Sunday, June 4, 2006

Progressive spirituality and the need for true tolerance

Sometimes you are browsing around and you find some posts that capture a feeling or experience you find familiar. Maybe it was something you did. Maybe it was something that was done to you. For me, the most recent occurence was a little of both.

Until recently I have been (and hopefully soon once again I will be) practicing with a Buddhist sangha, and this sangha happens to meet in a UU (Unitarian Universalist) church. I happen to like UU and the UUA, and I generally supports its ideals and mission, so I sometimes read posts by UU bloggers. That is how I found a topic on "Tolerance and Compassion", Part One and Part Two, from PeaceBang. Here are some relevant quotes from Part One...

We constantly mistake our ideals of tolerance, compassion and open-heartedness for a lived reality of tolerance and love. As of yet, they are ideals. They are principles. They are not the reality in most of our churches. One of the greatest, most destructive sins of the current UU movement is that we actually think we are living out our professed ideals, and worse yet, we think we're actually doing a better job of living out our ideals than mainstream Christians are doing at living out theirs. What a tragic misconception. We are not. What we are doing is making sure that we attract and truly include only those people whose attitudes, proclivities and preferences are exactly like ours, and then collectively congratulating ourselves at how well we're doing as a vibrant religious faith.

I do not excuse myself from this sin.

Someday, Unitarians here and in Britain might actually learn how to live in a spirit of true compassion and open-heartedness in our congregations. We might learn that the care of the soul should be the first order of business among us, not achieving intellectual and political conformity by means of hard-core intellectual wrassling. We may learn to live peacefully together with a shared sense of wonder and delight at the ways God moves within each of us, or, if you prefer, how reverence makes its way into our hearts even without a sense of a transcendent Presence.

We may learn to unabashedly worship together, where people will feel uplifted and know that they are responsible for their own experience. They will know how to worship together, and those who come to the minister bearing a list of every word, message, prayer and hymn that did not meet with his or her personal approval will be guided and companioned in a process of pastoral healing, not pandered to.

We may learn to truly welcome the stranger, not to erect barriers of smug superiority between us and thousands upon thousands of seekers who come to us actually thinking they will find authentic tolerance and diversity...

Part Two goes on to clarify Part One and includes several specific examples. I can't help but wonder to what extent Buddhism in the West (which is obviously not a monotypic group) may be suffering from a similar illness, or even progressive spirituality overall. It resonates with my concern about western Buddhists (myself included) being "Bodhier than thou", looking even at our own heritage from Asian teachers with a certain degree of aloofness and superiority. "Surely Buddhism will reach its highest and purest form now that it's arrived in the West." That's an undercurrent of sentiment I frequently sense when reading or discussing Buddhism, and it concerns me, especially when it creeps into my own thinking and writing. I've posted about this in different forms before, but I thought that Peacebang did a great job of framing it in a way that draws out a common underlying sentiment. How many of us think we are consistently living out our professed ideals? That we are doing so "better" than others, particularly "conservatives" or "Christians" or even Buddhists of a tradition other than our own?

Adopting an attitude of universal responsibility is essentially a personal matter. The real test of compassion is not what we say in abstract discussions but how we conduct ourselves in daily life.

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama, "Imagine All the People"


That people are unknowing does not mean that they are unknowing like cows or goats. Even ignorant people look for a pathway to reality. But, searching for it, they often misunderstand what they encounter. They pursue names and categories instead of going beyond that name to that which is real.

-Digha Nikaya


Let your love flow outward through the universe,
To its height, its depth, its broad extent,
A limitless love, without hatred or enmity.
Then as you stand or walk,
Sit or lie down,
As long as you are awake,
Strive for this with a one-pointed mind;
Your life will bring heaven to earth.

-Sutra Pitaka (a.k.a. Agama Sutra)


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