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Thread: Universalism

  1. #1

    Universalism

    Hey Folks,

    A few recent discussions on Treeleaf have prompted me to think a lot about Universalism. Historically, it is a specific Christian theology purporting that all will eventually be ďsaved by an all-loving God.Ē However I have learned that some have taken Universalism outside the boundaries of Christianity and are using it as the best explanation of their worldview. Even some agnostics and atheists have an affinity for Universalism. They see it as more, well, universal. Some donít see it as anything to do with a ďsaving GodĒ but more as an explanation that ďthere are many ways up the mountainĒ (leaving aside for now the Zen idea that there is really no mountain to climb, etc.). Lately, I have discovered a certain affinity for this philosophy. The Unitarian Universalist Associationís (which is no longer a Christian denomination - more humanistic - was created through a merger between the Unitarian Church and the Universalist Church in the 1950ís, I believe) guiding principles affirm :

    -The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    -Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    -Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    -A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    -The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    -The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
    -Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

    This all seems very reasonable to me. As I think I have made clear around here, I abhor fundamentalism and sectarianism in all their guises. Iíve seen it in Christianity, weíre all seeing it with certain Muslim groups around the world, we see it in jingoism, Iíve seen it in education, and Iíve seen it in Buddhism. I guess it can rear its ugly head in any human endeavor. To say that one particular way of doing something is the only way of doing it is, to me, absurd. I just cannot reconcile this view with how I view the world and what I know in the deepest recesses of my being. I believe there are many ways of doing many things and, most of the time, they are all valid. This certainly does not mean ďanything goes.Ē It doesn't mean you're being milk-toast, and it doesn't mean you don't have a strong practice/base.

    For example, I am inspired by Nishijima Roshiís teachings, especially regarding Shikantaza. However, I just donít get why heíd say that his way of teaching it and the 4 Noble Truths are the only authentic way. Brad Warner says the same (Brad has a recent post about just this on his blog). As I said to Jundo on another thread, I understand why a teacher says ďThis is what I teach and the way I teach, and if it doesnít work for you, perhaps Iím not the teacher for you.Ē Okay. I dig that. No problem. But, then to add, ďBut if you go somewhere else, you wonít be getting the real dealĒ seems absurd to me. Okay, Nishijima says that his is the authentic way, but so does vipassana teacher S.N. Goenka. He claims heís teaching authentic meditation exactly how Buddha taught it and everyone else isnít, which is very different from NishijimaĎs way. Others, of course, say the same thing. To make a statement like that seems to me based out of some type of fear and seems very childish to me. I see all the various styles and ways of teaching as all skillful means meant for all different types of folks. If something doesnít work for you, there are other ways. No problem. And regardless of what someone may say, youíre not an asswipe because you feel that way.

    I just think itís important to be faithful to what works for you, while remaining open to the whole. To be fundamentalist is to close ourselves off to some potential richness from other sources. My practice lately has come to mean learning to live by the basic teachings of the Buddha (4 Noble Truths/8-Fold Path), the Precepts that I have taken, and Shikantaza. I may call myself a Buddhist on good days, and I donít think Iíll be calling myself a Universalist anytime soon, but I think there is something for me to learn there as well.

  2. #2
    Hey Keith,

    "Fundamentalism" is becoming a word with a hair trigger. It seems that anytime someone professes a strong opinion or a critical view of another opinion, the new "F-bomb" is dropped.

    At it's most broad definition fundamentalism is a strict adherence to a certain set of principles. That's all of us my friend. The difference that I have found in my study and practice of the Way is that "our fundamentalism" isn't supposed to lie in scripture or clerical authority. It lies instead in our own personal experience of practice.

    So to refer to the criticism of another method of practice as fundamentalism, particularly when this reference includes a opinion of how it "should" be, is a degree of fundamentalism itself.

