Buddhism Judaism

Interfaith Dialogue

INTERFAITH DIALOGUE (We produce an extract from an inter—faith dialogue organised by Lyle Penner. Invited were representatives of four great faiths: Neil Rose, a Jewish family therapist associated with the University of Winnipeg’s Interfaith Pastoral Institute; Imad Ijaz Qamar, president of the national Ahmadiyya Muslim Association and a Manitoba Agriculture economist; Keerchi Keerthipala, a Buddhist from Sri Lanka in the Engineering Department at the University of Manitoba; and Paul Patterson, Christian pastoif teacher of Cornerstone Christ- ian Fellowship. A friend of Keerchi, Sarath Aveysekera, from the University of Manitoba’s Department of Finance, also a Buddhist, joined later in the discussion.) Lyle: How does your faith shape the way of your life as an individual? Neil: I perceive my connection to Judaism most strongly as a family or tribal connection. From my perspective the family of Jews exist for the purpose of faith. In other terms, it’s ethnicity in the service of faith. One of the reasons that I am a family therapist is that I think the family is the ultimate reality of the individual, the ultimate reality of the world. And if we can somehow help create stronger, more harmonious families, then we really are on the way of rectifying the problems of the world. I think the Western world got detoured into the illusion of individualism, not that we are not individuals, but we now see the individual as central rather than environmental. Yet a large segment of the human environment is the family. I see myself very much as a member of a covenanted community, needing to remain faithful to the spirit of the covenant, to some degree to a lifestyle of the covenant, and also to reach out beyond the community. The next kind of plateau in human consciousness that I see is the plateau where we see ourselves as part of a large global family or village, where every person can remain in an enlightened way connected to higher roots or tradition. As a Jew, the key is to be commanded. I am called upon by what people call God to remain faithful to the covenant and to move into the world. The ultimate sense of my spirituality is to be called upon. The central prayer of Judaism is Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord your God who always was. Anybody can hear, but this is a question of listening. As a Jew, hearing and speaking are very important. I see Judaism as an aural, oral tradition. Aural with an ‘a’meaning mouth, and oral with the ear. Print is a secondary process. Print serves as a reminder of that which is spoken. REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 27 Keerchi: Buddha never claimed to be other than human. He never claimed to be God or inspired by God. The enlightment, or the realization of the ultimate truth, can only be attained through human intelligence.and human effort. He showed the way to realize ultimate truth or nirvana, a key word which is difficult to translate. The Buddhist way of life leads a person to a more openminded, more objective, more rational way. The Buddha himself told his disciples not to take their views to heart. Taking views to heart sometimes leads to the extreme. He said that everything is interconnected and interdependent. By avoiding extremes, one can look at things objectively, Buddha advised. If something is a discomfort, see it as a discomfort. If it is a comfort, see it as a comfort. If it is good, take it. If it causes harm, leave it. Buddha’s advice was to see and experience for yourself. When you see something and realize it to please take it. Buddha declared, The teaching that I teach cannot be taken directly. See the teaching with a critical mind. With this kind of freedom, Buddha allowed freedom of thought This freedom of thought is essential because the ultimate realization – the detachment from lukker (the human condition) — the liberation from this lukker – is achieved by one’s own effort, not as a reward from a creator or a god, or from that matter, from authority. Of course, it is true this basic message also includes non-violence, compassion and understanding. For a Buddhist, there are two basic truths. One has to develop a day-to-day life that has compassion on the one hand, wisdom on the other. All these qualities can be developed in our mind. The understanding is the most important. To see for yourself with a critical mind. Ijaz: Within the Islamic faith, I come from the Ahmadiyya school of thought. But, generally, the basic, fundamental concept in Islam is the unity or oneness of-God. Islam is an Arabic word which means peace and submission. A person who follows Islam is a Muslim, the one who submits to God, Whose proper name in the Islamic faith is Allah. To call Islam a religion is not quite right. Islam is the Way to live. It has shaped my life since the day I was born and it will continue to until I die. Islam is not a weekend religion. It’s not a Saturday or a Sunday, and not even a Friday religion (Friday’s a special day for Muslims), when one says one’s prayers but they have no significance. No, Islam is the way you live. There are detailed instructions in the Qoran, the holy book of Islam, and the literal Word of God. The founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him), has left a rich tradition, both oral and written. This is how I see Islam, the Way we live. This is what a Muslim is 28 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS supposed to be. To follow what God has told us in The Book. This governs every moment of our lives. Paul: I, since, have changed my understanding of religion. I once was a very conservative Christian, but as the. years passed I got to really study the Bible, not just Christian culture. I had to make a