Sunday, November 29, 2009

On the difference between East and West

A redated post.

Do all religions really teach the same thing? Look at this example from Buddhism.

The Buddha's attitude is best presented through illustration. The legend runs that one day a grandmother appeared before him in tears. She had just lost a very dear grandchild. The Buddha looked at her gravely. "How many people are three is this city of Savatthi?" he asked, with apparent irrelevance. Upon receiving her reply, he came to the point. "Would you like to have as many children and grandchildren as there are in this city of Savatthi?" The old lady, still weeping, cried out "yes, yes." "But, the Buddha gently remonstrated, "if you had as many children as there are people in Savatthi, you wuold have to weep every day, for people die daily there." The old lady thought a moment; he ws right! As she went away comforted, she carried with her the Buddha's saying, "those who have a hundred dear ones have a hundred woes, those who have ninety dear ones have ninety woes..those who have one dear one have one woe, those who hold nothing dear have no woe."

From David S. Noss, A History of the World's Religions (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2003) 11th ed., p. 180.


Edwardtbabinski said...

Read much on the "Axial Age?" All of my years as a Christian reading Lewis and Chesterton and other apologists, I never heard about Karl Jaspers' coining of that term, the Axial Age.

Now an ex-Catholic ("freelance monotheist" as she describes her present view)Karen Armstrong, has come out with a marvelous book, THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION, that delves into the Axial Age of China, India, Palestine, and Greece. Fascinating stuff. I was lucky enough to find an audio version of the book at my library and listened to it on my way to and from work. I think it took more class hours than a college course to get through the book, but it was worth it. She opened up history, philosophy, morality, religion, the whole Axial Age, putting it into perspective along with the latest advances in the study of the history of goings on, on each continent.

I was AMAZED to learn about all the advances in spirituality and religion, philosophy and ethics, as well as the transformative power of the theater that was developed during the Axial Age, all happening during that time period at various places around the world, all during the same two or three century period.

Read her massive book has been more of a revelation to me than reading Christian theology and Christian apologetics.

I also listened to another Armstrong book published right after the one above, also on audio, a wonderful listen, A SHORT HISTORY OF MYTH, that is like an added appendix and extended summation of THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION.

I think she has taken books like Huston Smith's THE RELIGIONS OF MAN to the next level. She's even outdone some of Alan Watts' comparative religion works in that her knowledge seems broader, more attuned to history, archeology, etc., not simply comparative philosophy and religion.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Also...have you checked out books like THE INNER EYE OF LOVE by a Catholic priest who dialogued with Amidha Buddhists in Japan; or, Thomas Merton's Eastern Journal; or, Dom Bede Griffith's experiences and encounters with Hindus & Buddhists at his Catholic-Hindu-Buddhist ashram in India (Griffith remained a life long friend and correspondent with C. S. Lewis, having converted to Christianity at nearly the same year and place Lewis did).

There's also Conrad Hyers' books on sprituality, divine humor and laughter in all the world's religions, including his little gem, ONCE-BORN, TWICE BORN, ZEN.

And there's wonderful spiritual tales of wisdom and spirituality told by Sufis like the works of Idries Shah.

Or consider Alan Watts' works on spirituality east and west, since he started out Anglican like Lewis, but then studied Christian mystics like THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, and found in such Christian mystics and affinity with mysticisms in other religions.

There's also Meister Eckhart's sermons, and, the Creation-Spirituality of Matthew Fox that was inspired by Eckhart's writings. See at the least, Fox's tiny gem of a book, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, that can be read during a cup of coffee.

And there's older works along those same lines like Rudolf Otto's book on The Holy, the "mysterium tremendum."

I absorbed a number of these works while still an Evangelical Christian. Eventually I couldn't help seeing goodness in people who were not Christians, a genuine goodness that I had not fully acknowledged nor appreciated before as a conservative Evangelical Christian.

Waking to that recognition was in my case THE major factor that burst my Evangelical bubble, widening its inclusivity too far to stand the strain. My conservatism and former exclusionary ways of thinking, of dividing people into "saved and unsaved," simply popped.

Many of my other questions that began arising at that time were intellectual. But this question in particular was one in which I felt the ground of my sturdy solid Evangelical cosmos begin to quake and crumble beneath my feet. I recall the night and time when this all stuck me, and how unsettling the thought was.

Anonymous said...

It is sorta similar to Jesus' warning to women of the end times, something to the effect of saying it's better to be bare than to give birth to children, for the suffering saved.

The differences between morals or proverbs in religions aren't very great, and biblical principle even teaches us to expect that similarity. (the Law written in the hearts of Gentiles). The important differences of religions, as I think they are, lie in conception of deity, diagnosis of what's wrong with the world, and the solution to it.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

That little paragraph actually strikes me as something that would be right at home in 21st century analytic philosophy. Seems to specifically resonate with Singer's stuff on altruism, but a good fit for analytic philosophy in general.

Mike Darus said...

He who risks one hundred woes may embrace 100 dear ones.

Anonymous said...

The scenario sounds a little like pascals wager.

unkleE said...

Mike, I'm with you: "He who risks one hundred woes may embrace 100 dear ones." Love means vulnerability, which means (often) hurts. But far better that than the Buddha's way, I believe. Thanks for that thought.