Wisdom from Other Religions


In his book Ocean, the author Kenneth Tanaka writes of the Four Marks of Existence that characterizes Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. He summarizes them as BIIG:

Life is a Bumpy road
Life is Impermanence
Life is Interdependent
Life is Good

In certain ways, I think that these ideas are consistent with process theology. For example, the notions of impermanence and interdependence fit in very well with the focus that process thought has on existence as an endless stream of interrelated processes and events. The notion that life is good is consistent with the belief in process theology that, in essence, God thinks that life is good--which is why God creatively evoked the evolution of conscious life as part of his/her continual offers of initial aims throughout the course of cosmic history. The notion that life is a bumpy road is, I would think, fairly consistent with everyone's empirical experience. We all know just from living day to day that life is not easy.

Process theology comes out of the Christian tradition, of course, and I am not suggesting that I am trying to a create a syncretism between Buddhism and Christianity. But I do think that interfaith dialogue can often result in acquiring wisdom from other faith traditions. There is much that is interesting within Buddhism, and I in particular have found Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, which is not well known in the United States, to have some intriguing ideas which remind one of Christianity--at least in its notion of grace.

In a San Francisco Chronicle interview, the Jodo Shinshu architect Sady Hashida, who designed a Buddhist center in Berkeley, has this to say about Buddhism:

The basis of suffering is attachment. When you can't get that BMW or the house in the suburbs or that relationship with a particular person, there is disappointment. It creates envy and jealousy. Of course, even if you get the BMW you could wreck it, or if you buy the house it could burn down. Again, anguish and suffering occurs.

What Buddha teaches is that this suffering is a part of human existence. That doesn't mean we don't strive for material things. It's just that we understand that at some point they will no longer be there. Everything is impermanent.

It seems to me that this is a good thing to consider whether that house in the suburbs or that BMW is really as important as we thought it was. Maybe there is some value in living simpler.

The prevailing global culture seems to be predicated on making everything that we want instantly available to us, where we want it, when we want it. We humans are basically spoiled children. There is no consideration of the consequences of this need to satisfy everything we want.

Consider the example of food. We want to be able to eat any vegetable or fruit 365 days a year, and, thanks to globalization and various agricultural technologies, we mostly can. The result is that our food tastes worse--perhaps the most obvious example being the tomato. Most tomatoes that are commercially available are picked green and then gassed with ethylene so that they have a red color. So the tomatoes we usually eat are not actually picked when they are ripe. The best tomato I ever ate was in a mountainous region in the south of France. I didn't remember until I ate that tomato that that they are actually quite a delicious food.

We live in our nice suburban homes with their manicured lawns. We drive miles to work every day, even when we could bicycle or take the bus instead. And farmland disappears in the face of suburban sprawl, while the greenhouse gases from the cars we drive are damaging the earth in serious ways that will effect the lives of our grandchildren.

As we look at the vast environmental consequences of our endless quest of making everything that we want instantly available to us, when we want it, maybe we should ask ourselves if our attachments to these things are part of the problem. How can we live simpler?

I ask this question not as one who judges, because I myself am also guilty of being spoiled and selfish. But it is helpful that we sometimes at least think about these things.


Cynthia said...

A green, manicured lawn is a symbol of our spoiled selves. It takes gas, weed killer, pesticides, a sprinkler and a better portion of a weekend to keep it looking nice.

How about a meadow of tall grass and wildflowers with a couple of goats?

Mystical Seeker said...

Excellent point, Cynthia!

Music Geek said...

Thank you for this. I have been thinking about this for some time now and this was just a breath of fresh air to know that I am not the only one!