EACH person must choose some ultimate for life. Paul Tillich, as is well known, spoke of our "ultimate concern" and demonstrated how this is our god. Many persons at this stage of history are not ultimately concerned with transcending every- day life, or transforming it, but instead choose to absolutize life. Life itself becomes the goal and old age and suffering are denied or, at best, tolerated. This is the age of the Pepsi generation and those who "be all that they can be" in the here and now. Some do not seek heaven or the pure land. Instead, they grab all the gusto they can get.
The twentieth century can be seen as a period that reasserts romanticism. The human overextends and absolutizes the self. Life is seen as self centered, while morality and social ethics fall into decline. If I live only for my own personal fulfillment through immediate pleasure, why should I have anything but disgust for anyone who hinders me? Is there anything beyond the self? Or, we could ask, as did Buddha, is it even true that the self is real? Does our notion of having a self apart from other selves impede any notion of ultimate happiness? Can I forget myself, transform myself, lose my self and thus be happier than I am now? Two great teachers have said yes! However, they have said this in contrary ways.
The purpose of this book is to explore these two ways. This exploration is known as Christian-Buddhist dialogue and one of its purposes is to help persons reconsider their ultimate concerns. In order to develop sound social ethics in this pluralistic age, it is necessary to explore the global community in the hope of finding common concerns such as world hunger. By this we move from the theoretical or speculative to application, an attempt which has been tried before in dialogue.1
Buddha taught that suffering originates from the false notion of having or being a self. Therefore, the person, who is only a composite of conditioned reflexes and beliefs seen as a individual personality, must get rid of the idea of being separate or apart from what is. And the greatest sin in Buddhism is ignorance of the actual human situation. Salvation or deliverance consists of seeing things as they are. When one actually accomplishes this, he or she is called "enlightened". The enlightened person is delivered of suffering and is no longer reborn to suffer again. The cycle is broken once and for all. This teaching is called the Dharma which is generally translated as law.
This Dharma in Its core consists of the Four Noble Truths (catari ariya saccani) of suffering (dukkha), the arising of suffering (dukka-samudaya), the cessation of suffering (dukkha- nirodha), and the eightfold pat h which leads to this cessation of suffering. This system is explained within by Tokiyuki Nobuhara so I will not go into this in more detail at this time.
Christ, on the other hand, taught that the self is not an illusion but real and formed by God. The problem is that the self has fallen (either with Adam and Eve or individually-or both) and must be "redeemed" in Christ. Redemption consists of accepting Jesus Christ as one's personal savior and than accepting the Gospel. The Gospel is generally translated as good news. The good news is that the Christian believes Christ died for all sins and that one is all right just as he or she is. Whereas the greatest sin in Buddhism is ignorance, the greatest sin in Christianity is disobedience to God or the setting of one's self up as a God.
There is no space to go into a long discourse of the nature of the self among various Christian theologians, but I can refer
the reader to an excellent treatment in the section "Selfhood
and Faith" as found in John Macquarrie's Principles of Christian Theology (2nd ed. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977; especially pp. 74-83). Macquarrie argues for a more process notion of self as ever growing and changing as opposed to a substantial notion as developed by Plato.'" However, this is not a collection of experiences as is found in Buddhism and its approach to Pudgala (personality).
In Christianity the actual condition of things is that one is already redeemed (if one is willing to accept this redemption) and this is very similar to the Zen concept, at least as taught by Bodhidharma, that one is already enlightened if one can only see this. Therefore, both systems are concerned with a way of seeing anew. This seeing anew, feeling reborn, obtaining enlightenment, or experiencing satori are experienced by the person as salvation.
Please allow me a short quote here of a Chinese master who taught a type of earlier Ch'an (Japanese Zen) in Tibet during the eighth century named Hva Shang Mahayana: "Everything caused by tile mind of discrimination .. .is pleasant or unpleasant in consequence (Tib. las, lit. "deeds"). One experiences the fruit of hells and heavens, you turn in samsara. Whoever does not think anything, or does not do anything will become completely liberated from samsara. So, do not think anything. The practice of the ten virtues, and generosity, etc., this is a doctrine for all those people who have dull senses, weak intellects and inconstant virtue. For these of acute senses (and) previously cleansed minds when one is obscured by the two: sin, or virtue, it is like the sun which is equally obscured by white or dark clouds. Therefore, do not think anything. Do not reflect on anything. Do not examine anything. Those who do not imagine (and) enter instantaneously are equal to those who have obtained the tenth bhumi (i.e. have become enlightened)."2
What r find significant about this particular Buddhist system is not the notion of quietism (there arc Christian counterparts), but that sin or virtue-either one-s-obscures the sun. In other words, a person cannot become enlightened (or "saved") while performing either. Rather one is to see things as they really are. It is a way of looking. It is here and now salvation. As the Sixth Dalai Lama wrote in the eighteenth century:
If one does live for Dharma
And continues to do so,
One may become a Buddha
In yet this same lifetime.3
Therefore, some schools of Buddhism are concerned with the here and now. Social ethics do not enter in. The future is seen as illusion. And one loses external interest. This we do not find in some forms of Japanese Buddhism such as Pure Land. In this school, one prays to Amida Buddha (not the historical Buddha) in an attempt to be reborn in a heaven. One also does good deeds to obtain religious merit.
I find it necessary to add something here that I wrote several years ago: "Gsol 'debs, which I have translated by a request or a-supplication, is not prayer in the proper sense of the term. The concept of prayer is not acknowledged by Buddhists. since the offering up of supplication implies the invoking of the higher forces within the person himself. The deities are symbolic of perfected human attributes. Buddhism is not a theistic religion. This seems to be a concept that is generally misunderstood in the West. When Padmasambhava says that he is identical with a certain 'being', so is the invoker. Therefore, the person who recites this supplication assumes total identification with the 'higher being'. The concept of ' I and Thou' is completely alien to Buddhism-when it is properly
I would like to amend this earlier statement. Early Buddhism taught what the Tibetans call ran 'grot "self deliverance". Zen still teaches this where it is up to the person to learn to see afresh. However, it is now clear to me that some forms of Buddhism especially Pure Land, teach what Tibetans call gzhan 'grol "other deliverance". Therefore, both ways of seeing exist. In some forms of Buddhism it is entirely up to the person; in other forms of Buddhism there is help from above from deity. And although Amida is seen by the more erudite as symbol (as is Avalokiteshvara reborn in the Dalai Lama for Tibetan Buddhists) the common people see him as a god This is an important distinction to make and shows the confusion Christians encounter when attempting to dialogue with Buddhists.
Buddhists find a similar problem with Christians. It makes a difference whether the Christian is a Catholic or Protestant. fundamentalist or liberal, learned or simple. As my friend Roger Corless once wrote to me in a letter. "the whole problem is who is talking with whom about what?". If the Buddhist is lacking in a theological background, he or she may not always understand what is being said. And one book has appeared recently that demonstrates a total lack of knowledge in certain theological areas". This leads to confusion in dialogue.
I believe one way to avoid some of this is to grasp the way of seeing of the person speaking 'Who is representative of the particular tradition and religion. I am not calling fer reductionism.
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