Present: Rev. Noriaki Ito, Gordon Gibb, Rev. Kusala, Sr. Thomas Bernard.
Fr. Jim Fredericks, Anita Merwin, Ven. Karuna Dharma, Rev.
Heidi Singh, Ven. Piyananda, Ven. Sumana, Ralph Barnes, Michael
Dharma sent her email response on the Spirituality of Interreligious
Dialogue document to John Borelli. Other responses were shared.
Michael will provide them to John Borelli before he drafts
a response to Cardinal Arinze. Michael will be seeing John
in a few weeks. We said a prayer for Ven. Dr. Ratanasara that
he may recover from his recent illness. We discussed the sutra
on Maitreya Ven. Karuna provided last time.
Gibb: When will Maitreya come to the earth? In China there
is the view that it will happen when people's hearts are ready
for him. Other Buddhists at other periods have thought it
will happen when times are dark, when the dharma is no longer
accessible. Our order at Hsi Lai honors the tradition of Maitreya
very much. Some think he will not come back at all as an individual
but as the manifestation of tolerance and compassion in the
community and in the hearts and minds of the people.
Piyananda: In Sri Lanka, in popular Buddhism he is discussed all the
time. People wait for him and they will be reborn when Maitreya
Thomas: You have talked about Maitreya as an individual and as a community.
Could the Buddha be a value system rather than a human person?
Is there any connection between the returning Buddha and a
value system rather than an individual?
Gibb: Buddha certainly manifested as one individual but the
Buddha is certainly beyond any one individual.
Piyananda: All Buddhist traditions, Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, all
agree Maitreya will come as a human person.
Jim: But the historical Buddha said: He who sees me sees the dharma,
he who sees the dharma sees me. Here's two thirds of the Three
Jewels. Could you say, he who sees the sangha sees the Buddha
and the dharma. He who really knows the Buddha and the dharma,
is a part of the sangha?
Piyananda: Unlike other religions, Buddhism
does not want to point out the person. For example, in
Christianity, you call "God,"
we call "good." You call "devil," we call "evil." Buddha
said, dharma means his teaching the noble truths, higher
qualities. When a person follows that path, that person achieves
Buddha nature and that person can see the truth. Therefore,
we do not need a person. Sangha means the united community
to carry out the message.
Jim: I can understand what it means to take refuge in the Buddha
and to take refuge in the dharma. What does it mean to take
refuge in the sangha?
Piyananda: Unity is the most important thing in the Buddhist community.
For the lay person to follow the sangha does not mean worship
but to follow the guidance of the monks.
Kusala: As Buddha is the living embodiment of dharma, so sangha is
the living embodiment of vinaya, the monastic rules of life.
Karuna: When I was a young nun, someone asked our teacher: what is
more important, the Buddha, the dharma, or the sangha? Some
said the Buddha because without him there is no dharma. Some
said the dharma because without it there would be no Buddha.
But our teacher said he thought it was the sangha, because
with out the sangha there would be no dharma, for the sangha
presents it to everyone else. Here sangha is used in a very
traditional sense, to refer to the community of monks and
nuns. The Japanese, I believe, are the only ones who use sangha
to refer to the lay people too.
Nori Ito: In our Japanese tradition when we think of the Three
Treasures we regard the Buddha as our eternal teacher, the
dharma as our eternal medicine, and the sangha as our eternal
friend. It also includes all those who support the sangha.
It is not only limited to human beings.
Gibb: If we understand that the dharma was not a body of teaching
at the time of Sakyamuni Buddha but as phenomena he befriends
and opens to the understanding, then refuge, as in the venerable
Ch'an tradition, would be to have the self rest in the self,
which is to say that what is the nature of the self is everything,
all phenomena that is happening. To take refuge in the dharma
is to rest in everything that is happening. To recognize the
Buddha is to recognize yourself as such.
Sumana: The sangha is divided into two, the Arya sangha, the noble
disciples, enlightened, who have reached the stream, and Samutti
sangha, the conventional disciples, who aspire to enlightenment.
We venerate both together. We honor, today, the present sangha.
Kerze: When I had the good fortune to have lunch at Ven. Piyananda's
temple a while ago while visiting Ven. Dr. Ratanasara, I was
struck by what he said to the lay people who had made the
food and donated it to the monks. Among other things he said
that not only were they giving to the sangha there, but also
to the mahasangha, the sangha which went from Buddha's first
disciples to far into the future. I thought it was a powerful
symbolism of the unity of the sangha and I reflected on the
symbolism of the mystical body of Christ. In Christianity
it means all those disciples of Christ from the very beginning
to far into the future, the Church, united in Christ as one.
I don't think I could have appreciated the richness of the
symbolism of the mahasangha if I did not have the mystical
body to compare it to.
Sumana: Everything that is given is given to the sangha. Everything
that I have belongs to the sangha. At death, what we have
goes to the sangha. I always have a home at any temple because
temples belong to the sangha and I belong to the sangha. In
Thailand, the temple is the center of life for everyone.