distinction between the cultural package that Christianity was in and the original cultural package Christianity came in. In seminary, I found that some of the words of Jesus were the words of the early Church. I learned how the Bible was constructed arid how the history of our faith came to be. I found that the central message of the New Testament was not accepting Jesus-christ as your personal Saviour to be saved. I discovered that the center wasn’t so much whether I accepted God but that God accepted rile. I understood that acceptance through looking at the life and suffering of the One whom I chose to follow. Lyle: How does your faith contribute to the dialogue about what it means to be human in modern culture? Ijaz: In the Islamic tradition, there are two obligations. The one is toward your Creator, God. The other equally important center of obligation is toward human beings. God has created human beings. Thus, if you are serving human beings, you are serving God. For example looking after your neighbour is so important in (traditional) Islamic society that it is, in effect, commanded to give your neighbor inheritance from your property. It wasn’t made a law but this was the spirit. The family concept is still very central to Islam; to treat your family, your wife, your children with respect is very significant. There are some basic fundamentals of Islam. The unity of God is the first as I mentioned. Traditionally, there has been a communal obligation to pay a tax to pay for the welfare of the community. Being neighbourly and friendly are fundamentals. Education and service to humanity are also basic concepts. Keerchi: Lukker is a most difficult word to translate. It has been translated as unsatisfactory nature or imperfection. We are subject to death. After death, Buddha believes that you are born again, and the cycle begins again. Thus, it is important to eradicate the root causes which keep this existence going again and again, this unsatisfactory nature called lukker. {This is done through meditation, through seeing- deeply into reality.) The mind in Buddhist principle is like any other organ like the eye, ear or mouth. Nothing is permanent. Everything is interdependent. Buddha advised his followers to see things beyond the labels. This freedom of thought is an essential quality. REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 29 Neil: Humanization is a process that takes a long time. Judaism emphasizes, for our’ purposes, four things. The first is called hesed, translated compassion, concern, and o’penness. Compassion is hard to describe. It is more the spirit of doing something. To pull someone’s tooth out may be violent but in the end it turns out to be an act of kindness. Hased happens between people. It is the oil or lubricant of. human existence. On. the societal level, there is tsedeq living. It is a sense of lightness and correctness, trying to correct equity and balance in the world. It js hard to make rules about this as well. What is equitable in one situation is not in another. The third is emunah — sometimes translated as faith but really it means faithfulness — to other people and to God. It comes from the same root as amen. When we say amen it means that what we are essentially saying is reliable. The fourth aspect is a key word, qodesh, which means to make holy or to be holy. There is nothing in this world which cannot be made holy, which cannot be transformed. The struggle is to take what is not yet holy and make it holy. How this is done is another matter, but recognizing the holiness of people is very important. Paul: People can get so caught up in how Jesus is God. The issue is that he is so closely unified with God – so obedient and conscious – that I want to follow that kind of humanization. The predominant way this reveals itself is through- Jesus being the Cross-bearer – the One who accepts suffering and takes on the suffering of others. Although all traditions have a sense of cross-likeness in them, I think that in the.Christian tradition it’s uniquely central. The Cross is entered into as grace. This means we don’t have to succeed or be strong. We have to trust God. Living by grace means that there is nothing that we can do to get God to accept us anyway. God is_ already a foundation point of reality that accepts us. And by relying on that acceptance, I can enter into reality. I can take on suffering, I can take joy and integrate them both into myself. I need this because I don’t generally accept death very easily, yet it is the one thing that I must embrace by the time I get out of here! And I don’t mean’this place, I mean my life. Lyle: So what do we think of each others’ perspectives? Neil: I find myself in a very paradoxical position. In our historical pilgrimage, we have never been a world power like Christianity or Islam, or, in a sense, like Buddhism and Hinduism. We always have lived in a 30 REVIEW OP RELIGIONS context of larger civilizations. So, much of what I understand about Judaism today probably has a Christian flavour, and probably a secular flavour as well. Yet the faith that I have the most difficulty with is Christianity! I can understand Islam. In many ways, Islam is a powerful religion. There’s something powerful about Islamic prayer. I can understand Buddhism. Buddhism speaks about the existential realities of life. My problem is with you (Paul). On a very human level, I see that Christians believe that Jesus is a model for life, yet I see a man, according to the official versions, who didn’t live with a woman, or fathered children, and spoke about the end of the world. So what did he know about the world, or suffering, or the pain of children? How can’we take such a life, a life that looked forward to the end of time, and lived