Posted by: Andrew G | March 8, 2010

Buddhism — Serenity Now!

Today I wanted to talk about the last of the Three Vinegar Tasters.

Imagine if you will the three of Lao-Tse, K’ung Fu Tzu and the Buddha standing around a vat of vinegar. After each has tasted the vinegar we are to read their expressions as follows:

K’ung Fu Tzu has a sour look, which reflects his austere and regimented ordering of morality.

Buddha wears a bitter expression, a kind of note on how Buddha saw the life of attachment and desires being a kind of root of suffering that had to be transcended.

Lao Tse has a rather broad smile after tasting the vinegar. The vinegar still tastes like vinegar to him, but it can still be appreciated for what it is and for its own nature. The vinegar is what it is and your reaction to it is something more about you than about the vinegar.

So the story goes. (I think it was being used to prove a point for the Taoist, but that’s another matter…)

Now I do have a criticism about this portrayal. Of the Buddhists that I have met, the bitter expression is not the impression I have of them. Instead there is either a blank and open expression or a serene, patient relaxation.

On a Saturday a few weeks ago, there was a workshop at the local college called “The Art of Meditation”. It was hosted by the local teacher from the Kuluta Buddhist Centre, Kelsang Donsang.

Maybe it’s just me, but this guy just doesn’t seem that concerned about the bitterness of the taste of vinegar.

It was a fun day. About twenty people attended, and I was amazed by the spectrum of people that took part in the workshop. There was a couple that brought their own yoga mats. There were a few grey-haired women that smiled a lot and by the end of the day had introduced themselves easily to everyone. There were two farm-couples, solid but worked bodies dressed in plaids and jeans. And then like Shannon and me, there were middle-of-the-journey searchers to round out the collection.

Kelsang Donsang had a lot of helpful words to say that Saturday. The focus of the day was meditation but it was difficult to explain things without putting them into the context of his religion. He was quite gracious and apologetic and only tried to insert as much about his beliefs as was necessary to bring the focus back on proper meditation. One of the things he said that I remember clearly is this:

“Please, don’t swallow my words because I wear robes.”

I thought this was good advice, regardless of the words or the robes being worn.

There are many schools of Buddhism, but they do share most of the fundamental beliefs. To the Buddhist, there is suffering but it is things like desire (to have, to control, etc.) that cause suffering.  There is an end to suffering when a person lets go of that desire and attachment through the study and practice of wisdom, morality and meditation.

For a more complete introduction to Buddhism, try this site or this site.

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Now I just can’t write something on Buddhism without bringing up the Dalai Lama. I have a lot of respect for this guy.

Here is the thing I most respect about the Dalai Lama — he is willing to change his mind, and even his religion.

He has been involved in scientific research on the effects of meditation on the brain. He has even been quoted as saying, “If science proves some belief of Buddhism is wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality.”

Seriously? That is an incredible statement for a religious leader to make! He might be able to make such a statement because Buddhism is as much a philosophy as it is a religion, but it is still an incredible statement.

I believe he is sincere about this, but I don’t really know the guy, right? What are your thoughts? Is your religion open to change? Should religion align itself so closely with modern science?

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