Credal Belonging: Buddhist, Muslim & Christian

Buddhism has many sects — all with varying beliefs and practices.   Many of these beliefs and practices contradict each other boldly —  for instance:  Pure Land Buddhism offer faith-based one-the-spot (sudden) salvation schemes surprisingly similar to Christianity while Soto Zen describes enlightenment as gradual.  Both have very different visions of reality and yet consider themselves Buddhist.

In spite of these huge differences, contradictory Buddhists groups all still embrace the simple Buddhist creed of taking refuge in the “Triple Jewel“:

“I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma.  I take refuge in the Sangha.”

The Nicene Creed of Christians likewise unifies various denominations who otherwise disagree with each other on interpretations of the creed.  Muslims have their Shahadah –“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet”– which must be chanted when a non-Muslim wishes to convert to Islam and which is used in daily Muslim prayers to signal membership.  Yet blaring doctrinal contradictions exist between the various sects of Islam who are in deadly combat with each other even today as they chant the same creed.  History is replete with similar deadly battles between those who share the same creed.

Though sharing the same creeds as a signal of their faith, the contradictory sects of these faiths use all sorts of theological and philosophical twists to interpret the meaning of their creeds so that they can still use the orthodox creeds to fit their own particular theology.  Thus the people who originally agreed upon those creeds probably never envisioned people twisting their creeds so cleverly.  Those who wrote the creeds were probably trying to protect against the type of new religions created by those who now chant the creeds with their new idea-spins.

I can understand the traditional reflex to preserve the creed even if the religion is changing.  These creeds can give a sense of unity and of belongingness.   “Belongingness” is a small price to pay for a little self-deception.  For the unity the believer feels with the past and with all believers in the faith by using the creed is strong motivation to maintain it.

An example of twisting words to be able to feel justified in using a creed:  Progressive Christians may use narrative hermeneutics to continue to talk about a real resurrection of Jesus by transforming the word “resurrection” into a principle of social transformation so they can use the creeds while actually not believing that a guy named Jesus walked out of his grave.  But the creators of the Nicene creed would have condemned such heresy.   Modern Buddhists can take refuge in the Buddha but tell themselves that the “Buddha” only means the deep universal principle of wisdom, not that particular guy and his culturally limited teachings.  Thus they can let go of all the other stuff the historical Buddha said when they see fit.   People often take great efforts to preserve tradition.

Self-deception is adaptively at the core of the human mind.  Self-deception is very helpful at instilling confidence, sincerity and other valuable emotions.  The irony is that understanding the self-deception can sometimes rob you of the power of the trick.  So if, on one hand, you want to say you understand what you are doing while continuing to declare your creed, on the other hand, in order to keep the creed effective, your mind has to build yet another layer of justification in the form of subtle philosophical/mental twists.

Heck, we even have secular examples of diverse use of creeds and their deceptive illusion of belongingness:  In the USA, the pledge of allegiance is sort of like a creed.  I never say the pledge, but I will uncomfortably stand while others do.  I get what they are doing — Democrats and Republicans alike each have very different notions of what patriotism really means.

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71 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

71 responses to “Credal Belonging: Buddhist, Muslim & Christian

  1. I get what they are doing, but I am never sure if they get what they are doing.

    I’m pretty sure they get what they’re doing. However, I may or may not get what they’re doing. I get what I’m doing, but it would be very presumptious to assume that what I’m doing is the same as what someone else is doing. (And, for the record, I don’t think you get what they’re doing any better than I do. You certainly don’t appear to get what I’m doing.)

    Modern Buddhists can take refuge in the Buddha but tell themselves that the Buddha they take refuge in isn’t an Indian guy but instead a mythical narrative that speaks deeply to their notion of an enlightened human mind. Thus they can let go of all the other stuff the historical Buddha said when they see fit.

    I have a couple of major problems with this passage.

    (1) It’s not just modern Buddhists. Some Buddhist sects do interpret ‘the Buddha’ of the Triple Gem to refer specifically to Siddhartha Gautama, but others don’t—and some of those go back a long, long way. Just recently, I read some stuff from a T’ang dynasty Zen teacher saying pretty much exactly this. I’m a bit surprised you’re bringing this up, since you have studied Zen more than superficially, and it’s very much a recurrent theme there, ever since the early days in China.

    (2) We don’t really know what the historical Buddha said, what’s later accretion, and what the exact context and intention of the historical Buddha was when he said whatever it is he’s supposed to have said. That means that application of that famously-misquoted line from the Kalama Sutta is indispensable in any case; it’s not a matter of ‘salad-bar Buddhism’ of keeping what you like and discarding what you don’t. (Not that lots of people don’t do that too.)

    The irony is that understanding the self-deception, robs you of the power of the trick.

    Speak for yourself, Sabio. This is not true at all for me. I have a vivid imagination, and I can use that to do all kinds of mind-tricks while being entirely aware that they’re mind-tricks.

    I think I’m starting to pick up a theme here, and if you’ll forgive my presumption, I think you may be making a common and fundamental mistake, although you’re not making it anywhere near as badly as many people.

    That is: you’re viewing Buddhism through the lens of Christianity. You’re missing or ignoring the fundamentally different approach Buddhism (in general, some literalist traditions notwithstanding) has to its texts, rituals, and traditions. Concepts like ‘faith,’ ‘sacred,’ ‘belief,’ ‘scripture,’ and ‘authority’ mean rather different things than in the Christian context. The same goes for figures like the Shakyamuni Buddha, Manjushri Bodhisattva, Amitabha Buddha, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, and so on and so forth. Perhaps this is why Pali and Sanskrit terms are so popular in Buddhist discourse—they don’t carry this baggage, and are therefore less ambiguous.

    IOW, laugh away, but careful careful—from where I’m at, you’re getting onto some very thin ice here!

  2. I don’t necessarily think that “unity” is an illusion.

    If by “unity” you mean that the way I practice my faith is exactly the way that someone in the 5th century practiced their faith…then, yes,….unity is an illusion.

    However, there are broad themes which stretch back to ancient faith communities which are just as important to me in the 21st century, even if the particular incarnation of a theme looks and feels a little different.

    This is a natural process. Metaphors and explanations tend to have an expiration date that is tied to a particular cultural situation, while the concept behind the metaphor might not change all that much.

    I don’t think it is self-deception, per se…I think it is discovering ourselves through connecting with others, placing ourselves in the same path, though maybe in different shoes and at a different place along the trail.

    And…it isn’t illusory in the sense that what we think and believe has a large impact on what we do.

  3. @ Petteri
    You hit the nail on the head on several points. Thank you.
    More later, but for now just a few questions:

    (a) Do you understand my point about Christians reciting the same creed yet disagreeing on the meaning of the creed’s meaning radically?

    (b) Am I wrong in wagering that you agree that Buddhists do this too?

    (c) If you agree with both of these ((a) & (b)), do you think there is a radically different phenomena happening with Buddhists in regard to this than for Christians?

    Sorry my post was so ire inspiring — I did not intend it that way. Indeed, the passages that possibly inspired your ire were ones I debated rewording or removing, but you got me raw in my rushed morning post and probably not as filled out in details or as nuanced as I could have crafted it. But heck, so be it. And I may go back and change wording to improve the feel for future readers for which I thank you. But your apparent ire exposed some interesting points which I look forward to pursuing if I don’t fall through the thin ice you warned me of.

  4. @ terri :
    I am not saying that ALL people are different from their ancestors, just that many are. I don’t know what the case is for you. But I AM saying that Christians whose theologies contradict each other may very well recite the same creed. (if their Christianity is a creedal version)

    But I’d say your metaphor concept, is a case in point. Many Christians who would use creeds you use would insist that the creeds are not “metaphorical” for another concept but that they are literal. I am not saying who is right or wrong, but that they differ and thus lack a certain type of unity that the creed may give the illusion of.

    I agree that for many (as both you and Petteri are claiming) may not be susceptible to the illusion and are fully able to use the creed in nuanced ways. But I am saying for many it is the case.

    Do you think my post addresses any real issues at all or am I totally mistaken and my comparative conjectures are all misguided?

  5. Many Christians who would use creeds you use would insist that the creeds are not “metaphorical” for another concept but that they are literal.

    This is true.

    For me, I don’t worry as much about that stuff anymore. Why? Because everywhere along the path there is someone who stretches the concepts, extends the metaphors, widens the application of the core of a particular religion…..or maybe, conversely, narrows it, distills it into basic precepts, tries to brevitize(I know that’s not a real word!) it…etc.

    I look at beliefs more democratically than I used to. I used to think, “Well, if so and so said A, then A must be true because everyone has affirmed it for hundreds of years and everyone quotes sos and so all the time as an authority.”

    In those cases, even though I might not have been sure that I agreed with so and so, I would have seen the larger part of my faith as conforming myself to so-and-so’s conclusions.

    Trust in authority, I guess.

    Now, I see my position as more like being part of a particular family. I don’t have to agree with my family, or even like them most of the time, but I can’t deny that I am somehow a part of them…..even if my family decided they didn’t want me anymore, or that my claims to belonging to them didn’t meet their approval, they can’t change what I am and where I came/come from.

    I am a grown up member of the family , which means that I have my own authority and responsibility and vote in what the family does or represents.

    Which means that I consider myself as justified as any previous generation in throwing my own two cents in the ring, whether or not other people like it.

    Geez…maybe that is a long-winded way of explicating my own self-deception! 😉

  6. @Sabio: The thin ice I meant was principally this: the significance of the Triple Gem (etc.) is internal, not external, yet you presume a quite a lot about what that internal meaning is for other people you can’t know about. I know what it means to me, but that knowledge is experiential, and not something I could share even if I wanted to (and I don’t particularly want to).

    I expect you have a favorite piece of music, something that’s deeply meaningful to you. Now, if some musicologist blithely declared that he understands perfectly well exactly what it means for people, and it always makes him chuckle a little because the poor sods don’t understand what they’re doing, how would you react?

    Now, re your points.

    (a) Yes, I agree.

    (b) Yes, I agree.

    (c) Yes, I think there is something fundamentally different between (most) Christians and (most) Buddhists regarding this difference.

    The difference is that (most) Christianity is based on orthodoxy—correct beliefs—whereas (most) Buddhism is based on orthopraxis—correct practice. That means that it matters very little what you believe. What matters is what you do. There are a few fundamental beliefs in Buddhism without which the practice doesn’t make much sense—the belief that there is such a thing as awakening, for example, and that it’s something that’s worth purusuing. But that’s about it, really.

    It honestly hasn’t occurred to me to think how other people relate to the Triple Gem or the Four Vows or the Precepts or the rest of it. That’s their path; I have mine.

    (And yes, I should add caveats for doctrinaire traditions of Buddhism and praxis-based traditions of Christianity; both exist, but they’re outside the mainstream.)

    Maybe we can get back to this later. I’m feeling a bit blue today, and zazen only made me feel better about it, so I’m treating it with some apple cheesecake, rum, and Purcell; I’m not really in the mood for comparative religion right now.

  7. @ Petteri :
    Thanks again for the feedback. Under the guidance of your reactions, I touched up the post removing the harsher phrasing and added caveats but kept what I still feel is a valid point.

    I was not trying to assume the internal states for folks. The meanings attached to creeds vary between believers and sects greatly. Yet we hang on to them. Why not just change the creed? Well, I think it because of the conservative reflex, the desire to remain in a larger group (albeit to some degree illusory) which gives us a feeling of belonging and much more. And I think this analysis holds across both Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and others. Buddhism is no exception. Sure, most Buddhisms holds the notion of belief very differently (which I like) but that is not of which I speak.

    I could be wrong. As my biography illustrates, my life is nothing but a amalgam of mistakes! Smile

    I hope you feel better tomorrow morning !

  8. Well, I think it because of the conservative reflex, the desire to remain in a larger group (albeit to some degree illusory) which gives us a feeling of belonging and much more.

    How is this not trying to assume the internal states for folks?

    You still seem to be generalizing heavily from your personal experience.

    I think this conversation might have taken a more interesting tack if you had described what reciting the creed meant for you, and then asked what it means for your many readers (those who do recite a creed anyway). You might’ve been surprised by some of the answers, while having some of your suspicions confirmed by some people, but perhaps not others.

    This is some heavily subjective shit we’re talking about after all.

    Remember when I mentioned something about intellectual smugness a while back? This is the kind of thing I was talking about. It’s irritating and gets in the way of conversation. I wish you’d knock it off.

    (And yeah, yeah, pot, kettle. I know.)

  9. Something just occurred to me, thanks to the irritation caused by this discussion. I think I’ll shut up on this thread now, and work it out into a longer post.

    Thank you, Sabio. You have once more proved to be very helpful, although possibly not in the way you intended. Sometimes a little irritation is just what the doctor ordered!

  10. @ Petteri
    I think you continue to miss my point even as I have tried to soften tone, add caveats and elaborate.
    Of course everyone has different readings and feelings about their creeds. That is part of my point. I am disappointed that this post has not communicated anything to you of value. Good luck on your post — but I worry that it won’t address my main points since your comments have yet to.
    Not trying to be smug, just to understand and be understood — and finding a balance in between.

  11. Is your point more or less “People continue to retain the wording of a creed even as the internalized meaning of the creed drifts, because they use it as a means to maintain a sense of continuity and connection with a tradition and community they identify with?”

    If so, yeah, sure. That’s true, but also fairly obvious and fairly trivial, and it’s at most a partial truth. For me at least it leaves out the important bits.

    And conversely, too—if you asked me to point to one feature in my tradition that most strongly does that for me—maintain a sense of continuity and connection to an ancient tradition—it’s not the Triple Gem at all. The Triple Gem is meaningful, but its meaning is not that.

    I’ll tell what it is in that post I’m working on.

    (Also, even with the revised wording, you’re making some very big assumptions that I believe are mistaken—that we know what the historical Buddha said to a reasonable degree of certainty, and that treating the Buddha of the Triple Gem as something that’s not only the historical Buddha is a recent development. Read up on what the Theravadins have to say about the Buddha one of these days, you might be surprised.)

  12. Sabio, I feel obliged to respond to this post since my online moniker means “refuge”. Though I chose it long before I had chanted the three refuges as part of my practice, and chose it more because of its alternate meaning as surrender, it has become so fitting for someone that struggles with the form, with identifying as a religious person, etc. It is a reminder, always to me, an opening up to whatever it is that strengthens one’s determination on the path, to the kind of faith that comes from seeing the benefits in one’s own life of the practice.

    Buddha for me is not mythological, infallible. Buddha is a historical person, a wise teacher, and my own innate pure being (I may be more Theravadan in practice but nondual at core). The Dhamma is absolute truth, that which is beyond concepts. It does not belong to a religious tradition or to the historical Buddha. And I don’t think that means we have a salad-bar thing going on, it just recognizes the limitations of conventional reality. The Sangha is community, teachers, friends, others committed to radical transformation both personally and societally. Keeping this in mind can be really meaningful.

    I must admit I agree with Petteri’s criticisms, in particular that the meaning a ritual may hold for one person is not something that another can know. Also, that you may be looking at Buddhist practice through the lens of Christianity, which is necessarily distorting. I have come to a place where I can even take part in other people’s religious traditions (I will take communion at my patient’s funerals, I will say a prayer in Hebrew when my sister’s family has Shabaat dinner). Perhaps this is delusion, but for me, I’d rather reach across the conceptual divide and recognize that all of life is sacred and that we can be together in that space, then put up barriers because someone else may assign different meaning to a ritual than I do.

  13. @ Petteri

    Indeed – the changing meaning with retained wording for the purpose of tradition and community identity is part of my point.

    Well said.

    To me, apparently not to you, the importantly “trivial” bit is that people are often telling themselves they are staying true to the tradition while they re-interpret. This is the self-deceptive part.

    In my blog, and my life, I like to find self-deception. I don’t think self-deception is necessarily bad, though the words carry negative connotations. But I think looking at our own self-deception (whether it is escapable or not) is useful. Sometimes we may be surprised about why we do it and what the self-deception is connected to.

    Maybe I am being to abstract again. I look forward to hearing you post of the anchors to tradition in your practice. I must say, we know people have various temperament settings with desire for tradition — my temperament is almost allergic to tradition. It is not a virtue nor a vice, just a temperament.

    BTW: I never said I think we know what the historical Buddha said (I think), for I certainly don’t believe that. I have a little experience in textual criticism to see how that is easily doubtable in any ancient text.

  14. Timely post from Dennis Hunter:

    And sadly, many decent people who embrace religion — even with the best intentions — do so only at the outer, superficial level. Too often, they embrace the forms and the traditions without comprehending their meaning — because nobody explains it to them — with an overly simplistic belief that by doing so they will somehow be saved. Sadly, Buddhism is no exception. “Even basic Buddhist teachings such as refuge are now being taken theistically because of inadequate explanation,” says Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. “When we chant prayers like ‘I take refuge in the Buddha,’ we barely mention – and we therefore ignore – its essential meanings such as knowing that one’s ultimate nature is the Buddha.”

    He’s quoting from this article.

  15. To me, apparently not to you, the importantly “trivial” bit is that people are often telling themselves they are staying true to the tradition while they re-interpret. This is the self-deceptive part.

    But they are! They are, after all, the tradition. A tradition is a living, changing, evolving thing, not something that’s set in stone and then mechanically repeated until Kingdom come. Whatever they’re doing to continue the tradition is the tradition. That’s not self-deception at all, it’s the nature of the beast!

    BTW: I never said I think we know what the historical Buddha said (I think), for I certainly don’t believe that. I have a little experience in textual criticism to see how that is easily doubtable in any ancient text.

    You didn’t explicitly say so, but it does seem implicit in a good many things you did say; you have made a good many references to ‘what the Buddha taught,’ which implies some idea of what that is. You did explain some of your thoughts about that in the post preceding this one. I’m curious, though: (why) does it matter to you what the historical Siddhattha Gotama taught? Me, I’m more interested in what the Buddhist traditions say he taught, regardless of whether he actually taught it.

    Which brings us right back to my miserable “If it’s true…” quip.

  16. @ Sharanam

    Cool — didn’t know the etymology of your handle. I hope to explore that word in a future post after a little “research”.

    My comparison with Christianity is for comparative purposes — I think Petteri is a bit off in understanding me on that note but that is another matter.

    To analyze and break down to understand serves one purpose in life, to build relationships and commonality is another purpose. I, like you, do both. But on this blog, I am often largely analyzing.

    I appreciate all your points and from a relationship stand point, I think they are very valuable.

    See my other points for the analytic side.

  17. @ Sharanam :
    Thanks for the quote.

    @ Petteri:
    Yes, your point is well made: “Tradition is in Flux”. But not in everyone’s eyes. You hear many religionists saying we must protect Tradition. But either way, again, not my point. My point is that people of vary differing dogma will chant same creed and think they belong to the same huge unfragment whole. It is that delusion I speak of. I am not saying it is you or any other reader. I am saying that something like that happens sometimes. The creeds can cause a deceptive lulling — as the quote above supports (though perhaps others take it to support their views 😀 ) this is not good or bad, it is just another chance to see our minds.

  18. I would argue that the basic premise of Buddhism is that we are all deceiving ourselves, all the time, about everything, and we practice to stop deceiving ourselves. And the refuges are not so much a “creed” as a tool to be worked with, a upaya. Merely believing in the refuges isn’t the point. And they are no more or less self-deceptive than most other things we think we know.

    The way the refuges are understood varies with the degree to which we are awake. They are understood differently from one school to another, from one person to another in the same school, and by the “same” person at different points in his practice (“same” being an artificial designation, of course). And Buddhism has functioned like this for 25 centuries. The process, not the interpretation, is the “tradition.”

  19. @ Barabra
    Thanx for stopping in. BTW, I fixed your URL link — it works now, you might want to note the change — I add /b/

    Hmm, seems like another reader has not understood this post. I will have to work on my posting. I imagine Christians would react similarly if I questioned their creed use and self-deception.

    You are right, that the main point of Buddhism is to understand our self-deception. I have nothing against the Buddhist creed, I just find certain attachements to it interesting — but I don’t appear to have communicated that well.

    Again, thanx for stopping in

  20. @Sabio —

    You keep using the word “creed.” I think that’s what’s throwing you off. I understand that the refuges look like a confession of faith, but I don’t think they function in the same way a confession of faith does in Christianity.

    Faith in Buddhism (in Pali, saddhā) is not a synonym for belief. It is not faith in doctrine or in a belief system, but more like trust or confidence in the dharma and the practice. So while a Christian confession of faith usually is a declaration that one accepts the teachings of the church, in Buddhism usually one is declaring a trust in the practice, the process, not loyalty to a belief system.

    The doctrines are important, but not the whole point; they are guides, means to an end, to be discarded when they are no longer useful. In Soto Zen, those of us who have taken the refuges in the jukai ceremony usually have not been taught a specific doctrine of what the refuges “mean,” beyond an acknowledgment of what already is. Ultimately, nothing is separate; there is no need for “refuge.”

    When you say “I have nothing against the Buddhist creed, I just find certain attachments to it interesting” — first, I find the phrase “Buddhist creed” to be jarring, and I’m fairly traditional. In Buddhism, use of the word “creed” misses a lot of points.

    Second, there is attachment to Buddhism, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue separate from the refuges. Attachment to Buddhism is common, but in most schools it’s considered to be a barrier that has to be worked through.

    I think I do see what you’re trying to say. I’m saying your views are based on misunderstanding.

  21. I swear I can hear Inigo at my ear, saying, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

    Sab, you do have a thorough understanding of the word ‘creed’, don’t get me wrong. And your (clarified) point still stands: “people of very differing dogma will chant the same creed and think they belong to the same huge unfragmented whole.”

    The issue might be coming from initially using the word ‘creed’ in one certain way for Christians and Buddhists and Muslims altogether when one use just won’t do. Christians use the word creed in a way that may ring bells for Buddhists, but they are warning bells as much as reminder bells, for example.

    The Christian age-of-creeds, and the primacy of beliefs tied to them, is a reactionary thing and as you know not exactly translatable into other traditions. Authority figures put together the first christian creeds, not the regular practitioners of the faith (and not Jesus or Paul for that matter), to get that consensus/cohesion you mention. And power.

    The problem then is not so much the creed, but the authority supposedly distilled into it. People have funny relationships with authority. People believe they still have these gathering points of creeds because they have still given themselves to their authority. And that can linger over ages upon ages.

    I’m trying to channel Foucault here slightly, but the relationship here to power is the important thing. Believing in anything with authority is a lot like believing in God – it stops critical thinking.

    Do not trust in authority.

    So, is it wrong to have creeds?

    I’d agree with you when you say no. But, but the battle is in getting people to find understandings in creeds rather than authority in them. A guy named Stephen Rowan said, “only when the creeds are appreciated as metaphor and poetry can they serve a useful purpose today.”

    Good luck getting people to pay attention to even good poetry these days…

    (sorry for the length — trying to give each idea its due)

  22. Andrew wrote,

    “The problem then is not so much the creed, but the authority supposedly distilled into it. People have funny relationships with authority. People believe they still have these gathering points of creeds because they have still given themselves to their authority. And that can linger over ages upon ages.

    “I’m trying to channel Foucault here slightly, but the relationship here to power is the important thing. Believing in anything with authority is a lot like believing in God – it stops critical thinking.”

    That’s an excellent point. That comes closer to what I wanted to say than what I said.

    Among the historical Buddha’s last words were “be refuges unto yourself.” One of his central messages was to not give oneself to authority, but to realize for oneself.

    In practice, of curse, there are plenty of Buddhists who merely accept authority, just as there have been many Christians who have gone beyond dogma.

    In Mahayana Buddhism, ultimately all beings, throughout space and time, are included in the refuges. No one is left out. When one vows, all beings vow. To take the refuges is not to enter into some enclave of faith, but to begin the process of breaking down the walls of delusion that separate us.

  23. Yes, Barbara, I understand much of what you write. My misunderstanding may not be as deep as you think But as I told Petteri, I think I must have to re-write this post to make my point more clear.

    Forget the word “creed” (as Andrew hinted, it seems to be a stumbling block), it is not my main point.

    If I did a post for Buddhists and ask them, “Why do you take the three refuges?”, the answers would vary widely. Everyone would give lots of wonderful different interpretations. You may come on and tell them why they are mistaken and how they should really view the three gems.

    But I say, since everyone is committed to saying taking the refuges regularly, they will of course reflexively defend why it is important. It is that reflexiveness and the thoughts below it before their various rationalizations that I find interesting.

    But believers always defend their practices — after all, they are doing them.

    I doubt this explanation will get anyone closer to seeing my point, but heck, can’t say I didn’t try.

    Or is my mind being stubborn?

    PS – Barbara, you might want to look over my background to better understand what I don’t understand.

  24. That word “reflexiveness” jogged my memory about something from Jonathan Haidt and how we rationalize after emotions.

    Emotional and some moral judgments happen relatively effortlessly and automatically. Rationalizing them is slower and comes after the judgments are already in place. Haidt uses something like the “emotional dog and it’s rational tail.”

    Now, to further your convo, if it may be an emotional choice first, and then justified with -ologies and contrivances later, would that fit to your point? Because it is very hard to convince someone that their emotional point is wrong, or ironic, or self-delusional. Which might be a strange separation. Our emotions are “us” but our logical reasons are “detachable”?

    We may change our minds easily when we are not already emotionally invested but we may hold onto emotions longer than they are welcome or justified or even sensible (in relation to your nonsense and translated posts from earlier).

    Emotional intelligence is fascinating stuff, eh.

  25. @Sabio

    “If I did a post for Buddhists and ask them, ‘Why do you take the three refuges?’, the answers would vary widely. Everyone would give lots of wonderful different interpretations. You may come on and tell them why they are mistaken and how they should really view the three gems.”

    But the differing answers may not all be “mistaken.” The absolute answer is inexpressible. What can be expressed in words is relative, and people at different points in their spiritual development will understand the refuges in different ways. And that’s fine. The important thing is not to conform to an orthodoxy but to work with the teachings to reach beyond conceptual knowledge.

    So, you would expect someone at the beginning of practice to have a different understanding from someone with many years of practice. This is not to say that you can believe whatever you want about the refuges, just that as understanding deepens, understanding changes, usually radically.

    The part that’s very hard for many people to “get” at first is that dharma cannot be understood purely through conceptual knowledge. This is especially true in Zen, but I think to one extent or another it’s true in all schools. Whatever you can conceptualize, or imagine, or work out intellectually, will not be entirely true. It may be sorta kinda representative of truth, but it won’t be the whole truth in itself. The degree to which one can understand beyond concepts marks one’s level of spiritual development.

    Ultimately, the dharma cannot be taught. It has to be realized.

    That said, it is certainly possible to interpret the refuges in ways that contradict Buddhist teaching, in which case I might speak up and say, no, that’s not how it works. But I wouldn’t necessarily try to teach this person to understand the refuges exactly as I do now (which remains subject to change). I more often try to steer the individual away from a mistaken view and put him back on track toward genuine understanding, at a level appropriate to his current state of awareness.

    It’s a process, not an orthodoxy. What a master understands will be completely baffling to most beginners, no matter how bright they are. Baby steps, etc.

    As far as believers defending their practices — I have been a formal Zen student since about 1987, and through the years the practice has radically changed the way I understand everything. So I don’t have to “believe” the practice works, as I have experienced it.

    Taking the refuges formally is not absolutely necessary, I don’t think, but there came a time that it was something I wanted to do. This was not because I expected to get anything out of the ceremony, but because it was making visible something that already had manifested in my life, and the ceremony was a way of sharing that with others. But I don’t think realization hinges on going through the ceremony.

    Regarding:

    “Barbara, you might want to look over my background to better understand what I don’t understand.”

    I took a look at what’s under the “About Author” tab. I’m not sure what I was supposed to see that might cast a different light on what you write. I am responding to what you write and the ideas you express in your writing. There’s not much else I can do on a forum like this.

  26. Thank you, Barbara and Andrew, for expressing what I tried to express, only better and with deeper understanding.

  27. @ Barbara

    Thank you for taking time to explore this with me.

    (1)Comparison
    When I read one of your last paragraphs which starts with: “Taking the refuges formally is not absolutely necessary …” , I could hear a Christian saying the same thing with just some of the words changed. This is not a bad thing and not meant derogatorily. I am just pointing to some of the similarities of the religious mind as it participates in tradition.
    Again, I am not debating the Triple Jem meanings or how they are used by a particular Buddhist. I am exploring the phenomena.

