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Let's Talk Religion

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1richardbsmith
Jun 23, 2012, 5:48pm Top

I am trying to get the concept of Nirvana, which apparently is well beyond my capacity.

I am reading from a text on comparative religions The Sacred Paths.

But Mahayana points out that not only are all conditioned dharmas (that is the phenomenal world of samsara) empty, but also the unconditioned reality of nirvana is empty. This leads to the conclusion that, since both nirvana and samsara are empty, there is no essential difference between them....
Nirvana is not a state found by fleeing from this world, but it is experienced precisely within this world... Nirvana is precisely awakening to emptiness, seeing the world as it really is in its 'suchness.' "

2richardbsmith
Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 5:52pm Top

Some definitions:

mahayana - the Great Way form of Buddhism that opens the path to buddha to everyone
samsara - the cyclic nature of existence, the rebirth cycle - a concept common to Hinduism and to Buddhism
emptiness and suchness - aspects of the ultimate reality, I think the distinction is between the conditioned and unconditioned reality
dharma - the truth, the ultimate reality - common to Hinduism and to Buddhism

3JDHomrighausen
Jun 23, 2012, 9:13pm Top

This stuff is hard to explain. I'm in a Buddhist Studies program for the summer in Kathmandu, Nepal so I'm hearing about this stuff a lot. But I would have no clue how to define nirvana (nibbana). It really depends who you ask - a Therevadin monk and a Zen monk would say different things.

Mahayana calls itself the "Greater Vehicle." This is in contrast to the Hinayana, the "lesser vehicle." Of course the Hinayana (Therevadin) practitioners don't think they're the lesser vehicle! My impression is that the Therevadin path is also open to everyone. The biggest different I've seen so far is that Mahayana has the emphasis on the bodhisattva concept.

That is an odd definition of dharma. Usually it refers to the Buddha's teaching in general. My Tibetan monk teacher refers to the dharma of scripture and the dharma of realization. The former is the Buddha's teachings, as encapsulated in the canon and the commentaries. The latter is taking to heart the Buddha's teaching and living them to attain the perfections (paramitas). The dharma of realization is the reality of the cessation of destructive emotions that cause suffering. I guess this is the Buddha's teaching as shown or realized in an individual. But again, that's a Tibetan perspective.

Also, the dharma is one of the "three jewels" that help us reach enlightenment. These are the Buddha, dharma, and sangha. "Dharma" was a concept in the Vedic Hinduism that Buddha grew up around, but it had a completely different meaning in that context. Like Jesus with Judaism, the Buddha redefined or rewrote a lot of the Hindu terms people in his culture knew, and like Jesus with some Jews the Buddha pissed off some Hindus doing so. So we can't assume that a word in Hinduism means the same as one in Buddhism, or even that it means the same thing across Buddhist traditions.

Hope someone else can explain nirvana.

4richardbsmith
Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 9:28pm Top

Wow. Enjoy your stay in Kathmandu. Awesome to see such a place, especially at your age. I have a friend whose daughter toured India, almost I think on a bike.

The summary you have given is pretty much what I am reading. The difference between Mahayana and Therevadin, and you are studying under a Tibetan monk, a third form.

I think I was going along fairly well when I hit the paragraph about nirvana and samsara being ultimately the same.

And I am still working on the bodhisattva concept - it seems to have different meanings, like Buddha and dharma.

The key issue with Buddhism is suffering, as the key issue with Christianity is sin. What do you think of that statement?

5JDHomrighausen
Jun 24, 2012, 12:10am Top

I don't think either tradition can be boiled down to one issue. Yes, Buddhism has a lot to say about suffering. But it also has a lot to say about compassion. So does Christianity. Same with separation or interdependence with others - both talk a lot about this.

This morning I was thinking about dealing with conflicts. I've been reflecting a lot on Jesus' "turn the other cheek" as a way of responding to aggression or attack in a way that both stops the conflict and makes the attacker see themselves and their actions. This ties into praying for those that persecute you.

In one of my classes for the program we are reading Uniting Wisdom and Compassion: Illuminating the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva. This is a poem that sums up much of the Mahayana path, perhaps a catechism of sorts. There is one stanza that runs:

"Even if someone for whom I have cared for as dearly as my own child
Perceives me as an enemy,
It is the practices of bodhisattvas to love this one devotedly,
Just as a mother loves her own child stricken by disease."

Even though Christianity and Buddhism have entirely different cosmologies, they seem to come together on these more practical issues of how to live one's life well. I even found that reading tales of the Buddha's life in class illuminated the Gospels for me by seeing some of the resemblances between these two great teachers.

6JDHomrighausen
Jun 24, 2012, 12:11am Top

Also, a bodhisattva is different in Therevadin Buddhism. There is a Buddhism group on LT that can probably answer this stuff much better than I can. Thanks though, because now I'm learning it better.

7johnthefireman
Jun 24, 2012, 12:31am Top

>4 richardbsmith: the key issue with Christianity is sin

Really? I thought it was love. Which is not to deny that sin is an issue, but "the key issue"?

8richardbsmith
Edited: Jun 24, 2012, 12:48am Top

johnthefireman

I think the issue in Christianity is sin. By issue I mean problem. Christ is not our savior because we love one another. He is our savior because we need one, we are sinners.

9richardbsmith
Jun 24, 2012, 12:47am Top

>5 JDHomrighausen:

One matter that struck me is that with both Christianity and Buddhism there is a call to leave family.

10johnthefireman
Jun 24, 2012, 12:53am Top

>8 richardbsmith: OK, I take your point that you meant problem as opposed to issue, but Jesus didn't say, "The greatest commandment is don't sin", he said, "The greatest commandment is love". But I suspect that we don't really disagree about Christianity and that this is more about semantics and perspectives. Trying to sum up any great faith tradition in one word is not easy (and maybe not useful, although I assume you are simply trying to make a comparison with Buddhism rather than to sum up Christianity), but if asked to do so, I would still choose the word "love" rather than "sin".

11richardbsmith
Jun 24, 2012, 12:59am Top

Going further in the comparison.

Sin is the problem and a savior is the solution, with love the ethic.

Suffering is the problem and enlightenment is the solution, with compassion/love the ethic?

I am still working on this, but I would like very much for Let's Talk Religion to discuss religious themes, including comparisons.

12richardbsmith
Jun 24, 2012, 1:02am Top

The Buddha: "Take refuge in nothing outside yourselves."

13JDHomrighausen
Edited: Jun 24, 2012, 1:06am Top

The best book I've ever read looking at Buddhism and Christianity is Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian by Paul Knitter. Knitter is a Catholic theologian specializing in issues of religious pluralism. He also used to be a priest. His book is both a personal encounter with Buddhism over three decades and how it has shaped his thought as well as a basic look at Buddhist teachings and how they can work with Christian ones. I'd really recommend it.

And there's always Thomas Merton, but I haven't actually read Zen and the Birds of Appetite.

14modalursine
Jun 24, 2012, 3:07pm Top

One hears the claims from people with neuroscience credentials that Buddhist meditation or mindfulness training have measurable correlates in neuronal activity (for whatever that's worth) and can have a worldly benefit (quite apart from any alleged "spiritual" benefit vis a vis attaining satori or nirvana or whatever) in terms of improving concentration, controlling attention or "focus" and achieving a state of calmness or imperturbability, something one suspects is analogous to the ancient western idea of ateraxia, the goal of Epicureans and Skeptics, if not others.

The big question for me, of course, is whether that's "for real" or whether the ostensibly objective observers have been snonkered by mystical malarkey smuggled in as "science".

For the time being, "Hypothesis non fingo." (I frame no hypotheses)

15richardbsmith
Edited: Jun 25, 2012, 10:39am Top

For Buddhists meditation is one of the paths to breaking the cycle of rebirths. Meditation though in all its forms, religious or not, is a common practice with fairly similar results. I am not one to meditate though.

It is one on my many failings.

ETC
It is one of my many failings -- along with typing.

16mkboylan
Jun 25, 2012, 10:32am Top

Regarding the key issues: my experience with the two religions (altho I have to go with the school that says Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion) is that with Christianity we are born with original sin and need forgiveness, while with Buddhism we are born whole and complete and need to remember that.

Also, I have read repeatedly, from many sources, that suffering is a terribly misleading translation of the original Buddhist teaching. The idea is more that life by nature, is anxiety-producing, e.g. the search for food and safety.

Other than this, I haven't found much difference between Christianity and Buddhism. When I first began looking at Buddhism, I constantly had the reaction "I can show you where it says that in the Bible." Most of my experience with Buddhism is from American interpretations rather than original Buddhist sources.

As for nirvana............

17JDHomrighausen
Jun 25, 2012, 12:24pm Top

> 16

I've heard that "Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion" thing a lot. I think it's sometimes true. They say that wherever Buddhism goes, it merges with whatever's in the culture. In China it took on Taoism, in Japan Shinto, and in America it took on psychology. So many forms of American Buddhism have been demythologized so that they really are a philosophy or a psychology. Whether or not that reinterpretation of the tradition distorts it is another matter.

Here in Nepal, it's really hard for me to buy into it not being a religion. There's this big stupa that people believe was built by an emanation of the goddess Avalokiteshvara, and people make offerings and pray on and around it. Tibetan Buddhism has a lot of talk about different deities, who really are in a higher realm of existence (though still in samara). Not to mention all the complicated rituals, art, and philosophical disputations....

I really don't get the neuroscience stuff. Buddhists have found through their own experience for hundreds of years that meditation helps cultivate equanimity, one-pointedness, and mental abiding. It says a lot about how science-obsessed our culture is that we need a bunch of scientists to verify what experience and tradition teach us. To be fair though, some of Newberg and Davidson's research on the neural underpinnings of meditative states and the cognitive processes possibly associated with them is interesting. I'm just skeptical of the way our culture seems to think any discourse of knowledge that is not graced by the scientific method is worthless. (Liberal arts student here.)

18johnthefireman
Jun 25, 2012, 12:29pm Top

>17 JDHomrighausen: Buddhists have found through their own experience for hundreds of years that meditation helps cultivate equanimity, one-pointedness, and mental abiding

As have Christian mystics and those who practice meditative, contemplative and centring prayer within the Christian tradition. Another of the things that these two great spiritual traditions have in common.

