Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bracing for Buddhist evangelism

Sometimes when people write about topics like Buddhism with misinformation or presenting a limited view, it can be good as it provides an opportunity to challenge misconceptions or to at least present evidence that not all Buddhists adhere to a particular point of view. I was recently at The Buddhist Channel when I came across an article reproduced there from NC Register.

The article is titled “USA: Buddhism Boom”. It mentions an upcoming visit by the Dalai Lama to the United States and begins with the following: “Bill Burns knows it is easy for unncommitted Christians and others to get interested in Buddhism - especially when the Dalai Lama visits America this month.” So basically the piece is about how different Buddhism is than Christianity and why Christians should be wary of Buddhism. That’s fine, I guess, if that is something of concern to you and your readers. But what struck me was how the same old misconceptions and misleading interpretations were used. I am not “against Christianity” – I respect many parts of the Christian tradition. Nor am I asking anyone to “choose” Buddhism, let alone “choose” it over Christianity. This is not some detailed rebuttal - just my reaction to what is being said. One more note - there are different people who are supposed to be experts on Buddhism/converting Buddhists being quoted in the original article, so if you want to verify who was saying what, please check the full story:
Father Kedjierski, a student of Asian religion and culture who has written on evangelizing Buddhists. "Buddhists think in very different categories, process things in very different ways, and understand the spiritual in a way that is very different from Christianity."

Different categories, perhaps - but the idea of different processing is very ambiguous. Not all "Christians" process things the same way either. As for "very different" spiritual understanding, that depends on how one thinks of "spiritual". Many Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, etc have found a great deal of unity in their experiences and expressions of spirituality. One only has to actually read the abundant materials available from various Catholic priests, other Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, etc, including many well-known scholars steeped in the history of religion and comparative theology who engage in personal dialog with their counterparts in other faiths to appreciate this. However, if one sees “spirituality” as a trademark and religion as business, then sure, with that kind of competitive view, one is going to think in terms of numbers – money, converts, etc. Faith as a product to be sold. So you’ve got to distinguish your “brand” and do what you can to discredit your competitors. Sometimes this is an intentional smear, and sometimes its unintentionally misleading people based on a prejudice toward or ignorance of the “alternatives”. I have no desire to judge the motives of the people quoted in the article, let alone the author. I will let them speak for themselves, as it were.
Added Father Kedjierski: "The goal for Buddhism is to escape the cycle of samsara, the constant reincarnations, and achieve the extinction of nirvana. While the Christian hopes to be 'born again,' the Buddhist hopes not to be born anymore. This is indeed quite a huge difference."

The idea of extinction is quite controversial and generally misunderstood. The ego is what is being extinguished - the sense of separation and isolation of "I" from the rest of existence. In much the same way, I might add, that many Christians "surrender" and submit their will to God. How one views this act in Christianity does indeed vary from denomination to denomination, congregation to congregation, and individual to individual, yet there *are* those Christians who see the similarity in the basic aspect of recognizing something greater than themselves. But if we are only concerned with the most superficial, literalistic and sectarian interpretations of Christian and Buddhist views, then yes, we can see quite the gulf between the fundamentalist (i.e. as just described and not implying anything else) members of any sacred traditions. As for nirvana, some Buddhists believe this the daily extinction of the ego, and for others it is a final union with the Absolute Reality from which we (think we) have been separated by delusion. For some it’s both. But the idea that people are striving to literally not exist in any possible sense of the word is one that is a continuing canard tied to Buddhism and connected to a fundamental misunderstanding of Dharmic religions.
Suffering is seen differently, too. For a Buddhist, says Clark, life is suffering and suffering is bad. Thus the need to end desire and, eventually, self, so that suffering ceases, too. But Christians, he adds, embrace suffering to form them and bring them closer to Christ. “So for the Christian,” Clark says, “we have almost an opposite view.”

