Buddhism as Religion Versus Philosophy

“At its etymological root, religion is what rebinds or reunites us with the sacred. Many of us long for this return from exile and then discover that it leads us toward existential danger —  the deconstruction and rearrangement of our very sense of self and reality. In common usage, religion often refers to the belief systems and institutions that surround this longing.” ~ Joan Sutherland Roshi

Buddhism can be and is practiced as a religion by many people who don robes, ring bells and burn incense as they bow, chant and meditate.

Yet as the popularity of meditation continues to advance in mainstream culture, an ever-growing number of secular Buddhists practice mindfulness meditation without incorporating any the bells and whistles (er, gongs) of traditional monastic systems such as Zen.

In light of this evolving understanding, Buddhism can be considered a living, breathing religion that promotes leading of a conscious life for the benefit of all beings.

Many people associate “religion” with Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism exclusively.

Buddha dharma demands interactivity from its practitioners. They are prompted to doubt, question and investigate the teachings for themselves. In the Kalama Sutta, the Buddha states:

“Do not accept anything on (mere) hearsay — (i.e., thinking that thus have we heard it for a long time).

Do not accept anything by mere tradition — (i.e., thinking that it has thus been handed down through many generations).

Do not accept anything on account of mere rumors — (i.e., by believing what others say without any investigation).

Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures.

Do not accept anything by mere suppositions.

Do not accept anything by mere inference.

Do not accept anything by merely considering the reasons.

Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your preconceived notions”

Blind faith is not an option here. Nothing is to be taken for granted just because a holy or learned man said so.

Krishnamurti echoes these sentiments:

“The many religions throughout the world have said that there is an enduring, everlasting truth, but the mere assertion of truth has very little significance. One has to discover it for oneself, not theoretically, intellectually, or sentimentally, but actually find out if one can live in a world that is completely truthful.

We mean by religion the gathering together of all energy to investigate into something: to investigate if there is anything sacred. That is the meaning we are giving it, not the religion of belief, dogma, tradition or ritual with their hierarchical outlook. But we are using the word ‘religion’ in the sense: to gather together all energy, which will then be capable of investigating if there is a truth which is not controlled, shaped, or polluted by thought”

Religion, then, takes on a meaning distinct from the mainstream definition. Religion is the movement toward personal and collective transformation, and it is not bound to any particular institution or church.

Like all of major religions, Buddhism offers an ultimate reality, whether it is labeled as nirvana, satori or our buddha nature. The key is that each individual human being has the innate potential to awaken and become a buddha. The multitude of schools and sects of Buddhism all offer a clear path to the attainment of ultimate reality. From the noble eightfold path in Theravada Buddhism to the bodhisattva path of Mahayana, Buddhist practitioners are always provided with a framework of daily life practices and meditation techniques that culminate in enlightenment. Buddhists who approach or attain the experience of ultimate reality become transformed by their experience — their ethics and behaviors change organically as they become more conscious, present, kind and compassionate.

The modern classic, Mindfulness in Plain English, identifies Buddhism as a whole to be “quite different from the theological religions with which Westerners are most familiar. It is a direct entrance to a spiritual or divine realm, without assistance from deities or other ‘agents.’ Its flavor is intensely clinical, much more akin to what we might call psychology than what we usually call religion”. While it is notably distinct from most other major religions in terms of deity and dogma, Buddhism is still a religion, in the newly defined sense of the word explored in this essay.

At the start of his spiritual quest, Prince Siddhartha left his sheltered life seeking answers to life’s big questions. Are we born just to suffer, grow old, and die? What’s the point? After years of experimenting with a wide array of ascetic religious practices, he abandoned all beliefs and doctrines and finally understood the workings of the mind in a state of clear awareness and sublime bliss under the bodhi tree. From then on, during the four decades until his death, the Buddha taught what he had learned through so many years of trial and error.

The Awakened One discovered the ultimate truth of authentic religion when he let go of organized religion, and Buddhist practitioners both secular and religious continue to follow his wise path.

Learning to Love, Loving to Learn

May is for Metta.

Metta is loving kindness. This technique taught by the Buddha is a simple yet transformational practice of well wishing. It is a way of opening our hearts and letting love and kindness pour in for ourselves, our loved ones, our wider community members, the difficult people in our lives and, ultimately, all beings.

May has 31 days, so here are 31 daily aspirations to guide our metta meditation practice for the month. May they be of benefit!

1 – May I be safe.

2 – May I be happy.

3 – May I be healthy.

4 – May I be peaceful.

5 – May I live with ease.

6 – May I be free.

7 – May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Visualize a loved one.)

8 – May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Visualize a neutral person.)

9 – May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Visualize a difficult person.)

10 – May we be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (Myself and my loved ones.)

11 – May we be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (My wider community.)

12 – May you be safe, happy, healthy, peaceful and free. (All beings on Earth.)

