Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Redemption and Buddhism

Father Cory Sticha posted a video of a mutual favorite professor of ours, Fr. Robert Barron, defending the remarks of Brit Hume regarding Christianity's superior tradition of redemption relative to Buddhism.

There are two issues involved, really. The first is the question: ought mainstream media figures to make such statements at all? (Here is where Fr. Barron's remarks are right on the dot). The second: does Brit Hume have a point as regards Christianity and Buddhism?

Some of the source of left-wing anger at Hume's comments might be that they interpreted his words to mean: "Christians are more forgiving than Buddhists." I seriously doubt it was his intention to say any such thing, but then, it is difficult to be accurately understood when one must shoehorn important words into brief moments.

One problem is that, if people do not know much about Buddhism, they might walk away from Brit Hume's words with a vision of the eastern philosophy in which people blame each other and are blamed for sins without any religious or metaphysical framework of overcoming it. I could think of no greater misery! But that is a gross distortion of the reality--and again, I contend, not what Brit Hume had in mind.

The difficulty is that neither forgiveness NOR blame are much on the radar of Buddhist philosophy. Seeking and granting redemption, while of course possible, are not ends in themselves.

The very concept of redemption entails a dialogue between the self and the other. In Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to eliminate that very distinction. When the "self", the "other" and the "all" are all One (and in some sense 'naught'), there is no redemption because there is no distinction between the redeemer and the redeemed.

Fellow Christians and I can interpret our entire faith-worldview as a dialogue of redemption. For Buddhists, that image would be far too "anthropomorphic" to serve as a model for their religious primary concern.

But that doesn't mean redemption is absent from Buddhist philosophy. Think of it this way. Christians might say, "forgive and forget"; I think Buddhists would focus mostly on the "forget" part. In other words, the only way for the sinner and the sinned-against to move closer to peace would be for each independently to "let go" of the drama that seizes their psyche. Neither person depends upon an action taken by the other to achieve this (no "Please forgive mes" or "I forgive yous" required).

Redemption can find itself in Buddhism in another way, via the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is a means to an end--not an end in itself. But its dictates do involve more of what we would consider traditional "Christian" morality. To grant forgiveness, or to seek forgiveness, would fall under the dictates of "Right Speech"--but again, the overriding aim here is not to effect any objective state of "being redeemed", but to ensure that our words pave over the rocks and potholes of relationships. Words should extinguish passions, not enflame them. The word "nirvana" means, literally, to extinguish, as in the passions and attachments that anchor us to an illusory prison. That is the overriding concern in Buddhist philosophy.

If my understanding here is correct (and I hope people will check my thinking), there might be some truth in Brit Hume's comments--without implying that Bhuddists are in any way stingier with their forgiveness than Christians.

Tiger Woods' redemptive dillema is, I think, two-fold.

First, by being a celebrity, he is caught up in a firestorm of secular modernity's exaggerated condemnations. The media has a penchant for shrill, judgmental, despair-laced soul poison that makes Jonathan Edwards' famous "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" look like a pep talk by comparison. The reputational death-sentence, to be held up by the modern media for public scorn, is one of the ironies of our allegedly 'permissive' contemporary culture.

Regardless of religion or philosophy, any of us walking in Tiger's shoes (Nikes, presumably) could probably imagine wanting a finger dipped in water to cool our tormented tongues.

And yet it feels difficult, in such a situation, to glean satisfactory counsel from a tradition that does not recognize the reality of sin ('Original' or otherwise), or the objective spiritual damage caused by sin. Isn't that like the coach who tells his broken-legged quarterback to "walk it off"?

If I misunderstand, I hope to be corrected and educated about this issue.

1 comment:

Matt of CG said...

No Jeff, I think you are right on. Those Buddhist ideas have become so ubiquitous as to be quoted in cartoons. In Kung Fu Panda, the old turtle Oogway says to Shifu, "There is no good or bad news, just news."

"By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself, indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another." (Dhammapada, chapter 12, verse 165)

Karma doesn't exist because Jesus did nothing to deserve the way He died.