I became a Buddhist after looking for the core religeous experience in Orthodox Catholicism. I studied science, philosophy and literature looking for answers to "who am I? where did I come from? what am I doing here? where do I go after death?" Science doesn't answer these although I understand physics is starting to approach some of these questions. I found I had an affinity for Zen and that it could answer questions the kinds of questions science and western religeon didn't. I have been, formally, a student of Buddhism in general and Zen in particular for twenty years.
Mulla Nasrudin after spending ten years on a desert island was saved by a big passenger liner. As he was sailing away from the island the captain on the rail beside him observed the three buildings on the island, and asked.
"What is that first building?"
"Oh, that was my home." the Mulla replied.
"And what is the one next to it?"
"The Mulla said, That is my place of worship."
"And what is that third one?" asked the captain.
"That is the church I used to belong to."
The spirit, that which gives us breath is a wondrous thing.
Wondrous too to experience outside in the wilderness, or with others.
Yet institutions, like egos, fight for their own existence.
Thus a wag once inquired,"Why must the church (temple or mosque) necessarily pervert its roots.
Can you suggest a way for people to gain a sense of stability during this time of emotional discomfort? Perhaps a book you have found useful for grounding yourself?
Buddhism is one of many templates I base my being on, but I've recently worked to remove the labels and baggage I've wrapped Buddhism in. Why label myself as a practitioner of anything? Labels do make conversations more interesting.
I consider Buddhism a philosophy or a state of being more than a faith or religion. I view religion as a hierarchical, human-organized, social and spiritual activity. Buddhism is more like education and illumination.
When I was a youth I determined Christianity didn't make sense for me and I knew this instinctively.
Buddhism encourages me to discover Truth for myself rather than blindly accept what somebody tells me is gospel.
Buddhism encourages me to understand the nature and causes of suffering so I can alleviate them.
Buddhism is empowering and inclusive of everything.
By putting down my affliction with illusion I can focus on being one with the Universe instead of constantly swimming up stream as an individual.
To put it as briefly as possible, thirty five years ago I was deeply involved in saving the world... That really translates to "create a new civilization", if you think about it for a while. And civilizations, at their core, are in fact nothing more than shared agreements about what's right, what's wrong, what's valuable and so on.
So I could see that we, humanity, needs new agreements before we can give birth to a new civilization.
The problem as I saw it, however, was the problem of freedom. Simply because I have a good idea, does that mean that you will agree with me, or if you have one, I will agree with you? Experience suggests not. How can all the you and I's of the world come to agree, then?
What I decided was that the best anyone could do is to take, as our basis for agreement, the science of ecology, which is really the study of the way energy flows in the natural world. And after all, economics, political processes-- nearly all the physical systems of man-- are about the transfer and use of energy.
I developed several core principles extracted from ecology, such as unity in diversity, balance, circles, and so on (I won't take you time in explaining these just now), and I got myself hired to give lectures. (It was a great gig. $50 an hour to talk! And people would listen!)
Eventually, however, what I found out was that I was either preaching to the converted or speaking to the deaf. In other words, the folks that agreed with me came into the room already agreeing with me, and almost all the rest were in the spectrum from interested-and-engaged to skeptical (as well as either bored or angry), but the fact of the matter, if I was to be honest with myself, was that I was not engaging in change. I can't recall anyone who was changed by my brilliant discourse, in fact.
At one of the talks I was giving, to schoolteachers, offering them ideas about how to teach ecology to their kids, a woman came up to me afterward and said "You sound like a Baha'i". I didn't know what that was.
But the truth is the truth, and surely it's true that if we do not continue, throughout our life, to walk towards and build our lives on whatever truth we encounter, then we are living by a feat of memory, and we have forgotten what it's all about.
So we find something new, and it rings the bell in our heart. Still, how do we know it's really true? My answer has been to live it, build on it, be sincere, and what always happens is that it will hold me up if it is true, and it will not if it is false. Truth works; that's part of why it's true.
The woman sent me some books about the Baha'i Faith, and I read them. I remember taking one on a trip to Wyoming, and sitting in the doorway of my VW van, reading, I came to a part in one of the books where all of sudden it was as if someone had reached down and taken a hold of me and shook me, saying "This is important! Pay attention!"
