Friday, 26 October 2012

# 11: “ Kind words are the music of the world. ” - F. W. Faber

Confession - The following post is a Total Cheat !

Today I received a beautiful email from a very dear friend, who has always been an inspiration to me and I'd like to share it with you.

 Having read my "Sermon from the Garden" rant, in my last post, she thought I might like to read what the Dalai Lama (HHDL) has to say on the subject in his new book: 
   Beyond Religion: Ethics for a whole world 

 In respect to her wishes, rather than naming her here, I shall call her 'DF'-Dear Friend...

 In this book, He states that secularism and religion are often seen as two opposing and mutually incompatible positions.
He says that it is important to distinguish between criticisms directed at religion itself and those directed at the institutions of religion, which are two separate things.
 Close to the heart of all the great faith traditions is the aim of promoting humanity’s most positive qualities and nurturing such values as kindness, compassion, forgiveness, patience and personal integrity.
Of course, as you have seen in Cambodia, the institutions of religion have a lot to answer for.
However, there are some children in your care who may still be drawn to religion itself and for whom prayer may give comfort
Here is one of my favourite excerpts from the book.
 Although humans can manage without religion, they cannot manage without inner values.
So my argument for the independence of ethics from religion is quite simple.
As I see it, spirituality has two dimensions.
The first dimension, that of basic spiritual well-being—by which I mean inner mental and emotional strength and balance—does not depend on religion, but comes from our innate human nature as beings with a natural disposition toward compassion, kindness, and caring for others.
The second dimension is what may be considered religion  based spirituality, which is acquired from our upbringing and culture and is tied to particular beliefs and practices.
The difference between the two is something like the difference between water and tea.
Ethics and inner values without religious content are like water, something we need every day for health and survival.
Ethics and inner values based in a religious context are more like tea.
The tea we drink is mostly composed of water, but it also contains some other ingredients—tea leaves, spices, sugar, herbs etc.—and this makes it more nutritious and sustaining and something we want everyday.
While we can live without tea, we can’t live without water.
Likewise we are born free of religion but we are not born free of the need of compassion.
More fundamental than religion, therefore, is our basic human spirituality.
We have an underlying human disposition toward love, kindness and affection, irrespective of whether we have a religious framework or not.
When we nurture this most fundamental human resource—when we set about cultivating those inner values which we all appreciate in others—then we start to live spiritually.
The challenge, therefore, is to find a way of grounding ethics and supporting the cultivation of inner values that is in keeping with the scientific age, while not neglecting the deeper needs of the human spirit, which, for many people, religion answers.

DF: It might be fun to have a cuppa or hot chocolate with your students to bring this analogy to the forefront.
They may decide that hot water is enough for them and they are happy with that. 
However, they may decide that tea is more fulfilling for them ( a choice I’ve made). 
They must remember, however, that to make tea, you must have water.
Otherwise, there is no basis....just fancy smelling tea leaves!
It doesn’t provide any sustenance whatsoever.
From your blogs, I can sense how angry you feel about the tea leaves the Cambodian people have been given! 
When it comes to using their brains and examining religious institutions to belong to, it is important to make sure that the ethical basis of the institution is intact.
In other words, they must think for themselves and make sure the tea has water in it!
Do the spiritual leaders of the institution actually practice what they preach?

If we are encouraging people to think for themselves, we could ask them to go and find the evidence/proof for themselves based on their own research and inner experience....
There is scientific proof that practices such as meditation and prayer can be of immense benefit to people.
IF THEY HOLD WATER! and the motivation behind them is ethical.

Thank you 'DF' for your wisdom and insight - feel like a trip to Cambodia??


  1. Please engage with me if I miss DF's point in my reply, but I have to suggest that indulging moderate religious belief, as the 'tea' to one's 'water', for example, indulging an individual's moderate belief in scriptures as an allegorical moral guide (even if we dispose of religious institutions), this can still hamper elevation of a society beyond things like conflicts which are rooted in religion and superstition.

    To again lean on atheist alumni Sam Harris "...indulgence of religious faith perpetuates an attachment to religious texts and to religious identities that, in turn, perpetuate human conflict. Religious moderates may ignore or overlook the more barbaric passages in their religious books, but by venerating the books in general, they leave us powerless to really oppose the belief systems of fundamentalists.

    "And because moderates tend to ignore the most lunatic parts of scripture, they lose touch with how dangerous these books are when taken literally. In fact, they have trouble believing that anyone does still take these books literally, and so they tend not to recognize the role that faith plays in inspiring human violence.

    "Religious moderates are blinded by their own moderation. When college-educated jihadists stare into a video camera and declare that 'we love death more than the infidels love life,' and then blow themselves up along with dozens of innocent bystanders, religious moderates rack their brains wondering what motivated these killers to do what they did. The respect that moderates accord to religious faith has blinded them to the fact that the atrocities of September 11 were a religious exercise."

    1. I can never disagree with Sam Harris and the 'Sacred' texts of Buddhism, like every other religion that I know anything about, were written down almost 600yrs after Buddha himself cast off his 'Mortal Coil' - as were the Bible and the Quran.
      The comments about the selective picking and interpretation of one's supposedly sacred text are of course completely true and I agree that this allows the fundamentalists to pick the parts that suit their own agenda. I'd be very interested to know if, like the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism ever espouses a need for violence, punishment or vengeance... More food-for-thought Dear One xxxxx

  2. My understanding of "DF's" (I know who you are but your secret's safe with me!) Point is that ethics is an important tool in allowing people to thoughtfully analyse their own personal spirituality and thus be more able to choose wisely which religion/s (or aspects of religion/s) speak to their own inner beliefs or indeed, if they need any form of religion at all.
    While I understand your point brother, I don't believe there is anything inherently wrong with people choosing to focus on only the more moderate aspects of religion if that provides them with a means to focus their own spirituality.
    As humans, we often have the need to put a name or a label on things in order to convince ourselves of their validity. Whilst some of us are happy with personal spirituality existing without a label and outside of organised religious doctrine or institutions, many people need that label to help them identify with their version of spirituality.
    As you suggest, one of the important aspects of teaching critical thinking is to encourage people to be more conscious of the decisions they make in all aspects of their lives and to not blindly follow the words, actions or thoughts of others without question. This doesn't preclude someone from choosing to follow a particular religion, but it will likely make them far less susceptible to the extremes of any religion.

  3. You are both SO thoughtful & eloquent - you make me very proud (and I knew you'd know who "DF" is Jassie..)
    Your points are absolutely valid Jay, but I have to agree with your big, scary sister on this one. The Khmae people have suffered so much from a generational 'habit' of unquestioning obedience, that I believe most of them have forgotten HOW to think critically at all. Whether it be about religion, politics, tradition or everyday life. It's an enormous challenge to alter your own belief system when you are illiterate and starving and spend all your waking hours trying to grow enough food or make enough money to keep your family alive for another day. When you were raised by loving parents who passed on their own animist traditions, superstitions included, of course you feel it incumbent on you, as a responsible parent, to pass these beliefs on to your children...and grandchildren...
    Since most of the educated people were wiped out by Pol Pot, those who were left had nothing and no one, other than the monks, to help them relearn their history and rebuild there culture. Their spirituality is an intrinsic part of what makes them the gentle, caring, loving people they are and I would hate to see that lost to western ideals like 'Me-ness' and material wealth. Unfortunately it also keeps a large number of them in a state of acceptance where they must begin to see a need for change. The younger generations, who have had the benefit of SOME education are beginning to recognise this and are hungry for more knowledge.
    For my part, I have no trouble accepting someone else's right to their own beliefs, I just want the Khmae to look more critically at what those beliefs are, where they came from, whether there really is any supporting evidence to validate them and then to have the confidence and courage to reject them if they don't meet those criteria.
    Damn! That could almost have been another blog post..
    mwa xxxxxxxxxx

  4. I totally respect and appreciate what y'all have had to say on this matter (I think I might know who DF is too....!?)!!

    What I'd like to say is Damn! I wish I had the flow and articulation of words and thought that the Dalai Lama possesses - what an absolute gift and how fortunate are we to live in a generation to be open to (some of us, anyway!) his food for thought ..........
    Just sayin'!!

  5. couldn't agree more, that the Dalai is eloquent, compromising, balanced.

    Still can't abide Buddhism any more than any other religion because there are still instances of incredible lack of critical thought applied such as; scriptures, actual pages of words, falling from the sky into a person's hand, and these henceforth becoming part of the accepted scripture. One person's experience being taken literally as gospel.

    The clergy still exhibit the same hypocrisy as in Catholicism (where it is so widely accepted that we can joke about it) with one example being celibate Lama keeping sexual concubines, with this practice being shrouded from public discourse (see June Campbell's Traveller in Space).

    While the Dalai Lama might be someone we can identify with regarding critical thought, acceptance of others, calm introspection and public awareness, it seems more vital than ever to think critically about his belief system and to perhaps trust homo sapiens capacity for an evolved moral compass instead of one entrusted us by a supernatural God.