Category Archives: Buddhism

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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VIEWPOINTS: What’s more important to your faith – believing, behaving or belonging?

By AMANDA GREENE
Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

A new survey out last week from the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs has some sobering figures about millennials leaving Christianity behind.

“A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values and Politics Among College-Age Millennials” said while only 11 percent of the millennials surveyed were religiously unaffiliated as children, now 25 percent identify as religiously unaffiliated. Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations lost the most footing among millennial membership.

At the same time, some Americans in middle age are returning to the faiths of their youth.

So this week’s Viewpoints deals with a human’s core desire when involved in a belief system or no faith at all:

What’s more important to your faith- believing, behaving or belonging?

David Scott

David Scott

I assume, in this context, that believing means religious belief or faith. If that’s the case, believing is not that important to me. In my case, I would prefer to define believing as having confidence that the spiritual and social beliefs I had were moral, logical and best for the common good. Without this type of belief system, my life would seem empty, meaningless and without purpose.

My first impulse to this answer is to reply “Behavior is by far the most important,” and I guess that comes close to what I think. What good is a religion or faith if it allows its adherents to behave poorly? What good is a belief system that allows its followers to justify criminal means to reach a selfish, misguided, or even a noble end? In modern society, we observe a series of perennial “holy jihads” fought by religious fundamentalists of all stripes who are convinced that his god is on his side. If a god condones this type behavior, what good is he?

Belonging is important to most people in that it helps to affirm one’s worth, gives identity, and provides many social advantages. Conversely, belonging can also have a corrupting influence on an individual, if that person finds himself belonging to a group that adopts a doctrine that is immoral, unenlightened, or counter to achieving the common good. In my observation, many groups, religions, political parties, or cults have seduced good individuals and indoctrinated them to become robotic monsters—puppets of groupthink or mob psychology.

Steve Lee

Steve Lee

In short, Buddhist practice values all three: belief, behavior, and belonging. 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. Read Steve Lee’s expounded post on how Buddhist texts inform the values of believing, behaving and belonging later today on WilmingtonFAVS.

Philip Stine

Philip Stine

In the stream of Christianity where I grew up, right belief was all important. You had to believe in certain things, e.g. the resurrection, the need for personal salvation, or a triune God, to be a “real Christian.” I learned later that right belief is hardly even biblical. What is required is right relationships: we are to love God with our whole being, and we are to love what God created, specifically, our fellow human beings. Behaving and belonging are natural results of the these relationships. If we love others, we will act in certain ways, and instead of creating divisions, we will see how we are joined together.

Christine Moughamian

Christine Moughamian

In the context of faith or no faith at all, it seems belief would determine behavior and belonging.

A friend of mine once told me about a tragedy that happened a decade earlier to her son, then in his early twenties. When he was at a large public event, a young man stepped out of the crowd and held him up at gunpoint.

Her son was so shocked, he cried: “Are you going to shoot me?”

The mobster hesitated a fraction of a second; then shot.

Although he gravely wounded my friend’s son, he missed killing him, by a fraction of a… doubt?

The police later reported the mobster was required to kill four people that day, in cold blood, to gain admission in a street gang.

The mobster’s hesitation proved to me that he was not motivated by belief in a certain set of values but by a desire to belong.

A desire so strong that it drove him to attempt murder.

At the other end of the spectrum, I attended a retreat in August 2009 with Thich Nat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who founded the Unified Buddhist Church. He gave a lecture on the Three Jewels of Buddhism: The Buddha (the teacher), The Dharma (the teaching), The Sangha (the community of believers). He emphasized the importance of belonging to a community of believers. That tenet echoed everything I’d heard before in my Yoga training.

Swami Satchidananda put it this way: “Associate yourself with like-minded people.”

In the two Christian churches I’ve belonged to in Wilmington, studies showed “fellowship” was the number one reason people became members.

Discrimination of belief is paramount since it dictates behavior. Without belief, behavior and belonging balanced as a solid tripod, we might be condemned to play musical chairs.

Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS

Wilmington Med Mob plans sound bath for Sunday

A flash mob meditation gathered in front of the Federal Building on N. Water St in Wilmington Saturday, October 29, 2011. This was the first meditation organized by the group Medmob. Photo by Matt Born/StarNewsOnline.com

By AMANDA GREENE
Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

Usually, flash mobs are associated with a sudden group of people flooding a public square or even a library to play music or dance to Michael Jackson’s song “Thriller.”

But this weekend Greenfield Lake Park will host a flash mob of quiet meditators.

The Flash Mob Silent Meditation and Sound Bath will be at 11 a.m. Sunday (April 15) at Greenfield Lake Park (not the amphitheater) at 421 South, Burnett Boulevard.

“A large group of sitting meditators will exude an inner peace, strength, and happiness intended to brighten the day of every observer,” said Wilmington Med Mob’s web site. The mediation should be about an hour with about 10 minutes of “sound bath” or continuous Om meditation sounds. There will also live drumming and dancing at the conclusion of the event.