Kerze: We began discussing Maitreya and I would like to go
back and mention two things that fascinated me in the sutra.
The first is that the life of Maitreya seems modeled on the
life of Sakyamuni Buddha, how he belonged to the same caste
of people as the Buddha, how his mother delivered him, how
he grew, whether he'd be a cakravartin, a world conqueror,
or a Buddha, how he went out to achieve enlightenment. A second
story tells how the devas make an old man, a sick man, and
a corpse appear before him, then he preaches to everyone about
how lucky they are to be there as he preaches the glorious
dharma. I wondered if there was a model for a buddha.
is the mythological setting in which Maitreya's coming is
portrayed. Clearly it is a world which is not this world though
it is, essentially, this world, but with profound changes.
There is no ocean, for example, and human beings live a remarkably
long life, women don't get married until they are 500 years
old. People have achieved the fulness of what could be achieved
physically. Clearly this is not a historical prophecy for
it takes place in a time and space very different from the
time and space we experience. I reflected on the stories in
Revelation which is also set in a mythological framework where
the forces of good and the forces of evil contend in highly
symbolic images and events. So I wonder if, for our traditions
to articulate a future of universal enlightenment or salvation,
we can only place it beyond historical time and space because
that is where it truly exists? And because it is beyond this
time and space its power and grace becomes accessible to us
for then we are not bound by the limitations of our historical
Kusala: I've looked at the story of the Buddha as an interesting story
in that there is a lot of truth and reality there. The story
has been used before so it has great power. But the real aspect
of Buddhism is that it ends the suffering. As Ven. Dr. Ratanasara
explained to me many years ago, we have this wonderful tree
and the stories are the bark and the practice is the core.
The bark has allowed the tree to live for 2500 years and without
it we might not have the practice today. To someone in deep
suffering or dying, I won't tell the story but address their
condition. But to a child, I will, for it gives a wonderful
human context to the teaching.
Piyananda: The early canon of Buddhism did not have the stories of his
life. That developed to bring the teaching to the common folk.
The early canon talked about how Buddha realized the world
problem is the sickness. Aging is the problem, death is the
problem. To solve the problem is the monk.
Kerze: This reminds me of similar things in
Christianity, the stories of Jesus birth in the stable,
for example, is a wonderful story. And the virgin birth &endash;
that is found elsewhere too. There is a real power to
these stories which exert a fascination over us and also
satisfies our need to know origins.
Gibb: The stories are reasonable but they take us beyond reason.
We are able to touch something in the psyche or the cosmic
archetype. The mythic understanding of the Incarnation is
not a valid way of understanding Christ in Christian theology.
It jolts you to be able to think of human flesh in the same
way as thinking of the Buddha in human form. Not that it is
not human but something that fulfills the human that is also
Kerze: I think of Eliade here who talks about the dialectic
of the sacred, that it cannot be represented except in very
specific and very concrete forms, which then are vehicles
for its presence in the world, whether the form be a text,
as story, a ritual, or a person, place, or thing. What is
the relation of the sutra, the text, to the dharma? In Christianity
the scripture will call itself the word of God; it is the
Word of God and also this particular text.
Kusala: As Ven. Walpola Rahula said, there are fourteen definitions
for the dharma. The canon is very much the words of human
beings. It may not be what the Buddha said, but what the monks
remembered the Buddha said.
Merwin: Raimundo Pannikar talks about the "terror of written
language," because then it denies the spirit of the oral
tradition. When there is an oral tradition it is passed on
and on and memorized, there is something very still alive
in that. When it is written, there is something very spiritually
vacant about that.
Gibb: There is the question of the authority of scriptures.
Here there is a real difference between our traditions. For
Buddhism, the authority comes from experience; in Christianity
it comes form a source outside itself. It is a decentralized
authenticating of the text.
Fredericks: Would this mean that historical critical studies of texts
in Buddhism are less important than in Christianity?
Kusala: What we are talking about is ultimate reality in experience
and relative reality in the understanding.
Gibb: Buddhism would probably place more significance on the
significance of an event than on whether it really happened.
Both are important.
Thomas: Every time we take a group on pilgrimage we tell them before
we go that whether or not this is the exact geographical site
of what happened in the life of Jesus is less important than
the significance of what happened there and the faith of the
people who have been coming for centuries to that spot and
recognized its important.
Piyananda: Practice is more important than place. There is the story
of how, when the Buddha was passing away, a monk did not come
and see him. He was criticized and the Buddha called him to
him. Why haven't you seen me? the Buddha asked. Because I
was following your teaching and meditating, the monk answered.
Do not criticize this monk, the Buddha said, for he is following
my teaching in practice.
Nori Ito: In our Pure Land tradition, one problem we have is language.
Japanese allows much more grey in expressing things; English
is very much black and white. Our challenge is to put the
values into contemporary language. Isn't the important question,
how the experience resonates in the heart?