    In the end x is fluffy, y is wrong, z is the True Path(tm) is just an opinion. Is "this mind is Buddha," really any different to "the kingdom of heaven lies within"? Not really. But in my mind the first statement has less baggage, fewer assumptions. To me the old adage holds true, "absorb what is useful, discard the rest." Only you know what is truth, and only you know what you require.


  3. #3
    Hey Rev,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. There's not much that I disagree with you here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rev R
    "Fundamentalism" is becoming a word with a hair trigger. It seems that anytime someone professes a strong opinion or a critical view of another opinion, the new "F-bomb" is dropped.

    At it's most broad definition fundamentalism is a strict adherence to a certain set of principles.
    The traditional definition, I think, is more to do with what's the essential (fundamental) aspect of a particular phenomenon. Remember RIF (Reading is Fundamental)? Yeah, learning to read is fundamental for most people to get along in modern society. But, I think it has also evolved into meaning a closed-minded-circle-the-wagons-against-the-infidels attitude. When I use the word in this context, I am referring to that attitude, which I don't find helpful.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rev R
    "To me the old adage holds true, "absorb what is useful, discard the rest." Only you know what is truth, and only you know what you require.
    I heartily agree! This is exactly why the Buddhadharma has attracted me.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  4. #4
    Hey Keith

    I was focused on the definition in it's religious context.

    I think it has also evolved into meaning a closed-minded-circle-the-wagons-against-the-infidels attitude. When I use the word in this context, I am referring to that attitude, which I don't find helpful.
    Oh I agree, and it's not healthful either. It's a difficult mentality to combat and maintain balance because it's such an easy mentality to drift into. I've seen it in others and I see it in myself from time to time. It gets difficult to recognize the mentality when you agree with the ideas.

    *edit* Yeah I do remember RIF, whatever happened to that program.

  5. #5
    It can also be good to look at others in various other practices not with a critical eye but with eye that say we both share that path. For this I'm referring to other "buddhist" practices here, but it might relate to other stuff. I might be full of shit, but it just seems anti- productive to worry about how others are following the wrong path. It seems more productive to laugh with them and maybe chop some wood. I think you know what I mean.

    It seems to me that let's say the Tibetan tradition. Now they have this idea of reincarnation, but who am I to say they are full of it. They might know something I don't. After listening to Lama Malcolm's talks I could see that they were shooting for the same realization as Soto Zen only using different methods. I didn't and don't study Tibetan Buddhism, maybe someone can enlighten me.

    You know. Jundo said something to me that was fairly relevant. I can't remember his exact words, sorry Jundo. He said "You do this practice and eventually see it as a good way of life." Doesn't mean it's the only way.

    Gassho Will

  6. #6
    Hey Guys,

    I came across an appropriate quote today from Dogen Zenji. It was a time when he was preaching that all Buddhism was one, yet was simultaneously very critical quite often of other Buddhist traditions such as Pure Land, Esoteric traditions, some schools that only emphasized book learning and such. He wrote ...

    "A Buddhist should neither argue superiority or inferiority of doctrines, nor settle disputes over depth or shallowness of teachings, but only know authenticity or inauthenticity of practice." (Bendowa)

    I know that some people prefer Britney Spears to Beethoven, and that is fine ... a matter of taste. But if you come to my piano class to learn to play Beethoven, I will tell you how to do it "right", and I will know for sure when the piano is in or out of tune.

    Some people want their religion to have an old man with a long beard who created the earth in 6 days, or a golden buddha whose sacred steps turn to lotus blossoms. Good for them. Maybe their Buddhism or other religion/philosophy is better than mine, at least for them. I am sure that they feel likewise about my way of Buddhism. Good for them again. Other people want to come to Zazen for a bit of feel-good relaxation before they get on with their busy week. Good for them too. They may not appreciate or have interest in the more challenging aspects of our Practice.

    But I am not going to change what I teach one bit. Nor am I going to stop to comment on other forms of Buddhism/religion which I consider (from my standpoint) fluff, hocus-pocus or counterproductive. Feel free to listen to Britney Spears, but do not expect a Beethoven teacher to tell you how good it is.