    (2)Beyond Understanding

    “the absolute answer is inexpressable”
    “God’s ways are beyond our understanding”

    When debating or discussing issues, I find these two techniques used often. The Christian or Buddhist will engage with the same tools for a while, but they use these type of phrases to parachute out when needed. They seem very similar to me.

    It seems like we have reached an impasse. I feel that my point is not understood and all those commenting seem to disagree or object to what they perceive as my point. Impasses can be unpleasant but common. If anyone can see a way out of the impasse other than repeating ourselves, that would be interesting. Ah, I could think of one. I’d love Barbara to try to summarize very briefly what she thinks I am saying without comment. Petteri tried early and got most of it right and called it “trite”. I wonder if Barbara can hit some version.

  28. @Sabio: “Fairly obvious and fairly trivial,” not “trite.”

    Nitpick, I know, but I did not intend the connotations of “trite;” that would have been unnecessarily insulting.

    To go off on a bit of a tangent (sometimes they’re ways out of impasses), I (re)read your “Am I a Buddhist?” post, and something struck me.

    In it, you’re presenting a nice diagram of Buddhist beliefs, you rank your identification with each of them, and then attempt to find an answer. In my opinion, that reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of Buddhism. Belief is central to Western Christianity, and at least somewhat important to Islam, but it’s peripheral to Buddhism. What you believe doesn’t make you a Buddhist, and what you don’t believe doesn’t disqualify you from being one. What matters is what you do, and why you do it. IOW, someone marking up a chart much like you did might be very much a Buddhist, or not at all; it’s just not all that relevant.

    I think this post of yours has the same problem—it’s very focused on the beliefs associated with the the Triple Gem; you even call it a ‘creed’ (from Latin ‘credo,’ ‘I believe’), which it isn’t.

    IOW, it’s this point of view that’s screwing things up, not the specifics of what you’re saying. It’s like you’re looking at an upside-down car and wondering what the point is of all that elaborate machinery just to make some wheels spin.

  29. @ Petteri

    I have been enjoying composing two non-discursive posts this morning — very pleasant. But I will take a moment to jump back into an analytic mind to answer your comment. Let’s see if I can maintain my pleasure of the last hour or so while doing this. The effort will be similar to my almost daily efforts to maintain calm and caring mind while playing WeiQi with a cup of wine after returning from the hospital.

    The is no “Buddhism”
    There are only BuddhismS — the many varied practices and webs of thoughts/feelings of thousands of practitioners. I think we agree on that. But we fall back into talking about what Buddhism is and isn’t. We talk about how my misunderstanding of Buddhism. Speaking of “What Buddhism is” only shows what you want your Buddhism to be. I think I understand partially what you want your Buddhism to be. Maybe not.

    Indeed you seem to understand my chart. I marked it up to show people the silliness of belief and the ‘artificialness’ of categories like “Budddhist”. My blog does this with Christianity too. The post which asked “Am I a Buddhist” was said incredibly tongue in cheek. Few readers understood. Most felt I was asking a real question and seeking reassurance and guidance. Funny ! My scribbles and sketches failed again.

    You and Barbara are striving to correct my misunderstandings. You are helping me best to understand the weakness of my writings. Thank you.

    Ooops, I just remembered my initial desire to preserve the relaxed non-discursive joy I had before I started this game of WeiQi with you — I have humorously failed again. Ah, there it is. A smile crosses my face again, shoulders drop, romping happiness dances in my chest while my fingers lightly play of the keyboard. Wheeeeew ! Now feed the kids and off to work. Thank you for the game.

  30. For sure. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to say anything meaningful about ‘Buddhism,’ or one of many ‘Buddhisms.’

    I do maintain that the definition I offered (of orthopraxis before orthodoxy) is a better match for what most Buddhists consider Buddhism than the one implicit in your recent posts (the ones that put orthodoxy front an center with nary a mention of praxis). Sure, you can point to doctrinaire Buddhist traditions, but they’re somewhat atypical, and it appears that none of the people in this discussion are that kind of Buddhists.

    It’s a bit of a shame if you think you’re only learning something about writing here, because I honestly believe that you’re missing an opportunity for learning something about Buddhism, too. Wouldn’t it be ironic if it turned out that all the years you’ve spent on it were based on a big ol’ misunderstanding so fundamental that it’s quite invisible to you? Y’know, cognitive blind spots and such?

    Put another way, from where I’m at, you’re arguing vehemently that you can use a wrench to bang in nails, while some of us are trying to point out that, why, yes, you can, but the damn thing is actually designed to turn nuts.

  31. @ Petteri
    Yeah, who knows. Most people don’t change their opinions (or minds) on the spot. Instead, in may take years for a new melody to arise from the waves of chattering monkeys jumping around on the forest in our heads. Thus, the wise words of my commenters may affect this mind in the future such that the shame you speak of dissipates.

  32. “Taking the refuges formally is not absolutely necessary …” , I could hear a Christian saying the same thing with just some of the words changed. … I am just pointing to some of the similarities of the religious mind as it participates in tradition.

    Religions do tend to have some resemblances to other religions, which is how we classify them as religions.

    However, you are straining so hard to make reality fit your preconceptions that you are not seeing clearly; you are filtering out whatever doesn’t fit. And in doing this you are closing your mind to the ways in which religions differ.

    “the absolute answer is inexpressable”
    “God’s ways are beyond our understanding”

    When debating or discussing issues, I find these two techniques used often. The Christian or Buddhist will engage with the same tools for a while, but they use these type of phrases to parachute out when needed. They seem very similar to me.

    This is not a technique, or “tools,” or “parachuting out.” They seem similar to you because you aren’t seeing past the surface.

    In Buddhism, the absolute answer is inexpressible, but not unknowable; it cannot be taught, but it can be realized. In fact, realization is the ultimate point of the religion. The Buddhist quest is not about remaining stuck in ignorance until God comes to rescue you, but to come to realization by one’s own efforts; to liberate oneself from ignorance.

    People who have come to this realization can communicate it to each other, but not through ordinary representational language. Language, which depends on nouns, verbs and objects to stand in for conventional reality, doesn’t function in the absolute. The dharma cannot be taught, but it can be realized. It is inexpressable, but not unknowable.

    In traditional Christianity, on the other hand, it is understood that God’s ways are not knowable, ever, and the point of the religion is to depend on God for salvation. That’s, um, way different.

    I marked it up to show people the silliness of belief and the ‘artificialness’ of categories like “Budddhist”.

    Oh, all beliefs are crap, to one extent or another, including Buddhist beliefs. Anything we can imagine or construct with our intellects will fall short of absolute reality. But because we humans have a compulsion to know stuff, to fill in the blanks, as it were, it is very hard to not believe things. You are filling in what you don’t know about Buddhism with all kinds of beliefs, for example.

    Regarding the artificial nature of categories, you aren’t taking it nearly far enough. All categories are artificial; all designations are arbitrary, including “you,” “me,” and “I.” (See, for example, “A Few Words About Emptiness” by Norman Fischer;

    “The more closely you look at something the more you see that it is not there in any substantial way, it couldn’t be. In the end everything is just a designation: things have a kind of reality in their being named and conceptualized, but otherwise they actually aren’t present. Not to understand that our designations are designations, that they do not refer to anything in particular, is to mistake emptiness.”

    Now, “Buddhism” is in deed an artificial designation, as is “pot,” “chair,” or “Sabio.” But like all artificial designations, it does have some usefulness in the relative world. And in the relative, there are some things that Buddhism is, and some things it is not. The same thing goes for karate, algebra, cats, and toast.

    There are some core teachings called the “Dharma Seals” that are said to mark the parameters of “Buddhism” and “not Buddhism. I have an article about them here:

    This is not what “I” want Buddhism to be; this was worked out several centuries ago.

  33. This is one of the nicer short explanations of the Mahayana doctrine of shunyata I have ever seen. But the catch with this or any other Buddhist doctrine is that merely “believing in” it has no function. It is realizing through direct and intimate experience what the passage is saying that is transformational.

  34. You know, it never would’ve occurred to me in a million years that a Christian would actually recite a creed he/she didn’t believe in. But I think you’re right. This is essentially what the “emergents” do, and I never understood it — but your explanation makes a lot of sense. They want to feel like they are associated with the same belief system of the ancients.

    Petteri’s first response also shocked me, since I wouldn’t have agreed at all:

    Speak for yourself, Sabio. This is not true at all for me. I have a vivid imagination, and I can use that to do all kinds of mind-tricks while being entirely aware that they’re mind-tricks.

    But on further thought, I realized he’s right, and it’s incredibly common. That’s kind of what people do when they pay a prostitute, isn’t it? They know it’s fake, but it (apparently) “works for them”.

    FWIW, I don’t think that elimination of all self-deception results in sunyata, but maybe that’s just me.

  35. @ JS Allen
    Thank you. I was raised Lutheran (a creed-reciting sect of Christianity), I know lots of folks who mindlessly and without-believing recite the creed. So it ain’t just the emergents. For many, it is a signal of belonging more than belief. Not every Christian views their faith as a “got-to-get-my-beliefs-right” faith.

    Curious, JS, what do you think results in sunyata? [Note: I don’t use the term nor embrace it. Oh yes, and I certainly feel clearing ourselves of some self-delusions are much more useful than others. But I agree, self-delusions are only part of the problem.]

  36. Good point about more traditional denominations also reciting creeds without really thinking about them. I think my initial impressions were influenced by my specific upbringing, which was different from Lutherans, Catholics, etc. Once again, I find myself agreeing with you.

    Regarding sunyata, despite having studied buddhism for a few years, I could be wrong. Hopefully some of the buddhists here will correct me if I’m wrong. To answer “what results in sunyata”, I would say it is whatever shows you that *everything* is illusion – especially our statements about “I” and “him”. It’s the “everything” part that I object to. I believe that when we eliminate self-delusion, we end at Love, not sunyata.

