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 October 17, 1999

A sermon by Reverend Dr. John Young
Unitarian Universalist Minister
UU Church of Jacksonville

Buddhism is important to me, and, I believe, it deserves to get your attention and respect as Unitarian Universalists. Besides Jesus, Buddha is, clearly, the most important single figure in human religious history. The religion which has grown out of his teachings is significantly based upon reason and compassion, upon facing up to the suffering inherent in life, but cutting those sufferings down to size by minimizing the irrational craving and anxieties by which many lives are ruined, and much of life is wasted.

Today, I want to speak with you about a modern movement within Buddhism which began in Vietnam during the Vietnam conflict but which is most present and powerful among Western Buddhists today. Its most important spokesman has probably been Thich Nhat Hanh, and I am so grateful that I have studied some of his books, and that I had the privilege to be with him in a retreat for 8 days. I was largely silent there, as were the other participants, but Thich Nhat Hanh was not silent, and I learned much from him. I also recommend a book called THE PATH of COMPASSION: Writings on Socially Engaged Buddhism, edited by Fred Eppsteiner.

Eppsteiner explains how a group of Vietnamese Buddhists, in 1964, founded the Order of Interbeing as an organized expression of engaged Buddhism. Composed of monks and nuns, laywomen and laymen, it never contained great numbers, yet its influence and effects were deeply felt in Viet Nam. They organized anti-war demonstrations, printed leaflets and books, ran social service projects, organized an underground for draft resisters, and cared for many of the war's innocent victims. They were acutely aware of the need for all people to realize the commonality of their experience and to reject fanaticism and political or religious self-righteousness; so, they renounced all views that posited One Truth or One Way. They believe that the manner in which we spend our time, energy, and resources is as much a moral problem as a practical problem. Because they were impressed with the far-reaching social effects of individual anger, they committed themselves to applying antidotes to anger as soon as it arose in them or other people. They felt obligated not only not to kill but to protect life. It is not enough not to steal, but profit-making at the cost of human suffering is surely an immoral activity. "They focused clearly upon moral action that is based upon non-separation from other life and an unceasingly aware state of compassion. Not holding onto a notion of self, we are invited to engage ourselves courageously in the world, to see the nature of suffering clearly, and with discriminating awareness to undertake the task of liberating all beings." [154]

The Order of Interbeing have 14 precepts which they recite weekly:1. Do not be idolatrous about any doctrine or ideology, even Buddhist ones.2. Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views.3. Do not force others to adopt your views. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.4. Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. 5. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy and material resources with those who are in need.6. Do not maintain anger or hatred.7. Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings.8. Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts.9. Do not say untruthful things. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Always speak truthfully and constructively.10. Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party.11. Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature.12. Find whatever means possible to protect life and to prevent war.13. Possess nothing that should belong to others.14. Do not mistreat your body. Be fully aware of the responsibilities of bringing new lives into the world. [150-152]

As you can hear, in engaged Buddhism, selflessness does not become a euphemism for selfishness, nor does detachment become an excuse for indifference. Engaged Buddhists follow the Bodhisattva way that argues that individual enlightenment cannot be complete as long as others remain trapped in delusion, that genuine wisdom is manifested in compassionate action. They recognize that each human being contributes in some measure to violence and oppression, and that we cannot meaningfully work for peace as long as we feel upset, angry, or confrontational. They begin by reminding us to avoid dogmaticism, to remain open, and not to force our views upon others. Engaged Buddhists are transmuting despair into empowerment. The compassion valued by engaged Buddhists is a deep sense of oneness with all beings which arises out of their connections with others' suffering. They cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings.

The Tibetan Dalai Lama is, in many ways, an engaged Buddhist. He counsels us that, while foolish selfish people always think of themselves and get negative results, a wise selfish person thinks of others, helps others, and receives good results. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple. The philosophy is kindness. Once our mind is occupied by anger, we lose the power of judgment. Physically, we are still human beings, but mentally, we are no longer complete. The insurance company is within yourselves. If you usually remain angry about 10 minutes, try to reduce it to 8, the following week, 5, next month, 2 minutes, then make it zero. This is the way to develop and train our minds. His way of engaged Buddhism is: cultivating less anger, more respect for others' rights, more concern for other people, more clear realization of the sameness of human beings, mutual trust, mutual respect, and friendly and frank discussions. [3-8]

The engaged Buddhist takes more and more moral responsibility in society. They forsake both the pursuit of personal perfection and the denial of imperfection. They realize that we cannot afford a spirituality which is devoid of consciously nurturing love and compassion. Jack Kornfield has an excellent essay in which he distinguishes between the Buddhist virtues of love, compassion, and equanimity from what he calls their near-enemies: the near-enemy of love is attachment, the near-enemy of compassion is pity, the near-enemy of equanimity is indifference. Love allows, honors, appreciates; attachment grasps holds, aims to possess. Compassion is empathy, nurturing involvement, while pity is feeling different from, although sorry for, and divides the helper from the helped. Indifference proposes not-caring and withdrawal. Equanimity is being in the middle of the world and opening to it while keeping one's internal balance, remaining focused upon the unity of things.

Thich Nhat Hanh asks us to be mindful, to make our daily actions into meditations, by using them to see into our nature and to become a Buddha, an enlightened, compassionate being. If Western countries would reduce their consumption of alcohol and meat by 50%, the problems of the 3rd world could be dramatically changed. We need not so much to speak of peace as to be peaceful ourselves, to speak with our lives. We can only be more or less nonviolent at a particular time in a particular situation. To control is not to dominate nor to oppress but to harmonize and equilibrate.

