’ve never defined what one is. Is it just that you are a secular liberal-type who gets a queasy stomach at the mere mention of religion? Buddhism doesn’t allow secular-liberal-types any more than it doesn’t allow religious-conservative-types (though Buddhism is more conservative than most liberal yuppies make it out to be). That’s the middle way, no extremes. In the same way, we BUDDHISTS have been open to allowing people to use what they can from Buddhism without becoming (nothing more than) a bunch of liberal yuppies or conservative yahoos. Not going off the deep end on doctrine and exclusivism, but not wading in the kiddie pool either.
That’s the reality of the Buddhist religion, and we’ve been practicing it for closing in on 2600 years.



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Christopher Mohr

posted September 26, 2009 at 7:06 am


Mike Harring –
You just disproved Jerry’s central argument, namely that the reason why Buddhism isn’t a religion (or shouldn’t be thought of as one) is that if it is, no one in the Western world will accept it, because it’s a religion that isn’t X,Y,Z monotheism. I hesitate to give the example of Enomiya-Lasalle, a Jesuit clergyman who was assigned to Japan, and began to practice Zen meditation. he compared it favorably to Catholic practices and recommended that Christians come to practice it, as it would lead them closer to God. And the link between monastic forms of Buddhism and monastic forms of Christianity is well documented already.
I agree with his goal, but not his methods. He wants to make Buddhism more accessible, and I want to as well. But I know that you don’t throw out the Buddha with the bathwater to achieve that, and he doesn’t get that.



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Dharmakara

posted September 26, 2009 at 10:47 am


In some ways this debate suffers from an attempted comparison of apples and oranges. Are we really suppose to believe that the life and practice of early Sangha during the Buddha’s lifetime is the same as that of the institutionalized Buddhism?



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Christopher Mohr

posted September 26, 2009 at 11:40 am


Yes, we are. Buddha set it up that way. There was a rtualized way of doing everything, from becoming a follower of the Buddha to how questions were to be asked of the Buddha (when you bow, how many times, where you sit, when you ask, when you retreat back to your seat). These are described by the earliest Buddhist scriptures in the Pali Canon. South Asian Buddhists will even tell you that the BUddha and his followers practiced in temples (that were gifts to the Buddha from certain rich admirers) during Buddha’s time. If that’s not institutional, I don’t know what is. What this really revolves around is Jerry not seeing the reality that there is more to Buddhism than “just sitting and meditating”. He has fallen under the spell of modern revisionists (namely the Vipassana Movement/Insight Meditation Movement led by Goenka, Kornfield, Salzburg, and others) who have no intention of actually practicing Buddhism, but attach themselves like leeches to get the name recognition they need to spread their “non-sectarian” and supposedly non-dogmatic Budhdism as the core of Buddhism when what they are teaching is a small, peripheral practice. It’s like saying Jesus’ encounter with the moneychangers in the Temple was the whole of Jesus’ teachings. Or like saying the Fourth Pillar of Islam is ALL of Islam.
That’s what we are against. Jerry and Ethan don’t see that Buddhism isn’t that way (and never was), and that’s fine, so long as they don’t call themselves Buddhists or say they practice Buddhism. Insight Meditation is one tiny, tiny bit of Buddhism. It lacks the moral and doctrinal foundations that are essential to Buddhism, but is practiced by Buddhists, and Vedic traditions that long predate the Buddha. And it has corollary counterparts in Christianity (especially Orthodox monastic practices), Islam (Sufism has similar practices), Bah’ai, New Age, some forms of Judaism, and pretty much all shamanistic religions practice forms of the same thing (changing the terminology used). It was and is by no means something exclusively offered by Buddhism. And it is not the centerpiece of Buddhism.
I challenge Jerry and Ethan to read the Nanda Sutta, Udanavagga 3.2, and tell me with any integrity that early Buddhism wasn’t a religion. I’ll even post a link. There’s heavenly beings, the Buddha doing magic, heavens (where the Buddha takes Nanda, briefly), a veneration of the monastic life, veneration of the Buddha, ontology, soteriology, cosmology, ritual, community, and morals and ethics. In that one document alone (though I could have used others), is the crux of why Jerry and Ethan are wrong about Buddhism – they want to make it into something it is not. They want to claim that their practice is Buddhism, which will help Westerners relate to it, but they are sacrificing Buddhism for acceptance of Buddhism. They are not just throwing the baby out with the bathwater but throwing the baby out and keeping the bathwater.



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Dharmakara

posted September 26, 2009 at 12:05 pm


Christopher: There’s a difference between tradition and historical fact. Buddhist will quickly claim that Hinduism did not exist as a religion during the Buddha’s life time, but fail to apply the same principle of evidentuary record in regard to whether or not what the Buddha taught should be considered a religion. Even the traditionaly held beliefs of how Buddhism spread has been challenged by the Early Buddhist Manuscripts Scripts Project… there was much more diversity than one expected.
I don’t mean to put words into Jerry’s mouth, but it would appear that he is saying there is nothing wrong with throwing the baby out with the water if the baby happens to be stillborn (not of consequence to one’s practice), something I would have to agree with.
It should also be noted that not all Buddhist sects are ritualistic, Ch’an for example. While it might be easy to say that such positions are a result of revisionists, that insight meditation lacks the moral and doctrinal foundations that are essential to Buddhism, but lets examine the practice of virtue (paramitayana)… it is a practice complete, in and of itself alone, not relying on ritualism or religious dogma and indoctrinization, nor does it lack the essentials of Buddhism when it comes to moral and ethical behavior.



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rorie

posted September 26, 2009 at 12:09 pm


Christopher Mohr
You seem intent on proving Buddhism is an institution and not a way of thought…choose your path of course…calling the practice by one name or another only changes it’s value to an individual if the individual chooses to take up the perception associated with the term..the practice still is simply available…accessible. What does history have to do with the buddhist path…flower it as you like and cover it with intellectualism and you might have already missed the staring at the finger and not where it directs…anything can be a religion by the definition of the word…What did Buddha write that said this was a religion? Nothing…other people have made the Buddhist “Religion”…the religion is craeated to satisfy need…the practice remains…call it what you like…ad dogma and rites to any practice and yes you will end up with a religion…possibly a selfish practice.



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elizabeth

posted September 26, 2009 at 1:40 pm


Jerry wrote: “Or, conversely, let’s just say that Buddhism has to be called a religion, and requires that you follow it as a religion. Pick whichever version of religion Buddhism you want. But then, I’m out – you can’t call me Buddhist anymore. I’ll come up with a different name that means “I follow the teachings of the Buddha, especially his advice to question everything and the stuff he said about impermanence.”
and
“Everyone – this conversation contains the perfect seeds of religious war – a portent for bloodshed and violence in defending positions even with the Buddhist (or formerly known as Buddhist) commmunity. Do you all realize that?”
Jerry, with much respect and compassion for the energy and intent with which you explore these concepts, may I point out the extent to which participating in this dualism (religion/not-religion) plants the very seeds of religious conflict that you recognize? Attachment to a concept is indeed a seed of conflict. We engage in it through the very exercise of trying to define Buddhism.
“Buddhism” cannot “require” you to do or believe anything. Only people with authority to make your life miserable if you refuse to comply can (try to) do that. Has that ever happened in the history of the Dharma? – undoubtedly someone, somewhere has tried. Does that mean “Buddhism” did it? Of course not.
Christopher Mohr, with respect and compassion for your evident devotion to Buddhist tradition, I am a student (a rank beginner) of the “revisionist” American Vipassana/Insight Meditation teachers. I have found there a deep reverence for the paramis and devotional Metta practice as well as study of the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the Three Conditions, etc. Tomorrow our local meditation center holds a quarterly Refuges and Precepts ceremony. We had the blessings of two Ajahns (abbots of Thai Forest Tradition monasteries), two Dhamma heirs of a Zen Roshi, and a long time student of U Pandita (Burmese master) at the dedication of our new center this past June. One of the monks noted with amusement that only 15 or so years ago, IMS showed videos of chanting monks in Asia and indicated it was some kind of decayed remnant of Buddhism which we were leaving behind- but now we invite these monks to teach and bless us.
An American tradition is developing. As it took 30 generations for the Dhamma to establish itself in each of various movements across Asia, we can expect at least 30 generations for the full bloom of the Dhamma here. Compassion and patience in these early years seems called for.
May all your efforts help all beings attain to the highest fruits of liberation.



