The furor over recent comments by Brit Hume suggesting that Tiger Woods convert from Buddhism to Christianity is intriguing, don't you think?
Having recently seen my son Ethan represent the Buddhist community on CNN, it occurred to me that many folks here in the West may not really know much about the Buddhist tradition and what it has to say about redemption, salvation, or anything else for that matter.
What an incredible opportunity for American Buddhists to step forward and share their tradition, experience and point of view. I think it's safe to say that the general population has much greater awareness of Christianity than they do of Buddhism. I certainly didn't notice anybody asking the presidential candidates if they took every word of the Prajnaparamita sutra to be the literal truth, word for word, as the basis for evaluating how they would govern!
Since Mr. Hume emphasized the idea of redemption as the best medicine for what he thinks is ailing Tiger Woods and implied that Christianity has a better redemption "package" than Buddhism (without really illuminating the basis on which he was making that determination), it seemed appropriate to have a look at what, if anything, Buddhism actually does have to say about the notion of redemption or salvation.
According to Buddhist history, right before his death the Buddha gave his last address to his followers: "Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation."
My teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, emphasized that Buddhism is a non-theistic discipline. By that he meant that we shouldn't rely on the power of an external, even if "divine", source for salvation or redemption. As he often said, "we have to hitch up our own chubas " or putting it more in the American vernacular "we have to pick up our own socks." Even more directly, "if you make a mess, then YOU have to clean it up".
There are many ways within the Buddhist tradition to heal, recover, repair, repent, or refrain from harmful actions, but the essence of all of these methods is restoring and re-connecting to one's own innate and indestructible goodness, not depending on salvation through the intervention of an external agent whether it be Buddha, Jesus or any other spiritual guide.
The concept of Original Sin is completely absent in the Buddhist teachings. In fact, Buddhism holds a very basic tenet that at the heart of every sentient being is a fundamental, indestructible, and already intact basic goodness called Buddha nature. Through our own actions we can obscure our connection to that Buddha nature. Through our own actions we can purify and restore that connection.
Maybe this conversation is, in essence, really about theism vs. non-theism. Since theism seems ultimately to require a leap of faith, and non-theism by definition has to be confirmed by one's individual experience, it seems that there really might be a difference between these two approaches. As to which might be better for Tiger Woods, who can say? Maybe we should ask him ...
In any case, using this blog format to explore all these matters further could be wonderful and enlightening. I invite everybody of any persuasion to throw their two cents into the pot below. My only request is that we stay within the framework that both Christ and Buddha would surely agree to: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"- let's be kind, polite and respectful to each other in the exchange.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
David Nichtern and Cyndi Lee's DVD, Om Yoga and Meditation is available through Amazon.com.