A) Apocalypse

King Nebuchadnezzar

King Nebuchadnezzar

Apocalypse is defined as “[…] the complete final destruction of the world, especially as described in the biblical book of Revelation” (Oxford University Press). It all begins in 586 BC, when the king of Babylonians (King Nebuchadnezzar) took over the city of Jerusalem, it was said that a lot of Israelites were deported to Babylon, which forced them to live in a foreign place and worship their God in a foreign place. That was the birth of the apocalypse.The Book of Revelation was created by a man named John from his vision of heaven. The writing was compiled of images, symbols, and numbers which are known as “apocalyptic” writing (Smith, 1992). The purpose of this book was to remind Christians that God is still in charge. This book encouraged persecutions of Christians. Interpreting the Book of Revelation is very challenging, because there are many scholars with different ideas of what the symbols mean making it difficult to confirm their true meanings.

A painting of John and his vision from heaven.

A painting of John and his vision from heaven.

Americans have a fascination with apocalypticism. There are millions of websites and books written on the apocalypse. There are a large number of Christians in the United States, which naturally brings curiosity to the subject. Many people believe that the truth can only be uncovered if the scholar was in the actual time and place of the occurrence- speculation is not enough. However, it seems as though interest surrounding the apocalypse comes in waves. When a scholar discovers a new ideal or item, the interest goes up and more people start digging for more information. After a long time passes without any new discoveries, people tend to lose interest and, therefore, fewer discoveries are made. Overall it is human nature to have a curiosity in things, beliefs and stories that are old and abnormal.

Works Cited

-Oxford University Press. “Apocalypse.” 2013. Oxford Dictionaries. Web. 31 May 2013. <http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/apocalypse&gt;.

-White, Michael. “The Political History of Jewish People.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 15 May 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/explanation/jews.html&gt;.

-Smith, Pat. “What is the book of Revelation about?.” . N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2013. <http://www.christianbiblereference.org/faq_Revelation.htm&gt;.

-Wessinger, Markun, Catherine, Michael. “Apocalyptic Roundtable.” Frontline . WGBH educational foundation, n.d. Web. 15 May 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/roundtable/dos.html&gt;.

 

B) From Jesus to Christ

Letters of Pliny the Younger and the Emperor Trajan

Sculpture of Pliny the Younger

Sculpture of Pliny the Younger

The PBS FRONTLINE series From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians analyzes many aspects about Christianity and breaks them down into subject categories. The first article, Christianity’s Success, describes the “[...] scene in the courtroom of Pliny the Younger” (Frontline, 1998). This article introduces Pliny, “[...] one of the most important aristocrats of his generation,” and explains about his obligation to execute the Christians found to be refraining from “[...] buying certain things for the gods” (Frontline, 1998). After he realizes what these people are doing, he interrogates them mercilessly, using methods of torture in order to understand their motives and find ‘the bad Christians.’ After doing so, he begins to understand that these Christians actually live respectable lives and maintain a very optimistic mindset. However, he was still obligated to execute some of the Christians who hadn’t given their Gods the proper material.This case is very important for two different reasons. First, “[...] it’s the first time that we have a Roman public official recognizing Christians as a distinct religious group in the empire” (Frontline, 1998). Second, Christianity, being a part of Judaism, “[...] was considered to be protected by the legal status of Jewish tradition within the Roman Empire” (Frontline, 1998). This marked a significant change in the status of Christianity.The story makes one question how Christians must have felt while they were in this situation. Having strong and positive morals and living for the good seemed to be met with dismay, which leads one to wonder how the Christian religion stayed so strong and survived for so long that it still exists present day. It’s truly amazing it remained intact and lasted through such hardships.

The Martyrs

Sculpture of Emperor Decius

Sculpture of Emperor Decius

In the year 250, it was decided by Emperor Decius that Christians were a “[...] real enemy of the Roman order, [and] that they must be dealt with empire-wide, with all the police power that the emperor can bring to bear upon them” (Frontline 1998). This decision was based off of the knowledge that many Christians had begun to immigrate into different areas around the Empire. With large organized and faithful groups, Christianity became a threat to the Roman Empire. The leaders of Christianity, thus, became targets and were martyred or forced to flee if they did not withdraw or offer sacrifices (Frontline, 1998). The effect of all of this was that “[...] a new cult of the martyrs [appeared] in Christianity, which [strengthened] the church, [and] which [fed] on anti-government sentiment in many segments of the empire” (Frontline 1998).The segment on the martyrs leaves one questioning again how Christians pushed through and survived as a religious group when met with such extreme opposition and adversity. Perhaps it was because the martyrs gave the Christian population strength. They certainly succeeded in creating a name for themselves and for other faithful Christians, which led to yet other Christians admiring and wanting to be closer to them. Their courage, determination, and integrity with regard to their beliefs can only be described as impressive and even inspirational.

Legitimization Under Constantine

According to Christians, their growing numbers and ever-strengthening beliefs was, of course, the work of God. In their rise to victory, Christianity started as small gatherings of people of faith around a holy man who were kept together by his healings and teachings. However, this man was executed by authorities for being a “[...] threat to the social order” (Frontline, 1998). Next, Christianity was separated as “[...] Paul, who then [took] this Jewish school, this Jewish philosophy, this Jewish sect, and [said] that the teachings of this sect [were] such that the entire map of the world [needed] to be redrawn, so that we now no longer [had] the simple dichotomy of Jews and gentiles and we no longer simply [had] a Jewish school arguing with other Jews about interpretations of law and theology” (Frontline, 1998). There were many different opinions about the new map, but in the end, the new map marked the “[...] breaking out of Christianity from Jewish social setting” and Christians carried on to understand what it was that separated Christians from Jews (Frontline, 1998). As Christianity continued to flourish, Romans tried to stop the continuous upward movement of the religion. However, in the end, they failed to accomplish this goal.

This article highlights how Christianity gained followers, as well as that the people had a general longing and desire for something in life with regard to seeking healing and favors from a man who attracted a crowd. Had any of the steps to Christianity’s growth and success been altered or accomplished by different means, one can’t help but to ponder whether the religion would be the same as it is today, as well as question whether the separation between Christians and Jews would be the same.

The Great Appeal

The Great Appeal answers the question as to what early Christians desired with regard to their faith. First, there was the promise of spiritual gifts and wellness such as “[...] immortality, a future life which would be liberation from sickness and from disease and from poverty, and individual isolation” (Frontline, 1998). People were interested in becoming a part of a group and following a higher power. For those in a lower level of the hierarchical pyramid, it was crucial to find a way to receive goods that, otherwise, would never be given to such a low-powered class.

In the early years of Christianity, during the Roman Empire, Christianity seemed to be appealing and desirable to the people in many ways, but perhaps the greatest gift that this religion had to offer to those within the lower socioeconomic classes was an alternative to being starved of goods and health.

Works Cited:

Frontline. “Why did Christianity Succeed?” April 1998. Web. 17 May 2013. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/

C)  Religion and Healing.

