From the Second Vatican Counsil
More from the Vatican
Buddhism, in its various forms, . . . teaches a way by which men . . . may be able either to acquire . . . perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination . . . The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these . . .
[For many] ways of conduct and of life, . . . precepts and teachings . . . often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.
The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons [to] recognize, preserve and promote the good things . . . as well as the socio-cultural values found . . .
– The Second Vatican Counsil. Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Nostra Aetate. Proclaimed by HH Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965. [◦All of it]
You can study Buddhism as a Christian
From time to time persons ask if they can practice Buddhism as Christians. The answer of the Vatican Council is yes. It matters to get skilled. You should know there are many variants of Buddhism, so study the variants and forms that are fit for overcoming unnecessary verbosity, and do not steer you into great hardships either. Seek to have time to live well, appropriately. Much comes down to meditating well for self-growth, and there are many meditation methods to train by to develop meditation skills of various sorts. Have a look at what scientific investigations say are fine methods that bring effects that you are after, first of all. And then you can study variants before committing to anything out of your waters, to avoid rash commitments to extensive efforts and submissions you find it difficult to recuperate from.
Buddha advocates self-help training of oneself, his sound advice is freely given, and his way is neatly balanced. Adjusting to what are most likely his best teachings requires some kinds of skill, then, because of centuries of additions to them. Below I ignore parts that have accrued after Gautama Buddha. What I focus on should be fit for the gentle lay Buddhists and self-help interested people without wishing to call themselves Buddhists yet, for I go to fundamental teachings at bottom of Buddhism.
Buddha is for developing great skills and learning. What follows happens to fit individual development rather independently of too rigid beliefs. The main inspiration and source of this little article is given further down.
Free to benefit yourself
You do not have to be a Buddhist to gain benefits from Buddhist teachings at large. You do not have to believe in anything. Some make a show of reverence and ignore the best teachings and higher ways to live. But what is really needed, is to adjust to good and strong points of the way of life that Buddha advocates. Giving the modifications you make some time to set root and yield fruits, see whether you like the changes you make and the changes in your life as a result. If there are things you do not like full well, you are free to go for better ones.
As for the Buddhism you may encounter, many forms of Buddhism have developed over the millenniums, and some traditions seem strangely opposed to Buddha's dear own words.
Façade Buddhism has built up great reverence for unnecessary details, for massive buildings and constructions, and ceremonialism, all of which area ble to deflect and curtail the truly helpful elements that are handed over. Genuine Buddhism does not put rituals above a single individual, although it is monkish by design. There is seldom a real need for a monkish way of life either. Further consider how much freedom the monk or nun gives up. What can be good, though, is to adapt good elements from what was originally enjoined on monks to one's own living, for more and better progress in nice, well blended ways.
This is to say you are free to reap benefits you may come to be thankful for.
Keep calm and stay solvent
The Buddhist teaching may require some time before it sets roots in a culture.
In your daily living, adhere to the highest or best you can attain to, and seek to develop too. It is the regular sessions of deepening meditation that counts the most. Soundness and moral living, education, and making a living decently, is included too. Buddha says such living reveres him the most, in fact. Adjust to that as best you can.
First things first, then. Dogen (1200-53) says, "Buddhism is zazen, zazen is Buddhism." Zazen is sitting in meditation, doing Zen. Dogen does not discard reading Buddhist teachings for that matter, nor should you.
Stuck in ignorance of Buddha's teachings
Some appear to be stuck in rituals, ceremonialism, even intellectual debates in shows and much else. We do not think that the ritual-prone, ceremonialists, and intellectualists necessarily are better Buddhists than those who make efforts to live the teachings. It may often be the other way round. It comes down to the living.
In a good life it may be OK to be a child for some time, but higher living with its proper efforts is much better.
"Children" of Buddhism use Buddha figures, Buddha paintings, relics, and other objects as focuses of devotion in fixed ways, often discarding or neglecting or ignoring that Buddha did not want to be painted:
After his enlightenment Buddha decreed that no one was to make an image of him or to paint him. But a nameless artist who saw him sitting deep in contemplation on the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi (Benares), was so moved by the sight that he wanted to portray Buddha he painted Buddha's reflection in the rippling Ganges and thereby made a portrait without defying Buddha's injunction.
There is a place for ceremonialists in Buddhism as in other major religions, but, really, Buddhism is a way of life for progress both in the world and inwardly. Regional differences are found, and many divergent Buddhist schools of thinking. However, they have something in common: Gautama Buddha's essential teachings.
The Right Sort of Training helps Self-help Too
As for ceremonialism, the best way to revere a Buddha is in the daily life by tending to the good regulations he put forth. What are they? He said it himself in the Mahaparinibbanasuttanta (Nirvana Sutra), that a Truth-arriver [Buddha] is to be honoured, respected and revered by followers living his teachings. "Therefore, train yourselves in living the teachings and live decently in everything," Buddha advices [Lie 2005, 116].
There are those who are able to practice more than dana (non-dwarfing and suitable giving) and sila (ethical living) and try to cultivate their minds on a regular basis through deepened meditation.
Just show a Buddha the best kind of respect you are able to. You can of course drop ceremonialism, and should drop what goes directly against some of Gautama Buddha's basic sayings. And in this as so much else, adjust to his free, large-hearted counsel of rejecting extremes. Buddha does not encourage unbridled emotions and unrestrained outbursts, and allows for many different sorts of approaches. Getting serene in the heart is what is needed. Getting learned is fine too. Keeping the fit Buddhist precepts (sila) pure, is for developing the mind in meditation (bhavana). Stick to awareness training as well.
Show some respect or reverence otherwise in any suitable way. The Kalamas of Kesaputta illustrate it: some greeted Buddha politely and talked friendly and courteously with him. Others said nothing and sat down to listen to him, and so on. [ Kalama Sutta, Anguttara-nikaya iii 65 (PTS edition).]
Details Can Help too, but not All of Them
To lessen dependency on outward objects is fit, and yet it should be fit to have a bed where you may sleep soundly. Many ignore that humans spend about one third of their life in bed. It stands to reason to make the long time in bed as cosy and sound as can be. There are benefits from a good bed and mattress, and many go crazy from lack of enough and sound sleep. You are not enjoined to sleep on a mat on the floor unless you go monk.
As for other details, Buddha makes it a point that you have to be a light unto yourselves. Adhere to that, also by real life derivations. There are many to consider.
The room where daily meditation and devotion takes place should be quiet, and the furnishings well in accord with Dharma, and make no show of it. Really, no objects that are difficult to get and keep, are needed. Just let whatever you surround yourself with, evoke harmony and peace.
Three things are used for ceremonial offerings that are more or less additions to the basic and some additions may crowd out vital stuff. Have a candid look at candlesticks (lamps for oil, etc., in some traditions), incense burners and vases or trays for flowers; in "Nirvana-land" Buddha is said to be beyond such frivolity. Also, he has stated that those who really honour him, work on their own progress according to regulations and instructions along the Way laid down. These were about his last words [Lie 2005, 116]
Why Stuck in Awkward Ceremonialist Outlets?
People are different. Some are ceremonical, others hardly so. There are ceremonies that seem to help some people, and what helps, does not always have to be discarded as we go on, growing. Child toys may be kept and later given to your own dear children, for example.
Gautama Buddha wants followers to practice dear self-help methods, he tells in the Mahaparinibbanasuttanta, and they are not to be left out for the sake of ceremonies and great buildings. First things first, in other words.
And also accommodate as best you can. Some get stuck in ceremonies and ritual occupations, for they believe there is benefit in it. Maybe there is, but there should be far more benefit in deep meditation. Do not get impressed by ceremonies; instead learn to focus your mind and get an education that suits you.
The best counsel is not to get stuck in ceremonialism, but stick to elements that give the best progress. Some rise into a well-tempered and not too ardent Buddhist living, where outer and inner development as he delineated, comes first. Focus on that, you too. It is putting first things first.