When I got back to my home in California, where I was living then, I found out that there were what are called "firesides" near my home, meetings where one can ask questions and discuss things vis-a-vis the Faith. At the first one, I knocked on the door and found only one guy home, alone with his young kids. We sat in the kitchen with me asking the hardest questions I could, hoping that none of it was true, because I had a good life that satisfied me. I really did not want to change anything. The man kept having to go and take care of the kids, then come back and stammer answers to my questions, none of which satisfied me. But really I was, in a way, satisfied. There was clearly nothing there. I was getting ready to write it off, but there were two firesides in this community, and before I let it go completely, I went to the second one.
There I met a woman and her son, and we talked in a way that surprised me. Sometimes when we know someone very well, a good and deep friend, we are given the grace to have a real conversation, one which is, for all who participate, a life-altering experience, a tool for self-discovery. That was what this was, for me.
I went home, and I can remember all these questions buzzing around my head. Is it true? If I become a Baha'i, what will I have to change? I will have to associate with the guy who stammered the unsatisfying answers. I'll have to stop doing X and start doing Y. It's a huge step to come to believe, to accept a new vision of the world.
But even while all these questions were buzzing and dive-bombing, in my heart there was calm and peace. I knew. Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, was indeed the One he said he was. I could hear it in his words. I had felt it in the conversation. As little as I wanted it, I could see it in my own heart and soul.
So I did as you would expect. I became a believer, a follower of Baha'u'llah. And for the subsequent decades, I have continued to try to penetrate closer to the heart of the truth, to find more of what it is that I was brought into being to do. I live an ordinary life, and I'm trying to do an extraordinary thing: become fully human, keep the promise that my breath and spirit imply.
Baha'u'llah says that he will give us a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and a new mind. And, at least for me, while it has only rarely felt like that was happening in the very moment, as I watched, nevertheless as I look back at who I was and what I knew, I can see, across the years, how very transformative it has been for me. Praise God.
And as for changing the world? I can see it happening, I feel I have found what is, for me, and perhaps for all mankind, a solid path to the future, where mankind will finally become mature, find unity, and build that new civilization. My job is to continue to change this one human, me, to become fit to assist my brothers and sisters in their journey.
Thanks for listening.
[i]Have you found a religion that is different than the one you grew up knowing? [/i]
I was told we were Lutheran. But I can only remember being in church a couple of times. My mom put me in Vacation Bible School when I was five. We weren't religious at all though, except when I was told that God would punish me for what I'd done wrong at the time.
[i]How did discovering that new spirituality impact you? [/i]
The new spirituality I discovered was in the 12-Step programs when I got sober at 22 (in 1984). There they told us we could formulate a Higher Power of our own understanding. During those years I experimented with contemplative/metaphysical Christianity, by teachers like Emmet Fox, and some Hinduism by Paramahansa Yogananda. I finally settle on Zen in the late 80's.
[i]Are you someone who has recently discovered Buddhism? Why was that the faith for you?[/i]
I practiced Zen with my 12-Step program for most of the last 20 years. But I had to reexamine Buddhism through the lens of Tibetan Buddhist teachers, called Lamas. This started around 2005. Now I practice in the Vajrayana traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, along with frequent Zen and regular 12-Step work. Bob Thurman was a huge influence on me in learning about Tibetan Buddhism. He really helped pave the way for me to explore the apparently strange tradition. I'm actually taping Bob at the Interfaith Conference all this weekend here in Portland. We also share the same publisher.
I've written a book about the way this program works for me. It's called [b]the 12-Step Buddhist [/b]. It will be out by Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster in March of '09. Listeners can find articles, resources and podcasts at [url]http://the12stepbuddhist.com[/url]
Thanks for having this topic!
My parents took me to a UCC Congregational Church growing up. It was the strongest community I had in my childhood and am grateful to have had it, but the experience left me without belief in a God. I am empirical by nature and in my profession as a physical therapist I practice using an "evidence-based" philosophy: using those treatments that I understand work to improve patient health. In my mind and in life practice, I cannot prove or disprove that a God or Gods exist, so where did that leave me in terms of faith?
