Sunday, April 15, 2007

Interfaith Event Question Re: Forgiveness

Jon wrote in a comment:
I am particularly curious why forgiveness is seen as so important to Buddhists when it is peripheral (at best) philosophically to them.

I consider the answer to this question in the second half of my essay, but in short, Buddhism is a path, not a doctrinal religion. As such, it is only the benefits of a practice that define its importance to any one person, not its philosophical ground. A good example are the various kinds of meditation practice existing in Buddhist traditions. There is concentration on the breath, contemplation of koans, contemplation of hwadu, loving-kindness meditation, mindfulness meditation, meditation upon death, etc. There is no universal doctrine that says, "You must meditate on loving-kindness in order to progress spiritually." Rather, we must use the practices that work the best for us on the path. I might already exhibit a strong degree of loving-kindness in my life, but maybe I lack focus, so concentration is the ideal practice for me. For someone who struggles with showing compassion, perhaps contemplation of loving-kindness is a better primary practice.

And here is where the strength of a path becomes evident. Practices that otherwise have zero philosophical basis in a tradition may still be beneficial for other reasons to a practitioner. Consider prayer. In Buddhism, we have no creator god to which to pray. However, prayer is a practice that can still be beneficial to Buddhists. A wonderful example in the May 2007 issue of Shambhala Sun magazine instructs that before opening a new email, one can center oneself by pausing, and reciting a gatha, such as, "May I open this email and respond for the benefit of myself and for all beings." We are not asking for divine assistance in this action--there is none to be had. Rather, we are opening our hearts and our minds to loving-kindness and compassion. Through such, we can ensure that we will read and respond to this person with a mind steeped in compassion and love rather than the scattered, unfocused mindset that is often the result of the rush of everyday life. Prayer has no philosophical ground in Buddhism, as Western apologetics would say. But it has a solid ground on Eastern religious paths in that its practice results in many effects that are easily seen to be beneficial to the path we follow.


Cecilia said...

I have fallen well behind, my friend. But I sure see that you have been keeping busy (and very productive at that, too).

Congratulations on getting into your PhD program. I do wish you much success!