Let's face it. There's a lot we can learn from each other, but on a recent field trip to Hsi Lai Temple, the Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, I was enlightened by what I learned. Of course, my mind was flooded with so much more curiosity, and I was amazed by how many similarities there are to Christianity. As we got in a little Buddhism 101, two things struck me deeply as lessons we Christians could and should learn if the Christian community, particularly the Catholic Church's goal, is to create unity among Christians.
1. A Humanistic Approach to Religion. Like Christianity, like Judaism, and like Islam, Buddhism has spread into various factions. In fact, Buddhism's origins lie in Hinduism. Much like Martin Luther did not set out to create his own religion, but instead to reform the Catholic Church, Siddhartha Gautama, THE Buddha, and founder of Buddhism, did not set out to start his own religion, but instead sought to reform Hinduism. As Buddhism spread over the years, with different cultures adapting it, there naturally evolved different forms of Buddhism. Distinct from different Christian denominations where theological differences rise, differences in Buddhism lie more in the practice of Buddhism in daily life.
The form of Buddhism that really struck me, which is the form practiced at Hsi Lai Temple is Humanistic Buddhism. Humanistic Buddhism, at least in my basic understanding, takes a human approach to Buddhism (duh). Wherein, the key to Buddhism is practicing Buddha's teachings and integrating those teachings into Buddhists' daily lives. From my understanding, how you do it, is less important, but that you do it is what matters. It's very human of us to do things in a way that suits ourselves. Each generation takes lessons from the previous generations, but then might do things differently. Not only must we evolve with time, but also with culture, and learn to embrace it all. For example, my family largely originates from China. However, over the years, especially after immigrating to the United States, certain traditions were kept and new ones adopted. So Humanistic Buddhism, is the traditional Buddhism that Siddhartha taught, but it also umbrellas all that falls under it. It's the same when you look at Catholicism. As Catholicism spread, certain cultural aspects are highlighted based on the various regions. Dia de los Muertos for example, is a big holiday in Mexico, which nowadays is considered a Catholic holiday; but originally was an Aztec tradition. It's a holiday unique to Mexican culture, and although Catholic, you won't find French Catholics celebrating it. It's impossible to expect every member of one family to 100% agree with each other 100% of the time on everything, so how could we ever expect millions of people sharing the same faith to do exactly the same thing. I'm already impressed that the readings at a Catholic mass are the same for everyone each week across the world, but just look at any mass in any church you go to. Every church does certain things slightly different, but in the end we're all there for Jesus.
2. We Must Evolve With The Times. Someone in my group asked if Buddhist monks and nuns take vows like our priests and nuns do (i.e., vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability.) . The Buddhist nun who sat with us to give us insight and answer our questions, noted that there some two hundred or so "vows," but many are outdated now and don't apply. For example, how to button ones robes. Robes are different today than they were 2,500 years ago. It seems very straight forward, and that such flexibility should be very natural; but many people have a tendency to stick to tradition like a baby and his blanket. There's no way forward if we cannot look at the past and let go of what no longer serves us or no longer applies to present day. The Buddhists keep all the "vows," but the outdated ones are kept more for historical reasons, not because they want monks to stick to buttoning their robes a certain way, even when the robes are no longer made the same way.
I wish more people would practice their faiths in this humanistic way. Perhaps we'd then achieve greater unity.
BIG LOVE & HUGS