19JDHomrighausen
Jun 25, 2012, 12:55pm Top

> 18

Amen!

20mkboylan
Jun 25, 2012, 2:27pm Top

17 - well said.

Re: "here in Nepal" - I hear you, but are they following those "religious" practices because that's what Buddha said, or because that stuff evolved in their culture just as similar practices evolved among Christians and others? So, who distorted it? American philosophy or Nepalese? I think if we look at Dalai Lama's words, this is basically what is supposed to happen in different cultures, but then that would be following HIM, right?

I LOVE the neuroscience stuff! I just love that you can take a picture of the brain before and after meditation practice and see the difference. Course we already knew it lowered blood pressure right? So why would it only a/effect one specific area of the body and not others? Maybe not important to others, but I just think it's fun and cool, but then I love brains! I also like the answer Dalai Lama gave when asked when would happen if science disproved part of Budhdhism and he said, we'll have to change Buddhism then. Isn't it just being holistic tho? So fun to talk about!

I have to agree with you this that U.S. culture can get too hung up on scientific proof, just because lots of things we see as truth before we can prove them scientifically right? That is after all what leads to the scientific investigation.

21mkboylan
Jun 25, 2012, 2:31pm Top

18 - I saw a GREAT video, wish I could cite it, that investigated meditation/prayer from many different "religions". It was so fun to watch. I was fascinated especially by the 3 year old Friends meditation circle. But I think my favorite was the Episcopalian priest from San Francisco who said she had tried her whole life to meditate and couldn't do it until she discovered the maze. That worked for her. Isn't that cool? I love the places we all come together.

I also found it interesting when Time magazine had that cover article about the "God gene" and defined part of it as the genetic marker for that ability to focus or perhaps it was become self-absorbed! Anyone remember? Fascinating study that I'm thinking was originally done on smokers.

22paradoxosalpha
Jun 25, 2012, 3:05pm Top

> 20 who distorted it?

Why would practices not sanctioned by the figure of the Buddha or his teachings be distortions of Buddhism?

There are many Christian customs regarding worship and sacraments, etc., that do not have the sanction of the scriptural Jesus, but only the most rabid hyper-Protestant would reject their "Christian" character.

Religions are dynamic socio-cultural entities, and it doesn't make any sense to straightjacket them into the presumed designs of a founder -- especially when the historically-remote founder's intentions are on record only within the traditions of the religion itself!

23modalursine
Jun 25, 2012, 3:12pm Top

I really don't get the neuroscience stuff. Buddhists have found through their own experience for hundreds of years that meditation helps cultivate equanimity, one-pointedness, and mental abiding.

Ah! But is it real or is it memorex? What people find out through their own experience can also turn out to be (pardon my french) a crock. Drunk or stoned, one may feel remarkably competent at high speed driving. Observers tend to disagree.
The poetry one writes on an acid trip may seem divinely inspired at the time, but in the morning, not so much.

A little skepticism is a great BS filter. Surely you understand that
great heaps of what "experience and tradition teach us", is forgettable, and that there's lots of chaff to wade through before we get to the occasional gem.

24johnthefireman
Jun 25, 2012, 3:24pm Top

>23 modalursine: By their fruits you shall know them. I don't think those are necessarily self-reported attributes. Rather they are fruits which others experience when they interact with the one who exhibits them.

25richardbsmith
Jun 25, 2012, 3:24pm Top

Didn't Ella break the glass even with memorex?

26mkboylan
Jun 25, 2012, 4:30pm Top

Ella ROCKED that glass!

27mkboylan
Jun 25, 2012, 4:44pm Top

22 - Yes and I LOVED the way Dalai Lama addressed these issues of science and culture in his latest, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, which I was lucky enough to get an Early Review copy of great now I have to keep talking so as not to end my sentence with a preposition.

That book quickly went on my top ten desert island books list.

Also, I had the opportunity to study with some Vietnamese nuns in a Buddhist monastery near my home. They are wonderful women and I enjoyed them and was SO excited. However, I didn't continue but rather returned to more westernized groups. It was very difficult for me to deal with the patriarchal system that has SOMEWHAT been taken out of westernized Buddhism. It was rather painful.

28modalursine
Jun 25, 2012, 5:29pm Top

The DL's public persona is quite attractive. He speaks English quite well, he appears intelligent, well read, witty, humble, humorous, not at all a "stuffed shirt", the very model of a modern eastern holy man that anyone could wish him to be.

Is it WYSIWYG with the DL?

How could it be?

He's playing on a world historical stage with issues such as the governance of Tibet and the future of Tibetan culture, including its religious expression, both within Tibet and in the Tibetan diaspora.

I don't believe such people are as transparent as they project themselves to be.

They are all wheels within wheels brother. Wheels within wheels.

29Arctic-Stranger
Jun 25, 2012, 6:02pm Top

You speak of what you know not of. Have you met the Dalai Lama? Do you base your observation on anything other than your own experiences?

It is WYSIWYG with the DL? I don't know. But you have your beliefs.

I have met a few really transparent people in my time. Daniel Berrigan, for example. (Not perfect, but pretty transparent.) Pete Seeger is another. My friend Phil is another.

30richardbsmith
Jun 25, 2012, 6:43pm Top

>16 mkboylan:
I have read repeatedly, from many sources, that suffering is a terribly misleading translation of the original Buddhist teaching. The idea is more that life by nature, is anxiety-producing, e.g. the search for food and safety.

I cannot comment on the translation, but suffering seems to suit the 4 sights of the Buddha that initiated his enlightenment:

the old decrepit man
the diseased man
the dead man
the hermit

I then take the intended idea of suffering from these sights to refer to the inevitable decay, disease and death that is part of life.

But I do not have any means to check other sources for better understanding of the Buddhist idea of suffering.

What is the pali word that is translated as suffering?

31modalursine
Jun 25, 2012, 7:19pm Top

ref 29

You are right. I don't know the DL from Adam. I'm sure that if I met him, I would very likely be as charmed with him as most.

When the dust settles, the memoirs written and the archives opened up, Lo! it may turn out to be that he's every bit the charmer people want him to be. But if it should turn out that there was a dark side to the force, I wouldn't be the least bit shocked or surprised.

I don't think Berrigan was quite in the same league as the DL.

At that level of play, I think its a different universe, where one takes things at face value at one's own peril.

Once a person's following and charisma get over some sort of
threshold, I think its time to be extremely wary. Sure. It all might be as it seems to be, I can't say for sure that its not, but
boy oh boy! What are the odds?

The more charming and charismatic a world figure is, the further one should keep one's distance. Run away!

32mkboylan
Jun 25, 2012, 8:36pm Top

28 - Yeah who knows? Power corrupts right? and my previous experiences with different religions makes me not want to know too much about their leaders! unfortunately! He is human tho and I hope I have gotten over idealing leaders and expecting too much from them. But I do like the things he said in his last book.

Tibet seems to me to be a lost cause regarding freedom from China, altho I certainly support that. Sorry for anyone offended by that. I wish it were otherwise.

30 - your comment about the relation of the word suffering to the death, illness, etc., makes sense and I think that is what is meant. What I was referring to is the idea that some seem to interpret it as life is torture. I don't know what the pali word is. Perhaps lilbrattyteen could weigh in here. (I love that name, I don't care if you are no longer a teen you should keep it - it speaks to me of an independent spirit.)

33richardbsmith
Jun 25, 2012, 9:13pm Top

dukkha = stress

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca1/index.html

No single English word adequately captures the full depth, range, and subtlety of the crucial Pali term dukkha. Over the years, many translations of the word have been used ("stress," "unsatisfactoriness," "suffering," etc.). Each has its own merits in a given context. There is value in not letting oneself get too comfortable with any one particular translation of the word, since the entire thrust of Buddhist practice is the broadening and deepening of one's understanding of dukkha until its roots are finally exposed and eradicated once and for all. One helpful rule of thumb: as soon as you think you've found the single best translation for the word, think again: for no matter how you describe dukkha, it's always deeper, subtler, and more unsatisfactory than that.

The definition

"Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha."


sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair
birth, aging, dying

34tomcatMurr
Jun 25, 2012, 10:19pm Top

>30 richardbsmith:
the pali word is 'dukkha'. Think of it as a spectrum encompassing various states from slight disease, worry, anxiety about things in your life, poverty, to pain, illness, age and death. What the Buddha means by this is that dukkha is really caused by the interaction of mind with the world, which is mostly delusional. Buddha holds that our understanding of the world based on the notion of the self is delusional because the self is a delusion. Once you eliminate the delusion of self, dukkha is left behind.

Dukkha is caused by the human propensity for craving and clinging. We crave something, and then when we get it, we cling to it. The trouble is, as Buddha sees it, is that we don't have a very good idea of what to crave for and cling to because our values and assumptions about the world are based on delusions.

Dukkha also has a karmic element to it: you create your own suffering in this life because of the bad things you did in the previous life, so dukkha also means being tied to the cycle of suffering of birth-death-rebirth, craving and clinging to this cycle.

In the world I see this generation racked by craving for being
Wretched men gibbering in the face of death
Still craving, hoping for some kind of being
See how they tremble over what they claim as 'mine',
Like fishes in the puddles of a failing stream.

Sn4:2

'Nibbana'
The core meaning is 'unwrapping', 'unbinding' (this is controversial among Pali philologists: some argue that the root meaning is 'extinguishment', like blowing out a candle flame) Nibbana is the state of complete release from dukkha, the abandonment of craving and clinging. this is a very difficult concept, not least because the Buddha describes it differently to whomever he is talking to, what level of understanding of the dhamma his interrogator has, what level of release he has attained.

Here is a summary of the various descriptions of Nibbana taken from the Samyuttanikaya chapter 43 verses 1- 44:

cessation of lust, of hate and of delusion is the Unformed (unconditioned - a buddhist technical term) the end, the taintless, the truth, the other shore, the subtle, the very hard to see, the unweakening, the everlasting, the undisintegrating, the invisible, the undiversified, peace, the deathless, the superior goal, the blest, safety, exhaustion of craving, the wonderful, the marvellous, non-distress, the naturally non distressed, Nibbana, non-affliction (unhostility) fading of lust, purity, freedom, independence of reliance, the island, the shelter, the harbour, the refuge the beyond.

