Friday, September 30, 2011

Are Buddhists Atheistic?

Some people believe that an atheist or agnostic has no reason to want to be a good person or perform charitable acts of compassion towards others. Here is a shocker for those of you who don't understand. Most Buddhists, even though some are quite religious, are atheistic. They don't have to pray to a god or deity. Some, like myself, are monotheistic. If there is something that is labled by some to be God, it is in everything. It is in the world we live in, the plants, animals, water, wind, fire, rocks, and minerals. It is part of the way the Universe works and I think man has only scratched the surface on understanding the true meaning but we are somehow able, if we try, to feel it. In the awsomeness of nature, in the wonders and miraculous visions in the cosmos, in the fact that we, as an animal on this planet have life, but are physically comprised of the same components as the earth, water, minerals, and plants around us. Evolution works like this, what works in nature survives and what doesn't dies. So, when after nature tries to make something happen through evolving creatures, environments, or adaptation to either of those, something survives, it is like the fortune teller that makes predictions and sends hundreds out to everyone. The only ones we hear about are the ones that came true. Because of that it seems that everything is designed by a thinking creature and many have adapted the stories and descriptions of that deity to be many things. Things like the fact that there are millions of herbs and minerals out there for us to use that, once we understand how to use them will keep us alive longer and allow us to survive in this world. Plants we can eat, etc. that we are sure were given for us to try. We choose to forget about the ones that people poisoned themselves with. Besides, dead men don't usually pass around recipes they discovered.
So, when we realize that the plants and trees intake carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen and animals intake oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide it seems too perfect to be an accident. Man decided that the plants and other animals were put here to help him survive. Perhaps we were put here to help them survive. And perhaps since this is the only way that it worked, during the earth's ages before of things developing and trying to sustain life, and so it seems like someone planned it. Man is born with an instinct to know why things happen. Sometimes things just are - so he has to find a reason and if nothing else, supplant one that makes sense to him when he thinks it is necessary. I believe there is a connection, a force, an energy, something that connects us all. I feel my connection with it through me, internally. I don't pray to something out there, what one of my friends calls "the spook in the sky" that so many people create in their own minds to be the cosmic Santa Clause that brings you what you ask for, IF you use the right words to ask.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Capital Punishment

The recent discussions about abortion led me to the fact that most of the Right to Life people were pro-death penalty and have actually tried to decriminalize murdering an abortion doctor. That brought up some questions that I thought you might find interesting. I guess my own personal feelings on the death penalty changed from meeting some people whom I hope never see the light of day again. They seem completely devoid of any feelings, emotions, or restraint about anything that most of us consider valid humanistic traits. One of the things that comes up constantly in my social circle is the Buddhist view and what we call the five precepts, the first of which is "... 1. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life." The precepts are not rules, they are vows one takes in order to be more perceptive to meditation and training for enlightenment. Recently I started trying to adopt a more open minded view. I guess it goes back mostly to how I felt about it when I was much younger. Recently, one of the online bloggers, TonyaTKO, added a post on her Facebook page about the public statement made by Judge Mathis of television fame about a recent execution of a Troy Davis in Georgi a. But as I was doing some study on some of the online blogs on what the most popular Buddhist opinion might be, I found one article that discusses mostly the United States compared to the International community.

Monday, September 26, 2011




Head of Ceremony: In gratitude we offer this incense to all Buddhas and bodhisattvas throughout space and time. May it be fragrant as Earth herself, reflecting our careful effots, our wholehearted awareness, and the fruit of understanding, slowly ripening in us. May we and all beings be companions of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. May we awaken from forgetfulness and realize our true home.


Teaching and living the way of awareness in the very midst of suffering and confusion, Shakyamuni Buddha, the Enlightened One, to whom we bow in gratitude.

Cutting through ingnorance, awakening our heats and minds, Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Great Understanding, to whom we bow in gratitude.

Working mindfully and joyfully for the sake of all beings, Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of Great Action, to whom we bow in grattitude.

Responding to suffering, serving beings in countless ways, Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of great Compassion, to whom we bow in gratitude.

Seed of awakening and loving kindness in children and all beings, Maitreya, the Buddha To Be Born, to whom we bow in gratitude.

Showing the way fearlessly and compassionately, the stream of ancestral teachers, to whom we bow in gratitude.
(two sounds of the bell)


(Head of the Ceremony chants each line, echoed by whole assembly):
The Dharma is deep and lovely.

We now have a chance to see it

study it, and practice it.

We vow to realize its true meaning.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Defining Compassion

I personally chose this topic during our discussion at the Buddhist Study meeting that I attended this morning between myself and one other study partner who used to be one of my English teachers about nine years ago. We were talking about Right Mindfulness and Right Speech in the book by Thich Nhat Hanh entitled "The Heart of The Buddha's Teaching" and the word compassion came up repeatedly. I had an "Ah Hah!" moment and decided right then that I wanted to write an essay on compassion. So much has been said about the word but compassion is one of those words that one "thinks" that they know the definition of, but when used in a sentence, sometimes you wonder how close your own knowledge of the word truly is. So, I set out to do some research on the word, and I found out every time I read another article just how shallow my actual knowledge about compassion really was. describes compassion as "... a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. ..."
For years I have heard many people talk about compassion and love as if the two were synonymous and also, that Christians use the word "love" while Buddhists and other Eastern religions use the word "compassion". The quality of "being sympathetic to someone who is suffering" is not love, although spiritually fit people should try to love all people. We will never be perfect at it but we can make the effort to try. Also, we can love someone without them being in a state of suffering.
Wikipedia has a really long article on the subject that actually connects the dots on the two. The Wikipedia definition defines compassion as so: "... Compassion is a virtue — one in which the emotional capacities of empathy and sympathy (for the suffering of others) are regarded as a part of love itself, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism — foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.
There is an aspect of compassion which regards a quantitative dimension, such that individual's compassion is often given a property of "depth," "vigour," or "passion." More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism. In ethical terms, the various expressions down the ages of the so-called Golden Rule embody by implication the principle of compassion: Do to others what you would have them do to you. ..."

And further in Wikipedia under Religious and Spiritual Views it says:
"... Christianity - Compassion in action: an 18th-century Italian depiction of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Christian Bible's Second Epistle to the Corinthians is but one place where God is spoken of as the "Father of compassion" and the "God of all comfort" (1.3). Jesus embodies for Christians, the very essence of compassion and relational care. Christ challenges Christians to forsake their own desires and to act compassionately towards others, particularly those in need or distress. Jesus assures his listeners in the Sermon on the Mount that, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." In the Parable of the Good Samaritan he holds up to his followers the ideal of compassionate conduct. True Christian compassion, say the Gospels, should extend to all, even to the extent of loving one's enemies. ...",
"... Hinduism -
In the various Hindu traditions, compassion is called daya, and, along with charity and self-control, is one of the three central virtues. The importance of compassion in the Hindu traditions reaches as far back as the Vedas, sacred texts composed over a period prior to 1500 B.C. While the early Vedas sometimes glorify war and the worship of the war god, Indra, Indra too is compassionate towards humans & humanity, though he is war god, he is discompassionate towards Asuras - The evil people who cause sufferings to human race, the later Vedas demonstrate a greater sensitivity to the values of compassion. The central concept particularly relevant to compassion in Hindu spirituality is that of ahimsa. The exact definition of ahimsa varies from one tradition to another. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word which can be translated most directly as "refraining from harmfulness." It is a derivation of himsa which means harmful, or having the intent to cause harm.
The prayers of Vasudeva Datta, for example, a 16th century Vaishnava holy man or sadhu, exemplify compassion within Gaudiya Vaishnavism. He prayed to the Lord Krishna asking him to "deliver all conditioned souls" because his "heart breaks to see the sufferings of all conditioned souls". ...",
"... Buddhism - Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed. - The Buddha.
Compassion or karuna is at the transcendental and experiential heart of the Buddha's teachings. He was reputedly asked by his personal attendant, Ananda, "Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice?" To which the Buddha replied, "No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice."
The first of what in English are called the Four Noble Truths is the truth of suffering or dukkha (unsatisfactoriness or stress). Dukkha is identified as one of the three distinguishing characteristics of all conditioned existence. It arises as a consequence of the failure to adapt to change or anicca (the second characteristic) and the insubstantiality, lack of fixed identity, the horrendous lack of certainty of anatta (the third characteristic) to which all this constant change in turn gives rise. Compassion made possible by observation and accurate perception is the appropriate practical response. The ultimate and earnest wish, manifest in the Buddha, both as archetype and as historical entity, is to relieve the suffering of all living beings everywhere.
The Dalai Lama has said, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." The American monk Bhikkhu Bodhi states that compassion "supplies the complement to loving-kindness: whereas loving-kindness has the characteristic of wishing for the happiness and welfare of others, compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings. Like metta, compassion arises by entering into the subjectivity of others, by sharing their interiority in a deep and total way. It springs up by considering that all beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering, yet despite their wishes continue to be harassed by pain, fear, sorrow, and other forms of dukkha."
At the same time, it is emphasised that in order to manifest effective compassion for others it is first of all necessary to be able to experience and fully appreciate one's own suffering and to have, as a consequence, compassion for oneself. The Buddha is reported to have said, "It is possible to travel the whole world in search of one who is more worthy of compassion than oneself. No such person can be found."
Compassion is the antidote to the self-chosen poison of anger. ...",
"... Jainism -
Compassion for all life, human and non-human, is central to the Jain tradition. Though all life is considered sacred, human life is deemed the highest form of earthly existence. To kill any person, no matter their crime, is considered unimaginably abhorrent. It is the only substantial religious tradition that requires both monks and laity to be vegetarian. It is suggested that certain strains of the Hindu tradition became vegetarian due to strong Jain influences. The Jain tradition's stance on nonviolence, however, goes far beyond vegetarianism. Jains refuse food obtained with unnecessary cruelty. Many practice veganism. Jains run animal shelters all over India: Delhi has a bird hospital run by Jains; every city and town in Bundelkhand has animal shelters run by Jains. Jain monks go to lengths to avoid killing any living creature, sweeping the ground in front of them in order to avoid killing insects, and even wearing a face mask to avoid inhaling the smallest fly. ..."
"... Judaism -
In the Jewish tradition, God is the Compassionate and is invoked as the Father of Compassion: hence Rahmana or Compassionate becomes the usual designation for His revealed word. (Compare, below, the frequent use of rahman in the Quran).  Sorrow and pity for one in distress, creating a desire to relieve, is a feeling ascribed alike to man and God: in Biblical Hebrew, ("riham," from "rehem," the mother, womb), "to pity" or "to show mercy" in view of the sufferer's helplessness, hence also "to forgive" (Hab. iii. 2); , "to forbear" (Ex. ii. 6; I Sam. xv. 3; Jer. xv. 15, xxi. 7.) The Rabbis speak of the "thirteen attributes of compassion." The Biblical conception of compassion is the feeling of the parent for the child. Hence the prophet's appeal in confirmation of his trust in God invokes the feeling of a mother for her offspring (Isa. xlix. 15).
Lack of compassion, by contrast, marks a people as cruel (Jer. vi. 23). The repeated injunctions of the Law and the Prophets that the widow, the orphan and the stranger should be protected show how deeply, it is argued, the feeling of compassion was rooted in the hearts of the righteous in ancient Israel. Compassion, empathy, altruism, kindness and love are frequently used interchangeably in common usage. When the concept is examined in depth it becomes clear that compassion is more than simply a human emotion. Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, is particularly clear about this. One rabbi has put it this way:
Kindness gives to another. Compassion knows no other.
This idea is greatly expanded by Michael Laitman who says, "Thus if we thoroughly examine Nature's elements, we will see that altruism is the basis of life." Here altruism is the word used but the concept is consistent with an understanding of compassion.
A classic articulation of the Golden Rule (see above) came from the first century Rabbi Hillel the Elder. Renowned in the Jewish tradition as a sage and a scholar, he is associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud and, as such, one of the most important figures in Jewish history. Asked for a summary of the Jewish religion in the "while standing on one leg" meaning in the most concise terms, Hillel stated: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah. The rest is the explanation; go and learn." Post 9/11, the words of Rabbi Hillel are frequently quoted in public lectures and interviews around the world by the prominent writer on comparative religion Karen Armstrong.
Islam -
A 1930s photograph of a desert traveler seeking the assistance of God the Merciful, the Compassionate
In the Muslim tradition, foremost among God's attributes are mercy and compassion or, in the canonical language of Arabic, Rahman and Rahim. Each of the 114 chapters of the Quran, with one exception, begins with the verse, "In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful,". The Arabic word for compassion is rahmah. As a cultural influence, its roots abound in the Quran. A good Muslim is to commence each day, each prayer and each significant action by invoking God the Merciful and Compassionate, i.e. by reciting Bism-i-llah a-Rahman-i-Rahim. The womb and family ties are characterized by compassion and named after the exalted attribute of God "Al-Rahim" (The Compassionate).
The Muslim scriptures urge compassion towards captives as well as to widows, orphans and the poor.Zakat, a toll tax to help the poor and needy, is obligatory upon all Muslims (9:60). One of the practical purposes of fasting or sawm during the month of Ramadan is to help one empathize with the hunger pangs of those less fortunate, to enhance sensitivity to the suffering of others and develop compassion for the poor and destitute. The Prophet is referred to by the Quran as the Mercy of the World (21:107); and one of the sayings of the Prophet informs the faithful that, "God is more loving and kinder than a mother to her dear child."
Neuroscience -
In a recent small fMRI experiment, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and colleagues at the Brain and Creativity Institute studied strong feelings of compassion for both social pain in others, and physical pain in others. Both feelings involved an expected change in activity in the anterior insula, anterior cingulate, hypothalamus, and midbrain, but they also found a previously undescribed pattern of cortical[disambiguation needed] activity on the posterior medial surface of each brain hemisphere, a region involved in the default mode of brain function, and implicated in self-related processes. Compassion for social pain in others was associated with strong activation in the interoceptive, inferior/posterior portion of this region, while compassion for physical pain in others involved heightened activity in the exteroceptive, superior/anterior portion. (Compassion for social pain also activated this superior/anterior section, but to a lesser extent.)
Activity in the anterior insula related to compassion for social pain peaked later and endured longer than that associated with compassion for physical pain.

