FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY, AND THE DAILY NEWS

OUTWITTED

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

Edwin Markham (1852-1940)

As regular readers here know, I am a strong advocate of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.  As such, it is obvious to me that one cannot have a healthy democracy in any country in which both of those fundamental freedoms are absent.  Nor can one have a healthy democracy if women are denied rights equal to those of men, freeing them from any subservience to or oppression by the opposite gender.

That means, of course, that a healthy democracy also requires the separation of religion and state.  We have abundant examples in history of the disastrous results when state and religion are joined and religious law becomes mixed with state law.   And we are still seeing the catastrophic and unnecessary results of the mixing of religion and state in the ongoing tragedies in the daily news.  There can be no true freedom without government guarantees of freedom of and from religion.

Some never seem to learn from the past.  Sad to say, the Russian government, under the strong influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, has now made it virtually illegal to support equal rights and equal freedom for those whose orientation is toward the same sex.  That is appalling at the beginning of the 21st century, a reversion to the days when the Russian State was the punishing and persecuting arm of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The Russian people have been forbidden to simply express a desire for such equality of rights in any public or visible manner.  The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill (often seen in photo ops with Putin) has even made the ridiculous and astonishingly intolerant and backward statement that the legalization of same-sex marriage is “a very dangerous sign of the Apocalypse.”  That is something that should shock everyone who advocates freedom of speech and expression, as well as universal human equality of rights.

Religion can sometimes be a force for good in the world, but all too often it has placed backward doctrine above spirituality and compassion, and has become instead a deadly force for evil.  We see abundant proof of that every day in those countries combining religious dogma with state law, and it is something that anyone who advocates human freedom and equality should deplore.  Without the separation of religion and state, humanity will simply revert to the doctrine-based wars and persecutions of past centuries, the great difference being that now even the most backward and fanatical of religious dogmatists have access to the most up to date and deadly of technical weapons.

It makes one think of Carl Jung’s statement that the welfare of humanity “hangs by a thread.”  To keep that thread from breaking, it is crucial that an advocacy of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and equal rights, along with a staunch advocacy of the separation of religion and state, should be strongly held and publicly promoted by both individuals and governments.  This is of vital importance in a world where so many are daily threatened by persecution and violence incited and supported by those holding fanatical religious and political dogmas of one kind or another.

David

BUDDHISM A TO Z

I would like to share with you a new web site begun by the Buddhist monk Shravasti Dhammika.  He calls it “Guide to Buddhism A to Z.”  I have always enjoyed his sensible approach to things on his regular “blog” site, Dhamma Musings, and in this new one he provides a similarly sensible approach to Buddhism and how it applies to life.

In addition to large amounts of information about Buddhism and Buddhist teachings, the new site also deals with modern social issues — so it is inclusive and very helpful for people who want to know the traditional Buddhist attitude to things as represented in the Tipitaka — the teachings of the Buddha as preserved in the Theravada tradition.  Of course one should always use one’s head no matter what one is reading.

Here, for example, is the entry on charging for Buddhist teachings, which of course includes charging for teaching meditation, an entry with which I agree wholeheartedly.

CHARGING FOR DHAMMA

The Buddha gave the Dhamma freely to all. He often underwent difficulties and inconveniences and on occasions even risked his life, in order to teach the Dhamma to others (Ud.78). The monk Puṇṇa was prepared to teach the Dhamma in a district where the people were known for their violence and where he had a good chance of being manhandled or even worse (M.III,269). Today, some Westerners go to traditional Buddhist countries to learn Dhamma or meditation, return to their homelands and then charge for teaching what they were taught for free. Likewise, some Asian monks put a price on the Dhamma, certain Tibetan teachers being the worst offenders. In doing so such people turn the precious Dhamma into a commodity although the Buddha clearly said: ‘One should not go about making a business out of the Dhamma.’ (Ud.66). When the Buddha said: ‘The gift of Dhamma excels all other gifts’ (Dhp.354), he clearly meant that the Dhamma should be a gift, not something to be sold.

