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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Master of Buddhism: lesson 5 (assignment)

1.      Is the idea of karma uplifting or unsettling? Why?

The idea of karma can be uplifting or unsettling, depending on the person. For some, karma is a disincentive to do evil and an incentive to undertake positive acts. For others, the idea (very widespread in protestant Christianity) that all our "sin" (negative karma) cannot be washed away all at once by the grace of Christ (or some other savior figure) may be unsettling.

One down side of the teaching of karma is caused by improper understanding of how it works.  Karma is always proportionate and instructive (the idea being not to punish but to correct). However for some people, especially those with obsessive compulsive disorder or similar problems, the fear of excessive karmic retribution can be overwhelming (for example, that some relatively minor misdeed could bring about disproportionately grave karmic consequences – such a catastrophic illness, death of a loved one, financial ruin etc.). It must be noted that such fears can be found also in people not exposed to a karmic world view – in a traditional Judeo-Christian context such people my fear divine retribution disproportionate to their misdeed.

2.      Do you know anyone who exists in any or each of the symbolic worlds?

I'm sure I do – but it's difficult to place people in the different worlds without being able to see inside their soul. For that matter it's hard to place one's own self in any of the worlds precisely.

3.      How do the symbolic six worlds differ philosophically from our Western concepts of Heaven and Hell?

Well, the most obvious and most important difference is the idea of permanence. The Western Hell is eternal and inescapable – therefore its purpose is punishment only, not correction and reform. The Catholic idea of Purgatory is closer to the Buddhist Hell – however, in Purgatory the soul is ultimately guaranteed attainment of Heaven, and regressing to Hell is no longer possible. With the Buddhist worlds movement in both directions (from Hell towards to world of gods and from the world of gods towards Hell) is possible.

J.P. Amis


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Master of Buddhism: lesson 4 (assignment)

Master of Buddhism: lesson 4

1.    Why do you think Buddhism resonated so deeply with so many kings and rulers?
Perhaps due to the "middle path" stressed in Buddhism and the reliance on self, rather than on gods that must be placated.
2.    What elements were necessary for the spread of Buddhism?
Committing the Buddhist texts to writing and translating them into other languages was key. Also the missionary spirit of Buddhist allowed it to spread beyond India.
3.    What, if anything, could rulers of today's world learn from the dharma?
Respect for all life.

J.P. Amis

Friday, June 8, 2012

Master of Buddhism: lesson 3 (assignment)

Master of Buddhism: lesson 3

1.    Could the fact that the Dharma wasn't written by the Buddha himself be problematic? If so, in what ways?
This could or could not be particularly important, depending on your perspective. If the person of the original Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, as being the source of truth is seen as important, then the fact of the Dharma not being written by him would be problematic.  However, if we look at the spirit of Buddhism – that Buddhahood is within everyone's reach – then the words of a certain historical person become less important. The Buddha Nature could be equally present in later Buddhists as it was in Siddhartha Gautama.
2.    Imagine you are preparing to go for refuge. What necessary changes would you need to make in your life first?
Giving up meat altogether, for one, and minimizing alcohol consumption. Also getting my thoughts under control (just to name a few!)
3.    When going for refuge, are you relying on forces outside of yourself for peace of mind, or are the Three Jewels ultimately found inside yourself?
Even though taking refuge is expressed in terms of seemingly outside entities, ultimately enlightenment must come from within – refuge with our inner Buddha.

J.P. Amis

Master of Buddhism: lesson 2 (assignment)

Master of Buddhism: lesson 2

1.    Which of these guidelines do you think is the most important? Why?
It's quite difficult to say that one guideline is more important than the others because they work together. Yet, if forced to choose, I think that perhaps "Right Speech" is the area most neglected today. In advanced countries we moved further and further away from physical violence. Yet verbal harm is still very pervasive. So, thinking before speaking, being aware of the impact words can have on others, is key to reducing suffering – both in others and in ourselves. However, in going back to my initial comment on the holistic nature of the Eightfold path, I must add that "Right Though" is a necessary prerequisite for "Right Speech".
2.    What is the unifying concept of these guidelines?
Awareness seems to be a key unifying concept. We are to be aware of our thoughts, words, actions, surroundings and others.
3.    What do you think the Buddha would have to say today about "Right Livelihood?" Can you think of any positions in today's workforce that he might use as an activity one should avoid?
Among the types of work to be avoided according to the principal of "Right Livelihood" (that are not already included by extension in the original Buddhist teaching, such as the tobacco industry which fits roughly into the category of intoxicants) would include industrial and financial/investment activity that destroys the environment, or that exploits or abuses workers for the profit of a few (for example, moving jobs from a high wage country to a low wage developing country – workers in the high wage country lose their livelihood, while workers in the low wage country are being paid inadequately while the investor's profit increases). We could also include production of entertainment forms containing excessive, unwarranted violence.

J.P. Amis

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Master of Buddhism: lesson one (assignment)

1.    The story of the early life of Siddhartha Gautama seems rather stylized, at least to a degree – events seem to foreshadow his coming enlightenment rather perfectly. I believe this is true of most stories surrounding great religious leaders, prophets and sages.  Yet, for me, whether the details of the story are historically and factually true or not is of little importance. What's important is the spiritual truth, the spiritual lesson for us today.

2/3.    On one level, enlightenment is an awakening to truth in a general sense. Such enlightenment can occur on this plane and more than once in a lifetime. The other type of enlightenment is absolute enlightenment – overcoming the cycle of death and rebirth and attaining Nirvana.  Both types of enlightenment are possible, yet I think it's difficult to attain Nirvana on this plane.  I think this stage of enlightenment is usually attained on a higher plane of existence beyond the physical plane.

J.P. Amis