Speaking personally (as a student of Theravada) one of the difficulties for a westerner in trying to understand buddhist concepts is the importance of trying to understand them from with-out our western mindset. Many buddhist concepts do not fit into our western schematic, with its hard drawn dichotomies and clear boundaries. It takes a great imaginative leap for the western mind to try to understand concepts that to us seem merely paradoxical and inconsistent. I think Nibbana is one of these concepts.

some advice: don't get hung up on trying to fix a definition in your mind of a concept before you move on. Move on. understanding often comes later. the desire for a clear definition is another craving that has to be abandoned.

hope this helps. Interesting thread.


35tomcatMurr
Jun 25, 2012, 10:23pm Top

yikes, I spent so long writing my post that you posted before I did! Apologies.

36tomcatMurr
Jun 25, 2012, 10:27pm Top

another word of warning while I think of it, and read back through the thread; Buddhism is entirely incompatible with Christianity, and any books that claim to unite the two are clearly wrong.

37richardbsmith
Jun 25, 2012, 10:41pm Top

>35 tomcatMurr:

You wrote your comment. I copied my comment.

Yours is better. Thanks.

What is the issue separating Buddhism and Christianity - is it the karmic element?

38tomcatMurr
Jun 25, 2012, 10:48pm Top

>3 JDHomrighausen:
your equation of Hinayana and Theravada is also wrong, I'm afraid. Theravada is the original, the oldest form of buddhism, the teachings of the Buddha according to the Pali cannon -the Tipitaka- which was put down in writing one year after Buddha's death at the First Council. The terms Mahayana and Hinayana are unknown in this cannon. Both Mahayana and Hinayana are much more modern additions, accretions, interpretations really, of the older Theravadan tradition. They are even in a different language: sanskrit.

your stay in Kathmandu sounds awesome!!! If you've got some pictures and know how to post them in the thread, don't hold back!
:)

39tomcatMurr
Edited: Jun 25, 2012, 10:55pm Top

>37 richardbsmith:, thank you.
yeah that's one element: Christianity has absolutely forbidden reincarnation as a belief. But the essential stance of the two systems is entirely different. Buddhism is really a stance on the here-and-now, while Christianity is really a stance on the hereafter. Of course there are many superficial similarities, but deeper study of Buddhism shows them to be just that: superficial.

40richardbsmith
Jun 25, 2012, 11:36pm Top

about those pictures. You are very welcomed to upload them into the Let's Talk gallery.

41richardbsmith
Jun 25, 2012, 11:37pm Top

Is there a difference is the problem that is being addressed: Christianity/sin and Buddhism/dukkha

As well as a difference in the remedy; Chrisianity/a savior and Buddhism/enlightenment ?

42mkboylan
Jun 25, 2012, 11:44pm Top

tomcat - Thanks for your excellent posts, especially on suffering, and expansion of the concept - lots of interesting info.

I'm surprised by your comment on the incompatibility of christianity and Buddhism,as I think e.g. of the work of Thich Nhat Hanh Living Buddha, Living Christ and many other examples of those who combine the two, with which I'm sure you are more familiar than I am.

I've heard many Christians state that the Bible is talking about reincarnation when it says you must be born again, altho I realize any fundamentalist would disagree strongly with that idea. Others say that You reap what you sow and similar Christian text are another way of talking about karma.

However, I am not a scholar of either tradition, altho I must say I don't always agree with scholarly interpretations when I do investigate them.

I would also argue against the statement that Christianity is a stance on the hereafter, based partly on such works as Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.

Where do you get the idea that they are so different? I am asking literally - as I said, I am not a scholar and am going just on my own study and reading and teachers in each. I am very curious about the differences and want to know more. I keep wondering if my thoughts would change would deeper study, as you suggest.

43johnthefireman
Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 1:23am Top

>42 mkboylan: Thanks for mentioning Thich Nhat Hanh. I often used to read his books alongside those of the Catholic priest Anthony de Mello. De Mello's Awareness is probably my favourite. The two appear to be saying very much the same thing. There are depths to Christianity which many Christians and non-Christians don't seem to have explored.

44johnthefireman
Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 12:49am Top

>34 tomcatMurr: It takes a great imaginative leap for the western mind to try to understand concepts that to us seem merely paradoxical and inconsistent.

I would agree with that from my experience of many years living in non-western cultures in Africa. The western view of anything African which they don't understand seems to be to label it as "not as developed as western concepts".

Edited to add: Linking this to my >43 johnthefireman:, Anthony de Mello was of course a non-western Christian.

45streamsong
Jun 26, 2012, 1:22am Top

When I first read Thich Nhat Hanh's two books on Jesus and Buddha, I thought "Huh, he doesn't know much about Christianity."

Now I read those books and think "Huh, I don't know much about Christianity."

46tomcatMurr
Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 6:41am Top

>42 mkboylan: thank you.

There is an esoteric tradition within Christianity that does emphasise reincarnation: Rosicrucianism, Catharism, etc, but the main body of Christianity has been forbidden to countenance the idea. Buddhism has no esoteric stream at all: the whole thing is open to everybody and anybody. There are no inner sanctums or secrets, so that's one more difference between B and C.

Of course there are lots of books and commentators trying to equate the two, but it's perhaps worthwhile thinking about why that might be so. Christianity has a long long tradition of expropriating (elements of) other beliefs - in this way it's a kind of cultural imperialism, and always has been. Its relationship to B is perhaps a continuation of this. There are also other factors, such as marketing and sales: a book aimed at Christians and Buddhists is likely to make twice the money than a book aimed at only one or the other.

Also despite the fact that C does address daily life, and urges one to live well as Brother Lawrence's book suggests, the fundamental concepts on which leading the good life as a christian or as a Buddhist are based are incompatible with each other. It's these deep lying concepts that account for the difference, not the superficial surface elements.

C, for example, is based on the premises that there is a self capable of redemption consisting of an eternal soul that lives on after death, that should avoid breaking the rules laid down for it by a higher power, and that in order to be saved from the punishment of eternal hell if those rules are broken, must follow another set of rules laid down by the same higher power.

If we can take this statement as an accurate description of assumptions on which Christianity is based (doctrinal issues, theology etc apart), we can see that B is profoundly opposed to much of this.

1. B denies a self that lives on after death

2. B denies any concept of eternity on any plane: everything is impermenant on every plane

3. B has no rules. To be sure there is the Pattimokha - a set of rules for monks living together, and there are also the 5 injunctions for lay people, but they are not moral strictures in the way that the 10 commandments or the catechism is: you will not be punished if you break these rules. You will only increase your own dukkha.

4. B says that there is no higher power. in fact it also says that questions such as these: is there a god, is there an eternal soul, what is the origin of the universe? should be avoided, as the questions are unanswerable according to our current apparatus of understanding and therefore only another aspect of clinging and craving.

5. C is based on the idea of reward and punishment: be good now, you will be rewarded later; be bad now, you will be punished later. The concepts of reward and punishment are inconsistent with Buddhism, which emphasises cause and effect rather than punishment and reward.

I could go on and on, but I leave it here for now.

47johnthefireman
Jun 26, 2012, 7:00am Top

>46 tomcatMurr: With regard to your #4, Christianity also has an apophatic tradition.

48JDHomrighausen
Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 7:24am Top

>20 mkboylan: mkboylan

I guess it's not the science, it's the rhetoric around it. Like we have a distrust of religion and need science to validate it. I don't think we need neuroscientists to tell us that meditation develops equanimity, one-pointedness. It might be interesting to figure out by looking at different brain activation patterns some of the 'under the hood' mechanisms though. I really enjoyed Barbara Bradley Hagerty's book on the subject.

I got my LT when I was 17. I turn 22 this week. I am very, very glad I am no longer a teen and am ambivalent with my username because I could possibly be perceived as one. LOL.

The whole religion vs. culture thing seems to me an artificial distinction. Take Christmas. Is Christmas religious or cultural? Well, maybe both. What about Christmas trees? Well, perhaps cultural. What about kresh exhibits? That seems pretty religious, but then again not every culture does it....I'm not sure we can separate the two with anything but a very fuzzy border.

> 30 richard -

Tomcat basically said everything, but I will point out that sickness, old age, and death aren't the totality of suffering. They are the things in Siddhartha's life that motivated him to leave the palace and become a Buddha. If we think of suffering as only certain events that one must go through in life, that is not the Buddhist view. Dukkha is part of existence itself, in various forms. Sickness, old age, and death may just be very obvious forms of dukkha.

> 46 - TomCat -

It's great here! I'm in a two month Buddhist studies program at a Tibetan monastery.

As a Catholic I have to agree with you. Things like reincarnation are a big stumbling block for me. I am always skeptical of perennial philosophy type stuff. If other traditions are the same as my own, why bother studying them? That attitude doesn't really further interreligious understanding. It's not even humble.

For me, learning about other traditions is important to try and develop at least a common vocabulary, or speaking terms on which members of different religions can speak of their spiritual path. Like Paul Knitter's book I referenced above - he makes no claim to have authentic Buddhist teaching, only describing how some Buddhist concepts have helped him make sense of problems in his life and theologizing. As for me, I find Buddhist concepts of interdependence and the persistence of dukkha very helpful in life. But I'm not sure I would describe myself as Buddhist even as I meditate. And to be fair most of the authors in Buddhist-Christian dialogue I have read (and most of the pracitioners I interviewed for my research paper) don't say the two are the same, only that they can resonate in practice.

What it comes down to for me is that interreligious understanding can lead to respect and possibly peace. This is something I would gladly devote much of my life to.

49richardbsmith
Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 7:49am Top

>46 tomcatMurr:
1. B denies a self that lives on after death

2. B denies any concept of eternity on any plane: everything is impermenant on every plane


These points confuse me - although that is really not a difficult accomplishment, to confuse me.

Do you mean after the final death? Or do you mean a self that retains all of its identies from its former life or lives?

Is the ultimate reality eternal and unconditioned - the dharma?

BTW, I personally would not agree with the assessment of Christianity in >46 tomcatMurr:. My understanding is that there is a self with a unique indentity that cannot on his own escape from sin. And it is sin that causes separation from God. Because of our inability to escape fro sin, God has intervened in history to provide redemption, for all persons. The person who has been redeemed will enter into eternity with God. The response of the redeemed person on Earth is to glorify God by his actions during this life.

There are plenty differences within Christianity about which act by God accomplished the redemption, how specifically redemption happened, the relation between the Messiah, the Father, and the Spirit, who partakes in the redemption, what is needed inorder to partake in the redemption, how the redeemed person should respond - the role of the law, sin, the Spirit, and faith.

50richardbsmith
Jun 26, 2012, 7:55am Top

Getting back to Nirvana. I take it that Nibbana is Pauli and Nirvana is Sanskrit?

Is Nibbana the ultimate goal, the state after the final life?

Is Nibbana the destiny for all life, after each goes through the needed stages?

Is Nibbana the ideal state and goal for life in this world?

51MMcM
Jun 26, 2012, 9:57am Top

> 46 Buddhism has no esoteric stream at all

This would seem to require amplification. I imagine you have some specific distinction in mind that Mizong isn't and the Bogomils were.

52paradoxosalpha
Jun 26, 2012, 10:02am Top

> 46, 47

Yes, the apophatic tradition in Christianity goes back at least to pseudo-Dionysius. Denys Turner's The Darkness of God is a fascinating treatment of it.

53tomcatMurr
Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 11:01am Top

51 yeah you're right, I meant within Theravada Buddhism. Mizong dates from the 3rd century, I think? But do by all means amplify!

54richardbsmith
Jun 26, 2012, 11:13am Top

I am not sure what an esoteric stream might be? a group small in number and with its own unique teachings?

For my purposes, it would be better to keep the discussion on the mainstream Buddhist teachings - my questions are basic, and, for me, the questions are not necessarily intended to be framed by a comparison to Christianity, other than perhaps in the way of illustration.

55mkboylan
Jun 26, 2012, 12:12pm Top

I have to say re eastern/western concepts that are so very different they are difficult to understand by "the other", that when I DO get the concept, it is often very easily reframed in a concept that I did already understand, and it was more of a language/translation issue than a different concept issue.

That said, I swear that there are some concepts so different that when I finally realize what they are saying, my head explodes. I'm sure I can feel all of those neurological pathways rearranging themselves. ; I'm only half kidding.

56mkboylan
Jun 26, 2012, 12:21pm Top

By the way tomcat - one of those times my head exploded was when I read your comments about marketing being one possible reason for info re similarities about Christianity/Buddhism. I mean I'm not a total idiot - I get much of it is about marketing and obviously the money involved in religion could easily be a whole new thread, right, but I just never thought about it aimed at that particular issue for some reason. My head also exploded when I read Hitchens The Missionary Position. oh dear God. Even with the marketing focus, some things are still true.

57modalursine
Jun 26, 2012, 6:26pm Top


1. B denies a self that lives on after death

I suppose that depends on what one means by "a self"; but doesn't the doctrine of reincarnation presuppose some sort of continuity between the deceased and newly reincarnated?

Isn't the DL considered to be the reincarnation of the previous DL? So doesn't the old DL "live on" in some sense in the new one?

58tomcatMurr
Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 9:35pm Top

>56 mkboylan: Sorry to make your head explode, I hope it wasn't too messy.
There is of course the general human propensity to understand the new in terms of the old, which might also account for the attempts to 'read' Buddhism through the eyes of Christianity. But one can never arrive at a true understanding of the essential characteristics of Buddhism if one thinks it is like Christianity. Sure, there are similarities, but just because an elephant and a goldfish both move does not mean they are in any way similar.

57> you have put your thumb on the central paradox of Buddhism: if there is no self, what exactly is it that achieves nibbana and/or is trapped in the cycle of birth and death? Better minds than mine have struggled with this, and I still struggle with it. Two things.

1. I very much suspect that the life-death dichotomy is a purely Western construct that needs to be abandoned. I get the feeling that in Buddhism these are two states of being that blur into each other. What appears like death is actually another state of being. According to Buddhist cosmography, a person can reincarnate/ pass into various planes. The human plane is only one, there are lower and higher planes. At death, the person passes to another plane to fulfil their karma there. This is all part of the natural laws of the universe, all part of the chain of dependent arising. In Buddhism, there is only impermanence and circularity. 'Death' in the western sense of irreversible cessation, ineluctable, permanent finality, would break that chain of circularity and impermenance, so therefore it must be a delusion.

(Actually, the Buddha has a beautiful image for this: lighting a candle from the flame of another candle. Is it the same flame? in what sense is it different?)

2. The Buddha uses several images to describe the self: a ball of stream tossed foam; a plaintain tree being the most common: both entities in which there is an illusion of substantiality. I think of it as an onion, composed of ever and ever smaller leaves or sheaves but with nothing of substance at the centre. The self is an illusion caused by the khandhas. The khandhas, briefly, are 5 illusions caused by the interaction of the mind with the world. They are absolutely essential to Buddhist philosophy, so I will attempt a brief outline below:

1. Form (rupa)- materiality, including the four elements, including your own physical body
2. Feeling ( vedana) - feelings are born of contact between the 6 senses and the objects of their perception: e.g. the eye and visible objects (In Buddhism there are 6 senses, the Western 5 plus mind. The objects of mind perception are ideas.) There are three kinds of feelings: pleasant, unpleasant, neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant
3. Perception (sanna) - of the world through the six senses: visible forms, sounds, scents, flavours, tangibles and ideas
4. Formation (sankhara) - (this one is the most difficult to grasp) this is the propensity of the mind to agglomerate ideas, to connect them, to form connections between ideas. It is also the propensity to see something AS something, or in other words to direct the mind in a certain direction. This is an operation of the will, of choice, because you can choose how to direct the mind. do you see the glass as half empty or as half full, to use a trivial example.
5. Consciousness (vinnana) - in Western thought, consciousness is an overriding, umbrella-like 'thing' that, as it were, is suspended above everything else going on in the mind. In Buddhism, consciousness is directly connected to the senses, so you have eye-consicousness, ear consciousness, and so on for all the 6 senses.

The khandhas, as you can see, I hope, from my thumbnail sketch, are 5 kinds of interaction between the inner life of the 'mind' and the outer world perceived by the senses. It's the constant and rapid oscillation of these 5 khandhas that creates the illusion that there is a self in the world, rather in the way that 24 frames per second create the illusion of movement on a movie screen. it's in this meaning that the self and the world is an illusion.

At death, presumably, these khandhas cease their operation, or function differently when the person enters another plane, and the objects of sense perception on that plane, the organs of sense perception on that plane - the very notion of 'sense perception' in another plane - alters. I think it's in this sense that the 'self' lives on after death.

I should stress that I am not an expert. I am a student. So other students of Buddhism out there, do please chip in and correct me if I am wrong.


59modalursine
Jun 26, 2012, 9:38pm Top

ref 58

When my body decays, the atoms of which it is composed are free to find their way into other bodies of other living things, plant and animal, human and not. Even as we live, we exchange atoms with our environment, but let's not get into that.

So after my demise, some or all of my atoms may become constituents of one or more living beings.

That does "me" absolutely no good (and also no harm).

If a similar thing is the case with "psychic" or spiritual components of "me", should I care?

60tomcatMurr
Edited: Jun 27, 2012, 5:38am Top

I dont know. Up to you la.

61richardbsmith
Edited: Jun 27, 2012, 7:55am Top

The idea is to break the cycle of rebirths, to gain nibbana. This is the OP question. What is nibbana?

And a follow up question, why should I want to gain that state in which I cannot recognize a distinct identity of myself?

62tomcatMurr
Jun 27, 2012, 1:03pm Top

why do you think you would not be able to recognise yourself? Are you really sure you recognise a distinct entity of yourself now?

63johnthefireman
Jun 27, 2012, 1:18pm Top

Tomcat, I respect your apparent knowledge of Buddhism, but I wonder how you are so sure of yourself when you speak of Christianity? From your derision of Christianity in a number of other threads I suspect it is not your strongest suit.

64tomcatMurr
Edited: Jun 27, 2012, 9:15pm Top

My derision of Christianity is based on enough knowledge of it to warrant derision.

Have I said anything in this thread derisive of C? I have scrupulously avoided doing so. The only mention of C I've made here is this, from 46:

C, for example, is based on the premises that there is a self capable of redemption consisting of an eternal soul that lives on after death, that should avoid breaking the rules laid down for it by a higher power, and that in order to be saved from the punishment of eternal hell if those rules are broken, must follow another set of rules laid down by the same higher power.

you disagree with this description?

65johnthefireman
Edited: Jun 28, 2012, 12:21am Top

>64 tomcatMurr: Thanks, tomcat. You are correct that you have avoided deriding Christianity on this thread, but your attitude towards Christianity from other threads does not inspire confidence. That you have "enough knowledge of it to warrant derision" might suggest that you don't have enough knowledge to really know what it is all about.

Your description of Christianity here hardly sums up Christianity. Somewhere above you said that the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity are superficial. It could also be said that the differences are superficial. It depends on how deeply one goes into both paths. I respect the fact that you have apparently gone deeply into Buddhism. I think it is unfortunate that you deride those who have gone deeply into a different path.

I think it was the Benedictine monk Dom Bede Griffiths, who spent most of his life in India running an ashram, who used the analogy of a wheel with a hub, spokes and a rim. Each spoke represents a different path to the divine, which is the hub. When you are on the rim, the spokes all look far apart. As you progress inwards along one spoke or the other, the spokes all get closer to each other. At the hub, the ground of our being, the spokes all merge into one.

66richardbsmith
Jun 28, 2012, 12:19am Top

>64 tomcatMurr: tomcatMurr

I disagreed with your assessment of Christianity in my comment >49 richardbsmith:.

67modalursine
Edited: Jun 28, 2012, 1:05am Top

64, 65 etc

Underneath a glib debating point, there's a serious question:

How well does one have to know a system, philosophy, religion,
point of view, whatever, to have warrant to say "Nope, I see a bug in the system".

Clearly one has know something, and that something had better be a "true" something, not enemy propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, ignorant rants, etc.