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Mechelle

posted September 26, 2009 at 2:46 pm


I had someone ask me once, “Can you prove Buddha existed anymore than we can prove Jesus or God exists/existed?”
I told them I didn’t know if Buddha really existed and that it has no bearing on Buddhism whether he really did, or not. The fact of the matter is, we KNOW following the eightfold path works because we can presently test it and prove it. You can’t prove that when you die, you go to heaven of burn in hell. Buddhism is a different cut. It’s pretty much common sense. So it doesn’t matter if there was really a guy named Buddha who came up with it. SOMEONE came up with it, regardless if that person’s name is Buddha or Harry Potter, and it works. That’s all that matters.



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Mechelle

posted September 26, 2009 at 2:56 pm


Another note, something people fail to consider, or don’t realize. During the time that Buddhism came to the West, and especially during the time Buddha supposedly lived, they didn’t have a separate term for philosophy. All philosophical ideas were blanketed under the name “religion”. All sorts of things people take part in have their own rituals, but they’re not by definition religions. Sports. Dance. Education. Mathematics. It may be considered an institution due to structure, (but then, so do those other things mentioned) but it does not fit into the realm of religion.



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Christopher Mohr

posted September 27, 2009 at 9:32 am


@ Jerry –
“What I practice is not psychological self-help with meditation. I study and devote myself to the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and am beginning to study and practice other aspects of the Buddha’s teachings.” You admit to following rules and dogma, and practicing rituals (meditation is a ritual), yet you still can’t see that what you are doing is religious in nature, part of a religion called Buddhism. You really DO need to study Buddha’s teachings, especially the scriptures. I threw one out for you earlier, but you must not have read it. The further you get in, either on an academic level or a spiritual or simply textual level, the more religion you find in Buddhism. Also, you will find in reading the Kalama Sutta (from whence you derive the “question everything” comment without knowing its context or meaning) that the Buddha talks more about faith than you recognize. Read through it once or twice and ponder it.
@Mechelle – You have that backwards about religion and philosophy. If you had asked a Roman centurion what his religion was, he would have stared at you with a blank expression. Religion is derived from “to tie, or bind” and probably is related to the term “rely”. It might not be a stretch to think that that centurion would think you were asking about his connections. On the other hand, philosophy, or “love of wisdom” was well known in both Eastern and Western cultures long before the concept of religion had formed. Indeed, in the Buddha’s time and culture, the way you tested one’s ability was to engage them in debate, especially spiritual truths. That, in Buddhism, would eventually develop into its philosophical side. Here is where Jerry is, once again, wrong. He assumes, based on Western rationalist logic that the the Buddhist world operates on an either-or basis. That hasn’t been true since the Buddha’s time, when instructions were given to teach the dhamma in the local language, and that pattern hasn’t ceased yet. At my temple, we stock materials in such diverse languages as Portugese, Spanish, Italian, German, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai. We regularly have translators for Chinese adherents when the service is in English, and English when the service is in Japanese. The point being, it’s not an either-or, it’s a both and religion. Unique amongst the big religions, but no less religious because it allows for different situations. Buddhism is an inclusionary religion, as I said before, but still a religion. A good introductory resource as to why can be found at http://kaladarshan.arts.ohio-state.edu/Nepal/introbuddh.html or take a college level world religions course (or a Buddhist studies course, if you can find one).
Also, you miss the cosmology when you don’t read the sermons that the Buddha gave. There is lots of talk of heaven realms and hell realms (some parts of Buddhist cosmology suggest ten hell realms per world system, meaning billions and billions of hells). Buddhism is not as clear cut or purely practical as you have been told it is.
@rorie – While I appreciate your use of Zen aphorisms, I do have to wonder if you’ve conflated two or more on purpose. As for what history has to do with anything, it has EVERYTHING to do with anything when it comes to Buddhism. A little bit of casual study will show you that. As for what Buddha wrote on the subject, we have absolutely nothing the Buddha never wrote anything down, and that’s a fact. there are two reasons for that: first, writing materials fall apart in a hurry in that area of the world. We’re lucky we have copies as old as we do, what between the rain, the humidity, the lack of preservatives, and the Hindu and Muslim forces destroying whatever they could.
@dharmakara – Who expected that there was no diversity in Early Buddhism? Scholars (both within the tradition and external to it) have shown that since the 60’s. That’s nothing new. The Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project will in all likelihood not put out anything that hasn’t already come out before. Even the fragments themselves are not that unusual. Also what notions of the spread of Buddhism are you talking about, the ones that say Buddhism spread across the subcontinent (and Sri Lanka) and then across the himalayas? There was constant trade back and forth between the entire region, it’s not saying much to say that during the time frame the EBMP suggests someone took a copy of at least some part of the Tipitaka to Gandhara and translated it into the local language. That’s the way it was even done in the Buddha’s lifetime. Monks went out and taught a wide variety of people, cultures, and places, and did so in the local languages. The only way they could come out with anything new would be if the manuscripts said Buddha requires you to learn Pali before we can teach you, and you must come and pay homage directly to the Buddha at Kushinagara. We’ve known about the power struggles and the arguments about the Vinaya boiling over into local feuds and problems, eventually leading to schisms. This is, again, nothing new.
As for the historical evidence vs. tradition… I understand well what you are saying. my degree is in religious studies, but my master’s will be an M-Div in Buddhist Practice. Careful when you say that, and I quote, “Buddhist will quickly claim that Hinduism did not exist as a religion during the Buddha’s life time” that you aren’t counting a small minority of Buddhists as being representative of the tradition. I am a Buddhist and I don’t argue that Hinduism didn’t exist in that time. There are Hindu temples and shrines that predate the Buddha.
Also, Jerry is mistaking a stillborn baby for a thriving one, in that metaphor. He is disregarding the fact that Buddhism as a religion has grew more than 170% between 1990 and 2000 (according to the Christian Science Monitor, quoting from the ARIS) and is likely to keep growing. Why? Because, as a religion, we offer a both-and approach. We are open to incorporating new parts of new traditions. What we are not open to is taking part of the tradition and calling it the tradition. You can’t call Joe’s big toe, Joe. In the same way, you can’t call what Jerry wants to do, Buddhism. The point I’m making, he’s not even looking at Buddhism when he makes his argument. He’s looking at the tiny, mislabeled bit that he was told is Buddhism and running with it. He’s looking at our big toe and trying to say that that is Buddhism, and that is what we need to sell to Western buyers.
@Elizabeth – it is good to see that the Vipassana movement finally is starting to figure out that you can’t separate the rituals and practices that are central to Buddhism from the teachings and doctrine that are its foundations.
And it is specifically BECAUSE I have compassion that I am bursting Jerry’s bubble. He’s an idealist, without question. I was one myself, and I recognize the symptoms of others who suffer from what I suffered and am recovering from. I wish the world were an ideal place with neatly drawn lines that say “Buddhism isn’t a religion” or “world peace is attainable” or “if only everyone practiced the Buddha’s teachings, we’d all be happy, happy, happy”. The truth is that none of that is real. There will never be peace in the world and even if every single human being practiced Buddha’s teachings, it would not change the suffering which in turn leads to more suffering, which peeves people off, which causes arguments, which causes wars, which cause more suffering. And Buddhism is a religion, whether he likes it or not, whether he thinks it should be or not. Even if Jerry and Ethan and the like get cold shivers at the mention of the word religion, 2.3 million other people who became Buddhists in the last 20 years would beg to differ (fastest growing parts of Buddhism – Nichiren Shoshu and derivatives, Tibetan, Pure Land, Various Chinese Sects, Zen, other Vajrayana and Mahayana, Theravada, and Vipassana/Insight Meditation, in rough order). It’s just a fact that we don’t need to get rid of the religious components to keep Buddhism growing and widening its appeal and acceptance amongst Westerner people, thereby spreading access to the Buddha’s teachings. In short, we keep Buddhism as a religion, we do what Jerry and Ethan wanted to begin with, but we don’t offer Buddha as a Sacrificial Bull to the Altar of Westernism.



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Dharmakara

posted September 27, 2009 at 10:20 am


M-Div in Buddhist Practice? That and $1.00 might buy you something at McDonald’s, but not much. Ah, samsara. ROFLAO



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Dharmakara

posted September 27, 2009 at 10:42 am


Christopher: Please don’t take my previous comment as laughing at you personally, but at the academic instituition itself. I’ve been involved with the Bodhicaryavatara Historical Project since it was first commissioned at the Mahabodhi Sunyata in Tarragona, Spain, and through the years have come to view academic scholarship, as well as Buddhist scholarship in such institutions with a grain of salt, especially when such academic programs have the tendency to indoctrinate just as an instituionalized religion.



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Christopher Mohr

posted September 27, 2009 at 11:12 am


It grants me the ability to teach Buddhism to our soldiers (legally), to help sick people in hospitals hear dharma before they die (ethically), to officiate Buddhist weddings, funerals, and counsel families. It allows me to keep our police and our firemen ready to go and living up to their highest ethical standards after seeing so much of the world’s suffering. I’m out on the front lines of making sure people can live even a little part of the dharma in their lives. I am a chaplain, and it is I who keep our soldiers minds straight, so they avoid as much unnecessary karma as they can, and it is me who they turn to when they have been on their 100th mission and damn it, they just can’t sleep at night because they want to know how they can affect their salvation. That’s right, i’m actually living out the practice of the Buddhist religion while you people are sitting on your asses getting high on life. Mock me all you will, but you owe me for your freedom to do so.
I am an American Soldier.
I am a warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values
I will always place the mission first
I will never accept defeat
I will never quit
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment, and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I AM an American Soldier.
And I am a chaplain (candidate). Mock me as I tend to the Amry’s most precious asset (soldiers). Mock me because my degree isn’t in some high-falutin’ subject like business adminitration or post-modern literature or some such thing. Mock me because I care enough to put my life on the line for YOUR freedom, and to do it unarmed. The chaplain goes to battle without a weapon, and sticks his neck out further than you ever will. Mock me for caring, for actually practicing compassion. Mock me for teaching the dharma in the worst possible situations. Mock me for having the balls to be where I am needed most with loving-kindness, which is NOT on the meditation cushion. Go ahead, mock me. I expect that with your intolerant mind, you will find some way to justify your previous words.



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Christopher Mohr

posted September 27, 2009 at 11:13 am


too bad I posted that before you got your second shot off.



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Christopher Mohr

posted September 27, 2009 at 11:17 am


no harm, no foul. I was trying to get you to see past the arrogance of that post, but you got to it first. I take back the tone, but not the content.



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Dharmakara

posted September 27, 2009 at 11:45 am


Christopher: No one should mock such noble undertakings, especially the need for Buddhist chaplains in the military, but proper practice moves a person beyond “I am”. An example of this can be seen in your statements above, where from the bodhisattva approach we vow to liberate all beings, but there are no individual beings to liberate, so who’s freedom and liberation do you fight for?
Not to sound as if I’m preaching to the choir, but we must teach not only by words, but by example. What would you do as a military chaplain and a soldier held the same position as Jerry? Would you discourage him or encourage him?



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Dharmakara

posted September 27, 2009 at 12:14 pm


In other words, the commander is responsible for ensuring that soldiers and their families have the opportunity for the free exercise of religion, while the chaplain is a special staff officer and non-combatant responsible to the commander for religious support, but the free excercise of religion is a two-way street, as it also means freedom from religion, where one of the guiding principles of the Unit Ministry Team (UMT) is that a chaplain’s comments should always be focused on encouragement and comfort, not indoctrination.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 27, 2009 at 1:28 pm


@Christopher: Thanks for participating in the blog. It’s great to have you.
Firstly, I view ritual as more a community-building tool. Corporations have rituals called Board meetings. Does this make them a religion? Again, I do not see a definition of religion that a lot of seemingly “non-religious” institutions can’t also fit into. Sports, Art, Politics, all are supremely heavily reliant on “religious” ritual. A New York Art Opening is quite a “religious event” if you’ve ever been to one. Insiders act a certain way, agree on certain modes of conduct, and those who are unused to the scene might find them strange and off-putting. Is the New York Art World a religion? Maybe.
I do not advocate teaching a ritual-less dharma, because rituals are how people come together and agree on the meanings of events.
I also officiate Buddhist weddings (twice now, and both times the family and audience were a blend of Catholic and atheist, interestingly enough, and if I had attempted to present Buddhism as religious in either case, it would’ve communicated much more poorly).
I also teach Buddhism and Buddhist meditation at the University level, albeit a very progressive university. My meditation course is actually offered under Eugene Lang’s “Wellness Department” which is exactly where I think it belongs. I do not just present mindfulness in the class, but try to introduce the full range of Buddhist philosophy, psychology and ethics. This is the point I believe Greg misses – I am not simply talking about presenting mindfulness, or MBSR as Kabat-Zinn does. I’m talking about the whole canon of sutric teachings (tantra is a bit trickier, yet also do-able, I believe)
I also think your constant references to Pali Suttas are great. I have read all of the ones you recommend.
(although sometimes, as in last week’s reference to the dhammapada, I believe you missed the point of the quote in questions – that the buddha was calling out the creator-less nature of reality with his reference to Brahma).
I believe, as I said to Greg, that these ideas are meant to be studied as metaphors, analogies, and archetypes within the Yogachara (Mind Only) philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism, wherein we see the problem with the separation of inner and outer reality. There isn’t really any “out there” separate from the shared space of the minds of we who co-produce reality. At this point, if we really take this to heart, the division between metaphor and reality also fades.
The “realm of the gods” has to do with how karma is perceptually conditioned, the ultimate comfort zone. Is it real? Yes, it’s as real as the shared inhabitants of that space make it. It’s a real as the space co-created by billionaires. As real as a warzone. As real as the hungry ghost realm of environmental degradation (If you want to know what the hungry ghost world looks like, you might just need to visit planet Earth 100 years from now – a realm which will be exactly as “real” as we make it.) As real as America or Iraq. As real as this dialogue, which would proceed in a different realm if any of our minds were differently conditioned.
I also believe we are fast moving to a time where Buddhism will be accessible in a far broader format. I will write a blog post in the coming weeks, but the three things that Buddhism actually requires are that you A) Study and practice meditation and ethics and philosophy (the three branches of the eightfold path of dharma), B) Work with a mentor or multiple teachers (Buddha) and C) participate in and structure your life around community (Sangha).
This is the path of Buddhism, working with the path, with teachers, and with community. It looks very different now than ever before, but these three gems are still the path, and framing the conversation this way avoids the semantic inescapability of religion/not-religion. Unfortunately, both east and west, many Buddhists don’t actually meditate, many Buddhist don’t actually have a living relationship with teachers, and many buddhists don’t have active participation in community.
This is actually the best measure I’ve found for what it really means to be a Buddhist or not (again, the religion or not is more about skillful presentation than actual division). By the measure of definition of Buddhism as the three jewels, most Buddhists, East and West alike, do not practice actual buddhism. Ain’t that funny?



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yss1254

posted September 27, 2009 at 1:53 pm


I embraced Buddhism exactly because it offers a believable, rational and powerful context for living.
I have been baptized three times: Missionary Baptist, United Methodist and Presbyterian. I found all somehow unsatisfactory exactly because–despite the Ten Commandments–the experience of them was largely tied to the personality and beliefs of the pastor and the socio-economic nature of the congregation. I could never muster the fervor or devotion that others seem to enjoy. Conflicts exist among members of the same religion, the same church as well as among religions. It is these conflicts, jealousy, vanity, greed, backbiting, etc. that eventually drove me away.
I have always had a problem with organized religion’s brutality, hypocricy and the fact that their declarations that theirs is the only “true religion” is an insult to God. Do they really thing God is stupid. If God is omniscient and all knowing;If he created all people and all things then isn’t he smart enough to deliver to people the prophets that are meaningful to them in their cultural context? Isn’t God culturally competent? I believe he is. Yet, millions of lives have been sacrificed in the name of God against those who merely by virtue of being different have incited fear, hatred and war.
I now realize that I have always been a seeker–astronomy, past-life readings, Rosicrucian teachings, Shirley McLaine, Islam, Catholicism, Gnosticism, Hinduism–I have explored them all. Only Buddhism with its absence of hierarchy, lack of demand for subservience, or self-sacrifice and reward in heaven (this goes exponentially for me as a descendant of slave) offers me what I have sought. Something that makes total sense. It’s practice has changed my life from the inside out. I am more conscious and comfortable in my own skin now than ever before in my five decades of life precisely because Buddhism is a way of both inner and outer life. Religion, not religion. It does not matter.
YSS