The only meaningful religion I've found that doesn't proclaim a God above is Buddhism. To me, Buddhism is about how I choose to live my life: in as thoughtful and as loving a way as I can learn how to.
I did find a new faith: I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) who also has a Buddhist practice. Buddhism sits easy on top of any other spiritual practice/tradition.
I am also a "second tier" panelist at the conference that Friend Thurman is in town to attend this weekend.
I began to attend Quaker meeting because my spouse wanted our children to grow up in a spiritual community. Sitting in waiting worship week after week, however, I began to feel I was changing as a person. That led me to Quaker literature where I discovered the transformation I was seeing in myself was the same "perfection" (maturity, completeness) described by Friends since 1659.
It's not about propositional belief regarding things one can never know (what is the nature of God? Where does God come from? Where is God going?). It's about a path that is plain, clear and obvious to every person ever born.
The one-celled animal on the forest floor has no concept of its place in the ecosystem happening all around it--it only knows: "eat the leaves, eat the leaves."
Love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. You know that's what you're supposed to do. You don't need to know why or where that's going to know it's what you're supposed to do. You don't need to know the name of Jesus or hold a Bible to know that. Quakers have known for 300 years:
"There's a Light that was shining when the world began,
There's a Light that shines in every woman and man,
There's a Light that is shining in the Turk and the Jew,
And a Light that is shining, Friend, in me and in you."
Simplicity, Peace/harmony, Integrity, Community, Equality--manifestations of change wrought by heeding the spirit--not "core values" that seem to "make sense"--just what we are turned into by heeding the Light, how we are conformed to it.
It's about change, about transformation.
Eight fold path/fruits of the spirit.
It's about change, about transformation.
Not of someone else, of me.
Why anyone would want to belong to any group, especially when the group is one that attempts to explain life or how we should live it, is beyond me. On one hand Buddhism seems a bit more intelligent and philosophical then most religions, but on the other hand it is indeed a religion with a set of practices and rituals. Sure Buddhism might be the Volvo of religions, but it is still a religion!
People that cling to Buddhism as an escape from the perils of other religions are just replacing one evil for a lesser evil. What is really scary about Buddhism is that some seemingly intelligent thinkers don't take offense to it, and that so many liberals endorse it.
Why is it scary that liberals endorse it? I'm a liberal. I'm also a veteran and worked for over 10 years in Veterans hospitals, have held a job for the past 50 years, have literally saved the lives of other people, do lots of volunteer work, have been married 30 years, have brought up 2 fine children, and I have conservative friends and family. Why am I scary?
Thank you for hosting Robert Thurman.
I came to Buddhism via a very different route.
I ended up in a Zen Monastery 28 years ago as an alternative to suicide. It saved my life, and I have been practicing every since.
I'm glad you did that Mike!
Here is a different view of Tibet before China invaded or liberated it, depending on who won or lost freedoms and liberties:
"Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth"
I believe I'm part of the first generation of U.S. westerners to be raised with Buddhism. Our parents generation got into Buddhism in India and brought it back to the US in 70s. So its not really new to me, but I did need to find it for my self, as anyone needs to do to become truly religious.
Listening to Dr. Laura, talk show host, instigated me to find a religious practice: her reasoning made a lot of sense. I grew up in a liberal protestant religion, so as I had done in childhood, I prayed to Jesus for the right practice for me. Twelve years ago I found my self getting involved in a temple a few blocks from my house--the Dharma Rain Zen Center. I could walk to church! Now I live further away, but am happily committed to my new spiritual home. Zen Buddhism is difficult and challenging to practice, and very satisfying.
As a child I was always very interested in Buddhism. My best friend was Chinese and her family was Buddhist. But because of my lack of understanding of the language, and my total understanding of the culture. I thought that a lot of westerners calling themselves "Buddhist" were inauthentic, and were actually running away from what they were embracing. So I found the same mystical part of my own religion (Roman Catholicism) and have been very happy.