Barbara O'Brien, the Buddhism guide at, wrote, "...There are two Sanskrit words frequently used by Buddhists that are translated as "compassion." One is karuna, which means compassion, active sympathy, gentle affection and a willingness to bear the pain of others. The other word, metta, means loving kindness; a benevolence toward all beings free of selfish attachment. ..." and "... The Buddha taught that to realize enlightenment, a person must develop two qualities: wisdom and compassion. Wisdom and compassion are sometimes compared to two wings that work together to enable flying, or two eyes that work together to see deeply.
In the West, we're taught to think of "wisdom" as something that is primarily intellectual and "compassion" as something that is primarily emotional, and that these two things are separate and even incompatible. We're led to believe that fuzzy, sappy emotion gets in the way of clear, logical wisdom. But this is not a Buddhist understanding.  ...", "...The practice of compassion is essential to Buddhism, and the practice of compassion begins with the cultivation of compassion within. The Buddha taught his monks to arouse four states of mind, called the "Brahma-vihara" or "four divine states of dwelling." These four states are sometimes called the "Four Immeasurables" or the "Four Perfect Virtues."
The four states are metta (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekkha (equanimity), and in many Buddhist traditions they are cultivated through meditation. These four states inter-relate and support each other. ... "

So, as is written in everything I read about the subject, there are many components to compassion. The two primary qualities of compassion are A) that the person who demonstrates compassion does so by caring about helping someone other that themself and B) that the person who is being helped is suffering in some way that they cannot relieve on their own. The basis of Buddhist practice, dating back to the four noble truths and the eightfold path are based on relief of or cessation of suffering. That was Gautama Buddha's main impetus in creating Buddhist practice.

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Buddhism, Viewing It From A Christian Perspective