    For example, I am deeply, deeply shaken by the news that Aaron-Carl passed away suddenly last night. I loved this man. If sunyata involves me “finding peace” by “letting go” of this reality and calling it an illusion (or a metaphor”, like the Tibetans say), I will say that sunyata itself is a detestable illusion. I will say sunyata is prostitution. I don’t want to pay for that, because I know it’s false and it doesn’t work for me. Aaron’s death is crushing, as is every other death of someone I love. I don’t *want* an escape from that, and I reject anyone who calls me “unenlightened”. If I’m unenlightened, I don’t want their brand of enlightenment.

    Anyway, I’m *really* not trying to diss buddhist conception of sunyata, since it’s fine if people want to believe that. But I think my rant above about pain of loss is a good answer to your question in the sense that it shows what does *not* lead to sunyata.

  37. @JS Allen: are you sure you understand what’s meant by sunyata?

    To quote someone with far greater understanding than I have, “the point of Buddhism isn’t to let go of emotions; it’s to realize the truth about them.” To my limited understanding, that’s sunyata—it’s not the same thing as absence of emotion at all.

    It’s not an escape. It’s facing up to stuff and accepting it. That most emphatically includes loss, pain, decrepitude, old age, death.

  38. @Petteri – Sure, but you have to define “realize the truth about them”. And you have to define “face up to” and “accept”. That’s where we’re going to part ways.

    Tiesto played on the famous Sinatra album “Close To You”, with the lyrics “I’m standing close to you; it’s just something that I do; when I wish Love could be enough”. On that album was Sinatra’s famous song “If it’s the last thing I do”, which became a definitive lyric in the definitive Aaron-Carl song. A song that was close to Aaron-Carl’s last.

    I don’t expect you to immediately know the Sinatra, Tiesto, or Aaron-Carl references. I don’t expect you to agree with Aaron-Carl’s morality, since most people don’t.

    When I’m faced with the fact that I lost Aaron-Carl’s beautiful soul less that 24 hours ago, I don’t “face up and accept” the fact. I weep. I weep. And I weep again.

    I rage. And I rage again. There is no acceptance. I do not accept.

    So, yes, I think I know what is meant by buddhist ‘sunyata’. And I reject it. Also, I reject his holiness the Dalai Lama’s diversion about “compassion”. This isn’t about some pusillanimous “compassion” for someone who has a skinned knee.

    Believe what you will, but this is my brother and I love him. I rage at his loss, and I weep, and I refuse to accept.

    Have your sunyata. I have no beef with you. But I’m having none of it. Don’t try to feed it to me.

  39. @JS Allen – Please accept my sincere condolences, and my deepest apology for trying to turn this into a conversation about philosophy at a highly inappropriate time.

  40. @ JS Allen

    Sorry about the loss dude. I never heard of the guy so I went on-line and looked at dozens of images of his bright smiling brilliance (I love google images). Then I read a little and listened to a few songs. They were enjoyable!

    He was impressive. Perhaps you can write a post on him in the coming months to share his memory — and broaden my world.

    I searched for a while for what I remember as a story about a Zen Master grieving over the loss of his son. A student comes up and is surprised by his teacher’s grieving. I forget the exchange, but the gist is that the teacher replies that grieving is exactly what he “should” be doing now.

    All to say, I think this story is a corrective to how many Buddhists view emotions and desires as negative and undesirable. That is why Buddhists have this story — to guide themselves away from this obvious conclusion from the teachings (right or wrong). Whether it was a corrective to a false understanding or to a majority of “real” Buddhist and thus a new teaching, is immaterial. But I think it illustrates that your suspicion of that tendency in Buddhism as a real pitfall is spot on.

    I will look harder for the quote (perhaps readers can help) and discuss that issue later. No need to make this thread even longer. We don’t need long lectures here on what Buddhism really teaches on emotions and grieving.

    Thanks for sharing JS. Keeping our lives raw and plain can refresh the heady prescriptive world of blogging.

  41. FWIW, I don’t think that elimination of all self-deception results in sunyata, but maybe that’s just me.

    Shunyata is not a “result,” but the absolute nature of existence. It is what is, it is what you are, whether you recognize it or not.

  42. JS, my deep condolences on your loss.

    Anyway, I’m *really* not trying to diss buddhist conception of sunyata, since it’s fine if people want to believe that. But I think my rant above about pain of loss is a good answer to your question in the sense that it shows what does *not* lead to sunyata.

    Nothing “leads to” shunyata, since it is what you are anyway, and there’s no purpose believing in it. Shunyata is a terribly difficult doctrine, not something that can be “believed in” or conceptualized, and nearly everyone rejects it off the bat because it sounds nihilistic (it isn’t) and icky. People spend years in meditation and other mystical practices trying to “break through” to realization. It’s very much at the center of what the koan Mu (Chao-chou’s dog) is about, and people sometimes take ten years or more to resolve that one.

  43. All to say, I think this story is a corrective to how many Buddhists view emotions and desires as negative and undesirable. That is why Buddhists have this story — to guide themselves away from this obvious conclusion from the teachings (right or wrong). Whether it was a corrective to a false understanding or to a majority of “real” Buddhist and thus a new teaching, is immaterial. But I think it illustrates that your suspicion of that tendency in Buddhism as a real pitfall is spot on.

    The part about desires being undesirable is a common beginner error, but if one stays in practice/training usually it is corrected quickly.

    However, I don’t know any Buddhists in formal practice or training who see emotions as undesirable. Beginners may fall into that error, but I believe that’s a mistake more common to “bookstore Buddhists.” The woods are full of people calling themselves “Buddhists,” or who believe they are knowledgeable about Buddhism, who never set foot inside a dharma center and who don’t know Buddhism from eggplant. Gotta watch out for that.

  44. To quote someone with far greater understanding than I have, “the point of Buddhism isn’t to let go of emotions; it’s to realize the truth about them.”

    Exactly right.

    I understand the idea that Buddhists aren’t supposed to feel emotions originated in some bad early translations of the sutras that rendered the Pali word “upekkha” into something like “indifference” or “detachment,” when it really means something closer to “balance” and “equanimity.” But all those bad translations are still floating around and causing a lot of confusion, especially in academia.

    Helpful hint: In Buddhism, whenever someone starts talking about “detachment,” assume the individual either doesn’t speak English well and has chosen the wrong word, or else he doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about. Nothing is ever “detached.”

    To my limited understanding, that’s sunyata—it’s not the same thing as absence of emotion at all.

    I think you are confusing “enlightenment” with “shunyata,” which isn’t exactly the same thing. The enlightened being certainly will feel emotions. On the other hand, in shunyata, emotions are both absent and present (Yeah, I know, it makes no sense. Language doesn’t work to explain this stuff.)

  45. @Barbara: Thanks for the correction. I confuse a lot of stuff, a lot of the time, especially terminology. It’s slippery, and the terms tend to slide into each other, depending on context. I often get the nuances wrong and use inapposite terms, although I think I’m making some progress.

    I was thinking of Vasubandhu’s mental model of the three own-beings of the mind, where realization of the emptiness of the constructed and the interdependent own-beings is the fulfilled own-being. IOW, the fulfilled own-being of the mind is neither the same nor different from the interdependent or the constructed; nothing is added, nothing is taken away; it’s just that the whole thing is seen from a different point of view, in a manner of speaking.

  46. @Petteri: Oh, you’re doing pretty well. As I’ve said, we’re wading into places where all language is wrong, which makes it difficult to talk about.

    Re Vasubandhu — Yeah, that sounds about right. To be honest, I always hit the wall with yogacara; it’s one area of the teachings that I personally find very elusive and frustrating, and what I understand of it I understand through a kind of madhyamika filter. I know the yogacara models work really well for some people, but my quirky brain always wants to yell at them and chase them off my lawn. 🙂 I trust the fog will lift eventually.

  47. Thanks, everyone. I’ll probably write about how I remember him, and I’m looking forward to the festival this spring where we’ll get to celebrate his life with a huge crowd.

    Redarding sunyata, I think maybe we’re quibbling over semantics.

    Shunyata is not a “result,” but the absolute nature of existence. It is what is, it is what you are, whether you recognize it or not.

    Sure, that’s a valid belief to hold. I can hold it provisionally for purposes of math, physics, or philosophy. Personally, I think it’s particularly damaging and false when applied to questions of ultimate reality, but that’s beside the point. At the end of the day, students attempt to understand, and teachers attempt to teach, the doctrine of sunyata. And there are things that a student can do which either help or hinder acquisition of that understanding. So I read Sabio’s question to be “What things does a person do which help or hinder understanding of the doctrine of emptiness”?

    In response to Sabio’s question, I just wanted to illustrate that much of what Christianity stands for is diametrically opposed to anyone ever having a “breakthrough” that leads to a belief in the doctrine of sunyata.

    People spend years in meditation and other mystical practices trying to “break through” to realization. It’s very much at the center of what the koan Mu (Chao-chou’s dog) is about, and people sometimes take ten years or more to resolve that one.

    Cool reference to Joshu’s dog. I was just thinking about that example last week when Prosblogion ran a discussion about whether or not animals would participate in the resurrection, and what would their souls look like. A silly topic, no doubt, but someone in the comments touched on a question about whether animals could have the image of God. I didn’t remember the punchline of the koan at that time, and wish I had thought to respond with “Mu” 🙂

    I searched for a while for what I remember as a story about a Zen Master grieving over the loss of his son. A student comes up and is surprised by his teacher’s grieving. I forget the exchange, but the gist is that the teacher replies that grieving is exactly what he “should” be doing now.