Take oh, lets say Astrology. Now there's actually quite a bit to it. Its WAY more than just sun signs, but I don't know all the ins and outs. I certainly can't cast a horoscope or predict when the moon is going to be in the seventh house (I'm goofing around, I have no deep idea about what that means, thought I do think I know what they mean by the "houses"). On the other hand, the "theory" is that the soul enters the body at birth and takes on the "flavor" of the stars and planets which are in the sky as it descends through the spheres (each sphere ruled by a different planetary body, of course) so that the position of the stars at birth determines ones basic personality traits. Since "character is destiny", voila! Now if one doesn't believe that the soul is something external that "descends" at the time of birth, let alone that the soul if "flavored" by descent through the spheres, or that there are in fact spheres, that they are ruled by planetary bodies or that the planets exert that traditional influences (mars for aggression, Jupiter for power seeking etc) then it seems to me that one doesn't need to know the whole system to think that its basic assumptions are flawed and so its theory, at least is baloney (technical term of art, you understand).

There is still room for astrologers to retort that theory or no (chiropractic takes this option) the practical outcome is useful.

But there have been sufficient double blind tests of astrological predictions that one can feel pretty safe in saying "Nah!" Not only is the theory malarkey, but using the system to say anything useful about the world or human interactions using the system has not shown itself to be any better than chance, and in many cases. worse.

So, answering my own question, I would say that if one can identify crucial assumptions of a given system then one can reject the systems theoretical foundations if one has warrant to
reject or seriously question the assumptions. It doesn't matter how elaborate the evolution, how eloquent the texts, how brilliant past and present proponents and apologists; if the assumptions crumble, the system crumbles with them.

Naturally, there will be disagreement on whether the assumptions are or are not viable.

Another method of attack, is to demonstrate that predictions using the system didn't happen, or happened in ways that contradict what one would expect were the system true after all. The failure of "the proletariat" to overthrow the capitalists
(what are they waiting for?) is a pretty good hint that Marx's system wasn't quite ready for prime time. In that case, identifying flaws in fundamental assumptions is beside the point, the system didn't provide an accurate model of the development of the zeitgeist.

Shouldn't one be able to criticize Christianity, or Islam, or Buddhism, by showing its assumptions are unlikely or its predictions wrong without being in any way a deep expert in the respective systems?

Does one need to be a dog to know dog biscuits?

68johnthefireman
Jun 28, 2012, 1:39am Top

>67 modalursine: Thanks, modalursine. It is indeed a good question.

Note that my basic point to tomcat is not whether he knows Christianity well enough to ridicule it, but whether he knows it well enough to assert so categorically that it has virtually nothing in common with Buddhism. I think the two cases are different.

You are right, of course, that it is not always necessary to know everything there is to know about something in order to demonstrate flaws in it. The danger, though, is that one bases one's discovery of flaws on an incomplete knowledge of the subject. A very topical example would be the creationists who critique evolution, whilst the substance of their critique shows that they don't actually understand evolution at all. I think a lot of the criticism of Christianity (and religion in general) falls into the same category.

69tomcatMurr
Jun 28, 2012, 6:21am Top

>66 richardbsmith:
Well, Richard (do I call you that?), you think you disagreed, but actually, you didn't. You just rephrased what I wrote in your own words, but the content, the ideas are the same.

Look: this is what you wrote in 49 in italics combined with what I wrote in 46 in bold

My understanding is that there is a self with a unique indentity there is a self that cannot on his own escape from sin. And it is sin that causes separation from God a higher power. Because of our inability to escape fro sin, God has intervened in history to provide redemption, for all persons. The person who has been redeemed will enter into eternity with God.saved from the punishment of eternal hell

You are assuming an eternal self, a higher power, and an eternal afterlife of some kind, which are exactly the assumptions I highlighted in 46.

Sorry, old chap, but we are not going to get very far if you cannot distinguish ideas from the language used to convey those ideas. Your language is different from mine, but I hope you can see that actually your ideas are still the same as the asumptions I mentioned in 46.

70tomcatMurr
Edited: Jun 28, 2012, 7:02am Top

>65 johnthefireman:
Your description of Christianity here hardly sums up Christianity. Somewhere above you said that the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity are superficial. It could also be said that the differences are superficial. It depends on how deeply one goes into both paths.

ok, let me try to deal with this. first, I was not trying to sum up Christianity, but to isolate the core differences between it and Buddhism, to establish a minimal pair for purposes of comparison.

Secondly, it seems to me that you are confused about the difference between what is superficial and deep. Are you really saying that you think the difference between belief in an eternal self and non belief in the same is a superficial difference? That belief in a God/non belief in a God is a superficial difference? Because this is what you are saying here:

It could also be said that the differences are superficial.

No, it could not be said, not in any way imaginable or concievable.

My contention is, and always has been, that the core deep beliefs of C and B are radically, fundamentally different, while the superficial aspects are similar, and that the appearance of similarity between these superficial aspects is highly misleading to Christians who want to gain an understanding of Buddhism.

Too many Western Christians see a bunch of guys meditating in front of an idol of a seated man in a highly decorated building and think: "Ooooh look, they just like us, they praying to a god in a church! Grooovy man! Of course, they yellow people, and they're wearing funny clothes, but gee, they just the same as us! How cool is that!"

(I'm not saying you are like that, but you must know that many Western 'Buddhists' are.)

You will never gain an understanding of B if you confuse the appearance of superficial similarity with the reality of a deep essential difference.

So, let's start again.

Questions to Richard and John:

1. Do you, or do you not, accept that one of the core tenets of Chistianity is the concept of an eternal soul?

2. Do you or do you not, accept that one of the core tenets of Chistianity is the concept of a higher, non material power that you call God?

3. Do you or do you not accept that one of the core tenets of Chistianity is the concept of an eternal afterlife?

4. Do you, or do you not, accept that questions 1 thru 3 represent the absolute minimum tenets that all Christians regardless of doctrinal differences would have to regard as essential in order to be called a Christian?

5. Would you agree that someone who rejects any one of these three tenets cannot in any meaningful or sincere way be considered as a Christian?

71richardbsmith
Jun 28, 2012, 7:39am Top

I atually am OK tomcatMurr if you and I don't get very far. That is not one of my goals. The distinction I intended to make in your summary is that of following a new set of rules and that of God's intervention in history. I followed closely your wording to make that distinction clear. Apparently I did not make it clear, sorry old chap.

You may certainly call me Richard, or richardbsmith. You may call me asshole, but old chap sounded a bit condescending. And as such was not especially appreciated.

72johnthefireman
Edited: Jun 28, 2012, 8:17am Top

>70 tomcatMurr: I think it would be important to define what is meant by the terms you use in your first 3 questions, and not to limit Christianity to simple yes/no answers. They are all attempts to describe a reality which is greater than we can describe. That Buddhism and Christianity may be describing the same reality in different terms is far from superficial. Re #2, for example, the apophatic tradition within Christianity (which admittedly most Christians, particularly evangelicals, have never heard of) has a lot in common with Buddhist thought. Re #3, the Christian "afterlife" and the Buddhist and Hindu reincarnation are both attempts to deal with what happens to us after death.

While I agree with you that there are too many westerners who know little or nothing of other cultures and religions and only see the superficialities, whether similarities or differences, I would still maintain that the deeper one goes into any of the great spiritual traditions, the more the differences seem superficial and the similarities seem greater, as indeed they should if they are describing the same reality. I do like Bede Griffiths' analogy (>65 johnthefireman:).

I don't think Thich Nhat Hanh and Anthony de Mello are superficial, and neither of them are westerners, and yet they describe much the same thing from their two different traditions of Buddhism and Christianity respectively.

73richardbsmith
Edited: Jun 28, 2012, 8:30am Top

In the OP I had asked about nibbana. And that is the question I am still pursuing.

It still seems to me that the goal of Buddhism is to escape the cycle of rebirths which involve dukkha. I am not sure whether the main goal is to escape the rebirths or to acquire a state without dukkha. I think, given the Buddha's initial 4 sights, that liberation from dukkha is the goal.

Nibbana is the state of being liberate from dukkha - is that state something that is experienced in this life or is it a state that ends the cycle of this life, and is then after this life?

74tomcatMurr
Edited: Jun 28, 2012, 9:01am Top

That Buddhism and Christianity may be describing the same reality in different terms .

as long as you think like this you will never understand Buddhism. You think they are describing the same reality in different terms; I am trying to get you to understand that they are not, that your 'reality' is conditioned by your existing view of C which you are trying to impose or 'read onto' B. The Buddhist reality is completely different from the C reality.

not to limit Christianity to simple yes/no answers.

I am not trying to limit C or B to simple yes/no answers. I am trying to use yes/no answers as conceptual tools to try to help us arrive at a very clear understanding of something which is essential. This is a common pedagogical method in the Western and Eastern traditions.

Richard, I call lots of people 'old chap' because I am British. I will be happy to call you arsehole if you prefer, but I will insist on the correct spelling.
:)

75johnthefireman
Jun 28, 2012, 9:10am Top

>74 tomcatMurr: There is no Buddhist reality and Christian reality. There is reality. Different cultures, religions, philosophies, worldviews, etc try to explain that reality in different ways.

76richardbsmith
Jun 28, 2012, 9:14am Top

I think arsehole does not carry the same phonetic force as asshole, especially in the USA South. Here you can pronounce each word distinctly and emphatically, stretching out the initial A sound.

But it may be that to a British ear arsehole works just as well.

77johnthefireman
Jun 28, 2012, 9:20am Top

>76 richardbsmith: I've found completely the opposite. You can really savour the long syllable in "arse" whereas I find the US "ass" too short and inexpressive. A matter of taste, maybe (or lack of taste!)

78tomcatMurr
Jun 28, 2012, 9:36am Top

But an ass is a donkey-like animal! "Go sit on your ass", and I'm like, but I haven't got one!

There is no Buddhist reality and Christian reality. There is reality. Different cultures, religions, philosophies, worldviews, etc try to explain that reality in different ways.

Agreed. And I would add that if one is trying to understand another culture's reality, one needs to be aware of how one's own reality might cast a mist (to quote Locke) before your eyes.

IF one's reality includes the notion of an eternal self, or a higher power, or a concept of eternity, that's fine, but one must recognise (and accept) that the Buddhist reality specifically does not include these concepts; in fact it rejects them unequivocally. When I get home I will cite the relevant suttas.

79JDHomrighausen
Jun 28, 2012, 9:49am Top

> 67

That's an interesting question, and one all too important in an age where we are called to make judgments on all sorts of issues that we do not have the time to adequately research. My approach would be pragmatic: it depends on the consequences of one's opinion on a subject, and whether or not you are sharing or teaching your opinion with/to those who might take it as a fact or expert judgment.

As a very rough and vague example, take the question of some issue in ancient history. Was Socrates a real man or a 'mascot' invented by Plato for dialogues? (We'll ignore Xenophon for the moment.) Well, for the life of a shopkeeper in Kathmandu (it's where I'm staying so it's on my mind), this is a very trivial issue. In fact, this is probably a trivial issue for academic philosophers as well. Answering 'yes' or 'no' doesn't really have an impact on anything. However, if you are a classics professor lecturing on ancient philosophy, sharing your scholarly judgment with students who will likely never hear another scholar's point of view, then it's crucial to make your opinion as careful as possible.

I had one philosophy professor who was concerned with your question in the light of global warming debates. Every time he taught environmental ethics he would share a handout he made listing dozens of major organizations that believe in anthropogenic climate change - scientific and governmental organizations. On the back he listed major organizations that do not believe in that claim - big industry lobbyists, conservative political organizations, etc. He pointed out that evaluating climate change claims requires so much scientific training that the layperson has to rely on experts. So which experts?

Interestingly, he also gave a talk on peer review as an epistemic process. If some theory has the peer review stamp of approval it can be taken more seriously. It's a variation on argument from legitimate authority.

As for knowing the basics of a field to reject it, I am wary of such claims. Dawkins used that kind of reasoning to argue that he needed to know nothing about theology. Could one not find much that is useful in a given field while rejecting some or all of its assumptions?

80modalursine
Jun 28, 2012, 2:03pm Top

79
Could one not find much that is useful in a given field while rejecting some or all of its assumptions?

I'll give that a hearty "yes but!".

I know some very sensible people who claim to have been greatly helped by chiropractors. Assuming they are not self deluded or enjoying some sort of placebo effect, its possible that chiropractors have discovered an empirical practice that "works" somehow, despite the theory being implausible.

CS Lewis, for one, has made some astute psychological observations which (it seems to me at least) do not in the least depend on an acceptance of any of the assumptions or doctrines of Christianity to appreciate.

Buddhists have spent a great deal of effort and attention on mind training exercises. Their motivation may have been mystical, and their assumptions and explanations of what is happening and how may turn out to be way off the mark; but if it turns out that their methods or similar methods derived from Buddhist meditation can indeed improve concentration, focus
and wakefulness, then we can come away with something useful to us despite rejecting the totality of their world view.

So the bottom line is that
1. We can have useful empirical methods despite not being able to explain accurately why or how they work.
2. We can have good results from work fueled by "off the wall" motivations or assumptions
3. We can have people who believe the darndest things but still have a good eye for accurate or telling observation.

81modalursine
Jun 28, 2012, 2:28pm Top

It may seem like a straightforward question to ask about the similarities (or lack thereof) between Christianity and Buddhism.

It may seem like a step in the direction of sophistry, but it really does make a difference (or at least I think so) what we mean by "similar", and what we count as a trivial resemblance vs what we treat as a deep connection.

They both seem to agree that the individual should be concerned with his fate in a future life. For the Christian, whether he goes to heaven or hell, for the Buddhist, the nature
of his next reincarnation.

They differ in that the Christian (if I've got this right) thinks
1. The world is real
2. We go around exactly once
whereas the Buddhist (more or less) believes the world is not real and that we go around (are reborn) many many times unless we somehow get off the merry go round.

Christians believe ( I suppose I'll get an argument about that broad sweeping statement) that they can benefit from Jesus's merit which he gained by that business with the crucifixion; and at least a branch of Buddhists (The Tibetan's for sure, but not only they) believe that they can receive the benefit of the merit of certain "Bodhisatvas" (if that's the right term) and get at least a "boost" by borrowing the merit of others.

Some Biddhists (pure land?) believe they can be reborn into a heaven-like world; but even that might only be temporary (though of long duration). The christians, think that once you're in heaven or hell, that's permanent.

The Theravada (I think) hold that everybody has to do their own work, so each one is on his own.

In both traditions (Christians and Buddhists) there are monks and nuns (thought the protestants seem to have mostly dropped both male and female monasticism) elaborate rituals,
special ecclesiatic costumes, candles, incense, honoring of "saints" or holy men, and of course sacred texts.

Populations in which Buddhism is widespread seem fairly resistant to Christian missionary efforts, while populations where Buddhism is weaker but Confusionism stronger seem more open to Christianity.

The differential success (or lack thereof) of christian missionary efforts in the different populations may say something about the similarity or difference of the underlying world views.

82prosfilaes
Jun 28, 2012, 5:05pm Top

#48: I guess it's not the science, it's the rhetoric around it. Like we have a distrust of religion and need science to validate it. I don't think we need neuroscientists to tell us that meditation develops equanimity, one-pointedness.

Science is the most reliable way humans know of to check answers to questions about the universe. Yes, Epicurus knew that matter was made up of atoms; he also knew that it would travel at infinite speed in a vacuum. Even things that should be obvious about our environment have frequently been gotten wrong.

83rrp
Edited: Jun 29, 2012, 1:24am Top

Science is the most reliable way humans know of to check answers to questions about the universe.

Your mention of Epicurus triggered the thought that the quoted sentence has an equivalent weight to this one.

"Cooking is the most reliable way humans know of to prepare food for consumption."

In both cases, the subject is just a description of the object phrase; you just are giving us a definition, one that we already know, not making a statement of any value. Sure there are methods associated with cooking, just as their are methods associated with checking answers to questions about the universe, and some ways of doing cooking are better than others just as some ways of doing science are better than others. So what?

84johnthefireman
Jun 29, 2012, 1:27am Top

>83 rrp: "Cooking is the most reliable way humans know of to prepare food for consumption."

Raw food enthusiasts might disagree with you!

85rrp
Edited: Jun 29, 2012, 1:37am Top

Exactly. Right to the point. Should the preparation of raw food, the picking over, cleaning, chopping, combining and artistic arranging be characterized as "cooking" or something else? Is that method "reliable". Is a sashimi chef a cook? If I prepare my evening meal by opening the wrapper on a candy bar, does that count as cooking? Why are there no active LT forums dedicated to the topic? It never seems to come up. But we hear time and time again, "science is the best way to do science".

86johnthefireman
Edited: Jun 30, 2012, 5:12am Top

Reopening a point, tomcat, your recent posts on a parallel thread referring to Christianity as "your revolting religion" and characterising some of the world's major religions as being about "some sky god who doesn't exist", a "hideous god", do call into your question your ability to compare other religions to Buddhism in a credible way.

87richardbsmith
Edited: Jun 30, 2012, 9:47am Top

Huston Smith on the existence of the soul after death, in Buddhism:

"The ultimate destiny of the human spirit is a condition in which all identification with the historical experience of the finite self will disappear, while experience as such not only remains but is heightened beyond recognition.... so individual awareness will be eclipsed in the blazing light of total awareness."

The World's Religions pg 118

88johnthefireman
Jun 30, 2012, 10:11am Top

>87 richardbsmith: I can imagine quite a few Christians could accept that concept.

89richardbsmith
Edited: Jun 30, 2012, 10:20am Top

Absent the existence of the Creator God and the concept of place involved in the idea of heaven and actually in Jesus' teachings about place, there does seem to be some room for similar descriptive language.

I think there is a distinction though wrt the continued existence, and in fact the worldly existence for that matter, of a real individual self or soul.

But again, I started the OP with the statement that these ideas are beyond my capacity. I have not made much progress yet towards increasing that capacity.

90johnthefireman
Jun 30, 2012, 10:36am Top

>89 richardbsmith: these ideas are beyond my capacity

And beyond all our capacity until we actually get there. But it sounds as if it could describe going beyond the "finite self" and becoming one with God, who is surely "the blazing light of total awareness".

91JDHomrighausen
Jun 30, 2012, 10:39am Top

> 87, 89

Smith's description of nirvana doesn't sound like what I've been learning in class...I'm especially wary of that word "condition." "Condition" seems to imply there is some being in a condition and this being exists in that condition. But nirvana (nibbana) is beyond existence and non-existence. In that sense it's really nothing like the Christian idea of heaven at all. Also Christian heaven is also temporary, until the Resurrection of the dead.

Some of the paradoxical language used in Buddhist discourse (I've seen it especially in Zen) can be hard to wrap your head around if you're only using concepts. If you really want to deepen your understanding, find a good sangha and start meditating. :)

92richardbsmith
Jun 30, 2012, 10:45am Top

What is the condition of the unconditioned?

93johnthefireman
Edited: Jun 30, 2012, 11:02am Top

>91 JDHomrighausen: it's really nothing like the Christian idea of heaven

Is there a single Christian idea of heaven?

"Condition" seems to imply there is some being in a condition and this being exists in that condition. But nirvana (nibbana) is beyond existence and non-existence.

See the apophatic tradition within Christianity.

Some of the paradoxical language used in Christian discourse (I've seen it especially in Christian mysticism) can be hard to wrap your head around if you're only using concepts. If you really want to deepen your understanding, find a good monastery and start meditating.

94richardbsmith
Jun 30, 2012, 2:58pm Top

johnthefireman,

Reading this afternoon, I found this exchange in Zen Buddhism, which reminds me of Brother Lawrence.

The master asks, "Have you finished your breakfast."

"I have."

"Then go wash your bowls."

If you cannot find the meaning of life in an act as simple as that of doing the dishes, you will not find it anywhere.

95jburlinson
Jun 30, 2012, 6:10pm Top

One of the ways to contrast Christianity and Buddhism (or other religions) is to measure their degree of elasticity. That's why I like Christianity, since it's sufficiently elastic to accommodate anything, from Christian fundamentalism to Christian atheism.

Buddhism seems to be a little less elastic, since it seems to require some degree of enlightenment, which is not necessary to Christianity.

96JGL53
Jul 3, 2012, 7:46pm Top

> 95

Well said.

97prosfilaes
Jul 3, 2012, 9:58pm Top

#95: How do you measure their degree of elasticity? In both religions, in any major religion, you have people claiming to be adherents whose beliefs and actions are so far from the norm that most people of that religion would reject their claim. In both religions, and in any religion, you have groups who define their religion so narrowly as to exclude the vast majority of what outsiders would consider their religion. Personally, I have trouble with any definition of Christian or atheism that makes
them compatible; once you've given up God, you've given up on Jesus being an emissary of God, which is a major part of what defines Christianity.