    Gassho, Jundo the Dharma Snob

    PS - I ONLY recommend this Practice because it has been part of my life for about half of it. But you have to find out for yourself if the same holds true for you. If not, feel free to head out my door and down the street to the big Dharma music store and buy some Britney, White Stripes, Will Simpson, Stravinsky or Miles Davis ... whatever works for you.

  7. #7
    Hi,

    I think Nishijima Roshi is correct when he says that his teachings are the only way, but: in a relative, not an absolute sense. Let me try to explain. As far as I know, none of us here at Treeleaf were brought up in families which practice Soto Zen. We all have different backgrounds, live in various countries and probably come from famlies where a theistic religion is the standard. In my case, it was catholicism. However, I donít believe in any god(s), heaven or hell in a literal sense, etc. So theistic religions are a no-go for me. After about 15 years of being an atheist with a nominal interest in philosophy, my interest was sparked in Buddhism. However, I donít believe in reincarnation, I donít think Mara is going to drag me to the Avici hell if Iím a bad boy, I donít think that Amithaba is going to find a nice place for me in the Tushita heaven if Iím a good boy, and Iíd be willing to bet that Buddha Shakyamuni never lit up the sky by sending out a beam of light from between his eyebrows. Itís also not likely that something will happen which will cause me to change my view on these things. Thereís no going back. On the other hand, I have deep faith in the core teachings of the Buddha, Nagarjuna, Bodhidharma, Dogen Zenji, and of course in Zazen. Faith in the sense that I know that they are true, just like if I drop a ball I know that gravity will make it fall to the ground. So after I started looking into the Buddhadharma I slowly but actively narrowed my focus to the general direction of Zen, then towards Soto Zen and finally into Nishijima Roshiís lineage with Jundo and Treeleaf. One by one Iíve ruled out traditions which donít work for me. And now Iím here, hurray! So when Nishijima Roshi (or Jundo for that matter) says that what he teaches is the only way, itís like he is speaking to a limited audience of people in a similar situation who have, like us here at Treeleaf, actively sought him out for very specific reasons and for that particular audience, it may very well be the only way. Of course for others who just happen to stumble across a statement like that it may be off-putting if interpreted in an absolute sense. OK, enough rambling on for now. Hopefully Iím not giving Nishijima Roshi too much credit where itís not deserved, but thatís my take on it at this point in time.

    Gassho
    Ken

  8. #8
    Iíd be willing to bet that Buddha Shakyamuni never lit up the sky by sending out a beam of light from between his eyebrows.
    I read that it was from between his butt-cheeks? Must be a different story...never mind.

  9. #9
    Hey Guys,

    Thank you for your replies. Good stuff all around (except maybe the butt-cheek thing - not a good image! :wink: ).

    I still feel there are many ways to do most things, and I still need to remain open to the whole. But like Ken said, I've also narrowed down my options over the years enough to know that the Soto way, as taught in this lineage, is the most skillful and balanced way for me. Hurray!

    Gassho,
    Keith

  10. #10
    Senior Member Martin's Avatar
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    Keith

    Like you, and others, I'm sympathetic to Universalism.

    Different paths can all be equally right - or equally wrong! And recognising that we in the great scheme of things (if there is one) are all equally wrong can be a basis for a universal and inclusive approach also. I read that the Buddha said:

    "I look upon the judgment of right and wrong as the serpentine dance of a dragon, and the rise and fall of beliefs as but traces left by the four seasons".

    Gassho

    Martin

  11. #11
    I and my kids attend a Unitarian Universalist fellowship on Sunday mornings. If you look at the Zen Peacemakers website, the core beliefs are almost identical! UUism is quite compatible with Buddhism, especially our own expression.
    With a group of like-minded, interested folks there, (and from outside,) we've got a pretty good sitting group going.
    Pretty cool stuff!

