Interfaith Practice and the Dalai Lama

Discussion in 'Belief and Spirituality' started by path_of_one, Sep 27, 2009.

  1. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    Yesterday, I received teaching with some 12000 other people from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Long Beach Arena. It's been an interesting year, as this is the third big event I've attended. I first went to see Amma when she was in Seattle and then attended the first national Druid Gorsedd for Lughnasadh. In all three cases, there was an interfaith mix (more or less) and I got to see some interesting ways that this diversity was handled while retaining the distinct flavor of each spiritual tradition.

    What struck me about the Dalai Lama was his openness and joy in religious diversity, and his willingness to assist people in using spiritual practices in ways that could be altered to suit their own religious tradition.

    For some time before his lecture on the Four Noble Truths (which was delivered in Tibetan and translated), he spoke in English about the necessity of religious diversity to accommodate the natural and cultural diversity of human beings. He spoke frankly about the wide variety of religious philosophies and their differences, but also said that at their heart, all useful religions helped people on a path of love and happiness. He radiated acceptance, while still remaining firm about the need for honesty with oneself, avoidance of hypocrisy, and commitment to practicing one's religion for the good of all beings.

    In the afternoon, he led the Amitabha Buddha initiation, a series of visualizations and meditations designed to lead pracitioners into union of themselves and the Amitabha Buddha. What really struck me was his thoughtful inclusion of diversity while retaining the purity of Buddhist tradition for himself and Buddhist practitioners. He did not change the initiation to suite everyone's needs, but neither did he ignore the thousands of people before him that were Jewish, Sikh, Christian, Pagan, and so forth. Instead, he guided people in ways of altering the interior visualizations to fit with their own religious tradition. For example, he encouraged non-Buddhists to pick a spiritual teacher or master to visualize in place of the Amitabha Buddha.

    At the end, in a powerful act that brought me to tears, thousands upon thousands of people knelt and vowed to serve all sentient beings. And as the Buddhists claimed refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the sangha... so too could I claim refuge in my masters, my way of harmony, and my spiritual community. There was a profound sense of unity of purpose and flowering of human potential and compassion, yet without any deviation from either the Buddhist tradition and without any feeling that one could not remain true to one's own non-Buddhist tradition.

    I think it was one of the most amazing interfaith practices I have ever seen- rising beyond debate, yet embracing difference without qualm. It was a universal act of changing one's attitude, consciousness, and dedication to compassion without any necessity of changing one's tradition.

    I was so inspired... I had to share and this seemed the place to do it. (Well, my Facebook friends got the three-liner version. :))

    Do you think there is a place for these kinds of interfaith practices? Why or why not? Is there a potential for greater unity without losing all our distinctive histories, traditions, and philosophies? How could we practice in this way in our everyday lives and communities? Or does it take the Dalai Lama gathering 10000+ people in a culturally diverse but reasonably tolerant place like southern California?
     
  2. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti Well-Known Member

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    Good to see you again,
    Fist of all, it appears the Dalai Lama may not be as tolerant as we might want to believe. There is a ban and active persecution of Dorje Shugden Buddhist practitioners in Tibet, over which the Dalai Lama has presided by ideological remote control:
    I have meditated and considered (my decision to put aside the Shugden) at length in my soul and spirit before coming to the right decision....These monks must be expelled from all monasteries. If they are not happy, you can tell them that the Dalai Lama himself asked that this be done, and it is very urgent.
    France 24 | The Dalai Lama's demons | France 24


    The vow to work for the benefit of all sentient beings is a Buddhist vow that presumably reflects a Buddhist understanding of compassion and the nature of existence. In the past the Dalai Lama seems to have tried to make this a generic thing. In fact, in 2005 he evidently did not see much of a connection between religion and ethics. As a result, compassion appears as one secular value among others. I'm not sure he sees an "interfaith practice" where you see one:
    By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry. Rather, I am speaking of what I call 'secular ethics' that embrace the key ethical principles, such as compassion, tolerance, a sense of caring, consideration of others, and the responsible use of knowledge and power -- principles that transcend the barriers between religious believers and nonbelievers, and followers of this religion or that religion.
    Don't you end up with a secular practice once you disconnect the practice from its theological origins? So does that mean the effort to be "interfaith" ends up diluting the guiding principle?
     