Incense-burners and vases, and even flowers are extras, and can be dispensed with. Much can be dispensed with, but what beautifies life and does not hinder your gentle progress, may remain. It is in the art of living. Also, consider if you really love flowers nicely if you cut them off and make them die in front of Buddha images he did not really want. Why cut them for shows of religious devotion when there is a much better thing to do? It smells selfishness. You can smell flowers, but if you love them, perhaps you let them live and do not cut them off. It is the same with grass and trees to monks. They are enjoined not to cut them down. You can accommodate to that.
Good conduct (moral) is better than the smell of incense.
I don't say there is no use of them. But a first-class meditator may have little or no need of artificial ceremonialism, and no need of feigning. Ritual ceremonialists need more self-fostering need to go deeper within by contemplation, dhyana. That could be good for many.
Learn to Focus, for It Aids Development
Stick to Buddha's basics, eliminate the added growths of various traditions where they are in conflict with his higher teachings, and much could go better in your living.
Note that ceremonialism on weak feet yet spunges time and effort from many, crowding out higher pursuits, for example learning, the good life, and development in contemplation.
Learn to focus your mind, and hinder the teaching from getting rusty inside your head. Sound memorisation and repetition can help that.
Gestures and tokens of this and that, also of respect
Take heed that cunning calculations do not get the better of you as you adjust to conform conduct. Gestures may be formed as conventionalised ways of greeting, as tokens of respect, and much else. There are those who consider that in a face-to-face communication, the language signals at most one fourth of the total influence. Consider that what is of the body grimaces, stances, gestures, and the like weigh the most, and often the influences go beyond normal awareness and thus beyond our conscious control. Apes know that.
One conventional salutation is made by bringing the palms of the hands together, and raising them to the region of the heart or higher, even to the forehead in an extra-reverent greeting. A salutation is expected to be done with neat mindfulness, gracefully.
Nobody has to encourage unrestrained expressions of emotion, rather what is fit is to calm one's heart.
Prostrating is completely unnecessary. Yet the exercise could be good for you.
Just do not make extra rules, ceremonial additions, and complications they bring to yourself. Some extra complications are indeed handed over as traditions. Discern between good traditions and other traditions, and shun the unnecessary extras they often enjoin on followers in the name of Buddhism, reverence, or whatever. After all, apes go into such living too, and a good person knows better. The many extras that deviate from the core of Buddha's teachings tend to give encumbrance in time. Just adhere to the basics of sane and truly progressive living; it should be always well. That life should be delightful, and the measure of delight is a fit yardstick.
Dispense with what is not truly necessary to get time for better or higher pursuits.
Observe that chanting according to this and that handed-over ritual and custom is not needed either. Adjust to Buddha's teachings instead. They are over and above man-made, added ceremonies of somewhat gross mentalities that make less of basic instructions for the sake of having pet ceremonies, pet equipment whatever.
Buddhist Decency Is Sane
See to that you are not outsmarted. When people ask, "Who is really a Buddhist?" the answer will be, "One who has adjusted his living routines well to Buddha's basic teachings and does about the best he or she can, at times a bit less than that, for safety reasons." To be a "good Buddhist", you are to be yourself too. Be a "good yourself"; that comes first.
Daily massing of "taking refuge" is not really needed, and is certainly not above the daily living, as sane and decent daily living in a Buddhist way counts the most, and overarches the other facets of genuine Buddhist decency. In it, there are some things to be avoided, while other things are heartily encouraged. First of all:
It is fit to make the best use of one's life. Do's are better than don'ts: spend good time on positive aspects of living and go for excellence.
Sticking to truth is worthy too in Buddha's Way, helpful for development.
Recollections may be helpful at times. Here are some: "I have not got beyond death." "Much is bound to change in a life." "I am related to my karma."
To die unconfused is a good aim.
Affirm as you like: "May I have no troubles of mind and body, and may I be able to protect my happiness."
It is not mad to appreciate the Three Treasures of Buddhism, that is, Buddha himself, his teachings (also called Dharma), and the fellowship of likeminded and better ones (sangha).
The teachings are to be known and put to work in daily living. Followers and disciples who have practiced properly are worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, and should be respected.
For meditation one should also sit on a reasonably soft surface.
When seated to meditate, the body should be upright, well balanced and comfortable. Clothes should be loose and not constricting.
The half-lotus posture may suit supple ones. The pleasant pose is less demanding.
If it is difficult to keep the back straight, you can put a cushion in the small-of the back and sit against a wall. This will help to straighten the back while it gives support to anyone with a weak back. If all these ways of sitting are impossible, a chair may be used.
You can exercise the body at times, in between sittings in deep meditation. There are classes in safe yoga postures, gentle stretching and Pilates all fit in, ad walking too. Jogging serves some, and gentle swimming.
Do not overdo anything, especially not to begin with.
The mind reaches deeply into the body and mind.
In meditation, a focus on one thing (at a time) is generally helpful.
Focus in the right way increases mental clarity as time goes by.
Having a personal meditation teacher or coach could be very helpful. There are self-help books on how to meditate too. There is thus a way for some.
Regular mindfulness of breathing may be used by beginners and others. Mindfulness instructions may be good for you, and so could learning to be observant. Try it out. [LINK].
The time given to meditation depend on the individual. Less than 15-20 minutes is of little benefit unless the mind is well focused. Go for practicing every day, and regularly. Some people like to meditate twice a day, others two and three times, and so on.
Good Love Shares, Great Love Gives with No Strings Attached
"Miserable is kingship over men compared with heavenly bliss. [cf. Anguttara Nikaya 4, 255-259]. Let heavenly bliss (joy) come first, heedfulness and calm next. Love is at best third. Helpful love is fit, and to appear attractive supports greater peace of heart. Love can be extended to other beings. However, as it is said, "Metta (kindness) must be practiced first towards oneself. " One cannot love others unless love is there in one's own heart. You can share that love for your own benefit too, not just that of others.
To love yourself well is not narcissism, but means a relative absence of conflicts in yourself,. When the mind becomes calm, kindness may start developing in one's heart,. Then try and consider a person who is disliked and the mind-training may not go well, at least for a time. So do not weary yourself out love yourself that way too.
It generally helps deep meditation to be well pleased with oneself.
In deep meditation one should aim at having a pure mind. Therefore you can refrain from digressing into metta into whatever when meditating.
Climbing is Very OK
There is essential climbing to higher, subtler, and more considerate levels of living. There is social climbing going for a career and work to sustain one's future living, his family's needs, above others. As a matter of fact, climbing into a good work life, learning, and inner development is OK.
You are to consider helpfulness and service in the same light. Help and serve yourself first, next your near ones, if any, and so on in a widening circle as you can afford it.
Development of calm is very necessary for having insight. In Zen archery, being calm and well relaxed is a big focus of the training. In fact, keeping calm and relaxed is vital for progress as a learner too. New insights often require back-up from a relaxed body-mind.
The mind which holds many doubts needs to practice carefully.
A secure path, a maximally secure way of living is basic.
Chanting and Elements of Individual Practice Fit for Self-Help
In some traditions verses and passages are used for ritual chanting. Note that in Vinaya Pitaka, ii. 108, when some monks began to sing the Dharma, Buddha says there are these five dangers when Dharma is chanted with a long, singing sound:
As it it said, chanting is a source of both pride and quarrelling among Buddhists.
What are some people trying to achieve by chanting the words relating to the Buddha and his teaching? Buddha spoke in praise of silence, so you can be silent. There is no such thing as a standard morning and evening service in the Buddhist world.
Those who have enough of this world's wealth, enough of clothes, food, shelter and medicine which are the basic necessities for life should practice non-dwarfing dana (favourable giving, generosity). Dana means (a) non-dwarfing generosity and giving; (b) the practice of cultivating generosity; and (c) it culminates in very little attached generosity as is fit that is, gifts without strings and clownish attachments.
Correct, non-dwarfing giving is thought to help the mind of the giver, basically. Buddhism also offers a view of getting reborn in wealthier conditions for it. That is the message of numerous Buddhist tales too.