Example of body mapping

Example of body mapping

Body Mapping is a creative tool that is used for healing and therapy. Body mapping can be very therapeutic and helpful for many people including those with self-esteem issues, HIV/AIDs, and victims of torture. It combines bodily experiences with artistic and visual expression. Basically, body mapping is having the patient draw (or have another illustrate) his/her body outline on a large surface and then use colors, images, symbols, and so on as a portrayal of his/her life experiences. It was “[…] first used by HIV groups in Uganda to record the lives of positive women [who were] afraid they would die and leave their children without memories of who they were […] and since then […] has been used by the Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH) to chart the struggles and healing journeys of positive women, youth, and men around the world.” (Burris, n.d.). The idea behind body mapping is that creating can be healing, and that kind of true healing is more effective than just taking pills. TICAH holds body mapping workshops for people who need creative healing and believes that “Art can be a very ‘practical theology’ on our road to healing. We begin each session in a body mapping workshop with a meditation, a song, a prayer, a spirited way of sharing [and] end by listening to one another describe our [paintings] and what it meant to us to create [them]” (Burris, n.d.). Body Mapping is a unique but effective form of therapy and healing. On the TICAH website there is a video of all of the participants at a body mapping workshop showing their artwork and telling their stories. In short, even just being listened to and supported by people who are in need of similar healing can be extremely therapeutic.Works Cited:

Burris, Mary Ann. N.d. “Body Mapping Workshop” Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health. Web. May 15, 2013. <http://www.practicalmattersjournal.org/issue/4/centerpieces/body-mapping-workshop

E) Christianity Introduction

christianityWith over 2 billion followers falling under 34,000 denominations, Christianity is the largest world religion that currently exists. In fact, about one in every three people on earth considers themselves to be Christian (Sprunger, 2013). Due to the fact that there are an enormous amount of Christians, it is very difficult to make general statements about what Christians believe, because the beliefs differ so much depending on the denomination, interpretation, time period, place etc… However, “In general Christians share a common belief in the uniqueness of Jesus of Nazareth as a truly divine and truly human incarnate Son of God who is the savior of mankind. They, for the most part, believe each individual by their faith and life determine their eternal destiny–either in heaven or in hell” (Sprunger, 2013). Christianity was derived from Judaism originally and is now the second youngest religion after Islam. Jesus is believed to have been “[...] born between 4 and 7 B. C. at Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth of Galilee. His contemporaries regarded him as the eldest son of Joseph, a carpenter, and his wife, Mary; but Matthew and Luke report that Jesus was born of a virgin [...]” (Sprunger, 2013). Jesus then began his ministry when he was about thirty years old. Christians believe that he was sent to earth by God as the messiah, which was promised in the Old Testament. “The basic teaching of Jesus was the love of God and the love of man” and that all men should live according to the will of God (Sprunger, 2013).

Works Cited

Sprunger, Meredith. 2013. “An Introduction to Christianity.” Web. May 13, 2013. <http://www.urantiabook.org/archive/readers/christianity-introduction.htm

8) The Christian Worldview

The early Christian worldview was diverse, because Christianity certainly didn’t start as a unified movement. The disciples were dispersed and each taught things their own way based on their own personal experiences. There was such a huge explosion of Christianity spreading around the world, so of course not everybody everywhere was practicing, teaching or believing exactly the same things. “Paul’s mission carried Christianity all the way over Asia Minor, present Turkey into Macedonia, into Greece, within 20 years” (Koester, n.d.).

Famous painting of God reaching out to humanity, "Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo, which is among the 300 figures he painted on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel in 1510.

Famous painting of God reaching out to humanity, “Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo, which is among the 300 figures he painted on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel in 1510.

“A Christian understanding of God is unique, distinct, and unlike any other concept of God. It is different from the Jewish understanding of Jehovah, and unlike the Islamic understanding of Allah, even though these theological concepts are also monotheistic,” and despite all being Abrahamic religions (Fowler, 2002; University of WI-Madison, 2013).  Christians believe that humans can only understand God to the extent that he shows himself. They believe that people’s understanding and knowledge of God is not their own personal intellectual discovery, but rather comes only from his own self-revelation. “No man has seen God at any time” (John. 1:18), but God has revealed Himself in His natural creation (cf. Rom. 1:20), as a Personal God to His people (cf. Exodus 3:14), and subsequently revealed Himself supernaturally in the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:14; 14:9; Luke 10:22)” (Fowler, 2002).

Christians believe that God is self-existent, not self-created or self-caused and that He is the creator of everything. They believe that “what God is, only God is”, meaning that there is nobody or nothing else like God, and that “God does what he does, because he is what he is,” meaning that everything he does and creates is an expression of his being (Fowler, 2002). God is infinite and all encompassing, while everything else is finite. Christians believe that “God is absolutely, intrinsically, inherently, self-existently Good, Holy, and Love, and the source of all goodness, holiness and love within His creation” (Fowler, 2002).

Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God and the messiah that was promised in the Old Testament. Traditionally and generally speaking, they believe that he was born of a virgin (Mary) through Immaculate Conception. It should be noted, though, that modern Christians do not always interpret the Bible literally, especially since there are countless types of literary forms within the Bible, such as figures of comparison (like similes and  metaphors), figures of association (like metonomy and synecdoche), figures of humanization (like personification, anthropomorphism, and apostrophe), figures of illusion (like irony and hyperbole), figures of understatement (like euphemism),  figures of emphasis (like pleonasm, repetition, and climax), figures requiring completion (like ellipsis, zeugma, and aposiopesis), extended figures of speech (like parables, allegory, obscure figures of speech, riddles, and fables), symbolism, narratives (including heroic narratives), creation and consummation, epics, laws, tragedy, poetry, and parallelism (in synonymous, antithetical, synthetic, introverted, climactic/stair like, and emblematic styles) just to name a few (Boa, 1995; Weiss, 2006). This isn’t even an exhaustive list of all the types of language used within the Bible, and it is for these various styles of literature, especially the figurative forms of language, that many do not interpret the Bible literally and may combine science with faith today in the more mainstream and less fundamental denominations. That being said, Christians believe that Jesus was a human being, but that he was also God, and that he never sinned or did anything wrong his whole life (n.a., 2011).

A depiction of Jesus Christ.

A depiction of Jesus Christ.

Jesus began his ministry at age thirty and then, when he was thirty three people turned on him and he was crucified (Sprunger, 2013). He was, according to Christians, not supposed to be crucified, and three days after his burial, he was resurrected and came back to life. They believe that he then joined God in the spirit world, but that he will come to earth again.

It seems as though there are many, many functions of the Holy Spirit. Christians believe that once a person invites Jesus into their life, the Holy Spirit “[...] takes up permanent residency in that person” (n.a., 2007). The first function is that the Holy Spirit convicts of Sin which is stated in John 16:8-9. “In the unsaved, He convicts of sin to bring them to salvation. In the saved, He convicts of sin to keep them clean and show them how to live for Jesus” (n.a., 2007). The second function is that the Holy Spirit creates and regenerates. The third function is that the Holy Spirit seals you once you’re saved. “He puts His permanent mark on your heart, designating you a child of God” (n.a., 2007). The fourth function is that the Holy Spirit bears witness to your soul which is stated in John 4:13 and Romans 8:16. The fifth function is that the Holy Spirit intercedes in prayer for you. The Bible says that when we are so discouraged that we don’t even know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit prays for us” (n.a., 2007). The sixth function is that the Holy Spirit gives comfort in time of need. Lastly, the seventh function is that the Holy Spirit empowers you to serve God.

Diagram and symbol of the Trinity

Diagram and symbol of the Trinity

The trinity refers to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. “The Trinity expresses the belief that God is one Being made up of three distinct Persons who exist in co-equal essence and co-eternal communion as the FatherSon and Holy Spirit” (Fairchild, 2013). Christians see humans as sinful and limited, whereas God is holy and limitless. “Sin has weakened their minds, bodies, and whole beings. Life itself is not their own” (Kis, 1991). Christians believe that life is sacred, because God created it and God is sacred. Also, life has a specific purpose, therefore it is precious and people should be very grateful to be alive.

Christian beliefs about afterlife vary depending on the specific denomination. However, Christians generally believe in a heaven and most (not all) believe in a hell. Christians believe that human existence does not end after death. After people die they will go to another world in which they will be judged by God and receive consequences for our sins. God will judge everyone based on his or her personal relationship with Christ. People who are not “saved” risk the possibility of being sentenced to an eternal hell full of punishment and torture separated from God forever. Catholics, however, believe in purgatory and that few souls go directly to hell, giving most people an opportunity even after death to make up for their sins and go to heaven eventually. Many Christians are fearful of the possibility of eternal damnation and therefore are most concerned with being saved and saving others. The only way to be saved is to receive Salvation through Jesus Christ.

Works Cited

Boa, Kenneth. “IV. Literary Forms in the Bible.” 1995. Bible.org. Web. 5 June 2013. <http://bible.org/seriespage/iv-literary-forms-bible&gt;.

Fowler, James. 2002. “Towards a Christian Understanding of God.” Web. May 14, 2013. <http://www.christinyou.net/pages/understandgod.html

Kis, Miroslav. August 1991. “The Christian View of Human Life.” Web. May 14, 2013. <https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1991/08/the-christian-view-of-human-life

Koester, Helmut. N.d. “Diversity in Early Christian Communities.” Web. May 14, 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/diversity.html

N.a. March 2011. “What do Christians Believe?” John Hopkins University Graduate Christian Fellowship. Web. May 14, 2013. <http://www.jhu.edu/gcf/beliefs.html

N.a. March 4, 2007. “The Functions and Attributes of the Holy Spirit”. Web. May 14, 2013. <http://www.families.com/blog/the-functions-and-attributes-of-the-holy-spirit

Sprunger, Meredith. 2013. “An Introduction to Christianity.” Web. May 13, 2013. <http://www.urantiabook.org/archive/readers/christianity-introduction.htm

University of Wisconsin- Madison Board of Regents. “Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions: Welcome- Why “Abrahamic”?” 2013. University of Wisconsin- Madison. Web. 5 June 2013. <http://lisar.lss.wisc.edu/welcome/Why%20Abrahamic.html&gt;.

Weiss, Rabbi Andrea L. (Ph.D.). “Figurative Language in Biblical Prose Narrative: Metaphor in the Book of Samuel.” 2006. Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion. Web. 5 June 2013. <http://huc.edu/chronicle/68/articles/BookOfSamuel.pdf&gt;.

The power system in Buddhism is hard to define because, while there are about six million Americans who practice Buddhism, “[there] is no central Buddhist hierarchy or organization in the [United States, but rather] dozens of small groups [dotting] the landscape, from Japanese-American devotees of Amida Buddha and Tibetan refugees to Zen converts. [In fact, many] Buddhist clergy are part-time and spend their few free hours building their own institutions” (Burke, 2012). However, while people don’t usually associate Buddhists with politics, “[…] there are scores of politically engaged Buddhists in the United States – even if they don’t publicly identify their religion […]” (Burke, 2012). In fact, Buddhist ethics and philosophy emphasize the need to take political responsibility. This past election, there was a new movement called MindfulVOTES that was trying to mobilize all of the Buddhists in American to go to the polls. MindfulVOTES is a non-partisan group that wants all of the people who practice mindfulness to bring that to the polls. They believe that mindfulness is maturing America, and it’s really needed for this mindfulness to be brought to the chaotic polls. “[…While] they remain small, there are [still] several political Buddhist groups in the [United States, such as the] Berkeley-based Buddhist Peace Fellowship, […which] was founded in 1978 by the late Robert Aitken Roshi, an American Zen leader” (Burke, 2012).

Poster for the Mindful Votes Campaign

Poster for the Mindful Votes Campaign

According to Buddhists, people are naturally empathetic, but “[…] the delusion of being a separate self that must be protected and satisfied gives rise to a self-focus in which aversion and attraction derail the natural inclination toward altruistic action” (Kaszniak, 2010). Buddhism is decreasing people’s focus on the self and helping people get in touch with their natural, more compassionate selves. Consequently, Buddhism certainly is having an impact on the way people view politics and social issues. Buddhism emphasizes having compassion toward others, especially those who are less fortunate. It encourages being able to empathize with all kinds of people who are suffering. If people are making a conscious effort to be more compassionate and empathetic, they certainly will view political issues such as welfare, education, tax rates, animal rights, and environmental issues differently. Rather than always making decisions that are in their own best interest as if in survival and self-protective mode (or even just from a selfish perspective), people will vote based on what is best for the whole and the people around them, as well.

Buddhists in America also take stands to fight for animal rights. “It has long been a custom among some Buddhists to liberate animals whose destiny would otherwise involve a lifetime of captivity or worse — dinner. Setting animals free is considered an act of compassion that will be rewarded with good karma” (West, 1997). Buddhists in New Jersey and New York City took 2,500 goldfish out of a storefront temple and let them swim free in Weston’s Mill Pond, a reservoir in New Brunswick, New Jersey. They also captured the turtles that are sold in Chinatown for “‘[…] cooking or releasing’” and let them free in Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park (West, 1997). ‘“Buddhists believe that to achieve a better situation in the next life or to improve the quality of this lifetime, you must perform good acts,’” and these good acts include liberating animals from captivity and fighting for animals rights (West, 1997).

There also exists an organization called Buddhists for Peace that peacefully protest wars. On March 19th, 2011, “[...] thousands gathered in Hollywood [and San Francisco] to protest the US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya, and on truth. This date marks the 8th anniversary of the US war on Iraq” (n.a., 2011). “Non-violence is at the heart of Buddhist thinking and behaviour. The first of the five precepts that all Buddhists should follow is ‘Avoid killing, or harming any living thing.’” (n.a., 2009).  Buddhism teaches people to love their enemies, not go to war with them.  In general, Buddhism teaches people to extend their compassion and empathy even to their enemies. Although Buddhists in America are not going to the extreme of self-immolation to protest like they have in other countries, they are definitely willing to stand up for what they believe in and are rather involved in politics. Buddhists do hold some power in this country in terms of the way they affect culture, society, social issues, and politics.

 

Works Cited:

Burke, Daniel. “Buddhist Voters Aim To Bring Mindfulness To The Ballot Box .” Huffington Post 6 November 2012. Web. 7 May 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/06/buddhist-voters-bring-mindfulness-to-ballot-box_n_2079801.html&gt;..

Kaszniak, Alfred. “Empathy and Compassion in Buddhism and Neuroscience.” 17 March 2010. PBS. Web. May 7, 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/thebuddha/blog/2010/Mar/17/empathy-and-compassion-buddhism-and-neuroscience-a/>

Buddhism and war. 2009. Web. 13 June 2013. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/buddhistethics/war.shtml&gt;.

N.a. March 20, 2011. “Anti-war Protests (San Francisco, Hollywood).” Wisdom Quarterly. Web. May 8, 2013. <http://wisdomquarterly.blogspot.com/2011/03/anti-war-protests-san-francisco.html

West, Debra. January 11, 1997. “Buddhists Release Animals, Dismaying Wildlife Experts.” The New York Times. Web. May 8, 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/1997/01/11/nyregion/buddhists-release-animals-dismaying-wildlife-experts.html?src=pm

A)  Religion and Public Life and Politics in the U.S.

A metaphor for the contraception controversy.

A metaphor for the contraception controversy.

The general concept of contraception is a growing emotional and controversial issue and heavy views have been developed on both sides of the debate. On the side that rejects the use of contraception, it is often argued that contraception is immoral and should not be available or used under any circumstances. The other side of the subject often claims that contraception is more helpful than harmful and should be available to the entirety of the population that desires it.

In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was enacted and controversy over the topic of contraception grew even more (Pew 2013). The PPACA was an act that “[...required] employers to offer employees health insurance that provides some preventative medical services free of charge. Part of this mandate includes reproductive health services, such as birth control, sterilization, and emergency contraception” (Pew 2013).

After one short year of this act being in place, the Department of Health and Human Services decided they had to modify the original act. This modification altered the act making it so “[…] the contraception mandate would not apply to churches or other religious organizations – if their primary purpose is to inculcate religious values and if they primarily serve and primarily employ people of their faith tradition” (Pew 2013). This revision left the religiously affiliated organizations excluded from the modification as they “[...] have purposes other than promoting religion (such as providing education or health care) [...]” (Pew 2013). These organizations, although usually strongly associated with religion, often served and employed people of a variety of faiths, further exempting them from the PPACA modification.

Just as every new legal decision comes with controversy, “All of the opponents of the mandate contend that they should not be forced to pay for health insurance that provides services that conflict with their religious [beliefs, while supporters of the mandate counter that a woman’s access to pregnancy prevention services should not depend on which employer they work for,” and that no sort of employer has the right to “[...] impose their religious beliefs on their employees” (Pew 2013).

The First Amendment on the Bill of Rights. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech..."

The First Amendment on the Bill of Rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”

“Many religiously affiliated organizations criticized the new mandate, and some sued the government in federal court. The opponents argued that the requirement violated the guarantees of religious freedom contained in the First Amendment [...], which bars the government from substantially burdening religious exercises without having a compelling interest for doing so” (Pew 2013). Primary opponents objecting the Act’s alteration were Roman Catholic organizations, some Protestant and Jewish groups, and some businesses owned and operated by religious people (Pew 2013). Arguments from these opponents included opposition of abortion and the use of contraceptive and violation of religious rights (Pew 2013).

Again in 2012, President Obama proposed “[...] that the groups [that did not qualify for the full exemption] would still need to provide insurance that covered women’s reproductive health, but they would not have to bear any of the financial cost of these services.” In other words, for-profit businesses were still under obligation to provide such health insurance, while religious non-profit organizations would not be required to do so (Pew 2013).

In conclusion, it is simple to see what a large part religion can play in such a subject. With such strong views about using contraception from both sides, it is important that laws such as these are put into place in an attempt to attempt avoid offending certain groups, as well as satisfy the needs of the population.

Works Cited

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. (2013, February 1). The Contraception Mandate and Religious Liberty. Retrieved May 10, 2013, from The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life: http://www.pewforum.org/Government/The-Contraception-Mandate-and-Religious-Liberty.aspx

B) Notes from the Field

344870-pope-benedict-xvi-magnet-souvenir-retirementRubber Soul by Vincent Pecora brings up the very touchy subject of condom use and sexuality within the confines of Roman Catholicism. The recent news with the current Pope and his thoughts on condoms is that they should only be used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Given that humans are naturally drawn to others sexually, literally driven by human nature and the even baser instinct to mate from an evolutionary and biological scientific perspective, it’s better to be protected than have the citizens of our world end up with an incurable disease for the rest of their life, as is the case with some STDs. That being said those on the other side of the fence might feel differently. However, is it appropriate for one person’s beliefs to affect another person’s life and decisions? Or should such personal decisions be left to the individual to decide for themself based on their own beliefs?

Not only was Pope Benedict referring to homosexuals, he was also referring to prostitutes. The Pope’s intentions were good, but many people looked to his comment as a sign of, “[…] loosening of the Church’s attitude toward condoms […]” (Pecora, 2010).

Historically, this topic has always been an issue. Many that are religious believe that one should save himself / herself for marriage. Unfortunately, that means less access to condoms and less support. Also noteworthy is that statistically, among those who do take a pledge of abstinence for religious reasons, 80% of such individuals have broken their pledge within two years (Dr. Bob Baugher, 2010). This often leads to teen parents who are emotionally and financially ill-equipped for their new responsibility, leaving the child to pay the price right along with the teen parents. On the opposing side, some parents argue that condoms give the message of condoning sex. However, from a purely objective standpoint, the numbers aren’t on their side and they are just leaving their children uneducated and unprotected with regard to sex, which is far more irresponsible.

Works Cited

Dr. Bob Baugher. (2010, September-December). AIDS Certification Class. Lecture .

Pecora, V. (2010). Rubber Soul. Retrieved May 10, 2013, from The Immanent Frame: Secularism, Religion, & the Public Sphere: http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2010/12/24/rubber-soul/

C) The Bible’s Buried Secrets (NOVA)    

A page from the Hebrew Bible

A page from the Hebrew Bible

The Bible’s Buried Secrets by PBS is a film is about a journey to finding the origins of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible was the first to be worshiped under one God, which later helped set a foundation for Judaism and Christianity. The Bible is also full of stories of how Islam came to be, as it too is an Abrahamic religion. Abraham was the first mentioned in the Bible as a founder of Islam. He left Mesopotamia and traveled to the Promised Land with God’s promise to make a great nation for him and make his name great. With that promise came the covenant in which all males are circumcised, that all of Abraham’s descendants will be the heir of all land between Mesopotamia and Egypt, and will worship under one God. The idea of worshiping a singular God was a completely foreign idea at this point in history and was never even considered before Abraham.