The group’s goal, according to its web site is “to expose the world to meditation through public display of meditation, to create an environment for people from all walks of life to come together in meditation and to come together as a global community to create and expand positive intention and action.”

Watch this video of a sound bath and meditation in Texas.

Details: www.facebook.com/medmob.wilmington

Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS

“Project Conversion” – A Lumberton man’s year of burying hatred by exploring 12 different faiths

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By AMANDA GREENE
WilmingtonFAVS.com

Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absentmindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 – his year of conversion.

But he’s not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn’t call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.

Not Hindu (January). Not Baha’i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).

Finding faith in God again was not Bowen’s aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.

The hardest decision

Bowen became a Christian in high school and took “a nose dive into fundamentalism,” he said. “It just ignited a furnace in me.”

As a teen, Bowen said he was extremely critical of faiths different from his own. Once when a pair of male Mormon missionaries visited his home, Bowen said he chased them down the street as they retreated on their bicycles.

After high school, Bowen met his wife, Heather, at East Carolina University.

The Bowens had two girls, Shaylie and Nevaeh, and thought their family was complete. But in 2008, Heather’s tubal ligation failed, and she was pregnant with their “miracle baby.”

But the doctors discovered the baby was behind her ovaries, an ectopic pregnancy which threatened Heather’s life.

And Heather and Bowen had to choose to abort the baby, something the couple never dreamed they would do. They were devastated.

“It was a really dark time. I went into a very deep state of depression,” Heather recalled.

Project Conversion

But Heather and her husband dealt with the baby’s death in polar opposite ways.

She bought a devotional Bible and was baptized at a local Baptist church. He plunged into a “two-year stint of just seething hatred toward God.”

The couple fought each time Heather wanted to talk about her growing faith. Still, deep down, Bowen worried his hatred would consume him.

“The best way I can describe it was flying down the road like a bat out of hell toward a wall,” Bowen said. “With any transformation, there’s a fire that has to be applied.”

So Project Conversion was born. He would study and practice one faith each month, guided by a mentor from each belief system. But this was no reality TV stunt.

It was an obsession – his own personal intervention.

“It was 110 percent balls to the walls for me,” Bowen said, describing his dedication to the project.

To find his mentors in late 2010, he had to look outside his tiny, mostly Baptist farm town. His Zoroastrian mentor lives in Chicago. His Jewish mentor lives in Charlotte. His Muslim mentor lives in Fayetteville.

Truthfully, Heather was skeptical about Project Conversion at first.

But she “saw changes in him. He was more patient. There was more of a sense of peace about him,” she said.

His first two weeks each month were spent intensely reading and learning a faith’s tenets and the last half was spent exploring the faith’s practices and rituals and visiting nearby congregations if possible. For his Sikh month, he spent five hours watching YouTube videos on how to tie a turban. During his Jewish month, he spent a weekend visiting different congregations with his Jewish mentor, journalist Michael Solender in Charlotte. He’s filled an entire bookshelf with holy books from his research.

Now as he’s writing a book and speaking about Project Conversion and blogging about the experience for Beliefnet.com, Bowen is still exploring all he’s learned.

“The most important thing I learned in Buddhism was how to wash dishes. Like there is nothing but this dish. It taught me finally to be quiet,” he said. “With the Mormons, the first thing I did was apologize. It was about humility and being one of them and serving them.”

Islam “showed me how much I was wasting in my life from food to activity. Bowing with the men in the mosque was astounding,” he said.

Catholicism was “a wellspring of expression and arts in worship. It was an ocean I could bury myself in for days and not come up for breath.”

The project also touched the lives of his mentors.

“It was energizing in that it allowed us to really put on the table and discuss conversations my wife and I wouldn’t normally have had with other people,” Solender said.

Bowen was one of the best students of Wicca Greenville resident Melissa Barnhurst has had.

“On the first week, he’d already run into tons of public backlash in the stereotypes against Wicca. But he stuck with it,” she said. “He gave it a lot more than some students who’ve come to wanting to become Wiccan.”

Meanwhile, his wife was still working as a labor and delivery nurse at a local hospital. Things were hard financially, at times, because Bowen wasn’t working.

And then there was November, Jainism and Heather’s least favorite

Andrew Bowen during his Jain month, November 2011. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bowen.

month. Bowen loved becoming a monk, meditating wrapped in his grandmother’s sheets, not bathing and walking with a broom to whisk away any creature in the Jain tradition of respecting all life.

“It was the not bathing or washing your hands,” she said. “The nurse in me was beginning to have a fit.”

Though he admits his experiment caused hardship, the couple had a deal. Bowen put his wife through nursing school. She carried the financial burdens through Project Conversion.

“It was entirely disruptive to our family. We argued more than we ever did, but my kids participated in celebrations, and my wife’s Christianity opened up a whole lot more,” Bowen said.

His wife agrees.

