<>Potential of Buddhism as a world religion

One frequently runs across lists of “the hundred greatest movies of all time” or the “hundred greatest novels of all time.”  Whenever I see such a list, I generally will find choices I really agree with.  “It’s a Wonderful Life”—yes, certainly a great movie.  “The Brothers Karamazov”—yes, certainly a wonderful novel.  But there are always items on such lists that don’t appeal to me personally.  While I like Hawthorne, I’m not particularly fond of “The Scarlett Letter,”  and “Casablanca”—regarded by many is one of the greatest films ever—doesn’t interest me at all.

When it comes to “world religions,” too, there are some religious traditions that fascinate me.  I love studying Hinduism.  I like the stories of gods and demons: "Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles" what’s not to like?

But some important religions I just don’t find as interesting.  I was really glad Dr. Blanchard could talk to you about Buddhism: it’s an important religious faith, one that a class in world religions should certainly include, but it’s never really caught my imagination, and it’s hard for me to do it justice.  I thought Dr. Blanchard did a particularly fine job: a much better and more sympathetic presentation than I could do myself.

Note Dr. Blanchard's comparison useful comparison of Buddhism and Christianity.

Main Teacher: Jesus
Main Teacher: Buddha
Message: Gospel
Message: Dharma
Fellowship: Church    
Fellowship: Sangha

Also useful, the contrast of Buddhism and Chistianity: Buddhism putting practice in the center with "mythos" around it, Christianity putting "mythos" in the center with practice in the next layer.

Notice that Dr. Blanchard summarized the Four Noble Truths somewhat differently than is typical:

1.  Face it  (Dukka happens)
2.  Diagnose it (grasping is the problem)
3.  Find a cure (let go)
4.  Apply

Note particularly how Dr. Blanchard defined Dukka--not as suffering exactly, but as that shopping cart wheel that doesn't do what it's supposed to do.  Also, notice the "four seals that Dr. Blanchard mentioned as key to Dharma, the Buddhist "gospel":

Last, note Dr. Blanchard's comments on the divisions of Buddhism and on the way they disagree on this last point.  The Mahayana Buddhists (if I understood correctly) seem to think this last point is achieved by realizing that nothing can save you: and then you are saved!  The Nicherin Buddhists seem to rely more on rituals for achievment of this peace, while the Amida Buddhists think that a call to Amida Buddha anytime in one's life is sufficient--and maybe you don't even have to do that.

Now: a question for you.  Dr. Blanchard and I both go to Methodist churches.  We’re about the same age.  We have similar backgrounds, teach similar subjects, and have in many respects similar values.  Why do you suppose Dr. Blanchard *really* likes Buddhism while it doesn’t interest me nearly as much?  This, I think, is important to understanding Buddhism as a world religion: to see its attractions (or what drawbacks) in a setting outside its original social and political context.

·       Buddhism is exotic

·       Buddhism isn’t theological/dogmatic

·       Buddhism isn’t exclusive: it’s easy to combine with other faiths

·       Buddhism offers social connection

·       Buddhist diagnosis of the illness of the world and its cure attractive to some, irrelevant to others

·       Buddhism lends itself well to the religion business—though, often, in this country as part of a Hindu/Buddhist fusion as seen with figures like Marharishi Mahesh Yogi (Transcendental Meditation) and Guru Maharaj Ji (Divine Light Mission).

The beggar-monk model allowed Buddhism to spread from India to Tibet and China and (eventually) Japan.  It tended to fuse easily with native traditions. In India, it’s no wonder that Buddhism gets swallowed up by Hinduism, with Buddha viewed ultimately as another incarnation of Vishnu.  And this Buddhist/Hindu synthesis spread elsewhere easily enough. In Thailand, for instance, there’s a fairly recently constructed shrine of a four-faced Brahma that ends up called “The Four-Faced Buddha.”  Note how easily Buddha becomes Brahma as well as Vishnu!

While Buddhism spread into China as well and fused with native beliefs there, there was one important Chinese religious philosophy considerably less prone to fusion: Confucianism--our next topic.