Suffering is suffering, pain is pain. One is unavoidable so long as we are in the world of form, the other is not. Buddhists do believe we can learn from/grow from all experiences including pain (which is only one form of suffering), but there is a difference between psychological, physical, and emotional pain and a deeper notion of suffering, which is in Western terms perhaps better conceived of spiritual turmoil, or existential crisis. As I recall Christianity as a whole does not believe in leaving its members in such turmoil/to dwell in such suffering.
Father Kedjierski points to another difference — some Buddhists, like Therevadans, deny God’s existence. "Some will believe in God or gods, some will not," he says. "Some will believe in what might seem like prayers and devotions, others will not."

Yes, and let’s not pretend that all Christians are the same either. From the time of Christ there have been those who did not believe in the virgin birth, or in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, etc. etc. I am sure that many of those who sympathize with the views expressed in the article will argue that those who don’t have the right beliefs are “not true Christians”, but that isn’t the point. As for some Buddhists who do or don’t explicitly believe in a God or gods, let’s not forget that Buddhism is not as much about such imagery but the Ultimate Truth towards which they either do or not point. I can’t say “John claims to believe in God and Jack doesn’t, so that makes Jack a better Buddhist” because the truth is in the heart, not in the doctrine. What if, upon inspection, both hold to the same appreciation for the basic teachings and realizations underpinning not only Buddhism but contemplative mysticism in general? And what if their experiences and actions are in accord with virtues such as charity, mercy, compassion, sympathetic joy? Even Christianity tends to teach that only God can judge the heart, and as for how humans can get a clue, Jesus said it best when he said “By their fruits shall you know them.” And have we forgotten the Sermon on the Mount altogether these days?
“Buddhists shy away from such ideas because Buddhists believe that all permanence is an illusion and that one should not become attached to truths as if they are permanent. When one is taught to free oneself of the notion that any truths are unchangeable or permanent, Christianity is clearly threatened.”

Yes, all form is impermanent. You know – things change. As for truths, any limited perspective is imperfect and captures only a relative truth when describing any specific manifestation of form. The observation that “Jerry is four years old” has a limited veracity. It isn’t true when he is three, it isn’t ever true again after he turns five. The idea, though, that there are no unchanging truths (i.e. principles) is Buddhism is patently absurd, or else why is one of the core elements of Buddhist teachings referred to as (say it with me now, you know what’s coming)… the four noble truths? Yes, that’s right, and there are also the three dharma seals. Google ‘em up if you like. They are in fact the guiding principles (“truths”) of Buddhism.
No surprise, then, that “the idea of sin is really not a part of the Buddhist vocabulary,” as Father Kedjierski also notes.

Not directly, no, but there *is* a similarity between sin and the three poisons. Sin is that which is born of pride that separates one from heart of God. The three poisons (greed, hatred, and foolishness), which are the root of suffering, are born of the delusion of our separation from the interconnected web of reality, from the Source or Absolute/Ultimate Reality.
Burns mentions another difference: “While Buddha is considered a savior,” says Burns, “the emphasis is solely on the individual’s journey and not a larger community. Both Buddhism and Catholicism talk about The Way, but The Way is narrow in our faith. In Buddhism, The Way is purely in the method, not in the path.”

Buddhists, though, might not acknowledge such.

Pheeeew. Wow. The Buddha is not considered a savior. Nor is the emphasis solely on the individual's journey (dependent co-arising anyone? How about the Mahayana ideal of the Bodhisattva? Hello?) The distinction is that one must walk their own path, not that one does so selfishly. The idea that “the Way is purely method” in Buddhism is, I’m sorry, laughable (even in Shin Buddhism, in which the understanding of one's relationship to Ultimate Reality is mediated by the figure of Amida Buddha, Self-Power is encompassed and fully realized in Other-Power, not replaced by it). It is the opposite, which is why each person must walk their own path, and not instead over-emphasize dogma or ritual or the like, which in fact is what the fundamentalist Christians in fact advocate. I mean talk about method – Catholicism in general is all about method. Do this ritual, kneel, say this prayer, stand, sing this hymn, kneel, take this sacrament, stand. I am not knocking Catholicism or Christianity, but that quote is completely backward. Buddhists were walking the Way (Taoist dialog with Buddhism, yes?) a thousand years before Christ was born.
“With Christianity,” Clark said, “our doctrines, our beliefs, seem to be foreground. What Buddhists believe is somehow veiled behind what they do. For a Buddhist to tell someone, ‘You don’t exist, you won’t exist,’ it’s too big of a leap. That doctrine needs to be brought about very slowly.”

The idea isn’t that you don’t exist, it’s that you lack intrinsic (unchanging) existence. And as for what Buddhist believe being “veiled” behind their actions, doesn’t this contradict the immediately preceding statement that Christians are into walking the walk while Buddhists are not? Moreover, what precisely is the problem with people letting their actions speak for them rather than just their words (do I need to repeat the “by their fruits” quote again)?
Anyway, said Father Kedjierski, “Most Buddhists certainly would not be comfortable attacking the contentions of other faith traditions in some sort of a debate. The emphasis they place is upon the simple spreading of the teachings of the Buddha.”

Would not be comfortable or would not be interested in picking a fight with other faiths? Note that the apparent implication is one of weakness and subterfuge. And in fact, if you look historically, Buddhists in India during its hey-day in that region had the equivalent of colleges where they in fact did debate the other philosophies and religions of their time.
Buddhist modes of evangelization, then, tend to be by example, not word.
Buddhist evangelization? Look up the word evangelize. It means to preach the Gospel, to convert to Christianity. Even if we accept the word as being a synonym for “converting people to a religion”, there is no conversion per se in Buddhism. If you want, you can have a confirmation of your commitment to certain Buddhist teachings by seeking out someone who has been ordained in a particular form of Buddhism and taking the vows of refuge, but this is not like the Christian notion of baptism. Nor is it necessary to take such vows in order to practice Buddhism. Nor do you have to renounce being a Christian, Jew, or what not. At best, the only sensible interpretation of this quote is that people are attracted to Buddhism because of the perception that people are sincere and actually live their ideals (maybe we need the “by their fruits” quote again). Honestly, advertisement by example has always been the best way to promote any philosophy or religion, and if that is the indictment against Buddhism, it is really a compliment.
“The way Buddhists evangelize is by bringing peace to people so that in their peacefulness they’re prepared for the doctrines of Buddhism,” Clark said. “They really do preach by example.”

No one has anything sprung on them. If they just want to meditate or chant or do whatever their local Buddhist group is doing, that is fine. If they hear teachings about the basic principles and find it appealing, that is fine too. There is no bait and switch. What is wrong with someone going and hearing what someone is teaching and then deciding for themselves if they agree and if they want to learn more? I can tell you that the opposite happens in many Christian churches I’ve attended, where people are scolded and condemned and threatened with eternal damnation if they don’t accept what is being taught.
The Buddhist love of beauty, though, is a way to reach out to adherents of the Eastern religion, he said. “Bring to them peace and beauty, and they would be attracted to it and be converted,” Clark said. “[This is] one of the more important reasons to make the liturgy beautiful as Catholics. A beautiful liturgy is a way that we evangelize in the same way Buddhists do.

And again, revealing more of the “spirituality” as a trademark and religion as business mindset. Beauty isn’t just in the form. It isn’t about slapping on a prettier package. It isn’t about luring them into the Churches, or mimicking a successful competing “brand” of faith. How about genuine sincerity in loving thy neighbor, and valuing the worth of each person whether or not they wish to be converted to your religion? I am baffled by what sounds like gratuitous spiritual materialism.
Clark, meanwhile, focuses on logic, truth and sense.

“One of the tasks of Buddhism is to deconstruct logic to tell us that logic doesn’t exist,” he said. “One of the best ways to fight that is to say, ‘I understand your point, but logic does exist and there is an ultimate truth, and ultimate truth can be established through science and math and the like.’”

He also discusses existence itself and the Christian belief that each of us has just one life, saying, “Offer Pascal’s great wager. What if Christianity is true? That’s at least an opening question.”

And what if there is more to Christianity than you are willing to allow? What is there is more to Buddhism than you are willing to allow? What if we reject more inaccurate and outright false statements about Buddhism, such as that Buddhism means rejecting Ultimate Truth (truly ultimate, as in beyond any religion or philosophy or dogma) or that it means rejecting logic?

