Monday, October 6, 2014

Aren't religions more or less the same?

Maya, Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Seth Auberon, Wisdom Quarterly
Mother Goddess Kwan Yin, Virg Yin Mary, Bodhisattva of Compassion, Avalokitesvara, the one looks down from on high and hears the cries of the world (Billcoo/

We received a letter to the editor from our most dedicated reader, Anonymous, who was reading Yoga: The Other Eightfold Path (Part I of II). It runs:

"I would graciously suggest that you're falling into the trap of looking at surface-level differences between the two traditions here; the only real dividing line runs through conceptual construct, cosmology and philosophy, when in actuality true understanding involves surrender of worldly notions [because] the truth is beyond any conceptual framework. This is true for both traditions equally."

Thank you, Anon, and yet we propose that there are differences, significant ones. We say there are small differences in these two traditions, and those result in a world of difference regarding the ultimate goal of each, moksha, which may get called the same thing but is not.

Not the Buddha (vaniaragageles/flickr)
The Buddha did not come onto the scene to validate the ancient Vedas, the "Knowledge Books" of the Brahmin priests and modern Hindus. While those sacred texts are lovely and full of wisdom, they are not full of liberating wisdom in the ultimate sense. For example, rebirth onto the plane of Brahma (brahma loka) is still rebirth.

While the Buddha explains how to get there and how to get to all states of existence, he does not recommend going to those states again (as we have so many times in this long "continued wandering on"). Any amount of rebirth is marred by suffering, disappointment, falling away, cycling endlessly in samsara.

Ultimate liberation he called nirvana to distinguish it from what other dharmic traditions were calling "liberation" (moksha). They could all be called the same thing, and many times they are, but that does not mean they are the same thing. The Buddha made it very clear that there are not arhats, liberated persons, in other traditions -- and that is because of the way he was defining enlightenment and liberation. When one knows and sees nirvana, it will become clear that there are many difference. The Buddha Dharma is unique, and if it were not he would not have set forth a Noble Eightfold Path to it.

The god Avalokitesvara
He could have just gone by what so many before him had taught. Jesus is alleged to have said that he did not come to change "the Law" (one definition of dharma in the sense of the regularity or order of reality) as understood in Judaism, not a jot or tittle. The Buddha did come to change the old Brahminical order, present something new, reveal the meaning of old teachings and traditions.

Other traditions often do not even have the same goal as the Buddha set forth as the ultimate aspiration. Most are satisfied with rebirth in heaven and state that as their ultimate goal. Then what follows in their teachings goes along with that. Buddhism teaches the path to the heavens (sagga), various physical worlds of the Sensual Sphere, worlds of splendor of the Fine Material Sphere, and even rarefied Immaterial Sphere worlds beyond all physicality, gross and subtle. None of those worlds is liberation, not one of those worlds -- although they may rightly be called "heaven" -- is completely free of suffering/disappointment.

Understanding why -- given that those worlds are so much more delightful and filled with pleasures beyond our comprehension, far superior strands of sensuality -- is central to the Buddha's message. "ALL conditioned existence is unsatisfactory" is a famous and misunderstood teaching. It does not mean that everything is unpleasurable, but rather that every conditioned state, and there are countless worlds categorized as 31 general planes of existence, is ultimately impermanent, impersonal, and unsatisfactory. No matter how great, glorious, and seemingly stable, it will ultimately disappoint because that is the true nature of existence (tilakkhana), marred by these Three Characteristics of Existence.

To say that all religions generally teach the same things is self-evidently true: Just look, they go on about morality, about the nature of the world, about ceremonial rites and rituals, about the unseen beings, about the sky overlords, about the subterranean nasties, about the immanent, about how cool wearing robes in the summer is, but all that is trivial. When it comes down to it, What is every teaching defining as the highest, as its ultimate goal, as its aim and antidote to suffering?

We suffer, right? The Buddha went to great lengths to define what exactly "suffering" means. It is misleading in English, but not so in Sanskrit and Pali where it is called dukkha. It really means unsatisfactoriness, unsteadiness, disappointment. It's not the aspect of pain so much as the lack of fulfillment. It's not that there's no pleasure, which so many of us thirst (tanha) for. There's plenty of pleasure in this sensual human world, and much much more in the sensual heavenly worlds within this sphere (kama loka), the lowest of three general spheres.

The heavens are beautiful (Danni Nahason/flickr)
When those sensual pleasures disappoint, what then? They are pleasurable, they can be experienced, grasped, clung to, delighted in...then what? An addict can be an addict all s/he wants. The thing addicted to will not keep giving what it once gave even when we are doing the exact same thing we always did. That is to say, it will disappoint.

The health of this youthful body will give way and let me down, and one's heavenly (celestial/space) body, even though it is much more beautiful, radiant, and long lasting, will eventually become exhausted as well. Why? It is because it is based on karma (deeds), which is what gave rise to it.

As that good karma is exhausted, and it may take a very long time to exhaust (with each citta, of which there are trillions, getting a turn to produce a similar result or vipaka and phala), that body or form, too, will fall away. Then what? There's plenty more karma, plenty more results to bear, and you know most of karma's results -- born of greed, aversion, and delusion over countless lives -- will be unpleasant, unwelcome, unlovely.

