I’M COMING OUT!
I would like to thank you for the interesting articles by Clark Strand in the last few issues. I enjoyed his interview with Sensei Ogui (“Ordinary Struggles,” Summer 2006), representing the Buddhist Churches of America. I also enjoyed Strand’s own coming out, so to speak, into the Pure Land (“Born Again Buddhist” Fall 2006). As a Pure Land priest at the Reno Buddhist Church I was pleased with Tricycle’s decision to include what Strand correctly points out to be “over half the world’s Buddhists.”
Strand describes his experience of shinjin (true entrusting) in a poignant way that fits well with the Buddhist understanding of interdependence. The Pure Land surely is the pearl of great price that leads us to wisdom and compassion.
Rev. Bill Bartlett
I was pleased to see that Clark Strand provided Pure Land Buddhism a voice through the interview with Socho Koshin Ogui. However, I sense in Strand’s questioning two areas that continue to perplex people about this tradition: “assimilation” and “Other Power.”
On the first point Strand comments, “It’s almost as if the organization wanted to assimilate into the traditional American religious scene,” referring to the name “Buddhist Churches of America (B.C.A.).” Well, as a matter of fact, yes! That is what virtually all immigrants did, whether they came from Europe or Asia. There is nothing mysterious about that. The pressures of assimilation were even greater for the Japanese at that time, with the American politicians in the 1920s referring to Buddhist temples as places of “emperor worship.” Given this climate, it’s not surprising that the Buddhist Mission of North America changed its name to B.C.A. in 1944, while its members were still in the relocation camps. With the new, more “American- sounding” name, they looked to the impending postwar era with both hope and anxiety.
Other Power, too, should not be so perplexing, for it refers to the concept of “ultimate reality” that is widely held in Mahayana teachings, i.e., the Dharmakaya. Tanluan, the fifth-century Chinese master, incorporated “Other Power” into Pure Land lexicon from his earlier Yogachara school studies. And in Japan, Dogen (of Zen) and Shinran (of Pure Land), who were contemporaries, both saw their spiritual foundation as ultimately based in Dharmakaya. Dogen talked about Buddha-nature, its “inner” expression, whereas Shinran spoke of Amida, its personified “outer” form. As they embodied Dharmakaya in their lives, Dogen sat in meditation, while Shinran recited “Namu Amida Butsu.” Both meditation and recitation are more expressions rather than means of enlightenment. So, contrary to what the article stated, Pure Land Buddhists do not chant the name as “means” to birth in the Pure Land, for as Socho Ogui explained, “[I’m already] embraced by the dynamic light of compassion and wisdom that, in Shinshu, we call Amida Buddha. It’s very natural.”
So this Pure Land Buddhism should not be so perplexing. As an American religion and as a Buddhist tradition, it’s really quite natural.
Kenneth Kenshin Tanaka
Musashino University, Tokyo
BETWEEN HELL AND A HARD PLACE
As a lifelong nonorthodox Christian who has been sitting zazen for twenty- five years, I welcomed your Fall 2006 issue, with its exploration of the often uneasy dialogue between Buddhism and evangelical Christianity. Sallie Jiko Tisdale’s “Beloved Community” is a gift—a painfully honest look at this dialogue, fraught with ambivalence yet seeking to be open.
Still, if Tisdale believes that the happiness of the evangelical Christians comes “from sharing an absolute conviction of being right,” it is no surprise that she finds it difficult to warm to them. Such a conviction would be the work of the ego, or of “sin.” If their joy is genuine, it comes from awakening to the Love at the Center of all Being—a love that they experience as personified in the figure of Jesus Christ, though it can be found in many traditions, under many names.
The happiness that can be found through Christian faith is real. The mistake of many orthodox Christians is to suppose that they have an exclusive franchise on this happiness, however. The following article, Clark Strand’s “Born Again Buddhist,” reinforces the universality of this gift of grace. He writes of a similar joy that he has found through faith in the saving power of Amida Buddha—and his words intentionally parallel the language of the evangelicals that Tisdale distrusts.
I give credit to Tisdale, and to Tricycle, for drawing us into this most important dialogue of trust and faith.
Mt. Baldy, California
I am a Buddhist who left the Catholic Church many years ago. My family faced the question that Sallie Jiko Tisdale put to Christian evangelist professor Paul Metzger in “Beloved Community”: Was I to be damned to hell for all eternity (and with me, my uncle and children who married outside)?
The Catholic philosophical tradition furnishes an alternative to the fundamentalist belief that there’s no salvation outside of acceptance of Jesus as savior. Reasoning that there were millions of good people before Christ’s time who couldn’t have known about him, and more after his time whose cultures didn’t include the Christian vision, and others who live good lives while knowingly hold- ing non-Christian beliefs, the scholastics intelligently postulated a “baptism of desire.”
They cited scriptural bases and tradition, but the line of reasoning is open to all: Those who live with compassion, contrition, and other virtues are implicitly desiring baptism and following the substance of Christ’s message. So the Church teaches that people can “non-sacramentally” receive baptism, the Eucharist, and other sacraments because their actions clearly show they are “eating in desire,” implicitly wanting to be part of the soul (though not the body) of the Church.
This can be cynically regarded as a loophole or as condescension, but I believe it demonstrates inclusiveness and goodwill. Though nuanced and still embedded in doctrinal assumptions, it’s a move toward a common-sense view of how a loving God would manifest in the world.
Recently I asked my brother, a highly educated evangelical Catholic, how he sees what might well be called my apostasy. He simply said, “Charlie, God looks at the heart.”
I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the article on polyamorous rela- tionships and sympathetic joy (“What’s the Opposite of Jealousy?” Summer 2006). I am in a long-term “fidelitous” triad, and I have sometimes struggled to integrate my deep understanding of the benefits and graces of this relation- ship with my burgeoning Buddhist practice. Jorge Ferrer’s linking of non- monogamy and sympathetic joy really struck a chord with me, and I enjoyed sharing it with my partners.
Professor Ferrer’s article rightly follows the Buddha’s instructions to question the teachings, but his argument is unskillful, confounding spiritual mudita with physical desire. The scriptures are quite clear that the “four immeasurables” are cultivated through the cessation of desire, not its multiplication.
Monogamy offers a means to deepen spiritual intimacy while providing ethical sexual expression, and its social restraint protects against the often subtle pull of self- gratification. Polyamorous relationships are beholden only to the restraints of the participants, a much weaker ordering force. Even if polyamory were to become socially normative, the more complex network of intimate relationships would increase the places where the multitude of relational demons can enter and disrupt every possibility for equanimity.
Professor Ferrer’s observation that the Buddha did not teach specific doctrines of marriage may be accurate, but the absence of an explicit doctrine need not leave sexually active Buddhists open to exploitation. The Buddha fled the sensuality of the palace. Is it not wiser to cultivate sympathetic joy by maintaining a respectful degree of separation than to indulge in multifarious passionate forces? I do not share the professor’s optimism for the human condition. As a society, we need air to breathe, but we also need sturdy walls to shield us from the howling ravages of the storm of desire.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware