Thursday, September 3, 2009

Unity In Diversity

I have just finished reading an article by a sociologist in which he said that the different schools and sects of Buddhism are so diverse as to be almost separate religions. I often hear or read statements like this being said about Buddhism but rarely about other religions. I can never recall hearing something like this said about Christianity for example – which is funny when you think of the Catholics and the Quakers, the Seventh-day Adventists and the Lutherans, the Methodists and the Mormons, the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Four Square Gospel Church. One of my favorite ‘interesting’ expressions of the Gospel is the Church of Dolly Ponds With Miracles and Signs which take Jesus’ words at Mark 16:18 and Luke 10:19 more literally than most people would. Their church services include handling real live rattle snakes. My other favorite ‘interesting’ Christian sect is the Skoptsy who take Matthew 19:12 and 18:8,9 so seriously that they cut off…well, read the relevant Bible passage and you’ll know what I mean. They are now a very small group but believe it or not they still get recruits
To an outsider or someone not well-informed about Buddhism, its numerous school, sects and traditions may appear to be so diverse as to have little or nothing in common. While it is true that some sects and cults identifying themselves as Buddhist are not really (Soka Gakki, True Mantra Buddhism?), all genuinely Buddhists traditions share certain common features. In 1967, First Congress of the World Buddhist Sangha Council, representing Buddhists from 25 countries and made up of all the main Buddhist traditions, drew up an ecumenical document called ‘The Basic Points Unifying the Theravada and the Mahayana’. This document is a concise formula for the unifying principles that all Buddhists adhered too and was unanimously approved by all the participants of the Council. The statement reads -
1. The Buddha is our only Master (teacher and guide)

2. We take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha (the Three Jewels).

3. We do not believe that this world is created and ruled by a God.

4. We consider that the purpose of life is to develop compassion for all living beings without discrimination and to work for their good, happiness, and peace; and to develop wisdom (panna) leading to the realization of Ultimate Truth.

5. We accept the Four Noble Truths, namely dukkha, the arising of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the path leading to the cessation of dukkha; and the law of cause and effect (paticcasamuppada).

6. All conditioned things (samkhara) are impermanent (anicca) and dukkha, and that all conditioned and unconditioned things (dhamma) are without self (anatta).

7. We accept the thirty-seven qualities conducive to enlightenment (bodhipakkhaya dhamma) as different aspects of the Path taught by the Buddha leading to Enlightenment.

8. There are three of attaining bodhi or Enlightenment: namely as a disciple (savaka), as a paccaka buddha and as a samma sambuddha (perfectly and fully enlightened Buddha). We accept it as the highest, noblest, and most heroic to follow the career of a Bodhisattva and to become a samma sambuddha in order to save others.

9. We admit that in different countries there are differences regarding Buddhist beliefs and practices. These external forms and expressions should not be confused with the essential teachings of the Buddha.

(the Sanskrit for all doctrinal terms is used in the original).

23 comments:

Ken and Visakha said...

Some years ago we had a class of Jodo-shu (Pure Land) priests who wanted to study English. We asked them to identify the Buddha's teachings as they would explain them to a western visitor to their temple. What they wanted to be able to talk about was the Middle Way, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path to the end of suffering, the Three Characteristics, the need for morality, generosity and meditation -- everything that is common to all schools of Buddhism.

bobzane said...

I just looked up Skoptsy. Holy Moly!

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Bob,
You'll learn something every day if you read my blog.

reasonable said...

What are the essential reasons for not recognising Soka as a type of Buddhism?

Nathan said...

There have been plenty of issues with Ikeda's leadership of SGI, and I suppose the heavy political involvement, at least in Japan, of the organization. But I question dismissing it as a form of Buddhism, especially given the fact that in North America at least, it has one of the most diverse set of members of any Buddhist sect or group. In addition, there have been plenty of Buddhist figures and their groups called cultish in recent Buddhist history - Sogyal Rinpoche and his entire Rigpa community come to mind. Is it true? I really don't know.

