Nov. 5, 2006

We Get Snarky Mail Too

From the comments to Monks in the West;
Bhante, I would really like to challenge you to justify why you think it is appropriate to your role (as a monk, or simply as a "full-time Buddhist" generally) to show up and smear the (none-too-fine) distinctions between the religions, and roll out the whitewash and red carpet for one of the most infamous, brutal, corrupt organisations in the world (leaving aside the fact that it is a "false" religion), viz., Catholicism.
Posted by E.M. in a snarky mood.

Smearing over the differences between religions is certainly not my idea of valid inter-faith dialogue. There are many important doctrinal differences between Buddhism and Catholicism and I didn't have the impression at this conference that anyone was trying to avoid that. I am very critical of writers who take the line that all religions are the same underneath. (Perennial philosophy)

However, I also think it is healthy and useful for religions to meet and discuss together in an attitude of harmony. What's the alternative? Sectarian bigotry and narrow dogmatism.

I also don't fully subscribe to the characterization of Catholicism or Christianity in general as a "false religion." Even in narrow Buddhist exegesis it would be called a "partial" religion; any belief system which promotes moral behaviour and teaches that there are consequences of good and evil deeds falls within the elephant's footprint.

Whatever the history of the Catholic Church, and we all know about that, the brothers of the Benedictine Order that I met are good, spiritually minded men who are have aspirations beyond the worldly realm. That is rare enough in these degenerate days that it ill behooves us to strain at gnats because we have metaphysical differences. The real problem these days is not the Church, but the overwhelmingly materialist zeitgeist. And I would say that the Catholics have not bought into this like most of the Protestants.

Religious tolerance is something the world needs more of. I think the Church is to be commended for overcoming their past history of triumphalism and reaching out to talk to other religions. By doing so, we don't jeopardize the integrity of our own faiths. On the contrary, the contrast sharpens our mutual understanding.


e.m. said...

So your position would seem to be stated as "anyone who is against 'Materialism' is okay with me, no matter how many temples they burn down, or how many children they rape"?

Not a very enlightened policy, and one that, I think, follows closely from the (supposed) increase in public authority that Buddhist monks think they can glean by rubbing up closely to a moneyed, imperial religion such as Catholicism.

You may well take a moment to pause and reflect as to how many Buddhist monks were discredited by their close assocation with another ideology that was opposed to self-interested "materialism", and lent a certain glow of social relevance and status to Buddhist monks who were patronized by it, viz., Communism --an ideology that was popular among many monks in both Sri Lanka and Thailand, until quite recently.

I would seriously invite you to consider the possibility that you are profoundly wrong in describing the differences separating Buddhism from Catholicism as mere metaphysical quiddities on the one hand, and matters of remote historical interest on the other hand. I would also invite you to examine your own motives, assumptions, and prejudices on this subject quite carefully.

The differences between these religions are present, and profound, and of grave immediate and moral concern.

What you have done (and are now doing) is far more morally offensive to me than the old Sinhalese communist monks you can still bump into from time to time, who want to proffer their justifications for Stalin (etc.). What the catholic church is doing here and now (e.g., here in Laos, right now) deserves excoriation --both doctrinal and moral and practical. It is not true that "eveyone already knows" the history of the Catholic church in Asia; the opposite is very much the case, especially among Asians who are converting (from Buddhism) to Catholicism. When I spoke to one (a Lao ex-Buddhist) about the history of the Catholic church in India (viz., the slaughter of hundreds of thousands, very well historically documented) he simply refused to believe me, as the version of history the Catholic church propagates here is so widely different from reality (and includes, e.g., the claim that "maitreya" means Jesus Christ, and therefore that the Buddha "foretold" the coming of Jesus, etc. etc.)

What you have done (and are now doing) in relation to the Catholic church discredits you as a religious authority --and it is not hard to see the ugly, economic basis for the praise that Buddhist monks manufacture for the Catholics, or the Japanese for that matter. I have never seen such metaphysical genuflection on behalf of, say, the indigenous religions of Haiti or Papua, by Buddhist monks; no, the ochre robe set seem to conveniently adopt this posture only for the moneyed interests who fill up the teapots, and pay for events that (in some sense) raise their social profile and status.

