Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Buddhist Scriptures, part II

Playing on the iPod: Deuter, from "Ecstasy"
Meters swum today: None.

Much to my relief, the Buddhist scriptures are getting better, or at least less flowery. I guess you can't really blame Buddhist scriptures for following a Hindu tradition, since Buddhism grew out of Hinduism. I had a religion professor in college who said that Buddhism was Hinduism backwards. I dutifully wrote that down with the rest of my notes, but in retrospect I think that's too simple. Buddhism and Hinduism are more like different ways of looking at the same thing. One way has long wordy descriptions, a fascinating pantheon of gods and goddesses and conversations with sacred animals. The other way involves a lot of sitting around, doing nothing, and looking at the floor. I like that one because it's easier, but both require you to be nice to people and to respect other beings. Both favor meditation. There are a lot of similarities.

So what I'm reading now is the Pali Commentaries, and we've just touched on the Five Precepts. Kind of like the Ten Commandments, I guess, and pretty darn decent rules for living:

1. To abstain from killing other living beings
2. To abstain from taking that which is not freely given
3. To abstain from immoral sexual behavior
4. To abstain from using words that are not true, or practicing deception
5. To abstain from using intoxicants (some texts say "abusing intoxicants")

From there, the whole deal gets broken down into strict detail. Take the first one, for example. In order to violate this precept, you must have A. A living being. B. You must be aware that the being is living. C. You must intend to take the life of this being. D. You must then take the life of this being. Without all four of these, you haven't violated the precept. If you stepped on a bug, say, that you didn't realize was a bug (say it looked like a leaf or something), then you couldn't have formed the necessary intent to violate the precept. Sounds a bit like a jury instruction, doesn't it? "Was the defendant aware that the plaintiff was a living being? If yes, go on to question two. If no, sign this form and return it to the bailiff."

No. 3 is particularly interesting. In order to have immoral sexual intercourse with someone, the someone must be A. a man (this was written for monks, who were all men at that time) or B. any one of ten different kinds of women; prostitutes, concubines, slave girls who were also concubines, wives of other men, daughters of business associates...and the list goes on. One must refrain from "entering into" any of these persons. Now, since I don't "enter into" anybody, so to speak, can I say I've never violated this precept? On the face, at least, it looks like the anti-homosexuality statutes of Victorian England that barred sex between men but didn't have any specific rules for two women. Which makes me wonder if the guys who wrote the Pali Commentaries even knew that lesbians existed.

I haven't abused any intoxicants since 2005. Which, you have to admit, is a long time.

Since I told a Catholic joke yesterday, I'll tell a Protestant joke today. A Catholic priest goes to visit his Protestant pastor friend. They talk for a while, and then the priest asks if he can use the church phone to call God. He calls God, they talk for a while, and the priest asks how much the long distance charges will be (remember those?) The pastor names some astronomical figure. A few weeks later, the pastor goes to visit his priest friend. While he's there, he asks the priest if he can use the church phone to call God. He calls God, they talk for a while, and the pastor asks how much the long distance charges will be. "None," says the priest, "it's a local call."

Okay, I admit I heard it the other way round. But still.

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