Buddhism for a Christian

As a Christian, I think it is important to have a working knowledge of world religions. Studying a different religion not only expands your understanding of varying beliefs but also helps you appreciate your own spirituality to a greater extent. Some people are wary of studying different religions because they believe it will tarnish their devoutness or lead them astray. In reality, the opposite almost always happens – for example, learning about Buddhism made me appreciate Jesus Christ to a far higher degree. Thanks to my physical therapist, I was recommended an excellent book on Buddhism called Old Path White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hand is a Buddhist monk, and a proliferate author – he wrote this book as a factual biography of the Buddha – heavy on doctrine and light on myths.

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It follows the life of Siddhartha, a wealthy prince who seeks the path of enlightenment and eventually becomes known as the Buddha. The word Buddha actually means “the enlightened one” and this book explains how Buddhism was initially spread throughout eastern India around 450 BC. At that time, many religions believed in various gods and degrees of asceticism – how much humans should avoid or indulge in pleasure. Siddhartha followed the greatest spiritual leaders but was never able to reach enlightenment until he understood the actual source of human suffering.

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What is the central root of human suffering? Ignorance. Not knowing the truth is the cause of all the pain in the world. Well, what then is the truth? The Buddha believed that…

“People were caught in endless suffering because of their erroneous perceptions; they believed that which is impermanent is permanent, that which is without self contains self, that which has no birth and death has birth and death, and they divided that which is inseparable into parts.”

Put in another way, people have the wrong perceptions of the world and hence inaccurate realities of truth. So the next question then is how can one fix their reality? Again the Buddha believed that…

“…the key to liberation would be to break through ignorance and to enter deeply into the heart of reality and attain a direct experience of it. Such knowledge would not be the knowledge of the intellect, but of direct experience.”

This “direct experience” is achieved through mindfulness of the present moment. Complete mindfulness requires one to understand that there is no “self” and that there is no permanence – all things depend on each other in a cyclical-eternal fashion. Understanding this interdependence of life – the Buddha was able to shed all the sources of suffering: fear, anger, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, greed, and ignorance. The Buddha taught his followers to meditate to reach this awareness and connectedness. In a way, Buddhism is more of a philosophy than a religion – there is no soul, higher power, or afterlife; the goal is to reach Nirvana which is complete enlightenment and the extinction of self.

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Buddhism is complex – especially with reincarnation – and what I have described are the main tenets; there are many different schools of thought just like those in Christianity. So how did I apply these Buddhist teachings as a Christian? First off, Christianity teaches that you can not earn your way into heaven and that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. In Buddhism, the individual is responsible for their enlightenment, and the path to salvation is earned rather than gifted. Just that fact makes me want to shout “Praise the Lord for Jesus!” I did, however, find several parallels between Buddhism and Christianity in respects to suffering.

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Jesus, just like the Buddha, teaches that we need to love one another and that we are all interconnected – we fall apart because of fear, anger, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, greed, and ignorance. I also took away the important message of impermanence and mindfulness. Nothing on this earth is forever, and this life is just a blip on the map of eternity; we shouldn’t be sad about death because it is transient. We must be mindful of the present because it not only makes us more aware of our blessings but it gives us a glimpse of what eternity will actually feel like – no past or future. I actually have been meditating more, and it helps me with gratitude, calms my mind, and rids me of thoughts that cause suffering. No matter what you believe, learning about different religions will always give you a greater sense of the world and the human condition.

The Game of Life

Have you ever had a really nasty encounter with a person? One of those encounters where you get so upset that you become a nasty person yourself. Where both people seem to be climbing a mountain of frustration with no way of turning back to calmer ground. The type of frustrating interaction that leaves you emotionally and physically drained afterwards. Our difficulty with these charged events is that they don’t happen very often. Their irregularity leaves us vulnerable to repeating the same mistakes over and over-never really learning the correct coping mechanisms. Some of us blow up while others of us shut down-both are not helpful. I do not write this as a saint or someone who is always in a zen state immune to the winds of confrontation. I do however know from experience that we are the masters of how we react to all incoming stimulus. Dr. Stephen Covey said “Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.” This means that the only thing we can control is our reaction to whatever stimulus comes our way. We can’t control what other people say or do-we can only control how we react to those things.

My wife and I like to play tennis. Do you know the best skill a tennis player can have? Power? Control? Finesse? Determination? These are all helpful but the very best skill is one most people don’t think of-patience. Patience in waiting until the very last millisecond to hit the ball. Serena Williams is so good because she takes in every last detail of the balls trajectory, speed, spin, and behavior before administering her swing. Because of her patience and extra time to compute the stimulus she can return the best possible volley. This skill directly translates to the tennis match of conversation. The ball is the stimulus that is being rocketed your way and you need to decide how to react. Are you a pro like Serena with the patience to analyze the ball?