Abraham’s story was the first part of the Bible along with the flood and Adam and Eve and it was written so long ago that his story cannot be confirmed by archeology outside of the Bible. Without any scientific proof to point to the author or exact date, scholars began questioning why the Bible was written in the first place and who wrote it.

Tradition said Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. These books covered Genesis (the story of creation of mankind), Exodus (the story of the deliverance of slaves to the Promised Land), and Leviticus (the story of morality and observance). However, there were questions that came up in 17th century about these books. If Moses had really written these books, then how was it possible that in the last book, towards the end, it talked about the death and burial of Moses? Logic alone would tell one that Moses would have been dead and not capable of writing a book. The deeper the scholars looked, the more questions they had.

A depiction of Noah's Ark and each pair of animals he brought onto the arch.

A depiction of Noah’s Ark and each pair of animals he brought onto the arch.

Noah, another character in the Bible, built an arch to preserve life in order that it might start over again after a flood that was coming. In one text, Noah was said to have brought one pair of each animal on the arch. Yet, in another text it says seven pairs of each clean animals and two pair for the unclean animals. The flood was said to have lasted forty days and forty nights, but another texts says it lasted for one-hundred fifty days. Last, one text says Noah sent out a raven to check the flood, yet another says it was a dove. With all the discrepancies in the text, it suggests multiple writers contributed to these stories.

Archeologists continued to search for clues and signs that matched with the texts and found the story of the Israelites and their origin. While the Bible asserts that Israelites were an outside source who fought the Canaanites and won, according to archeologists and their findings, the Israelites were not an outside source that conquered the Canaanites over a territorial battle. Rather, the Israelites were an outcome from the downfall of Canaanites. Archeological findings suggest that any Canaanites and slaves from Egypt that escaped their way of life settled down as Israelites.

"YHWH" means "creator," or "God" in this case.

“YHWH” means “creator,” or “God” in this case.

The word “God” was very sacred back then and was not spoken carelessly. The meaning of God is yet to be discovered, but scholars believe the word “YHWH” (pronounced yah-way) was the actual name of God and God was his title. The question that remains is where did the Israelites find their God?

This question brought archeologists to Egypt. The story is that Moses first encounter YHWH in the form of a burning brush in Midian within a region on the map called YHW. It was said that God revealed his name, YHWH, to Moses and that was his name for Israelites. Archeologists found statues of what looked like other sacred beings that Israelites had been worshiping along with God. Their belief is that it wasn’t until later that Israelites actually worshiped one God.

Archeologists ask a legitimate and important question in why the Bible was written and with regard to who wrote it. This film gives solid evidence that the Bible contains inconsistencies within itself, as well as inconsistencies with regard to comparing the writings with what archeologists have actually found. The only grey area is that the archeologists were not present when the actual events took place.

God himself is sacred and his origins are unknown, yet people have walked thousands of miles, fought wars, and acted on God’s behalf without proof that God even ever existed. However, this is the foundation of faith- believing in something that cannot be seen or proven. Abraham, Moses, David, and many of the characters mentioned in the Bible all believed that God came to them and gave them tasks that they were called to complete in their lives even though they could never prove God’s existence. With that, it really shows just how strong beliefs (faith) can be for those who are devout. The earliest proof of God archeologists have found so far was dated back to the 7th century BC. Religion is acceptance without proof.

 

Works Cited

Glassman, G. (Producer), Glassman, G. (Writer), & Glassman, G. (Director). (2008). The Bible’s Buried Secrets [Motion Picture]. PBS. Retrieved May 10, 2013, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/bibles-buried-secrets.html

 

D) The Dead Sea Scrolls

dead sea scrolls headerThe Dead Sea Scrolls refer to a large collection of fragmented writings that were discovered, purely by chance when a group of young Bedouin shepherds, who were “[…] searching the cliffs along the Dead Sea for a lost goat (or for treasure, depending on who is telling the story), [but instead found] a cave containing jars filled with manuscripts” (Library of Congress). Thousands of pieces of documents were found in this and ten more additional caves between 1947 and 1956 off of the shores of the Dead Sea near Khirbet Qumran. Archaeologists “[…] excavated the Qumran ruin, a complex of structures located on a barren terrace between the cliffs where the caves are found and the Dead Sea [and shortly after, through] historical, paleographic, and linguistic evidence, as well as carbon-14 dating, [were able to establish] that the scrolls and the Qumran ruin dated from the third century B.C.E.

Some of the pottery found in the caves with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Some of the pottery found in the caves with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

to 68 C.E., [thus proving that they] were indeed ancient, [having come] from the late Second Temple Period, a time when Jesus of Nazareth lived, [making them] older than any other surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures by almost one thousand years” (Library of Congress). In addition to these scrolls, other ancient artifacts were also discovered in the same location, including pottery unlike anywhere else in the world, wood, textiles, phylacteries, leather scroll fastenings, and a myriad of other leather artifacts, basketry, cordage, chords, ropes, stones, and coins (Library of Congress).

torah-b

The Torah Precepts Scroll

“The manuscripts of the Qumran caves include early copies of biblical books in Hebrew and Aramaic, hymns, prayers, Jewish writings known as pseudepigrapha (because they are attributed to ancient biblical characters such as Enoch or the patriarchs), and texts that seem to represent the beliefs of a particular Jewish group that may have lived at the site of Qumran. Most scholars believe that the Qumran community was very similar to the Essenes, one of four Jewish ‘philosophies’ described by Josephus, a first century C.E. Jewish

The Phylactery Scroll

The Phylactery Scroll

[historian, but some] have pointed to similarities with other Jewish groups mentioned by Josephus: the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Zealots” (WSRP). Despite the fact that we are not certain who exactly wrote the documents, “the authors seemed to be connected to the priesthood, were led by priests, disapproved of the Jerusalem priesthood, encouraged a strict and pious way of life, and expected an imminent confrontation between the forces of good and evil” (WSRP). Thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been very educational.

The biblical and Jewish documents that comprise the Dead Sea Scrolls shed a lot of light on Christianity and Judaism, but while “[these] important texts have revolutionized our understanding of the way the Bible was transmitted, and have illuminated the general cultural and religious background of ancient Palestine, out of which both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity arose,” they were also controversial and somewhat upsetting to the churches (WSRP). Their discovery led to “[…] great scholarly and public interest, […] heated debate and controversy, […and led to many questions]” (Library of Congress). “Why were

The Psalms Scroll

The Psalms Scroll

the scrolls hidden in the caves? Who placed them there? Who lived in Qumran? Were its inhabitants responsible for the scrolls and their presence in the caves? Of what significance are the scrolls to Judaism and Christianity?” (Library of Congress). Most upsetting to the churches, though, were inconsistencies with the currently accepted biblical writings, especially since these documents were scientifically verified as being

The Community Rule Scroll

The Community Rule Scroll

legitimate. For instance, Deuteronomy 27:4 was found to have been deliberately altered and was, therefore, “[…] considered corrupt” after the Dead Sea Scrolls surfaced (Charlesworth). Not only do we know that this alteration occurred, but it leaves the question of who would do this and for what reason.