    This raises a good point. I studied under Tibetans, and they had this idea of “Tonglen” that explicitly tied compassion to sunyata (as I was taught). It’s a meditation that symbolizes how you live out your life to open up to sunyata. The idea is that when you feel the suffering of others and respond in compassion, you’re dissolving the distinction between you and that person, and opening yourself up to sunyata (which is sometimes described as a bigger view of reality). So it would be correct to say that proper feelings can help one reach an understanding of sunyata.

    However, I still think my personal example is essentially the opposite of the sort of compassion that is prescribed for attaining understanding of sunyata.

  48. @ JS Allen

    Thank you for the generous translation, JS, first in this thread in a while.

    I thought I was following what you were saying until your last paragraph. Could you clarify that.

    But let me say, I think that compassion/love is part of the important work on the mind. I think there are many ways to work on that. Perhaps those methods are often best matched to constitution and circumstance. Working on mind and heart is no small feat, as I am sure you agree.

    If I am not mistaken, in your world, Self-work is considered rather limited without surrender to the divine (Other-work==>faith) is the real answer, no? Do you think that Other-work could be modeled out in different webs of belief that don’t entail stories and thoughts about Jesus or a god?

    I think such a method may also work toward similar goals is done well on any side.

  49. I thought I was following what you were saying until your last paragraph. Could you clarify that.

    Well, I’m probably going to butcher this and say something incoherent. But I think it’s like this: When the Tibetans taught me about compassion and love, it was always a means to an end. It was important, but it wasn’t the terminus. Compassion was the road, and the destination was “openness to sunyata” or eventually nirvana. So I was supposed to help people in the spirit of recognizing that we’re all the same, and sort of “blurring” or “diluting” the boundaries between all of these illusory selves. Helping people was an object lesson for me to become enlightened about something else.

    In Christianity, it seems to be the opposite. God *is* Love, and *is* a person, and is the ultimate goal. So it’s very personal and relational, and that’s where the story ends. In Christianity, “caritas” is the final outworking of a regenerated soul — love is the final result, it’s not something we “do” to get to the final result. It’s the fruit, not a seed.

    In that sense, I think Christians, more than other folks, sometimes feel the allure of Buddhism. Because Christianity in comparison seems to aim too low. Buddhism promises something that is “beyond” love. Something that transcends love.

    But let me say, I think that compassion/love is part of the important work on the mind. I think there are many ways to work on that. Perhaps those methods are often best matched to constitution and circumstance.

    Totally. Whether atheist, buddhist, or whatever, anything that develops compassion/love in people is going to be a good thing. And different methods will work better for different people.

    Interestingly, when I first learned tonglen, I already had working experience with various hypnotic inductions, and I was surprised to find tonglen is almost identical to a commonly-used induction script about breathing. So clearly hypnotists have “borrowed” this technique (since hypnotism didn’t exist when the Tibetans first recorded the technique).

    Do you think that Other-work could be modeled out in different webs of belief that don’t entail stories and thoughts about Jesus or a god?

    Yes, I think there is clear evidence of this happening. Personally, I think the techniques of “character formation” should be couched in more secular terms and developed scientifically (as much as possible). We can scientifically study what things will make children more compassionate, for example. We have all kinds of interesting research about things like that, and the field is wide open. When we’re focused on utilitarian goals, I think it’s best to just keep religion out of the picture. That’s just my personal bias. Religion has way too many negative side-effects, when you’re trying to achieve utilitarian aims. When we know what works, we can package it however we want — metaphors, stories, subconscious reprogramming, or whatever.

    OTOH, I don’t think we can remove the stories about Jesus or God without losing the essence of Christianity. IOW, I don’t believe it’s possible to reformulate Christianity in terms of Buddhism or in terms of metaphor or anything else without completely losing its value.

  50. Sure, that’s a valid belief to hold. I can hold it provisionally for purposes of math, physics, or philosophy. Personally, I think it’s particularly damaging and false when applied to questions of ultimate reality, but that’s beside the point.

    It really shouldn’t, and can’t, be held as a belief. Until realized, all you can do is hold it provisionally, and lightly at that.

    It only seems damaging because your understanding is intellectual; it’s an idea you have placed within your standard frames of reference. As long as that’s how you approach it, you’ll be wrong.

    I keep saying this over and over, and it’s not sinking in — don’t believe. Don’t believe anything. Until they are personally realized, doctrines should be regarded as hypotheses only. All understanding is provisional.

    I think this must be the single hardest thing for people to understand about Buddhism, because it seems no matter how many times they are told this, people still fall back on the idea that doctrines are just things to “believe.” Don’t believe.

    Also, shunyata cannot be taught. It can be pointed to, but not taught.

    “What things does a person do which help or hinder understanding of the doctrine of emptiness”?

    First, eliminate all of your frames of reference. As long as it’s something “you” are trying to “understand,” it’s no good.

    Second, don’t try to reach it through intellect. That’s a waste of time.

    I’m not going to say that it isn’t possible to experience genuine realization without working with a dharma teacher, but I think it is extremely unusual. Maybe a handful of people in all of human history have done it.

    So it would be correct to say that proper feelings can help one reach an understanding of sunyata.

    A lot of things can “help”; there’s a story of a famous teacher who had a breakthrough experience when he was hit in the head with a rock. Not that I’m recommending that.

    I’ve not personally worked in the Tibetan tradition, so I’m not sure what they teach about working with emotion, and I don’t personally see how churning up any particular emotion would work, but maybe it helps some people. My experience is that deep emotion follows the change in perception, not the other way around.

    In Zen, if one is feeling strong emotion, such as fear or grief, the teachers will tell you to not just sit with your own grief, but with everyone’s grief, all the grief in the universe. Stop being a person bearing grief, but instead be the grief itself. Don’t separate yourself from it or try to pull away from it. That’s really difficult to do, of course.

    All of Buddhism teaches that wisdom (prajna; realization) and compassion are inseparable, but I don’t think of compassion as an emotion, exactly. It has an emotional component, but that’s not all there is to it. Just a fuzzy feeling of sympathy for others, while not a bad thing, probably isn’t going to do much as long as it’s “you” feeling for “others.”

    I have an article online about compassion and wisdom, if you are interested:

    http://buddhism.about.com/od/basicbuddhistteachings/a/compassion.htm

  51. @JS Allen: your understanding of ‘compassion’ in the Buddhist sense appears to differ from mine as well. As I see it, it’s not a ‘feeling.’ It’s more of a reflexive, selfless impulse.

    Suppose you’re walking on the street and just as you’re passing someone, he slips on a frozen puddle, and, reflexively and without thinking, you grab him and manage to stop him from falling. I think that’s ‘compassion’ in the Buddhist sense. Feeling bad for him as he lies bleeding on the ground afterwards is just sentimentality.

    (Barbara, please correct me again if I’m wrong.)

  52. It really shouldn’t, and can’t, be held as a belief. Until realized, all you can do is hold it provisionally, and lightly at that.

    Sure, that’s what you say. I might have said the same when I was studying under Gelek and Dagchen Rinpoches. I’m not trying to debate you; you’re welcome to say what you want.

    Personally, I have realized that the doctrine of sunyata can never be true; it’s always and forever a self-delusion. Therefore, the doctrine of sunyata can’t be “realized”. Since it’s self-delusion, it can only be “believed”. Likewise, I don’t think we can “provisionally” hold that sunyata is a pernicious lie — we have to *realize* it’s a lie.

    Please don’t get defensive. I’m not trying to convert you. I’m just pointing out that you can’t demand epistemic privilege for your personal conception of sunyata. Not with me. Not with anyone who is past that. Eventually, we all need to choose sides. You can place your bets on your faith in the doctrine of sunyata. Good for you. I was once like you. More power to you. But I’m on the other side. It’s that simple. If you can’t realize that these are two faith positions that are diametrically opposed, it’s going to be difficult to have a conversation.

    It only seems damaging because your understanding is intellectual; it’s an idea you have placed within your standard frames of reference. As long as that’s how you approach it, you’ll be wrong.

    Respectfully, you are in no position to call my understanding “intellectual”. You don’t know what my experiences are, and you don’t know anything about my “frames of reference”. I’ve been where you are, and I have my own thoughts about who is “intellectual” and trying to jam things into a limited “frame”.

    It’s great that you have a lot of self-confidence in your ability to judge other people’s level of intellectualism or their limited frames. Yay for self-esteem! Self-esteem FTW! But I, personally, don’t consider you to be an authority on my mental state or incarnational experience. And I don’t think it’s ever going to be productive to get into a pissing match about who is better qualified to judge things like that.

    I’ve not personally worked in the Tibetan tradition, so I’m not sure what they teach about working with emotion, and I don’t personally see how churning up any particular emotion would work, but maybe it helps some people.

    Who said anything about “churning up emotion”? I, too, can refute lots of false things that nobody ever said, but what’s the point?

    I have an article online about compassion and wisdom

    I just read through your article carefully, and I can’t imagine how you imagine it would support your tendentious attitude. Have you read your own article recently? In your comment here, you claimed to be ignorant of Tibetan teachings, but in your article you quote his holiness the Dalai Lama, *and* you mention the Tibetan teaching about tonglen at length. And everything you say in that article completely confirms what I have said here. In fact, it’s a better summary of what I was taught about tonglen than what the top Google links revealed. If I were politely discussing this issue with someone named Tommy O’Tool, I would preferentially quote your article to to describe what I was taught about tonglen. It’s a good summary that underscores my point. Your exact language throughout the article even underscores my assertion that compassion in Buddhism is a “means to an end”.

    So I guess I should say, “Thanks for writing an article that argues my point”?

  53. Suppose you’re walking on the street and just as you’re passing someone, he slips on a frozen puddle, and, reflexively and without thinking, you grab him and manage to stop him from falling. I think that’s ‘compassion’ in the Buddhist sense. Feeling bad for him as he lies bleeding on the ground afterwards is just sentimentality.

    Yes, I very clearly and carefully said that you must “respond”. Love in both Buddhism and Christianity is demonstrated by action; it’s not a sterile sentiment. If you think anyone said otherwise, you’ll need to substantiate that claim.

    But more importantly, if you believe that reflexively (or even willfully) catching a falling human is a means toward enlightenment (as Barbara’s article argues) then you believe the opposite of what Christians believe. And if you believe that catching a falling human “introduces us to sunyata” (as Barbara’s article also argues), then you believe the opposite of what Christians believe.

    I’m not saying this to say that Buddhism is wrong. I don’t care about that. I’m saying this to show that there is, indeed, a very strong distinction between the two belief systems, and it has to do with whether you regard your compassionate actions to be a means or an end. That’s the essential distinction that bears on Sabio’s initial question about sunyata, as far as I can tell.

  54. @JS Allen: I’m not arguing with you. I’m trying to clarify points that I thought you may be unclear about. If I’ve misunderstood you, I apologize.

    Anyway, in that case and within your frame of reference, I do believe the opposite of what Christians believe. (Although I am taking your account of what Christians believe as what it is—one individual’s personal view of that matter.)

    And I definitely believe that there is a very strong distinction between Christianity and Buddhism. However, I think the ‘essential’ (yuck, I hate that concept) distinction is even more fundamental than the one you’re citing: Christianity is a belief system first and foremost, whereas beliefs are of secondary importance in Buddhism.

    I think a good illustration of the difference is that a Christian would confidently state that Buddhism is wrong—which, despite your protestations, is exactly what you’re doing re sunyata/love—whereas a Buddhist would find it much more difficult to say the same about Christianity. This is because the Christian treats Christianity as a system of ‘essential’ metaphysical truths, wherease the Buddhist treats both as systems of provisional, ‘nominal,’ phenomenological claims, and the nature of a phenomenology is that it’s very difficult to declare it ‘wrong;’ only more or less useful (for what?)

    I also believe there’s a good deal of common ground, though. Christian traditions that emphasis gnosis are similar in many ways to most Buddhist traditions, and Buddhist traditions that emphasize belief—Pure Land, for example—are similar in many ways to Christianity. But the two are most definitely not interchangeable, and they’re most definitely different.

  55. Personally, I have realized that the doctrine of sunyata can never be true; it’s always and forever a self-delusion.

    I still don’t think you have any idea what it is.

    Eventually, we all need to choose sides.

    There’s that frame of reference thing again — “you” choosing “sides.” It’s a trap.

    In your comment here, you claimed to be ignorant of Tibetan teachings, but in your article you quote his holiness the Dalai Lama, *and* you mention the Tibetan teaching about tonglen at length.

    I didn’t say I was ignorant of all Tibetan teachings; I said I never practiced in the Tibetan tradition. I’ve never personally done tonglen, for example; I’ve just read about it. That means I don’t “know” it except intellectually, and to the extent that it jives with what I’ve experienced through Zen practice.

    Also I have a pretty good understanding of much of the philosophical foundation of Tibetan, since Zen is pretty much built on the same foundation, although the Tibetan interpretations have some subtle differences that I’ve never quite taken in. The whole reborn lama thing mystifies me, for example.

    You don’t know what my experiences are, and you don’t know anything about my “frames of reference”.

    I can see your frames of reference in what you write. It comes out loudly and clearly.

    Your exact language throughout the article even underscores my assertion that compassion in Buddhism is a “means to an end”.

    It is, and it isn’t. It’s the means and the end, at the same time. Compassion enables wisdom, but it’s equally true that wisdom enables compassion. They arise together and support each other. True compassion cannot manifest until wisdom also manifests. It’s not a matter of “getting compassionate” first, and then maybe wisdom will show up later. They are both practiced together.

    As Dogen said, practice and enlightenment are one. Ultimately all ideas about goals are illusions (see the Heart Sutra; in enlightenment there is no path, no wisdom, no gain).

    But because you continue to approach the teachings as “you” approaching the “teachings,” you’re not seeing it. You have to get out of the way; then it clears up.

  56. Suppose you’re walking on the street and just as you’re passing someone, he slips on a frozen puddle, and, reflexively and without thinking, you grab him and manage to stop him from falling. I think that’s ‘compassion’ in the Buddhist sense. Feeling bad for him as he lies bleeding on the ground afterwards is just sentimentality.

    Yes, that’s one way to explain it. It’s an expression of compassion and also a manifestation of wisdom, because in the instance of the action there was no self and other.

    There’s a koan in the Blue Cliff Record that speaks very directly to this, which begins this way:

    Yunyan asked Daowu, “How does the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion (Kannon) use so many hands and eyes?”
    Daowu said, “It’s just like a person in the middle of the night reaching in search of a pillow.”

    The sleeping person is not self-aware of reaching for the pillow, and so this is a metaphor for a non-dual state of consciousness. There is no giver and receiver of help; there is just help.

    (There’s a good commentary on the koan, with the entire text, here, but you have to scroll down a bit to get to it.)

    So, to address what JS said elsewhere — it’s not a matter of going around “doing good,” and catching someone who is falling, and then being rewarded with enlightenment. Rather, in the moment one acts un-self-consciously, enlightenment is manifested. The person who acts may not be aware of this, but as Dogen says, Buddhas do not always know they are Buddhas. Practice opens us to realization of what is already present; there is nothing to obtain.

  57. Christianity is a belief system first and foremost, whereas beliefs are of secondary importance in Buddhism.

    That sounds like something a Buddhist would say. I doubt we’d find common ground in that line of inquiry.

    Both Buddhists and Christians can agree on where the religions are the same — Buddha and Christ were reputed to be great teachers, and those who order their lives around their teachings are known as Buddhists or Christians. Without the teachings or the followers who are living out those teachings, neither religion would exist.

    So if we’re looking for distinctions, we can look to where the teachings differ, and how followers respond to those teachings. The specific question I was responding to was about sunyata.

    As Barbara wrote in her article, Buddhists teach that love is a means to an end, and that the “end” is a personless void — sunyata/anatman/nirvana. There is no controversy about the fact that Buddhists teach this.

    On the other hand, Christianity teaches the opposite. Christianity teaches that the end is love, that God is Love, and that ultimate reality is about a Person and persons who all have names, existing eternally, individually, in relation.

    I think a good illustration of the difference is that a Christian would confidently state that Buddhism is wrong

    Barabara seems quite confident calling me wrong, claiming that I “don’t see”, and declaring that the Christian teachings I’ve communicated are an impediment to understand the truth. I don’t blame that on her Buddhism. She and I have different perspectives, so she’s just being honest about what she thinks.

    In any case, the Buddhist teachings on compassion and sunyata are clearly staking the ground that Christianity is wrong about the issues in question. It’s a full-frontal attack on some well-known Christian teachings. Or, to be fair, maybe Christianity is a full-frontal attack on this Buddhist teaching, since Christianity came chronologically later. The point is, there is a direct conflict.

    Looking back, I recall this as being a watershed moment for me, when I was still an atheist humanist. I had heard the teaching about compassion many times before, practiced tonglen for years, acted out compassion. But that night, as I heard the rinpoche reiterate this teaching, it struck me. All at once, I had this realization that he was teaching something terrible and inhuman. It felt like the Buddhist doctrine of compassion and sunyata was forcing a crisis against my humanistic conception of love.

    It’s funny that I never had any problem with the parts of Buddhism most people find difficult. Non-self and sunyata made perfect sense to me. Many selves? Obvious. I had never understood why people called those teachings sophistry or nihilistic. But the teaching about compassion suddenly struck me as abhorrent, inhuman, and anti-love.

    I still have an ornate statue of Avalokitesvara (compassion) handcrafted in Nepal, occupying a prized position on my mantle. I blogged about it a year or two ago. It’s the finest of my Buddhist idols. But we don’t use it to educate about the role of compassion in attaining enlightenment. It’s used for a different educational purpose now.

  58. “That sounds like something a Buddhist would say. I doubt we’d find common ground in that line of inquiry.”

    I’m only going by your words here, JS. You’re constantly speaking of stuff in terms of belief, and in terms of truth and falsehoods.

    “As Barbara wrote in her article, Buddhists teach that love is a means to an end, and that the “end” is a personless void — sunyata/anatman/nirvana. There is no controversy about the fact that Buddhists teach this.”

    Actually, most Buddhist teachers—live and literary—that I’ve read go out of their way to point out that sunyata/anatman/nirvana is *not* a personless void. Sorry, JS, but you’re not convincing me at all that you haven’t completely misunderstood the whole thing. (Or else I have. Perhaps Buddhism really is a nihilistic creed that leads nowhere but a personless void.)

    “Barabara seems quite confident calling me wrong, claiming that I “don’t see”, and declaring that the Christian teachings I’ve communicated are an impediment to understand the truth.”

    What she’s saying—me, too, for the record—is that you’re wrong about Buddhism. I.e., you appear to be wrong about a specific phenomenology, by fundamentally misunderstanding some central concepts in it. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong in an absolute sense—all it means is that what you call Buddhism isn’t Buddhism, at least as far as I know it.

    Again, it’s entirely possible that I’m the one who’s mistaken about what Buddhism teaches about compassion, wisdom, emptiness, Nirvana, and enlightenment. In any case, it’s very different from what you describe here. That would mean that either Buddhism is big enough to accommodate both of these phenomenologies, or one of our phenomenologies doesn’t describe Buddhism accurately. If I had to guess, it’d be the latter.