  3. Eudaimonist

    Eudaimonist In Galt We Trust

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    What were his words here? What precisely did he mean by the word "serve"? Did he simply mean be kind and considerate to others, or was he demanding much more? Or was he leaving the interpretation open to others?

    Perhaps, but only to a limited extent. You can try to find commonalities and help reduce tensions in this way, but you can never get rid of the tensions completely without a dilution of religious "histories, traditions, and philosophies". And individuals will vary to the extent that they desire "unity" with other religions.


    eudaimonia,

    Mark
     
  4. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Path,

    That was a very inspiring story. Thanks for sharing it with us. I think there is plenty of room for these kinds of interfaith practices. Perhaps Southern California is more condusive to such things, but let us all be inspired by what has happend, and strive for such interfaith practices in our own area, no matter how small and "anti-interfaith" our local area may be.
     
  5. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti Well-Known Member

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    "thousands upon thousands of people knelt and vowed to serve all sentient beings"
    Mark,

    I read this as suggesting that some people who attended the event may have been doing an outward affirmation of a Buddhist vow that they didn't necessarily understand.

    Normally, certain Buddhist initiations and rituals are not done in public. Maybe I'm overreacting here, but I'm having trouble with the idea of turning them into public demonstrations that apparently involve the participation of non-Buddhists.

    I'm not sure you can have "interfaith" appreciaton without recognizing the need to protect a religious tradition in fairly traditional ways - like having a sacred space for religious practice. I suppose you could say that you can create a sacred space anywhere.....
     
  6. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    Have you heard any Buddhists complain about the Dalai Lama's action?

    Regarding sacred spaces: God knows what's in my heart. Isn't that really what counts? If your heart's not right, then how will an external sacred space fix that? When you drink from a cup, isn't it more important to make sure that the inside of the cup is clean than it is the outside of the cup?
     
  7. Dream

    Dream Well-Known Member

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    Wow Po1,
    that really sounds like how I envision baptism. What I think about things is in flux most of the time; however my opinions on baptism seem to be approaching an isocline. "Methinks" (to quote seattlegal) that this is the actual underlying dedication in baptism, to serve all sentient beings. The washing, the unclothed state, the subscription to a body larger than oneself. I guess the main difference is that the verbiage of baptism is more complex, so there are more interpretations of it. All I am saying is that this seems to me similar to baptism.
     
  8. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti Well-Known Member

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    What is your point?

    Of course it is. But historically people have used outward ritual and the arrangement of space to help them make the creation of inner sacred space more visible. Are you saying all such practices should be abandoned because they don't really matter?

    It wouldn't be a fix. But that doesn't mean a purifying ritual in outward form can't be an helpful mimetic way to express and symbolize the inner work.

    See my above response.
     
  9. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    I'm asking if only non-Buddhists have a problem with the Dalai Lama's action.

    Hey, one tried and true method of cleaning a cup would be to immerse it in water and scrub it down, so I'm not saying to abandon such practices. (However, can you drink from the cup while it is immersed in the dishwater?)

    It would be a matter of faith, then, and how strong the person's desire to not backslide would be then, no? (Wouldn't that mean being pure of heart?) :confused:
    (Although it does help that the dishwater is clean when you immerse your cup in it to wash it. Greasy residue from dirty dishwater isn't really desirable.)


    Hey, if you want your tea to taste like spaghetti and red curry paste, far be it for me to complain. :p
     
  10. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti Well-Known Member

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    Not sure why you'd ask me.

    Did you check the Buddhist discussion forums or Buddhist blogs?
     
  11. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti Well-Known Member

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    Umm, you were asking about Buddhists: "Have you heard any Buddhists complain about the Dalai Lama's action?" (Post #6).

    I did look at some Buddhist discussion forums and blogs and there was no mention of these big Dalai Lama's events. What do you make of it? (Is silence always assent?)
     
  12. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    if a=b


    and b=c

    then a=c and Netti is a Buddhist !!

    Is my logic here correct :D ??
     
  13. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti Well-Known Member

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    You are a clear thinker. We need that on this forum!
     
  14. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    It was one version of the Boddhisattva vow. This was a Buddhist Amitabha initiation that was preceded by about three and a half hours of lecture on the four noble truths, emptiness, the bodhicitta consciousness (I can't remember the exact word he used) and what the vow meant. I would guess anyone paying attention understood what they were doing, which is why everyone did not do it- just a good chunk of folks.

    What he encouraged was that if one was non-Buddhist but wished to commit to pursuing enlightenment in order to serve all sentient beings, that one modify the visualizations in a way that one envisioned one's own spiritual master in place of the Amitabha Buddha. It was clear, however, what one was vowing to do. This is why it was so, so moving to me. I was vowing, with many others, to pursue my enlightenment and to remain in service until all sentient beings no longer suffered. If it had been merely a "yeah, I'll be nice to folks" it wouldn't have had the same impact to me.

    From what I got out of the experience as a non-Buddhist was a clear understanding of what the Buddhist concepts behind it were (which I was already familiar with, but got more detail) and what the vow meant to a Buddhist. But I was given the latitude to vow this service under my own tradition and spiritual masters.

    I am not sure, now that I think of it, that it would have the same meaning for a person who does not believe in reincarnation. Like Buddhists, I felt I was dedicating myself to pursuing enlightenment and then remaining in service to all sentient beings for all lifetimes until all no longer suffer. For me at least, I understood the ramifications of this and I felt it was a huge decision I had already made, but was ultimately powerful to vow with thousands of others from varied traditions. To me, it was a sense of unity in a higher purpose, no matter what our traditions and philosophies. I can't speak on behalf of someone who may only feel they have one life to give and if it would have the same impact. To vow to delay nirvana (or its equivalent, as I am not Buddhist, so I have other ideas about the possibilities) in order to serve others is a decision I wouldn't imagine people would make lightly.

    However, of course, I cannot speak for how others perceived the event or how serious they were. I believe that words have a certain power, and so it is possible that even a person who was not entirely grasping what they were doing could be helped toward the ultimate work through taking such a vow, which would have ramifications in their consciousness over time.
     
  15. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    I can't speak for intrafaith issues (i.e., the promotion or tolerance of various sects within Buddhism), but I can say that he has been very clear in a wide variety of lectures and writings about his tolerance and even promotion of the various world religions in general.

    He routinely encourages people to engage deeply with their own tradition, if possible, rather than converting. He has likened religious diversity to biological diversity, saying that humanity's existence and hope for ending suffering is dependent on our religious diversity.

    I do not know how he feels about diversity within Buddhism. It may be that, like we find in Christianity, there are people who feel there are more or less narrow acceptable ways of being authentically of that faith while tolerating diversity more broadly among others.

    I wouldn't say he made it generic at this particular event. He thoroughly explained the concepts behind the vow and the way Buddhists view things like compassion and the self/no-self. He just allowed for diversity in how participants might wish to visualize the process and recognized a valid capacity among people of varied faith traditions to vow to serve in this way.

    I am not sure if you've read the "Art of Happiness" but he goes into some detail of religion vs. ethics vs. spirituality. It's actually quite interesting and helpful in delineating his views on human behavior. His views are not much different from common anthropological distinctions- primarily that religion has to do with communally held traditions, beliefs, and practices and that spirituality has to do with the individual journey (generally within a religion, but not necessarily so). Ethics are tied to religion and enhanced by spirituality, but are a domain that also overlap with other social systems, such as politics. As these categories are pretty much universally found in human cultures, I am not sure that such distinctions are separating things that were once unified (i.e., removing some things from theological origins) as much as recognizing that there has ever been an overlap and a separation- like a Venn diagram.

    That's an interesting point. I can see how it would be alarming or offensive to some Buddhists to have a ritual in public with non-Buddhists, if these are usually done privately and without non-Buddhists.

    To be honest, I didn't really think about it, as most Buddhists I've know were pretty open-ended about their tradition and interfaith practice. I've seen a lot of movement between Judaism and Buddhism, as well as Paganism and Buddhism. This may well be a uniquely Western phenomenon though, and even particularly a West Coast phenomenon- as Asian influence meets a generally diverse and tolerant crowd.

    This probably depends a lot on the tradition. Some religions seem to be very tied to particular places and arrangement of space, and others do not. As a Druid, for example, you really can create sacred space anywhere, since part of ritual is the arrangement and consecration of space. However, it is common among Pagans to have no single place of ritual and to practice outdoors when possible, which means parks, woods, backyards are all pressed into service. I realize Buddhism has a very rich material culture, but I was unaware that certain rituals should be (or routinely are) practiced only in certain consecrated places. If the Amitabha Buddha initiation is generally done in particular places, I can certainly understand how it would be a concern to do it at the Long Beach Arena. :eek:
     
  16. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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  17. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Not of praxis per se – a practice outside of the tradition is essentially meaningless. It might give the participants a warm and lovely feeling, but as they don't understand or embrace what's going on...

    A general agreement however is something else, and this is probably what occurred. Again, as it's the Dalai Lama you're going to get a certain type in the audience ... so as a public statement, I thinks it's commendable, and who knows what effect it might have, but as an interfaith project per se, no, I don't think so.

    As Netti-Netti points out, within the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition there is orthodoxy and there is error, and as a spiritual leader he is required to challenge and act when error occurs ... but then he's dealing with those who've embraced a tradition, rather than those who embrace an idea.

    The Dalai Lama is not a great fan of conversion, either. Someone once in an audience told him he had converted from Christianity, with which he had a problem; the Dalai Lama replied that if he hadn't found what he was looking for in Christianity, he was unlikely to find it in Buddhism, and suggested the problem lay with him.

    There's a talk by the Dalai Lama to the Dominican community in Oxford here, in which he speaks of being among friends, and compares the ideas of the two traditions. That is interfaith in my book.

    Thomas
     
  18. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti Well-Known Member

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    Elsewhere I noted that communion is what the Catholic mass is all about. Most of the mass is actually preparation for it. The question is how much preparation is enough before the person is ready to go through a ritual. If the timing of an initiation rite is almost entirely determined by the Dalai Lama's willingness to officiate it that day at a big event like that, the whole issue of becoming personally prepared is out the window.


    Where does Netti-Netti point this out? :)


    I'm not sure how one can participate in a ritual officiated by the Dalai Lama without accepting his authority. Unless you don't take the ritual seriously (in which case you have no real reason to be participating), you are in effect demonstrating your attachment to the Dalai Lama's authority as well as to the Tibetan Buddhist religion. I think this is why it is generally considered bad form to participate in other people's religious proceedings. You can attend a worship service, but ordinarily it is inappropriate to go through the motions of ritual unless you are actually part of that religious community and demonstrating your commitment to its standards by observing its customs and rituals.
     
  19. wil

    wil UNeyeR1 Moderator

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    Namaste Thomas,

    As to your last statement is this something you are agreeing with or just commenting that it was said?

    As to the first, this may be in some cases, some times, but I don't believe in all cases all times. The benefit may not be as great as that that a believer receives, but essentially meaningless? I guess I just hold warm and lovely feelings a little higher. And also think that changes happen incrementally and that event could be the impetus for a huge change in the future...planting seeds ya know.
     
  20. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    I would agree that preparation for a ritual is necessary. I suspect that the necessary amount of preparation necessary for the ritual would be a function of the person's understanding and faith. (Acts 10 comes to mind. (However, I will admit that the great bulk of the preparation for the baptism of the gentiles was spiritual in action, and behind the scenes, in this case.)


    That really makes a lot of sense, especially when it comes to an initiation ceremony.

    However, the Dalai Lama did direct the non-Buddhists to think about these things in the terms of their own religion. (These ones would not be entering into the Buddhist community, but the sympathetic effect of thinking about the same thing in their own tradition could be a powerful boost to those undergoing the actual initiation. Just their seeing the amount of strength and support available for them from outside the Buddhist community could be a great factor in helping them through any rough times they might have ahead with their vows. They can have faith not only in those from within the Buddhist community, but also in sympathizers from outside the Buddhist community.

    Is there any harm in that?
     

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