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Keith

    I still feel there are many ways to do most things, and I still need to remain open to the whole.
    We all do. This weekend, I was at the local festival and I bought one of those bumper stickers that says "CO-EXIST" on it, with symbols for the many religions: a Crucifix, a Jewish Star, a Buddha, etc. I really believe in that, and moreover, we must be constantly open and learn from each other, from all other traditions and beliefs. (Heck, although I personally think it eccentric and maybe a little dangerous, I sometimes try to listen to what Tom Cruz is saying about Scientology's views. Also, no book fails to contain some idea of value, no matter how reviled the author).

    But I tend to look on society, and religious society, as a salad. I am a tomato, and there are peppers and greens and bit of this and that ... and we should all co-exist, learn from each other and get along.

    But, you know, as a tomato, I am going to be my tomato-ness. I am going to go that way, right for me. Other tomatoes show up at my door, I am going to teach them how to be tomatoes.

    Gassho, Jundo-mato

    (Just got up: I'm not so good with fruit and vegetable analogies so early in the day ... but you get the point! :? )

  13. #13
    But don't tomatoes already know how to be tomatoes?:lol:

    Just funnin' ya a bit.


    I've no issue with tomatoes being tomatoes and peppers being peppers (let alone any issue with a specific tomato).

    I've no issue with pointing out the difference between strains of tomatoes or between tomatoes and peppers. Even if it sounds a little harsh.

    My issue always lies in peppers telling tomatoes they are going to the grill if they don't become peppers.


    Besides, we all know that grilled peppers taste better.

  14. #14
    Hey Tomato Sensei ... er ... Jundo,

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    But, you know, as a tomato, I am going to be my tomato-ness. I am going to go that way, right for me. Other tomatoes show up at my door, I am going to teach them how to be tomatoes.
    So, as tomatoes, are we fruits or vegetables? Neither? Both? :wink:

    Seriously, nice analogy (even if it was an early morning one).

    Gassho,
    Keith

  15. #15
    and are we reborn as ketchup.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Rev R
    and are we reborn as ketchup.
    Tomato sauce!

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    But I tend to look on society, and religious society, as a salad. I am a tomato, and there are peppers and greens and bit of this and that ... and we should all co-exist, learn from each other and get along.
    Hello Folks!

    When it comes to internal beliefs, I couldn't agree more, but it is my experience that religions whose job it is to actively proselytize aren't just satisfied with believing their stuff and sharing it. There comes a point when religious views actively shape day to day politics and openly attempt to change other people's lives (including my own). I can see it happening in my own country as we speak, and trust me, I am not a fan of conspiracy-theories. Ideas and actions that would usually be met with great public resistance suddenly become OK(or ar at least not open to a truly critical discourse), just because the pc-label "religion" is attached to them.

    In this sense I very much side with Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris etc. who point out time and time again, that BS ideas (or any kind idea for that matter) should not be excluded from critical analysis, just because somebody says "it's part of my religion, you have to respect that".

    Voltaire didn't have a very important impact on the Enlightenment because he tried to get along with everyone nicely.

    Gassho,

    Hans

  18. #18

    Universalism, etc.

    Fwiw,
    I think there is a difference between Universalism and Subjectivism, between ďWe all get home.Ē And ďWhatís right for you is right for you and whatís right for me is right for me.Ē And Zen Buddhism which says, ďThere is neither Ďhomeí nor Ďrightí.Ē

    I judge paths by compassion and I think there are some paths that are harmful, that increase attachment to material possessions, that increase fear, that decrease acceptance, peace, joy. And though it is parallel to the Fundamentalist who out of love points out a neighborís sin to save him from hellís damnation, I think it is compassionate to tell another pilgrim that their choices appear to have harmful consequences for themselves and/or others.

    But, of course, it is done with the severest self-examination and humility possible.

  19. #19

    universalism

    Hello Keith and all here--

    Don, thank you for such a succinctly put touchstone:

    'I judge paths by compassion.'

    If you want to know someone's true beliefs--observe what they DO.
    It is through the practical applicaion in daily life in daily activities that beliefs are revealed for what they are!