13 – May all beings be safe.

14 – May all beings be happy.

15 – May all beings be healthy.

16 – May all beings be peaceful.

17 – May all beings be free.

18 – May all beings feel strong & supported.

19 – May all beings be loved & cared for.

20 – May all beings breathe & relax.

21 – May all beings go with the flow.

22 – May all beings express our unique power.

23 – May all beings open our hearts.

24 – May all beings listen.

25 – May all beings imagine.

26 – May all beings connect with our intuition.

27 – May all beings connect with our divine nature.

28 – May we all love.

29 – May we all share.

30 – May we all serve.

31 – May we all unite.




May 2015

Metta Check-in 
Love is… 10 Quotes on Education & Love

Will Yoga Send You Straight to Hell?

Read the original on elephant.

bird on cross

“There’s the spiritual health risk. When you take up those practices from other cultures, which are outside our Christian domain, you don’t know what you are opening yourself up to. The bad spirit can be communicated in a variety of ways.”

Father Roland Colhoun, a Catholic priest in Londonderry, Northern Ireland recently sparked a debate online as he joined a long list of Christians and people of other religions to link yoga with the devil. During  a sermon at a February 22 Mass, he told the congregation “it’s a slippery slope from yoga to Satan.” With regard to the risks of yoga specifically, he reminded us that Pope Francis said “do not seek spiritual answers in yoga classes.”

His words echo a friend-of-a-friend of mine, a self-proclaimed 54-year-old former yogi who not long ago tried to persuade me that the world is run by Satanists (okay, maybe it is) and, furthermore, that yoga and dharma open up our minds to evil, dark spirits and are therefore to be avoided. I said, “I don’t think I could quit doing yoga at this point even if I tried.” She didn’t hear me. After she called me ignorant because I chose not to enter into her debate, I ended the conversation and went about on my merry, diabolical way, chanting OM and forming complicated mantras with my fingers.

In reply to the Irish priest’s outrageous comments, Rajan Zed, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, wrote:

“Yoga, although introduced and nourished by Hinduism, was a world heritage and liberation powerhouse to be utilized by all. The Vatican Library itself reportedly carried various yoga related books; like Bhaktiyoga, Yoga-system of Patanjali, Yogic Powers and God Realization.”

Why is yoga so popular? Because it improves our well-being and quality of life.

Even just practicing the physical aspect of yoga (which is what many practitioners do) results in a slew of overt benefits. Much of modern yoga is basically advanced calisthenics with some deep breathing and positive thinking thrown in. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Or is there?

Yoga is denounced by conservatives who view it as “New Age,” which refers to an amorphous cultural movement with no hierarchy, dogma, doctrine or official membership whose influences can include Oprah, astrology, “manifesting,” Goddess worship, occult practices like Tarot card reading, vegetarianism and veganism, “positive psychology,” Taoism and/or self-help. New Age originates from 19th century “New Thought,” whose founders were most influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson—who was heavily influenced by Vedanta, the spiritual teachings of Hinduism. Ralph Waldo read the Bhagavad Gita and considered himself a yogi. He could be considered the father of “American” yoga.

In stark contrast to the monotheism of Bible-believers, pop yoga culture totally embraces  Vedantic concepts, such as: all is one; humans are spiritual beings in physical bodies; we are co-creators of the universe; and life is a journey toward awareness of our true source. Many religious people criticize New Age thinking, because its tenets are in opposition to the belief that there is One True God, namely theirs, rather than, God forbid, a Goddess. Yoga is neither angelic nor Satanic. It is a personal practice that may be physical, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, educational and/or enlightening. Retaliating and attacking is getting us nowhere. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s not about generalizations (“Christians are judgmental hypocrites” versus “yogis are brainwashed hippies”). Yoga and Christianity actually have a lot of things in common.

May we remember that awareness, kindness, meditation, compassion, morals and ethics, are the basis of all good religion and spirituality.

What Letting Go Isn’t.

It’s been said that the dharma teachings can be summarized in two words: let go.

Letting go is the ultimate zen habit we all must master, sooner or later.

Letting go has also become somewhat of a cliche and is often misused in spiritual contexts. But it is the single most powerful, simple (not easy) skill we can cultivate in life.

Let’s take a deeper look at what letting go isn’t and is—and some concrete ways to practice it.

Letting go isn’t just cliche spiritual advice. Letting go isn’t not caring. Letting go isn’t passive. Letting go isn’t merely saying, “It’s all good” or “whatever.” Letting go isn’t lazy.

Letting go isn’t giving up. Letting go isn’t the easy way out. Letting go isn’t always fun. Letting go is the most courageous thing you can do.

Letting go is wise.

Letting go enables life, energy, love and learning to flow freely. Letting go takes practice. How can we turn it into a revolutionary daily life practice?

Here are 18 ideas for starters. May they be of benefit.