Buddhist Bishop is newest permablogger! I am honored and grateful to be part of this continuing conversation. I have deep roots as a Mormon, going right back to the start. So in that sense I am pretty much a fully invested Mormon, because I have some real skin in the game. I love much about this church –this is my church and my people. At the same time I find myself way out on the edge, but mostly on the inside edge, albeit sometimes just barely. I love to talk and write about church stuff –doctrine, history, practice, etc. I have spent 10 years before the mast as a bishop or branch president, all in Spanish language units. My wife and I currently live in Guatemala, where we both grew up. We returned not long ago after I retired from Texas A&M University as a professor and extension specialist, working on issues of watershed health.
What about that title?
First, it’s great alliteration. It is a rhetorical device that will make you will remember me and what this whole Buddhist Bishop thing is all about. I am not formally a Buddhist, but I am an amateur devotee, and I am an LDS bishop, so the moniker may be a bit whimsical, but it is a good representation of who I am.
Buddhists are fond of saying that you can belong to any religion or belief system and still be a good Buddhist, and in my experience, this is very true. A bishop with Buddhist leanings can be totally true to LDS Restoration practice and teachings, and perhaps even be a pretty good Buddhist.
What follows are a few ways I see that Buddhist teachings help to awaken me. I am no Buddhist scholar—this is strictly seat-of-the-pants Buddhism. The bishop part is pretty much seat-of-the-pants as well!
Clarity of Vision and Compassion
A fundamental Buddhist practice revolves around seeing clearly, and understanding the truth of our circumstances. Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come (D&C 93:24). A Buddhist would be very comfortable with this scripture. A Buddhist would then ask what is it that obscures our vision, and what is it that allows us to see clearly? Resentment, grudges, unforgiven offenses, and more are what cloud our vision, and what makes it difficult to see, for example, the humanity of those we perceive to have offended us. Loving kindness, what we might call charity, affords us the clearest vision of what is real. Charity allows us to see with the “eyes of compassion”:
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching
I am sorry to say that Buddhists put much more emphasis on compassion than we do. The “be ye therefore” that we pay most attention to is perfection (Matt 5:48), but there is also a “be ye therefore compassionate” (Luke 6:36-New Living Translation). Compassion in my opinion is at the very center of Christian and Restoration scriptures, right where it needs to be so that we can be reminded frequently of the transformation we need to be making. We just need to open our eyes and look a little closer.
Sin versus Right Living
Some Buddhists like to say they don’t really conceive of sin in quite the same way Christians do. But Buddhists do put serious emphasis on “Right Living”, which includes right speech, right effort, right meditation, and more. If Right Living is a thing, then it stands to reason that there is such a thing as Wrong Living, or what we might call sin. This idea of right living, however, does provide a little different perspective on dealing with sin and errors.
Consider one sin for Mormons –not paying tithing. A standard LDS way to deal with this is a call to repentance. Elder Bednar in Oct 2013 issued such a call: To those of you who presently are not obeying the law of tithing, I invite you to consider your ways and repent. A little bit of a hard edge on this, but something we are used to hearing. A Buddhist invitation, on the other hand, might suggest a clear-eyed look at one’s finances, analyzing the “enoughness” of one’s circumstances, and giving enough of one’s surplus such that it constitutes an actual sacrifice. Sacrifice brings forth blessings, as we all know so well. In the end, tithing/ sacrifice is the principle. Do we contribute because we want to avoid the punishment, or because sacrifice is transformative?
Here and Now
Mormons like to dream of their mansion above, but Buddhists like to pay attention to the here and now. Mormons see the end goal as exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Buddhists say the kingdom of heaven is right here, right now. This contradiction might see irreconcilable, but Mormons do like to speak of trying to make their homes a little bit of heaven. The here and now, then, is not completely foreign to Mormons. Enjoy the shining moments –don’t we have a hymn about that?
Lastly, suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh says that “we need suffering in order to see the path.” Similarly, Rumi said that light enters where the wound is. Without suffering it seems it is difficult for us to learn. Latter-day Saints know well how the refiner’s fire works. We know about rough stones rolling. Buddhists say we must embrace and “touch” our suffering. To suffer and not know we are suffering is insufferable. Clarity of vision comes back into play here –examining why we are suffering is the first step to alleviation of suffering.
And much more…
There is so much more to Buddhism than can be addressed in this small space. Nothing that I have covered here is a direct contradiction to our scriptures. In the end, the paths of the Boddhisattva and the follower of Christ converge and lead to illumination. But it is not just that there is no great contradiction – Buddhist teachings enable us to see our own scriptures so much more clearly.
Training in Buddhism should be required of all church leaders. I would wager that Dieter Uchtdorf often takes a page or two from Buddhism for his talks!
The study of Buddhism is facilitated by slogans and watchwords, devices to aid memory: the Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eight-fold Path, the Three Doors of Liberation, etc.
How familiar are you with the teachings of Buddhism? I have left out so much –mindfulness and meditation for example. To those of you who have studied Buddhism in any degree, what do you find of value? How has Buddhism influenced your relationship to the Church? What would Brother Joseph have done with Buddhism?