“Faith has become a constant topic in our house,” Heather said. “We may not share a faith. We may never share a faith, but there’s definitely a respect there.”

And now?

Bowen still meditates daily using various prayer books, and he attends Mass occasionally at a Catholic church in Lumberton.

At its essence, Project Conversion was about burying his hatred and learning tolerance.

“For so long, I suffered with ego so now I’m just going to make the faiths of others more beautiful to themselves,” he said. “I don’t think about God now. I just participate.”

VIEWPOINTS: Why do you think the church is losing young adults?

By AMANDA GREENE
WilmingtonFAVS.com

This week’s Viewpoints question had many of our writers really buzzing.

Why do you think the church is losing young adults?

A 2007 Lifeway Research poll found that about 70 percent of youth leave the church of their childhood after high school. About 35 percent of church dropouts said they resumed church attendance by age 30.

Some political analysts are pointing to a ‘God gap; with young people feeling alienated by politicians who incorporate their belief systems into ideas about policy.

Here is what WilmingtonFAVS’ writers had to say.

Victoria Rouch

Victoria Rouch

I blame arrogance and the incursion of religion into politics for driving young people away from churches. Religion should be – first and foremost – about strengthening their fellowship’s link with the Divine. In the past, churches were seen as places where those in need of guidance could gather for support in their spiritual walk. There they were encouraged and uplifted. The churches’ role in the community facilitated this; by encouraging the fellowship’s reaching out to the community, it encouraged charity and love. By being helped and uplifted during spiritual crisis, members learned the value of being part of a supportive community of like-minded believers.

But today, Christian churches seem to have turned away from providing spiritual support to becoming moral scolds. They’ve become huge, both in scope and in arrogance. Megachurches transmit three services a Sunday on theater screens. Preachers like Pat Robertson who have reached celebrity preacher status use their popularity to raise money from people often hard-pressed to send in the donations they’re asked to give. The popularity of these preachers has led too many of them to get into politics and seek to influence political races.

Young people at uncertain places in their lives may no longer see churches as a refuge or a place they can go for supportive environment of spiritual growth. Part of Jesus’ appeal to his followers – and to so many young people – was that he was a bit of a rebel. By loving the sick and needy and rebuking the Pharisees, he bucked the system of his day. Today, so many churches don’t buck the system but are part of it. That’s bound to make anyone cynical, especially young people.

David Scott

David Scott

I have a daughter, age 23, who like me, was raised as a liberal Christian. It has been very revealing to watch her religious evolution. As she grew older, we watched her belief system mature from one base on naiveté into critical thinking on her own. She began to observe the hypocrisy in the organized church and the requirement to accept blind faith instead of scientific and verifiable facts on which to base life’s decisions. She, like me, became more and more appalled at American Christianity’s silence when it came to social issues and our country’s addiction to perpetual war. And, not to become partisan, the church’s alignment with the hate-filled theology of neo-conservatism sealed the deal for my daughter and me. I believe in Christ’s philosophy, but I’m finding modern-day Christianity difficult to swallow.

Steve Lee

Steve Lee

As usual, a Buddhist perspective on this question will be something different. Dharmanet.org indicates that about 1400 locales in the US have some sort of activity that self-identifies as Buddhist. Very few of these, however, are institutions, churches, or temples that are places of worship. Many are retreat centers or groups meeting in homes. Considering the variety of teaching schools, lineages, and practices, it is difficult to reach any reasonable conclusions about growth or loss of practitioners. The general sense, however, is that Buddhism is growing rapidly.

Adherents.com—a growing collection of over 3,870 adherent statistics and religious geography citations—does provide some information about the growth of Buddhism. Of the top five largest religious groups in the US (self-identified through the American Religious Identity Survey), Buddhism has grown the most in the indicated time period.

On a local note, I can report a general increase in interest in Buddhism and a lowering of the average age of those engaged in exploring the Buddhist path to awakening. A local social media site for all things Buddhist, Wilmington Dharma, reports 40.2 percent of all those reached by the site are in the 18-34 year old demographic. Surprisingly, about 60 percent of that age group are males. The number of local practice groups has nearly tripled in the last five years.

Is this local growth all “Buddhist” in the sense of traditional religion? No. Buddhism is reinventing itself in the west, and Wilmington is no different in that regard. Much of the local growth is from people interested in mindfulness and meditation as tools for living. Traditional Buddhist practices rely heavily on such techniques, but the techniques are not the be-all, end-all to awakening.

Cynthia Barnett

Cynthia Barnett

I think young people, like many other thinkers today, are searching for something authentic. This spiritual search may take them away from creeds, rituals, dogma and even established denominations. They want a fresh look at what it means to follow Good, or God, in this world, and they want to discover it for themselves.

I like to think of church as a living idea, not limited to a building, service or doctrine. I’ve been taught that it’s the structure of Truth and Love; that it rouses us from material beliefs to spiritual ideas and gives us proof that it’s useful in our individual lives, our communities and our world. Church heals, and more. It gives purpose, meaning and unconditional love for us to express. So it’s up to us. That’s a challenge!

Clay Ritter

Pastor Clay Ritter

Why is the church losing young adults? There are a multitude of reasons, but one I would submit is this: Resistance to change on the part of church leaders.

The message should not change (truth is truth), but how we deliver the message can and must change. Young people are searching for truth. They want to make a difference in their world. Case in point: Candidate Barack Obama’s success in uniting the college vote – these kids wanted to make a difference!. But they see the churches of their parents as stale and not relevant.

As leaders, we must be willing to assess what is not working, and be willing to change it so we can reach the next generation. These kids WILL run the world after we are dead and gone, so we had better make sure that they have a foundation of truth, character and courage to carry into their high calling.

I read recently that Howard Hendricks was called in to assess a church that was declining in attendance, and this was his recommendation: “Put a fence around the church and charge admission to people that want to see how church was done in the 1950’s.”

All we need to do is look at Western Europe, where great churches that were the guiding moral compass in society are now being converted to restaurants and clubs.

Bottom line: truth will always be truth, and we should never seek to water down our core beliefs, which will only negate the power of our message. Style, delivery, communication mediums, music, these are things that are not core doctrinal values (if they are, then you have another problem altogether), and must be made relative to the culture we seek to reach.

Josh Stephens

Josh Stephens

The church is losing young adults because society is selling them a better story (a better life) than the church. Society knows what young people want. And the church, or churches, have refused to adapt. I’m not saying the church needs to invest in some sexy back-up dancers in worship or tell people Jesus looked just like Channing Tatum. But the church does need to sell young adults a better story. For too long the church has condemned young people for succumbing to the ways of the world. Instead, they should be loving young adults, despite their faults.

The church has condemned while society has accepted.

Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Shouldn’t the church be accepting the outcast, tattooed, gay, pierced, hurt and broken? The answer is, simply, yes. But this isn’t always the case. Young adults have grown up in a society where religious organizations have turned their backs to these people. And, in turn, young adults have turned their backs on the church.

If I didn’t not grow up in a family and church who, at their core, love God and people (no matter where they come from) I would probably be joining those young people who have turned their back on the church.

We can place the blame on the loss of young adults in the church on the church as a whole, but you ARE the church. If you want to see young adults coming to know Christ and get involved in the church, you have to love these young adults where they are.

Instead of condemning these young adults for what they’ve done, let’s open up our arms. Then we can share with the the incredible story that Christ offers them.

Laura Frank

Laura Frank

I have over 12 years experience working as a youth and young adult minister. I have seen this problem up close several times. First, this is not another conservative versus liberal argument. I once worked for a liberal-leaning pastor and church, and due to their resistance to change, the youth program died, and the young adults stopped attending. A vibrant theatre arts program that brought youth and adults from the church and from other churches together in Christian fellowship was also squashed. The theatre program -though highly successful and a great service project -proved to be too far out of the box of normal church ministry. It became obvious the people giving the most money to the church (the older population) had the loudest and most pervasive voice in the church going forward.
Youth need to have the freedom given to them in Christ to express their love and devotion to God in their own unique ways -they need to be accepted where they are at that moment. That can be through sports or technology and even from my experience -the arts.

If their individual ways of expressing their faith is not accepted in their church, they will leave and possibly never return to the faith. Their voices deserve to be heard. The church belongs to them just as much, even though they probably don’t give as much money.

Han Hills

Han Hills

In a word, information. The modern technological era has made available a huge variety of material online that exposes and demands the reassessment of differing viewpoints. In this environment, churches no longer have control over the information to which our youth are exposed. Through social networking, it is inevitable that the Internet generation reads, hears and sees alternative viewpoints which vastly contradict any singular dogma or rationale espoused at the pulpit. Since the earliest times, religious institutions have fought against the dissemination of information, fighting the translation and publication of texts, especially those that challenge often narrow and archaic viewpoints. Today, this is a battle they can no longer fight nor win. Young people can plainly see that those outside their own traditional faith are not an immoral enemy, but rather a collection of groups vastly similar to themselves. The argument could be made that the young still need social community, but again, they are increasingly finding this online. Blogs are the new pulpits, and social networking the new community for our next generation.

Christine Moughamian

Christine Moughamian

In 1969, my family relocated from Beaune to Chartres, France. I was 16. Both my parents found new jobs; my siblings and I went to new schools. Three months later, I had made new friends, got good grades and was my class mascot.

But deep inside, I was lonely. Something was missing in my life.

My parents didn’t give us a religious upbringing. One day after school, I took a chance and walked alone into the massive cathedral. I walked around the pews, then to the confessional. I knew I had to address the Catholic priest as “Father,” but I couldn’t make myself do it. I sat down in the tight wooden structure. It felt unfamiliar, almost scary.

I couldn’t see the priest’s face in the dark.

“Sir,” I said in a low voice, “I feel something’s missing in me. I don’t believe in God, but I really want to.”

