Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Konchog1 » Mon Oct 07, 2013 7:05 am

While we're on the subject, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus is fully compatible with Buddhism. It mostly focuses accepting impermanence and death, as well as sense restraint.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby oushi » Mon Oct 07, 2013 7:35 am

Konchog1 wrote:While we're on the subject, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus is fully compatible with Buddhism. It mostly focuses accepting impermanence and death, as well as sense restraint.

There are few differences, but I enjoyed reading him anyway.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby shaunc » Mon Oct 07, 2013 8:08 am

plwk wrote:This topic somewhat reminds me of the Ven Master Zhèng Yán who's known as the other 'Mother Teresa', founder of the international Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Association and her encounter with some Roman Catholic nuns which led to the Tzu Chi's founding...
http://tw.tzuchi.org/en/index.php?optio ... Itemid=198
One day in 1966, while Dharma Master Cheng Yen was visiting a patient at a small local clinic, she saw a pool of blood on the floor. Dharma Master Cheng Yen was told that the blood was from an indigenous woman suffering from labor complications. Her family had carried her from their mountain village. They had been walking for eight hours, but when they arrived at the hospital, they did not have the NT$8,000 (then US$200) required fee. They could only carry her back untreated. Hearing this, Dharma Master Cheng Yen was overwhelmed with sorrow. She thought to herself: as an impoverished monastic barely supporting herself, what could she do to help these poor people?

A short time later, three Catholic nuns visited Dharma Master Cheng Yen, and they had a discussion on the teachings of their respective religions. When Dharma Master Cheng Yen explained that Buddhism teaches love and compassion for all living beings, the nuns commented: Why have we not seen Buddhists doing good works for the society, such as setting up nursing homes, orphanages, and hospitals?

The nuns' message struck a deep chord with Dharma Master Cheng Yen. Buddhism, she responded, teaches people to do good deeds without seeking recognition. However, she knew in her heart that without organization, what could be accomplished was very limited.
Of course, if only the Ven Master knew how long it took the Christians themselves to be socially engaged in their own history before they start talking about others.. So in this case, Christian influence? I dunno but in interfaith interactions, the two global faiths sure have done much and have more to do...
In some modern Buddhist traditions a distaste for rituals, 'superfluous iconography' and archaic liturgy (Protestant influences).

I doubt it's about the Protestants and perhaps more about the administrators of centres/temples, especially the minimalist ones, both in the East and West, who want a more modern and simplified outlook. Let's not forget too easily that the Protestants themselves have no generic nor cookie cutter definitions of ritual, liturgy and iconography. Ranging from the high church traditions of the Church of England and the Old Lutherans to the open air and format-less revival style, one should specify which ones are being referred to.

And the monastic/contemplative system found in Christianity? Was this in imitation of Christ or the Buddhists or other Eastern religious influence?


The Buddhists have actually had about 500 years more than the Christians/Catholics to get organised.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby jeeprs » Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:47 am

Indrajala wrote:The view that the Pali canon best represents an original Buddhism via a historical Buddha, and that this is worth adhering to as a pure or authentic Buddhism (getting to the "true teachings" of the Buddha, not unlike getting to the original teachings of Christ).


Actually one very influential person - actually two, now I think of it - who exemplified this tendency were Mr and Mrs Rhys Davids, founder and then long-time editor of the Pali Text society. T.W. Rhys Davids was very much of the view that the development of Buddhism paralleled what he saw as the 'degeneration' of the Christian teaching, with Tibetan Buddhism being a parallel to Catholic cults and worship of saints, and so on.

It should also be remembered that 'modern Buddhism' got started in Ceylon following the Panadura Debates between Buddhist scholastics and Christian missionaries, which, by most accounts, the Buddhists won convincingly. But then, through characters such as Anagarika Dhammapala, Buddhism effectively adopted many of the teaching methodologies of their Christian opponents.

This also fed into the Enlightenment narrative of progress, science and rationality, within which Buddhism was presented by Rhys Davids, as a rational religion, which formed the basis of what Lopez and others have called 'Protestant Buddhism' created around the following 'master narratives':

    Buddhism did not assert nor depend on the existence of God;
    * It possessed a moral ideal which was not dependent on superstition but which could be construed as ‘natural law’;
    * It posited no God or Gods who were able to subvert or alter this law;
    * It depended on individual working out his/her own salvation;
    * Based on the heroic achievements of a human individual who found truth through his own efforts

Konchog1 wrote:While we're on the subject, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus is fully compatible with Buddhism. It mostly focuses accepting impermanence and death, as well as sense restraint.


That is very true, and the Stoics, generally, have many points in common with Buddhism. But they were, emphatically, not Christian. Many of their ideas became assimilated into subsequent Christian theology and culture, but at the time they saw themselves, wherever they encountered Christianity (and many of the main teachers were BC) as distinctly different from Christianity - as much as most Buddhists would.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Astus » Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:54 am

rory wrote:Western esotericism derived from Jewish and Christian magic and Kabbalism and that derived from Greek and Egyptian magical treatises (see the above).


I said "without having a direct contact with Buddhism or any Hindu religion" related to ancient philosophers. Also, "New Age ... is less an implementation of Indian thoughts than a renewal of Western esoteric ideas". Europeans knew about various Buddhist and Eastern ideas from the 16th century on. What I say is that the Western tradition, while had influence from Asia, it relied more on its own predecessors. And as an example I gave the idea of reincarnation, something that existed within the European tradition before Westerners started to colonise and convert Asian countries. I quoted ancient Christian writers only to show that they made no reference to any Indian thinker when refuting the idea of reincarnation, that is, they had no direct contact with India or other Asian territories. That in ancient times there was some sort of contact between India, Greece and the Romans is well known, but it does not mean any massive cultural influence. And even today, against all the popular books on Taoism, Yoga, Buddhism, etc., it is on one hand transformed in today's context, and they still represent only a minor and exotic aspect in Western thought.

And all that was just an example, as the topic is a supposed Christian influence on modern Buddhism, something that I don't see as an established fact.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby jeeprs » Mon Oct 07, 2013 10:20 am

It is worth mentioning that Henry Steele Olcott, co-founder (with Mdm Blavatsky) of the Theosophical Society, travelled to Ceylon and took lay ordination there. There are still stamps and streets named after him in Sri Lanka; and the Theosophical Society is also one of the main tributaries of the New Age.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby LastLegend » Mon Oct 07, 2013 11:40 am

I have heard Jesus was missing some years during life, and it was suspected that he went to India to study under a monk. Just a story I heard, so don't beat me up.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon Oct 07, 2013 12:21 pm

jeeprs wrote:... Buddhism effectively adopted many of the teaching methodologies of their Christian opponents.


It goes rather deep. Besides introducing Sunday school for youth, Theravada came up with the idea of engaged Buddhism where they, like the Catholics, would secure the faith of the masses by providing hospitals and schools. In India I've met Theravadin monks from eastern India who told me they thought they could secure the faith of the few Buddhists out there by providing desirable facilities like clinics.

Humanistic Buddhism is in some ways a response to the challenge of Catholic missionaries. Tzu Chi's founder Cheng Yen by her own admission was moved to action when Catholic nuns asked her what Buddhism does for people.

I think this movement towards socially engaged Buddhism around the world is actually a result of Buddhists not really believing in saṃsāra any longer. It used to be seen as worthwhile to provide institutions and so forth for people to work towards liberation from saṃsāra, but nowadays such goals are not really seen as worthwhile in many circles. Buddhism has to justify its existence by providing liberation from worldly stress and pastoral care.

Interestingly, Tibetan Buddhism, which was the last to "enter modernity" has the least of such visible influences. It is perfectly acceptable and encouraged for Tibetan Buddhists to go into long-term retreat and not give anything back, whereas such ventures would be regarded as selfish and even parasitic elsewhere in the Buddhist world.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Malcolm » Mon Oct 07, 2013 1:03 pm

Indrajala wrote:I think this movement towards socially engaged Buddhism around the world is actually a result of Buddhists not really believing in saṃsāra any longer.


I would hesitate to agree with this. Instead I think that "Engaged Buddhism" largely is an offshoot of three things, Gandhi's Satyagraha, the civil rights and antiwar movements in the late sixties and early seventies.

It used to be seen as worthwhile to provide institutions and so forth for people to work towards liberation from saṃsāra, but nowadays such goals are not really seen as worthwhile in many circles. Buddhism has to justify its existence by providing liberation from worldly stress and pastoral care..