in anticipation of the end of time, as a model for us today? I understand the Jesus of history, or at least I hypothesize about him, but the Jesus of faith I don’t understand. I don’t see how anybody could follow such a person because such a person isn’t a person if he has neither the problems of family, of society, nor of time. I like Jesus in the Gospels when he curses the fig tree because sometimes I do too. I have great empathy for Father, why have you forsaken me? I like the Jesus who says, Those without sin, cast the first stone. What I like is what I’m calling tsedeq. The feeding of the multitude is what I call hesed. He was obviously a very powerful man. I can even understand that he thought he was the Messiah because the Messianic complex is one of the professional.hazards of the preacher. But I can’t understand the Christ of faith because he is not a model for me. Paul: There is not a complete disjuncture between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. If I went the route of believing in the Christ of faith but not the Jesus of history I would have great difficulty because I would be talking more from a Buddhist point of view. Christ, then, would predominantly be an idea. The Christ of faith is rooted in the one you find in the Gospels. Is the difficulty the abnormality of the life of Jesus? Ijaz: This is where Islam comes in. It bridges the gap. According to Islam, Jesus Christ was a prophet of God. And in the Jewish tradition there is a concept of Messiah, and before he comes Elijah has to come. Jesus’ answer was that John the Baptist was Elijah. That’s how he proved himself. The second coming of Elijah doesn’t literally mean a second physical appearance. To carry the same story in the Islamic tradition, there was to appear a Messiah in the Islamic dispensation of God. Muslims and Jews are still waiting for the Messiah. Some would say literally that Jesus Christ is the Messiah who has to come back. The founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 31 a hundred years ago, claimed that God told him that he is that Messiah. His claim is that he came in the power and spirit of Jesus Christ. He came back metaphorically. The Islamic message, then, is the culmination of the Jewish message and the Christian tradition. It’s an evolutionary process, and in Islam it reached its culmination. Sarath: Maybe. 99% of Buddhists live a normal, day-to-day life. But what we’re talking about is practised at a high level by very few people. We come to the highest level of mind through meditation. I don’t regularly meditate. A lot of us don’t understand that state. We won’t get there until we make the effort to achieve that state of mind. Ijaz: In order to get satisfaction out of life, you should be conscious of it. Suppose you are not conscious. Has anybody been reborn? Keerchi: The Buddhist point of view is that every moment we die and are reborn. Paul: Are we talking about the same thing? It seems that you’re talking about the structure of human existence and the continuation of life, whereas we, in the more prophetic traditions, are talking about something else. Ijaz: Religion, to me, is the way you establish your relationship with God. There is the Jewish way, the Christian way, the Islamic way, and up to five minutes ago, I thought Buddhism was another way to God! But I’m hearing you say that there is no concept of God in Buddhism. Paul: There is familiarity in what Buddhism is saying. I would see Christ as moving in the path of Buddhahood. This is the difference between what Neil was talking about. I see Christ moving towards detachment from human existence, and I see this very positively, and more in line with the Buddhist perspective in a sense. Maybe we have something in common. Christ follows a similar way, except that Jesus did have a concept of a personal God and a relationship with Him. I don’t know how to put that together. Sarath: Buddha, though, 2500 years ago, came to a state of mind that he could look into his past – even hundreds and hundreds of years, he developed a mental state in which he could see that he had gone through successive lives. This is detachment. Paul: Jesus was in a sense detached from his family. Sarath: In that sense you can make an argument that Jesus was on his 32′ REVIEW OF RELIGIONS way. But to be like Buddha cannot be done in one generation. Jt’s a very long process. Paul: Christians would go crazy to think that Christ was in- another life! Ijaz: About the Cross. In Islam, there simply is no concept of vicarious death or atonement. This is diametrically opposed’to the Christian view that Christ died for our sins. In Islam, everyone bears one’s own cross. Salvation is to recognize God in total submission. Muhammad (peace be on him) is very important but he isn’t the person we worship. He only gives some guidelines as Jesus and Moses gave guidelines. The Quran contains all the teachings of life one can imagine. Paul: How does one live a life -of surrender? Ijaz: Only through your faith and positive action. There is no Cross. Paul: What if you mess up? What if you don’t cut it? Ijaz: I could ask you the same thing. There is accountability. If you break the law, you are punished according to the severity of the action. Paul: Aren’t we fairly severly in trouble? I don’t live up to’all my teachings. I’m not going to kid myself for a minute. Ijaz: Don’t you preach what I preach? Paul: I don’t preach that. There is no possibility for me to live exactly like Jesus. The focal point of belief is love, devotion, imitation, following the path. Action is a part of that but not so central. What do you do with people who can’t live up to the law? Ijaz: They are punished. But eventually, everybody will obey and everybody will be in spiritual bliss.