Thursday, September 5, 2013

Experiencing Another Persons' Religion

It is an attempt to break down some of the prejudice and ill will among religions, the Korean Conference on Religion and Peace has sponsored a program called "A Stay at a Neighboring Religion."  Seven religions have invited those interested to visit and learn about their beliefs and history. The Peace Weekly reports on the program with Buddhism. 
On August 9-11, there was "a stay" at a Buddhist Temple to experience Buddhist monastic life and learn about their beliefs, to pay one's respect before the statue of Buddha, experience Buddhist meditation, the 108 bows, and listen to a lecture on Buddhism by one of the temple monks.
The monks wake up at the sound of a wooden gong, we are told, and go to the temple for worship for about 40 minutes. A monk, with repeated bows, reads from the Buddhist Scriptures, which was said to be difficult to understand by those attending. At this particular temple, they worship Amitabha Buddha, which occupied the highest place of honor in the temple.

The monk told the group that when the word Buddha is spoken, many will think of Shakyamuni, but the Buddha is not one person, he said. For about 100-200 years after Shakyamuni that was true, but with the passage of time the number of Buddhas  increased, including Amitabha Buddha, the Merciful Buddha. The teaching says that anyone who is enlightened could become a Buddha. And Buddha Nature, according to the teaching, is everywhere, in everyone and in everything, and needs to be acknowledged and respected. This is the reason that killing is prohibited, said the monk. Buddhism, unlike other religions, does not believe in a special God. It believes in those who have been enlightened.

To understand Buddhism, the monk said you have to understand the Buddhist commandments, 250 of them. When Shakyamuni left this world he said that you could forget the insignificant ones, but did not make clear what he meant by insignificant, and in later years this became a problem. After Shakyamuni's death, Buddhism for about 200 years was united, but because of the dispute of what was meant by insignificant, according to the monk, divisions came. Buddhism in Korea, China and Japan have eliminated many of these regulations, but other countries have kept most of them.
The article mentions two common misunderstandings of Buddhism. One is that monks are forbidden to eat meat. Vegetarianism is not one of the commandments of Buddhism. Only the Buddhists of Korea, China and Japan eat a vegetarian diet. The reason that the three countries of the North stubbornly stick to vegetarianism, the monk explained, is because of the influence of China. When Buddhism first went into China, Taoism was the religion of China. Taoists considered meat unclean and did not eat it. When Buddhism came in from the West, the Taoists criticized Buddhists as barbarians for eating meat. From that time on, they started to eat vegetarian, and this has become very natural to them.

The other misunderstanding is that monks have to be celibate. Among the more than 30 Buddhist sects in Korea, only the Chogye Order and Buddhist nuns are celibate.

At the time of the Japanese occupation, 90 percent of Buddhist monks were married. Our first Korean president ,Sigmund Rhee, in 1954, wanted to remove all vestiges of Japanese influence, and told all married monks to leave the temples with their families. From that time on, the number of married monks decreased, and today almost all monks are celibate.

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