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Religion is Life

Sawaki Roshi: How we live our everyday lives has to be the main concern of religion.

Religion is to live out the ever fresh self which is not deceived by anything.

Religion must not be a system of dogma. Religion is life. Religion has to function as life. Worshipping sutras is not enough. Religion must manifest itself freely and inexhaustibly in all the activities of life, everywhere and always.

Uchiyama Roshi: I hope the time will come for religion to be taught in school without indoctrination, but as a lesson about the most important question of life: how to live.

When the time comes to teach “Human Life” in schools I think the word “religion” should be eliminated. When we use the word in its traditional meaning a strange atmosphere is created. This is because traditional religions always set up some authority beyond our understanding and force people to believe certain myths and doctrines.

I am neither Buddhist nor Christian. I am just who I am.

Okumura Sensei: When political power and religious authority are combined there can be no freedom.

…the Japanese equivalent of the word “religion” is shukyo. This word originally referred to Buddhism: the teaching - or kyo - about fundamental reality - or shu.

In the West there is a constant discussion about whether Buddhism is a religion or “just” a philosophy of life. There is in fact no greater function for religion than to be a philosophy of life. This is more important than reciting sutras or learning the lists of truths, paths, characteristics of existence, hindrances, blessings, etc. etc. It is more important than offering veneration to the Buddha; more important than worshipping any god or imposing any set of moral laws. There is no such thing as being “just” a philosophy of life. To be a philosophy of life is to be everything that people need.

You can see from what we read above that those trained in Japanese Zen would be confused by this distinction that we draw between being a religion and being a philosophy of life since the very word for religion means to teach about fundamental reality. Maybe we in the Western Buddhist sangha just need to abandon the English word religion and its baggage and say that we follow the Buddhist shukyo.

This is an incredibly important and scary task to place in the hands of shukyo - to teach about fundamental reality. Science teaches us about material reality - so we don’t need to stray into that realm; but it doesn’t teach us about the interconnected reality outside of the material that is shared by all beings. Yet we must avoid making pronouncements as moral authorities laying down laws that must be followed. One of the Pratimoksha Vows of OPB monks is, “”I will not teach the Dharma from a superior position like a ruler handing down edicts" is a precept which should be observed.” This refers not only to our attitude when teaching but the very content of our teaching.

The Buddhist shukyo does not lay down commandments for us. Even the Precepts are guides only not laws which if broken make us guilty of sin. Only monks take vows which have specific consequences for being broken. However, it does teach us to be mindful in our dealings with other beings, and this is a teaching which should be delivered to everyone in every place. This is what Uchiyama Roshi was talking about when he said, “I hope the time will come for religion to be taught in school without indoctrination, but as a lesson about the most important question of life: how to live.”. We struggle with teaching religion in our schools because most Western religions are little other than lists of commandments, but shukyo is learning how to live.

Why should we need to post the Ten Commandments in schools when we can simply teach, “Do good, avoid harming, discipline your mind”? Why do we avoid public teaching of religion for fear that someone may choose another over ours when all that we are teaching is how live respectfully and mindfully with each other. Our schools teach biological sex education but nothing about morals because they fear that may stray into religious doctrine; but “avoiding harming your partner or yourself either emotionally or physically” is not a doctrine but a fundamental teaching on respect.

What if students in sex ed talked about what actions were respectful of themselves and their partners? Don’t you think that would work better than teaching abstinence? Wouldn’t it be better to teach children to think about the actual consequences of their actions to themselves and other than to avoid morality altogether because of a fear of religious indoctrination? There is no religious indoctrination if you teach shukyo for there are no doctrines with which to indoctrinate, there is only teaching fundamental reality.

But we have to make sure on our end that shukyo is in fact teaching only fundamental reality. Do people need to know the 4 Noble Truths, the 8-Fold Path? Do they need to know even the name of the Buddha? One of my favorite books by Alan Watts is “The Wisdom of Insecurity”. In it he presents the teachings on impermanence and non-self without ever once referring to Buddhism or the Buddha. This is teaching shukyo. If people ask questions and want to know more, then they can be directed to a monk or meditation center…J

Don’t fear to talk about shukyo, embrace it. Don’t think that religion is something you do only on the mat but in every moment of your life. Religion is life, not after-life. It is reality, not belief; nature not supernatural.

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