A friendly study of the world's religions is a sacred duty
. -Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The rhythm

On the lonely side of Mount T'ai, Confucius heard the mourning wail of a woman. Asked why she wept she replied, "My husband's father was killed here by a tiger, my husband also, and now my son as met the same fate." "Then why do you dwell in such a dreadful place?" Confucius asked. "Because here there is no oppressive ruler," the woman replied. "Never forget, scholars," said Confucius to his disciples, "that an oppressive ruler is more cruel than a tiger." -The World's Religions, Huston Smith, page 177.

Confucius was indeed an enlightened storyteller. His stories, idioms, parables, teachings, wisdoms and ideas are an integral part of China. Confucius is not alone, however, in deeply influencing Chinese culture and society -- he is as essential as Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism.

In this week's prompt, we're asked to discuss the most important aspects of Confucianism and Taoism, then write about how believers of either one could adhere to both.

Confucius taught that "you are never alone when you act" because everything you do affects someone else in one way or another. He taught that all relationships (his Five Constant Relationships: parent/child, husband/wife, elder/younger sibling, elder/junior friend and ruler/subject) must be correctly upheld and doing well, or happy, or good. If all of these relationships reach perfection, so will society's health as a whole. In Taoism, one sense of Tao is the "way of the universe", the rhythm; it is the soul of the universe and it endlessly continues with determination and purpose. Would it not benefit the Tao of the universe to make sure all of your relationships were rightly upheld? It would contribute to the healthy flow of the universe and strengthen it's Tao. Hence, the two philosophies cooperate and compliment each other.

Another very important Confucius teaching is that of Li -- it's first meaning is propriety, or adhering to established terms of refinement or correct manners. Confucius wanted to have certain models of society so that the general public could look to them and learn. You might say he valued a knowledgeable society, one that sought great examples and followed them. In Philosophical Taoism, also known as "School Taoism" in China, knowledge follows philosophy. Knowledge is wisdom and when you are wise, in Taoist belief, you are better able to conserve "life's vitality" or energy, it's ch'i. One who studies both Confucianism and Taoism could pattern his or her life after some who is intelligent, wise, calm and proper, and in doing so would be an All-Confucianist and All-Taoist at the same time and wouldn't break the rhythm of either religion.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hinduism and Buddha

Hinduism is one of the great religions of the world. It is a complex religion with many gods, goddesses, choices, consequences, rituals, goals, and rewards. Much of the religion focuses on samsara (the vicious cycle of life, death, rebirth) and how to achieve moksha (liberty from samsara). The "life" part of samsara is where we learn how we must have done in our previous life, are we currently of the Brahmins? Kshatriyas? Vaishyas? Shudras? Dalits? Those being, respectively, the priests, warriors, householders, servants and controversially the untouchables. These are the castes of Hindu society that cannot be broken free from; if you were born a Kshatriya, you will die (this time around) a Kshatriya. Higher caste, better person you must have been in your previous life. Samsara, moksha, and castes are three major aspects of Hinduism.

Sometime around 500 BCE, a young prince was born who would put his own spin on Hinduism.

Buddha. Born to a king and queen in India somewhere between 563 and 483 BCE, Siddhartha Gautama (later to become Buddha) was wealthy, educated, handsome, and Hindu. As a young teenager he would often take rides around the country which his father had planned, making sure the young prince would never encounter any sign of death, sickness, or ugliness. One particular ride, however, the young prince mistakenly came upon an old, sick man. This was the first time Siddhartha Gautama realized that there was more to life than perishable things and beauty.

Gautama had had an educated upbringing and was familiar with all the aspects of Hinduism including the different paths to moksha (path of devotion, path of action, path of knowledge). He joined with the Hindi ascetics on the path of knowledge (jnana yoga) -- those that renounced all they had, even declared themselves dead to their own families, in search of truth, knowledge, enlightenment and moksha. He gave jnana yoga his best shot. With intense dicipline and self mastery, Gautama would fast until near death, hold his breath until his face turned blue, all in an attempt to master his own self, renounce everything physical, and reach enlightenment. Despite his unbroken will and severe truth seeking, the extreme asceticism never helped the young man reach true enlightenment; however, he truly appreciated the knowledge he had gained and the peace that meditation brought him.

Hindu practices and beliefs truly set Siddartha Gautama up to becoming Buddha. He was taught to seek truth by the Hindu religion. He was taught to love truth more than perishable, finite things and pleasure. He was taught to act and therefore tried out the way of knowledge and gave asceticism a fair shot. In the end, he found a "better" way -- the middle way, of moderation, peace, nothing too extreme, freedom from humanness, the true path to awakening. He became Buddha. He founded Buddhism.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

John Shore stirs it up

Huffingtonpost.com/religion is a crazy place! There are a million blog posts about a million subjects and I was to choose one to read and think about. Well, I read about eight articles/blog posts and picked one I found, well, amusing. Win Friends and Influence People by Condemning Others and Speaking for God. His title alone makes it clear that the author, John Shore, has attitude, but is, unfortunately, how some extreme Christians feel (condemn others and speak for God). But how can you condemn kind, wise, religious people if you believe in God? Shore has written a handful of books, articles and blog posts that I looked over and seems to be somewhat of a comedian. He is a Christian himself -- a liberal, tolerant, world-loving Christian (and I think that's kind of like me!). I decided that this would be the article to write about today because John Shore and I have something in common: everyone gets to choose what they believe and not a single soul should be made to feel bad about it.

The blog post, you should read it, is extremely sarcastic. The entire five paragraph post is pure sarcasm. The whole thing! I felt like he might have been prompted to write it by Pastor Jones' idea to burn copies of the Quran. He sarcastically claims that the best thing to do for a "non-Christian" friend, is tell them they're wrong and will burn eternally if they don't get to know "the real God". Of course that's not Shore's true meaning. He says that the best way to make someone really happy is to point out all their faults. Yeah right! (Although I do think constructive criticism is a good thing -- it's all about the right time and the right place!)

I'm sure his true meaning, behind the sarcasm, is just exactly the opposite of the words he uses. If you truly love someone, you will share what you believe, sure! But you won't be belittling or mean or abrasive or prideful. God means a lot of things to a lot of people. I personally believe in Jesus Christ and that He was the literal Son of God, our Heavenly Father. But if my best friend is a Muslim and doesn't believe that same thing, then I would love nothing more than to sit down with her and talk about what she does believe and together realize how many things we have in common.

I like John Shore, I think. Maybe I'll go check out one of his books...

To tell you what I'm doing

"If you cannot -- in the long run -- tell everyone what you have been doing, your doing has been worthless." -Erwin Schrodinger

Om. So here I am! And this is what I'm doing! I'm happy to tell you, actually, about all of this and hope you find that it gets you thinking about some of the things I'm thinking about. And what I'm thinking about is the world's religions; the captivating, spectacular, sometimes peculiar, wonderful, vast and enormous list of the world's religions. I'll have responses to prompts from my World Religions class professor where I will get to think and then write about Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Confucianism and Taoism. As I learn about the religions and people of the world, I'm sure to learn more of my own little place in it.