Amida Sutra

Part 5 - G(g)od(s) in Buddhism
Buddhism came to Canada about 100 years ago with Chinese and Japanese immigrants. The Shin church, the Buddhist Churches of Canada will be 100 years old in 2005. As of 1999 it is one of the fastest growing religions in Canada. Calgary and Edmonton boast of over 20 groups. Winnipeg has about 10. There are thousands of websites devoted to the Dharma.

The present juncture of Buddhism and Christainity in Canada is of immense historical importanct. Both faiths stand to gain a great deal from each other. Pure Land Buddhism with its emphasis on the Dharma of Faith is the logical bridge between the two. Buddhism will have here a renewed opportunity to interlog with believers in one exclusove God, but this time it will be in an atmosphere of religious freedom. Thus Buddhism will become a major player in the global culture as it indeed was druing the ancient days of the Silk Road.

Angus Reid tells us his polls reveal that 82% of Canadians claim to believe in God in some way. Furthermore, many just assume that spirituality=Chistianity, or that in order to be a good person you have to be a believing Christian. The book and the movie FIRST CONTACT brought these ideas quite clearly. There is a whole chapter devoted to Buddhism in the book. The movie version left this chapter out completley. It made the movie appear to be centered on the God idea totally and thus, in my opinion, missed some of the deeper meanings of the book. Church scholars also tell us that in spite of the polls most Canadians don't support a church financially. This is especially true of the younger generation. They are notconcerned about God in their daily lives, but they do want the church there in case they need it sometime! Monotheistic culture as a whole remains agressively sure of the exclusive correctness of its religious traditions. Then, too, we don't want to lose track of the good social work done by organized religion. Nor do we want to forget that many Christians are reaching out to other traditions. Some Christains even find common cause with Buddhism! The Dalai Lama, for example, participated in a two-week meditation retreat with Franciscans in 1996. They then presented together a Christain-Buddhist worship service during the International Christian-Buddhist Seminar in Chicago that year. These experiences are being written into book form to appear within a year or two. These expereinces illustrate the potential of the two religions when seen in a complementary light, rahter than in an oppositional one.

In fact, some sects of Christianity find that theyhave more on common with Buddhism than they do with other schools of their own faith. For example, liberal Quakers often have an immdeiate resonance with one another. George Fox's struggles can be compared with those of Shinran. We all read in the newspapers with fascination and horrer aout the Vietnamese monks who immolated themselves in protest agains the war. What was not widelly reported was that some Quakers also immolated themselves at the same time for the same reasons and in support of the monks. Then again, many Western scholars see in Shinran an Asian Luther.

Interfaith scholars are suggesting that Amida Buddha may be the cosmic Christ manifested in Asia, apart from the Judeo-Christian, Middle Eastern tradition. Paul Ingram of the University of Washington wrote an abstract, THE DHARMA OF FAITH, which reflects the appeal of Shin Buddhism to non-Buddhists. These scholars envision a pluralistic theology that accepts the uniquness of every faith while offering a possible common Ground of Being. This would indeed be an improvement in the religious atmosphere in NOrth America where the fundalmentalists and so called moral majority havae much to say.

On the Buddhist side of things, ground breaking work has been done by Nishitani and Kitaro over 50 years ago. The recent translations of thier work ahd sent shock waves throughout theological schools. The works of Thich Nhat Hanh continue in the vien and even develop the Christian-Buddist fugue even further with such works as LIVING BUDDHA, LIVING CHRIST and GOING HOME, JESUS AND BUDDHA AS BROTHERS.

Canada is an international leader in interfaith affairs and Shin Buddhism has been an important figure in this movment. The first interfaith cnetre in Canada was most likely established in Edmonton, Alberta. It has been featured on Vision tv because of its uniqueness. This center, and indeed, Vision tv itself, has become a model for other intefaith movements in the world.

Here a great healing movement is taking place between the two religions. A major one was initiated by the United Churchof Canada and selected clergy from the Shin tradition. These developments engender the hope that the violence between religious communities in the Old World will remain in the past, or at least be positivley informed by the developments in Canada.

The opportunity for another creative leap is facing us, just as in the First Century. Between 100 AD and 845 AD Nestorian Christians, Pure Land Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Confucians and Taoists were interacting in the Eastern provinces of China. It is in this atmosphere that Pure Land Buddhism developed. Shantao, one of the fathers of Shin Buddhism, was active in this area in the Seventh Century. The result of this dynamic situation was a renaissance. A similar situation faces us whith the growing global culture. Hopefully, a similar awakening awaits us as well.

We are still discussing the occurance of G(g)od(s) in Buddhist scriptures. After one more installment on this topic, we will be able to turn again to the Amida Sutra proper. The importance of the topic is again reflected that ther appearance of the Diety in the sutra comsume only four lines of the poem!

Blessings Be,
Sensei Ulrich

December 13, 1999

Next: Part 6 - God and the Amida Sutra