Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Learning from Others

James Tonkowich, IRD President, is quite right when he says that:

"Buddhism is not merely a series of practices, saying so devalues it. Buddhism is an entire worldview."

Yet Buddhism also lends itself to being a series of practices, and Buddhists are happy and confident that for many this is all they understand it to be. I used to attend Western Buddhist classes, and was one of those who became more involved in going to their houses and attending events. But many came just to the classes for the meditation, and that was it. The Buddhists were fine about this, because the orthopraxy of Buddhism is practice-led, practice first. If you do meditation, as directed, and seriously, then you are doing the Buddhism, even if you think you are just doing meditation, like you might be doing yoga. Buddhism unfurls as you do it.

Now it can be that people from other religions are also coming to do this meditation. Buddhists would say this is potentially confusing, but again if you are doing the method you are opening up to the programme that takes you on the road towards that distant realisation of Nirvana. It's just that, again, you don't have to know that to be on the road to doing it.

So it is quite possible, then, to come along with a different perspective about what you are doing, but do it nevertheless, and following the Buddhist methods (usually quite simple ones in terms of what you actually do: breathing based, number counting, thinking good thoughts about self and the world...).

Now if you go along often, and you are very serious, you are noticed, and there will be some conversation. You might say, and some people do, that you are a Christian, or a Jew, or a Hindu, and you are coming along to learn from the Buddhist techniques, and you want to take them seriously. You find the Buddhist method, the Buddhist spiritual discipline, to be very useful for your own tradition.

Now the Buddhist might well think that the Buddhist method works best understood from their own perspective, but then (being practice led) that can be by the by. Buddhism will welcome serious participation. A very serious participant might even receive some sort of recognition of the seriousness and commitment of what is being done.

Thus enter the issue of Kevin Thew Forrester, the Bishop-elect of Northern Michigan in The Episcopal Church. He is a Christian who, in the manner of Thomas Merton, treats his learning spirituality from others very seriously including meditative practice. He is given a Lay Ordination by the Zen Buddhists as recognition of his seriousness, that brings a name Genpo with it.

Lay ordination is a recognition of what has been happening, that is thus a kind of future commitment too, towards serious spiritual practice. This means meditating and a clarity that has to be in one's whole life. Such lay ordination and its commitment involves honesty in action and speech, not stealing, sexual fidelity, don't be cruel and don't distort the mind by alcohol and drug abuse.

There is everything Buddhist about these, and yet nothing particularly Buddhist about these. That's the point. People can come from elsewhere, and these can enhance your spiritual practice.

Thus Kevin Forrester draws from this. But what knocking copy this provides to the right wing Anglicans who search out another stick with which to beat The Episcopal Church! It can go down on the list alongside Pagans and Muslims and all sorts of mixtures. Even labyrinths get attacked by some. There is nothing new or original in this story whatsoever, other than the continuing desire for knocking copy.

Once again, yet again, The Episcopal Church is pretty much in parallel with other Anglican Churches in the West - those that have theological education, those who live alongside people of different faith - regarding its range of beliefs and practices. The difference seems to be the openness and accountability in selecting leadership personnel: would it be so in the closeted Church of England and other Anglican Churches! There are very many who draw on the insights of other faiths for their practices and understanding, and you wouldn't expect it to be otherwise.


Jane said...

Many arguments have been made about the related criminal activity associated with drugs but we have created most of the problems associated with drugs by creating laws to prohibit their sale and use. Hard drugs like crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and heroin are generally at the center of violent drug related crime, not pot.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Interesting comment though I'm baffled at its relevance here.

Milton said...

The problems with Thew Forrester's election as a bishop of an ostensibly Christian church are several, and many arise from his particular practice as a priest besides the doctrinal problems.

I will add here that I spent 5 mostly happy years as a UU along the long circle from childhood Roman Catholicism to 20s UU and New Ageism to 30s Episcopal Church/recovering from addiction to 40s born-again Christian (in spite of the Episcopal Church rather than because of it). I am not trying to beat any heads with any sticks here.

TF's church services omitted the Creeds, with their explicit Trinitarian affirmations, and he personally denied any need for salvation from sin or even the existence of sin and denied the need for substitutionary atonement for sin by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, as well as setting aside the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer while substituting his alternative liturgies. The latter is a violation of the canons of his own church, the previous facts place him outside Christianity. If there is no sin, if we could pay the price of our sins against a God who is thrice holy, then all of Christianity evaporates and you have Buddhism.

The selection process was rigged from the start. TF played a major role in designing the process as well as serving on his own selection committee. Parishioners were denied the ability to submit nominations and none were accepted from the floor. TF's sole candidacy was presented as a fait accompli and parishioners and convention delegates were pressured to go along with the threat of approaching deadlines of the June General Convention of the
Episcopal Church. They were told that if TF were not elected now then GC would have to review the process and they might have to start all over again, and they feared GC might turn him down. This deadline became a factor because of the delays of the closed circle that controlled the selection process with the intent to leave delegates no other choice.

Procedurally, theologically, TF's consecration as a bishop of a Christian church is the wrong choice.