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Greg

posted September 27, 2009 at 2:25 pm


>I believe, as I said to Greg, that these ideas are meant to be studied as metaphors, analogies, and archetypes within the Yogachara (Mind Only) philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism, wherein we see the problem with the separation of inner and outer reality
@Ethan – the problem is that you make the assertion that these are meant to be studied ONLY as metaphors when all of the available evidence suggests the contrary. It is unambiguous that Yogachara texts assert that is possible to experience the god realm, for instance, as a realm as SEEMINGLY real as the one we are in now – although you are correct that it is not asserted to be “ultimately real” or “truly existent” in the Madhyamika sense.
I don’t think I am missing the point about you teaching the whole sutric teachings. As I’ve always said, I think that is fine, but the “only a metaphor” spin should be clearly labeled Reform Buddhism, or Modern Buddhism, or some such thing. That way people can distinguishing it easily from traditional Buddhism, and whether they want one or the other, it is easier for them to get what they want and not get what they don’t want.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 27, 2009 at 2:39 pm


@Greg: No, I do not assert that the God Realm should be viewed just as metaphor – read the rest of my previous comment. It is completely real – precisely because it is inseparable from the minds that project and reify it.
However, at the beginning of a students path, it is much more useful (IMHO) to work with the metaphorical aspect. Then later, the idea of mind and external environment being inseparable allows the separation between metaphor and reality to collapse, and we can start talking about the God realm as real, just like the human realm is. But no realm, and no dharma teaching is EVER real separate of the minds of those who perceive them. I do not agree if you say the God Realm or Vajra Hell are externally real, separate from the mind. That is not a dharma teaching.
I am talking about viewing the God realm as very real. But I don’t see this as a areligious statement from a mind-only perspective.
Also re: Traditional Buddhism – this is not one thing, and I’m not really sure why some scholarly commentators are acting as if it were. The more Buddhist scholarship I studied, the more I realized there were a vast array of traditional perspectives on the religion-or-not question.
I would be happy to say that I teach Secular Humanistic Buddhism, if that helps you, but I’m not able to cede the term Buddhism to the religionists (especially since the term “Buddhist” is a much much much more recent historical development itself).
I can’t help but feeling that you are locked into one traditional interpretation, when in fact there are many.



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packratt

posted September 27, 2009 at 3:11 pm


I really enjoyed what you had to say! Not dicussing a god is one of the things that drew me to Buddhism. I think religion is basically a way to be a good and moral person, and that’s what Buddhism invites you do-the difference is you’re doing it because you choose to and NOT because you believe in a specific higher power, and you have to do good person to please it. Buddhism allows us to ,as they say, KEEP IT REAL!



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Lisa Ekanger

posted September 27, 2009 at 6:03 pm


The question of whether Buddhism is a religion or not intrigues me very much. While not a self professed Buddhist, I have found myself meandering closer and closer to the teachings of Buddha. Since I live in the heart of the conservative midwest, I have not been able to find a place or group where I can explore Buddhism further. So I have decided to remain at a Christian church where I tease out the useful and important teachings of Jesus and weave them with Buddhism. However, if you asked me, I will not say I am a Christian either ~ I believe Jesus existed, but I do not beleive he was a God. Because of my important role model position I am in (as mother to three children) I want to make sure that they are exposed to the teachings of the majority of the people from which they come and for them to be comfortable in a church. I saw first hand how many of my friends who were not exposed to any religion of any kind seemed to become more insecure about exploring anything (including the most important) which I believe is spirituality. Spirituality is not a religion either, but is essential to a stable and rewarding human experience. If asked, I tell people I am a free thinker which is basically to use reason, scisnce, knoweldge & truth to develop ideas about the living world. The Origins of free thought are believed to be Buddhist. In Buddhism a type of freethought was advocated by Gautama Buddha, most notably in the Kalama Sutta: “It is proper for you, Kalamas [the people of the village of Kesaputta], to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blameable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill, abandon them. ” …Do not accept anything by mere tradition… Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures… Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your pre-conceived notions… But when you know for yourselves—these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness—then do you live acting accordingly.” Perfect!



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 28, 2009 at 10:04 am


First of all, a big welcome and thank you to those of you visiting us for the first time, or visiting again.
@Christopher, thank you for your thoughtful perspective on your practice and the amazing work you are doing with soldiers. Seriously – awesome stuff man. Two points I must disagree vehemently with you on – that are at the core how I’ve been framing this conversation since day one and keep getting twisted by you and others (unintentionally I’m sure but twisted nonetheless). So I’m going to respond to you specifically, and to everyone making these arguments generally.
First of all, there is a recurring notion that because Ethan and I and some others in the Interdependence Project desire to make the teachings of Buddha available to everyone without their having to give up their current religion – to use what the Buddha taught in their lives not as religion, but as transformative personal practice – that we are somehow opposed to religion, or as you put it made queasy by religion. There is nothing in my life, nor in my writing, to suggest that I am made queasy by religion. It’s a personal attack and inaccurate argument that has nothing to do with what I’ve been saying, and it taints the rest of what you say with a certain viciousness that I don’t think you intend.
Second, you continually refer to the large number of Buddhists in the world who practice Buddhism as a religion as some sort of proof of religion – and you maintain that these people are true Buddhists. Yet it is an unassailable fact that a huge percentage of those who identify as Buddhists (both in the USA and in India, Japan, etc) do not have a meditation practice. The situation in some parts of Asia is such that Buddhist temples are maintained essentially as “family businesses” offering funerary rites and not functioning at all as we imagine a sangha should.
I am not going to cede this point – if you have a regular meditation practice, study the Buddha’s teachings, and participate in a community, you are Buddhist. Buddha’s teachings do not create religion. They are a useful practice on their own or as an adjunct to any spiritual practice you may have.
Christopher, you are obviously dedicated to your practice, but this paragraph again really taints all your other reasoned arguments: “That’s right, i’m actually living out the practice of the Buddhist religion while you people are sitting on your asses getting high on life. Mock me all you will, but you owe me for your freedom to do so.”
Personal attacks on a community of people you do not know, who have never mocked you, who each have our own challenges to face, in order to build up your own perceived superiority, does nothing to help the conversation here. It’s your choice of course to write whatever you want, but your going to be taken a lot more seriously if you avoid assuming you know ANYTHING about our lives.



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Greg

posted September 28, 2009 at 11:16 am


@Ethan – from your comments it seemed to me that you were suggesting it was intended to be taken as metaphor only. Since you say that that wasn’t your point, then there is no disagreement with me. Yes, there are different traditional interpretations, but in all of them it is agree that sentient beings can, post-mortem, be born in other realms which appear as real as this present one does to us. But, since you agree, that does not appear to be a point of contention here.



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Greg

posted September 28, 2009 at 11:22 am


one more thing – it is true that the term “Buddhist,” being an English term, is relatively recent. But the traditional Sanskrit term “Baudda” served much the same purpose, and “Buddhist” is a reasonable translation of that.



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Christopher Mohr

posted September 29, 2009 at 8:30 am


you know what? I came to a realization, an enlightenment. The people here trying to prove that Buddhism isn’t a religion have not had either the moral integrity or the fortitude to attempt a definition. If I were to speculate, I would say it is because there is no definition of religion into which Buddhism (even and especially Early Buddhism, which you people think you are promoting without knowing what you are talking about) does not fit.
So here is my challenge to you: there are many, many definitions of what religion is. As the Encyclopedia of Religion notes, originally, it meant “a bond of scruples” (yes, Ethan, that DOES include all those other things which you mentioned in previous posts). I challenge you to come up with a definition of religion, and then to show how Buddhism is not one. You’re more than content to NOT define religion, but to leave it as some sort of amorphous, nebulous, bogeyman, because you are afraid of it, and you are afraind of what it means that the tradition that you follow, called Buddhism, might somehow be linked to that nefarious and detestable thing called religion.
So make your definition. Quote or borrow from Durkheim, Maslow, Malinowski, or the other greatest minds of the past several centuries if you will. Look it up in the Encyclopedia of Religion, or another source. For a limited time only, I’ll even give you this special offer. For the low, low price of only FOUR meditation retreats you can even have the new, deluxe, brand new, never before seen… dictionary.com definitions of Buddhism!
–noun
a religion, originated in India by Buddha (Gautama) and later spreading to China, Burma, Japan, Tibet, and parts of southeast Asia, holding that life is full of suffering caused by desire and that the way to end this suffering is through enlightenment that enables one to halt the endless sequence of births and deaths to which one is otherwise subject.
But wait, there’s more! Order in the next 20 kalpas and you’ll also get all 9 dictionary.com definitions of religion! What a steal!
–noun
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.
7. religions, Archaic. religious rites.
8. Archaic. strict faithfulness; devotion: a religion to one’s vow.
—Idiom
9. get religion, Informal.
a. to acquire a deep conviction of the validity of religious beliefs and practices.
b. to resolve to mend one’s errant ways: The company got religion and stopped making dangerous products.
Origin:
1150–1200; ME religioun (



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Damaris

posted September 29, 2009 at 8:58 am


@Ethan,
So if we both agree. Then why are you arguing?
you wrote: “Let’s find a way for Buddhism to fit with the religion of those who already have one.”
I was saying this to you 3 years ago. Why couldn’t you hear me say it?



