Compassion and rebirth are two basic tenets of traditional Buddhism that both came together for me recently as I sat reflecting on how I nearly drove my mother off the road. That incident occurred another night long ago. Irritated by a slow driver ahead of me, I tailgated the vehicle so closely that I could not even see the license plate. I persisted until the car turned off onto a side road.
But that side road was the very road that I intended to take to visit my parents—and the driver was my mother.
For this summer, I will be spending about two months in Taiwan. I just arrived in Taipei Wednesday morning and my parents took me straight to the hill where my grandparents have their grave site. The entire area is a cemetery, each person owning a certain enclosed spot separated by a small wall. There are no roads, no signs, and no permanent caretaker – the only way I would know where my grandparents are buried is through my parents.
I was introduced to Pascal’s Wager by my college statistics professor. An evangelical Christian, she placed a short version of the wager not-so-discretely on her professional website: “If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by believing in him, while if he does exist, one will lose everything by not believing.”
I overposted over at Angry Asian Buddhist, so I’m continuing over here. Let me just say that I love Vince Horn’s recent post on the One City Blog.
The problem with not seeing how Buddhism has evolved, and in not seeing ourselves as a part of Buddhism’s evolution, is that we can believe we are somehow the holders of the “essence” of Buddhism. But what is the essence stripped from the practices, realizations, models, and people who have contributed to this living tradition? Is there really such a thing? Could it be that the whole idea of there being an essence to Buddhism that is distinct from it’s extraneous forms–those forms that are so irrelevant that we can simply ignore them or dump them–is coming from a set of cultural assumptions that exist here in this place and time? We need to recognize that possibility, and see that there is a kind of violence in trying to strip something from its historical roots, and also a kind of arrogance in thinking that we can even do that successfully.
Now I have to go read the comments!
I’ve just read Dan Dennett’s Freedom Evolves, and am very convinced of his naturalistic take on evolution, the freedom it gives life, and how that freedom eventually became the most important kind of freedom, the kind that humans deal with. And deal with we do.
The five precepts were my first exposure to Buddhist virtue. I was pretty impressed that there were only five: refrain from taking life, from taking what has not been given, from sexual misconduct, from speaking falsely and from consuming intoxicating substances. And to boot, they weren’t hard and fast rules — at the very least, breaking a precept didn’t mean that I’d missed out on my chance for enlightenment. The precepts were simple and clear without being constrictive.
A leader to a Shambhala SunSpace post yesterday caught my eye: “But, says Zachary Bremmer, clinging to the five precepts as law can cause more suffering than it prevents.” He goes on to analogize the five precepts to training wheels.
Situations will come up in which the precepts will not be able to answer the question, “What should I do?” The prescription that was once as clear as black and white becomes increasingly gray and the precepts fail us. When failure of this type occurs, it forces us to look deeper into the nature of the system. The problem with using any type of training wheels is that after a certain point, they can no longer help us progress. In order to get any further, we must take them off and learn to balance on our own. When the precepts fail to provide us with an answer, we need to find a more fundamental discriminating factor for moral action.
He gives no concrete examples, although he further extends the training wheels analogy, “Just imagine the reactions Lance Armstrong would have gotten if he raced the Tour de France with training wheels!” And perhaps this sentence frames just how inappropriate the training wheels analogy is. After all, Lord Buddha himself continually followed the five precepts all the way through to his final passing.
Courtesy of Buddhist Channel and Youtube, we have an insightful lecture by Prof. Lancaster on the historical spread of Buddhism, it’s basic teachings personally reworked and interpreted, and the importance of digital technology in it’s preservation and continued growth. Enjoy!
Yesterday morning, I opened my web browser to read about Sharon Stone suggesting that the Sichuan earthquake was China reaping its own karma (see article or video).
She has since apologized, and I don’t think she meant any harm. And I don’t think there was anything particularly unique about what she said. After all, Buddhists have been talking about this on the blogosphere since Cyclone Nargis.
Was it all just bad karma?