The discussion continues – Believe, Behave or Be One?

The Triple Gem. Photo courtesy Steve Lee.

Editor’s Note: Writer Steve Lee liked this week’s Viewpoint’s question so much he decided to write an extended response below.

Steve Lee

By Contributor Steve Lee

Consider the various ways in which a faith may be lived: belief, behavior, or “belonging.”

For some faiths, belief is paramount. I once heard, for example, the evangelist Franklin Graham proclaim, “If you cannot name the day, hour, and minute when you declared your undying belief in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you are doomed to eternal life in Hell.”

Buddhism is popularly seen as an exception to this kind of salvatory faith. Perhaps you’ve seen the refrigerator magnets that market this concept of Buddhism’s supposed devaluation of faith? A popular version, quoting The Buddha, reads:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

I must admit: I have such a magnet on my own fridge…

But the quote, however, is a snippet taken out of context from a much

The Great Buddha statue, Kōtoku Temple, Kamaku...

The Great Buddha statue, Kōtoku Temple, Kamakura, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

longer passage of a sacred text called “The Kalama Sutta.” In this story, the Kalamas of Kesaputta province in northern India—apparently adherents of no particular faith—have been visited by a number of different religious teachers that we might call “missionaries.” Then, Siddharta Gautama comes to town, and the Kalamas decide to check out “Gotama the Contemplative,” the one we label The Buddha. Here’s a portion of the sutta that gives the context:

As they sat there, the Kalamas of Kesaputta said to the Blessed One, “Lord, there are some brahmans and contemplatives who come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. And then other brahmans and contemplatives come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. They leave us absolutely uncertain and in doubt: Which of these venerable brahmans and contemplatives are speaking the truth, and which ones are lying?”

What follows is a teaching conversation between The Buddha and the Kalamas. Without reference to any particular belief system, he skillfully walks them through the logic of his own teachings and concludes with the tenets of his own system. What follows is how the commentator Bhikku Bodhi describes what happened:

The Buddha next explains that a “noble disciple, devoid of covetousness and ill will, undeluded” dwells pervading the world with boundless loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. Thus purified of hate and malice, he enjoys here and now four “solaces”: If there is an afterlife and kammic result, then he will undergo a pleasant rebirth, while if there is none he still lives happily here and now. If evil results befall an evil-doer, then no evil will befall him, and if evil results do not befall an evil-doer, then he is purified anyway. With this the Kalamas express their appreciation of the Buddha’s discourse and go for refuge to the Triple Gem.

Read the entire sutta here.

In other words, The Buddha leads the Kalamas from their doubt to a belief in the power of The Buddha’s approach to salvation. This salvation, at its essence, is a new way of relating to the exigencies of life. The salvation offered by the Buddhist path is a way of relating to whatever life throws at you with openness, equanimity, grace, wisdom and compassion.

As for behavior and belonging, Buddhism does not discount either. Both are integral to the Buddhist path. In the quoted section above, the Kalamas are said to be going for “refuge in the Triple Gem.”

When someone becomes a Buddhist, they go through a ceremony of “Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem.” The Triple Gem is: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Initiates take refuge in The Buddha as a model, exemplar, and archetype of the possibilities of awakening to a new way of living. They take refuge in the Dharma—the teachings of the Buddha that exist in accordance with the natural laws of the universe. And they take refuge in the Sangha—the community of adherents and practitioners who support one another on the path to awakening.

There you have it—belief, behavior, and belonging: belief in Buddha and the example of his awakening; clarity of thought and behavior in and through the Dharma; and “being one—a “Buddhist”, that is—through refuge in the Sangha. In short, Buddhist practice values all three: belief, behavior, and belonging.

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4 responses to “The discussion continues – Believe, Behave or Be One?

  1. Mary Jo Pollack

    The belief that one must remember the day, time, hour or second they confessed Jesus as Lord or will be doomed to hell is certainly in direct conflict to what the scriptures teach. Unfortunately well-meaning, sincere people say things that are not what the scriptures actually say and this can hinder or discourage people.
    The scriptures simply say in Romans 10:9&10 that if one confess Jesus as Lord, and believes that God raised him from the dead, “thou shalt (absolute tense) be saved.
    At the moment one does this, he or she receives eternal life as well as holy spirit within. This is an absolute promise of God. And it is not alterable based on whether one remembers the day, time or hour or second etc they confessed this. It is referred to as the new birth, being born again. Now a person has holy spirit within, God in Christ in them and the ability to operate God’s power. There is so much more also that a Christian receives at the new birth, space is not here to detail it all. This is part of the beliefs central to Christianity. But Christanity is what God wrought in Christ in the believer and not just “religion”. The two are worlds apart.
    Behavior is also central to Christianty. From Genesis to Revejations the emphasis is not only on coming unto a knowledge of the truth, but in the doing of it. Jesus Christ taught this truth repeatedly. We are saved by God’s grace unto good works, not by good works. In other words the example Christ set to live and love is the standard of behavior for us to live. Belief plus behavior must go hand in hand: doctrine and practice are to be balanced.
    Belonging is central to Christianity. When one is born again, one instantly is accepted of God, belongs to the family of God and of the household of faith. Belief, behavior and belonging all are important, and necessary and evident in living the Christian life.
    One core difference, Jesus Chryst was raised from the dead with both historical, and scriptural documentation. Buddha was not.

  2. I agree; Franklin Graham is–at the very least–“sincere and well-meaning.” For him, I suspect your phrase would be an example of what my father used to call “damning with faint praise.”

    • Mary Jo Pollack

      Words have distinct meaning and they are powerful. I try to listen to a person’s words (and of course their subsequent actions) and then weigh those up to what the bible actually says on a given topic, since for me, the bible is the standard of truth for living rightly. This is why I said what I did regarding his quote. What Rev. Franklin Graham said was his own private interpretation because what he said is not scriptural based at all and contadicts clear scriptures on the topic as I pointed out. It is nothing short of fear tactics which in itself turns a lot of people away from believing in the integrity abd accuracy of the bible & Christianity in general. It behooves those of us who choose to believe and teach or proclaim the scriptures to really study them and get it right so as not to mislead people that genuinely want to know. Obviously no one knows everything perfectly about the bible, but at least we should speak accurately when we do speak and if we don’t know, we ought to just shut up and be quiet until we find the answer. This having been said, Obviously what a person believes is their own choice, as it should be. I can share the scriptures with someone, but it’s not my job to “make” someone believe them. And I dont condemn someone if they don’t. Every one has free will to choose what will be their standard for truth. God set it up this way purposely.

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