Some give with the thought of inner, hidden gains of such kinds to ensure or improve their fare in the future somehow. However, it is fit to give nice gifts and help worthy people who can profit from it anyway, for the sake of decency. Be prepared to open both your heart and hands to others, but without making a show of it. [Cf. Wikipedia sv. "Dana"]
You May Foster Harmony on Your Way Home
Avoid causing fear as you stick to decent living, that is, sila.
Buddha formulated principles of moral behaviour that will take part in founding a harmonious society, as the mental states of individuals mature.
Bhavana mind-cultivation, mind-development (meditation) and cultivation of sound equanimity can foster harmony within and peace with others unless they are unwell.
Abstain from harm as best you can.
Spend adequate time in walking and seated meditation. Sensible Dharma lecturing may fit in too.
Maturing well suggests moving in the direction of becoming less attached by desires of the body.
Gain inner collectedness and proficiency (be skilful in diving within and otherwise as well); both of these go really deep inside.
The Five Precepts (above) represent a general measure for ordinary life. You are to be awfully set on being outer-directed by enjoined precepts and the like if you add to them. What is called "wrong conduct" may also consist of submitting to what encumbers your own free flows. What matters is to remain heedful and attain abundant bliss. [Dhp. 27]. Heed your tender inner sensing, heed the freedom you have to begin with, and things could go better.
At all times the self-developer (meditator) is trying to increase in the quality of heedfulness and awareness. It may be copiously trained.
Dress simply and smartly. You do not have to refrain from adornments, as Buddha says so in a piece of advice to women.
In the rainy, Asian season the meditator meditates more; the student of books makes more effort to master his studies; the teacher-monk is more active in teaching Dharma, and so on. Seasonal changes are adjusted to, in other words. Better still is to stick to: "Do what you can". Some aspects of the circumstances may not be altered so easily by a single person.
It may be that spending time and sympathy to help others may help better than giving money or goods.
In a non-Buddhist country the local culture may be strangely opposed to sound self-help and mind-development. Make the best out of it. Mind-training is often possible anyway, and that comes first, in addition to sound moral living. It is not dwarfing. There are many customs that are not bad either. As you can tan in any country, you should be free to adapt to the suitable local customs if that is of use to you.
Practice along the lines that are suggested Make haste towards the good and get wise, says the Dhammapada 116, 118
You do not have to know one Pali word to be a good Buddhist a sound and good yourself. Bring a sound measure of essential or Dharmic living into your life and note the difference. First consider, "What can I do?"
Remain as Truth-adjusted and Joy-attuned as You Can
Great precepts and also moral conduct (sila) help one to cross the sea [a metaphor for reaching nirvanaland of great, unifying gladness:
Letting nature venerate you of its own accord seems all right: Buddha before his Paranirvana said, "The twin sala trees are quite covered with blossoms though it is not the season. They scatter and sprinkle and strew themselves on the Perfect One's body out of veneration for him."
Buddha went on, telling how an Arriver (Tathagatha) is to be honoured, respected, revered, venerated or reverenced among people: It is by persons who live according to his teachings, who enters upon the proper way, who walks in that Dharma. They are the ones that honour, respect, revere and venerate a Truth-Arriver with the highest veneration of all. Therefore abide in the way of the Dharma, entering on the proper way, and walking in the Dharma.
The practice of giving (dana), moral conduct (sila), meditation (samadhi) and wisdom (panna) is the best combined way of honoring the Buddha — they are called the puja of practice (patipatti-puja). To get skilled in valuable meditation is probably what needs to come first among these.
As for lesser forms of Buddhist living, there is the danger of becoming a ceremonialist. A strangling vine overgrowing the stout tree of Buddha's basic teachings by man-mades images and stupas (towers) and the like. That could begin a sorry debasement of oneself. Suspect man-made additions to the first teachings as various forms of bowing down to expressions of self-cherishment that overcrowd sound teachings of self-help in the direction of Inner Enlightenment. The limelight is not enough.
Up to half of the above may also be found in "Lay Practices of Buddhism." The Wheel Publication No. 206/207 (Kandy: 1982). Transcribed from the print edition in 1995 by David Savage under the auspices of the DharmaNet Dharma Book, and copyright © 1982 Buddhist Publication Society. Access to Insight edition, 1995.
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