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Dharmakara

posted September 29, 2009 at 10:44 am


Christopher: Your words don’t come across as “an enlightenment”, not even an epiphany… more like you’ve passed judgement on those who disagree with you. Just because someone disagrees with you, it doesn’t mean they lack the moral integrity or the fortitude to attempt a definition, but that they are speaking from experience, their actual practice. As Jerry pointed out ealier, it’s a personal attack on a community of people you do not know.
Myself and others have done exactly that, attempted a definition of Buddhism, and have come to the same conclusion about Buddhism as Talal Asad did when attempting to reach a definition of religion, that there cannot be a universal definition because that definition is itself the historical product of discursive processes.



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Ethan

posted September 29, 2009 at 11:12 am


@Damaris: I don’t remember ever doing anything other than heartily agreeing with you on the few occasions we’ve had this conversation. I don’t believe we are arguing in this thread. I agree that we can have this conversation without even slightly saying that existing religious traditions don’t do great things for people, and I hope Jerry crafts his language in such a way.
@Christopher: Wow. Tone. Questioning Moral Integrity? Any chance we can have a conversation based on mutual respect? We are both sincere practitioners, teachers, and scholars. This is not the place for questioning people’s moral integrity. Take that to another blog, please.
I also think if you read the comments on Jerry’s posts, several definitions of religion are proposed, several among many possible.
But again, to reiterate, I am agreeing that there are many definitions of religion. If you re read my thoughts on the matter, I am not saying Buddhism could not fit into many of those. I’m saying that most of them actually could accommodate Buddhism, including yours, if you don’t take the Yogachara persepctive especially (Which, however, I Do).
But here’s what I’m saying – for most of them, once you fit Buddhism, you can also fit Psychology, Science, Politics, Art, Sports as Religions. Ever Been To A College Football Game? Most Religious thing you could imagine. That’s the point I’m making.
Again, glad you are here, but please try to see that our discussion doesn’t have to involve these ad hominem attacks (and in my experience, if I have to tell somebody I’m Not Mocking Them, it usually means I was).
Be well,
Ethan



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DD

posted September 29, 2009 at 11:57 pm


@Christopher Mohr and others
Why get lost in the semantic debate about what constitutes a religion when we could be discussing the idea of whether Buddhism (and therefore Buddhists) should WANT it to be a religion? As a religion it is labeled and closed off to billions of people. As a process (which I believe it to be no matter how invested a community gets in defending its “supernatural” label, history and trappings) it’s open to all.
I get that most religions have ideas in common with Buddhism, but clearly the last few thousand years show us that hiding good ideas within a framework of divisive nonsense isn’t getting the job done.
We’re marching towards our own destruction due to faith-based world views and maybe the greatest heroic effort Buddhists can undertake is to surrender their religious label and evolve a stronger, more expansive idea just when humanity needs it the most.
(I know, I’m a ray of sunshine – don’t invite me to dinner parties)



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Damaris

posted September 30, 2009 at 12:13 pm


@ Ethan – “I hope Jerry crafts his language in such a way.”
Jerry can craft his language in any which way but I believe at the end of the day; he doesn’t see it the way your writing it.
Go look @ the latest.



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Christopher Mohr

posted October 2, 2009 at 9:15 am


All – I have more important things to do than debate people who refuse to define their terms, thus making anything I say false by default. However, I will explain why I see the lack or moral integrity. Here is why I said your argument lacks moral integrity. You are not arguing in good faith.
Let’s put the discussion in the reverse for a moment. I’ll change the terms, but the argument is left intact. I argue that baseball is not a prambolic neuronatal hypoyonometer (PNH) because it doesn’t contain a football. Jerry, realizing that a PNH has a certain definition which is relatively well agreed on in the PNH studies community, points out the definition and characteristics of PNH, and shows how baseball (in all its forms, from Little League to Major League ball) fits the definition and characteristics of a PNH, and therefore is a PNH. I, on the other hand, refuse (out of sheer laziness, pure ignorance, or fear of having my liberal yuppie imperialist and borderline racist imposition on baseball torn apart) to define a PNH. This is a moral failing because it sets up everything that Jerry says as a straw man, which can be knocked down. Now, for practical reasons, I’m going to include Ethan in the “not PNH” camp. Ethan gets in on the action, attempting to redirect away by insisting on a condition which Jerry never denied, and indeed, affirmed. This is the whole “what about politics, or an art opening, or a corporate board meeting? Are those PNHs too?” argument, which by the way was entirely lacking integrity, like a cheat covering a bad throw of the dice. Jerry affirms that, given the definition and characteristics of a PNH, they are indeed. (For the real world argument, I would direct one to http://ncronline.org/blogs/young-voices/lambeau-field-church-losing-sense-time and http://www.religiousconsultation.org/loy.htm). This prompts me to try and change the subject and nitpick Jerry’s arguments. Jerry sees this, and notes that no one else has had the fortitude to offer up a definition of a PNH, and points this out, challenging the integrity of myself and Ethan and, to a lesser extent, Dharmakara. The response is immediate and ridiculous. Dharmakara points out one scholar whose work is generally good, but was too lazy to put forth a definition (claiming it would be impossible to produce a meaningful definition, despite the fact that it has been defined many times – numerous scholars have done it already). Ethan and I both take offense and umbrage at the fact that Jerry pointed out the elephant in the room and attack Jerry.
That’s how the entire argument went. Switch the terms, and that is what happened. I’d like to say that there are morally valid reasons for Jerry and Ethan’s positions, but I can’t find any (feel free to point them out, if they do exist). The only reason I can see for their refusal to see Buddhism for what it is is out of simple fear that their position will be torn apart. Same thing for the definition of religion (in short, they refuse a definition because it would invalidate their argument that Buddhism is not one). One need only read Angry Asian Buddhist’s work to understand the imperialist and, in some ways, racialist undertones of Jerry and Ethan’s argument. It comes down to this. Jerry and Ethan think that because they have seen how a certain subculture of white (and token minority), liberal, upper middle class and upper class yuppies in New York don’t like religion that we should strip Buddhism of its religion to spread it. By and large, that won’t work. The presuppositions of Buddhism are not amenable to the majority of Westerners, and especially Americans. Emptiness? Nah, you can keep it. Four noble Truths? I already have One Truth in God’s word. Eightfold Path? You mean I actually have to work to be saved? Screw that. Meditation? Why would I waste my time sitting in an empty room? Ima go watch me some Monday Night Football now, kay?
What you don’t see is that this “Buddhism isn’t a religion” argument is the same one, and utilizes the same principles that get my Soldiers stripped of their Buddhist practice. After all, if Buddhism is “just sitting” and thinking about stuff, then Soldiers don’t need a place to practice, they don’t need a community. We can isolate them and tell them that they can sit in their barracks and meditate by themselves. Think it hasn’t happened? Fort Benning did that earlier this year. The 60-odd Buddhist Soldiers there were told that they couldn’t meet and they couldn’t have time anywhere on base because the Chapel was full, and they didn’t need it anyway. All they needed was to stay in their barracks (where any other Soldier could be as disruptive as they felt like being) and meditate by themselves. But hey, Buddhism isn’t a religion, right? We don’t need a place to meet, right? We don’t need some community, right? No, of course not, we can meditate by ourselves and then watch as we get isolated from other Soldiers because they don’t see us as team players, but instead we get seen as loners. But them’s are the breaks, right? Because we can’t have Buddhism being a religion. That might seem too…I dunno…religious?
YOU ARE AIDING AND ABETTING THE DESTRUCTION OF BUDDHIST PRACTICE AMONGST OUR SOLDIERS. Rather than achieving your goals of spreading the Buddha’s teachings, you are (inadvertently) conspiring to make sure that the people who need the teachings most don’t have any access to them. Thanks a lot, from all of our Buddhist Soldiers. My Soldiers want me to add, * Thanks alot pricks *.
Without the basis of Buddhism, which is and always was religious, right back to Gautama’s leaving the secular world to seek out the truth, it was religious, and a religion (those who have claimed it was a way of life do not see the fact that historically, there is no separation between the two). And it spreads better that way in America and in the West. As for my order, we have built the congregation enough to need 8 temples in Europe in the last decade, 14 in America, one in Brazil, one in Israel (yeah, who would have guessed?), and numerous other gathering/propagation points places in numerous states and nations around the globe. And we are a small order, just cracking 2 million worldwide. The bigger orders and religious movements? I’m not even going to hazard a guess how many temples and propagation points they’ve put up in the West or in America. If recent reports are correct, there are 5 million Buddhists (native, not counting Asian transplants – meaning there may be up to 7 million) in America. That number is up substantially from the 3 million estimated by the ARIS numbers for 2000. How to account for the growth? Well it sure isn’t your little insight group. The numbers come from the reality that when people see what the Buddhist religion has to offer (non-judgmental teachings, if not practitioners, inclusionary and inclusivistic religious practices, a sense of spiritual care that is now lacking in many parts of the Christian tradition, a real hope of salvation, etc.). People need religion in their lives. The vast majority of Americans are open to the Buddhist religion, and would be more willing to accept the Buddhist religion than they would a scrubbed, WHITE-washed, secular tradition. The second we stop offering the religious experience of Buddhism in America is the second Buddhist practice dies out in the West, kept around only as laughable, merchandisable kitsch in a Barnes and Noble (such as the Mini-Zen rock garden in a box offered to yuppies who don’t know what to do with their time) or as high fashion, where prints of Buddhist images adorn women’s swimsuits and high-end men’s undergarments (those already exist, but they’ll be all that’s left if Jerry and Co. succeed.
Your practice is a good start, but the reality is that it isn’t enough to get most Americans or Western people going. It just doesn’t offer what most people outside of the yuppie cultural bubble want, which is religion without the fire and brimstone. We offer it, and it works, Buddhism is spreading. You don’t, and you’ll get a some people to attend retreats, and sits, but you’ll never reach the level of cultural saturation that would be required to accomplish your goals, which we are already achieving. While you may see retreats with a few hundred members once every three months, we see that at least twice a week every week. Again, we’re a small order, but we are still spreading the Dharma faster and better than you and your little ID project ever will AND we do it as a religion.
And by the way, Ethan, I really wasn’t mocking. I was showing you what will happen if Jerry has his way, and Buddhism is “branded” and stripped of its essential religious nature. That’s what we’ll get: Buddhist infomercials shilling “Dharma towels” and the like.



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Christopher Mohr

posted October 5, 2009 at 5:55 am


And now to the comments I didn’t have time to get around to earlier…



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Christopher Mohr

posted October 5, 2009 at 6:01 am


@Dharmakara, in reference to your posts on 27 Sep 09 – while I applaud your research skills, you only got a very small portion of the truth as concerns chaplains. We are not “special staff officers”. We are Staff Specialists (until we get past the candidacy and into the chaplaincy, at which point we are on the CO’s personal staff. You are right about it being the CO’s responsibility to make decisions concerning the RSP, it is the Chaplain’s responsibility to implement the RSP, under Army Regs and tradition.. Almost always, what the Chaplain recommends to the CO ends up happening. And while it is “hip” and fashionable to say freedom from religion, it is NOT the UMT’s job to keep religion away from people. We are bound, under federal LAW to “provide religious services”, as well as to offer spiritual care. You are perhaps thinking that Chaplains are forbidden from proselytizing, but even that is incorrect. We are allowed to proselytize those who both a) have no spiritual tradition or belief system and b) come to us to ask for spiritual information. We are not allowed to evangelize from other traditions. As for what I would do if Jerry were in my unit…probably spend a full half of my ministry of presence debunking his ridiculous and baseless claims. As he claims to be a Buddhist, and I am a Buddhist chaplain, he would fall under my ministry, and I would be able to talk to him about where he errs. And when he was ready, I would show him the definition of religion (probably utilizing the Encyclopedia of Religions, but with an openness to other sources), and show him how it aptly describes Buddhism (and how it devotes almost 300 pages to Buddhism proper). If it were Jerry, he wouldn’t bother listening out of a fear that he might be wrong. I fully plan on a certain group of people thinking along Jerry’s lines of thought, and I already have to dispel myths about Buddhism. We had a Chaplain meeting today where they had me dispel a number of myths about Buddhism. You see, here in America, Buddhism has been maligned by the Left and the Right. The Left maligns us like Jerry does (in addition to others on this blog) by saying that Buddhism isn’t really a religion, but a peacenik, liberal, interdependent kumbaya “way of life” (which, incidentally, is not different from religion in ALL of the Buddhist cultures, including India). The Right takes that and runs with it, saying Buddhists are a Leftist pacifistic hippie/yuppie cult. Neither is true. I get to deal with a lot of ignorance by both sides. Liberals who fear religion and conservatives who don’t trust Buddhism because of preconceptions.
In the end, I have yet to figure out why Jerry and Ethan (and you, too) have refused to provide a definition of what religion is. You can’t legitimately argue that Buddhism is not something until you have defined what it is. You know that. And you know that religion can be defined easily and adequately. I’ve done it three times on this blog. If you’d like, I can give it a fourth go, an “originalist” definition, since Ethan and Jerry seem to like the “originalist” position on Buddhism. Religion, in the “originalist” sense of the word, means “a bond of values and practices (scruples) between a community or individuals”. Under the originalist definition (and any other reasoned definition), Buddhism certainly must be called a religion, even by Jerry’s standards for what Buddhism is. It is quite tedious to rehash that constantly. It is even more tedious to have to rehash that simply because someone can’t bear the thought that their beliefs might be one of those nebulous, nefarious “religion” things. That’s a Western invention. As the EoR says, “The very attempt to define religion, to find some distinctive or possibly unique essence or set of qualities that distinguish the “religious” from the remainder of human life, is primarily a Western concern.” (p. 7692). It doesn’t exist in Asia because they didn’t compartmentalize. Buddha’s teachings were a philosophy AND a religion AND there was a psychological or scientific component to it.
Because in EVERY non-European/Christian culture around the world (and even most of those), they understand that religion is not something separable from one’s “way of life” or philosophy or life itself. I use Western-style “definitions” here because, to be honest, I had Jerry pegged after reading only one post and I knew he couldn’t handle the fact that religion isn’t distinguishable from one’s “way of life” or philosophy. Even the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are faith propositions that one takes on trust to function in the way they are described. Why? You’ve never met a full-on Buddha. Neither have I. Thus, we have to say that we take it on faith that if we live a certain way, the prescribed result will accrue, because none of us have actually attained Nibbana. There are no Arhats in the room, no Bodhisattvas, no Buddhas (though I am pretty sure they would avoid blogging anyway). So none of us has actually had the experience of the unborn-and-unmade, yet it is an essential Buddhist teaching that it exists, and we take it on faith that it does. Without it, there could be no liberation, and there would be no need for meditation. I had Jerry pegged as not being willing to man up to that fact. In all probability, he’ll deny that that is a central Buddhist teaching, and go off on a tirade about how Buddhism only requires meditation, Buddha’s teachings, and the community. Again.