In response, the priest told me to “make friends at school, get good grades and be happy.”

I left even more distraught than when I’d walked in.

God’s priest had let me down.

Looking back at that experience, I think the priest had good intentions, but also lacked appreciation for an adolescent’s drama. I was a “well-adjusted” teen. I did not need advice on how to “make new friends or good grades.”

But I did need guidance into spirituality to help me deal with a world of chaos and war. I needed to know: “How do I feel God’s presence in my life?”

In 2012 America, our society is even more frightening. Christians and “God’s representatives” must learn to address the reality and the poignancy of a young adult’s spiritual quest.

Andy Lee

Andy Lee

I am a mother of three. My kids are ages 20, 19, and 14. We were a military family who moved often, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch my kids respond to the different styles of worship and teaching in the many churches we’ve attended.

It’s quite simple. My kids need and desire a church where they can be themselves. Sing to music their generation listens to. Listen to preachers who make the message relevant to today. They need this in a church because our faith isn’t just about Sunday. Faith is 24/7. That’s why Sunday needs to resemble this generation’s “every day.”

The new church movement with rock bands and preachers in jeans and sneakers is really not very different from what Jesus did. The Pharisees were not pleased with his new “worship style” either. He healed people on the Sabbath and ate with sinners. Radical. We sing in the dark to the thump of a bass drum, a far cry from the churches of 50 years ago. But it is a place my kids want to be. It’s a church where they are growing their faith. Not mine.

Jesus told those questioning his methods that new wine cannot be poured into old wineskins. In the same way, the church must grow and evolve with each generation. We cannot force our style on them. The heart of the message does not change, but the format must.

My middle son has recently posted a video on Facebook that gives an answer to our Viewpoints question. Why don’t we ask a young person?

VIEWPOINTS: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?

Today’s Viewpoints question is a highly theological one, but it got my writers talking. And hopefully you, dear readers, will chime in with a few thoughts, too.

VIEWPOINTS: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?

Fran Salone-Pelletier

Fran Salone-Pelletier

My response to that question reflects my experience with a “human higher power”—my father. Daddy was an immigrant from Italy and an older parent. I was the first of four children, born when my father was 44 years old in the days when parenting at that age was unusual. He reflected his Victorian-era birthing time and was a strict disciplinarian. We never asked why, we only responded to his demands. This did not mean he was cruel or abusive. It just underscored a limited relationship based on fear of angering him or disappointing him or annoying him. Fear obliterated deep love.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church at a time when that kind of fear translated into my understanding of God as a paternal taskmaster who counted all the good deeds but also kept strict score of errors of any sort. Walking on spiritual eggs made a faith journey nearly impossible.

As I grew in wisdom, various experiences caused me to examine my consciousness of love and fear as opposites. I could not love a God I feared. I could not continue to fear a God I wished to love.

So, I took a chance. I decided to believe I could never do anything to make God love me more; nor could I do anything to make God love me less.

The result has been astoundingly freeing. I both love and trust God. Fear has been banished. In its place, there is awesome love, love that impels me into an ever-deepening relationship both with God and all creation.

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Steve Lee

Steve Lee

From a Buddhist perspective, this question is irrelevant. In fact, the questions about the very existence of a higher power are irrelevant. The essence of the Buddhist project is threefold: individual and societal awakening to the true nature of existence, realizing the true nature of existence in everyday life and becoming liberated from the debilitating effects of a false understanding of the true nature of existence. The true nature of existence is summarized in the three Buddhist principles of annica, dukha, and annata: life is impermanent; life includes those things that we typically avoid or fear—such as old age, sickness and death—and there is no permanent, abiding self.

All of the many and varied Buddhist practices are aimed at awakening, realization and liberation. Spending time debating the existence of a higher power or the nature of a relationship to a higher power becomes a diversion from the path of awakening, work that is mostly individual and internal. Nyanaponika Thera, writing in “In Buddhism and the God-Idea”, quotes a passage of scripture that gets at the diversionary quality of questions about a higher power:

“Not far from here do you need to look!
Highest existence — what can it avail?
Here in this present aggregate,
In your own body overcome the world!”

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Victoria Rouch

Victoria Rouch

My mother always told me her image of God kept her from getting close to him. She said she always imagined him as having a long white beard and angry, flashing eyes. I don’t know a lot about her childhood other than her father was less than attentive. Perhaps that is why her image of God the Father was less than welcoming.

My image of a higher power doesn’t engender fear. Witches don’t see god or the gods as most in the mainstream religions do. Our higher power is one that allows us to make mistakes. Any punishment we receive is via karma or through our own doing. We believe what you do will be visited upon you three-fold, not by some faceless entity but through Universal Law. If you send out negative energy, it comes back to you with increased force. It’s like throwing a boomerang. Good or bad, you always get released energy coming back to you.

And because Pagans in general believe in both male and female deities, we also have a balanced perspective. The masculine strength of the father figure is balanced by the nurturing softness of the mother. It’s hard to fear something that guides and comforts you. Perhaps that’s one of the things that attracted me to Paganism in the first place. There is male and female energy in everything, a yin and a yang. But religion in general has exempted itself from that duality and only seems to recognize the male, in most cases. Mary was instrumental in bringing forth Jesus, but once her job was done she was relegated to a minor supporting role. That’s rather sad, because that female energy makes the Divine far less intimidating, and much more approachable to me and others who are attracted to both the Mother and Father aspect.

I guess my short answer is that the question doesn’t apply to me. I don’t fear consequences from a Higher Power. I have more fear of my own weaknesses. And any negative consequences I’ve ever suffered came not through punishment from above, but through my own doing.

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Gabrielle Barone, guest contributor

“The fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to turn from evil is understanding.” Job 28:28.

There are a lot of references to fear of God in the Old and New Testaments. But what does the word fear really mean? In the Old Testament, there are at least four different Hebrew words for fear. Yirah and pachad have to do with fear, terror and dread, whereas yare and kabad are reverence, honor and glorification. The New Testament Greek has four words for fear: timao and eulabeia are honor, veneration and value; phobeo is shocking and paralytic ; and deilia, which is timidity and cowardice. In our relationship with the Divine all of these aspects of fear come into play at one time or another. As an evangelical Christian, I know the fear of God is linked to the revelation of his sovereignty. He is a God who is big and holy and frightening and gentle and tender and MINE; a God who frightens me into his strong and powerful arms and whispers three terrifying words, “I love you.” As C.S. Lewis said “Is God good? Yes. But He is not safe.” The presence of the Divine has always brought fear to the heart of sinful man, but the fear that leads to wisdom is acknowledging we can’t go it alone. We need a savior.

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Christine Moughamian

Christine Moughamian

One of the Hindu scriptures answers this question with vivid imagery. In “The Bhagavad Gita,” Prince Arjuna has an inner vision of Lord Krishna’s “terrifying and marvelous cosmic form.” (BG 11:20)

At first, Arjuna falls “in adoration before the Lord” as Creator: “Clothed in mantles of light and garlands of blossoming heavens – the infinite, wondrous and resplendent One – facing everywhere simultaneously,” enhanced with “an indescribable fragrance.” (BG 11:11, 14).

Next, Arjuna prostrates in awe when he meets the Sustainer, whose “body is the entire cosmos… the treasure house of the universe, the refuge of all creatures, the eternal guardian of timeless wisdom.” (BG 11:16, 18).

Then Arjuna sees the Divine as the Destroyer: “When I look into your terrible jaws with fearful tusks, I see the fires of the end of time… Now I understand that all creatures, like moths to a flame, are rushing headlong into your gaping jaws of death.” (BG 11:25, 29).

Fearful, Arjuna begins “trembling uncontrollably” and pleads: “I am terrified by your cosmic form. O God of gods… mercifully show your more familiar form to me.” (BG 11:35, 45).

For Arjuna to love Krishna again, he has to reduce the Divine within to a human form.

I believe, like Arjuna, we are in turn in adoration before the Divine, or prostrated in awe, or pleading in fear. At any time in our lives, ours is the power to choose which aspect of the Divine within we want to activate.

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Andy Lee

Andy Lee

I don’t think anyone can come to know God through fear. Only loves draws us to him, yet he is holy. He is perfect love. Just as we can’t survive in the presence of pure oxygen, we can’t survive in the presence of pure love. But he made a way.

The God I respect and love is the God who died for me. He made a way for me to stand in his perfect presence one day. Until then, his Holy Spirit is my teacher, purifier and friend. His love changes me.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18, 19).

One Brave Christian Experiment: Day 40, “Am I a brave Christian?”

Editor’s Note: Contributor Christine Moughamian has blogged for 40 days of Lent (including Sundays) about her progress becoming “one brave Christian.” This was the last day of her Lenten experiment. Read about her experiment by searching this site for “One Brave Christian Experiment.”

By Contributor Christine Moughamian

Today’s day 40 of my 40-day Lenten experiment. I ask myself the question: “Am I a ‘brave Christian’?”

The answer that comes to me is: “Yes and No.”

If being a Christian means “accepting Jesus as my savior,” the answer is “No.”

If it means “living my life in accordance to what Jesus taught,” the answer is “Yes.”

What I have learned from this experiment is what I already knew:

– First, my Bible study gave me the certainty that the words and

Good Shepherd

Jesus as the Good Shepherd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

teachings of Jesus are aimed at leading us back to our inner divinity.

– Second, in my understanding of the scriptures, Jesus opened that path for us through the gates of forgiveness and love.

– Third, I think these teachings point to a universal truth. They belong to all spiritual traditions and are not exclusive to Christianity.

My experience strengthened my world faith approach to spirituality.

I am grateful to both Sam Teague, the creator of the experiment, and Danny Morris, the author of “A Life That Really Matters,” for this program.