During the Buddha’s time people knew that teachers of other religions charged a fee (ācariyadhana) but that those teaching Dhamma expected nothing more from their students than respect and attentiveness (A.V,347). There is nothing wrong with charging for the food, accommodation etc. used during a meditation course. Nor is it improper for a teacher to accept donations. But to charge a fee, even if it is called ‘sponsorship’ or to announce that a ‘donation’ of a certain amount is expected, contradicts the most basic ethics and ideals of Buddhism. Those who teach the Dhamma should see what they do as a rare and wonderful privilege and an act of kindness, not a means of livelihood.

And here is the entry on the teacher-student relationship:

TEACHERS AND DISCIPLES

A teacher (ācariya or garu, Sanskrit guru) is a person who imparts skills or knowledge, and a disciple (sāvaka) is one who learns from a teacher. In some religions, and even within the Vajrayāna branch of Buddhism, the disciple is expected to dedicate himself or herself totally to the teacher and obey him unquestioningly. This is very much at odds with what the Buddha both taught to and required from his disciples. He advised that before learning under a teacher, and even while receiving instruction, the disciple should maintain a respectful but questioning and discriminating attitude. First, the disciple should investigate (vīmaṃseyya) the teacher by watching and listening to see if his or her behaviour is consistent with what is being taught. Continuing to investigate over a period of time, the disciple should try to see if the good qualities the teacher appears to have are internalized or only the result of making an effort or trying to impress. Other things that might indicate a teacher’s true worth are seeing if they act differently in public than in private and whether they are affected by fame and success (M.I,318-20).

The Buddha approved of respect and reverence by a disciple towards a teacher. He said: ‘A teacher should look upon his student as a son. A student should look upon his teacher as a father. United by this mutual reverence and deference and living in communion with each other, both will achieve increase, growth and progress in this Dhamma and discipline.’ (Vin.IV,45). However, the truly sincere teacher wants the disciple to attain the same level of virtue and knowledge as himself or herself or even to surpass it, and this can only be done in an environment where questioning and free expression are encouraged.

The new site does not hesitate in criticism where criticism is due.  For example, the entry on human rights, after discussing how they are supported in Buddhist teaching, ends with this declaration:

Despite this, Buddhist civilisations never developed the concept of human rights, probably because from an early period they adopted Hindu political theory in which the king was considered divine. Today, most traditional Buddhist countries have had an uneven or poor human rights record.

The site is also helpful in providing a sensible perspective on issues such as homosexuality.  The entry for this says in part:

Homosexuality is the tendency to be sexually attracted to persons of the same rather than the opposite gender. In the Buddhist scriptures homosexual males are called asittapaṇḍaka and females are called women of uncertain femininity (sambhinna) or masculine women (vepurisikā, Vin.II,271). Today the first are called gays and the second lesbians. Today male homosexuals are called gays while females are referred to as lesbians. According to the ancient Indian understanding, homosexuals were thought of simply as being ‘the third nature’ (tṛtīya prakṛti), rather than as perverted, deviant or sick. With its emphasis on psychology and cause and effect, Buddhism judges acts, including sexual acts, by the intention behind them and the effect they have. A sexual act motivated by love, mutuality and the desire to give and share would be judged positive no matter what the gender of the two persons involved. Therefore, homosexuality as such is not considered immoral in Buddhism or against the third Precept. If a homosexual avoids the sensuality and license of the so-called ‘gay scene’ and enters into a loving relationship with another person, there is no reason why he or she cannot be a sincere practising Buddhist and enjoy all the blessings of the Buddhist life.

While not all entries seem quite adequate as they now stand (and of course more entries are to be added), it will be interesting to see how the site develops.  But just from its criticism of those who charge for Buddhist teaching, the site looks to be a healthy dose of medicine.

Here is the link:

http://www.buddhisma2z.com/

David