We continue today to “[…] explore their archaeological and historical context; […] explore the various theories concerning the nature of the Qumran community; and examine some of the challenges facing modern researchers as they struggle to reconstruct the scrolls from the tens of thousands of fragments that remain” (Library of Congress). However, despite over half a century’s time (66 years to be exact) to study these artifacts, to this day, scholars and the public alike continue to be fascinated by the Dead Sea Scrolls and the mystery to which they hold the keys.

Works Cited

Charlesworth, James Hamilton. “The Discovery of an Unknown Dead Sea Scroll: The Original Text of Deuteronomy 27?” 16 July 2012. Ohio Wesleyan University. 6 May 2013 <http://blogs.owu.edu/magazine/2012/07/16/the-discovery-of-an-unknown-dead-sea-scroll-the-original-text-of-deuteronomy-27/&gt;.

Library of Congress. “THE WORLD OF THE SCROLLS.” 27 July 2010. Scrolls from the Dead Sea: The Ancient Library of Qumran and Moern Scholarship. 6 May 2013 <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/scrolls/intr.html&gt;.

West Semitic Research Project (WSRP). “Educational Site: Dead Sea Scrolls.” 2000. University of Southern California: West Semitic Research Project. 6 May 2013 <http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/wsrp/educational_site/dead_sea_scrolls/&gt;.

 

Sze-yap Chinese_temple_interior_SF_1869_thumb

An illustration of the Sze-Yap Temple in San Francisco published i 1869 in the Illustrated San Francisco News. From LoC “Amer. Memory”

In addition to rituals and healing methods, other important aspects of Buddhism in the United States include the temples and spaces that are considered to be sacred. The word sacred comes from a Latin term sacrare, which means holy (Oxford Dictionaries). The word sacred is usually used to describe an object or a place, but occasionally it can be used to describe a person (Witcombe).

Sze-yap_temple_-sf_-1857_thumb

An illustration of the Sze-Yap Temple in San Francisco that was published in the the Children’s Missionary Newsletter in January of 1857.

The first Buddhist temple in America, which was in San Francisco’s Chinatown, was built as a sacred place by the Sze Yap Company in 1853 (Bromley). Standing at the corner of Pine and Kearney, this temple is believed to have been “[…] dedicated to Ching-Tai, ‘a famous Chinese soldier’ whose ‘face is of the brightest red colour,’” which combined with the date “[…] indicate that he was Guandi, the God of War, under another name” (CINARC).

Hsi Lai Temple

Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, CA.

Another sacred place with regard to Buddhism in the United States is Hsi Lai Temple, which is one the biggest temples in the west and also located in California.  In fact, “Hsi Lai [actually] means ‘coming to the West’ and signifies the dedication of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order to spread the teachings of the Buddha to those in the West” (International Buddhist Progress Society). The architecture is very unique, as it was designed to look like the buildings back in the Ming and Ching dynasties of China. This temple covers fifteen acres of land and it includes traditional temple buildings, gardens, and statuary. The main shrine is dedicated to Sakaymuni with statues of Sakaymuni Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, and the Medicine Buddha (International Buddhist Progress Society).

Sakya Monastery

Inside the Sakya Monastery in Seattle, WA.

Sakya Monastery is located here locally in the Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. Sakya is a Tibetan monastery that provides Buddha’s basic teachings with highly qualified Tibetan Lamas. It is also a place to teach Tibetan culture. Sakya Monastery was first discovered in 1928 as a First Presbyterian Church. It wasn’t until 1974 that this building turned into a monastery. Now it is open to the community with many different activities to help outsiders learn Tibetan Buddhism (Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism).

Co Lam Pagoda

The Jade Buddha while it was on display at Co Lam Pagoda in Seattle, WA.

Co Lam Pagoda is another Western Buddhist sacred place, also located in Seattle, WA. This is a Vietnamese Buddhist community and while it’s primarily a Vietnamese community, it’s open to all. Beautiful statues grace different areas of the temple, inside and out, and services are offered every Sunday, as well as daily ceremonies (Co Lam Pagoda).

Midwest Buddhist Temple

Buddha statue at Midwest Buddhist Temple in Chicago, Illinois.

Midwest Buddhist Temple is located in Chicago, Illinois, which is a general temple that teaches Buddha Dharma. This temple is affiliated with Buddhist Churches of America. Midwest Buddhist Temple was officially formed in 1944 in Chicago (Midwest Buddhist Temple).

Vietnamese statue

The statue of Quan The Am Bo Tat, also referred to as Quan Am, at the Vietnamese Buddhist Center in Sugar Land, TX.

At the Vietnam Buddhist Center in Sugar Land, Texas, a beautiful and graceful Vietnamese statue stands seventy feet tall. Along with the statue, there is one main temple there. The Vietnam Buddhist Center is open to the community and from the look and sound of it, it’s like a park. There are venders at night selling food, free toys for kids, and even Vietnamese classes (Vietnam Buddhist Center).

Works Cited

Bromley, David G. “BUDDHISM IN AMERICA TIMELINE.” n.d. Virginia Commonwealth University. 6 May 2013 <http://www.people.vcu.edu/~dbromley/undergraduate/spiritualCommunity/BuddhismInAmericaTimeline.html&gt;.

Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee (CINARC). “TEMPLES & SHRINES:1857: The Earliest Picture of an American Chinese Temple.” 22 March 2013. Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee. 6 May 2013 <http://www.cinarc.org/shrines.html#anchor_331&gt;.

Co Lam Pagoda. “Co Lam Pagoda.” 2013. Co Lam Pagoda; Facebook. 3 May 2013 <http://www.colampagoda.org/; https://www.facebook.com/CoLamPagoda&gt;.

International Buddhist Progress Society. “Hsi Lai Introduction.” 2010. Hsi Lai Temple. 6 May 2013 <http://www.hsilai.org/en/intro_subpages/intro_hsi_lai_temple.html&gt;.

Midwest Buddhist Temple. “Midwest Buddhist Temple: Home.” n.d. Midwest Buddhist Temple. 3 May 2013.

Oxford Dictionaries. “Sacred.” 2013. Oxford Dictionaries. 6 May 2013 <http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/sacred&gt;.

Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. “FAQ.” 2009. Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. 3 May 2013 <http://www.sakya.org/faq.html&gt;.

Vietnam Buddhist Center. “Vietnam Buddhist Center.” n.d. Vietnam Buddhist Center. 3 May 2013 <http://www.vnbc.org/TTPG/&gt;.

Witcombe, Christopher L. C. E. . “SACREDNESS .” n.d. Sweet Briar College. <http://witcombe.sbc.edu/sacredplaces/sacredness.html&gt;.

A. Shopping Malls and Sacred Place

Southcenter Mall - The mall I chose to visit

Southcenter Mall – The mall I chose to visit

Can shopping malls be considered a sacred place? According to Jon Pahl, “Malls have achieved their lofty status as temples in an empire of markets” (Pahl, 2007). Shopping malls have enchanting effects, as Pahl says. He brings up a very valid point, that a typical mall will not have windows looking out but that “[…] mall architecture makes possible experiences of water, light, trees, words, food, music, and bodies that, when combined with the labyrinthine design of the concourses, invariably makes one feel entranced, dazed, disoriented, and, finally, as if one is lacking something” (Pahl, 2007).

Water is also very symbolic. Many religions incorporate water into ceremonies or consider it to represent that which is pure. Most malls will have some sort of a water fall or fountain. In my recent adventures to several malls, I found that two out of the three had some water features, typically in the center of the mall. I had never realized it before, but there are no windows to the outside world. Just like water, lights have a vital symbol, too. Many malls will have a huge skylight or sets of lights with high beams. Trees, often related to as life, also grace the mall atmosphere frequently and never once will you go into a mall with a dying tree or plant.

Every mall has a target. With every song, advertisement, or phrase, you feel like a part of a community, which is exactly their intention. “[Many] senior citizens walk in mall corridors to exercise because they find malls to be sanctuaries of civility” (Pahl, 2007). I see elders walk into malls all the time- not necessarily walking and exercising, but I do not recall seeing them carrying bags of purchased goods.

As sacred as malls seem, they are just the opposite. Malls lie all the time about their products and their value. Their architecture makes buyers feel small. Macy’s is one of the biggest stores within almost every mall, and it’s considered to be the anchors of buyers.

Macy's means "More" luring buyers in. Located in majority of the malls all over the world

Macy’s means “More” luring buyers in. Located in majority of the malls all over the world

What I found interesting was, “Macy’s Means More: More Vision, More Real, More Mix, More New, More You (Pahl, 2007).” There are hidden meanings to help lure customers. Another interesting fact is that malls are not as welcoming as they seem. Malls are privately owned and can, therefore, make up their own rules. They can decide whether you look like you belong or not. From a different perspective, security is there to keep us safe, but it is not open to acceptance. Whether malls are sacred, I think, depends on the perspective from which we are looking. Personally, I do not believe malls are sacred. My purpose of going to a mall is to buy things and have a good time. As far as how I feel, I do not feel much different compared to being anywhere else. A mall can only be so sacred, so to speak.

Recently I visited my aunt and her church that she belongs to. It is the Ebenezer Lutheran Church. This church was founded on May 23rd, 1910. Comparing this church to a mall I often visit (Southcenter Mall), the sacredness of the two places are very different. Like the mall, the church had a high ceiling and was decorated with greenery.

Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Lake Stevens is the church I visited

Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Lake Stevens is the church I visited

The church had glass-stained windows along the side of the building and there was a big organ in the front near the altar. I believe that

churches or temples are as sacred as it gets. A church is there for people to better themselves and a mall is there for profit. Malls are, as you can imagine, very rowdy and very limited in terms of acceptance. Ebenezer Lutheran Church is open to anyone. In short, my perspective is that malls are far from sacred.

Works Cited:

Pahl, Jon. “The Desire to Acquire:Or, Why Shopping Malls are Sites of Religious Violence.” Religion and Culture Web Forum. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2013. <http://divinity.uchicago.edu/martycenter/publications/webforum/052007/desire_to_acquire.pdf&gt;.

B. Daoism

A demonstration of the location of Shen, Chi, and Jing in the body.

A demonstration of the location of Shen, Chi, and Jing in the body.

“Daoism […] is chiefly concerned with cultivating virtue in one’s life, living in balance with the natural world, and, by doing so, achieving immortality” (Emrich). Generally speaking, Daoists believe that it is very important to work towards immortality using techniques of inner alchemy and outer alchemy.

Inner alchemy consists of four techniques. The first technique has to do with regulating breathing, and was named “embryo respiration” or “womb breathing” (Smits). This technique seems to be appropriately named as “Daoists sought to return to the breathing of a child in its mother’s womb” (Smits). It is thought that this type of breathing would “…alleviate the whole range of illnesses, cure plagues, prevent harm from tigers or snakes, cure afflictions like boils and warts, enable survival under water, enable walking on water, alleviate feelings of hunger or thirst, and lead to long life. The essential technique is womb breathing” (Smits). A second technique used in seeking immortality is sunbathing. This technique is only used by men, not women, and is done by “[…exposing] their bodies to the sun while holding in their hands a character for the sun written in red ink on green paper” (Smits). The reason that only men use this technique has to do with males searching for inner strength of yin, while women search for inner strength of yang. Third, the search for immortality must include exercises similar to yoga to

Yoga-like exercises practiced by Daoists to renew energy and strengthen energy.

Yoga-like exercises practiced by Daoists to renew energy and strengthen energy.

strengthen breathing and renew their energy. These exercises also help to keep the body’s pores open. Open pores mean that energy from outside of the body are able to flow into the body (Smits). Lastly, the search for immortality through inner alchemy is sexual training (Smits). “Daoists thought that sexual intercourse could nourish life by strengthening the forces of yin-yang […which] could cure disease, make the body lighter, make the senses more acute, and increase one’s store of healthy” (Smits). Some Daoists believe that it’s important to have as many as 10 partners per day in order to properly achieve immortality (Smits). Outer alchemy is a bit more basic and has to do with searching for a pill or elixir that will make one immoral.

Another less technique-based way that Daoists expressed passion about the search for immortality was through art. Daoist art often consisted of “The double-gourd shape, images of peaches and blossoming peach trees, the moon, the lotus, the pine tree, and the Big Dipper [… which] all refer to the Daoist ideal of everlasting life” (Emrich).

Works Cited

Emrich, Elizabeth. “How To Live Forever.” n.d. Johnson Museum of Art. 6 May 2013. http://museum.cornell.edu/exhibitions/how-to-live-forever-daoism-in-the-ming-and-qing-dynasties.html

Smits, Gregory. “Later Daoism”. n.d. Pre-Modern Chinese History. 6 May 2013. http://www.personal.psu.edu/faculty/g/j/gjs4/textbooks/PM-China/ch7.htm

C. Confucianism 

Painting of Confucius

Painting of Confucius

“Confucianism is the complex system of moral, social, political, and religious teaching built up by Confucius and the ancient Chinese traditions” (Shinn, n.d.). Confucius was a very smart boy born into a wealthy family. He became the minister of justice when he was older and tried to keep the people on the path of duty. The people were not interested in moral order, but rather seeking common pleasures, so Confucius resigned and went around the country trying to find a ruler who would listen to and adopt his teachings. He searched for thirteen years with a group of his devout followers. He was absolutely determined to bring his teachings to the people and even risked being killed by his enemies (Shinn, n.d.). Confucianism has many goals and of course those goals vary among Confucians, however, the primary and commonly known known goal of Confucianism is to help people become virtuous and well mannered.

