Are Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism Made For Each Other?
by Gene Gibas
Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
2600 E. Philip Ln.
P.O. Box 1791
Appleton, WI 54912-1791
(920) 731-0849
July 22, 2001

This morning I'd like to talk about how I think basic Buddhism could enrich Unitarian-Universalists as a personal salvation or redemption scheme.
Now, in my lexicon, a salvation scheme is both a set of beliefs about human nature and the human condition and the actions and practices that stem from these beliefs. Redemptive beliefs and practices deliver us from negative or disabling conditions having to do with our finiteness, with our own personal deaths. They deliver us from a gnawing sense at the core of our beings that our lives and deaths occur against a background of apparent nothingness and are without meaning. They deliver us from feelings of existential emptiness, separation, and isolation. A salvation scheme also helps us try to determine what behaviors harm people and the sustaining web, and are thus evil, and should be combated. A salvation scheme helps us to define and choose that which is good. A salvation scheme frees us from self-seeking. We can turn away from the self and pour our abundance on others and on the world as a healing balm.
I suggest that the need for a salvation scheme, for redemption, is a human universal and that there are two main ways UU's respond to this universal need. One way is distraction. You can so thoroughly distract yourself with activities of any sort, all of the lures of the modern world, that you have no time to feel that gnawing anxiety at your core. Modern, complex professional disciplines, for example, are so consuming that they have the effect of distracting us from existential angst. Or your basic temperament may be such that you are indifferent to these issues, you just don't feel existential angst at all, and you slide through life blissfully indifferent to them, i.e., you're automatically distracted. .
But for many modern people, people who cannot accept fundamentalist religions and outlandish beliefs, the route to salvation is good works. Many of you here today have professional lives where you are actually paid to contribute to the welfare of mankind. You do so splendidly and can rest in the conviction that you are contributing to realizing a grand vision of the good. You can ultimately lay your head down at the end of life with a sigh of satisfaction needing no further salvation scheme.
That vision of the good, the utopia that UU's and other religious liberals strive to bring about, thereby redeeming themselves, is well summed up in UU's seven principles. The utopia we work to bring about supports 1) the inherent worth and dignity of every person; 2) justice, equity and compassion in human relations; 3) acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth; 4) the free and responsible search for truth and meaning; 5) the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process; 6) the extension of these principles to the whole world, and an ecological 7) respect for the interdependent web of all existence. I have heard UU's joke that working to bring about this utopia is doing "the Lord's" work.
If you doubt the primacy of works in the UU approach to life, just read the UU World! UU's are urged to do good works, to become advocates and activists as much as their time, energy and gifts permit. But they're not told to do works as their way of becoming saved or redeemed. Yet my observation is that the effect is there. Social activism is a form of salvation by works. I've seen too much behavior among UU's and liberals in general that can only be explained this way.
But there are a number of problems with salvation by works. One is that despite all of our pretensions, we never really know what the effects of many of our actions will be over the middle and long range. Another is that we can never fully predict who will rise in opposition to our ideas. And when people rise to oppose us, our self-esteem tends to push us into Manichean thinking. We easily convince ourselves that there are forces of good and forces of evil in existence, and, of course, the UU's are on the side of the good forces and those who oppose us are the evil, benighted, unrighteous ones. Redeeming oneself through works also subtly tempts one to objectify the very people one sets out to help. Me.. big wise person, you, object of my caritas... some sort of failed person who can help me feel good about myself.
But a bigger problem with salvation by works is the wounded healer issue. Catholicism recognized not long ago, agreeing with Luther, that works are not the route to salvation, but should proceed from a heart and mind that is already redeemed. Works should pour from abundant hearts, hearts that no longer feel that it is all empty and meaningless, but that life is a wonderful gift, a bestowed kindness to which any normal human being must reciprocate. When this isn't the order of things, we get into a strange circularity: feeling the emptiness of life, feeling life is without meaning, a person goes forth to help those bogged down in life in some way or other, so that those helped then have the time and ease to feel the emptiness of life, and then try themselves to escape their own existential suffering by going out to help others bogged down in the emptiness of life, and so on.
>From what I have seen, UU is pretty much silent for those of us who are not so fortunate as to already have achieved a full and abundant heart. Run-of-the-mill mortals need a religio, a methodology of rebinding oneself into the web of existence. They need an art of living, some sort of extended metaphor that doesn't ask us to make assertions that insult our intelligence. After reading my way through a dozen or so books on South Asian Buddhism over the last 15 years, I've become convinced that Buddhism, stripped of reincarnation doctrine, is that religio. It think Buddhism's understanding of human nature and the human condition and the redemptive practices it has developed can help skeptical modern people be religious and… develop the full and abundant hearts that overflow into works and living for others.
But I also realize there are considerable barriers for Westerners to really appreciate how Buddhism could help them lead a religious life..
Barrier number one is the tendency of Westerners to force Buddhism into the terminology and categories of Christianity. If you want to have the slightest chance of understanding Buddhism, if you want to become partially Buddhist, you must resist this tendency. You have to forego the idea that the Buddha is the Buddhist Christ, that humans are basically evil and tainted by Original Sin, that the goal of religion is salvation in the sense of accepting a Jesus-like figure as savior and being drawn up into some heaven at death. You should set aside terms like sin, faith, belief, grace, and spirituality. I'll try not to use them at all in the rest of this talk. In fact it's best to start out saying that Buddhism really isn't a religion at all. Rather it is an "art of living," or as a Japanese businessman once told me, "Buddhism is mental health."
The second barrier to approaching Buddhism arises from some initial mis-translations by the first Western writers about Buddhism. One of these is the use of the term "enlightenment" for the culminating experience of Buddhist practice. For Westerners Enlightenment means that you figure out some problem or set of problems so that you can better understand or control your life and circumstances. That's absolutely not the goal Buddhism strives to reach.
More confusion arises from the terms: meditation and nirvana. South Asian Buddhism does not totally reject Hindu forms of meditation but just does not consider them uniquely useful. To understand what Buddhism does consider useful, we should abandon the term meditation itself. Buddhism preaches bhavana. Bhavana is mental culture and mental discipline aimed at achieving right mindfulness. Right mindfulness is proper awareness of the world and your place in it. This is an awareness not distorted by various forms of delusion, prideful self-assertion, and self-centered craving. Nirvana is nothing more than achieving this relationship to the world.
The fourth barrier arises from the difference between orthodoxy (right teachings) and orthopraxis (right practice). Much of Christianity is preoccupied with orthodoxy, that is, with right beliefs and teachings, right creeds. In Christianity, having faith and being admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven is based on adherence to correct statements about God and his relation to humans. Think of the Nicean Creed. "I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only son our Lord...." Buddhism on the other hand is a religion of orthopraxis, of right conduct. And the point of the right conduct one struggles to achieve is to see things as they are, and not to busy oneself with unanswerable questions like… Is there a God? Is there life after death? Am I doomed to return in another reincarnation?
But the biggest barrier to understanding Buddhism is the direction of regarding in Western religion and life. It boils down to this. In the West we think the individual should be the focus of regard and concern. As far back as Greek times the acquisition of knowledge, wealth, power, and fame were seen as the keys to happiness. (Pindar) They still are the main motivations for achievement in modern life. Western religions have not been terribly successful as an antidote against this tendency. God had a chosen people, the Jews. Christ came into the world to redeem you, not to provide you a model of self-forgetting in service of your fellow man. You, the individual, are the focus of regarding and concern. The West is basically narcissistic.
In modern times Rene Descartes' idea that "I think, therefore I am" further reinforced this direction of regarding. According to Descartes the unique personality is the one undoubtable reality and all truth starts there. The more the modern person is able to develop his consciousness as an agent separate from everything else, the more he can manipulate objects outside the self for his own selfish purposes. That includes other people. Buddhism calls this sort of knowledge avidya...which means ignorance or not-knowing.
This ignorance, this alienated manipulative standoffishness by a fortress self was labeled dualism by Taitetz Suzuki, one of the greatest interpreters of Buddhism to Americans. Since this form of dualism is the standard operating mode of Western Life, Buddhism sees virtually everything about Western Life as maya, delusion, fundamental error.
Buddhist practice leads to the experience of another sort of consciousness. It starts from an intuition that everything that exists is one, and everything is an element in the existence of everything else. For example, your friends and the people around you are the content of your life and make you what you are. You would be unthinkable without others. In Buddhism the rule of life is interrelatedness and interdependence, as in the UU interdependent web of all existence.
Buddhists develop the intuition of oneness through study and mental discipline to the point where awareness of self seems to melt away. Barriers between you and other people melt away. Regarding is turned outward. All of existence is experienced as an infinite gift or kindness that normal people want to respond to in kind. Self is forgotten.
As Buddhists go deeper and deeper into this intuition, they can be said to be living more and more in Nirvana. The distinction between personal needs and compassionate involvement with others is overcome. Buddhism in South Asia as we saw in the Vietnam war is not self-centered otherworldly navel-gazing. It is a deep, moral, caring, self-forgetting participation in the interdependent web of all existence.
Now those are the most significant barriers I can see that keep Westerners from making sense of Buddhism. So let's look beyond them at the few core beliefs that Buddhism, especially Southeast Asian Theravadan Buddhism, does hold. Some of these beliefs have already been spelled out.
1. ...You cannot make an art of living out of propositions you have to take on faith, like the existence of God, the divine nature of Jesus, or life after death. The Buddha purposefully maintained what the commentators call a 'noble silence' in response to such unanswerable questions. Proper living is to see things as they are in the concrete here and now.
2. There may be some ultimate force or power, but it will remain forever unknowable to mankind. That ultimate reality has no attributes or characteristics we can identify or grasp. Thus speculation about the nature and existence of God is viewed, in Buddhism, as idle and pointless. It's a diversion from the real task of life, which is to become aware of the infinite interrelatedness of things and find oneself within it.
3. Buddhists know that the world as taken in by the five senses is really there. But what is really real and really important is not what we can know through our senses and manipulate with our minds and hands. The only thing that is really important is to attain a gentle, open, submitted relationship to the world around us.
4. There is no original sin. But there is a flaw, and that is the tendency to become deluded about the nature of things. The goal of Buddhist practice is to see things as they are, to walk away from delusion. When we set deluded ways of thinking and acting aside, we discover our true nature: Buddhists say that is joy, compassion, harmony, peace, and wholeness, a sense of fitting in, a submittedness and openness of the person.
So how do we escape delusion? How do we become the fully open, submitted personality? The original preaching of Buddha was that we achieve undeluded, submitted living through mental discipline and effort (bhavana).. The Buddha's role in this was only to point out the way based on his own experience. He never claimed to be anything but an inspired teacher. He is the awakened or newly budded one, budded as in a flower's unfolding. His teaching in a nutshell is that the ultimate good is to do no harm, by omission or commission, and that selfish desire and pride of intellect is the root of human suffering, or dukkha..
The nearest thing to original Buddhism, called Theravadan Buddhism, is still practiced in Southeast Asia, and Sri Lanka. It is very clear about what it thinks deluded views are. It's a good place to start the study of Buddhism.
The Southeast Asian core catechism says not live in delusion you must accept: the Three Basic Facts of Life, the notion of the two selves, the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path. It also asks people to accept the notion of Karma, the way past actions influence you here and now, and the merciful doctrine of reincarnation.
What are the three Basic Facts of Life we should hold in the front of our minds at all times?
ANICCA (impermanence). Everything is impermanent. Like each one of us, everything comes into being; it matures; it grows old and worn; and it dies. Not to see every aspect of life at every moment through this filter is delusion. To fight this is delusion.