    Even my own have surprised me on occasion!

    keishin

  20. #20

    Re: universalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    Hello Keith and all here--

    Don, thank you for such a succinctly put touchstone:

    'I judge paths by compassion.'

    If you want to know someone's true beliefs--observe what they DO.
    It is through the practical applicaion in daily life in daily activities that beliefs are revealed for what they are!

    Even my own have surprised me on occasion!

    keishin
    Exactly. Someone once told me that if y :lol: ou want to know a person's values, look at their checkbook register.

  21. #21

    Re: universalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin

    If you want to know someone's true beliefs--observe what they DO.
    It is through the practical applicaion in daily life in daily activities that beliefs are revealed for what they are!
    You sure spoke a truth, sister! Thank you, Keishin.

    For example, my relationship with Nishijima Roshi was not built first and foremost on what he writes in some essay about Zen and Zazen. It is watching how the man moves through life, treats people, handles difficulties, smiles and all the rest, since I first met him around 1989 (and especially since I became much closer to him about 10 years ago). His teachings, especially in English (he is rather more expressive in Japanese of course) and in his later years tend to be focused on a few things. They are brilliant, original and insightful expressions of Zen and Buddhist teachings and of experiences that are often beyond expression or explanation with words. But I knew I had found a true teacher when I watched him sit Zazen like a stone, how he bows with grace, when I visited him when he was sick in hospital, at the time of the death of his wife, how he hustles from train to train in good weather or bad on one of his travels, how he takes care in his translation work when we worked together on a book, how he ages (he will be 89 soon), how he was simply very generous and kind to even difficult people, how he always has time for teaching, etc. etc.

    None of us is perfect, including Nishijima of course. We are all human beings, with respective good and weak points (except for me! ha ha). But a true teacher, I think, will be shown in a person who is a truly alive, humane and 'human' human being. May I live as long as Nishijima and be half of that!

    Gassho, Jundo

  22. #22
    Hey Everyone,

    Wow, Jundo, thank you for that beautiful description of Nishijima Roshi. It was very touching to me. What a wonderful description of a true teacher (and more importantly a true human being). I am even more proud and grateful for being, in his words, his "granddaughter."

    "By their fruits you shall know them." May we all sow helpful and healthful fruit.

    Gratefully,
    Keith

  23. #23
    Stephanie
    Guest
    I am also sympathetic to Universalism philosophically, though in practice, UU seems to me to... not have much of a practice to it! I really don't see the point of going to a UU service, except perhaps to meet other like-minded folks.

    My main objection to the popular American notion of Christianity (believe in Jesus, repent, be saved, go to heaven) is not a metaphysical one, but a moral one. How could an omnibenevolent God send anybody to hell for eternity? I personally find the notion extreme even for such a person as Hitler, much less for the many varieties of people that Christians say will go to hell. I don't want to send anyone to hell, I don't want to see anyone in hell, and knowing that there are people in hell, I want to help get them out. I think this is a pretty universal human reaction, though certainly many of us numb ourselves to the suffering we see around us. I am constantly surprised how often I can walk by a homeless person begging on the street without a twinge of any feeling whatsoever. Of course, if I slow down and really pay attention, I feel it--the sadness, the guilt, the yearning to reach out, give a dollar, do something.

    And to me, it's metaphysically possible that there's some God in charge of our Fates (I mean, Hell, what do I know about the true nature of the cosmos? Could be invisible gremlins everywhere for all I know) who is a jealous, angry God, but my attitude is that I could never worship such a God. Knowing that tells me a lot about what it means to be human--that our primary orientation is to one another. So how could humans live in Paradise knowing others were suffering, and not want to help them? I would be eternally depressed knowing that there were people suffering the worst torments forever. The deepest joy possible for a human being is to help others. I think Jesus (whether he was a real person or a historical abstraction) knew that, and I think more enlightened Christians over the years--Tolstoy, the Quakers, the Universalists, etc.--recognized that as well.

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