I would like to read to you several excerpts from the Dalai Lama’s book entitled “Ethics for the New Millennium.”
“It is a sad fact of human history that religion has been a major source of conflict. Even today, individuals are killed, communities destroyed, and societies destabilized as a result of religious bigotry and hatred. It is no wonder that many question the place of religion in human society.”
“religious belief is not a pre-condition either of ethical conduct or of happiness itself.”
“religion has enormous potential to benefit humanity. Properly employed, it is an extremely effective instrument for establishing human happiness. In particular, it can play a leading role in encouraging people to develop a sense of responsibility toward others and of the need to be ethically disciplined.”
“Perhaps the most significant obstruction to inter-religious harmony is lack of appreciation of the value of others’ faith traditions…. In today’s increasingly complex and interdependent world, we are compelled to acknowledge the existence of other cultures, different ethnic groups, and, of course, other religious faiths.”
“irrespective of doctrinal and other differences, all the major world religions are concerned with helping individuals to become good human beings. All emphasize love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, humility and so on”
“carrying a mala does not make a person a genuine religious practitioner. The efforts we make sincerely to transform ourselves spiritually are what make us genuine religious practitioners.”
“We come to see the overriding importance of genuine practice when we recognize that, along with ignorance, individuals’ unhealthy relationships with their beliefs is the other major factor in religious disharmony. Far from applying the teachings of their religion in our personal lives, we have a tendency to use them to reinforce our self-centered attitudes. We relate to our religion as something we own or as a label that separates us from others.”
“another problem, one which is implicit in all religions. I refer to the claims each has of being the one “true” religion.”
“we must accept the concept of many truths, many religions.”
“In the case of a person who decides after a process of long and mature reflection to adopt a different religion, it is very important that they remember the positive contribution to humanity of each religious tradition. The danger is that the individual may, in seeking to justify their decision to others, criticize their previous faith.”
“ultimately the whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness, and so on. If we neglect these, changing our religion will be of no help.”
“If we can establish genuine harmony derived from mutual respect and understanding, religion has enormous potential to speak with authority on such vital moral questions as peace and disarmament, social and political justice, the natural environment, and many other matters affecting all humanity.”
I had a somewhat circuitous path to Buddhism. It started as a child raised in the Jewish faith. I attended four years of Hebrew school and was Bar Mitzvahed at the age of 13. Supposedly that signified that I was now a man. I certainly was no where close to reaching manhood. I also left the synagogue never to return. I was academically bent and didn’t find much use for religion in my life at that point.
My first marriage at the age of 26 was to a Catholic girl. We attended church infrequently and the services seemed steeped in rituals that I didn’t care much about. Not too dissimilar to all the rituals in the Jewish service. Also, I found the sermons to have a hollow ring. Or maybe I was just too focused on my career and self centered interests for them to register.
My second marriage at the age of 45 was to a woman who was raised in a Presbyterian church and was attending services at a Methodist church in the Valley. I started going to these services and found the Sunday message to be very relevant. We were married in that church and continued attending services there until we moved to Hawaii in 2001 where we found a comparable Methodist church. When we returned to Spokane in 2005 we started attending a nondenominational Evangelical Christian church here in town. Once again, I found the sermons very pertinent to my life and finally decided to become baptized. I understood that baptism meant I was giving my life to Jesus and accepting him as my Lord and Savior. I was also accepting the entire story of God and creation and the Trinity on blind faith that it was as the Bible described. I always had doubts about these things but figured that my act of being baptized would somehow eliminate those nagging doubts. I especially had difficulty understanding why a perfect and loving God would allow so much suffering in the world? And why if we were created in God’s image were we created with so much ignorance and so many afflictions and blind passions?
We attended this church on a regular basis over a two year period and I even fashioned myself as eventually becoming one of the church elders. My wife and I did have one not so trivial problem at this church. We loved the ministers and their message of peace and love. But the congregation seemed to have quite a different take on what Jesus tried to teach. At the weekly coffee chats immediately after the service we would be subjected to a barrage of right wing fundamentalist ideology. It became obvious that our socio-political world view was at variance with most of the members of the church. Being non-confrontational people it became quite difficult to just listen and not respond. So we gradually broke away.
At a holiday gathering in December of 2011 causes and conditions conspired for me to meet Jeff Workman. Just a month before I had mentioned to my wife that even though I had attained much success in all of my life’s pursuits I didn’t feel that I was a happy person. I couldn’t, however, put my finger on it. Why wasn’t academic and professional success, lots of praise, a good reputation, and a very comfortable lifestyle enough to make me feel content and satisfied? My brief conversation with Jeff immediately turned on some lights. He told me about Impermanence and the Four Noble Truths about Suffering and something clicked. He also suggested that I attend Sensei Paul’s upcoming weeknight introductory lectures on Buddhism. I found the Dharma teachings to be like a breath of fresh air. Nothing had to be accepted on blind faith. All of the teachings could be tested against my own experience in life and accepted if the teachings made sense. And they did make sense. I especially found the concepts of Emptiness, Impermanence. Dependent Origination, Causes and Conditions and Karma to be incredibly logical. I was surprised that it took me 61 years to discover them. But then again had I heard these truths in my youth I might have not been ready to listen and understand. I needed more life experience under my belt for them to register. In other words, the causes and conditions were just right at that holiday party for the Dharma to hit its mark.
The Buddha stated that there are 84,000 paths to enlightenment. I have traveled through a number of faiths. And as His Holiness the Dalai Lama stated all religions have something to offer our world. I do like the fact that no holy wars have ever been fought over Buddhist ideology. And that Buddhism seems to align with my deep beliefs in non-violence, social justice, human rights, religious tolerance and environmental protection. I like the fact that nothing has to be accepted on blind faith and if we want to stop suffering we need to take responsibility for our own actions. Buddhism doesn’t go out and aggressively try to convert people. It encourages us to question everything and is very much in harmony with modern science.
Most of us in this Hondo were not born into Buddhism. We came to it after mostly a Judeo-Christian upbringing. If Buddhism is the path that we have decided to follow we must always practice with great humility, compassion and respect for all of the world’s religions.