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Christopher Mohr

posted October 5, 2009 at 6:13 am


@ Jerry , in response to your Sept. 28th post that I never got back to –
First, prove that you are not queasy about religion by simply ‘fessing up to the fact that Buddhism is one. You don’t get to define what Buddhism is, because the entire Buddhist community already has, and has done so since Gautama was still alive. I say what I say for a reason. Read below for why. I don’t use the large numbers of Buddhists to prove anything. I don’t have to. I’m just letting you know that you are not even dealing with reality, and you need to start doing so. You don’t get to say what people are and are not Buddhists anymore than I do. If I were to say that you are not really Buddhist because you don’t venerate the Bodhiattvas and give alms to the venerable monks at such and such temple in such and such place, you’d knock me down for that. In the same way, you need to have the chair taken out from under you when you try to say that the majority of Buddhists aren’t Buddhists because they don’t practice meditation. Which form of meditation? Do you only count sitting meditation? What about chanting? That’s meditation. Walking? Yep, that too. What about the Vajrayana concept that ANY action practiced in the right way IS meditation. That puts the VAST majority of Buddhists in the “we have a meditative practice” compartment you’ve set up. Still want to make your arrogant and egotistical claim that they aren’t Buddhists? Well, I’ll follow your example. “You ain’t Buddhists because you don’t bow down to Bodhgaya every morning at 3 am. Posers.” Same concept, same level of falsehood, different practice.
Next point you make is equally ludicrous. You said, “Buddhist temples are maintained essentially as “family businesses” offering funerary rites and not functioning at all as we imagine a sangha should.” Who are you that you get to determine what Buddhism SHOULD look like, or how the Sangha SHOULD function? What kind of Colonialist Racism is that, that you pasty white guys from New York have the right to tell Asian Buddhists that they aren’t Buddhist because their practice doesn’t fit your delusional view of what the Sangha is. Angry Asian Buddhist is right. The sheer yuppie arrogance just seeps out of that bile duct. Fact is, you are nobody. You don’t matter, and Buddha himself said you’re going to boil in hell for an eon since you seem hell-bent on dividing the Buddhist order into “real Buddhists” who “meditate” and, well, every other Buddhist. That’s canonical, and if you actually read the Buddha’s teachings, you’d know that.
You honestly think that I did any of that to make myself superior? That’s rich. Shows how well you people interpret matters. That’s probably why you can’t seem to get the Triple Gem right. The Buddha is not interchangeable with meditation. The Dharma is interchangeable with the Buddha’s teachings, so points there, but actually READ the Dharma before you spout off about Buddhism being only about meditation. The Sangha is only marginally interchangeable with “community”. If you’re talking about the community of renunciates (that is, monks), then yes it is. If you are talking about the lay community…some people like to think so. Maybe, maybe not. The original meaning of the word was the community of monks who listened to the Buddha and followed his teachings.
I calculate my every word and its effect, and I had no such intention of superiority. I wrote what I did to knock you people off your bubble-like pedestal and back onto solid ground. I deliberately said what I did because I knew that it was the only way to make sure you people had the opportunity to see reality just as it is (tath?ta). And that reality is not your Big City, East Coast Upper Crust bubble. The reality is your goal is BETTER accomplished by presenting Buddhism as what it is: a religion. Outside of the East Coast (and a few ultra-liberal hotspots elsewhere), Buddhism is growing at exponential rates because people need a religion that does not force them into the beliefs of their past. Why do you think Soka gakkai/Nichiren Shoshu and Pure Land Buddhism are two of the fastest growing (percentage and numerically) religious groups in America? Because they offer what you won’t, what you can’t. Authenticity. Will Buddhism ever reach the majority of Americans? NO. And that’s for the best.
We don’t need Joe the Plumber being the face of Buddhism just because he sits and pretends to listen while you talk about the eightfold path. And most people aren’t going to change, or practice Buddhism just because you whitewash it into something you think they might accept. Real, vibrant, religious Buddhism has much more draw. You need to see that and understand that the reason we religious Buddhists are making such great gains while you people whine about this on a little blog is because even as a religion, we don’t ask that newcomers give up the old religion (if they had any to begin with). At my temple (before I moved to go to school), there was a Catholic nun in full habit who attended regularly, and I’ve known JewBu’s and MusBu’s and NatAmBu’s and WiccaBu’s, all of whom placed great faith in BOTH religions. We’re just good like that, and we grow entirely more rapidly than the proponents of “non-religion” Buddhism.
And to be perfectly honest, Dharmakara WAS mocking me, and you people are in a much more subtle but fundamental way. You are mocking my capacity to help my fellow Buddhists in the Armed Forces simply by advancing your argument. It turns me into a joke because a Chaplain is a religious position. It’s a good thing the DoD can look out objectively and see Buddhism is a religion, or our Buddhist soldiers would ALL be like the ones at Bragg that I mentioned. Isolated, ridiculed (by their peers) with no one to go to but a Christian Chaplain who seriously couldn’t care less because “well, Buddhism isn’t a religion. If you need help, go talk to the shrink or come to God.” This despite a lifetime of practicing Buddhism. What do you think that does to a Soldier? They get sent to the shrink because their beliefs are “not a religion”. Let me tell you, the second word of that gets out, that Soldier would rather shoot themselves than continue practicing Buddhism. Is that what you want? Is that your goal? Think about it.



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Christopher Mohr

posted October 5, 2009 at 6:19 am


You want to see where your direction, where your desired form of Buddhism will lead?
http://www.theamericanmonk.com/lp/meditation?sr=1&gclid=CN7b56inpZ0CFRlcagodLklr-Q
http://www.eocinstitute.org/meditation_s/45.htm?gclid=CJWyk6KnpZ0CFRZeagodxjra_A
Touchy-feely New Age self help seminars and “Enlightenment for 34.95″. That’s what happens when you lose authentic religious Buddhism. That’s what happens when you rip away everything that makes Buddhism vital and thriving.



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Dharmakara

posted October 5, 2009 at 12:40 pm


Christopher, I was not mocking you, but a very common misbelief that an academic degree in “Buddhist Practice” is somehow superior to the practical application of the Dharma… without such, a degree is not worth the paper that it’s written on.



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Jeff Alexander

posted October 9, 2009 at 5:03 pm


Interesting discussion. Back in the sixties, in a Supreme Court opinion, it was stated belief in a deity wasn’t necessary for a belief system to be designated as a religion. Buddhism and Ethical Humanism were cited as examples if I remember correctly. We all have belief systems we live by whether we realize it or not. To me a person’s belief system/world view is his religion. By that definition Buddhism is most certainly a religion and like all belief systems states it’s the best way to navigate, understanding, know and handle reality, so in that sense it’s just like any other religion.
Thanks Greg for pointing out that Buddhism is atheistic – it certainly does deny there is a personal, self-existent, eternal “He Who Is” (one translation of the Hebrew name for God –YHWH) Creator. In a culture with “In God we trust” printed on the money it’s hard not to soften the intrinsic atheism of Buddhism. Even saying that Buddha was merely saying God was irrelevant or besides the point is really saying the “God as the center of everything” understanding of monotheism is part of the delusion to overcome by seeing things as they really are. Applying Jesus words “Love the Lord your God with all your soul, mind, strength and heart” would in Buddhist eyes be a strengthening of delusion and a departing from truth – unless you do a very thorough redefinition of what Jesus meant by God as a first century Old Testament believing Jew.
Buddhism is pointing to something better than an unreal God! Time to get comfortable with stating that honestly if you’re a Buddhist.
A quick, tongue-in-cheek superficial comparative religions class – In Hinduism it’s a sin to say you are NOT God, In Christianity it’s a sin to say you ARE God, and in Buddhism it is a sin to say you are anything at all!
By the way I am a Christian and strive to be thoroughly God the Father centered in imitation of Jesus.
Blessings!



