June 2017  -  Meditation Newsletter from Vipassanā Fellowship

"True love weighs all alike: where true love reigns, no man seeks preferment, no man steals from his well-beloved, accounting all such things to be with himself which are with his friend."   - Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540)

Meditation Newsletter
Buddha Statue
July 2017 - additional course

Vipassanā Fellowship's meditation course has been offered online for 20 years and we are happy to announce that, for the first time, we will be offering an additional summer course. The course runs for 10 weeks and begins on July 1st. Do join us.

The course is an opportunity to learn to meditate or to refresh and deepen an existing practice. We focus on developing a fruitful and sustainable meditation practice inspired by over 2,500 years of tradition but appropriate for today's lives in many cultural contexts. Many people have found it to be an inspiring and supportive way to begin a new year of practice.

The session serves as a practical introduction to samatha (tranquillity or serenity) and vipassanā (insight) techniques. Intended primarily for beginners - of any faith or none - the course is also suitable for experienced meditators who wish to explore different aspects of the tradition. The emphasis is on building a balanced meditation practice that is compatible with home life.

The course offers daily material for each of the 10 weeks, interaction between participants and support from the tutor. Participants also have access to audio guided meditations and chants to support the text. The course will be led by UK based meditation teacher Andrew Quernmore, a meditator with more than 35 years' experience.

The course begins on July 1st and ends on September 8th. Application details and further information is available here:

http://www.vipassana.com/course/

 

Parisā

Each month our Parisa members focus on a particular topic from the tradition. Over the year we cover practical meditation, cultural background and philosophical topics to help nourish our ongoing daily meditation practice. Parisa is a dispersed community of dedicated meditators around the world who have come together through engaging in one of Vipassana Fellowship's 10 or 12 week meditation courses. If you recently finished one of our courses this is an excellent way to nurture your ongoing practice.

http://www.vipassana.com/parisa/

 

Relating Religions

By Bhikkhu Khantipālo

 

In the past, many people knew only about their own religion which might have been the majority faith in the area where they were living. Only in those parts of the world where two or more of the great religions overlapped was there some possibility of people knowing beliefs other than their own. Even then, for reasons of narrow dogmatism and ignorance—especially in the West—few would know the religion of others well.

Now things are different. With quick and easy transportation and the translation and printing of many religious scriptures, people are faced with a great variety of choices in religion. We can distinguish various responses to this situation. Some are puzzled and doubtful when they are confronted with what may seem to be a Babel of religious opinions. They are unable to decide what should be believed, like the intelligent people called the Kālāmas in India more than 2500 years ago. It is recorded in the Discourse to the Kālāmas (in the Buddhist scripture called the Pali Canon: Aṅguttara-nikāya III 65) that once when Lord Buddha was travelling through the lands of the Kālāma people, he came to their town of Kesaputta. The Kālāmas knew of his great reputation and went out of the town to meet him. After they had greeted him and sat down, here is what they said: “Lord, certain ascetics and brahmins come to Kesaputta. As to their own doctrine, they illustrate and illuminate it in full, but as to the doctrine of others, they abuse it, revile it, deprecate it and pull it to pieces. Moreover, Lord, yet others ascetics and brahmins on coming to Kesaputta do the same thing. When we listen to them, Lord, we have doubt and uncertainty as to which of these revered ascetics is speaking truth and which speaks falsehood.“ The Buddha’s reply was perfectly to the taste of the sceptical Kālāmas: “Yes, Kālāmas, you may well doubt, you may well be uncertain. In a doubtful matter uncertainty does arise.” The ten criteria which one should not take at the basis of religious belief, which follow in the Buddha’s reply, would take us too far away from the present subject though they should be read and contemplated by everyone having a faith. The Kālāma’s scepticism was intelligent and though it did not give them any certain way to practise, it did protect them from the dogmatists. The attitude of the Kālāmas is quite common today, for as in their time there are now so many teachings available.

Quite another attitude is represented by the “ascetics and brahmins” mentioned above. We have all met with religious teachers who “illustrate and illuminate their own doctrine in full, but the doctrine of others, they abuse it, revile it, deprecate it and pull it to pieces.” Perhaps such a destructive and hate-rooted method of dealing with others’ religions was more popular in the West in past centuries than in the present. But there are still many examples to be found today in Western countries, some among traditional and extreme churches and some among those of extreme political persuasions. In the days of the Buddha, the brahmins saw themselves as the guardians of religious orthodoxy and it is recorded many times in Buddhist scriptures that they made statements like “Only this is truth: all else falsehood” about dogma which they accepted and wished others to accept (such as the superiority of the brahmin caste and the efficacy of great animal sacrifices). So the second way of looking at religions is to defend one’s own beliefs fiercely and reject others’ faiths without examination. This is likely to be the approach of people who have the “faith-character” strongest in them and are weak in the “wisdom-character.” Blind faith like this is dangerous as it teams up easily with strong aversion, leading to intolerance, even to persecution and so-called religious killings.

If this were the only approach possible between different religions then unending conflict between those which are dogmatic and based only upon beliefs must continue. But there are other approaches, and next we can consider one which is the opposite extreme of the exclusive approach above. We could call it the “inclusive” approach, the aim of which is to make all religions one. Here we can distinguish two popular methods. The first is tried by the man who has no particular religious scheme in mind but just wishes to fit all religions together. So he takes such concepts as appeal to him and seem to be similar, and then relates them together, telling himself and others: “This equals that.” He does this either on the basis of rational thought with knowledge gained by study, or on the basis of a mystical experience which he may not have completely understood, or wrongly evaluated. The mixture concocted by him will be viewed with some doubts by those who have studied better or meditated deeper than he has. Such a mixture must be subjective and unstable, depending to a great degree on a person’s character at the time of its concoction. This approach is known as kitcheree-dharma in India, kitcheree being a kind of Bengali stew with many ingredients. Although it seems to bring harmony between various religions, really it does so only by blurring differences and ignoring what is dissimilar, just as in kitchereethe various chopped up vegetables stewed in a thick soup come to look like each other but examination with the tongue will tell the taster, “Ah, this is potato; this is …” and so on. Kitcheree-dharma is popular just now, even with ecumenical Christians, but really it should be called obscurantism and to make it work one must ignore some facts. (And ’to ignore’ implies ignorance, not Enlightenment).

The second method here is pursued by people who do have a religious scheme in which others’ faiths are accommodated. It is a case of the bed of Procrustes. Procrustes was the name of a fabulous robber who fitted victims to his bed by stretching them or by mutilation. (“procrustean” is defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as “tending to produce uniformity by violent methods (from Greek, lit. ’stretcher’).” Their methods, of course, do not involve physical violence but violence is certainly done by them to the tenets of others’ religions in order that they fit into the scheme. A mild example of this has been the brahminical scheme of avatars (descents or incarnations of God) into which the Buddha was degraded as ninth avatar of Vishnu in late mediaeval India. More recent attempts at this sort of thing may come to the minds of readers. It is usually done for the glorification of one’s own teacher who in this scheme is pictured as the pinnacle towards which all other teachers lead. At this rate, only one’s own teacher is worth listening to as he has proclaimed the highest and final revelation, all other teachers being only his precursors. Obviously, the procrustean method must be used a great deal to make such a system workable.

Will it bring peace and harmony? Believers in these various schemes may think that it will. But what about those believers who have their own religions “stretched or mutilated” by such schemes? Are they not likely to feel hurt? It was not done with their consent, and very likely it is not in accordance with what their teachers have said. So have they not reason to feel hurt? This is where such violent methods cannot possibly produce harmony. But such schemers will even say in effect to the believers, “Oh, you do not understand your own teacher. We understand him though!” But is this likely to be so? If one wants to track this approach down to psychological motivations, a need for security is one part while the unwholesome mental factor of conceit is another.

People who employ a view such as “all-religions-are-one” are not “faith-characters.” In Buddhist psychology they would be called ”discursive-thought-characters” who tend to construct views, and unfortunately, views like this are a hindrance to developing true insight-wisdom and prevent the attainment of the viewless enlightenment. However, the results of this approach are much milder than the first. Whereas that has given rise to bloodshed and war in order to defend authority and orthodoxy (whatever these happen to be), this latter approach produces what one might call ”octopus religion”—the various attempts at all-embracing systems. The idea is not to kill off your opponents but simply to absorb them. Though this is more peaceful, who wants to be digested by another body.

May I suggest that these two extremes are both unsatisfactory as ways of relating religions together. But there is a third and very practical alternative, which is at the same time truly non-violent. Throughout history, this has been the Buddhist way of living harmoniously with men of all faiths, but one does not have to be a Buddhist to apply it to oneself, just a man of goodwill. It is simply this: “This person is a Christian, that one a Hindu, this one a Muslim, that one a Buddhist—towards all of them develop and radiate metta (loving-kindness). Be glad that they have something good for their lives. Treat them and their beliefs gently—do not hurt them or try to change them in any way. Let Christians be good Christians and full of the spirit of charity. Let Muslims be good Muslims and live at peace with others. Let Hindus be good Hindus and practise their religion with ahiṃsa (non-violence), and Buddhists be good Buddhists rejoicing in the religious riches of their neighbours. Mettaor loving-kindness is the kind of love which is not limited by one’s own desires, even those subtle wishes to make other people conform to one’s own beliefs. It cannot grow in the heart which has such biases. But it can overcome aversions and hatreds so that all beings, human or otherwise, become one’s friends. With all human beings as one’s friends one neither wishes to suppress them nor to absorb them. May they all be happy!”

Is this not the best way to relate together all the diverse people of this world, and so, their diverse religions?

The Buddha has said in the Dhammapada:

“Not by enmity at any time are those with enmity here stilled: by non-enmity are they stilled—this is an everlasting Law.”

Source: BPS, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Bodhi Leaves No. 82. (1979). Edited for this newsletter.

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Image: Buddha Statue by George Hodan (p.d.)

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