98jburlinson
Jul 5, 2012, 3:34pm Top

> 97. Personally, I have trouble with any definition of Christian or atheism that makes them compatible

For a neat little summary of Christian atheism, here's a link to the BBC religion web site Christian Atheists, or non-realistic Christians, want to remove what they see as the fairy tale elements of Christianity.

99JGL53
Edited: Jul 5, 2012, 4:48pm Top

> 98

Well, I finally made it through the narrow gate. And it feels good.

I am a Christian.

And I owe it to you, jburlinson, for clueing me in.

So thanks.

I'll be alerting my fellow Christians over on the Christianity forum. I know they will be happy for me and welcome me with open arms.

My friends at the local atheist meet-up group will no doubt be shocked senseless at first when I share the good news with them, but they will just have to get on board too or be left behind - so to speak.

100modalursine
Jul 5, 2012, 5:09pm Top

Christian Atheists, or non-realistic Christians, want to remove what they see as the fairy tale elements of Christianity.

Isn't that how Deism got started?

Once you've removed the legendary and quasi mythic elements, isn't Deism the residuum ?

101JGL53
Edited: Jul 5, 2012, 5:16pm Top

> 100

No, I think Deism is penultimate.

102modalursine
Jul 5, 2012, 7:08pm Top

Well, for us atheists, there's one more step to take certainly; but for those that want to keep some concept of deity, isn't it
"all off at Deism station" ?

103JGL53
Edited: Jul 5, 2012, 11:24pm Top

> 102

Well there is Brahman (and Brahma the created personal god) - pantheism - and/or the beyond all concepts "concept" of Non-Dualism inherent in many eastern traditions. I suppose we could refer to such as agnostic mysticism.

IOW, if one is monist (pun?) then one is by definition not a materialist or an idealist. And rather than personal or impersonal the Absolute is transpersonal.

An analogy would be the way your eyes appear to your eyes, or how does the tip of your right index finger feel to the tip of your right index finger, or how does your tongue taste to your tongue - i.e., you can't get there from here. Something like that.

104prosfilaes
Jul 6, 2012, 12:49am Top

#98: But they deny the Christ. They may be followers of the philosopher Jesus, but that doesn't really make you a Christian.

The lines are arbitrary, but that makes it all the harder to make a defensible statement that one religion is more elastic than another. In this case, I think very few people would put Christian atheism inside Christianity.

105JGL53
Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 1:27am Top

> 104

Well, e.g., Zen Buddhists and Pure Land Buddhists could not be more different. Some of each tradition would except the other as fellow Buddhists, others would not.

What matters it?

Religion is not empirical science.

You realize that, right?

The word "religion" literally means "yoke back to the Source".

Who are you or I or anyone who would claim authority to say what is the precise yoking process for another or define the nature of the Source which some other person is seeking to yoke back to?

Well, regarding that other person, you and I and anyone who claims authority on this particular ultimate subject is ...... nobody - that's who.

And have a nice day.

106prosfilaes
Jul 6, 2012, 2:47am Top

#105: What matters it?

I was trying to discuss the claim that Christianity is more elastic than Buddhism.

Religion is not empirical science.

The study of religion is a scholarly pursuit, though, and like all other scholarly pursuits asks of us that we can and are willing to defend our claims on the matter.

The word "religion" literally means "yoke back to the Source".

Another scholarly pursuit is linguistics. Wiktionary says

: From religiōn-, the stem of the Latin religiō (“scrupulousness”, “pious misgivings”, “superstition”, “conscientiousness”, “sanctity”, “an object of veneration”, “cult-observance”, “reverence”), from religō (“I bind back or behind”), from re + ligō (“I tie, bind, or bandage”).

The very claim that the origins of a word is what it literally means is highly questionable; in any case, there''s no Source in the original, and no yoke (the verb yoke in Latin is iugo.)

Who are you or I or anyone who would claim authority to say what is the precise yoking process for another or define the nature of the Source which some other person is seeking to yoke back to?

This whole thread started with the presumption that we could understand some of this. If you want to tell us that Nirvana is the Jewish Messiah, I think that could be legitimately defined as unhelpful.

107JDHomrighausen
Jul 6, 2012, 8:43am Top

> 105

Anyone within the tradition has the task of saying who is in the tradition and who is not. Isn't that the purpose of orthodoxy? Or the Nicene Creed? So Christian atheists would be defined out of Christianity by many Christians for the same reason Mormons or Unitarians would. It's not to say that they are "bad," only to many people outside the pale.

Even as a matter of descriptive language usage, "Christian atheists" push the limits of what people mean by "Christian."

In the same way, it's perfectly fine for someone speaking for or from a Buddhist tradition to argue that Pure Land Buddhists are outside the tradition. I would not agree that religious studies scholars should draw those lines, as there is a greater standard of scholarly impartiality as I understand it.

108richardbsmith
Jul 6, 2012, 8:45am Top

Pure Land Buddhism sounds close to Christianity - what do you think lilbrattyteen?

109JGL53
Jul 6, 2012, 10:15am Top

> 108

From a psychological perspective so-called literalist Christianity is practically the same thing, though PLB does not emphasize guilt and shame nearly as much.

110JGL53
Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 11:14am Top

> 106 "...The word "religion" literally means "yoke back to the Source". Another scholarly pursuit is linguistics. Wiktionary says : From religiōn-, the stem of the Latin religiō (“scrupulousness”, “pious misgivings”, “superstition”, “conscientiousness”, “sanctity”, “an object of veneration”, “cult-observance”, “reverence”), from religō (“I bind back or behind”), from re + ligō (“I tie, bind, or bandage”). The very claim that the origins of a word is what it literally means is highly questionable; in any case, there''s no Source in the original, and no yoke (the verb yoke in Latin is iugo.)..."

If I used the words "tie" or "bind" instead of "yoke" would that set your mind at ease? As in “tie or bind back to“? That is one of the definitions.

No, words don't just have a meaning equivalent to their literal meaning, and yes the word "religion", like most words, has multiple meanings in different contexts.

My purpose was not to define the word for everyone in all cases, it was meant to be illustrative of what the word can mean - in a meaningful sense.

As to the rest of your post you basically misunderstand, distort, or misstate everything I posted and/or just made your own errant or pointless statements.

I am obviously a very poor communicator - when it comes to you. Either that - or do you perchance work for Foxx "news"?

LOL.

111JDHomrighausen
Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 10:42am Top

> 108

Interesting question. However, I'm working on humility, so I'll be honest and say I don't know enough about Pure Land to say. If you want to read up on it, a friend of mine who is a scholar of Buddhism and Christianity wrote an introductory work on Pure Land: Paul Ingram.

112JGL53
Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 11:17am Top

> 111

To paraphrase a well-known quote from the movie Blazing Saddles, he don't need no stinking book.

There were 610,000 hits on Google for "Pure Land Buddhism beliefs".

This one seems informative:

http://amtb.co.uk/pure-land-buddhism

Now there are, obviously, mega-differences regarding particulars between literalist Christianity and PLB. However, I stick to my thought that, psychologically, the two are working the same area of the brain, producing similar results.

I.e., people don't want to die or suffer mental or physical pain - they really would STRONGLY prefer to live forever in bliss. And, gol-darn-it, just mere human wishing ain't gonna get us there - obviously. There just HAS to be a MAGICAL FORMULA that one can utilize to get to that good place, i.e., Heaven, The Pure Land, Paradise, Nirvana, Valhalla, etc.

It's all about belief in the MAGIC FORMULA.

113jburlinson
Jul 6, 2012, 5:29pm Top

> 104. But they deny the Christ. They may be followers of the philosopher Jesus, but that doesn't really make you a Christian.

Not at all. Thomas J.J. Altizer in his The Gospel of Christian Atheism, puts the matter pretty clearly: "The Incarnation can culminate in a truly apocalyptic or eschatological end only by effecting an absolute negation of the original identities of flesh and Spirit. Thereby the given and intrinsic forms of flesh and Spirit are totally reversed so as to make possible a final movement of each into its respective other. Inevitably, the radical Christian believes that the end of the world, whose immediate coming was proclaimed by Jesus, is the total transfiguration of the fallen form of the world, the end of a flesh that is isolated from Spirit, and so likewise the end of a Spirit that is isolated from flesh." (Chapter 1: The Uniqueness of Chrisitanity)

I think very few people would put Christian atheism inside Christianity.

I think very few people have an understanding of Christian atheism and have never really given it any thought at all.

114jburlinson
Jul 6, 2012, 5:39pm Top

> 107. Anyone within the tradition has the task of saying who is in the tradition and who is not.

Really? Where is that task assigned? Jesus certainly didn't give anyone that task. "Judge not, that ye be not judged."

Christian atheists would be defined out of Christianity by many Christians

Since when have issues like this been decided by majority rule? The democratic process, excellent as it might be, doesn't work on matters of faith.

Otherwise, why don't we take a worldwide vote right now and democratically decide such topics as the virgin birth, the correctness of Presbyterianism over Methodism over Catholicism (etc.), transubstantiation, and any other number of things.

Would you be willing to abide by the majority opinion and adjust your own thinking accordingly?

115prosfilaes
Jul 6, 2012, 5:57pm Top

#107: I would not agree that religious studies scholars should draw those lines, as there is a greater standard of scholarly impartiality as I understand it.

I'm not sure how religious studies scholars can not draw these lines. They've got to speak about the group of beliefs that are generally called Buddhism; they could call them the B* beliefs, but that would make communication more confusing, and anyone who wanted to object would make the obvious and reasonable statement that B* is just a code name for Buddhism.

#110: If I used the words "tie" or "bind" instead of "yoke" would that set your mind at ease?

You act like requesting precision and correctness is unreasonable.

116prosfilaes
Jul 6, 2012, 6:18pm Top

#114: The democratic process, excellent as it might be, doesn't work on matters of faith.

This isn't a question of faith. This is a matter of categorization. This is not saying anything about what they believe or what the truth of the matter is; it's just talking about which group they're classified in. And again, you said:

#95: One of the ways to contrast Christianity and Buddhism (or other religions) is to measure their degree of elasticity. That's why I like Christianity, since it's sufficiently elastic to accommodate anything, from Christian fundamentalism to Christian atheism.

