“World Religions: Buddhism”

June 9, 2019


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
June 9, 2019

“World Religions: Buddhism”
Ecc. 3 excerpts

Siddhartha Gautama lived from approximately 566 to 480 BCE. He was the son of an Indian warrior-king and led an extravagant life through his early adulthood. Eventually he got bored of the indulgences of royal life and began to search for meaning. He became convinced that suffering was a universal experience – for all people whether rich or poor. He decided to renounce his princely title and became a monk. He deprived himself of worldly possessions in hopes of finding the truth of the world around him without all the trappings. He sat under a tree to meditate, where he learned to be free from suffering and how to achieve purpose and meaning. Following this, people referred to him as The “Enlightened One” or the Buddha. And he spent the remainder of his life journeying around India, teaching others what he had learned.

Today we are continuing on our discovery of World Religions – to find out what Christianity has in common and how we are different from other faith traditions. We want to learn what we can from our brothers and sisters of other faiths. I want to repeat what I said last week – that I believe we are all on a journey to light and love – and that no one tradition is superior. We all do our best to make sense of the world around us and what is true and what is holy.

I will say that Buddhism is different than other faiths in that it may not be a faith at all. It is, rather, a way of life. Buddhism is defined by many as a non-theistic tradition. Buddha himself rejected the existence of a creator deity, but the notion of divinity is not incompatible with his teachings. In fact, there are gods found in Buddhist teachings; they are just not central to the teachings. Buddhism is more of a practice. Others would say that Buddhism is considered to be a form of psychology or philosophy.

With approximately 400 million followers, Buddhism is the 4th largest religion in the world. In Buddhism, there is no single holy book, but extensive writings have been preserved – many in Asian languages. Some (but not all) Buddhists believe in reincarnation. There are two major schools of Buddhism:
• Theravada (also called Hinayana), which means “The School of the Elders” is the largest – 56% of all Buddhists, most popular in Sri Lanka and SE Asia
• Mahayana, which means “The Great Vehicle” – 38 %, mostly in East Asia, China and Japan
• Vajrayana, which is also known as the Diamond Way – only 6%, practiced in Mongolia and Tibet

Although Buddhism is based on his teachings, adherents to the tradition acknowledge other Buddhas before him – 26 or so – and that there will be another Buddha. In fact, the term Buddha can be applied to anyone who has awakened and realized the true nature of things because it literally means “awakened one”. However, there are not many who earn the title.

Most of you have probably heard about Karma. It is one of the central concepts in Buddhism, but it is not exclusive to the teachings of Buddha or Buddhism. In is also an important concept in Hinduism, Taoism, Jainism and Sikhism. Karma says that positive acts – such as generosity, righteousness and kindness bring about happiness in the long run. Bad actions – such as lying stealing and manipulation bring about unhappiness in the long run.

One of the best stories I’ve ever seen about karma is this one: Chris Trokey was born ten weeks early and in need of a trustworthy doctor. His parents found Michael Shannon, MD, a pediatrician who stayed with the baby for two nights after he came down with a life-threateningly high fever. Thirty years later and all grown up, Trokey, a paramedic, was called in to help at the site of a car wreck. The car was on fire with a man still stuck inside. After firefighters helped put out the flames and Jaws of Life opened the car, Trokey brought the injured man into an ambulance. He learned the rescued victim’s name was Michael Shannon—the very same Michael Shannon who’d saved his life as a baby. Karma?

Of course, the ultimate goal of existence is the state of Nirvana, which could be described as the stillness of the mind, or the lack of cravings and delusions. Nirvana ends the sufferings we experience in life.