But I do agree with you that there is wide diversity of ways Buddhism appears in this world, and that the tent is wide in terms of our practice.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Nathan,
A controlling, domineering leader and political involvement would not as such disqualify a group or organization from being authentically Buddhist. My understanding is that Soka looks to Nichiren rather than the Buddha and therefore does not fulfill the first of these 9 points. Until recently classical Dhamma (the Four Noble Truths etc) also got no or very little attention either. Soka’s violence in the 50’s and 60’s against Buddhist temples in Japan also made it, if not un-Buddhism, at least on its extreme outer edge of Buddhism. However, one notices SGI has been trying to go ‘respectable’ of late. So we’ll wait and see who things evolve in the future, hence the question mark after my mention of Soka Gakki.

Nathan said...

"My understanding is that Soka looks to Nichiren rather than the Buddha and therefore does not fulfill the first of these 9 points." Hmm, this is interesting ...

From the SGI-USA website: "SGI members follow the teachings of Nichiren, a Buddhist monk who lived in thirteenth-century Japan. Nichiren's teachings provide a way for anybody to readily draw out the enlightened wisdom and energy of Buddhahood from within their lives, regardless of their individual circumstances." Now, I went back and looked over a lot of other materials on their website, as well as a few articles of criticism of SGI. What I wonder about is if they place emphasis on Nichiren in the way that some of us in the Soto Zen school place heavy emphasis on Dogen - or if they actually only look to Nichiren as the source of wisdom. I can't completely tell.

They're definitely a lightning-rod group, and as you said, it will be interesting to see what unfolds for them, especially as Ikeda becomes less involved.

no said...

The practices of Skoptsy believers stem from severe literal-mindedness. In my earlier days, I suffered considerably because of it, both because it was found in myself and in others who should have known better. Fortunately, my sense of reality eventually gained the upper hand. The point is that we really have to watch out for this thing which breeds all forms of extremism. Mindfulness and commonsense go hand in hand.

aah-haa said...

Every 'religion' suffers from deviations from the original or historical founding and its basic tenets. There being no control, franchise, sanction or divine prohibition against anyone or group or faction forming new schools or sects or traditions (or whatever - new agey?), it is a fair game out there. All it takes is a charismatic leader and naive followers who were more enamelled by the personality than by any spiritual principles. Personal, political and even purist agenda are possible reasons for departing from the historical foundation. Mavericks hijack historical religions to lend legitimacy to their hidden and heinous agenda. Bhante’s posting showed those that are in the lime-light but there are many more not so well-known or obvious or organised. In other words, all religions have been innovated, deviated, culturally-assimilated, and pagan-tainted or created throughout the history of mankind. That brings to mind that if there is only one true god, such events would not be possible (not just because god is jealous) but for the confusion created. I think Confucius is less confusing! Have anyone heard of different sects of Confucianism?

reasonable said...

Bhante wrote: “My understanding is that Soka looks to Nichiren rather than the Buddha and therefore does not fulfill the first of these 9 points. Until recently classical Dhamma (the Four Noble Truths etc) also got no or very little attention either.”

I searched around a bit in the internet and l quote her:
http://www.sgilibrary.org/search_dict.php?id=588

“In his writings, Nichiren (1222-1282) sometimes uses the term essen-tial teaching to indicate the essential teaching of the Latter Day of the Law; that is, the teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The Object of Devo-tion for Observing the Mind reads: "The essential teaching of Shakyamuni's lifetime and that revealed [by Nichiren] at the beginning of the Latter Day are both pure and perfect [in that both lead directly to Buddhahood]. Shakyamuni's, however, is the Buddhism of the harvest, and this is the Buddhism of sowing. The core of his [Shakyamuni’s] teaching is one chapter and two halves, and the core of mine is the five characters of the daimoku alone" (370). Nichiren thus identified Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the teaching he revealed at the "beginning of the Latter Day," as the essential teaching for that age.”

I guess Soka does not deny Gotama Buddha’s teachings but rather placed Gotama Buddha’s teachings as suitable for a pervious era, but now is a new era where a more advance teaching (known to Gotama Buddha but not revealed directly by him as the time was not right yet) suitable for this new era is revealed by Nichiren. And the “advanced teaching” which is more effective for enlightenment lies in just the title of the Lotus Sutra, that 5-character title which is also the mantra for Soka. That means, I suppose, all the other teachings like the 4 Noble Truths, the 8-fold paths etc pales in effectiveness when compared with the doctrine and practice relating to that 5-character mantra. The classical Buddhist teachings are not denied by Soka, but perhaps not given the importance as by other traditional Buddhist schools, since a more powerful and more elevant (from their perspective) idea and practice is now available. It is not that Gotama Buddha did not know the power of the 5-character mantra, just that Gotama Buddha did not reveal it explicitly as the time was not right yet 2500 years ago.

So if Soka does not deny the teachings of Gotama Buddha, but accepts them, it may be difficult to see them as a non-Buddhist sect, but then, their view of Gotama Buddha’s classical and explicit teachings to be inferior to Nichiren’s teachings makes classical Buddhism very uncomfortable too. Soka is careful not to place Gotama Buddha to be inferior in the sense that they, I think, maintain that Gotama Buddha did know of the secret of the 5-character mantra being the essential ultimate method/idea.

If I may put it in another perspective, to Soka, what is important is not the content contained inside the Lotus Sutra; what is important is the title of that Sutra. (compare to this: it may be seen to be similar to saying what is important is not the medical treatments detailed inside a medical book; the healing comes from reciting the title of the medical book)

reasonable said...

aah-haa wrote: "...all religions have been innovated, deviated, culturally-assimilated, and pagan-tainted or created throughout the history of mankind. That brings to mind that if there is only one true god, such events would not be possible..."

If there really exists a 'one true god', such events is still possible because that 'one true god' may think that what is important is not having an accurate understanding of metaphysics but rather developing a good heart/character. This 'one true god' thus leaves it to a 'natural' evolution of many religions and worldviews, and leaves it to people to choose whatever system they deem right, and within such a free environment, let them develop their character in a free and genuine manner, while ensuring there are many pointers (inside various religions and worldviews and situations) persuading people to develop a good heart.

aah-haa said...

One thing about offshoots of historical religions is some form of tie or connection be it the acknowledgement of the founders, adopting of some but not all of the tenets, introducing new elements, and propounding the philosophies of these offshoots.
"If there really exists a 'one true god', such events is still possible because that 'one true god' may think that what is important is not having an accurate understanding of metaphysics but rather developing a good heart/character." - If this is the case, it is all the more important to eliminate confusion. There is certainly a better way to spirituality than all the confusions that religions have created. This idea of freedom and the many paths is very noble but flawed.

reasonable said...

aah-haa: "If this is the case, it is all the more important to eliminate confusion. There is certainly a better way to spirituality than all the confusions that religions have created. This idea of freedom and the many paths is very noble but flawed."

The 'one true god' may not be one who micro-manages this world. If by the freedom of 'natural' development there come about a few major religions and worldviews, so be it. We should not assume that the 'one true god' must be someone who micro-manage affairs. He could well be one then sets up foundational conditions and framework, and generally leaves things to evolve in freedom. So the existence of various religions and worldviews does not itself invalidates the possibility of the existence of what u called a 'one true god'. :)

It is not clear, unless u can provide reasons, why my particular idea of freedom (but I won't call it many paths) is flawed.

aah-haa said...

I guess the idea of 'god' as well as 'one true god' has to be clarified. Most if not all religions do believe in one or many beings that is/are above all creatures, possess superlatives attributes, of divine and spiritual nature, and have capabilities beyond our imaginations. Unless I can come up with a new term for these special beings, I shall use 'god', 'near-god' and 'God'. In polytheistic religions, all gods are equal maybe some are more equal! For monotheistic religions, there is only one God. Any beings next to godliness can be called near-god. In 'one true god', this alludes to a Supreme Being who came from nowhere but created all things - living and non-living. In this respect, this 'one true god' already managed everything - macro and micro. Perhaps, the other gods don’t micro-managed the affairs of human. They only managed their specific domain.
The idea of freedom and many paths (choices) are aspirations many people and nations strive for and are also embedded in many social and political ideologies. They are noble but flawed because in reality there is no absolute freedom and choices! Think for a moment, if you are a parent (and able to manage, decide, lead and control) do you allow your children to be confused as to whether alcohol is good or bad? And your children are able to choose ‘what deem right’? That natural development would lead them to make the right decision?
Then again there is a belief-system that says the Supreme Being put you on this earth just so you can have freedom till one final day. Why the bother?