  59. Ok..so I have had to look up about a million terms just to figure out what you all are talking about!

    The term tonglen, as I found it defined, seems to be like an active meditation in which a person imagines the suffering of others and then imagines relieving that suffering. Is that right? If that is all that it entails, then I fail to see what good it is to any of the world if it isn’t followed up with action to actually relieve suffering in tangible ways.

    On the other hand….I don’t know if that is all that different from Christians who pray for others and then don’t actually do anything about those prayers.

    Am I understanding this correctly?

  60. As far as the original post….

    When I read Barbara’s comments I can’t help but hear the voice of certain Chrisitans I know….so certain and secure and slightly smug as they correct those around them.

    @Barabara….your insistence that JS Allen “doesn’t get it” strikes me as strange when it comes right after admonishing him that not only doesn’t he “get it”, but that he doesn’t get that there’s nothing “to get”!

    So the only absolute rule is that there are no absolute rules?

    I’m probably oversimplifying…in fact, I know that I am….but it seems funny to me.

    I think what Sabio was getting, at and which is being expressed so simply in the comments section is that even as the buddhists insist that there is no such thing as “Buddhism”, in a definitive sense, they are quite happy to define it…and by doing so are drawn into conversations that try to ground themselves in specific practices or teachings….even though there is no definitive teaching that keeps them all together.

    In that sense, Sabio is correct that “unity” in a very detailed conception, does not exist…there are only close relationships and close rhymes of language.

  61. “So the only absolute rule is that there are no absolute rules?”

    More or less, yeah. Buddhist philosophy is phenomenology, not metaphysics. (Okay, some Buddhist philosophies do include some metaphysics, but only some, and only very little.) There are no absolute truths within phenomenologies.

    That doesn’t make phenomenologies useless, though. They’re just provisional and limited, and admit that fact.

    The funny thing is that Buddhism is really *about* that one little bit that lies outside all those phenomenological frameworks of provisional concepts and relative truths. Now, *that* could be called an absolute. It could be called lots of things, none of which would be “it.”

    Fingers and moons and all that commotion, y’know.

  62. As Barbara wrote in her article, Buddhists teach that love is a means to an end, and that the “end” is a personless void — sunyata/anatman/nirvana. There is no controversy about the fact that Buddhists teach this.

    No, that’s not what Buddhism teaches at all, and I have never said any such thing.

    Instead of “personless void,” it’s more like the ocean, and we individuals are phenomena of shunyata in the same way waves are phenomena of the ocean.

    Waves appear distinctive, but you can’t cut a wave out of an ocean and take it home with you, can you? Thus, a wave is empty of intrinsic self-essence — not a thing-in-itself. Likewise, beings are “empty” of intrinsic self, but are phenomena of a ground of being that is all of us. If you could understand shunyata that way, you’d be a little closer to it than you are now.

    Regarding compassion — if you are willfully doing something “good” for people in order to receive wisdom as a reward, that’s not compassion in the Buddhist sense of the word. So that won’t work.

    True compassion is activity without duality; no giver, no receiver. It is un-self-conscious. Neither does it have any emotional requirement. (Compassion, karuna, is activity; metta, loving kindness, is probably closer to what you think of as “love.” We’re talking about karuna, not metta. English mixes the two, Pali and its Sanskrit variations do not. There’s a language issue here.)

    You keep insisting that I’ve written that people do “compassion” in order to be rewarded with wisdom, but that misses the point. It would be closer to say that the practice of compassion enables the dropping away of self-reference, which is wisdom. But until self-reference is dropped away, there is no true compassion. The two things cannot be separated.

  63. When I read Barbara’s comments I can’t help but hear the voice of certain Chrisitans I know….so certain and secure and slightly smug as they correct those around them.

    I apologize if I come across as smug. I’ve seen a few things, although I do not claim absolute clarity. And since it is clear I am annoying people, which I do not intend, I believe I will take my leave now.

  64. Brabara…that was my bad. I shouldn’t have written that. DOn’t go just because I riled you.

    I do see a similarity between your approach and that of people I know very well…and of which I am one also, at times.

    It’s just that the first impression I get from this comment thread is that Buddhism is anti-beliefs…except for the particular beliefs, or let’s use the word presuppositions, which uphold Buddhist practice and teachings.

  65. “It’s just that the first impression I get from this comment thread is that Buddhism is anti-beliefs…except for the particular beliefs, or let’s use the word presuppositions, which uphold Buddhist practice and teachings.”

    I think your problem is that Buddhism sees belief itself differently than Christianity or, for want of a better word, ‘everyday life.’ Buddhist truths and beliefs are all relative and provisional. However, they do make a coherent whole, about which you can say meaningful things.

    So, within that context, it is possible to say, for example, that ‘Nirvana is a personless void’ is a false statement, because ‘personless void’ is not a part of the definition of ‘nirvana’ within the Buddhist conceptual system. It could be, in some other conceptual system—Schopenhauer’s philosophy, for example, or Kurt Cobain’s poetry. Just not what is usually taught as ‘Buddhism.’

  66. Actually, most Buddhist teachers—live and literary—that I’ve read go out of their way to point out that sunyata/anatman/nirvana is *not* a personless void. Sorry, JS, but you’re not convincing me at all that you haven’t completely misunderstood the whole thing. (Or else I have. Perhaps Buddhism really is a nihilistic creed that leads nowhere but a personless void.)

    First, Buddhism *does* teach that sunyata is void, and that individuals do not exist. As I said, this is non-controversial. You can easily verify what I am saying.

    Second, I explicitly denounced and associations of nihilism in my post, so you are setting up a straw man by claiming that my accurate usage of the word “void” somehow connotes nihilism. It doesn’t. You need to respond to what I actually say, not set up straw men.

    Keep in mind, this is only the most recent of multiple straw men you’ve set up on this thread. Every other time that you’ve accused me of misrepresenting Buddhism (“propositional truths”, “compassion can be passive”, etc.) it’s been a complete fantasy manufactured from your own mind. You need to cite my words, not make them up to suit yourself.

  67. No, that’s not what Buddhism teaches at all, and I have never said any such thing.

    Instead of “personless void,” it’s more like the ocean, and we individuals are phenomena of shunyata in the same way waves are phenomena of the ocean.

    Wrong. Buddhism teaches that sunyata is void; it’s one of the most common words used to describe sunyata. The Tibetans will usually analogize void to sky rather than ocean, and if you know anything about the sky in Tibet, you can get a feel for the raw meaning of it. I am aware that you want to make the concept more palatable to people, but it’s just plain pretentious to act as if your personal fairy tale is the one correct Buddhist way of teaching it.

    And honestly, it’s the continuing pretentiousness that I’m having a hard time swallowing. I told you about my firsthand experience with these teachings in person from the rinpoches and my years of practice. After hearing this, you point me to an article you wrote about the topic, where you hold out as an expert on something you have no firsthand experience with. A large part of the article touches on the Tibetan teachings about connection between compassion and sunyata — something you apparently are relating second or third hand.

    Rather than deferring to the guy who actually knows, you’re lecturing me about your petty little semantic preferences (You don’t like the word “void”? Too bad. It’s the right word, and you need to stop bullying people to adopt your own peccadilloes.). That seems pretty egotistical to me.

    You keep insisting that I’ve written that people do “compassion” in order to be rewarded with wisdom, but that misses the point.

    I never insisted any such thing. Can you cite an example? Or is this a hallucination, like the time you hallucinated about me talking about “churning up emotions”?

    It would be closer to say that the practice of compassion enables the dropping away of self-reference, which is wisdom.

    Yes, that’s almost exactly how I described the Tibetan teaching in this thread. And it’s why I rejected it as being anti-love.

    I never had a problem with the teachings about dropping away self-reference. I just had a problem with this being passed off as love (and yes, it is — ask if you don’t know how); or even worse, having love be used as a means of enabling this dropping of self-reference. I find that combination to be perverse and inhuman.

    You can disagree with my negative judgments about the doctrine of compassion and sunyata, but you need to stop pretending that I’m misrepresenting it. Buddhists teach that practiced compassion is a means to dissolving self-references. I’ve never once said otherwise.

  68. @JS Allen: In that case, I must be either completely misunderstanding some fundamental points of Buddhist teaching, or completely misunderstanding what you’re saying about them. Either way, I don’t see much point in continuing this conversation.

    I appreciate your attempt at educating me, even if it failed, and sorry about the strawman—I should have reflected more deeply before including that barb.

  69. I thought of discussing some points on this thread, but this thread is already too long and comments too long to sit and read through — especially since the reading would entail listening again to some very poor tone of voice and less that skillful dialogue methods.
    So I am glad this thread has gone to sleep.

    I started the Subjective Parachute post to help break up this thread instead of adding to it. I must say, I agree with many of several of JS Allen’s points but I will not say which ones. Maybe I will bring them up in later posts.

    Thank you for the participation of one and all. Lots of fun ideas here.

  70. @ Terri
    Ooops, I did want to respond to you. Your patience and questions are refreshing. Having practiced both, Buddhist “Tonglen” and Christian prayers for others I agree with you that the results of can have similar positive effects on personality and behavior. Of course I don’t believe either does any sort of magic short of that — which I guess is its own sort of magic.

    I agree with you about Barbara’s voice — I read it the same way (that is a challenge of dialogue limited to typing). Many of the voices here were very much all about telling us the way things are and very accusatory about others lack of understanding. It was not fun at all.

    Thank you for understanding what I was after in my comment — you were spot on again !

  71. Pingback: taking refuge in yoga.

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