5 comments:

  1. I am deeply appreciative of the comments you have posted on this blog. There are many times when my religious tradition is misunderstood by others and I know the pain that it causes. As indicated in the article you quoted, I still consider myself a student, and your ideas are a wonderful opportunity for me to learn more.

    Please remember that when being interviewed for this article I presumed a Christian, particularly Catholic audience which would process the information in a way in which a person raised in a Catholic environment would understand it. You immediately jumped to my idea of a different spirituality as having to do with being in a competitive business. I do not personally know of any faithful Christian who would immediately make that jump. The Christian tradition understands spirituality and doctrine as not being exclusive in any way. One's spirituality, one's prayer, meditation, striving for the ultimate is unalterably linked to the Triune God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the truly ultimate. One cannot pray without being touched by this God. The doctrine explains the reality outside of oneself experienced. When I personally meditate, I cannot disassociate that meditation with my union with the God I believe exists outside of myself, who has revealed himself as having certain charracteristics like a Triune nature. Perhaps a Buddhist does not believe or even know of God as Trinity, but this does not in my mindset make the Trinity any less real in that individual's life. A person may meditate without the intention of entering into contact with the Triune God, but this will not prevent the Triune God from touching the individual. Christians believe that our religious ideas articulate realities outside of the individual and are not dependent upon the individual to be true. All spirituality leads one to that truth who is God, a trinity of persons. Is this how Buddhists understand Spirituality? Are clearly defined doctrine and spirituality linked together in Buddhism? If not, then there clearly are subtantially different views. Finally, a wonderful example of Buddhists processing things in a way which is different from Christians can be found in Thich Nhat Hanh's Book Living Buddha, Living Christ. Hanh attempts to fit Christ and Christian doctrine into Buddhist categories, just as actually I believe you have in your comments. One idea is that Hanh separates the Christ of faith from the Christ of history -- traditionally, Christians do not do that. The historical Jesus and the Jesus who rose are considered by the traditional Christian to be the same. (I do not use the term fundamentalist because I find it far too politcally loaded) There are some Christians who do not agree - you are right in saying that I would not consider these Christians to be Christians at all and therefore contend that they should not be included in this equation. Let's deal with Buddhism as Buddhism intends to present itself and Christianity as Christianity intends to present itself - anything else is far too large in scope for any reasonable conversation. It is true that some authors focus in on the similarities between Christianity and Buddhism. If I was speaking before a group of Buddhists I too would emphasize these similarities for the sake of peace and the building up of bridges of respect and mutual understanding. Yet before Catholic audiences I will remind them of their Catholic tradition, not to attack Buddhists, but to appreciate our differences and accept them as such. It is my hope that Christians are able to understand difference and yet also be tolerant. Yet we do not want our religion to be changed through a blending with others, because we believe that the truth will be sacrificed. Being that Buddhism is an Asian religion stemming from the tremendous diversity of Hinduism, Buddhists usually feel comfortable with syncretism, yet Christians do not because Jesus cannot be the savior of all and not the savior of all at the same time. The emphasis of Christianity is on stability, and if I may be so bold, the emphasis in Buddhism seems to be on impermanence.

    Please help me to understand more fully how Buddhists understand the permanence of the four noble truths and the eight fold path. Is it not true that one can become attached to the idea of the four noble truths and the eight fold path? I know that Bodhidharma in the 6th century said that the texts and temples of Buddhism were nothing, and adovcated the idea of burning Buddhist scriptures and destroying images of the Buddha, all with the hope of delivering people from attachment even to the principles of Buddhism. What of that ever famous saying, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him" which I understand to mean that one must not attach certain conceptions even to the Buddha himself. Can you understand why this is so unclear to western ears? Could you elaborate? If nirvana (or actually, unless I am wrong I think the proper term is pari-nirvana) is an extinguishing of the ego - the isolation of the I from the rest of existence - what is left of the individual when it is achieved? If there is no individuality, nothing which makes an individual an individual,but rather a "coming together" or "melding" with the rest of existence, then what does exist of me? Do I exist or don't I? Does this ultimate reality consume us into itself? I hope that you can understand my confusion.