reasonable said...

aah-haa said: "They are noble but flawed because in reality there is no absolute freedom and choices!"

Nobody is claiming the existence of ABSOLUTE FREEDOM and choices among conditioned beings. We do not need absolute freedom to have the freedom that is sufficient and required for responsibility to make sense :)


aah-haa: "Think for a moment, if you are a parent (and able to manage, decide, lead and control) do you allow your children to be confused as to whether alcohol is good or bad? And your children are able to choose ‘what deem right’?"

The example of children making choices is not a good example. Rather, say, adults are given the info about the potential benefit and potential harm of alcohol. Under certain conditions, consuming alcohol is beneficial. Under some other conditions, consuming alcohol is harmful. Then let the adults decide, with the constraint that if their decision led to causing harm to others, they will be punished (e.g. driving while drunk). By the way, I would allow my children above 16 to decide for themselves a lot of things once I have given them sufficient info (e.g. various types of sexual values and the pros and cons, safer sex practice in case they choose to have casual sex, legal age of consent for sex, legal age of consent for alcohol consumption, the benefit and harm of alcohol consumption depending on how one consumes it and many things). The thing is not to prevent children from making mistakes, but preparing them to be ready to make decision to shape their own lives, even if they make decisions that I felt to be not wise. It is their lives, not mine. A parent should not impose their vision of live onto their children but thru a process prepare the children to be critical thinkers and let them have the freedom to make mistakes (progressively as they grow up).

"That natural development would lead them to make the right decision?"

The priority is not for them to make the "right" decision, but for them to exercise free choice with the sufficient information that encourages them to choose to develop a good heart. So it does not matter which religions they choose, so long as these religions encourages them to develop a good heart (the other things such as ritual, worshipping certain diety/dieties correctly, are not that important in the eyes of a 'one true god' there is such a being). Because of the presence of sufficient freedom (i.e. not coercion), it is possible for people to choose to develop a selfish or evil heart. But the possibility of good or evil requires freedom.


aah-haa: "Then again there is a belief-system that says the Supreme Being put you on this earth just so you can have freedom till one final day. Why the bother?"

It is not just so one can have the freedom till one final day, but one can continue to have the freedom even after the final day. But because character can be hardened, there come a point where one is so hardened that she/he can be said to be confirmed evil or good. In that sense, one continues to be evil or be good in accordance to one's character. And then one have to be accept the consequences of goodness or evil.

Why the bother? To build a community of good beings (which will require the condition of freedom)

aah-haa:"For monotheistic religions, there is only one God. ... In 'one true god', this alludes to a Supreme Being who came from nowhere but created all things - living and non-living. In this respect, this 'one true god' already managed everything - macro and micro."

Not true. It is possible to have such a Supreme Being creating the initial conditions for the existence of the universe and the initial conditions for the development of life (thru evolution), without requiring the Supreme Being to micromanage affairs. It is possible for such a Supreme Being to create conditions for freedom without the need for that Being to micro-manage. (Heard of Deism which was popular during the Enlightenment era in the west? I am not saying what I said is Deism, but what I said has some resemblance to certain aspect of Deism :) )

aah-haa said...