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DD

posted October 9, 2009 at 6:42 pm


@Christopher Mohr
Wow. The general rudeness and the number of self serving assumptions and seemingly ego-driven opinions in your posts is impressive but not very helpful for this or any discussion. Like many reading this I am going to ignore the temptation to respond to your various points because I’ve had plenty of experience with “loud talker” types and realize that it’s useless to try to get you to discuss this topic politely (see, annoying when people label you without knowing you isn’t it).
However forceful you make your points I’m still of the mind that faith-based belief systems and the closed minds they produce are rushing humanity towards its demise, and unless something changes we’re all toast in the next few hundred years (if even that long). The religious gobbledygook that you consider so vibrant I consider to be stale, antiquated modes of thought that humanity must outgrow for us to have a chance. The concrete has set around the big dog religions and setting up another inflexible pillar next to them will change nothing.
The only chance we’re got IMHO is to find a way to get the mechanism of Buddhism to be acceptable to even those stuck in their current religious mire.
You may now call me a new age hippie whatever and begin questioning my background, intentions, mental capacity, patriotism and body odor.
-DD



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jonathan

posted October 9, 2009 at 9:23 pm


my take – Buddhism is more religious in some cultural manifestations than others. For example Chinese Temple Buddhism is outwardly almost exactly the same as Christianity – temple (i.e. church) service, hymn-sheet, bowing, praying, led by a priest. This is a very common pattern in Taiwan, Singapore, parts of China, and among Chinese expats.
As regards the meditation-based practises suh as Vipassana and Zen – these are much less ritual-oiented with a much greater emphasis on insight, self-discpline and philosophical wisdom. Vipassana as taught by Goenka is self-consciously secular and anti-dogmatic: ‘this is not an organised religion but a way of looking into oneself’. Zen actually has a lot more ritual than many will admit, and many of them beautiful; John Daido Loori has written a beautiful book on that.
Buddhism is religious in that in comprises an ethical code which requires a personal firm commitment from the practitioner, and also accepts absolutely Dharma and Karma. I also personally believe that Buddhism requires an acceptance of ‘the life beyond’.
But the key difference, the really crucial difference, between Buddhism and Christianity is the idea in the latter of ‘Holy Communion’ and the original dogma (forgotten by many) ‘extra ecclesium nulla sallus’ (‘no salvation outside the Church’.) So in this kind of religion, your whole salvation is entirely dependent on your submission to the dogmas of the Church and your absolute unquestioning submission to the belief that the Communion ‘really is’ the Body and Blood, and so on. There is no room for questions, no ‘search’ or anything else. You take it and go to heaven, or leave it and go to hell. That is what religion was for us in the West up until a couple of hundred years ago. And Buddhism was never lke that.



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joe

posted October 10, 2009 at 10:17 am


christopher mohr
what’s the name of your order?



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Saraswat

posted October 15, 2009 at 11:46 pm


Christopher Mohr wins. Glad to see someone who knows what they are talking about. Only thing I can add is this, hope it helps someone out there (as if):
Sorry to see the Dharma (or Dhamma if you prefer) reduced to feel-good fluffy-bunny psycho-babble.
The real Dharma Jewel is not the words, but the realizations that come from the practices they describe. The words are a carrier-signal, the realizations are the message. Realizations are passed from teacher to student in a lineage.
Meditation a fine tool. It can be used for lots of things (including feeling better). But its highest use is for ending suffering altogether forever, i.e. birth, sickness, old age and death. Serious business.
Read, folks, from someone who has put the actual teachings into practice and gotten some authentic realizations. Then go to them, or someone like them.
You can’t learn to play rock guitar by reading a book by Eddie Van Halen. If you somehow had Eddie as a teacher, you still couldn’t learn by worshiping him. “Eddie, you’re so great.” “Thanks, but did you try those cords I showed you?” “Uh, no, but, you’re so great.”
I digress.



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Your Name

posted December 15, 2009 at 8:42 pm


The comments here are quite interesting. As a Western ( US) person who grew up in a home that was not in anyway Christian, but forced to attend church, had step-siblings who were raised Catholic and loads of Jewish friends, I must say in some way I was steeped in the bible. The country seemed quite Christian-Judaic to me.I always had a huge doubt about GOD, it just seemed too irrational for me.
My respect for religions came during my formative years, it seems I was leaning toward what would be Buddhist practices before I even knew they existed. I have learned that no one knows if there is a god, there is no definitive answer on that , so I let it b, though I lean towards…no there isn’t one.
I embraced Buddhist practices and don’t find anything to be religious or pointing to not religious. At times these discussions leave me confused about the purpose. I am of the thought of “does it matter” whether it’s a religion, not a religion, a philosophy or not one? All the current belief systems or practices veer off at some point, but what I have found is that they ask for you to search your heart and find the best Human being you can be or become. Some teachings are quite explicit, with commandments, shoulds and moral demands, others say you have to do certain acts, rites, practices and then once perfected you’lll be able to find GOD. A few don’t even allow you to follow their words to the letter, because you are always lacking and will never be able to reach the ultimate.
Let’s just be decent, loving, compassionate, caring humans. If we make our lifes work to be non-harming to our fellow humans and other sentient beings, it shouldn’t matter much whether something with a name is a religion or not. If practicing it makes us better people, more humane, compassionate, less greedy, avaricious and malicious towards each other, then I am in favor of bringing it into our lives. In all the labeled practices, I have found something that I can incorporate that assists me in being a better human. All the teachings are not the same, but considering that we are all of different inclinations, I am happy there is no “one size fits all” way to my heart.



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Your Name

posted December 16, 2009 at 7:19 pm


Wow someone with my same name, Your name. Nice to meet you !
I often wonder if maybe people were actually studying their religions rather than just believing, would things be different? I constantly interact with people of many different faiths and am amazed at the ignorance they have about their religions. In conversation they don’t seem to know much of anything, can’t answer any questions I have, don’t know why the do what they do, they just seem to believe and never question anything. They don’t even try to find out whether what they are repeating is actually in their scriptures.
I find it frighteneing and it makes all the divide and contention clear. Not asking that the average person be a religious scholar, but in my thinking, it seems one would be curious enough to find out what one is being told.
I would count myself as fortunate, I study religious texts with a spiritual guide, can ask questions and my way isn’t all about believe or faith in what was said to me. I have friends who are Hindu, Muslim. Christian and Jewish to name a few, and I have asked them to actually study their texts not just take things as they are. A few are now studying and I can actually say it has made a difference. My Hindu friend, as one example, is amazed that her beliefs have nothing at all to do with Hinduism. They were just stuff passed along, repeated and conditioned. She is annoyed that she celebrated, perforemed rites out of ignornance. This makes me wonder if people knew what their traditions were about, would things be different in their hearts!
Has anyone ever wondered if lifting our veils of ignorance would create a change and could it also decrease the hostility of those who think our religions are outdated, divisive, aggressive and close-minded? I don’t know about others, but I can say real study and more understanding is certainly better than blind faith and belief.



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Your Name

posted January 20, 2010 at 7:10 pm


Alrighty, I’m making this quick and vague because I’m actually doing a project on Buddhism for school and came across this. I believe Buddhism is a religion. In fact, it’s one of the five most major religions and my great grandmother is a Buddhist.



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My Name

posted March 3, 2010 at 12:22 pm


I MUST see Buddhism as non-religious. Otherwise, I just want to run screaming from the shrine room. I’ve been religious — boy have I been religious (was also a Republican, and although that’s a different story, each choice blossomed from the same root) — and I’ve since come to see religion as the most destructive forces on the planet … aside from Fox “News.” And this, precisely for the reasons mentioned in this, I think truly insightful, article.
Personally, I find that secular Buddhism (if this is a valid term) works just fine. I mean, really: As you can tell, novice though I am, I’m darn near enlightened right now. So it must work.
My Name



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Fatbalualp

posted June 7, 2010 at 4:27 pm


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Gabby

posted August 27, 2010 at 1:38 am


Buddhism is a religion…. Nirvana?? Reincarnation?
Nirvana is the supreme state free from suffering and individual existence. It is a state Buddhists refer to as “Enlightenment”. It is the ultimate goal of all Buddhists.
The attainment of nirvana breaks the otherwise endless rebirth cycle of reincarnation.
Buddhists also consider nirvana as freedom from all worldly concerns such as greed, hate, and ignorance. No one can describe in words what “nirvana” is. It can only be experienced directly.
Metaphysical and superstition and faith stuff……….isn’t it….huh?
Sounds kinda “religious” huh?
It’s a religion as it stands now (by the admission of many people), and I submit to you that it was always a religion, even originally…. (and just became more so later on)
but even from the beginning. Let’s get honest…..and real here.
What do you call “hell-fire” concepts?
And “after-life”?
“crossing the river”
“reincarnation” and “nirvana”????
those are all MYSTICAL AND RELIGIOUS THINGS. Get over it.
Also, another former member of Buddhism remarked:
“The rituals and quasi-worship in a Buddhist temple is really no different than that seen in a Hindu temple.”



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Tin Man

posted August 30, 2010 at 1:43 pm


The origin of what The Buddha taught is neither religion, belief or philosophy. It was and is a simple WAY or practice to manage desire. For some more ardent practitioners like monks, it was/is a path toward enlightenment, a word that most do not understand.



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