ANATTA (insubstantiality). The second fact of life is that nothing in existence has any permanent features that distinguish it from anything else. There is no core enduring substance in anything. To understand ANATTA think of yourself and what you think you are. With your aging and death you will be stripped of everything you have, everyone you know. What is the reality of your personality, interests, links to others and skills? If you're an athlete, an accident could make you a paraplegic. Live long enough and time will make your expertises outdated and you may or may not learn new ones. Will you still remember who you were or are?
When you peel away all the changeable distinguishing features of yourself, Buddhism says, the only thing that is permanent is the peaceful sea of consciousness, free of thought and distraction, at the center of our being, a void identical in every person. This is the real and permanent Self with a capital 'S', as opposed to the personal you, the mortal individual, the self with a small 's'.
DUKKHA. Basic fact #3 is that all of life is at bottom suffering, a series of necessary losses ending in the loss of our very selves in death. Dukkha or suffering does not refer mainly to outright pain or disease, or even minor stuff such as discomfort, irritation, and friction. It means that most people are aware at some deep level of their incompleteness and even helplessness in the face of the fleeting nature of life and the ultimate absurdity of death. Suffering also means that most people frequently experience gnawing dissatisfaction and discontent; that they constantly want things to be different than they actually are.
So how does a Buddhist construct a happy and fulfilled life in view of these rather austere and harsh facts of life? The Buddhist answer is to accept the Four Noble Truths and their implications.
..The first noble truth is dukkha. Life is dissatisfaction. Life is suffering.
..The second noble truth is that suffering comes from our deluded efforts to deny and hide from the facts of anicca and anatta, impermanence and insubstantiality. We try to deny these facts of life by endless self-centered craving, such as the craving of the senses for experiences and the greed of the everyday person for wealth, power and recognition.
But there is an even more subtle craving in the realm of ideas. People try to deny anicca and anatta by conceptualizing about the nature of things. This makes the world seem more solid, enduring and predictable than it really is. In fact, says Buddhism, it is not solid, enduring and predictable at all.
..The third noble truth is that you can end suffering in yourself by eliminating its cause: self-centered craving and the pride of intellect. (Pelagian heresy.)
..The fourth noble truth is that there is a methodology to accomplish this: the Noble Eightfold Path.
Note that the path to the end of suffering is not through being redeemed by someone else's sacrifice. The whole emphasis in Buddhism is on the mind and will of the individual, on self-reliance. Despite the fact that mind and will are some of the temporary facets of an individual, and this is a contradiction, it is through them that the individual determines to follow the Eightfold Noble Path to enlightenment.
Before examining the eightfold path, we should examine the way in which the Buddhists solved the question of free will versus determinism and relationship of this to the doctrine of reincarnation. The word KARMA means volitional action. Buddhists speak of the fruits of KARMA to indicate the influence and weight of past deeds and events.
They say that your past deeds, the deeds of others, the events of history, and just plain raw chance do indeed affect your options now. But what you choose to do at any given moment adds a new layer of the fruits of Karma (weight of past deeds). Your choice thus opens up new possibilities. And these include striving for and attaining the open yielded way of life. So to follow the Eightfold Noble Path is to lay down new layers of the results of karma, volitional action. That leads eventually to openness, yieldedness , submittedness, the prerequisites to getting off the endless cycle of rebirth and suffering..
But disciplining and perfecting yourself is very, very difficult. So Buddhists and Hindus drew upon their experience of sub-tropical plants and animals to find a way to grant a person more time to develop better Karma. They did this by developing a doctrine of reincarnation. If you could not attain the open yielded way of life in one lifetime, the wheel of existence would come around and your elements would eventually be reconstituted again for another try. Sophisticated modern Buddhists tend to see worrying about reincarnation as a form of idle speculation like wondering if there is a God and what our relationship to God is.
So what is methodology, the Noble Eightfold Path, that makes it possible to achieve gentleness, openness, yieldedness? Well, it's very prosaic:
Right Understanding Right Purpose or Desire Right Speech Right Action Right Occupation Right Effort Right Concentration Right Meditation
"Right" means "highest and best imaginable." The Buddha taught that all of the stages of the path were originally viewed as equally necessary to attain. All of the rest of Buddhist literature can be understood as an attempt to give meaning to this core doctrine of the eight parts of the path to openness and yieldedness. So what is the eightfold path like?
The first "fold" of the path is Right Understanding or View, which means seeing life as it is. This means getting an intellectual grasp of the basic teachings ...what the 3 Basic Facts of Life are, what the Four Noble Truths are...what the 8 stages of the Noble Eightfold Path are...what the self is and is not...and what Karma means holding these teachings in the forefront of our minds and interpreting life through them.
The first fold is Right Purpose, Motive or Desire, the desire to slay the selfish and base within us, to take the love of humanity to heart, to use one's gifts in the service of others, to forget the impermanent little self, to experience oneself, others, and everything else as an interrelated web of cause and effect. There are four states of mind in Right Purpose.
(If you listen up, you'll realize you are hearing one of the few real paradoxes in Buddhism. You must want to follow the religion that views self-centered wanting as the primary cause of suffering.)
Right Purpose means to constantly and consciously cultivate love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. People should work to cause thoughts of love to pervade and suffuse their world. People should struggle to strip selfish desire out of their loving, they should act on these thoughts through selfless giving, trying to develop the ability to give without even being aware one is giving. To foster compassion, or sympathetic sorrow, people should constantly strive to see the common core they share with others so as to be able to identify with them and to imagine oneself in the place of those who suffer...and act on their compassion.
People have an equal obligation to cultivate sympathetic joy or gladness, which means to practice rejoicing in the success and good fortune of others. You should practice filling your heart with the rejoicing of others so that their joy is your joy. You should also practice cutting feelings of joy and gladness free from any specific persons and events, in effect practicing the experience of free floating gladness. There are texts full of meditation techniques that help the practicing Buddhist bring about the four states of mind that comprise Right Purpose.
People also have an obligation, after experiencing the excitement of the world, to learn how to discover and return to the impersonal serenity at the core of their beings... to see all others impartially without self-centered aversion or attraction... to see all others as a constituent parts of themselves and their actions.
All of this is Right Purpose and Buddhists clearly believe that all this is possible for humans to achieve. We have the mental capacity to strip ourselves of selfish desires and the pride of the intellect. And when we do so we discover that what is left is love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. You should note that this an extremely positive and optimistic view of human nature. It's essentially "original goodness."
The 3/4/5 folds of the path are: Right Speech, Right Action, Right Occupation. All are elaborations of Right Purpose. These are very important elements in the development of a Buddhist art of living. Most everyday people spend more of their lives pursuing these stages of the Eightfold Path than the mind discipline stages. There is nothing here about escaping or denying this world.
The sixth fold, Right Effort, is the practice of constant and strenuous endeavor to train oneself to fulfill the first five stages just outlined. It means to live, breathe, and eat the basic teachings. It means to train oneself in these practices as a champion gymnast would train for the Olympics.
Unlike some American schools of Buddhism and New Age teachings, meditation techniques are not the sum total of South Asian Buddhism. The Buddha taught that each of the eight stages of the eightfold path was as important as any other. Consciously and intentionally working to become a selfless, altruistic, compassionate, joyous social being, dedicated to reducing the suffering of others, comes first. In fact, my impression is that South Asian Buddhists view these first six stages as prerequisites to the mental self- control techniques that make up the last stages of the Noble Eightfold Path.
If the person doesn't become socially oriented, the last two stages of the path, the mind-control stages, easily degenerate into self-centered pleasure seeking, a way to avoid the moral life or build up the self. I think that is why so much of Buddhism in the U.S. seems to start and stop with the meditation technique of attentiveness to breathing. Americans practice this form of meditation for relaxation. It is just another skill or technique to make their Western egos more powerful. It's just a fragment of a full religious ethical system.