"The thing is not to prevent children from making mistakes, but preparing them to be ready to make decision to shape their own lives, even if they make decisions that I felt to be not wise."
This probably hit the nail on the head. Mistakes are unwise decisions or actions gone wrong, caused harm and dukkha. Teachings from our elders and particularly from spiritual leaders are all about preventing mistakes in lives. What's the point of telling kids and adults that alcohol is harmful and let them have the freedom to choose or come to a decision that alcohol is harmful or not ? By the time a drunk driver who just slammed someone you loved to death, it may be too late for you to change the contention that freedom to decide or choose what is harmful or not can be made by adult, let alone a child. Someone whose child was overcome by drug addiction pushed by drug traffickers would not agree with your contention that adults can made the right decision of what is harmful or not. This aggrieved person would not go to court and ask that capital punishment be spared for drug traffickers.

no said...

Please allow me to intrude in this interesting discussion. I would think if we put aside the question as to whether there is or there is not a God, there will then have no need for so much reasoning to explain why God did not or should not do this or that or should have done. It is quite similar to the question posed to the Buddha about what is the "Unconditioned" or the "Unborn". The Buddha simply kept silent, known in Mahayana, I think, as the Buddha's "Great Silence". We can speculate about the "Unconditioned" etc but our conceptualising process is unable to rightly define it. However, in Christianity, Jesus took a different approach in that he would like humans to relate to God in a personal way, feel that God is in them. In addition, in some traditions I think it is taught that we should regard ourselves and God as "one", not just simply dwelling in us. So, it is almost like the Buddhist's belief that all sentient beings has the Buddha nature in them, the Unconditioned is right there for us to discover.

Just some personal views only, quite beyond my depths actually.

reasonable said...

Greetings aah-haa :)

aah-haa: "Mistakes are unwise decisions or actions gone wrong, caused harm and dukkha. Teachings from our elders and particularly from spiritual leaders are all about preventing mistakes in lives."

Gotama Buddha and Jesus and Lao Tze did not attempt to force their teachings onto their audience. They just taught their hearers what the path ought to be, and the hearers were left to decide whether or not to heed their teachings. The hearers were left with the freedom even to choose to disobey their teachings. These great spiritual teachers were very different from some parents who were too afraid of their children making mistakes and who tried to impose their vision of life even on their adult children. The spiritual leaders' way of preventing people from making mistakes is not be force but by persuasion, and then allowing their hearers to have the freedom to decide whether or not to follow their teachings.

So, great spiritual masters like Gotama Buddha and Jesus and Lao Tze did not see it as "pointless" to show people the right path(s) but leaving people with the freedom to choose whether or not to follow their teachings.


aah-haa: "What's the point of telling kids and adults that alcohol is harmful and let them have the freedom to choose or come to a decision that alcohol is harmful or not ?"

u asked "What is the point?". Well, one can also ask Gotama Buddha or Jesus or Lao Tze about "what is the point" of them teaching the right path(s) and yet leaving their hearers to have the freedom to decide whether or not to follow their teachings. Obviously they felt that such an approach of "teaching and yet leaving their spiritual children to decide whether or not to obey their teachings" is not pointless.

"By the time a drunk driver who just slammed someone you loved to death, it may be too late for you to change the contention that freedom to decide or choose what is harmful or not can be made by adult"

Even if a drunk driver were to slammed someone I love, I still defend and fight for the alcohol not to be banned nationwide. Adults ought to have the freedom to decide whether or not to consume alcohol.

It is ok for people to have the freedom to make wrong decisions. Let them have the freedom to make their informed decisions (be it right or wrong decisions) and then let them be responsible to bear the "reward" or "punishment" accordingly. This is how kamma works (if the Buddhist worldview is correct). This is how God works (if the Christian worldview is correct).

"Someone whose child was overcome by drug addiction pushed by drug traffickers would not agree with your contention that adults can made the right decision of what is harmful or not. This aggrieved person would not go to court and ask that capital punishment be spared for drug traffickers."

I think we should not jump to conclusion that every aggrieved person would not be gracious to forgive the wrongdoer just because his/her child has been harmed by the wrongdoer. In real life history, a one famous Christian lady's family members were killed by the Nazis. Years later after the war, she accidentally met the person responsible for killing her family members. At that instance she thought of her gracious and forgiving God, and she managed, with some internal struggle, to extend her hand out to shake the hand of the ex-Nazi and told him that she forgives him for his past wrongs. If a person is truly repentant of his/her past wrongs, there is nothing strange or odd about the victim being gracious to forgive the repentant person. This is one of the fundamental value of Christianity: to forgive those who truly repent of their wrongdoings.

reasonable said...

Greetings to "no" :)

no: "Please allow me to intrude in this interesting discussion. I would think if we put aside the question as to whether there is or there is not a God, there will then have no need for so much reasoning to explain why God did not or should not do this or that or should have done."

u are not intruding at all... welcome welcome to join in with u thoughts :)

aah-haa claimed that the existence of different religions means that the 'one true god' does not exist. I was just trying to show that the existence of different religions can be compatible with the existence of a 'one true god'.

I am just trying to show aah-haa that he has made a mistake in logic and not trying to claim that a 'one true god' exists. Whether or not a 'one true god' exists is not my concern in the context of this discussion.

:)

yuri said...

The discussion, I feel, has gradually become fruitless and of the sort that the Buddha refused to be drawn into. Too metaphysical. The Creator, The Ruler of the world, the Divine Plan... For me such disputes refute the saying that truth is born in debates... I used to argue with my christian friends on these subjects but with some progress in meditation I lost interest in such debate.

no said...

Dear reasonable,
Thanks for your clarification.
I think the intellect is more like a tool. If it is founded on a compassionate heart and informed by wisdom, it becomes a very useful tool.
Best :)

reasonable said...

good morning Yuri,

As "no" rightly said, the intellect is a tool (i.e. it is neither good nor bad so we should not look at intellectual discussion negatively). Whether or not one is using intellectual discussion to one's benefit would depend on the individuals.

u mentioned: "The discussion, I feel, has gradually become fruitless...Too metaphysical. ... For me such disputes refute the saying that truth is born in debates..."

Such discussion (it is not a dispute) may be fruitless to some people, but it can be fruitful for some other persons.

Such discussion (not really a dispute) can lead to truth in the sense of the removal of misconception. I am not talking about arriving at the truth about metaphysics such as whether or not the 6 realms in samsara really exists in the same sense as the earth exists, or whether or not the 'one true god' exists. I am talking about truth in the sense of clearing away misconceptions.

In our case here, "the existence of different religions means the 'one true god' does not exist" is a misconception. Such discussion can help to remove such a misconception, so that one realises that "the existence of different religions" has no co-relation with "the existence of a 'one true god' ".

I am not bothered about the issue of whether or not the 'one true god' really exists in our discussion here.

Such discussion can help some persons to sharpen thinking, especially for those into philosophy (even if one is not a professional philosopher). A sharpened mind is not pointless; it can help some persons in life (both spiritual and non-spiritual aspects).

As "no" rightly said, the intellect is a tool (i.e. it is neither good nor bad so we should not look at intellectual discussion negatively). Whether or not one is using intellectual discussion to one's benefit would depend on individuals.

Peace :)

yuri said...

Dear Reasonable,
I simply wanted to say how I view such discussions now. I had been invovlved in many similar exchanges of opinions (sometimes very hot-tempered) in the past. Not only with Christians but also with some Buddhists (lamaists, mostly). In worldly terms such discussions may indeed be useful (sharpening one's mind, as you say) but not in solving spiritual problems. You speak of misconception when someone says that belief in many different gods refutes the existence of One God. From the point of view of a believer in One God, it certainly is a misconception. From the point of view of an atheist it surely is not! As belief in gods also includes belief in different "One Gods" - One god of Islam is very different from the triple God of Christianity who is a sheer heresy for a Muslim. Or One God of Deists is different from The Biblical One God. And Brahma - aguna - devoid of any quality - is yet different from all other theistic "One Gods". The instrument of the mind as well as logic can be used this way and that way when the subject of discussion is such a specific and metaphysical one - like the concept of God or gods... Once I wrote a poem (in Russian) which started like this: "When both faith and faithlessness fail, when a question becomes its own answer, we shall reach the door..." And my meditation practice seems to prove it.