It is no matter if it is the Soviets, the Japanese, or the Catholic Church itself that is paying the bill --there are always men in ochre robes eagre to take the podium and set history aside (as you have done in your postings) and set their responsibilities aside (as you have done, etc.).

Is it a mere coincidence that you have singled out the Catholic church for such praise (as so many other monks do these days) or does it have some relation to the sense of inferiority that Asian religions have, relative to the higher "social status" of the moneyed, imperial religions?

If you consdier yourself to be willing to make alliances with any religion that is opposed to "Materialism" (as you define it) you should think VERY CAREFULLY about who your allies are. Catholic missionaries are the very emissaries of capitalism and industrialization (they have been for centuries, here in Asia) and are a blatantaly materialistic faith, with a doctrine of "the good life" adapted from the two great sensualist sources of Aristotle and the Old Testament ("Why was wine put on this earth if not to make men happy?").

You indulged in specious reasoning by suggesting that the only alternative to your attitude of embracing a criminal organization (viz., the Catholic Church) is "narrow dogmatism" --on the contrary, the alternative that I was suggesting is one of critical engagement and well informed debate --precisely as the Buddha demonstrated in the suttas.

The Buddha did not say to those who sacrificed animals, "Well, let's set all this history aside, and forget minor metaphyiscal connundra --we have so much in common in rejecting materialism!" No, he did not.

He presented arguments that undermined the fundamental assumptions of their religious faith, and, in this way, jarred them out of the traditions of centuries and provided them with an opportunity for enlightenment. Some responded violently, some broke down weeping; but that is the nature of debate, recognising clearly those differences that are profound as profound, and those differences that are moral as moral, and those differences that are practical as practical.

However, they are certainly to be regarded as differences not to be dismissed lightly for the convenience of attending some moneyed junket.


gregory said...

Venerable sir, my opinion is that the spiritual sensualists with their heads in the clouds are aswell astray as the "materialist zeitgeist." The Muslim world only now is beginning to recognize the errors of their obsession with jihad, the hereafter with it's pleasures, and their negligence of building a fertile and distinguished civilization they once were renowned for. By religious fanaticism, humankind has been made to believe and invest only in the unseen (gods, heaven, etc.) and disbelieve and escape the seen (this world, with it's poverty, orphans, etc.).

Religious ideologies and their "aspirations beyond the worldly realm" are increasingly troublesome today. Three days ago, a 61 year-old Palestinian grandmother denonated her explosives in a suicide attack against Israeli soliders in the Gaza Strip. As a mother of 9 children and 41 grandchildren, she was very active in her "worldly realm." Her progeny endured much oppression from the Israeli regime, but after she lost her grandson and home to an Israeli attack, she turned to an extreme (courtesy of religion): an offensive jihad. Her last act before death was in contrast to a life lived neither in materialism nor asceticism.

Ajahn Punnadhammo is being fair; the participants partaking in the meeting between the Benedictine Order and Buddhist monastics are fully aware of the theological rift and conflicts between Buddhists and Catholics. They're aware of Buddhist mobs that are burning down Churches in Sri Lanka, and Christians doing the same to Buddhists elsewhere. There is no need to beat a dead zebra. And what crimes others do in the name of the Pope cannot automatically be identified with Catholicism.

Is there an elephant in the room? I could say that these "good, spiritually minded" Catholic monks Ajahn Punnadhammo met are certain of his abode in hellfire for rejecting Jesus Christ and that this interfaith meet seems pretentious when one party - dishonestly or fearfully - withholds the belief of eternal damnation without faith in Jesus. But that is common knowledge and I believe the monks of the Benedictine Order have atleast a general knowledge of the history of Catholicism. That being said, everyone needs to be continuously alert to the activities of their institutions, especially from unbiased sources.