Thursday, February 20, 2014

Off to see the Pure Lands of the Buddha

This week is going to be quite different from the previous weeks. Up until now, all the faiths I had been to have been Christian in one form or another with the exception of the Unitarian Universalists, who, though not a Christian religion, still have their roots in the Christian tradition. But this week, I am going to something completely different, the Ogden Buddhist Church.

Buddhism is a commonly practiced religion, in fact, it's the fourth largest religion in the world following Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. It's the religion of the Dalai Lama (though he's Tibetan Buddhist and I am going to a different sect than his this Sunday), a number of celebrities, and possibly many people you know. Yet for how common and exposed the religion is, it's not widely understood.

If you ask most Americans about Buddhism, a few images come to mind, Zen, monks in burgundy or saffron robes, statues of a serene man in lotus position or a jolly fat man laughing. They may know of the Dalai Lama or that it's a path to enlightenment, but that's often it.

Here's a quick list of some key points about Buddhism:
  • Buddhism was founded by a man named Siddhartha Gautama in India in the fifth to sixth century B.C.E. (B.C.). Siddhartha was a noble man who upon seeing the suffering outside the palace decided he wanted to find a way to end suffering. He tried living an extreme lifestyle as a monk in the Hindu monasteries and seeking it elsewhere. But it was his discovery of the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path which led him to enlightenment. He became the Buddha after that, which means 'the Enlightened One."
  • The Four Noble Truths are as follows:
    1. The truth that suffering exists.
    2. The truth that suffering has a cause, it is craving and attachment.
    3. The truth that suffering can end.
    4. The truth that there is a path out of suffering, the Eightfold Path.
  • Buddhists believe in the Eightfold Path, which is a path leading to enlightenment. The Eightfold path is as follows:
    1. Right view - perceiving the reality of ourselves and how we relate to the world around us.
    2. Right intention - that your intention should be directed to towards enlightenment.
    3. Right speech - taking care that your words do not harm either yourself or others.
    4. Right action - taking care that your actions do not harm either yourself or others.
    5. Right livelihood - taking care your life and life's work cultivate wholesomeness and good.
    6. Right effort - that your passions should be directed towards enlightenment and the betterment of our world.
    7. Right mindedness - your mind should be disciplined to look past delusion and attachment.
    8. Right concentration - that you discipline yourself to perceive reality as it is.
  • Buddhists' ultimate goal is a state called Nirvana. Westerners often look at Nirvana as Buddhist Heaven, but that's not how they would see it. It is a state of being that can exist both in this life and an afterlife if one believes one exists.
  • Buddhists believe in reincarnation. This belief can range from the full on belief in the transmigration of souls from one body to another, or just the belief that everything cycles in this universe, matter, energy, etc.
  • Buddhism itself has no central deity, but merely is the pursuit of enlightenment. Therefore, Buddhists may not believe in gods or they may have one or many different gods they worship. As such, there are many branches of Buddhism with rich and complex pantheons.
  • Buddhism doesn't teach that it is the exclusive truth. They believe there are many paths to enlightenment and that theirs is just one that may work.
  • Buddhists do not worship Buddha. Buddha insisted he was just a man through his entire life.
  • There are many sects and traditions of Buddhism based on nationality, culture, beliefs, and practices. Some examples are Theravada, Mahayana, Chan, Zen, Tibetan, etc.
The sect of Buddhism I will be visiting this Sunday is called Jodo Shinshu. They are a branch of what is called Pure Land Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism is a form of Buddhism with some unique traits that include:
  • Devotion to the Amida Buddha (Amitabha) who is the Buddha of Infinite Light. The Amida Buddha is one of many buddhas. In many sects of Buddhism there are many buddhas as the term simply means one who is enlightened. These buddhas can be anything from examples to live your life by to something akin to gods or saints to whom prayers can be offered.
  • Belief that the ability of humanity to follow the teachings of Buddha and draw closer to enlightenment deteriorates through the generations. Thus they turn to the Amida Buddha to deliver them.
  • If you trust in the Amida Buddha, he will deliver you to the Pure Land. The Pure Land is a haven where one may more easily achieve enlightenment (viewed metaphorically though I do believe there's a literal dimension to this too among some believers.)
I'm quite excited to see this service. They're celebrating Nirvana Day this Sunday which celebrates the death of Buddha and his complete entering into Nirvana. I expect lots of chanting and rich symbolism. I'm also excited to see pets get blessed as their website's calendar says they will be doing.

Until next time, peace be with you.

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