EASTERN RELIGIONS

EASTERN RELIGIONS

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This lesson will look at some other Buddhist beliefs. Keep in mind, that like any

other religion, some of these have been adapted and changed over time. They

are also affected by culture, geography, which denomination of Buddhism they

are practiced in, and each individual’s interpretation.

As mentioned in the last lesson, Buddhist philosophy tends to be practical.

Buddha himself did not seem too concerned with metaphysics, intellectual

theories, or complicated philosophies (though arguably, many sects of later

Buddhists will be). Remember, Buddha was reacting against Hinduism and

therefore really removed the emphasis away from ritual, puja, deity, etc.

Th e Arro w Parable

When asked where we came from and if there is a god, Buddha basically

answered by saying, “How do these questions end suffering?” Buddha taught

we need to focus on the here and now. A famous Buddhist parable tells the

story of a monk getting shot with a poisoned arrow. He whines and complains,

wondering who did it, what kind of arrow is was, and why someone would do

this to him. Buddhists point out that the monk could easily die with this kind

of attitude. Instead of worrying about the why’s and how’s, he should instead

focus on removing the arrow! Who cares about how it happened?

Buddhists say it does us no good to worry about what will happen or where

we came from because we will never know and it doesn’t solve the immediate problem of reducing craving

and suffering. So, it may not be surprising to you that Buddhism is one of the only religions without a

distinct, universal and prominent Creation Story.

Note: As Buddhism spreads through different countries, this does change. Pre-existing religions and views

of afterlife will mix in with Buddhism. So, many Buddhist countries like Laos or Burma may have distinct

creation stories, though they are not speci�cally Buddhist in origin.

In n er Peace

Buddhists teach that the key to Nirvana is within oneself. You will not �nd it externally. No scripture,

book, person, etc. will give it to you. You must �nd it within. These other things can help, can in�uence, but

ultimately it must come within yourself.

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Arguably, many say the Buddha wanted no disciples. He said that everyone

must follow their own way.

Im perm an en ce

Everything is in constant change. Nothing is permanent – our relationships, our bodies, personalities, jobs,

people, seasons, etc. Pretty much everything is always changing. Buddhists say: Learn to accept this and

you’ll save yourself a lot of suffering.

But most of us hold the illusion of permanence, that everything will always be as it is. And this is part of

what causes our craving and clinging and suffering. We fear any kind of change. We fear old age, death and

disease. We try to hold on to our bodies, to our youth (think of the prominence of plastic surgery and our

out of control obsession with youth and arti�cal beauty in this country).

But everything changes. Buddhists say that we grasp onto material

possessions in a poor attempt to have the illusion of permanence and avoid

death. Think of the midlife crisis – why does someone leave their family, job, etc

for a younger mate, a newer car, etc? Buddhists would say that his behavior is a

sorry attempt (and one that causes suffering) to avoid the inevitable – old age

and death.

Thinking about death makes us feel insecure, unsafe, and makes us

acknowledge our own mortality. Buddhists say the problem is we don’t accept

death as a natural part of life. We see it as evil, tragic, and something that

should be avoided and conquered. We do all we can to avoid thinking about it.

But, like Hindus, Buddhists say we should consciously acknowledge death and

accept it. We should realize that death is a natural part of life, a transition, a

part of change. They say having this kind of awareness about impermanence

actually makes you appreciate life more.

By realizing life can end at any moment, we can be more mindful to make

each moment count . It makes us live each moment to its fullest and not take

any moment for granted.

So, according to Buddhists, it is healthy to contemplate death, not morbid.

Tibetan Buddhists focus on death so much that they wrote a whole book

about it, called “Bardo Thodol” or “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” The

Dalai Lama actually does a meditation in which he imagines his body decomposing after he dies. Some

would say that’s morbid. He calmly says it’s a way for him to acknowledge the impermanence of everything.

What is unhealthy, Buddhists say, is to maintain the illusion that it won’t happen. To fool yourself. This is

what will cause us ultimate suffering. Buddhists say that when you die, what matters is not how much

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money, power, things, or the physical state of your body, but what matters

is your state of mind. If you are at peace and ready, then this is the proper

way to die.

No n -Attach m en t

If everything is impermanent, then why do we cling to things and beg them to stay the same? We must �ow

with the change and adapt. Holding onto things as if they were permanent inevitably causes suffering.

Think of the Christian Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to change the things I can, accept the

things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference…”

Buddhists aren’t saying that we should suppress our emotions or not feel. Not at all. We can feel things –

that’s what it is to be human. Just don’t let these feelings/emotions control you. Love – love with all your

heart – but realize one day it will change. Feel anger, don’t suppress it, but at the same time, don’t let it

control you. Don’t be attached to that anger – let it go .

Even with happiness and joy – enjoy happiness, but don’t cling to it either because then when you lose it, it

will cause you suffering. Be able to rise above all emotions with nonattachment.

Buddhists teach that we may not be able to change the world around us or control events that happen to

us, but we can control how we react to them! We can choose to get angry, stressed, miserable or we can let

go.

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Think of this example. Someone says or does something that makes you really mad. You go home and spend

the whole afternoon (or rest of the day) steaming, stewing mad, complaining, etc. You could let it go and

enjoy your evening. But, instead you make yourself way more miserable and angry by obsessing about it

than the anger you felt in just that one moment of what the person did or said! How many of you have

ever done this?

Another Arrow Parable: Tibetan Buddhists have a saying that when someone is angry, it s as if they shot

an arrow at your heart. An arrow with a soft point. It doesn’t kill you, but lands at your feet. But then

instead of walking away, most of us choose to reach down and grab the arrow and stab ourselves with it

over and over again! Basically, we often make the suffering much worse by our obsessing and the way we

REACT to it.

Buddha taught that we should even have nonattachment to Buddhist teachings!

“M y teaching is like a raft which can help you cross to the other shore. U se the raft to cross,

but don’t hang onto it as your property. Do not become caught up in the teaching. You must

let go.”

No self

Because all is impermanent, including ourselves, traditional Buddhists teach that there is no enduring,

permanent self. This is usually one of the hardest things for non-Buddhists to accept. Buddhists teach

that we really aren’t we at all. Instead we’re made up of changing elements, called skandhas -which consist

of our emotions, feelings, perceptions, body, consciousness. Think of

yourself at 3, at 10, then at 5 years ago, at the age you are now. Were you

the same person all those times? Now, think of yourself 10, 20, 30 years

from now? Do you think you’ll be exactly the same?

Buddhists say our illusion is identifying ourselves with those impermanent,

changing elements – the skandhas. We say “I am angry. I am sick. I am

jealous.” But there is no I . Like an onion, we can peel away the layers and

there’s nothing there.

This notion serves well in Buddhism to end suffering. If we can literally be

“sel� ess” in our actions and deeds, then we will truly see ourselves in

everyone else. Instead of viewing ourselves as distinctly separate, “sel�sh” beings, we should realize that

we’re all the same. This thought process, according to Buddhists, will help us have more compassion

towards others.

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Think of a car. What do you think of when you picture a car? What is

THE car? The tires, frame, paint, glass, steel, chrome? Take the parts

away and what do you have? Nothing. The car is just a composite of

its parts. We are too. It’s made up of its own skandhas. We are too.

You could look at a tree the same way. What is a tree? Its leaves,

bark, branches, roots, etc. But what is THE tree? These themes are

explored in the movie The M atrix . We’ll get into this notion even

more in the Zen Buddhist section.

Do keep in mind that there are many Buddhists who DO believe in a “soul” and many Buddhists who DO

believe in God (or gods, as we’ll see with Tibetan Buddhists). This can be because of cultural background or

individual interpretation. Many “Jew Bu’s” (those who are culturally Jewish, but who practice Buddhism)

still believe in God, but follow Buddhist teachings.

I have a friend who is a very devout Buddhist. She was worried because she couldn’t let go of the notion of

the “soul.” She was raised Catholic and that’s just something that stuck with her. She was very concerned

and went to her local Buddhist priest in Chicago and told him she just couldn’t give the notion up and was

worried she was a “bad Buddhist” because of it. He laughed sympathetically and said, “Dear, don’t worry.

Believe in a soul if you want. Just don’t let it cause you suffering…”

No Go d

This is an equally hard (or even harder) concept for most non-Buddhists to swallow. The principle behind it

is this: because all is one, because everything is related and the same, there is no notion of an outside,

creator God, separate from us, in traditional Buddhists.

However, many Buddhists do believe that there is a creative power inherent in all things. A type of

energy/force/mojo if you will. The Dalai Lama has said that he believes in an “essence” or force inherent in

all things. Do remember, Buddha is NOT God – he was just a human being that was able to become

enlightened and teach us a way to do it ourselves. He was just an example to follow. He had the same

creative power within him that each of us do.

