On “Attitude”

  • Here we explore an aspect of the sacred that few have pointed out but that we think may be a similarity between two quite different religions, one theistic and one which is supposed to be non-theistic. We are talking about Christianity and Buddhism as promulgated by the founder of each. They were separated by almost 600 years and by virtually isolated geographies, but both founders either described explicitly or evaluated their adherents, fundamentally, and at the most basic level using the same criterium or heuristic. We have chosen to call it by the very common adjective, “attitude,” but don’t be fooled. It is a very incisive measure of an individual soul or intellect’s overall capacity and potential. It is interesting that two so different individuals, from so different cultures and histories (Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus of Nazareth) used and recognized the same aspect of humanity as essential and elemental. [166F’14]
  • What we mean by “attitude” is an individual persons overall projection into the universe around them. Attitude as used here goes by many names. Other words that approach the same quality might be “weltanschauungen” (the German word for approximately “worldview” in English), right view (as used in Buddhism), right perspective, right outlook… still being written  [167F’14]
  • With this criterium we see that there are not only great separations between the secular and the sacred; there are also great separations between major elements of the Sacred (e.g. Protestant, Catholic, & Orthodox Christians; Sunni & Shiite Muslims, etc.). One of these chasms is between two major sources of wisdom, Buddhism and Christianity. Wouldn’t it be good to discover “bridges” of belief and practice/ritual between the estimated 500 million persons (~8% of the world population) of the former, and the 2.2 billion persons (~33% of the world population) of the latter? [Sp’15]
  • The bridge suggested in this homily is explicit in Buddhism and implicit in Christianity but not often recognized. It is pleasing to those who seek wisdom to see reinforcement between two so different approaches to living a good life. [Sp’15]
  • Siddharta Gautama Buddha preached the Eight Fold Way whose first steps do not have a direct equivalent in Christianity per se. Here, to build a bridge, we focus on the first of the steps in the successive development of the Buddha-like person……..Right View. One could also title this goal/objective as Right Attitude, or Right Outlook, Right Perspective or Right Understanding, or even Right Worldview. Let’s use RIGHT ATTITUDE because if we have an accurate, humble, and open attitude to everything beyond ourselves, it translates into a beneficial mind-set and approach to others and to actions. All steps to wisdom and good behavior follow naturally and nearly effortlessly from this first achievement. [Sp’15]
  • Right Attitude is often misunderstood as vague, elusive, or ill-defined in the Western World of discourse. The source of Christianity, Jesus, did not speak explicitly of Attitude. But, if you step back from the specifics of several of the encounters of Jesus described even in the canonical Gospels, and especially in some of the non-canonical, you will find that many of his first reactions to people and situations he encountered were based on his incredible ability to penetrate to and “see” their fundamental attitude to the world at large and to others. Consider the following examples from Christianity that illustrate that Right Attitude was also central to the teachings of Jesus. [Sp’15]
  • When being prepared to be crucified, one thief being crucified next to him ridiculed him and told him if he was truly the Son of God or King of Israel he should save himself and them. The other thief rebuked the first thief saying they deserved to be punished but that Jesus did not; he was innocent. Jesus praised his “perspective,” despite his previous transgressions, and said the second thief would be with him in heaven that same day. [Sp’15]
  • At first, our natural focus on the specific events hides an underlying secret. It is the basic overall attitude of the second thief that enables him to perceive and say what he said, while the ridicule of the first thief naturally arose from his much less generous view. As in the many other parables that follow, Jesus perceives this good basic attitude in the first thief and rewards him for it. Consider his story about how the poor sinner in the back of the church offers prayers more acceptable to his Father than the Sadducee or Pharisee who prays in front of everyone seeking their approval. [Sp’15]
  • Consider each of these additional examples….. Jesus praising the giving of the poor lady vs. the rich man; the “attitude” exhibited by the good Samaritan; the constant criticism by Jesus of the Pharisee’s for their hypocrisy; hIs boiling ALL commandments down to their essence “love god and love your neighbor” (which could be portrayed as “right attitude” overall); the basis for the metaphor of being born again (change the inside; the worldview). In general, Christianity is full of allusions to “being filled with the spirit – putting on Christ – changing from the inside through faith. All of these cases can be seen as recognizing and promulgating the primacy of “right attitude” in Christianity as it is in Buddhism. [Sp’15]
  • The difference between that which is laudatory and that which is rebuked by Jess in each of these examples is a matter of each having different worldview’s about what is important and what their personal relationship to the universe should be. Consider in the Acts, after Jesus has left his apostles behind, the difference in Worldviews between Peter attacking Mary Magdalene for her closeness to Jesus, relative to Levi’s rebuke of Peter and defense of Mary’s testimony. Which do you think had the more humble and open attitude? And who would be more acceptable to Jesus? Remember in the non-canonical gospels Jesus describes Mary relative to the Apostles in this way. In the darkness, when blind people are together with someone with, there is no difference; but when these go into the light, the difference between the person who can see and those who are blind is very clear. He was saying Mary had a capacity to “see” that many of the disciples did not; probably due to the above-cited major difference in RIGHT ATTITUDE.  [Sp’15]
  • This continues until the present day and helps interpret much of Christian Church history. Our current Pope Francis seems to have a distinct and more Jesus-like Right Attitude or Perspective than many in religion today. Extremely orthodox, fundamental, and conservative members of many religions (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhism, etc.) take positions that seem to squeeze the compassion and humility out of the teachings of their Founders due to inappropriate attitudes and perspectives. Emphasis on disconnected dogma’s or rituals devoid of anchoring in the Right Perspective leads to humans misusing religion as just another expression of ownership, territoriality, and control of others instead of a call to serving others.  [Sp’15]
  • That Christianity and Buddhism (as well as the others) have Right Attitude as one of the most basic and prized achievements helps us recognize and celebrate their similarities instead of dwelling on their (relatively trivial) differences. Another bridge across chasms! [Sp’15]
  • This reinforcement of teachings and possible bridge at a fundamental level between Buddhism and Christianity might also serve as a tentative bridge between the Secular and the Sacred. The bridge would consist of advice to scientists to be not be overly confident of their current theories as total and accurate explanations of the natural world. Confidence in science derives from the wide consensus of experts who critically examine a wide range of evidence consistent with experimental results. But the history of science illustrates over and over how the reigning theory of one epoch can be overturned by the techniques and investigations of a subsequent epoch. Sometimes it is not an overturn as much as a dramatic extension that was not foreseen or predicted in past explanations. So excessive science hubris is not warranted or wise. Science and scientists might be better served by adopting a RIGHT ATTITUDE that recognizes the inherent limitations of their current results. This indicates a scientist should always be open to new evidence and forever feel that the book is not closed on current understanding. Consider that black holes were once not accepted, and that there was no knowledge at all of dark energy and dark matter, still unexplained. Or consider that the new sciences of systems complexity do not rest on reproducibility, repeatability, or linear causation as do the traditional reductionists sciences and results. We do not mean here that all theories are vacuous, nor do we join the anti-science rhetoric that says nothing can be known objectively of the world. It is just that a RIGHT ATTITUDE or Worldview is as useful for science as it is for religion. RIGHT ATTITUDE might be a welcome bridge that crosses the chasms between religions and between secular and sacred worldviews. [Sp’15]

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