-Honey I had an awful day at work and the patients were so mean to me?
-…I’m so sorry about that, tell me about what happened?

Or are you like a flabby amateur who hits the ball without the slightest delay and care for detail?

Honey I had an awful day at work and the patients were so mean to me?
-You should be use to those types of patients and have a tougher skin.

We volley a hundred conversations a day without batting an eye. These are the matches that allow us to function and bring us together in a healthy manner. Those interactions are not the problem, the ones we need to prepare for are the irregular matches against the indomitable opponents. The opponents that want to hit the tennis ball right in our face. The opponents that would love to see us defeated on the other side of the net. These rare matches require pro skills and that is why you must practice how you react to stimulus on a daily basis. Think about the other person’s feelings, motives, perspectives,  background, and intentions. Let all those words and actions float in front of you-dissect their meaning-and then volley back a reply. This skill is extremely difficult because we are quick to react and many times want to hit the other person in the nuts with our rackets. We need to remember that scoring one good hit may score a point but it doesn’t mean we won the match. Play the long game in life and hone the skill of reaction to become a professional in every day interactions. Be the person that always seems to know the right thing to say at the right time. Be the person who is a role model for the amateur players. Be the person who can dominate the game of life.

 

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 2 of 3

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

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What an exciting couple of days we have had since the first installment of this series. Donald Trump, on Monday, stated that all Muslims should be banned from entering the United States. This “strategy” is by no means new in American history: the 19th century saw bans against Chinese, during the Great Depression there were movements to suppress Jewish immigration, and most notably during WWII there was forced encampment of Japanese Americans. The US has had a long history of xenophobia and sadly their are still a large number of people who have these same feelings today. Trump’s statement is wrong on many levels but one of its biggest errors is the fact that ISIS (which profoundly motivated the statement) does not actually practice Islam. Almost all Muslim-theology scholars agree that ISIS’s ideology contradicts Islam in almost every way. To understand this, imagine the KKK (a “protestant” terrorist group) went over to the Middle East and committed acts of violence in the name of Christianity. The leader of the affected country would then condemn all Christians as violent-untrustworthy people and ban them from entrance into the country. This seems downright insane, but how is this scenario different then the one currently being trumpeted by Donald? The intricacies of Islam as a religion will be explored in future posts but for now let’s get back to ISIS.

We left off with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi becoming the second leader of the newly formed Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in 2010. Baghdadi was said to be a quiet boy growing up and was quite scholarly-receiving a doctorate in Islamic culture and law.  This all radically changed when he became a jihadist after the Iraq invasion in 2003. Baghdadi would be shortly captured by Americans and put into a military controlled prison camp. These prisons mixed radical jihadists with minor offenders which created a ideal environment for recruitment. The US inadvertently spread terrorist ideology in these prisons and upon release, jihadists would be further glorified (similar to how gang members receive street cred after serving time). Baghdadi did his fair share of recruiting while imprisoned and when released, he was in prime position to take leadership of ISI in 2010. Shortly thereafter, Baghdadi began to attack military prisons which resulted in the escape of many jihadists who quickly pledged loyalty to ISI. During this same time, Baghdadi defied Al Queda and spread his terrorist group into war-torn Syria; hence the name known around the world was birthed, “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”

ISIS was technically a branch of al Queda but Baghdadi would soon take on a whole new ideology of radicalization.  Baghdadi began to split from al Queda when he resumed Zarqawi’s mission of targeting Shiite Muslim with gruesome killings. Eventually, ISIS would declare themselves the “true” Islamic State and claim that all nations must bow to them-including al Queda. ISIS is attempting to bring about the end times by fulfilling several prophecies: certain manuscripts predicted that preceding the apocalypse their would be…sectarian war, slavery, a battle in Dabiq (a town that ISIS controls), and the eventual control of Constantinople (to list a few.) This apocalyptic mentality is critical to understand because it shapes ISIS’s gruesome behavior. Apocalyptic groups are not concerned with worldly matters or politics which makes it much easier for them to commit barbaric acts. “ISIS’s stated goal is to purify the world and create a new era, in which a more perfect version of Islam is accepted worldwide.” The interesting thing to know is that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, says very little about the end of times. To summarize, ISIS is extremely violent because they desire to “purify” the world and they want to create sectarian violence among Muslims because war between Sunnis and Shiites is predicted in the end of times. Again, these apocalyptic beliefs are not tenets of Islam but rather created by prior scholars in an attempt to rationalize negative circumstances of their time (many were written whenever a foreign power took control). ISIS wants the United States to fight them and occupy their territory because this is yet another prediction of the end of times. Knowing this, we will continue to part 3 to understand how ISIS is so effective at recruiting and what we need to do to prevent their advancement of terror.