    The one comment you made which I found to actually be incredibly hurtful is the idea that I made an implication of weakness and subterfuge among Buddhists. I certainly never had that intention at all. Although not a Buddhist, I happen to admire a great deal about Buddhism and have found in Buddhists a great sense of inward peace. It was that peace I tried to highlight. When asked about Buddhist "evangelization", I must admit that I too cringed because I know that those two terms do not go together. I tried say that Buddhists generally would not engage in a style of preaching that Christians engage in in terms of heated debate. Notice I said, "most" -- not all -- so I am not dismissing the great debates of Buddhism in its hey-day in India.

    I hope that you can understand that this is written with a deep desire to understand, not attack. To really understand each other means to honestly listen and accept that fact that not everyone understands things in the way I do. If I do not believe that my religion is compatable with another, is it not an infiringement upon my own freedom of religion to insist that I do?

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  2. Thank you for your reply to my response to the article (my answer here got a little long as I was aiming for greater clarity). I do appreciate that:

    1) anyone who is being quoted is more likely to be misunderstood than when they are lecturing, writing their own article, etc.

    2) this was written for a Christian audience (I put it at the beginning) and so is geared in language and tone towards people with specific assumptions in mind

    3) limited reaction to a collection of such quotes are not as thoughtful as an actual dialog.

    As I have written elsewhere on this obscure little corner of cyberspace, I am not writing from an "anti-" religion, "anti-" atheist, "anti-" Christian, etc, point of view. I have both respect and concerns for most political and religious institutions (i.e. I really love this about the Catholic Church, but not that, I really like this about Buddhism in America, I am deeply worried about that).

    Another caveat or two is in order since I don't get many readers and those I do run into are regulars who know that:

    -when I write, even though I write things like "they", "we", and "our", my comments tend to be self-reflective. That does not mean I don't critique or comment on what others may say or do, but that it is never meant to be harmful. I am often responding to what I see of myself/my assumptions reflected in others.

    -I am not a scholar of religion, nor am I ordained in any sacred tradition, so at best I could be considered an engaged lay person. I think that is important to emphasize because I know that many who write online about religion, especially in blogs, are in fact ministers, monks, chaplains, PhD candidates in Religious Studies, etc. Hence I am not able to speak on behalf of "Buddhists" as a whole.

    So, with that in mind, I admit that upon reading my commentary, it may seem that I am assigning particular motives to the individuals being quoted in the article. Perhaps I should have committed more than the one line expanding on the sentiment that "I have no desire to judge the motives of the people quoted in the article, let alone the author". In short, as I initially wrote, I was not offering a detailed rebuttal, but rather my reaction to the presentation of Buddhism as a whole. I did not, for example, look at whether the depiction of a particular teaching in Buddhism was being given by you or one of the other gentlemen and then attempt to judge your or their spiritual genuineness - I simply gave my thoughts about each quote based on my personal understanding of each topic.

    Along those lines, I confess that I did sense and criticize what seemed to be a kind of mindset in the article (whether it was there or whether I was projecting it), i.e. the idea of religion as a business. This is where I should have, in hindsight, repeated and clarified my assertion that I was not judging you, the other people quoted, or the author. I appreciate then that your comments here have made me reflect on the fact that I was indeed reading into the overall tone of the article the problem of "branding" in spirituality. It is something I am frustrated with as a general problem in religion/spirituality in the US, not just within any particular faith. Any implication that I am specifically accusing you of being spiritually myopic, divisive, etc, was not intended and was due to my carelessness. I apologize for any offense you may have taken.

    Getting to specific points, I do think that the article in general appeared to be an attempt to buttress "uncommitted Christians" against the appeal of Buddhism as personified by the current Dalai Lama. To that end, it is obviously going to be spun in a way to distinguish the two traditions.

    I appreciate that you interpret and understand all of your spiritual experiences in relationship to the idea of a Triune God, including the belief that part of that trinity manifested in history as Jesus Christ, and that this is the basis of your religious tradition. And I appreciate that with that belief there will be some degree of disagreement between your faith and classic Buddhism. The nature of some of these differences is debatable - for example, as I wrote the issue of "processing" is a bit vague - it depends on whether we are talking about theological/philosophical presumptions and filtering experiences through our intellectual/iconographic framework ("I was praying and I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit"), or whether we are talking about the experience itself ("I felt a total sense of peace and belonging and a unity with all things").

    I concur that I also tend to see a difference between the "historical Jesus" and the "Jesus of faith" even if I use slightly different language, and that for most traditional Christians the two are the same. Personally, and there is no big surprise here, I tend to favor the "Jesus of faith" which I presume is also the same view of Jesus presented by folks like Marcus Borg, who as I recall was quoted as saying that if someone did actually find unequivocal proof of Christ's physical remains it would have no affect on his belief in Jesus whatsoever. So I do tend to encompass more than just traditional Christianity when I talk about the something like the Gospels. I might also add (and I assume you know) that if you look at some older, more traditional forms of Buddhism as opposed to many contemporary teachers (especially those who have moved to/engaged with the West) that one could also get into similar comparisons. That is one reason why the focus of my comments tend to be so broad. It also requires that anything concerning my view about what Buddhism says should always be qualified as "may not be representative of many Buddhists/Buddhist traditions".

    To the question/issue of stability versus impermanence, I think it gets back to the issue of what is impermanent, which I have understood to be referring to form. Hence if one is able to appreciate that everything in the historical dimension will change and pass away and become something new, one will not grasp at or cling to such possessions or be foolish enough to base their hopes/worth on things like money, or health, etc. That is not the same as saying that there are not enduring truths (i.e. elucidated principles), else the entire premise is self-defeating ("Is impermanence impermanent?") It's akin to many of those questions often asked of theists such as "Can God make a rock big enough that even He cannot lift?"

    Yes, I can certainly understand why the idea of impermanence is confusing, but as you yourself point out that to which Bodhidharma was referring was attachment to form. Chan Buddhism in particular is of the opinion that Truth/Reality-as-IT-IS is ineffable - that is, it cannot be captured in words, or images, or concepts. It must be directly experienced and realized. Because people have a tendency to focus on the form, things like robes and holy garments, scriptures, statues, etc, what I see Bodhidharma and many others who expressed similar sentiments as conveying is the idea that these things can sometimes get in the way. That is, if you think that just by saying the right words, going to the (right) temple, or reading scriptures, you will actually benefit and see the Truth, you are deluded. There are many expressions that convey this. One is "fingers pointing to the moon". In this expression the image of the moon is the Truth and the finger is the sacred tradition pointing to the moon. So one may say that someone has become so fixated with the finger they never actually see the moon! So what Bodhidharma is saying is, get rid of whatever is distracting you. If the rituals and the scriptures point you to the Truth, great, but if they are getting in the way, lose them! I can't tell you how many stories there are in Buddhism about some great "Buddhist master" who was humbled by an uneducated country bumpkin because all the "master" had was an intellectual understanding and the peasant saw with his/her heart. In one such story, the master, after "getting it", immediately gives all of his books and treatises about Buddhism to a poor person to use for kindling in the fire. He realizes that the Truth is real and living, not some abstraction in a dusty tomb. In another (hopefully apocryphal) story, a Buddhist master used to signify his understanding of the Truth by raising his thumb. When he caught a pupil imitating him, he asked the student about his enlightenment. The student started to raise his thumb, at which point the master cut it off. The master repeated the question and the student began to raise his hand, but, there was no thumb, and bingo, he "got it" (that is, he really looked for himself, rather than just imitating someone else's understanding). In a more real and recent example, when I was attending one particular sangha I recall a discussion of people being hung up on a famous series of images called the Ox herding pictures, to which the senior monk replied that those pictures should be burned (again, same principle).

    The issue of ego and individuality is also confusing, and not all Buddhists have the exact same view of it. This is one of those issues akin to debates in Christianity about things like predestination, so while I feel somewhat comfortable with my attempt to discuss impermanence, my answer on the ego is a bit more contentious. You do exist, but no one manifestation of form has intrinsic existence. One of the elements you mention is individuality, and one way of looking at that is the ubiquitous "water/wave" example. That is, Ultimate Reality is like water, and any particular manifestation of form is like a wave. So, then, as historical individuals, we are waves. We are born and we die. Yet our true substance does not "die", it is not destroyed. This is similar to ideas such as pantheism as well as panentheism.