Joanna Macy is an incredibly wise thinker. She reminds us about the central Buddhist doctrine of anatman, or no-self, which is the insight that our belief that we exist as a separate entity is actually a fiction. It is a useful convention, but there is really no self that needs to be defended, enhanced, improved. This insight releases people from the prison cell of the ego, frees them from the burden of selfhood. Buddhists believe in dependent co-arising, that is, that we are co-participating in the existence of all life and the world, and that we co-create with them. Buddhist detachment is detachment from ego not from the world. Macy points out that in a hierarchical model of reality, like mainstream Hinduism or Christianity, or secularist scientism, the real is equated with the changeless. God becomes distinct from the apparent messiness and randomness of nature. Buddha argued instead that the real inheres in the changes rather than being removed from the changes. So, Buddhism, existential humanism, or mystical science identifies the real with the evolving. In power terms, too, these patriarchal, hierarchical constructions of reality, see a one-way linear causality, which since Aristotle has dominated both religion and science, while in Buddhist dependent co-arising, causality is not linear; it is reciprocal. Power is a two-way street, not a zero-sum game but a win-win game, popularly called synergy today, the kind of power in a neural net, a computer web, or an ecosystem.

Macy summarizes the Buddhist path this way: 1. metta: loving respect for all beings that gets you off your duff and liberates you from self-involvement, 2. karuna: compassion is being out there digging or dancing to improve the common lot, identifying with the suffering of others, experiencing their pain as your own, 3. muditha: the joy you feel in the joy of others, experiencing the joy, power, and gifts of another as your own, synergy, and 4. uppekkha: equanimity, which is a deep trust and peace in the intertwining web of reality, which keeps you going despite criticism and setbacks. Macy proposes meditations upon death [this person you are with may be the last person you see], compassion [breathe through the pain of the world/do not brace yourself against it gives you a healing measure of humility], mutual power [capacity for mutual enjoyment/no act of goodness is ever lost], mutual recognition [this person can heal you/heal the planet, desire that they be free from fear, anger, greed, sorrow, and the other causes of suffering]. Take heart.

Engaged Buddhists are quite aware that they are stretching Buddhism in involved and activist directions, as Unitarian Universalists have stretched the Judeo-Christian and even humanist traditions in those same directions. Together, we can learn much from each other. Unitarian Universalists need to develop coherent spiritual practices which make them wiser realists and more effective activists. Engaged Buddhists can help us much in these directions. Unitarian Universalists can help engaged Buddhists express their love more warmly and to become co-creators in the world's revolution more enthusiastically. Together, we can take heart in our liberating religions.

New Reading

From Robert A.F. Thurman's Nagarjuna's Guidelines

The transcendent can never be encapsulated in any formula, doctrine, or behavioral, legalistic orthodoxy, but can only be embodied in a virtuous way of life. [115]Buddhist commandments: Not to: kill, take what is not given, rape, lie, abuse, slander, or gossip, and not to bear envy, malice, or false convictions. Buddhist 10 fold path of virtuous evolution: to prolong life, give gifts, maintain proper sexuality, tell the truth, reconcile conflicts, speak gently, speak meaningfully, be loving, rejoice in others' good fortune, and hold authentic views. Our animalistic habits do not automatically tend away from anger, delusion, and greed toward tolerance, justice, and giving, these virtues must gradually be cultivated....Pacifism is the social expression of tolerance; educational universalism is the social expression of wise justice; and socialistic sharing of wealth is the social expression of generosity. [141-142]



Walpola Rahula, "Social Teaching of the Buddha"

Buddhism aims at creating a society where the ruinous struggle for power is renounced; where calm and peace prevail away from conquest and defeat; where the persecution of the innocent is vehemently denounced; where one who conquers oneself is more respected than those who conquer millions by military and economic warfare, where hatred is conquered by kindness, and evil by goodness; where enmity, jealously, ill-will and greed do not infect people's minds; where compassion is the driving force of action; where all, including the least of living things, are treated with fairness, consideration, and love; where life in peace and harmony, in a world of material contentment is directed towards the highest and noblest aim, the realization of the Ultimate Truth, Nirvana. [109]



OLD READING Siglaovada Sutta The Buddha Friendship

Friendship. There are four foes in the likeness of friends: the rapacious person, those who pay lip-service only; the flatterer, and the wastrel. The rapacious person gives little and expects much. The rapacious people do what they have to do out of fear, and they pursue only their own interests. The lip service person is full of empty sayings about the past and future, but when the opportunity for service arises, they are unreliable. The flatter approves of your bad deeds; praises you to your face, and, in your absence, speaks ill of you. The wastrel is always ready to be your friend when you are drinking, out late, gambling, or haunting parties.

On the other hand, the true friends are the good hearted: the helper, the friend who is constant through happiness and adversity, the friend of good counsel, and the sympathetic friend. The helper friend protects you when you are taken unawares, protects your possessions when you are not there to protect them yourself, is a refuge when you are afraid, and is ready to give you twice the help you need when you have more than you can do yourself. The friends who are constant tell you their secrets, do not betray your secrets, in your troubles do not forsake you, and are prepared to lay down their lives for your sake. The friend of good counsel restrains you from doing wrong, enjoins you to do what is right, teaches you what you need to know, and shows you the way to enlightenment and compassion. The friend who is sympathetic does not rejoice over your misfortunes, rejoices with you in prosperity, restrains those who speak ill of you, and commends those who speak well of you.

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