Monday, 5 December 2011

Sign of the Times

Being school holiday time, one of my two teenage sons and his best friend met up at the main shopping mall here in Toowoomba (context: a conservative regional city, pop. 100 000, which serves mainly as a service centre for a large and productive rural hinterland) today to pass some time and see a movie. He returned home to report that while sitting in the Food Court having lunch they had a conversation with some Buddhist monks who my son described as 'missionaries'. It seems likely they are connected with the 'Pure Land Buddhist Learning College' located not far from the city centre in what was once a Presbyterian church which they've extended into a campus by buying several neighbouring properties. The brown robed monks and nuns are a common site around the city and I've seen them at the university too - they seem to come here from Taiwan for a short stay, much like the American Mormon missionaries of a previous era. A sign of the times, no doubt.

I've heard many an expert on 'world religions' state that Christianity and Islam are the only 'missionary religions' (usually said with a sneer and a warning about how dangerous missionary zeal is), but if 'Pure Land Buddhists' are truly 'missionary' it gives the lie to that statement. It would be worthwhile looking into the soteriology of this group to see what makes them different from other Buddhist sects. What could be gleaned from a study of their religion that might serve as a contact point for proclamation of the Christian Gospel, a la Paul in Athens? 'Men and women of Pure Land Buddhism, I perceive that you are very religious...'

24 comments:

Lvka said...

Nirvana means the `extinction` or `quenching` (of cravings). Moksha means `liberation` (from craving). It's what we Christians would call dispassion or `hesychia` (which is the Greek for `peace`).

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Are you suggesting a theological equivalence between between Buddhist and Orthodox soteriology, Lucian?

If so, it would seem to me you are drawing a long bow.

Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

There are similarities in the meditations of Orthodoxy and Pure Land Buddhism. The main devotion (particularly in Japanese Pure Land) is chanting the name of the Amida Buddha (the Nembutsu or Nianfo) which is very similar to Orthodoxy's Jesus Prayer. Of course the purpose of the devotions is very different. The object of Pure Land is to be reborn into Amida Buddha's Western Land where you will be able to achieve Nirvana which is not possible in this world. Whereas the Jesus Prayer is an attempt to become one with the Father,Son and Holy Spirit.

Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

I forgot to mention that in Pure Land Buddhism - it is not possible to achieve Nirvana in this world by your own efforts (meditation, celibacy, etc.). You are totally dependent on the Other Power (something like Grace) of the Amida Buddha to be reborn in a Land where it is possible to achieve Nirvana, much easier.

(By the way I am merely describing the theology - this is in no way an expression of approval or agreement)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Let's begin with the Trinity.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

'Let's begin with the Trinity' was my reply to Lucian.

Fascinating, MCB. I suspected Pure Land was related to Mahayana Buddhism with its role for grace. How do we evaluate this feature? At most I think we can say this is an acknowledgement of man's spiritual inability, as defined in the Lutheran Confessions. It is a good 'contact point' for preaching the Gospel to peoples and cultures shaped by Mahayana Buddhism.

Lvka said...

The Trinity cannot be guessed, it can only be explicitly revealed, and the Buddha lived outside of explicit revelation.

But let's start at the beginning: compare the five Buddhist vows with the last five or six of the Divine Commandments...

Lvka said...

Worksrighteousness 101. :-)

Lvka said...

Worksrighteousness 102. :-)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Lucian,

There may well be parallels between the ethical teachings of our Lord and Buddha. In the Lutheran tradition we call that 'natural law'. But unless you believe in salvation by works that is not a salvific path - trying to keep those ethical precepts will only confirm our inability to do so spiritually.

I was thinking of the first three articles of the Athanasian Creed:

1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;

2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

3. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

Pr Mark Henderson said...

My point is, Lucian, that the Trinity is our beginning in Christian theology, not ethics, as important as the latter subject is.

Agent Smith said...