    But individuality is not the same as ego. I tend to see the ego (not necessarily the Freudian usage) as a false sense of self that, as you put it, is rooted in the idea of isolation from the underlying unifying reality of which we are all manifestations. Hence diminishing the ego is not equivalent to no longer being an individual, it is being more than just an individual. It is in that sense like the idea of surrendering your will to God - that doesn't make you a mindless drone with no identity, and many Christians (perhaps you would be among them) would likely argue that it actually helps them to appreciate their uniqueness as a part of a greater whole. In the same way, realizing one is part of a greater Other in Buddhism or in any other faith does not have to mean replacing the Self, but rather it can be seen as fulfilling and completing the Self as a part of the Other.

    As to union with the Absolute and nirvana, from the view of the Absolute or Ultimate Reality, everything has happened, is happening, and will happen concurrently, as the dimensions of time and space are collapsed within it. So while from a historical perspective you are born, "exist", and the die ("cease to exist"), from the Ultimate perspective you have been, are, and forever will be.

    As you mention that you took my comment about subterfuge personally, I apologize for my carelessness. Again, I was not intending to assign a motive to you specifically, and I should have been more cautious in how I phrased that. I was reading that passage cynically, and the results of that are readily predictable. I wish that I had used a better choice of language, such as “one could infer the implication” rather than “the apparent implication”. They mean about the same thing in the way I intend them, but one sounds more accusatory. As another example, while I do say “if one sees ‘spirituality’ as a trademark and religion as business...” (emphasis on “if”) and later “I am baffled by what sounds like gratuitous spiritual materialism” (emphasis on “sounds like”), it still comes across as a little too judgmental.

    I appreciate your questions, and to answer your last one, no, I am not in favor of telling people what they can and cannot believe. But I would also point out that if we do take that broader view of "Christians", as I often do, with all due respect to the fact that the non-traditional Christians are a minority, then it is fair to ask "What if there is more to Christ or Christianity than tradition tends to allow?"

    Again, thank you for inspiring me to clarify my initial writing and for the respectful tone and consideration you chose to extend. God bless you.

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  4. Tinythinker (a name which I do not think fits you), thank you very much for your response. It is interesting that you mention the idea of someone becoming so fixated with the finger they never actually see the moon because that echoes a contention I make about the use of visual art in Christian worship in an article I have upcoming in the Princeton Theological Reivew for its Spring issue. I would say certainly there are tools, rituals, art work, and the like which all point to the transcendent but are not the transcendent. However, to the traditionally minded Catholic, that same transcendence entered into history and actually established a religious tradition, the Church, to point the way to Him. The religious ideas taught by the Church about the identity of the creator have to do with actual characteristics about Him (eg., God is Trinity, Jesus Christ became fully human) just like we learn about characteristics of others (one is wise, friendly, etc) and can depend upon those ideas as reliable. Therefore Christians would not say that their faith tradition could be a distraction from the transcendent, but more like a clear and sure signpost. You also mention the idea that one might look at an experience, say of meditation, through the "filter" of an intellectual/iconographic framework, which seems to me to be a good representation of the Buddhist (and I could simply say Asian) religious mindset. The Christian mindset, however, would on the other hand see the Buddhist as filtering out what he or she experiences in meditation either purposely or because he or she does not have the knowledge to identify the transcendent for what (or really who) it is. I think that above all this exchange has shown us that religious conversations of this nature are certainly complex and we all need to take the time to listen. I have enjoyed this discussion immensely and thank you because I think we have both learned from it. God bless you as well.

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  5. Buddhism is hypocritical. The equality in Buddhism is a lie. Monks and nuns are unequal. Lay people and monks are unequal. The tolerance in Buddhism is a lie. According to the Buddhist scriptures, those who speak against Buddhism are going to the bottom of the "Narakas".

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