Is being authentic important? How can everyone *really* be buddhist?>
I don't study Buddhism, but consider it the best reflection of my world understanding. Today, with the start of your program, as the stock market carries my retirement savings to far below what it cost me, I considered my addiction to this financial security/insecurity. Buddhism has taught me that nothing lasts. Getting this concept to some degree I can relax and enjoy your show.
Since we have this great opportunity to ask a question of a well versed Buddhist scholar, I thought I would ask the obvious.
How does buddhism answer the question of how to be happy? How does the study of Buddhism allow a person to be happy or content with their life?
In 2001, shortly after the double shock of Sept 11th and a medical crisis in my family, I walked into a Unitarian Universalist fellowship here in Portland and found my "spiritual village". I was propelled there by my profound sense of loss and uncertainty. As a person with no religious upbringing, I inherited a strong suspicion of institutional religion. My decision has brought many positive results: a lasting circle of caring people, a chance to explore which spiritual path makes sense for me, and best of all, the motivation to begin meditation with a small Buddhism study group in my congregation.
How interesting that the loss of eye propelled Robert Thurman to make such a profound change in his life. In my own way it was loss that propelled me into the UU world.
Thank you so much for hosting this show. It is truly enlightening to hear Dr. Thurman speak. I have spent living in West China for more than a decade of which I spent up to two years living in Kham where I followed the late Jigme Puntsog Rinpoche. I have experienced China's grip on these remote areas both physically and emotionally.
At the end of the day I must conclude that the Chinese government's motivations for controlling any minority within its borders, in my opinion, are purely political and not personal, or guided towards any people in particular. They still, and I say this with great pain in my heart, continue to suppress as many of their own kind, i.e. Han minority, as they suppress other minorities. Due to my own karmic ties, the suffering of the Tibetan people is more near to me, but I try not to take it personally.
Thank you Dr. Thurman for your continued support of the Buddhist cause of peace for all.
Arnaud Versluys, PhD
In response to the question of why I fly prayers flags/Tibetan flag:
After the killings in Lhasa and with the Olympics approaching in Beijing, I decided to hang the Tibetan flag I had purchased in Dharamsala in 2000, along with my regularly flying prayer flags as a silent protest. It is still hanging in front of my house with the hope that it can encourage examination and wise action.
I understand how expectations can be the source of all pain and suffering. However I see conflict between ridding myself of expectations and not losing dreams or goals, even though they may not be materialistic. Or is it best to free myself of these things as well?
Bad joke of the day:
Q: What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?
A: Make me one with everything.
I was raised Catholic, yet my parents-especially my mother-seem to teach me a way of understanding the Catholic faith not so much through religion, but a spiritual connection to others and living by the Golden Rule. Compassion became the cornerstone of my faith and understanding of the world.
The evolution of my spirituality and connection to Buddhism grew after reading The Art of Happiness. I had peace flags hanging in my garden, etc. but it seems contrived to me now, because I hadn't understood or lived The Way until I became intimate with that connection.
Could Robert Thurman please address Karma, and his general view or concept of how Karma shapes our present lives and possibly the next, respectively?
I have a thirteen-month-old son whom I would like to have blessed by Buddhist nuns, could he comment on this for a brief moment, as well?
Thanks so much,
I found a new faith at the age of 21. I was raised Roman Catholic, but I considered my self an atheist from a young age. Around the age of 20 I found the Principia Discordia and soon what I had been missing in religion. It the perfect religion for those who think the main problem with most religions is that they all take them self?s too Seriously (aka ?the curse of gray face?). Check us out on line. You may already be a Discordian Pope or Mome.
All Hail Eris!
All Hail Eris!
I have a very vexing problem. I am a devote Buddhist, and read carefully HH writings.
He is wrong however regarding the philosphy of behaviorism.
In "The universe in a grain of sand" he states that behaviorism explains the mind in a materialistic way and thus he appears to discount it as having any explanatory power within either the west or the east. He then goes on to discuss his interest/facination in neuroscience in "explaining" mind.
Behaviorism is silent on the material of the mind.
Buddhism explains mind as clear, colorless, an non material.