Everything that has a beginning... has an end. And the 'end' or aim or purpose of our Christian walk is union with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit by the divine energies: a state called engodment and chiefly characterized by the simultaneous presence of agape and dispassion in the soul, heart, and mind of the redeemed person. Agape is aided by prolonged ascesis in bringing down simultaneously all the passions, thereby inbreeding or installing dispassion, which further fuels & reinforces agape, thus forming a self-sustaining, all-harrowing, and all-destroying `vortex` that destructs everything in its path and crushes everything to the ground with an unimaginable force. This is known as the grace and the power of God. Not even the pure and permissible passions can resist its strength, let alone the sinful ones; for God, even the Heavens are impure (Job 15:15). All passions rest upon a single foundation: when this foundation is brought to the ground by agape, total mayhem ensues: all human weakness is completely obliterated in a matter of minutes, and the mind is set free from all craving and compulsion. The purity and holiness of that state are beyond description, and its cleanliness is greater than childlikeness. It is called whole-mindedness or one-mindedness because the mind, being freed from all impurity, can no longer make any meaningful or significant distinction between the two sexes (being utterly free from any form of lust, eros, or romance), between friend and foe, pretty or ugly, family & strangers (since it loves all men, angels, and demons without distinction), between rich or poor (being free from any kind of self-interest), etc. Even the most innocent loves are deemed ugly when compared to its incommensurable beauty: the love for one's family (since it is restricted only to one's family, and feels apathy for strangers), the love for children (since it is restricted only to children), the love for the innocent (since it is restricted only to the innocent), the love for the meek, the down-trodden, and the underdogs (since it is restricted only to the meek, the down-trodden, and the under-dogs, and despises their vile and cold-hearted oppressors), the love for those that are good and kind (being restricted only to those that are good and kind, and unable to love those that are evil and unkind), etc. When the human heart refuses to continue being carried away and controlled by passions like rests from a shipwreck that are carried by the force of the waves, possessing no self-will and self-movement, grace comes in and aids the soul in its revolt, to the extent to which man is willing to go. We respond to evil with evil, and to hatred with hatred, thus defiling our hearts and minds by the soul-destroying poison of hate; we respond with lust to arousing images, thus defiling our hearts by it. We're like puppets in Satan's crafty hands, the devil being our de facto master, whom we serve like robots and machines our entire lives. We dance as he sings and we move as he dictates: this is the sad and tragic reality of our spiritual lives. When we oppose this with our whole being, grace creeps in through the cracks of our souls, and as we continue to stay strong in this `position`, and don't abandon it despite the severe pain and heart-ache it generates, then engodment follows, as has been described above. It takes no more than a few minutes to drown or asphyxiate someone to death (more than we see in movies, but not too much longer either): the same is true for `killing` our `selves` (NOT `ourselves`, but our `selves`). This unspeakably-great sacrifice is followed by absurdly-great rewards: the utter inability to sin (or even understand sin) any longer, which is brought on by dispassion, engenders a relief and a peace-of-mind without limits, which are simply impossible to put into words (Philippians 4:7). This is the Kingdom of Heaven, which God has promised from all eternity to those who follow Him.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

'Agent Smith' (or should I call you Lucian, or Plotinus?),

The kingdom of heaven is a gift, not an achievement, not even a negative achievement like 'dispassion'. Walk the path of faith, not asceticism.

Oh, and when you speak of killing, is that from personal experience? Btw, have you ever seen how long it takes Paul Newman's character to kill the spy in 'Torn Curtain'? Much more realistic, I would think.

Lvka said...

Yes... a gift given to those that ask for it, and pursue it with all their heart:

Matthew 7:7-11; 11:12; 21:22; Luke 11:9-13; John 15:16; 16:23-24; Romans 10:13; 1 John 3:22; etc.

We don't just sit there and expect for it to "drop" on us.. Grace may COME from Heaven, but it certainly doesn't "drop" from Heaven.. :-)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

To be sure, we must 'work out our salvation with fear and trembling', while at the same time realizing that it is a gift from above. In Lutheran theology this is what we call the distinction between the transitive and intransitive - every good action in the subject has God as its author. Sin, by contrast, comes from the the world, the flesh and the Devil. The eschatological 'moment' of death to the world, the flesh and the Devil is Holy Baptism, but the actual dying takes a lifetime. We are finally without sin in the life to come.

Lvka said...

Before the Resurrection, there was the Transfiguration. Engodment can be experienced on either side of the grave: It is a spiritual state as real as any other (though sadly not quite as common..) That we're not dead yet is no excuse.. Jesus didn't say: "Be holy even as your Heavenly Father is holy, BUT ONLY AFTER you kick the bucket!" :-)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

I've always wondered whether Orthodoxy was an Eastern version of Wesleyan-Holiness theology, Lucian. You seem to be confirming it. Seriously, holiness is, of course, something we should strive after - thus in our Lutheran liturgy, during the confessions, the minister asks the congregation 'Do you intend to live a holy life, even as Christ has made you holy?' But holiness in this life is never perfected. It remains an eschatological promise. I may post something on this in the near future.

Lvka said...

holiness in this life is never perfected


I'm not suggesting some sort of Calvinist or Evangelical assurance of the permanence of this state (ie, "once dispassioned, always dispassioned" or "the perseverance of the dispassioned", etc). All Orthodoxy is saying is that this spiritual state of complete purity and holiness and freedom and peace and joy and endlessly-self-giving loving-kindness can actually be experienced [in this life-time], and cultivated [with God's grace and help]..

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Lucian,

What you mean by 'complete' is what I mean by 'perfected'.

Lvka said...

Then I'd have to say that -luckily- you're wrong: rejoice and be glad!

Put your worries to rest: this is reason for celebration!

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Worries?
My only worry is for your soul if you think you can be perfect in this life, Lucian. Nothing to celebrate there.

Lvka said...

Shouldn't you rather worry for those who -wrongly believing that holiness is unachievable this side of eternity- waste their earthly lives not really pursuing it, thus jeopardizing their salvation?

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Indeed, Lucian, they are a concern, especially for pastors. But we Lutheran pastors are so clever we can have more than one concern at a time :0)

Lucian said...

You seem to forget, for instance, things such as Saint Paul's rapture to the third heaven, which happened while he was still alive. And, obviously, heaven is a place of complete sinlesness (Psalm 5:4-5).