You mention Tibet -- but you seem to fail to recognize that the success or failure of Tibetan monasteries was entirely dependent on the perceived efficacy of lamas in a monastery and providing medical services and pastoral, a.k.a, religious services to the laity. Those in retreat were always a minority. Lay people in Tibet for the most part never concerned much with liberation, doing the usual merit dance of lay Buddhists everywhere. In fact, there is an entire literature devoted to excoriating Tibetans lay and ordained alike for their "non-belief" samsara aka engagement in eight worldly dharmas.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon Oct 07, 2013 1:21 pm

Malcolm wrote:I would hesitate to agree with this. Instead I think that "Engaged Buddhism" largely is an offshoot of three things, Gandhi's Satyagraha, the civil rights and antiwar movements in the late sixties and early seventies.


But don't you think rationalization, disenchantment and secularism haven't played a role as well? A lot of Buddhists might nominally speak of saṃsāra, but in the face of rationalism it doesn't really seem like anything more than a religious fantasy. It is optional whether you take it seriously or not.

In Japan this is most evident where many Japanese Buddhist priests, even in a Buddhist university, deny rebirth and karma.

In such circumstances Buddhist institutions can justify themselves by providing solutions to alternative problems. This is a logical consequence to changed circumstance, yes, but I think this helps to explain the push towards socially engaged Buddhism. Saṃsāra just isn't seen as an issue worth investing your time and money in addressing. For many Buddhists they perhaps feel agnostic towards the concept (they might not even consciously realize this), so they'll have more interest in addressing mundane rather than supermundane issues.

The whole "Pure Land on Earth" movement in Chinese Buddhism is an interesting example because the uncertainties of saṃsāra and impermanence don't seem to largely factor into their plans. Perpetual progress towards the utopia of the pure land on Earth is seemingly regarded as certain provided everyone works hard and purifies their individual minds. The idea of everything going to hell just because that's how saṃsāra works isn't really part of their discussion as far as my experience and readings go.



You mention Tibet -- but you seem to fail to recognize that the success or failure of Tibetan monasteries was entirely dependent on the perceived efficacy of lamas in a monastery and providing medical services and pastoral, a.k.a, religious services to the laity.


Sure, but my point is really that of the modern extant forms of Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism seems the most willing to allow their valuable clergy to disappear into retreat for extended periods and even praising this. Elsewhere in the Buddhist world it isn't like this and I suspect the reason for it being that Tibetan Buddhism has the least amount of modern influences.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby rory » Tue Oct 08, 2013 1:27 am

I've had pious Buddhists at my local Fo Guang temple look at me in surprise when I said that I wanted this life to be my last birth: for the educated and properous samsara is great. I think that's the issue when things like famine, wars, etc are taken away and socialism, good medical care, equal rights are the norm then people consider Samsara a great place. Sure there is change but it's [i]good[i] change: mobile phones, gps. They don't consider immpermanece at all, as I don't think they deeply accept the Buddhist belief that life is unsatisfactory and full of suffering.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby smcj » Tue Oct 08, 2013 2:20 am

LastLegend wrote:I have heard Jesus was missing some years during life, and it was suspected that he went to India to study under a monk. Just a story I heard, so don't beat me up.

Not to beat you up, I just have some background info on that story.

That story comes from a Russian journalist named Nicolas Notovitch who visited a monastery in "Himis" (Where's that, Ladhak maybe?) in 1887. He and said the abbot told him about "the Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men", which he took to be Jesus. To make a long story short, when other people went to the same monastery and asked, the abbot said that yes, Notovitch had been there, but he'd never said any such thing about a Saint Issa. So when it was fact-checked, Notovitch's story fell apart. But Notovitch wrote it into a book, and it has been reprinted several times, so the story has legs.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby rory » Tue Oct 08, 2013 2:51 am

In light of the ongoing discussion it's useful to point out that Christianity's Jesus is as much a construct as humanistic buddhism. Here's a nice interview with Bart Ehrmann on historical Jesus
http://www.religiondispatches.org/books ... gies/5890/
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Kunzang » Tue Oct 08, 2013 6:49 am

Malcolm wrote:
Indrajala wrote:
There's a few more aspects I'd like to discuss:

- The view that the Pali canon best represents an original Buddhism via a historical Buddha, and that this is worth adhering to as a pure or authentic Buddhism (getting to the "true teachings" of the Buddha, not unlike getting to the original teachings of Christ).


Mostly an issue for Theravadins.



That's mostly correct. But also, and becoming more frequent, there's this same quest for the "original, thus truest" version of teachings going on in Vajrayana and, most recently, Dzogchen circles. It's actually been going on for a while with regard to discussions about Vajrayana and how it got compromised/sanitized in Tibet compared to its supposedly more transgressive character in India. Lately, of course, are the similar discussions about an original, uncompromising "stand alone", etc., Dzogchen tradition.

