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 “saved by an all-loving God.” 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 don’t see it as anything to do with a “saving God” but more as an explanation that “there are many ways up the mountain” (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 Association’s (which is no longer a Christian denomination - more humanistic - was created through a merger between the Unitarian Church and the Universalist Church in the 1950’s, 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. I’ve seen it in Christianity, we’re all seeing it with certain Muslim groups around the world, we see it in jingoism, I’ve seen it in education, and I’ve 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 “anything goes.” 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 Roshi’s teachings, especially regarding Shikantaza. However, I just don’t get why he’d 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 “This is what I teach and the way I teach, and if it doesn’t work for you, perhaps I’m not the teacher for you.” Okay. I dig that. No problem. But, then to add, “But if you go somewhere else, you won’t be getting the real deal” seems absurd to me. Okay, Nishijima says that his is the authentic way, but so does vipassana teacher S.N. Goenka. He claims he’s teaching authentic meditation exactly how Buddha taught it and everyone else isn’t, which is very different from Nishijima‘s 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 doesn’t work for you, there are other ways. No problem. And regardless of what someone may say, you’re not an asswipe because you feel that way.
I just think it’s 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 don’t think I’ll be calling myself a Universalist anytime soon, but I think there is something for me to learn there as well.