Thursday, December 2, 2010

Islam and Buddhism Agree (on some things)

Holiday Season brings up links and commonalities
What is engaged Buddhism? It is a practice that flows from an understanding of the complete yet complicated interdependence of all life -- and therefore people of all paths.

It is the practice of the vow of an enlightenment-being (bodhisattva) to liberate all beings from misery.

It is to know that the liberations of ourselves and the liberation of others are inseparable.

It is to transform ourselves as we transform all our relationships and our larger society.

It is to work at times from the inside out and at times from the outside in, depending on the needs and conditions.

It is to see the world through the eye of the Dharma and to respond emphatically and actively with compassion (Buddhist Peace Fellowship).

But our Western excesses -- as highlighted by the ways we celebrate the Holiday Season -- seem to promote greed, gluttony, and every un-Christian thing. As a result of greed comes frustration and anger (hate) at anyone standing in our way, carelessness and enmity (war to steal resources), all soaked in delusion about our separateness from others.

Islam on Christ and Christmas?
So what does Islam have to say about our (American and British) Xmas excess? Mainstream Islam speaks well of Christ and frequently mentions him in the Qu'ran as the "Son of Maryam" (Ibn Maryam). He is said to have prophesied the coming of Muhammad.

In fact, there is a mausoleum for Jesus in Muslim-majority India (Kashmir), arranged according to Jewish custom, maintained and adored by Muslims.

The same Jesus-stories of the "second reason for the season," if Saturnalia is reckoned as the first, are told by Buddhists in and along the Himalayas, in Buddhist-majority India (Ladakh).

But Buddhists do not refer to this messianic yogi, who was missing from his own religion for 18 years, as the Son of Maryam. To Mahayana and particularly Vajrayana Buddhists, he is Saint Issa (from Jesus's Hebrew name Y'shua).

So instead of more Xmas gifts, how about fewer "Crusades" to the Near and Middle East -- even if the US and Israel insist on war for the holidays (Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, etc.)? As Americans, as engaged Buddhists, as friends of Muslims, and occassionally as embarassed Christians, could we please stop pushing religious reasons for war?

Good Advice for World Peace

Peace and harmony among religions if we all just buy and party nicely? (

The advice of Buddhism, like most world religions, is to avoid criticizing people following other paths. They do NOT all lead to the same place nor the same result here and now. But they can all be good. This advice is echoed in, of all traditions, the much maligned Islam, which advises Muslims:

Stay away from mocking the religious beliefs of others. "And insult not those whom they worship... Thus We have made fair-seeming to each people its own doings; then to their Lord is their return and [their Lord] shall then inform them of all that they used to do" (Quran, 6:108).

We have to remember that for many nominal Christians the celebration is not really about participating in religious traditions. Christmas is a time for families to get together. In many cases it is the only time of year families get together. Christmas is a great time to relate to neighbors. "Relating" does not mean "preaching." Dawa cannot be made in a rude manner.

"Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful advice, and reason with them by ways that are the best and most gracious: because your Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path, and those who receive guidance" (Quran, 16:125).

In particular, in the dealings of Jews andMuslims and Christians, "Do not argue with the People of the Book unless it is in the politest manner... Say: 'We believe in what has been sent down to us and what has been sent down to you. Our God and your God is [the same] One...'" (Quran, 29:46).

But it's so fun to hate (dosa)! And so much harm flows from it.

The Buddha on Getting Along
Bhikkhu Bodhi
The most general advice the Dhammapada ("Dharma imprint," an ancient collection of short Buddhist sayings) gives is to avoid all harm, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's own mind. This is said to be the counsel of all the Enlightened Ones (Dhp. 183).

More specific instructions, however, are also given. To abstain from harm we are advised to avoid irritation in deed, word, and even thought. Instead we exercise self-control over body, speech, and mind (Dhp. 231-234). One adheres to the Five Precepts, abstaining from:

  1. destroying life
  2. stealing
  3. sexual misconduct
  4. deceiving
  5. intoxicants (Dhp. 246-247)

A Buddhist or anyone following the Path treats all beings with kindness and compassion, lives honestly, pacifies craving, is silent or speaks honestly, and lives mindful and undeluded. One keeps social duties to parents, family, friends, and to recluses and brahmins (Dhp. 331-333). A large number of verses in the Dhammapada are concerned with the resolution of conflict and hostility.

From other parts of the sutra collectioon we learn that the Buddha was a keen and sensitive observer of the social and political developments that were rapidly transforming the Indian states he visited to teach.

The violence, hatred, cruelty, and sustained enmity he witnessed have persisted right down to the present day. And the Buddha's answer to this problem then is still the only answer that works: The key to solving the problem of violence and cruelty is the ancient maxim of using oneself as the minimum standard for deciding how to treat others (borrowed by a great teacher centuries later and called the "Golden Rule").

"I myself tremble at violence and wish to live in peace and do not want to die. So putting myself in the place of others, I recognize that all other beings tremble at violence, that all wish to live and do not want to die. So I should not intimidate others, harm them, or cause them to be harmed in any way" (Dhp. 129-130).

The Buddha saw that hatred and enmity continue and spread in a self-expanding cycle: responding to hatred by hatred only breeds more hatred, more enmity, more violence, and feeds the whole vicious cycle of vengeance and retaliation.

The Dhammapada teaches us that the true conquest of hatred is achieved by non-hatred, by forbearance (often called the highest virtue), and universal-love (Dhp. 5).

So when wronged by others we must be patient and forgiving. We must control our anger as a charioteer controls a chariot. We must bear angry words as a noble elephant in battle bears the arrows shot into its hide. When spoken to harshly we must remain silent like a broken bell (Dhp. 222, 320, 134).

The qualities distinguishing the "superior person" (sapurisa) are generosity, truthfulness, patience, and compassion. By following these ideals we can live at peace with our own conscience and in harmony with others who may not even seem to have a conscience.

The scent of virtue, the Buddha declares, is sweeter than the scent of flowers and perfume. The good person shines and dazzles from afar like the Himalayan mountains. Just as the lotus flower rises up out of the muck and mire in all its beauty, so the noble person who follows the Buddha's enlightened advice rises up in splendor of compassion and wisdom above the masses of uninstructed worldlings (Dhp. 54, 304, 59). More>>

But hating is so fun! And so much harm flows from it.

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