Right Mindfulness, Concentration or Attention is the seventh fold or element of the Eightfold path. It is the first of the mind techniques presented in the Eightfold path for blending the individual into the unity that underlies the world. The goal of the technique is to learn through mental discipline how NOT to experience the world as a set of tools to grasp and manipulate. Satipathana, or mindfulness training, trains you to be harmlessly present in the world and compassionately aware. It teaches you how to apprehend the world without scheming to make use of it, or distorting your awareness of what actually exists with some preexisting map of what the world is supposed to be like.
I have found different interpretations in different books as to what the eighth fold of the eight-fold path is. Some call it Wisdom training or prajna. These are techniques to attain transcendental awareness of emptiness. The sense in which the world is "empty" is that is is empty of our purposes. This is very close to mindfulness, attending the to world that is without subjecting it to your willfulness or intentions.
Now why should we be interested in seeing the world this way? When we learn to sense the emptiness of the world, the givenness or suchness of the world, we are more open to perceive it as a vast set of interrelations without beginning or end, something we're only a small part of. Achieving this perspective allows us to set aside the claims of our own little personalities and wants and puts us in a position to become the person who lives for others.
Some see the eighth stage as Right Meditation as bodhi, awareness techniques designed to carry us into the moments of consciousness which lie between thoughts. We become aware that consciousness is a sea. Thought is a wave upon the sea. Pure consciousness is like a still lake, clear, calm, and full of joy. You glimpse even deeper consciousness. The glimpse is called bodhi... awareness of the ultimate unity. It is said to come like a blinding glimpse of pure light accompanied by a flood of joy. Continued practice of meditation and the repeated experience of bodhi lead to the ability to live for long periods of time in complete selfless unity free of suffering. The elements of separate personality fall away. This is part of what is meant by Nirvana.
Trouble is that everyone returns to everyday life from these mental activities. When such persons who have achieved bodhi or prajna return to the the everyday world, they are said to pick up the appearance of personality and slip it on again. But it is the personality of a new person, purified of separateness and reborn in the love of all life. Those few who have reached this stage of spiritual development have, according to Theravadan, or South Asian Buddhism, achieved the purpose of life and could live out their days in meditative retreat.
But that's where the Mahayana or northern school of Buddhism arose. Mahayanists objected, saying "Wait a minute. What do you mean, meditative retreat? That's selfish. After the Buddha attained full awareness and openness, he didn't run off to be alone like a rhinocerous snorting in the bush. Rather he chose to become a bodhisattva, an enlightened being who returns to everyday life, dedicated to relieving the suffering of others by helping them achieve the goals of Buddhist living.
When Buddhism came to China, the Chinese mahayanists further elaborated the bodhisattva ideal. They saw spending the huge amounts of time required to achieve wisdom or awareness through mental exercises as selfish and immoral. The Mahayanists favored the Bodhisattva notion and gave it a new wrinkle. They said that you achieve nirvana right here in the hustle and bustle of everyday life pursuing the goals of the first seven stages of the Noble Path.
It should also be noted that centering attention on life here and now finesses the issue of reincarnation. If you are a Buddhist who believes in reincarnation, you believe that at death a person will experience reincarnation again and again until he or she succeeds in achieving bodhi. When that happens the person, or whatever, goes on to dwell forever in undifferentiated unity, in the bosom of the Lord, so to speak. But if you have truly absorbed the spirit of Buddhism, you find this irrelevant. For you death and impermanence have lost all meaning. You have already merged in this life with the timeless, boundless and undifferentiated.
So how is all of this taught to a mass audience? You need scriptures, doctrines, meditation practices, observances, rituals, ceremonies, festivals, saints of some sort, monasteries, convents, common sayings, art, song, philosophy to provide many pathways to the basic insights and to keep things from getting boring. Fully developed Buddhist cultures have this in abundance.
All of this is usually unavailable to the American who might like to follow the Buddhist way of living. What we are left with in America are by and large books and articles about doctrine, philosophy, and above all meditation practices. Most of this is adapted to the U.S. culture of liberalism (feminist Buddhism is one such fusion). Buddhist ideas of self-forgetting get lost as the whole thing becomes yet another self-help scheme designed to make the ego more competent to win out in the competition of American life. . It becomes another form of therapy to achieve empowerment and not a full religio, or much of a religio at all. .
Buddhism as a fully developed religion has always emphasized that religion has not only an intellectual dimension, but also a volitional dimension (you have to will to believe), an emotional dimension, and a social dimension. Before closing, I'd like to briefly explore these dimensions.
The notion of "faith," or shraddha in Buddhism implies a determination, an act of will to concentrate the powers of the mind on an ideal after one has chosen that ideal as a life goal.
When one has looked at the Buddhist art of living and willed it to be one's ideal, the intellect follows. One then is willing to give assent to the very few propositions or assertions that we have already talked about, such as the three basic facts of life, the four noble truths, karma, belief in the efficacy of the eightfold noble path. Additionally there is a call for confidence in what Buddhism calls the three refuges: the Buddha as teacher, the Dharma, or doctrines of Buddhism, and the Samgha, or community of Buddhists.
Emotionally, Buddhist faith is an attitude of serenity and lucidity, the opposite of being troubled by many things. A person who has achieved shraddha is said to have lost the five terrors of life. He or she ceases to worry about the necessities of life, to worry about looking foolish in front of other people, about loses such as reputation and socio-economic status, about death, life after death, reincarnation, and so forth. If there is only the vastness of space and existence, and if we are woven into that, what is there that should disturb us, except for the suffering of others?
The emotional slides imperceptibly into the social in Buddhism. Socially, shraddha or faith is trust and confidence in the Buddha, in the dharma or doctrines, and in the samgha, or community of Buddhists. As happens in the great religions, the person who fully gives him or herself to the practice of Buddhism breaks to some degree with the normal social environment.
The religious Buddhist joins the family of the Buddha, the community of mahasattvas and bodhisattvas. The Buddha himself is the father, the dharma or doctrine is the mother, the community of fellow seekers are one's brothers and sisters, relatives and friends. It is with this community that satisfactory social relationships must be established.
It is in this matter of emotional and social relationships to the Buddha and the Dharma that some Buddhist schools in Japan clearly go beyond providing a cool mental discipline and a collection of meditation practices. They begin to talk of the person Buddha as an expression of a larger Buddha. The universe is Buddha, the power that may stand behind the universe or merely be expressed in it, is Buddha, the concrete individual, the Buddha himself, is an expression of that larger Buddha.
One clings to the Buddha not only as a human teacher, but through the teacher to the ultimate power of the Universe. One also renders devotion to the bodhisattvas and allows oneself to be inspired by them. Now, in case you're not seeing the resemblance, this is father, son, and holy ghost plus saints.
But how can one have the same social relation to the dharma? Well, Dharma means not only the teachings of Buddhism, but the underlying sustaining power of the universe. The purpose of the dharma as doctrine is to help you align yourself with the total interrelatedness of the power of the universe. You are to take refuge in the dharma, whether universe or doctrine, you are to cling to it as you cling to a human friend. This matter of the Buddha and the Dharma as refuge is as close as Buddhism comes to positing a personal relationship to personal God. You relate to the mystery of the Universe as if it were a comforting and protecting person.
All of this prepares you to fulfill the wishes of the Metta Sutra, the Sermon on Lovingkindness. Let's end with a reading from that sutra. If you wish, close your eyes and try to visualize yourself living out these ideals….
May all beings be happy.
May all be joyous and live in safety.
Let no one deceive another, nor despise another, as weak as they may be. Let no one by anger or by hate wish evil for another.
As a mother, in peril of her own life, watches and protects her only child, thus with a limitless spirit must one cherish all living beings.
Love the world in its entirety -- above, below and all around, without limitation, with an infinite goodness and with benevolence.
While standing or walking, sitting or lying down, as long as one is awake, Let one cultivate Loving-Kindness.
This is the Supreme Way of Living.
Copyright © 2001 by Gene Gibas

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