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Thread: Buddhism and Belief

  1. #1

    Buddhism and Belief

    Hello fellow Treeleafers!

    Lately, especially since taking Jukai with you all not so very long ago, I've been feeling the urge to expand my book learning about Buddhism, and to become more familiar with its different, non-Zen, flavors. I've been sitting for a couple of years now, and most of what I know about Buddhism come strictly from my butt on a Zafu in the Japanese Zen context. I've been doing some reading, popping into local Buddhist temples here in Vietnam (though I confess I still don't really know what's going on; I just light incense and bow alot) and participating in a few other online forums, mostly "general buddhism" in flavor. One thing that I've been rather shocked by is how many people have been telling me that I'm not a "real Buddhist" because I don't have unquestioning belief in the literal factual historicity of what I call the "Hindu stuff:" things like reincarnation, rebirth into the heavenly realms of the Devas, etc. Nor do I believe in the literal factual historicity of the "Buddhist superpower" stuff, where Buddha flies around and people are instantly enlightened because the Buddha looks at them funny.

    My arrogant secular Western American egotistic mindset is, apparently, destroying "real Buddhism" and replacing it with evil deluded perversions. This doesn't bother me so much; I grew up in fundamentalist conservative Christian country, and I'm used to that kind of thing. But I was nonetheless quite surprised. The reason I became interested in Buddhism in the first place is that it was always presented as a way of life, in which the practice of ethics and self liberation etc was always more important than a checklist of weird metaphysics in which you are required to literally believe. My experience in the world of Zen has certainly been along those lines. Is that not the norm in World Buddhism? Here in Vietnam, nobody seems to much care one way or the other how you conceptualize the world, as long as you're friendly. I know that Japanese Zen has always kind of been off in a corner by itself, but are we really so different from the rest of the Buddhists? Is insistence on a checklist of beliefs the norm in non-Zen Buddhism?

    Disclaimer: this post is not meant to disrespect or belittle those people who DO believe in the literal factual reality of rebirth, heavenly Deva realms, etc. I don't claim to DIS-believe those things either. I'm quite open to the possibility, actually. I simply cannot verify the reality those things for myself, and while I find the stories useful, I do not find literal belief in them necessary for the practice of the Dharma, nor do I see how insistence that everyone MUST believe in them as such is useful to the practice of the Dharma. In fact, such insistence seems actively counterproductive. On the other hand I do recognize that for some people the literal belief is useful for their practice of the Dharma, and I completely respect that.

    Gassho,
    Kyoshin
    Sat/lah

  2. #2
    The reason I became interested in Buddhism in the first place is that it was always presented as a way of life, in which the practice of ethics and self liberation etc was always more important than a checklist of weird metaphysics in which you are required to literally believe. My experience in the world of Zen has certainly been along those lines. Is that not the norm in World Buddhism?
    No, that is not the "norm" in much of Asia, nor for more traditional folks among Western Buddhists. Master Dogen professed a very literal belief in Karma and future lives in many of his writings. Buddhism, including Japanese Zen, is a religion for most folks, not unlike most other world religions, with Buddha as God, miracles, and various fantastic beliefs to take on faith. The turn away from some things (like a belief in literal, post-mortem rebirth) is pretty much a trend of the last century or so, known as "Buddhist modernism." Some are critical of this (as you have discovered in your interactions with the fundamentalists), but i happen to feel it is a good thing to do away with various fantastic beliefs.

    Does it make it impossible to be a Buddhist? Not at all. First, literal rebirth was never so important in Zen (including for Dogen) because of the emphasis on liberation right in this life and world. Second, it is still possible to preserve rebirth in some guise, such as as an allegory. (i am agnostic on rebirth, but often say that it is not important to me, because i am most concerned with the "hells" that people create for themselves in this life).