There is an important, if not agreement, an important Non disagreement. This "non disagreement" is unique within the juxaposition of the west and the east.
Do you see?
I have talked to some of my teachers and encourage me to write to HH.
I feel as if i am shouting in the wilderness.
yes! In my 50's, following years of depression and disillusion with life I was introduced to Buddhist teaching through a grassroots Hospice movement. My life has changed radically as I found a view of reality that was sensible, logical and constructive. 20 - some years of study and practice followed and Buddha's discovery has saved not only my own life, but also helped me to understand some suggestions burried in other religious traditions.
What makes one a "Buddhist?" There are four "seals", or believes that are the foundation of buddhist philosophy: 1)nothing comes to being or exists by itself independent of external conditions, 2)therefore everything is transitory, 3) our attachment to thhhings and conditions is the cause of suffering, 4) ooops... forgot the 4th :-)
Buddhism is a psychology, philosophy, a world-view, and a way of living, and yes, it does "fit" with most of religikous traditions, as long as we don't discuss a theological underpinnings. With time many culture have created religious systems rooted in Buddha's teaching.
Incidently, Buddha's findings are curiously close to the newest scientific findings of Western culture, and his teaching is just as applicable to the modern relationships and conditions as it did 25000 years a go. Thank you for the program and clarifying so many misconceptions...
Great show. I love your teaching. What do you think about Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the teachings of Shambhala as a way for people to enter the path of Buddhism/meditation? The teachings of Shambhala seem very relavent and accessible to people today in that the Buddha taught to King Dawa Sangpo how to develop enlightened culture/mind for non-monastics in their everyday lives with family, work, and so forth.
Thanks again for teaching,
Thank you TOL for hosting this discussion.
My religion is unconditional (otherwise known as divine) love. If you live in unconditional love, your understanding on all levels opens. You can be happy and loving no matter what. You stop being judgemental, and you realize that being judgemental serves no good purpose - it is only a negative way of feeding your own ego - making you feel better about yourself, compared to others. Unconditional love is the opposite of ego. Of course, there is still need for practical human boundaries - need for space, sleep, food, etc. as necessary for best human health.
But unconditional love could cure a lot of the world's ills on many levels: psychological, spiritual, personal, familial, health (addiction, anxiety, depression, many disorders, alienation, even strengthening physiological health). In the personal sphere, extending through the outer spheres...
*Much, Much Love*
Christians have a strong tradition of offering service to people facing difficult times. The bodhisattva ideal in Mahayana Buddhism encourages Buddhists to active engaging in compassionate actions to relieve the suffering of people.
So it is very cool that Dr. Thurman and Dr. Marcus Borg are the keynote speakers in an interfaith conference between religious leaders in Portland this weekend discussing how best to help people in these trying times.
BEARING WITNESS, BRIDGING WISDOMS, A Buddhist-Christian Dialogue on Contemplative Practice & Social Action with DR. ROBERT THURMAN & DR. MARCUS BORG and a Distinguished Panel of Scholars, Theologians and Social Activitists.
October 11-12 at the Doubletree near Llyod Center
Dr. Thurman is also giving a public talk tonight at 7:30 pm at Maitripa College in SE Portand near Hawthorne and 11th-
My main concern with a lot of religions is that they cause people to become sometimes more lost, rather than finding. Then religion becomes kind of an "elitist" business. Yet all relgions seem to "end," or peak, at divine love/divine consciouness.
This is what is most important. This is why Buddha said we are all/can all be buddhas. This divine love/consciousness already in us. We just have to choose to be it.
It was almost twenty years ago, after a near death experience, that I began to discern a difference between the practice of a religion and the search for spirituality. It was not until I began attending yoga classes to relieve my aching back that I came to appreciate the power of meditation. Last year an instructor described herself as a spiritual being having a physical experience (rather than a physical being seeking a spiritual experience)
That set me on a personal path to transform my fear, anger,greed and envy into the transcendent process of gratitude and compassion. Having decided to live with intention, scales have dropped from my eyes and each day I am able to spend more time seeing the world as it is.
Thank you OPB for hosting Prof. Thurman, his insight is exactly what I needed to hear in this moment.
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