As stated above, some Buddhists DO believe in a God. A good friend of mine was raised Pentecostal and

converted to Buddhism. He is a devout Buddhist, but still holds faith in the God of his childhood. His

Buddhist teacher said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that belief. If it comforts you, then it’s okay. As

we’ll see with Tibetan Buddhists, some Buddhists believe in many gods (either carried over from the Hindu

tradition or in�uenced by their country’s preexisting religion). Some Buddhists believe in spirits or angels

and saints. It just depends on what Buddhist you ask.

Rein carn atio n

This is one of several Hindu beliefs that Buddhists retain. They too believe that the wheel of Samsara

keeps turning because of our karma.

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So, you may be asking yourself the question, “Wait a minute…if there is no self/no soul in Buddhism, then

what is reincarnated?”

Well, many others (including Buddhists) have wondered the same

exact thing! Yes, there is no distinct “soul” that is reincarnated.

However, there is some essence that is. Imagine a single candle �ame.

Now imagine lighting another candle stick with that �ame. Now, light

another. And another… Now you have several candles all lit from the

same initial wick. Are they all the SAME EXACT candle �ame? No.

But, do they have some similar essence that runs through them? Yes.

This is the answer that the Dalai Lama gave. He does not believe he is

the same exact reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. He does not believe each being is an exact soul of a

former being. However, he does say there’s a subtle consciousness/essence that links us all together.

Co m passio n an d Lovin g Kin dn ess

It is easy to be compassionate towards those we love – easy to love our signi�cant others, our children, our

puppies… But we also need compassion for strangers, for those that are

hardest to love, and even those we hate or who have hurt us.

When someone has hurt us, we suffer. But, we continue to suffer when we

hold anger and bitter emotions towards that person. Again, think of the

arrow parable. Holding this anger-ball inside the rest of your life only

causes yourself more suffering, it doesn’t alleviate it.

The following is a popular Tibetan M editation Exercise on letting go of

anger towards someone who has caused you pain. It is a three fold

meditation focused on compassion. First, you meditate on someone you

love, sending them loving kindness. Then, you focus on someone you are

indifferent about, someone you do not have bad or good feelings, an

acquaintance perhaps – your mailmain, a fellow student, etc. and send them loving kindness and

compassion. Finally (you can see where this is going…) you meditate on someone who has hurt or wronged

you and send them loving kindness, compassion and…forgiveness. Tibetans teach that we must have

compassion for our enemies for many reasons, including these two:

1) Those who cause suffering do not understand karma and will directly cause themselves suffering with

their actions.

2) Those who cause suffering are probably suffering themselves and unhappy already. (Example: Think of

an abuser. Psychology statistics show abusers as having high rates of being abused themselves sometime in

their life. Usually, they were victims themselves. This doesn’t excuse or justify their behavior/action, but it

can help us to understand and have compassion for their own suffering/pain).

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This certainly doesn’t mean you should just let people walk all over you or victimize you. It just means that

if someone hurts you, don’t further the suffering. Don’t remain the victim. Instead, turn the anger into

compassion, even if it is not for them, do it for yourself. Stop the cycle. Otherwise, you take the chance on

your anger/hurt coming out on someone else in your life that has nothing to do with it and perpetuating

this cycle.

This meditation is certainly not an easy one and Buddhists will say it may take lifetimes to let go of anger

towards others. But, with “right effort” we should always attempt it, because otherwise, we are just causing

ourselves to more pain and suffering.

All Religio n s as Tru th !

Buddha says to �nd our own way to reduce suffering. He taught us to be a lamp unto ourselves. He says a

wise person knows that the doctrine/dogma is not what s important, but following the path of who we are

is. Don’t miss the forest for the trees, so to speak.

Buddhists, like Hindus, feel a spiritual path can be achieved in Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism,

Hinduism, etc. What matters is being compassionate and being true to yourself.

When we cling to ideas that we think alone are the TRUTH it clouds the purpose of the path in the �rst

place. Buddhists have similar views as Gandhi did regarding religion. Religion is a path, but it is not

perfect. What is in our hearts is the real spirituality. They feel that whatever eliminates suffering is the

TRUTH and this path can differ for different people.

In the Accidental Buddhist, Dinty Moore is surprised when the Dalai Lama encourages many American

Buddhists to go back to their Judeo-Christian roots. He says to them, “You can �nd inner peace within any

path. Why not see if you can �nd it where you came from.”


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