Special thanks go to Stowe Dailey Shockey for giving me her book “Flying High,” and to her co-author Calvin LeHew for sharing his experience as a “brave Christian.”

I enjoyed the discipline of writing everyday. I think it made me a better writer.

I am grateful to www.wilmingtonfavs.com editor, Amanda Greene, for believing in my commitment and supporting me along the way.

I deeply appreciate the opportunity I had to share my process with my readers. I am thankful for their comments.

My fondest gratitude goes to my boyfriend, Jim Downer, for his unfailing support and listening presence. I love you, Jim!

Blessings of Love and Light to All!

Dalai Lama wins Templeton Prize for work on science, religion

The Dalai Lama. Photo courtesy of RNS archives.

By CHRIS HERLINGER
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

NEW YORK (RNS) The Dalai Lama is best known for his commitment to Tibetan autonomy from China and his message of spirituality, nonviolence and peace that has made him a best-selling author and a speaker who can pack entire arenas.

But somewhat under the radar screen, the Tibetan Buddhist leader and Nobel Prize laureate has also had an abiding interest in the intersection of science and religion.

That interest won Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, the 2012

Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth and current Dala...

Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth and current Dalai Lama, is the leader of the exiled Tibetan government in India. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Photographed during his visit in Cologno Monzese MI, Italy, on december 8th, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Templeton Prize on Thursday (March 29), a $1.7 million award that is often described as the most prestigious award in religion.

The Dalai Lama is the highest-profile winner of an award that in recent years had been given to physicists and theologians not well known to the general public, but earlier had been given to the likes of evangelist Billy Graham and the late Mother Teresa.

“With an increasing reliance on technological advances to solve the world’s problems, humanity also seeks the reassurance that only a spiritual quest can answer,” said John M. Templeton, Jr., the president and chairman of the Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation and the son of Sir John Templeton, who founded the prize in 1972.

“The Dalai Lama offers a universal voice of compassion underpinned by a love and respect for spiritually relevant scientific research that centers on every single human being.”

For his part, the Dalai Lama, in a video statement released during a live webcast announcing the prize, struck a modest note. He said he was nothing more than “a simple Buddhist monk,” despite the 2012 Templeton or his 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Templeton honor, he said, was “another sign of recognition about my little service to humanity, mainly, nonviolence and unity around different religious traditions.”

The Templeton Foundation noted that the Dalai Lama has long had an interest in a variety of scientific subjects, including astrophysics, behavioral science, neurobiology and quantum mechanics.

As one example, the Dalai Lama helped initiate a “Science for Monks” program, based at Buddhist monasteries in India. The program hosts Indian and Western scientists who wish to explore possible connections and overlaps between science and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

In turn, the program also provides education in scientific inquiry to monks interested in biology, chemistry, cosmology, mathematics, physics and quantum mechanics.

In its announcement, the foundation noted “the rigorous commitment of Buddhists to meditative investment and reflection similarly follows the strict rules of investigation, proof and evidence required of science.”

But the Dalai Lama also has been involved in many academic conferences on science and religion. Some of these have resulted in best-selling books like “The Art of Happiness,” “The Universe in a Single Atom,” and “The Dalai Lama at MIT.”

Aside from the “Science for Monks” program, the foundation noted that the Dalai Lama co-founded the Colorado-based Mind & Life Institute in 1987, dedicated to “collaborative research” between science and Buddhism.

Among other things, the institute hosts conferences focusing on contemplative science, consciousness and death, and destructive and healing emotions.

Another institution formed with the Dalai Lama’s collaboration is Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

In his recommendation to the awards committee, Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote: “More than any other living human being, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has served humanity to catalyze the advancement of ‘spiritual progress’ and to help us all to cultivate a better understanding of the spiritual dimensions of human experience.”

The Templeton Prize — the world’s largest annual monetary award given to a single individual — will be presented to the Dalai Lama at a May 14 ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The Dalai Lama becomes the second Templeton Prize laureate who has also won the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa won the first Templeton, in 1973. Six years later, she received the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

 

VIEWPOINTS: What is your favorite scripture or holy text and why?

The Viewpoints question for this week is:

What is your favorite scripture or holy text and why?

Here are some of our writers’ preferences. Please tell us your favorite scripture or holy text!

Philip Stine

Philip Stine

Different passages of the Bible have been meaningful at different times in my life, but I frequently come back to one which allowed me to be a Christian and also led to a career choice. My upbringing was in a very conservative evangelical context, and I went to a college with highly restrictive social rules. Christianity seemed to be about not doing this and not doing that. Just when I was ready to chuck the whole thing, a wise mentor had me read Colossians 2:16-19 in J.B. Phillips’ translation of the New Testament. It says in part, “In view of these tremendous facts, don’t let anyone worry you by criticizing what you eat or drink, or what holy days you ought to observe, or bothering you over new moons or Sabbaths. All these things have at most only a symbolical value; the solid fact is Christ.” What a sense of freedom that represented. It also was a key for me deciding to get into the field of Bible translation, for no other English translation I knew was quite so clear.

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Fran Salone-Pelletier

Fran Salone-Pelletier –

It’s always difficult for me to isolate a favorite scripture passage since there are many. However, this day I’d choose Isaiah 49: 1-6. Actually, the entire chapter is marvelous, but I’ll limit myself to the selected verses.

As I read, and heed, the word of God, I hear God speaking not only to the coast lands mentioned in this verse but to me—personally and specifically. God has called me from eternity to enter this world at a chosen time and place and into a selected family. I have been given a name by God, a name that indicates God’s will and mission for me. I’ve always found that conversation to be intriguing since my parents named me traditionally, as their firstborn, after my paternal grandmother. Yet, my name has been my life: Frances….the one who speaks frankly and sincerely, is open to new ideas, and is as generous with praise as with committed criticism.

I have often found myself in anguish because of this lifestyle and have ached with Isaiah, feeling “I have labored in vain…spent my strength for nothing.” At the same time, I know deep in my spirit that, “Surely my cause is with the Lord. and my reward is with God.”

I have trusted, and continue to trust, that my instincts are true and my vocation is to be a light to the nations so that God’s salvation—however that occurs—may reach to the ends of the earth.

The mission may appear lofty, perhaps even impossible, but I believe it is mine. I believe it happens daily, in tiny increments and among the least likely people at the least convenient times.

My recent bout with illness that brought me to death’s door, replete with unbelievable pain and suffering, ended in a miraculous recovery. I have heard from many that my life was saved for God to work through me for others. I cannot deny the message as a divine delivery.

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Jenny Morris

Jenny Morris

One verse in the Bible I really like is Acts 10:38. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.”

If every follower of Jesus simply went about doing good that would do much for the world and the message of Christ because we truly would be following him.

I also love the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in Matthew 8: 14-15.
“And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them.”

There is so much conflict in the world and many jokes about family, particularly in-laws. This healing showed the love amongst family.

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Steve Lee

Steve Lee

My favorite scripture in Buddhism is a portion of the Kalama Sutta AN 3.65 (Anguttara Nikaya, the fourth division of the Sutta Pitaka)

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

“Of course you are uncertain, Kalamas. Of course you are in doubt. When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. So in this case, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering’ — then you should abandon them.”

My FAV Word: Abbot Phrakru Buddamonpricha of Wat Carolina Buddhist Monastery

The Abbot Phrakru Buddamonpricha teaches students at Wat Carolina. Photo by Sara Clark.

By SAMANTHA FREDA
WilmingtonFAVS news intern

If you cross the bridge into Brunswick County and head toward Bolivia, you won’t have to go very far before coming across, of all things, a Buddhist monastery.

Wat Carolina Buddhist Monastery is serene and isolated, as you might expect, with one large building (the temple) and several smaller ones. All the buildings are modestly built and visibly aged, save for a new house donated to the monks. The entire area is set back into the woods on Midway Road, a suiting address considering the Buddhist concept of the ‘middle way’ being a path to enlightenment.

We were greeted by a monk in wire framed glasses and a reddish brown robe. With him, was a man who stays at the monastery during the winter, donating his time and efforts to help the three monks living there- one being the abbot, Phrakru Buddamonpricha.

He was inside the smaller building by the road, speaking with students visiting from Wilmington Academy of Arts and Sciences. The children sat on the floor in front of the abbot as he read to them from a small yellow book. His Thai accent was thick but his smile was universal, the creases on his face running deep as he let out bursts of laughter in between explanations.

The booklet was called “An Introduction to Buddhism” by Dr. Saddhatissa and was full of Buddhist concepts and principles including Karma, Rebirth, The Three Characteristics and Dependent Origination. When I arrived, the abbot was reading from the appendix which concludes with The Five Precepts. The abbot and the students were engaged in a call and response as they went through them: To undertake the rule of training, to refrain from harming any living being, from dishonesty and stealing, from misuse of the senses, from wrong speech, and from taking drugs or drinks to cloud the mind.

When I met with the abbot afterwards, I spoke with him through a translator.  Though the abbot speaks English, it is limited.

He spoke of the joy it brings him to share the Buddha’s teachings in the yellow booklet with young people, who were each given a copy of it to keep. He showed me a diagram that illustrated “the wheel of life” and pointed out a box containing The Eightfold Path, consisting of precepts like right thought, action and speak, etc. Another helper there laid down a mat beside us and began bringing out food for the abbot’s one meal of the day. The abbot looked at me, still pointing at the diagram, and said in English, “You practice every day. Every day there is something to practice.”

I left him to his lunch, but he invited us back for The Water Festival on April 15, a new year celebration for many southeast Asian countries being held at Wat Carolina, where I look forward to meeting with the abbot again.

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Golden Buddha statues inside Wat Carolina's temple. Photo by Samantha Freda