June 11, 2010

Menachem Wecker vs. Stephen Prothero vs. the Dalai Lama

Stephen Prothero writes that the Dalai Lama is wrong.

Menachem Wecker writes that Stephen Prothero is wrong.

Stephen Prothero tweets: "Koan for the Day: Will cranky Buddhists flood your email box if you say the Dalai Lama is wrong? Apparently so. http://bit.ly/d3aqb3.

The Dalai Lama tweets: "The more you nurture a feeling of loving-kindness, the happier and calmer you will be."

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Menachem Wecker's picture

Thanks for your kind words, Curtis, and thanks Philip for linking my article!

Ron Krumpos's picture

Orthodox, institutional religions are quite different, but their mystics have much in common. A quote from the chapter "Mystic Viewpoints" in my e-book at http://www.suprarational.org on comparative mysticism:

Ritual and Symbols. The inner meanings of the scriptures, the spiritual teachings of the prophets and those personal searchings which can lead to divine union were often given lesser importance than outward rituals, symbolism and ceremony in many institutional religions. Observances, reading scriptures, prescribed acts, and following orthodox beliefs cannot replace your personal dedication, contemplation, activities, and direct experience. Preaching is too seldom teaching. For true mystics, every day is a holy day. Divine revelation is here and now, not limited to their sacred scriptures.

Conflicts in Conventional Religion. "What’s in a Word?" outlined some primary differences between religions and within each faith. The many divisions in large religions disagreed, sometimes bitterly. The succession of authority, interpretations of scriptures, doctrines, organization, terminology, and other disputes have often caused resentment. The customs, worship, practices, and behavior within the mainstream of religions frequently conflicted. Many leaders of any religion had only united when confronted by someone outside their faith, or by agnostics or atheists. Few mystics have believed divine oneness is exclusive to their religion or is restricted to any people.

Note: This is just a consensus to indicate some differences between the approaches of mystics and that of their institutional religion. These statements do not represent all schools of mysticism or every division of faith. Whether mystical experiences vary in their cultural context, or are similar for all true mystics, is less important than that they transform each one’s sense of being to a transpersonal outlook on all life.

Shanti Rose's picture

Compassion is essential for all living things actually, and is "square one" stuff as well for all sentient beings.

Animals nurture their young (the majority anyhow) and humans as well (also exceptions there too, of course).

If not for this most basic attitude and activity (i.e. compassion) life on the planet, as we know it, would simply cease to exist . . .

So to debate that compassion is not important in regards to all religions seems a rather ignorant statement actually (or perhaps was created just for the sake of controversy and self serving?)

Hmmm . . . .

Curtis Steinmetz's picture

Wecker's very thoughtful review of Prothero's book is really quite good. So the review by Leo D. Lefebure (Georgetown Theology faculty) in the June 1 online edition of The Christian Century. In particular, Lefebure takes on Prothero's bizarre claim that Gandhi's teachings have significantly and directly contributed to religious intolerance and religious violence!

Another good review is the one by Alec Solomita in the May 23 Boston Globe. Solomita indelicately points out that even if you agree with Prothero's agenda (and Solomita does), you have to admit that Prothero never makes his case, or really even tries: "despite his promise that he will look at the great religions critically and comparatively, Prothero avoids honest contrasts through a series of logical contortions that make him look as if he's playing the game Twister."

Rae's picture

My friend Phil from Australia has left some gifts here today. I could only get a half hour med in first thing. The day is moving on and the sun is shining. The cat wants some milk.....Breath deep..still the mind.

Bhikkhu Cintita Dinsmore's picture

I would tend to place His Holiness in the long Buddhist tradition of skillful means in speech; sometimes a teacher tells people what they need to hear to steer them away from subtly false understandings. For instance, it is skillful to tell some people that Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophy or a way of life, and skillful to tell others it is a religion. It is skillful to tell some people that Buddhism is about psychology, and others that it is about ethics. I think it is important to keep His Holiness' audience in mind when we consider what it is that he is saying and why he might be saying it. His audience is probably the most uniquely diverse of any religious leader on the planet, so I would recommend giving him a break. To a practicing Buddhist, or to someone with a deep understanding of comparative religion much of what he says is bound to sound naive, but those people are often not his intended audience. I'm confident he fully appreciates the subtlety of many of the issues he talks around.

The issue in this case is whether all religions are different paths to the top of the same mountain, and specifically whether compassion is what we find at the top of that mountain. I think sometimes the answer "yes" is insightful, sometimes it is misleading. "Yes" corrects the ubiquitous human tendency to think WE are the ones with the Truth. Religious people who open-mindedly and ardently encounter people of other faiths typically discover a commonality hidden behind the languages of the respective religions. On the other hand, there are those that conclude therefore that all religions are the same and arrive at a religious understanding produced by weeding out anything that is not a commonality . I've seen this persuasion actually lead to intolerance of religious diversity. I think in fact each religion has its own integrity as a system of interrelated doctrines and practices which we cannot expect to reduce to a common core nor to mix and match freely with others as we please, any more than we can expect to reduce any human language to a common core or mix and match freely with others as we please.

Skillful means aside, the issue whether or not all religions take people to the top of exactly the same mountain can be turned over in different ways: Do all languages allow us to say exactly the same things? Does a SINGLE religion ever bring any two people to the top of exactly the same mountain? Aren't there some religions, or at least religious sects, that don't seem to teach compassion at all?

Tom's picture

While talking about your famous topic may be fun, neither Stephen nor Menachem are important enough to waste a second on what they are thinking.
Stick to your own experience, whatever it may be. After all: this is what you believe anyway - so you are not reading one of these guys to find out something new or question what has been learned. Or do you?
No: you are reading them because you want to read _your_ position reconfirmed by another person. Or because you "want" to contradict someone - this means, to "defend" your position against an "opponent". You may "feel" better by doing so, but does it really help you evolve any further?
If you already made your decision and don't bother to question it, what's the big deal with any of these discussions then?
There is nothing to learn here.
If you wish to learn more about the decisions you made you must find out "why" you (!) made them. Dig down to the very nature of things. If doing so you find ... nothing. Well: then you were quite obviously wrong. But it is all pointless if someone just tells you so - as you need to discover it for yourself!
Doing so you may probably find, that the whole discussion is nonsense. Both of them (Stephen and Menachem) are right and both are wrong. They are talking about a metaphysic term ... which (by nature) does not have meaning in itself and thus is neither wrong or right. Instead it just depends on your point of view. See?
So: after reading this you may go on and agree or disagree with me. I don't care. Simply because this is my (!) decision ... now go and get your own! I could "explain" and "tell" a thousand times - it's not worth a thing. Where there is no inherent truth, you only may "decide" on a position. So my "decision" doesn't help you either, because it may just not be right for you.
Note that I'm not important enough for you to waste your time with me either.