The Buddha offers something other traditions do not and cannot offer: a final way out, an actual solution, a permanent antidote. But you have heard the other religions; they claim the same thing. "Come here for your 'liberation.' Heaven's going to be great!" This wise master knows all, sees all, tells all. It's the Kalama Sutra all over again. Whom to believe?

Just as that sutra says, Does greed (craving, sensual passion, base aspirations, avarice, thirst) arise in a person for that person's own good, for the good of another, for the good of the community? How is it with you? And how about hatred (aversion, anger, ill will, malice, resentment, resistance, revulsion)? Well then what about delusion (wrong views, ignorance, not knowing, misunderstanding, hallucinations, perversions, confusion)?

If you agree, from your own experience and understanding, that these three are harmful not only when arising in you but when arising in others as well, then you might agree that nongreed, nonhatred, and nondelusion are antidotes, are good, are preferable, are the path to liberation. What is nongreed, nonhatred, and nondelusion? We may call these:
  • giving (letting go, sharing, renouncing)
  • loving kindness (friendliness, nonaversion, fearlessness, concern)
  • enlightenment (wisdom, knowledge, understanding).
The three are categories (just as greed, hatred, and delusion are three categories not three things, which is clearer in Pali lobha, dosa, moha and the Sanskrit terms, which are multivalent like our word "aloha" or "dude"), and no one would have ever thought to define them with a single equivalent term.

Space beings from the sky (godisnotwhite)
And we say that if you find these teachings in other traditions -- Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and that little J religion...oh yeah, Jainism -- follow it. It's saying something very good, very useful, very profitable, very beneficial. Buddhism does not have a corner on the market of truth. There is lots of truth, lots of good, in religions and nonreligions. Modern people hate religion, the phoniness, the hypocrisy, the greed, the hating, the lying and delusion.

But you'll travel long before you hear about this. Instead, religions and religieux are obsessed with god, gods, magic, invisible beings, supernormal feelings, great foods, lovely traditions, special days. And when they get right down to it, and they do sometimes although usually in a monastic constant, what do they offer as a solution? Magic? Grace? God's mood that day? What the Hades is going on?

Will people understand the passage explaining why the Buddha did not see any ennobled ones, any enlightened persons of the first, second, third, or fourth grade (stage) outside of this Dharma?
Even if it sounds delusional, arrogant, or misleading, it's key to understanding why Buddhism is different. It's different from all the Indian and Asian traditions around it, including the Christianity that originated in the Near East from origins in Mithraism, Zorastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism (diverse Veda-based teachings), and Judaism.

All of these traditions mingled and mixed between India and Israel. (See Holger Kersten). Israel's religions were inherited from the same milieu in more ancient times, Sumerian, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian. Judaism is not as old as all that but it is rooted in those very old stories, mythologies, and histories. One may think Judaism is the progenitor of Christianity, and that is certainly what we are taught and told we have to believe, but after noticing its uncanny parallels with Buddhism, it becomes clear that most of the rest of Christianity was appropriated whole cloth from the Mithraic mystery cults. And the wonderful Essenes, who get called Jewish like they were just being temple Jews, were definitely influenced by Buddhist monasticism completely foreign to Judasim. It came from the "Wise East," that is, Central Asia, India, and the Far East.

Finally, Anonymous, the real point may actually be, Should we emphasize or de-emphasize differences? Answer: There is a time for both. As people, as humans, we're all family, a sisterhood of the traveling planet, a brotherhood that shouldn't be fighting. Let's forget about the differences!

Of course, on the surface things seem different, and of course deeper in they seem the same. We are saying, Look even deeper than that! See there? See those tiny tiny differences, as small as nanoparticulate arrangements of molecules, an arm here and extra oxygen there? On the macro scale, they make all the difference! We don't say this out of ignorance based on a superficial understanding, for on the surface they seem almost identical and even use the same words and concepts. It's when one investigates that one sees how almost completely different they are.

It's like Catholicism, which is currently the largest religion in the world. How does anyone understand Catholicism without studying and understanding Hinduism? Catholicism is like a mishmash of nonsense -- until one sees it in the light of Hindu concepts. Hindu concepts are not Buddhist concepts, though they may give lip service and masquerade as such with "Lord Buddha" getting a place of honor, just the way Catholicism calls the Buddha, yes the historical Buddha, "Saint Josophat" (from the way the Buddha referred to himself in former births striving for supreme enlightenment as the Bodhisat, Pali Bodhisatta, Sanskrit Bodhisattva).
The Buddha (Nippon_newfie/
Buddhism is very different than Raja (Ashtanga) Yoga, and no one by simply following the deeper tenets of Raja Yoga would ever get to the goal of Buddhism -- nirvana -- without Buddhism. But they would get to many great things the rishis saw, and they might well mistake those things for the things the Buddha was talking about, and they would be mistaken. To make sure they see clearly and avoid the mistake and diversion along the path, we're keeping our eyes on the deep differences and pointing them out. Feel free to take it for what it's worth, and if it helps you to see it as all more or less the same and not worth distinguishing, do that. In fact, why not send in an article on how they're the same?

No comments: