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Tradition, going beyond tradition and love

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    • #3003

      This morning I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read, so instead I picked up a book that Satya had left out: Richard Rohr’s Essential Teachings on Love.

      As I was reading the introduction, by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger, one thing jumped out at me. It was the description of Rohr as living “at the edge of the inside”, in a place where he can both critique the Catholic church and revitalise it.

      “Ever a Franciscan Richard’s “hermeneutic” (method of interpreting scripture) is simply to interpret the Scriptures the way that Jesus did. Jesus clearly did not treat each of his own Jewish Scriptures equally. He ignored or openly disobeyed those that were violent, imperialistic, tribal exclusionary, or merely cultural purity codes.”

      Straightaway I was reminded of a teaching from the Pali Cannon that Satya was sent recently: Sujata and The Seven Types of Wives. This is a socially conservative teaching – to put it kindly…

      The Buddha lists seven types of wife. Three are bad, and four are good.  The good ones are the motherly wife, the sisterly wife, the friendly wife, and the slave wife. The description of the friendly wife is alright, but the others are very much woman as a less than equal partner. Sujata chooses to be the slave-wife, often more softly translated as handmaiden-wife.

      Satya was sent this teaching by someone who wanted to defend his own socially conservative views. He’d expressed some of these views online and shared an article on how to choose a wife. Wives are good for two things, the article said: making babies or as trophy wives.

      I’m quite happy to critique and discard teachings like the seven kinds of wife.

      This morning in service we read our Summary of Faith and Practice, by Dharmavidya. In it he writes that, “Ignorance is essential [to the practice]”.

      What is ignorance? It is not knowing. Why is it essential? Our practice is taking refuge in Amida Buddha (or we could say taking refuge in unconditional love). Amida Buddha is not a static fixed thing that we can know completely, in the same way that living beings are not fixed things that we can know completely. The energy of the Buddha is creative, spontaneous and fresh. Unconditional love is not predictable, it responds appropriately to whatever is arising. It is not static, or robotic, but organic.

      The teaching of emptiness teaches us that we are processes too, and the Buddha is the same. Love is an ever changing always flowing spring whose shape is beautiful and unique in each moment. Love is a process, not a thing.

      So we know something – we know that the Buddha is love – but we are also ignorant because that love is more than immense, and it is alive, and to stay in true relationship we must give up a certain type of knowing.

      A healthy religious organisation has at its heart a creative tension. We stand firmly on a foundation of tradition, saying the words that have been said for hundreds of generations before us, and we are challenged to keep the spirit fresh, and to allow love to take the shape it needs to take to respond to this moment in this world.

      This means that we must also take time to stand “at the edge of the inside” sometimes. Asking, is what we have been handed down helpful to the spirit of love? Let’s celebrate what supports love, and discard what gets in the way.

      Let’s stand firmly on the foundations of our tradition and allow ourselves to be moved by a spirit greater than ordinary knowing. Let’s be moved by Amida who is unconditional love, and allow love to manifest in the world.



    • #3010

      To me this is a very powerful teaching, challenging me to open more fully to Amida, knowing that my relating may not necessarily fit all that comfortably with what I perceive to be acceptable within the Sangha. There is the self-protecting urge to not open up and risk the unknown, to stay with what I perceive as received wisdom. There is also the knowledge that I need to let go into the unknown in order to move with Amida’s flow along the river. In between these two approaches, there is the shared language of the Sangha and I know I can always try to find the place in the sacred Venn diagram where my experience meets the shared language and use that as a basis for communion with my spiritual friends. At the same time, I can attempt the spiritual maturity of knowing that not all of my spiritual experience needs to fit into this shared space, nor does it have to be encoded into it to the point that the seams burst under the strain of stretched definitions. There is always plenty of ‘beyond’ within the familiar which I can maybe perceive in Makakashyo’s smile, and who knows the depths of the breath or the breadth of the Nembutsu.

    • #3012

      Nicely put, Andrew. Yes, it’s a more challenging way of approaching the wisdom we find in Buddhist and all traditions – a sifting through, a constant checking against our own experience… balanced with the sometimes-necessity of just having faith and leaning in! Scary stuff!

    • #3013

      Yes, really scarey, like being on the edge of a precipice, but koans are like that. And once you’re there, on the edge, there’s faith, but faith usually seems at the same time both very strong and very feeble. There you go – Namo Amida Bu – literally.

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