    Just today, i heard an interesting interview with a philosopher who say that "rebirth" was and is "real" as an ethical lesson more than as a metaphysical truth (in other words, the real meaning is about not doing bad things, not about actual future lives).

    http://readingreligion.org/books/reb...nd-stream-life

    So, fear not. You are a "good Buddhist" ... when you do good, and avoid doing bad.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 05-05-2019 at 10:31 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  3. #3
    PS - A book you may be interested in at some point if interested in the history of Buddhist modernism. Again, some people consider it a terrible development and deviation, and others (like me) consider it just the latest turn in the long history of Buddhist developments.

    https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/vi...-9780195183276

    The Making of Buddhist Modernism
    David L. McMahan

    ABSTRACT
    This book elucidates the complex cross-cultural genealogy of themes, ideas, and practices crucial to the creation of a new hybrid form of Buddhism that has emerged within the last 150 years. Buddhism modernism is not just Buddhism that happens to exist in the modern world but a distinct form of Buddhism constituted by cross-fertilization with western ideas and practices. Using primarily examples that have shaped western articulations of Buddhism, the book shows how modern representations of Buddhism have not only changed the way the tradition is understood, but have also generated new forms of demythologized, detraditionalized, and deinstitutionalized Buddhism. The book creates a lineage of Buddhist modernism that includes liberal borrowing from scientific vocabulary in reformulations of Buddhist concepts of causality, interdependence, and meditation. It also draws upon Romantic and Transcendentalist conceptions of cosmology, creativity, spontaneity, and the interior depths of the human being. Additionally, Buddhist modernism reconfigures Buddhism as a kind of psychology or interior science, drawing both upon analytic psychology and current trends in neurobiology. In its novel approaches to meditation and mindfulness, as well as political activism, it draws heavily from western individualism, distinctively modern modes of world-affirmation, liberal political sensibilities, and modernist literary sources. The book also examines this uniquely modern Buddhism as it moves into postmodern iterations and enters the currents of global communication, media, and commerce.
    Last edited by Jundo; 05-05-2019 at 12:25 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
    What you dont believe everything word for word out these 1000 or so books?!? OMB you will be reborn as a dog!

    Is that round about what your heard?

    I heard a buddhist teacher once say "your beliefs are irrelavant, the truth with unfold without your belief in it" or something like that.

    Just keep sitting



    Washu

    Sat today

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-J727AZ using Tapatalk
    --Washu
    和 Harmony
    秀 Excellence

    "Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body" George Carlin Roshi

  5. #5
    Call me crazy but I've just never understood why, for some people, enforcing assent to a list of metaphysical beliefs about a teacher, like the Buddha or Jesus, is a higher priority than putting their teachings into practice.

    Thanks for the resources, Jundo! The infinite reading continues to grow.

    Gassho,
    Kyōshin
    Sat/lah

    Sent from my Pixel using Tapatalk

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by threethirty View Post
    What you dont believe everything word for word out these 1000 or so books?!? OMB you will be reborn as a dog!

    Is that round about what your heard?

    I heard a buddhist teacher once say "your beliefs are irrelavant, the truth with unfold without your belief in it" or something like that.

    Just keep sitting



    Washu

    Sat today

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-J727AZ using Tapatalk
    That's more or less what I heard. Basically, you could live your whole life according to the Buddha's teachings, following all the precepts to complete perfection, but it counts for nothing if you're not 100% certain you'll be chilling with Vishnu in your next life.

    Gassho
    Kyōshin
    Sat/lah

    Sent from my Pixel using Tapatalk

  7. #7
    Great topic Kyoshin

    I come from a family with very strong Baptist roots. I married into a family of Catholics (although my wife is not a practicing Catholic any more). The one exception was my father who kept a very open mind about religion and it was actually through the books on his shelves that I learned the basics of a Buddhism. I say all this because in my mind I’ve been mentally preparing for a discussion or argument which never seems to come. “Why do I believe in all that Buddhist stuff?” “Why do I believe in Buddha?” As if Buddha equals The Christian God.

    The truth is I don’t really consider Buddhism a religion. I like what you said about it being a way of life and set of ethics. I purposely avoid the “ist” and “ism” of the Buddha and used the word “practice “ instead.

    More I practice the more I become comfortable in my own skin on the topic and I’ve really just boiled it all down to
    1. Sit Zazen daily
    2. Follow the Precepts to the best of my abiliity
    3. Chop wood and carry water


    Religion is a tricky topic. I have no interest in arguing this or that with others. I guess that is why I am here. At Treeleaf I find we are encouraged to drop the philosophizing and just sit with what is.


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  8. #8
    I like this topic. it is very in tune with something I've been wrestling with for a while.

    I come from a strict Christian/Catholic family, but I never fit in well with Christianity or Catholicism. I finally left the church a while back. I left because of Buddhism (my choice), but also because I had converted (very quietly) to Judaism, on my own. This is actually a trend in Judaism, of Jews who also practice Buddhism, but it's complicated. I digress.

    Anyway -- it's still a dilemma for me, as I was welcomed (mostly) wholeheartedly into Judaism, yet Judaism is also like all other religions -- it has its quirks, politics, sectarianism and requirements. I love Judaism and I do attend Shul (online and sometimes in-person, health depending) fairly regularly.

    Yet ..... I feel most at home and myself at TreeLeaf, with Zen Buddhism. Why ...... TreeLeaf's mission, purpose and practice, and the mismatch I experience in my daily life (expectations, labels, categories) -- as someone who does not fit most of society's standard labels or expectations -- I find peace, equanimity, and refuge here.

    I come, sit, silent, read, reflect, exist, respect, learn. Occasionally I write.

    What/who I am, look like, ability, etc. -- all irrelevant.

    Essentially (for me), physical existence becomes irrelevant. At TreeLeaf, in a way, "I" am consciousness. I deeply appreciate this opportunity.

    I hope that made sense -- language is somewhat limiting with a topic like this.

    gassho
    kim
    st lh
    "Not all those who wander are lost." (J.R.R. Tolkien)

  9. #9
    Hi Kyoshin!

    Very interesting topic! I personally sit somewhere in the middle of it all. I would say agnostic toward rebirth but I probably lean a little more toward belief in all honesty, at least in the sense that each moment is a rebirth of sorts, and who is to say what happens after death? Just another moment. As far as the miraculous events we find in the sutras, I lean more toward the secular side of things!

    It has been my experience, and what many of my teacher have taught, that those miraculous events serve a couple of purposes. They help make the stories much more memorable and they point out that something very important is happening, even if the miraculous events themselves are not true.

    I often think of the Birth story of the Buddha. Did he really walk and speak right after being born? Probably not, but it certainly helps to mark the importance of the event!

    I think it is of note that Buddhism (like most religions) began as an oral tradition, and we have a much easier time remembering the fantastic than we do the banal!

    One of the reasons why I became so drawn to Zen was because it allows us to explore all of that, while at the same time reminding us that what really matters, what is truly "real" is the present moment and that we can experience that fully by "just sitting"!

    Gassho,

    Junkyo
    SAT

    Sent from my SM-G955W using Tapatalk

  10. #10
    If anyone hasn’t seen it, after Shokai’s talk during the Zazenkai the other day, we discussed this subject a little bit. It’s in the Zazenkai netcast section if anyone wants to give it a listen!

    Gassho,
    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Tairin View Post
    Great topic Kyoshin

    The truth is I don’t really consider Buddhism a religion. I like what you said about it being a way of life and set of ethics. I purposely avoid the “ist” and “ism” of the Buddha and used the word “practice “ instead.

    More I practice the more I become comfortable in my own skin on the topic and I’ve really just boiled it all down to
    1. Sit Zazen daily
    2. Follow the Precepts to the best of my abiliity
    3. Chop wood and carry water


    Religion is a tricky topic. I have no interest in arguing this or that with others. I guess that is why I am here. At Treeleaf I find we are encouraged to drop the philosophizing and just sit with what is.


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah


    Gassho,
    Jack
    Sattoday/lah

  12. #12
    So many excellent comments. You people are fantastic.
    Gassho
    Kyōshin
    Satlah

    Sent from my Pixel using Tapatalk

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Jakuden View Post
    If anyone hasn’t seen it, after Shokai’s talk during the Zazenkai the other day, we discussed this subject a little bit. It’s in the Zazenkai netcast section if anyone wants to give it a listen!

    Gassho,
    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH
    Thank you, Jakuden. I was not able to yet. I will try to.

    I'm trying to figure out extended activities in a constantly changing and moving household.

    Gassho
    Kim
    St lh

    Sent from my SM-G930U using Tapatalk
    "Not all those who wander are lost." (J.R.R. Tolkien)

  14. #14
    Xin Xin Ming:

    "The Great Way is not difficult
    for those not attached to preferences.
    When not attached to love or hate,
    all is clear and undisguised.
    Separate by the smallest amount, however,
    and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth.

    If you wish to know the truth,
    then hold to no opinions for or against anything.
    To set up what you like against what you dislike
    is the disease of the mind."
    .
    Gasho, Jishin, _/st\_

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by allwhowander View Post
    Thank you, Jakuden. I was not able to yet. I will try to.

    I'm trying to figure out extended activities in a constantly changing and moving household.

    Gassho
    Kim
    St lh

    Sent from my SM-G930U using Tapatalk
    My household is also constantly changing and moving. I try and sit the Zazenkai in instalments throughout the week before everyone else gets up. Although recently an early waking child has made this a bit difficult this week.

    Oh and you mentioned an online shul in a previous post, is that PunkTorah or somebody else?

    Gassho,

    Neil

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by EnlistedHipster View Post
    My household is also constantly changing and moving. I try and sit the Zazenkai in instalments throughout the week before everyone else gets up. Although recently an early waking child has made this a bit difficult this week.

    Oh and you mentioned an online shul in a previous post, is that PunkTorah or somebody else?

    Gassho,

    Neil

    With Sim Shalom and Central Synagogue NY.

    Gassho
    Kim
    St lh
    Last edited by allwhowander; 05-09-2019 at 12:59 AM.
    "Not all those who wander are lost." (J.R.R. Tolkien)

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Tairin View Post
    Great topic Kyoshin

    I come from a family with very strong Baptist roots. I married into a family of Catholics (although my wife is not a practicing Catholic any more). The one exception was my father who kept a very open mind about religion and it was actually through the books on his shelves that I learned the basics of a Buddhism. I say all this because in my mind I’ve been mentally preparing for a discussion or argument which never seems to come. “Why do I believe in all that Buddhist stuff?” “Why do I believe in Buddha?” As if Buddha equals The Christian God.

    The truth is I don’t really consider Buddhism a religion. I like what you said about it being a way of life and set of ethics. I purposely avoid the “ist” and “ism” of the Buddha and used the word “practice “ instead.

    More I practice the more I become comfortable in my own skin on the topic and I’ve really just boiled it all down to
    1. Sit Zazen daily
    2. Follow the Precepts to the best of my abiliity
    3. Chop wood and carry water


    Religion is a tricky topic. I have no interest in arguing this or that with others. I guess that is why I am here. At Treeleaf I find we are encouraged to drop the philosophizing and just sit with what is.


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah

    Tarin,

    Your experiences and perspective resonates very well with me. It parallels my life. Personally I have developed an aversion to the words “belief” and “believe” (and religions) not judgmental of others who use those terms to describe their spiritual self (my wife is a wise and open minded practicing Orthodox Christian with beliefs). I make a consciousness effort to never use them. My self dialogue is always what I think I know and what I don't know with the latter the dominant state.

    Gassho
    Doshin
    Stlah

  18. #18
    I don’t believe in anything. But I’ve been doing this for 30 years...

    Gassho,

    Kirk

    Sat
    I know nothing.

  19. #19
    Member Getchi's Avatar
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    If it helps, my first teacher fled from Burma (Myanmar) and was a respected teacher in the "Forest Tradition" of Nth.Thai. He always told me htere is nothing except having faith in Buddhas good works, and my own practicing of samadhi, sila and prajna as one movement and no seperation between what I think im thinking and whats actually being thought by my own mind. Bit confusing, but over the years ive met ppl who believe absolutly the buddhist hells and spirits exist, and those who see no reason to spend time worrying over appearance/non-appearance of the supermundane.

    All i know is that Jundo allowed me to see that cats and cows exist, even though devas and devils were what I originally thought id find. Eventually, the same path offers itself to you again, at that point ask yourself the question again, and listen to what is behind that voice?


    TLDR; since ther eis no limit to our imagination except for thinking of things that never existed even in our mind, then we should remember that "belief" is inherited from someone else, usuallu someone we love very much, and maybe focus more on the physical aspect of grinding-bones Zen. Maybe try looking into PureLand belief first, see how big that field is!


    Good Luck.

    Gassho,
    Geoff.

    SatToday
    LaH.
    Nothing to do? Why not Sit?

  20. #20
    I’ve found that what I understand is more important than what I believe. I’ve also found that cultivating helpful beliefs and discarding unhelpful beliefs as they are revealed to you is a much more practical approach than obsessing over what is objectively true and ultimately unprovable.

    Buddhism is for everybody. Everyone is invited to listen to the Dharma and find use for it. All kinds of people who believe all kinds of things.

    Gassho

    Say Today
    Last edited by Byrne; 05-16-2019 at 01:47 AM.

  21. #21

    Thank you all.

    Gassho
    SatToday
    流道
    Ryū Dou

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