Secular Buddhism

General discussion, particularly exploring the Dharma in the modern world.
[N.B. This is the forum that was called ‘Exploring Buddhism’. The new name simply describes it better.]
narhwal90
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by narhwal90 »

Obligatory JP Sears;

Simon E.
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Simon E. »

Queequeg wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 2:45 am
Simon E. wrote: Thu Oct 31, 2019 1:45 pm That is not what I am arguing QQ. I am saying that if we are surrounded all our lives, or at least our lives as Dharma students if we are converts, by particular cultural expressions of Dharma we may tend to view any suggestion that those expressions are not of the essence as a concern.
If we spend our weekends calling ourselves by our Dharma name and eating momos or kimchi ( and there is nothing wrong with that) we might need to be aware of our responses if that is questioned. Eating momos is fine. If however we see momos as more Buddhist than a Big Mac then we have fallen squarely into what Trungpa Rinpoche called Spiritual Materialism.
I know very well what you are talking about. Being bicultural with one foot in America and one foot in Japan, intimately knowing Buddhist communities here and in Japan, I saw here the phenomenon that you are talking about. To me, a kid who just wanted to hide their foreigness, it looked stupid. I mean, what else should be thought of a Westerner affecting Japanese mannerisms and even speaking pidgin English?! I don't think that anymore. Now I see a person who is trying really hard to embody something they admire - maybe I feel a little embarrassed for them.

I don't think any converts are going to do the adapting that you are anticipating. Its going to be people who are born into it in the West who will reject that cultural appropriation in their bones, sizing it up for what it is: weird; but then be able to recognize the real stuff and take that up.

Hey, parents... who's doing their best to raise Buddhists? If that doesn't happen, then Buddhism will never go native.
It may be QQ, that the sizing up of cultural appropriation in their bones, and the adaption that I speak of, are aspects of the same process.
What you write about Buddhist parents rings bells. But we have to be smart about the reactions we provoke.
I remember a cartoon I saw when I was a young parent. It featured a startled looking mum and dad, both with long hair and wearing dungarees. They are looking at their baby in it’s high chair who has just thrown a bowl of food on the floor while saying “ I reject you and all your values, starting with brown rice and tahini!”...
“You don’t know it. You just know about it. That is not the same thing.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to me.
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jake
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Re: Secular Buddhism

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Off-topic posts about food removed.
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Queequeg
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Queequeg »

Simon E. wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 8:46 am What you write about Buddhist parents rings bells. But we have to be smart about the reactions we provoke.
I remember a cartoon I saw when I was a young parent. It featured a startled looking mum and dad, both with long hair and wearing dungarees. They are looking at their baby in it’s high chair who has just thrown a bowl of food on the floor while saying “ I reject you and all your values, starting with brown rice and tahini!”...
Its a tough issue. I know you have a bunch more years on me in that experience... "Buddhist" parenting has been discussed here from time to time. Its a delicate act - as in all things, we have to hit that balance for passing something on, whether it be religion or study habits, or social behavior. I think you and I share the kind of liberal Western value of developing self-reliant, actualized humans, and to do that, we have to balance developing a healthy ego with observing habits and norms that are conducive to living a "good life" in our society. How does one pass on Buddhist teachings where the infrastructure is lacking?

In Buddhist countries, the whole flow of society is more or less creating a flow in which the individual lives out their lives; fish and their water, so to speak. Dharma is, more or less, at least one of the strands of "conventional wisdom".

Maybe to build that infrastructure, we just have to take what's given for now. Put on the funny robes and hats. Take up what is essential and a lot of what is not... For the sake of establishing a kind of sub-culture.

One thing that I think will happen over time is that the various strands of Buddhism that have been transmitted to the West will start mixing. One thing that I think is very unfortunate about Dharma in Asia is the segmentation. Thai Buddhists are Thai Buddhists. Zen Buddhists are Zen Buddhists. Pureland is ... Nichiren is... Kagyu is Kagyu, Nyingma is Nyingma... etc. The social and political structures that distinguishes those traditions back in Asia don't hold up here. The doctrinal differences will persist, but at least we can lose a lot of the baggage since its not ours and the trends that hold them in place don't have support. We see it now that there is a lot of cross pollination in the way people over the course of their lives practice with different traditions, internalizing teachings and values from diverse sources along the way. It will be interesting if and how those can be reconciled and integrated in the being of Buddhists to come in the West.

Kind of all over the place. Sorry for rambling. A lot of putative ideas on what's happening now.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
Simon E.
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Simon E. »

Very interesting points QQ. I think you are correct and that we are already seeing the early signs of that cross fertilisation of which you speak and I think there is much more to come along those lines. One example is the Abbott of the Ajahn Chah lineage Amaravati Monastery becoming a student of Dzogchen without feeling the need to disavow his Theravadin heritage.
I hope you are right and that we see the West providing a crucible wherein the disparate elements can coalesce because of, not despite, the West having no history of Dharma until recent times.
“You don’t know it. You just know about it. That is not the same thing.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to me.
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Queequeg
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Queequeg »

Simon E. wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 2:43 pm Very interesting points QQ. I think you are correct and that we are already seeing the early signs of that cross fertilisation of which you speak and I think there is much more to come along those lines. One example is the Abbott of the Ajahn Chah lineage Amaravati Monastery becoming a student of Dzogchen without feeling the need to disavow his Theravadin heritage.
I hope you are right and that we see the West providing a crucible wherein the disparate elements can coalesce because of, not despite, the West having no history of Dharma until recent times.
If you look at the history of Chinese Buddhism, there came a point where the Chinese looked at this canon of teachings which were more or less just brought over from India and Central Asia haphazardly under the banner "Buddhism", and they said, "What the Heck? This teachings and that teaching are at odds... How could one Buddha say all of this?" That's when they started coming up with these hierarchies of teachings. It wasn't completely novel - it appears that Indians had been dealing with these issues at least since Mahayana emerged. Chinese Buddhism took it in a direction hard - I understand, for instance, the whole idea of Three Turnings comes from China, not India. And then, after the Chinese more or less settled on a few systems of organizing the canon that differed on relatively arcane points, Vajrayana came in - one from the sea route from Southeast Asian, and another across the Silk Road. They never quite got around to systemizing Vajrayana because of the persecution of Buddhism in the mid 9th c. Before that happened, though, Vajrayana was transmitted to Japan, along with the Chinese Buddhist canon, and in the relative isolation of those islands, those two strains of Vajrayana, laid over the Chinese canon, came to be systemetized into two versions, and from there, as some have argued, Vajrayana saturated the culture, mixed with exoteric sensibilities and indigenous ideas to create something altogether different again from anything anywhere else in the world.

All that is to say, yes. Its exciting to live at a time when the rules break down. Its also stressful because there is no "right" answer. There's just a bunch of us trying to make sense of this jumble of ideas. The Wild West gave birth to particular expressions of Western Culture that I don't think Europeans, or even East Coasters can grok, but a cowboy in Wyoming is most definitely a Westerner, no matter how its cut up. We enter the wilderness with the flotsam and jetsam of ideas in our heads and try to make a life out of it. For us, the goal is to catch that thread of Buddhadharma and follow it to the bodhi seat.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
Simon E.
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Simon E. »

Aye..all we can do is unfurl our sails...
“You don’t know it. You just know about it. That is not the same thing.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to me.
Simon E.
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Simon E. »

narhwal90 wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 3:38 am Obligatory JP Sears;

:lol:
“You don’t know it. You just know about it. That is not the same thing.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to me.
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Queequeg
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Re: Secular Buddhism

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Picking up on something Simon mentioned above about Batchelor and his community - their warmth. I don't personally know these folks, so I take this description at face value.

There is something that as a life long Buddhist who grew up here looking in on Christianity as an outsider... there are a couple things that I really admire - the warmth of fellowship, for instance. Its easy to just think of all the scandals in the Christian Churches and lose sight of that, but that point in the services when congregants shake hands with everyone around them. Yeah, its perfunctory in practice often, but it gives a glimpse of the ideal.

The other is the warmth of the Human God and the deep sense of being accepted for what one is as an imperfect child of God. All the acrobatics to stay in good standing kind of confuse things, I think. Another discussion.

Maybe those two strains can be summarized as communion. Maybe this is obvious for someone with a Christian background. Like I said, I'm a foreigner in that world.

I don't want get into a comparative religion discussion as that's out of bounds here at DW, but I'm just bringing these up as two features that I think if Buddhadharma will take hold here, will have to take up because these are the expectations that religion will deliver through 2000 years of religious conditioning. Religion I think is expected to resolve the separation between people and the divine.

I think there are aspects of Buddhadharma that are perfectly conducive to those expressions, though they have developed and express a little differently in the Asian context in a way that might fall short of a Westerner's expectation. That kind of warmth in interpersonal relations will need to be part of the equation, I think. (And might even be something that Asians could use a dose of.)
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
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Matt J
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Matt J »

I totally disagree-- I think we are heading into a dharma ending age. Not because we are stepping away from the old ways, but rather because Buddhism requires a non-renewable resource that is rapidly squandered: attention.

In my former life, I did a lot of trial work. Back in the day of Clarence Darrow, closing arguments were widely attended forms of entertainment that could go on for days. When I started in the early 00's, the average closing argument ran 30-45 minutes. By the time I hung up my trial spurs in the mid 2010's, that attention span had plummeted to about 10-15 minutes.

At the same time, I took up meditation. In the late 2000's, the average meditation session was 45 - 1 hour. Nowadays, people start to wiggle and squirm after 15 minutes.

If you look into it (for example, the Shallows by Nicholas Carr), you will see that this is spurred in large part by our technology. If people lose the mental concentration needed to read a book or even a long article, then they will certainly not be able to muster up the necessary concentration for dharma. I am sure it will survive in smaller pockets, but I think it is on its way out as a widespread movement.
Simon E. wrote: Thu Oct 31, 2019 10:46 am I think we can assume that part of the thicket clearing before Dharma has a secure foothold in the west will involve the ignition of a thousand strawmen by indignant torch wavers. I will stop there before I mash up even more metaphors.. :smile:
I actually think that we live in exciting times for Dharma. The winds of change are blowing far beyond our limited capacity to change or to stop change.
"The essence of meditation practice is to let go of all your expectations about meditation. All the qualities of your natural mind -- peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity -- are present in your mind just as it is. You don't have to do anything different. You don't have to shift or change your awareness. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has."
--- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
Simon E.
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Simon E. »

I think you are projecting.
“You don’t know it. You just know about it. That is not the same thing.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to me.
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Queequeg
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Queequeg »

Matt J wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 5:28 pm I totally disagree-- I think we are heading into a dharma ending age. Not because we are stepping away from the old ways, but rather because Buddhism requires a non-renewable resource that is rapidly squandered: attention.

In my former life, I did a lot of trial work. Back in the day of Clarence Darrow, closing arguments were widely attended forms of entertainment that could go on for days. When I started in the early 00's, the average closing argument ran 30-45 minutes. By the time I hung up my trial spurs in the mid 2010's, that attention span had plummeted to about 10-15 minutes.

At the same time, I took up meditation. In the late 2000's, the average meditation session was 45 - 1 hour. Nowadays, people start to wiggle and squirm after 15 minutes.

If you look into it (for example, the Shallows by Nicholas Carr), you will see that this is spurred in large part by our technology. If people lose the mental concentration needed to read a book or even a long article, then they will certainly not be able to muster up the necessary concentration for dharma. I am sure it will survive in smaller pockets, but I think it is on its way out as a widespread movement.
Good point. And that's another factor.

My response is to point out that practices like meditation directly address attention span. Its like weight lifting for the mind - if your mind is atrophied, one is too poor to even pay attention. Put it a little practice, and things improve.

Another counter point is, I'm not sure attention span is quite the problem - kids these days can spend hours playing video games, so clearly the capacity is not diminished. Its something else...

Isn't the problem that we all have a cornucopia of things to pay attention to so that we just don't find a closing argument as riveting as we once did?

My take on the Degenerate Age is something a whole lot more subtle and has to do with the increasing opportunities to become disjointed from reality.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
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Matt J
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Matt J »

Yes, I think it is true that meditation can assist in building strong habits. To push the analogy perhaps a little too far, a person raised in a culture dedicated to short attention spans would be the equivalent of some one who, due to bad eating habits, lack of exercise, and nutrition, ends up with a poorly formed body. Now taking that person through a rigorous exercise program is probably not going to result in the same level of strength as with a person who was raised from birth in a proper environment, with proper nutritions, etc. I think that this is part of the reason why we experience a general decline in the power of practitioners as technology advances.

I heard on the radio some years ago a mathematics professor decrying that students were no longer able to understand sufficiently high levels of theoretical mathematics and as such, the knowledge was being lost. I think that people will simply not want to learn meditation, being content to wallow in the infinite distractions that technology brings. And if you agree with Carr, we are also changing how we think (atomically, where information is broken into google sized bits, instead of contextually, as in considering an argument over the course of an entire book).

It is funny you bring up the video game, because this is a favorite example of a Tergar Khenpo. He points the difference between meditative concentration (in his tradition) and video game concentration turns on two important factors: clarity and presence. A person playing video games we would typically say probably has more dullness and is absorbed into the video game.
Queequeg wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 6:09 pm Good point. And that's another factor.

My response is to point out that practices like meditation directly address attention span. Its like weight lifting for the mind - if your mind is atrophied, one is too poor to even pay attention. Put it a little practice, and things improve.

Another counter point is, I'm not sure attention span is quite the problem - kids these days can spend hours playing video games, so clearly the capacity is not diminished. Its something else...

Isn't the problem that we all have a cornucopia of things to pay attention to so that we just don't find a closing argument as riveting as we once did?

My take on the Degenerate Age is something a whole lot more subtle and has to do with the increasing opportunities to become disjointed from reality.
"The essence of meditation practice is to let go of all your expectations about meditation. All the qualities of your natural mind -- peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity -- are present in your mind just as it is. You don't have to do anything different. You don't have to shift or change your awareness. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has."
--- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
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Karma_Yeshe
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Karma_Yeshe »

Queequeg wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 2:45 am Hey, parents... who's doing their best to raise Buddhists? If that doesn't happen, then Buddhism will never go native.
We do.
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Queequeg
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Queequeg »

Matt J wrote: Sat Nov 02, 2019 3:56 pm Yes, I think it is true that meditation can assist in building strong habits. To push the analogy perhaps a little too far, a person raised in a culture dedicated to short attention spans would be the equivalent of some one who, due to bad eating habits, lack of exercise, and nutrition, ends up with a poorly formed body. Now taking that person through a rigorous exercise program is probably not going to result in the same level of strength as with a person who was raised from birth in a proper environment, with proper nutritions, etc. I think that this is part of the reason why we experience a general decline in the power of practitioners as technology advances.

I heard on the radio some years ago a mathematics professor decrying that students were no longer able to understand sufficiently high levels of theoretical mathematics and as such, the knowledge was being lost. I think that people will simply not want to learn meditation, being content to wallow in the infinite distractions that technology brings. And if you agree with Carr, we are also changing how we think (atomically, where information is broken into google sized bits, instead of contextually, as in considering an argument over the course of an entire book).

It is funny you bring up the video game, because this is a favorite example of a Tergar Khenpo. He points the difference between meditative concentration (in his tradition) and video game concentration turns on two important factors: clarity and presence. A person playing video games we would typically say probably has more dullness and is absorbed into the video game. We
All good points.

C'mon, man. Trying to put lipstick on this pig. Trying to keep up the morale here.

Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
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Queequeg
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Queequeg »

:cheers:
Karma_Yeshe wrote: Sat Nov 02, 2019 5:39 pm
Queequeg wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 2:45 am Hey, parents... who's doing their best to raise Buddhists? If that doesn't happen, then Buddhism will never go native.
We do.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
Schrödinger’s Yidam
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Schrödinger’s Yidam »

smcj wrote: Thu Oct 31, 2019 2:48 am
Qq wrote:When one lacks faith, they can only see to the extent of their own mind. Being uncultivated, there is nothing remarkable.
That’s nicely worded.
On another thread I’ve just been introduced to the idea of the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”.

Seems related.
1.The problem isn’t ‘ignorance’. The problem is the mind you have right now. (H.H. Karmapa XVII @NYC 2/4/18)
2. I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against lama abuse.
3. Student: Lama, I thought I might die but then I realized that the 3 Jewels would protect me.
Lama: Even If you had died the 3 Jewels would still have protected you. (DW post by Fortyeightvows)
narhwal90
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by narhwal90 »

Karma_Yeshe wrote: Sat Nov 02, 2019 5:39 pm
Queequeg wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 2:45 am Hey, parents... who's doing their best to raise Buddhists? If that doesn't happen, then Buddhism will never go native.
We do.
Same. Even from a secular basis I'm profoundly grateful for the methods of observing the mind- most helpful when faced with the teen girl volatility. Helps keep me sane, helps her not be overwhelmed so much and so often.
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Queequeg
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Queequeg »

smcj wrote: Sun Nov 03, 2019 3:14 am
smcj wrote: Thu Oct 31, 2019 2:48 am
Qq wrote:When one lacks faith, they can only see to the extent of their own mind. Being uncultivated, there is nothing remarkable.
That’s nicely worded.
On another thread I’ve just been introduced to the idea of the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”.

Seems related.
I think they do cover the same ground... I think the my quote above is kinder, though, as it also implies that faith and cultivation can help one overcome their limitations.

BTW, I can't take credit for that idea - I cribbed Nichiren, who I think borrowed that from Zhiyi.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by mikenz66 »

Queequeg wrote: Fri Nov 01, 2019 4:46 pm I think there are aspects of Buddhadharma that are perfectly conducive to those expressions, though they have developed and express a little differently in the Asian context in a way that might fall short of a Westerner's expectation. That kind of warmth in interpersonal relations will need to be part of the equation, I think. (And might even be something that Asians could use a dose of.)
The Asian Buddhist communities I've had some involvement with (mostly Thai Theravada, but also a Theravada group in Hong Kong and the local Fo Guang Shan) seem pretty warm to me. And my local secularist-ish Buddhists are pretty friendly too...

However, I do agree that Christians can be fun to interact with, and I often feel I have more in common with them than atheistic work colleagues.

:heart:
Mike
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