[Buddha-l] Watery dharma

Richard Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Mon Dec 17 20:56:41 MST 2007

On Sun, 2007-12-16 at 09:38 +0000, Margaret Gouin wrote:

> It often seems to me that when people say they are "'something' +
> Buddhist", it means that they practice a 'Buddhist' form of meditation,
> but without concern for the dharma teachings; basically (philosophically?)
> they are 'something' with meditation techniques which are labelled
> (rightly or wrongly) Buddhist. Fine. Just get your backside on the cushion
> (or chair...) and make your mind bright.

There are a few counterexamples I can think of. I know of people who say
they are Buddhists in the sense of going for refuge to the Buddha, the
Dharma and the Sangha, living (or earnestly trying to live) by precepts,
and practising Buddhist meditation but who also say they are Quakers or
Unitarian-Universalists. (Not only do I know such people; I am such a
person.) But being a Quaker or a Unitarian is pretty easy to mix with
other paths, since neither of these traditions has a creed, and neither
of them have any sacraments. People are quite free to roll their own
system of beliefs. As a Quaker I adhere to traditional Buddhist beliefs
(minus the dogma of rebirth). I have a pretty strong commitment to the
Quaker process and lifestyle, which is difficult to distinguish from
living a Buddhist lifestyle. 

While Quakerism and Unitarianism are both derived from radical (even
what we might today call fundamentalist) Christian roots, there are
traditional Christians who do not regard Quakers and Unitarians as being
any more Christian than they regard Mormons as being Christian. If one
were to follow a more creedal form of Christianity, one might have to do
quite a bit of doctrinal tweaking (or psychological compartmentalizing),
and some combinations of Buddhism and Christianity might raise an
eyebrow and invite some degree of opprobrium, scorn and contempt.

The most serious pragmatic obstacle to mixing (some forms of)
Christianity with Buddhism is creed. To the extent that commitment to a
particular formulation of dogma is seen as indispensable to being a
Christian, to that extent it is difficult to practice anything based on
a theoretical framework at odds with that dogma. (Jesus, I'm starting to
sound like a bloody academic! Sorry about that.) 

Joel's testimony notwithstanding, my guess is that there is hardly
anything in Jewish practice that could possibly be seen as being in
conflict with Buddhist practice. There are Buddhist customs that
reportedly make a number of my Jewish Buddhist friends a little
uneasy---doing prostrations before graven images is one that comes to
mind. But that is not at all a requisite of Buddhist practice. It's just
a custom that is pretty well universal among Buddhists. 

> If you are concerned with living a good moral life, you don't need to 'be'
> anything. Just live a good moral life, whoever your model may be. There
> are lots of good models.

That is certainly something I fully agree with---just as I fully agree
that prepositions are fine for ending sentences with. There are, of
course, many who would disagree (both about non-religious morality and
misplaced prepositions). We live in a world in which an increasing
number of people seem to be saying rather forcefully that one cannot
live a good moral life unless one wears a particular label and adheres
to a particular creed. That is, as you say, their problem. But the more
forcefully and insistently they act on that conviction, the more it also
becomes our problem.

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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