It might be that people are just becoming more historically nuanced in their thinking, or it might be considered that this is overall part of that same "Protestant project" of looking towards original sources as being the most authentic, and therefore the most worthy of our attention.
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Alfredo » Fri Oct 11, 2013 12:41 am

Astus:
Also, "New Age ... is less an implementation of Indian thoughts than a renewal of Western esoteric ideas".

19th century Theosophy was in many ways a reaction against Christianity, which therefore incorporated whatever they thought could oppose it: evolution, Eastern religions (albeit mixed together / selected / dimly understood), the curious notion that Jesus lived circa 100 BC, even a little "Satanic" symbolism. It was a time when the people who today might be interested in yoga, Buddhism, liberal Christianity, neo-paganism, or channeling were then part of the same group, due to lack of other options. It is no coincidence that the first Western Theravada monk was also a lover of Aleister Crowley.

The nature of the New Age movement is debated, and of course the activities within it (to the extent that we can agree on its boundaries) are very diverse. Besides themes inherited from Theosophy, I also see a lot of New Thought emphases ("you create your own reality"), and a lot more of a commercial orientation. It's less a movement to join than a market. Some of it is still a reaction against Christianity, in the sense that everything in it is "alternative" to it in some way, but on the other hand Jesus is emphasized in a way that he never was under Theosophy (and incidentally far more than Buddha, or any other spiritual figure for that matter). Either he was a space alien, or he studied yoga in India, or he can be trance-channeled, etc. New Thought / positive thinking started as a way to interpret the New Testament. Science is still incorporated, after a fashion, but what passes for "science" is often something that actual scientists would laugh at. For example, quantum physics is mined for arguments against materialism.

From the Tzu Chi website (quoted above):
One day in 1966, while Dharma Master Cheng Yen was visiting a patient at a small local clinic, she saw a pool of blood on the floor. Dharma Master Cheng Yen was told that the blood was from an indigenous woman suffering from labor complications. Her family had carried her from their mountain village. They had been walking for eight hours, but when they arrived at the hospital, they did not have the NT$8,000 (then US$200) required fee. They could only carry her back untreated. Hearing this, Dharma Master Cheng Yen was overwhelmed with sorrow. She thought to herself: as an impoverished monastic barely supporting herself, what could she do to help these poor people?


This is a lie told by Cheng Yen, the Tzu Chi founder. The doctor in the story (she eventually slipped and named him) heard of it and sued her.

If you can look past the "Mother Teresa" image (*), you'll see that Tzu Chi is basically a cult. Cheng Yen encourages her followers to see her as the embodiment of the bodhisattva Guanyin, and people literally kowtow to her (which is otherwise not normally done in Chinese culture). I've heard of doctors being fired for refusing to do this. All the charity stuff is just to make the organization look good. Look at it this way: right now, Taiwan has too many hospitals and universities, but Tzu Chi is building more. Why? Because they want to transform the world into a Pure Land--which effectively means, replace secular schools and hospitals with ones which they control.

(*) Of course, Mother Teresa was also something of a media creation. Sainthood I cannot judge, but as a hospital administrator, she was basically incompetent.

smcj:
That story comes from a Russian journalist named Nicolas Notovitch who visited a monastery in "Himis" (Where's that, Ladhak maybe?) in 1887.

Yes, Ladakh. Hemis Monastery is just south of Leh. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemis_Monastery
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Re: Christian Influences in Modern Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Fri Oct 11, 2013 2:09 am

Alfredo wrote: Why? Because they want to transform the world into a Pure Land--which effectively means, replace secular schools and hospitals with ones which they control.


The idea of "purifying the buddha-realm" or creating a pure land is a part of Mahāyāna thought, though the way such ideas are implemented in Taiwan is at odds with the scriptures.

For instance, there's the concept that work is practice, so volunteering is encouraged and praised, meanwhile meditation is neglected and even discouraged at times as being a selfish pursuit that doesn't benefit anyone but yourself. The idea that in order to really benefit others as a bodhisattva you need to be an adept or, ideally, on the first bhūmi or beyond, isn't really widespread. Humanistic Buddhism will provide meditation retreats for a week or so, but it would be unacceptable and logistically infeasible for valuable members of the community to sit in retreat for extended periods of time. Monastics are often given heavy responsibilities and are kept busy engaged in activities which serve the interests of the organization.

So, yeah, the transformation of the world into a Pure Land has transformed into something else...
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