Most of us have lived long enough to know that suffering is a part of life. In fact, most religions have to deal with this problem at the core of their teaching in order to gain any traction. The Buddha named this as the first of the Four Noble Truths:
1. The truth of suffering.
2. The truth of the cause of suffering.
3. The truth of the end of suffering.
4. The truth of the path that frees us from suffering….
And that path is called the Eightfold Path, which are the eight elements that transform suffering into well-being. To be freed from suffering, one practices the eightfold path, which includes:
1. Right understanding
2. Right thinking, meaning dwelling in the present moment without using the past reaction to control our perceptions about the world. In other words, dump your baggage from the past before reacting to something in the present!
3. Right speaking. The Buddha said, “Abandon false speech… he speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world…. Abandoning divisive speech… what he has heard here he does not tell there to break those people apart from these people here. He loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, and speaks things that create concord. Abandoning abusive speech…. He speaks words that are soothing to the ear, that are affectionate, that go to the heart, which are polite, appealing and pleasing to people at large.”
4. Right acting. This means to follow the principle of non-exploitation of yourself and others by living in such a way that our physical actions bring no harm and are peaceful, benevolent, compassionate and pure.
5. Right working. This means to choose an occupation that is based on the ethical principles of love, compassion, and non-exploitation: to embrace a living that entails no harmful consequences.
6. Right Persevering or Right effort. Some Buddhist writers compare this to tending a garden. It takes persistence because of weather, soil fertility, weeding, and various unpredictable conditions. To be successful, we must tend our mental garden with a mind of perseverance and a heart of loving-kindness.
7. Right Remembering or Right Mindfulness. This means attending to the present and not being distracted by extraneous thoughts. It is focusing attention on the present in order to be successful in the other practices leading to happiness.
8. Right Meditating. Keeping mental focus to the present and curtailing the activity of a cluttered and distracted mind.
My thanks go to Jerry Harney, who defined the 8 fold path for me!

In your bulletin are the traditional word, from Ecclesiastes 3 and the Flower Garland Sutra, from the Buddha. They express similar thoughts about the true nature of life. Both are meditations about how life has an ebb and flow to it; a season for good and bad; causes and conditions. I’ve asked for the help of other voices so that you can hear these lovely words from a fresh perspective.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. Ecc. 3 excerpts
“Everything in the universe comes into being as a result of the union of certain causes and conditions. Likewise, all things pass away as these causes and conditions change and cease to exist. Suffering also has certain causes and conditions; suffering also passes away as these causes and conditions change and cease to exist. Rains may come and go; winds may blow, flowers bloom and wilt, green leaves turn to rainbow colors to then be blown away: all of these changes are due to the changing of causes and conditions. Humans are born through the causes and conditions of parents: food develops the body, community develops the spirit. Accordingly, both the body and the spirit change as causes and conditions change. Everything in this universe is enmeshed together like the lines and ties of a fisher’s net. To think that any part can stand alone is as foolish as it is to think that one small knot in a fisher’s net can catch a fish. Not a single flower blooms, nor does a leaf fall, independent of causes and conditions. All things in the universe are interdependent in this ocean of constant change; this is the one thing that does not change. “The Flower Garland Sutra”
I would invite you to take your bulletin from today and use these two readings – from Ecc. 3 and “The Flower Garland Sutra”, written in different times, places, and by different people who believed different things. Yet, the wisdom in the writings are similar. Consider the truth in them. Consider your life and your relationship with the Creator and the creation. Consider how we are interdependent with the universe. Spend some time in meditation this week with these two writings to deepen your understand of yourself and the world.

Prayer of the Four Immeasurables
“May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
May all beings never be separated from the supreme joy that is beyond all sorrow
May all beings abide in equanimity, free from bias, attachment, and aversion.”

Resources Used:
The Transformation of Suffering – An essay co-authored by Jerry Harney and Roger Irwin
Three Refuges: Coming in our of the storm – An essay co-authored by Jerry Harney and Roger Irwin
www.pbs.org/edens/thailand/buddhism.htm Basics of Buddhism
https://facts.net/buddhism/ Top 20 Buddhism Facts – Types, History, Beliefs
June 17, 2015
www..cnn.com/2013/11/11/world/buddhism-fast-facts/index.html Buddhism Fast Facts August 26, 2018
http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199663835.do Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction