Master of Buddhism Course

This is a blog for the course comments from the Master of Buddhism course through the Universal Life Church Seminary.
The course can be found at Buddhism Course.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Master of Buddhism: lesson 7 (assignment)

1. Buddhists believe that death is a teacher. Would you agree?
Yes, to a certain degree. Death certainly has initiatic aspects -- which has been demonstrated in recent decades by studies of near death experiences. People returning from these experiences have a much broadened perspective and become more tolerant. They feel a greater connectedness with everyone and everything as a result of their experience. They usually have a changed perspective of death: from one of dread to a peaceful acceptance of death as a mere transition, another step on the path of evolution.
   2.      What are the advantages or benefits of meditating on one's own death? Are there disadvantages?
Among the benefits is becoming aware of one's own mortality and realizing how precious life is. It helps to keep things in perspective. The downside, of course, is the risk of becoming preoccupied with death, even to the point of becoming consumed with dread, which in turn hinders enjoyment of life. A balance must be struck between the two. The ideal which is displayed by many who've had near death experiences -- and which, I believe, would be the Buddhist ideal as well -- is neither a fear of death, nor desire for it; death is a transition.
3.      Which do you think is the more important question: What happens when I die? or What is happening now?
Although contemplating what happens at the moment of death and thereafter can be a helpful exercise for some, it should not dominate our thinking. This is one of the faults of religions that focus too much on salvation and the afterlife while neglecting this life.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Master of Buddhism: lesson 11 (assignment)

1.            What are some of the unique traits of Mahayana Buddhism?

For one, in Mahayana Buddhism enlightenment is seen as attainable by all, not just monks and nuns. Mahayana is also more outward-directed, focusing on compassion towards others rather more so than individual enlightenment. It also centers around the concept of bodhisattva, beings who defer entering Nirvana in order to help other sentient beings to reach enlightenment.

2.            What is necessary in order to attain bodhicitta?

The most essential condition is the desire to attain Buddhahood.

3.            Why do you think Mahayana Buddhism appeals to such large numbers of people?
I think the salvation-oriented message and the involvement of the laity is attractive to many people. The need to abandon normal life and live a monastic one (as in Theravada) is a step few people are willing to make. Also the emphasis on compassion towards others and universal salvation is appealing to more collectivist East Asian cultures than is the individualistic approach of Theravada.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Master of Buddhism: lesson 9 (assignment)

1.    What are the three main divisions of the Pali Cannon?
The Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka, Adhimmada Pitaka – the last of these not recognized outside the Theravada tradition.

2.      How many pages are in the Pali Cannon?
Approximately 20,000 pages.

3.      In your opinion, does it matter whether the Buddha actually spoke the words making up the text of "Original Buddhism?" How accurate is accurate?

Not particularly. Buddhism is not a revealed religion in the sense that God or some divinity revealed truth in an external, verbal form. Truth was revealed through the Buddha's enlightenment – enlightenment which is in everyone's reach (i.e. the historical Buddha was not an incarnate divinity or specially chosen prophet). So, whether the teachings come from Siddhartha Gautama or some other enlightened person is mostly irrelevant as it's the spiritual message of the teachings that's important.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Master of Buddhism Week 17

Master of Buddhism Week Seventeen

1. Which of the Buddhist festivals most appeals to your sensibilities? Perhaps you can find a celebration of this
event locally.

Loy Krathong (the Floating Bowls). The ideas of watching one's troubles float away is pleasing. It puts in one in mind
of a Canadian native tradition wherein one ties offerings to a tree branch to mourn the passing of a loved one. A person
can be aware of nature reclaiming the symbol of the person and find comfort and healing in the process.

2. "So let the master settle, and wander." What does this mean to you?

The master being referred to is the bee. It is the master because it spreads life (pollen) while leaving the environment
undisturbed. This is a hint to us that we should do the same; spread life and encourage growth while at the same time
being careful not to disturb or destroy what happiness or existence.

3. If Buddha were alive today, would he preach abstention from eating meat? Why or why not?

I do not believe he would. It still stands that a Buddhist beggar would accept what is placed in the begging bowl. On a
larger scale, one should that which is given to aid spiritual growth.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Master of Buddhism Lesson Sixteen

1.      There are many possible reasons people site as to why Buddha hesitated in allowing Mahapajapati to join the sangha. Can you think what any of them might be?

I would think that because of the times in which the Buddha lived were structurally based around a heavily male dominated society. That is, men were considered more important, smarter, entitled, or even superior to women. I believe its one of those things that people were brought up to believe, and the Buddha may have had concerns about how others would view this. Obviously there could have been any other number of reasons such as, he might be concerned about the lust factor between men and women as well. Unfortunately those stigmas about people still hold true today. However, I do believe that those barriers have been broken significantly in many countries.

2.      Does the Thai sangha benefit by keeping women out? Why or why not?

I think that when you do not include someone who could be a potential benefit to a group then you are missing out - whether it is a woman or man. I understand that people have traditions, rules, and other things that can upset a delicate balance of crossing one path or another – but to me it does not make sense to disallow a person because of their sex when they could benefit a sangha with their wisdom, experiences, and compassion.

3.      What do you think the Buddha would say today if he were here to give advice to monks and nuns?

I would hope the Buddha would say something like he always would. Be mindful, treat each others with respect, and be compassionate to all sentient beings. I would also hope he would let them know that no matter who they are, they have to potential to become enlightened and that each monk and nun are the same, both capable of all the precepts, teachings, and helping others to attain enlightenment.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Buddhism Week Sixteen Women in Buddhism

1. There are many possible reasons people cite as to why Buddha hesitated in allowing Mahapajapati to join the
Sangha. Can you think what any of them might be?

Buddha was a product of his time. He was raised to believe in the inferiority of women and lived in a culture that
actively promoted those ideals. Just because he was an enlightened being, doesn't mean he wasn't politically aware. He
likely considered that there would be resistance should he let women enter the Sangha. Perhaps he knew it would always
be a source of difficulty for the men who couldn't come to grips with it and that fact, not the women, would lead to the
destruction of the Sangha.

2. Does the Thai Sangha benefit by keeping women out? Why or why not?

Nobody ever benefits from elitist stratification.

3. What do you think the Buddha would say today if he were here to give advice to monks and nuns?

I believe that his advice would be the same, but he would now enjoy the fact that he would not have to make distinctions
based on gender.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Master of Buddhism Lesson Fifteen

1.      In your own opinion, could Buddhism exist without any one of the following: monks, nuns, laymen, laywomen?

I would think that there are two different levels to this question. The first being that in order for Buddhism to exist with its rules, precepts, philosophies, and other various teachings – there needs to be some sort of guide along the way to keep it to its true roots. For example, I will use the analogy repair manual. There are people who are very handy, sort of handy, and no so handy when it comes to fixing things. With a book a person can have a anything from a very simple to a very complex system of repair work. And while a book or manual offers a guideline for understanding how something operates, it may be necessary to seek out someone who better understands how to use the book. Or even better, someone who knows better on the subject and has been in certain repair scenarios before. Some things may or may not be covered in the manual as well.

On the second level I think the idea of Buddhism in any sense for personal enlightenment or the addition of empathy towards others can exist without monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. What I mean by this is that even if Buddhism didn't exist, I think people would still try to better themselves and others. They would set their own guidelines and limits and may even write a manual along the way.

2.       What are the advantages of going on a pilgrimage?

The advantages of going on a pilgrimage are to distance oneself from their current state and to reflect along the way. They might also go to a place where someone such as, the Buddha resided to feel more of a connection and find inspiration in themselves. I suppose in a sense a pilgrimage is about feeling a connection mostly but not entirely. Never having been on one myself, I would also imagine it might be a much more heightened experience for the closeness one could feel to the Buddha.

3.      Are monks and nuns as reliant on laypeople today as they were in ancient India? Are  laypeople of today as reliant on monks and nuns?

I would say that there is always going to be a symbiotic relationship between the two sides. However, I think that the reliance between the two has become less – more so in the sense of needing the basics to survive (i.e. food and shelter). This is mostly due in large part to the growth of industrialization, transportation, and technologies. We have more: planes, bridges, roads, cars, boats, computers, factories, houses, shelters, and the list of excess goes on - than ever conceived of during ancient times. On the teaching aspect alone, I would even say to some extent due to media access such as, the internet, even the teachings can be acquired without the need of an physical person. That being said however, I suppose if one was to boil this down to salt or the cause and effect concept then yes, without the teachings originally put in motion then the internet or other places of information would not be available. So yes, there is still a need but not as much as it used be.