From a Christian perspective, I imagine that Buddhism could be seen as a collection of mythology and superstitious ceremonies that are taught by someone who lives in a monastery and wears a robe. Our concept in the United States about any religions other than Christianity are jaded by the indoctrination that has been forced on our society by Christians in an attempt to dominate politics, family, and most of our society as depicted by Christian mythology as the only one truly spiritual and righteously moral religion in the world. By Buddhist standards most Christians wouldn't know good morality from fear of being sent to hell for not conforming. Please remember who we are dealing with in any religion.
All religions were early man's attempt at an explanation of science and nature. All religions contain mythology. By Christian standards, Buddhism is a heathen society of monks and nuns who teach lay people Asian exotic customs and esoteric beliefs based on a mythological book of some kind, along with meditation. Actually the Pali Cannon is the only true written historical record of Buddhist scripture. We must look at the fact that when we have been practicing or being indoctrinated by one belief system, it is hard to view another through open minded eyes. I liken it to considering buying a sports car after spending most of your life driving a fire truck. The cup holders and the radio are nice but where are the ladders and hose compartments? Doesn't this thing have a siren? We can't be objective once we get used to doing something a certain way and most of mainstream media in America was hijacked by Christianity years ago. Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" comes to mind. The humorous thing to me is that most of the owners of mainstream media were and are mostly Jewish producers of television and they used to produce Christmas Specials on television to advertise their sponsor's products on.
Today, prayer in schools and the celebration of religious holidays is not permitted because of the unfairness of trying to force one religion down everyone else's throat. I used to think all holidays were religious. Thanksgiving is a national holiday. I remember the annual Christmas pageant that was, "Oh So Full", of the indoctrination by the church into and onto our children that even the people who were Jewish and Islamic were forced to participate unless their parents strongly objected. I realize I am dating myself here but I remember in the third grade being told to bow our heads and pray in school. Over the years I have heard so many misnomers and propaganda against Buddhist practice that I feel the need to debunk myths here.
First, Buddhism doesn't contain any heathen practices and isn't considered to be a faith of deities. There is no Buddhist God. Their idea of what a God is in Buddhist teachings can be basically described as an analogy for aspects of our own personalities. Karma is basically what most of us consider the phrase "What goes around comes around." Anyone who has studied the science of astronomy now knows that we are all part of cosmic dust and Siddhartha Gautama originally said in what we now know to be around 500 BCE that everything, including every particle of dust is all part of the same thing, including people. It took scientists thousands of years, a Hubble telescope and an electron microscope to understand how right he was. That is why one aspect of modern physics is now known as "Buddhist Cosmology". He said we are all connected. So, if I hurt you or anything else, I am hurting a part of me. Buddhists don't need a deity to answer to for morality, they have a set of ethics which consist of what most people call "the golden rule" which is not in the bible, as so many people told me through the years.
I have heard many comments over the years about Buddhism that I wish to expound on. Some women I know have said things that made me wonder what planet they grew up on. One friend of mine said once, "I am not going to pray to some old fat Buddha!" This is wrong on so many levels that I can hardly contain myself when someone is that ignorant. The "old fat Buddha" she was referring to is the artistic rendering of the honorific figure named "Cloth Sack", a nickname given for the large sack that he is depicted carrying most times. He is seen as a huge fat round man with long drooping earlobes. His actual name is Hotei to the Japanese and Budai to the Chinese. He could be thought of as the Buddhist version of Saint Nicholas. In legend he carried gifts of candy for the children, tobacco for the men, and sewing implements for the women of the villages he visited. He is no more real than Santa Clause but he is used to illustrate parabolic stories in several artistic renderings, mostly statues and paintings in Asia. Sometimes he is said to be the "Maitreya Buddha" of the future by people who have not studied and learned that he was supposed to be a. Buddhist practice is not used to beg forgiveness or curry favor with deities as what some of my fellows call "the spook in the sky". Buddhists do not practice in order for things to change but to have the strength, wisdom, and insight to change them properly instead of expecting someone to come fix the world based on the wishes of humans, who spiritual deities are usually seen as being intolerant of. Buddhist prayer and practice is designed to reach what might be called the spiritual part of a person, which some call our Buddha nature, which we all have. This is something born into us so we don't learn it, we learn to bring it out.
There are as many sects of Buddhism as there are of protestant Christianity. Christians use the word love as much as we do the word compassion. We believe that we are responsible for what we do and what we allow to happen to us and don't believe "the devil made me do it" is a viable excuse. Buddhists do believe in evil but from within not as something that invades our bodies or lives like a ghost. Everything is within. When people ask me if I believe in a higher power, I always say yes. I feel that through something in me, not out somewhere in space. The key is the direction of the Universe and it moves on it's own without my intelligence. I have no control over it so I must control myself. Happiness is a state of mind. It is like a train traveling down a track in it's own direction and speed. I could hang off the back of the caboose, trying to swerve from side to side along the tracks to change it's direction or run and push to speed it up or drag my feet to slow it down. But, what I eventually want to do is learn to go inside, find my seat, and learn to enjoy the ride.
Meditation can be as simple as concentrating on my breathing instead of thinking about everything else. I can't stop all conscious thought but I can slow it down enough to where I am not thinking too much, creating stress. The key word for me is mindfulness. Being mindful of who I am, how I treat the world, and how I perceive what is given to me. We don't have ten commandments, we have five precepts that go like this:
1. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life.
2. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.
3. I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.
5. I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.
The original Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama started the entire journey over trying to relieve suffering in the world. The original teaching was the four noble truths and the eightfold path.
The Four Noble Truths:
  1. Suffering does exist
  2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
  3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
  4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
The Eightfold Path
  1. Right View
  2. Right Intention
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration
There are many sites on the internet and places one can go in most all major cities to find Dharma teachings and meditation groups that practice Buddhist meditation. and Wikipedia both have immense resources of Buddhism definitions and many other religious explanations. If you are interested then I would suggest studying and finding a center to practice in with others. One can be of any religion as Buddhism is made to adapt. Buddhism was said to be the journey, not the spiritual destination. What the end result you find is internal. The path of Buddhist practice was described in the simile of the raft. If you couldn't cross a river and built a raft, after crossing the river, would you say, "Oh, what a great raft," and then carry it around on your head from now on? Or would you set it adrift or leave it for someone else to use? Which would be the proper use of the raft? Buddhism teaches us not to become attached to any views. Quote: ""...Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help us learn to look deeply and to develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for..." End Quote by Thich Nhat Hanh from *The Order of Interbeing. The first mindfulness training. It is simple and it's common sense philosophy makes it easy for anyone to adapt to.
Buddhism, looking at it from a Christian perspective.

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