That is, you claimed there is a categorization of religious beliefs. How are you making that categorization, and why is it superior to in-group acceptance or democratic vote?

Buddhism seems to be a little less elastic, since it seems to require some degree of enlightenment, which is not necessary to Christianity.

Which leaves personal identification out as a means of categorization.

117jburlinson
Jul 6, 2012, 6:40pm Top

116. Which leaves personal identification out as a means of categorization.

How so? Self-identification seems perfectly acceptable to me. In fact, it's the only way.

118prosfilaes
Jul 6, 2012, 6:45pm Top

#117: Then Buddhism is every bit as elastic as Christianity; either may include the guy wearing only a devil mask sacrificing a child in an upside-down pentacle to Haagenti.

119jburlinson
Jul 6, 2012, 7:02pm Top

> 118. Perhaps so, but my guess is that the Buddhist, if asked, would say, "yes, I'm enlightened." The Christian, maybe yes, maybe no.

120modalursine
Jul 6, 2012, 11:25pm Top

It seems to me there's a bit of a problem here.

I can understand that for most social purposes, if somebody says he (or she) is a Christian, that's good enough for me. Self identification is the way to go.

But if we're trying to figure our how the various religious positions are related to one another, what distinguishes one from another, what they have in common and what makes each unique in its own way, then self identification won't quite do.

Bertrand Russel writing in "Why I Am Not A Christian" drew a very wide net by saying something to the effect that a Christian should at least consider that Christ was the best of men. But one boundary which puts Christians of all stripes on one side, and Jews and Moslems on the other, is the divinity of Christ.

Similarly other boundaries which have Christians, Jews and Moslems on one side, and the Hindu/Buddhist cluster on the other, are the question of whether the world is real and whether we go around but once, or whether we live many times in different bodies on this earth.

If there are people who don't believe that christ was divine but who want to call themselves (and be called by others) Christians, that's fine with me, but we can't pretend they are not outliers fairly far from the cluster's center of gravity.

121richardbsmith
Edited: Jul 7, 2012, 8:28am Top

Wasn't there a Who is a Christian topic floating around somewhere?

How does a topic asking "What is nirvanna?" become a "Who is a Christian?" thread?

122prosfilaes
Jul 7, 2012, 5:42pm Top

#119: And the Christian, if asked, do you believe in the Christ, would say yes. The Buddhist, almost certainly not.

#121: jburlinson made a comparison between Christianity and Buddhism explicitly compare the limits of each religion. Thus the question of where those limits are came up.

123jburlinson
Jul 8, 2012, 12:31am Top

> 120. But if we're trying to figure our how the various religious positions are related to one another, what distinguishes one from another, what they have in common and what makes each unique in its own way, then self identification won't quite do.

Perhaps another thing that makes Christianity unique is the readiness and facility with which Christians, non-Christians and anti-Christians circumscribe Christianity according to their own predispositions and then proceed to tell other people whether or not they qualify as Christians.

I can, I guess, imagine a Buddhist telling another person claiming to be a Buddhist that said person really is not a Buddhist. What's hard to imagine is a non-Buddhist telling a Buddhist that he/she isn't a Buddhist. Yet, Bertrand Russell and every other person on earth feels comfortable telling a person who calls themselves a Christian that (s)he really isn't.

124prosfilaes
Jul 8, 2012, 4:41am Top

#123: Perhaps another thing that makes Christianity unique ...

is that like every other belief system, they believe themself unique.

Perhaps another thing that makes Christianity unique is the readiness and facility with which Christians, non-Christians and anti-Christians circumscribe Christianity according to their own predispositions and then proceed to tell other people whether or not they qualify as Christians.

In Iran, the Bahá'í are considered heretical Muslims and persecuted as such.

We're humans. One of the things humans do is categorize. And this wouldn't be such a heated matter if it didn't matter so much, if the question of what the religion of Thomas Jefferson was wasn't really a statement about what the future of America should be, and that wouldn't be quite such a heated matter if Thomas Jefferson's statements about him being a Christian were made in an environment where he could have openly stated that he was not a Christian.

Yet, Bertrand Russell and every other person on earth feels comfortable telling a person who calls themselves a Christian that (s)he really isn't.

What other subjects do you wish to deny Russell the right to think about? To take a set of things and put them into groups is one of the basic tests of intelligence, because it's one of the basic tools we use to get a handle on the world around us. But somehow it's an outrage when Russell wants to discuss a subject and hence defines some words in such a way that what's is and isn't a member of the set can be precisely known. You're asking the foremost logician of the 20th century not to precisely define the subject he's talking about because why, exactly? So Russell can't clearly communicate what he means when he says he's not a Christian?

125modalursine
Jul 8, 2012, 4:57pm Top

Some people take exception to biologists telling whales that they aren't fishes.

One supposes there must be a similar party complaining that bats shouldn't be told they're not birds.

Sometimes its worth while to have a taxonomy, even if its not perfect, just so we know what we're talking about.

126Mr.Durick
Edited: Jul 8, 2012, 6:23pm Top

But you bring up a good point. Some of the distinctions are context dependent. I knew a retired physician who was annoyed that Melville could even consider the fishiness of whales. But I put it into the perspective gained from the tomato, a fruit considered by many to be a vegetable and universally used as a vegetable. It is marketed and sold as a vegetable. Except in the rare circumstance of my being in a botanical discussion, the tomato is a fruit vegetable to me, and I can use the word coherently in conversation on the basis that it is a vegetable.

I am not a Christian, but I am annoyed by people deciding, say, that all Christians are murderous fundamentalists, that those who are not are not Christians. Yet I can see even a contextual reading of that membership set. Mormons are clearly Christian in some ways and clearly, to some folk, not Christians in others; either choice has its uses and could be legitimate so long as the context is known. One should perhaps say, "Those Christians that..."

Robert

127richardbsmith
Jul 8, 2012, 5:16pm Top

I skipped over the whale book part of Moby Dick.

128richardbsmith
Jul 8, 2012, 5:16pm Top

I may need to go back and read that part.

129prosfilaes
Jul 8, 2012, 6:48pm Top

#126: I won't argue that the distinctions aren't context-dependent, and I don't think that Bertrand Russell would either. But writing a book titled "I am not a Christian (for some values of Christian)" just expresses the wrong message. And you can't go through an entire book saying "a Christian (that is...)" any more than you go through an entire book saying "a fish (including those members of Chordata who aren't tetrapods)" or "toss your vegetables (including tomatoes)".

Moreover, in any study or discussion, one might want to include under the label Christian those who reject the label, to avoid being combined with the fundamentalists or for whatever reason. No one excludes the Disciples of Christ from the label Protestant because they try and reject all labels besides Christian, for example.

130jburlinson
Jul 8, 2012, 7:31pm Top

> 124. What other subjects do you wish to deny Russell the right to think about?

I don't deny Russell the right to think about anything he wants to think about. And I don't deny his authority in proclaiming himself a non-Christian and explaining why. What I object to is his (or anyone else's) authority in telling me and others what we can and cannot think or believe.

You're asking the foremost logician of the 20th century not to precisely define the subject he's talking about because why, exactly?

First, let's look at precisely what Russell has to say: "I think, however, that there are two different items which are quite essential to anybody calling himself a Christian. The first is one of a dogmatic nature -- namely, that you must believe in God and immortality. If you do not believe in those two things, I do not think that you can properly call yourself a Christian. Then, further than that, as the name implies, you must have some kind of belief about Christ. The Mohammedans, for instance, also believe in God and in immortality, and yet they would not call themselves Christians. I think you must have at the very lowest the belief that Christ was, if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men. If you are not going to believe that much about Christ, I do not think you have any right to call yourself a Christian."

For a self-labeled non-Christian to presume to define the parameters of Christianity for a Christian is not the act of a logician, and is equivalent to an Englishman insisting that you can't be an American unless you're born in the United States, speak English and pledge allegiance to the flag every morning. If Russell wants to say that, "This is my definition of 'Christian', and according to this definition, I am not a Christian", is all well and good. For him to say that he can use his definition to judge whether or not I am a Christian, he is committing one of the most elementary of logical fallacies -- begging the question. It would be just as "logical" for me to say that anyone who acts in accordance with Kant's categorical imperative is a Christian and, therefore, Russell is a Christian, despite what he says.

131modalursine
Jul 8, 2012, 7:57pm Top

What I object to is his (or anyone else's) authority in telling me and others what we can and cannot think or believe.

Peace! Please be reassured that the purpose of making a taxonomy is not to tell "outliers" that they're not legitimate or that they should change their opinions in order to fit the profile.

It may be that there are people who call themselves christian, yet do not consider Jesus to have been divine. Let them call themselves christian, no harm to me. But the vast majority of christians (or of christian churches, which may not be the same thing) DO consider Jesus divine (lets not quibble about how devine, one person, three persons, whatever). The point is that for the vast majority of christians, past and present, Jesus is something more than ordinarily human.

When I construct my taxonomy, I say belief in the divinity of Jesus is a dividing line. People who don't say Jesus is divine aren't in the box I call christian, something which should cause such people exactly zero consternation (assuming they want to be called christian despite that) . What do they care what I call "christian" or how I might label their religious opinions ?

132JGL53
Jul 8, 2012, 8:01pm Top

> 131

True dat.

133richardbsmith
Jul 8, 2012, 8:08pm Top

modalursine,

What are such people in your taxonomy?

134jburlinson
Jul 8, 2012, 8:11pm Top

> 131. When I construct my taxonomy, I say belief in the divinity of Jesus is a dividing line.

You're free to do so. But it would probably be good to carefully define what "divinity" means. Also, what "Jesus" means. Anyone who might be interested in adopting (or even considering) your taxonomy would want to know these things, I would think.

What do they care what I call "christian" or how I might label their religious opinions ?

They might be worried about your limiting yourself too much and, possibly, depriving yourself of something you might enjoy.

135JGL53
Edited: Jul 8, 2012, 8:19pm Top

> 134

To your point:

1. In Hinduism, as ALL is Brahman, All is divine.

2. I like divinity. I mean the candy.

3. In Mexico, not to mention other majority Spanish-speaking countries, thousands if not millions of people are Jesus - i.e., one of their names is, thus they are.

4. If I stump my toe I might very well scream out "Jesus". If someone like Mr. Russell were around they might assume I was having a religious vision.

etc.

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