C4)  The Confucian Virtues

The five major Confucian virtues are jen, yi, li, chih, and hsin. Jen is a virtue of benevolence, charity, and humanity. Although this alters depending on the interpretation, generation and time period, jen is generally considered the most important Confucian virtue and is compared to the golden rule of treat others as you wish to be treated. The people who practice jen should be willing die in order to preserve jen; it is that important. They feel that jen more precious than life itself. “The first principle of Confucianism is to act according to jen: it is the ultimate guide to human action” (Archie, n.d.). A person who embodies jen can become an ideal person (Confucianism refers to this as the chun-tzu or the ideal mean).

The second virtue is li. Li is the principle of gain, benefit, order, and propriety. There are two basic meanings of li. The first is “[...] concrete guide to human relationships or rules of proper action that genuinely embody jen”, and the second is “[...] general principle of social order or the general ordering of life” (Archie, n.d.).  Li is all about having good manners, being polite, and following order by taking part in ceremonies, rituals, and worship. Everyone is supposed to conduct themselves with propriety and follow the social norms in order to maintain order.

The third virtue is yi which is all about righteousness and morality. It is the “moral disposition to do right” (Archie, n.d.). A person who embodies yi knows the difference between right and wrong and has a good sense of goodness. This person will know what the right thing to do in each situation is and follow that moral path.

The fourth virtue is chih which is moral wisdom. Although this is similar to yi there are some difference. Chih is based off of the belief that people are basically born good, and that knowing what is right and what is wrong is innate. Confucianism says that although people are naturally good, the origin of evil can be accounted for by three major things. First, external circumstances and the need for survival led to people doing evil things in order to protect themselves. Second, “[...] it would be our disadvantage to be moral [...]” in this society and culture (Archie, n.d.). Third, our lack of knowledge cripples us from really developing our feelings and senses.

Lastly, the fifth virtue is hsin which is “loyalty and good faith” (Hays, 2012). Hsin is the cardinal virtue of faithfulness and truthfulness. One who practices hsin worships truth and absolute faith. People who practice hsin don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk. Their actions match up with what they say. This is a big part of jen as well.

The goal of every person, according to Confucianism is embody all of the virtues, but specifically jen and li. “Together, these two virtues create a highly cultivated and disciplined person who behaves properly in every situation and who is motivated by deep care and empathy for people” (Carroll, 2010). Confucianism refers to the superior human beings as “junzi” which basically means they are perfect. Of course, perfect doesn’t mean never making a mistake, but rather these superior human beings are perfect because “Their moral character is true, their intentions are pure, and their actions are disciplined and aligned with that moral character” (Carroll, 2010).

Confucianism also really stresses Hsiao which means filial-piety or reverence. Having a Japanese father, I am personally very familiar with this term because it is a very important virtue in the eastern cultures. Filial piety is based off of the idea that you are alive because of your parents who have sacrificed everything for you, therefore it is your duty to honor your family and have absolute respect for them. According to Confucianism, in order to really practice Hsiao, you must view your parents as if they saved your life, and spend the rest of your life honoring them and giving them physical, emotional, and spiritual care. Once you have established true filial piety with your family, you then should extend this mindset out to your community, nation, and eventually the world (Archie, n.d.).

Te is another very important aspect of Confucianism. Te is all about the people in charge who are governing should have a certain personal power and moral integrity so that other people want to follow their example. The government must be honest and transparent. According to Confucianism a government is good if it can maintain three things; economic sufficiency, military sufficiency, and confidence of the people (Archie, n.d.).

Works Cited:

Archie, J. (n.d.). “Philosophy 312: Oriential Philosophy Man Concepts of Confucianism.”

Oriental Philosophy. Retrieved May 2, 2013 from web http://philosophy.lander.edu/oriental/main.html

Carroll, J. (2010) “Jen & Li – Confucian Virtues.” Retrieved May 2, 2013 from web http://www.world-religions-professor.com/jen.html

Hays, J. (2012). “Confucian Beliefs”. Retrieved May 1, 2013 from web http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=88#03

Shin, K. (n.d.). “Confucianism A Brief Summary of Confucius and His Teachings”. Retrieved May 1, 2013 from web http://www.csuchico.edu/~cheinz/syllabi/asst001/fall97/11kshinn.htm

D. Shintoism 

Shinto is a community religion, “originally ‘an amorphous mix of nature worship, fertility cults, divination techniques, hero worship, and shamanism,’” and the name itself is derived from the Chinese words “shin tao,” which translate into the phrase “the way of the kami” (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995). It’s an ancient religion in Japan, dating back at least as far as 500 BCE, but was not named Shinto until the 8th century CE and “Unlike most other religions, Shinto has no real founder, no written scriptures, no body of religious law, and only a very loosely-organized priesthood” (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995). In relation to the translation of the name Shinto, the kami are the deities or gods and goddesses within in the religion, of which there are approximately 8 million total (Mori, 2009). While there are countless kami, there are some main groups or categories including the ujigami, who “[… are the] clan or village gods […]responsible for a particular community and maybe [even] the ancestors of those who founded the [village, …the kami, who are] spirits which may be found in water, rocks, trees and other natural manifestations which have a particular aura about [them, …the] earth elements, [such as] sun, wind, [and] rivers, […the] powerful forces, [such as] war, health, [and] [agriculture,] Inari-sama, the God of Agriculture […] often represented by the [fox, …] deceased persons [such as Sugawara Michizane, Emperor Meiji, who was] was a courtier in the Hieian period who became a deity after death when a plague that struck Kyoto was identified as caused by him in revenge for being [exiled, …and who is] also the god of calligraphy and learning” (Mori, 2009). “[Foxes, raccoons,] rabbits and cats are the tricksters of Shinto and there are many stories of human encounters with these animals who cause problems for those unlucky enough to encounter [them…and even human] emotions such as anger, jealousy, or mirth can […] be kami” (Mori, 2009) Being closely linked to Buddhism, Shinto also believes that Buddha was another kami (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995).

Amaterasu Omikami; sun Goddess

Amaterasu Omikami; sun Goddess

However, “[the] most important kami is Amaterasu Omikami, the Sun Goddess and ancestress of the Imperial family, [and the] kamikaze or divine wind has saved Japan from invasion” (Mori, 2009). Essentially, there is a god or goddess for every aspect in the world, from happiness to destruction, art and beauty to all that is wrong with the world, but each is considered sacred and treated with respect.

One of the reasons that there might be so many deities within this religion is due to the way they view death. Shinto views on death are twofold and almost in direct opposition of each other. First, “Shinto provides the Japanese creation myth but no afterlife, [and death is viewed as] the end” (Mori, 2009). What becomes confusing about this is that the kami can be deceased persons, such as ujigami ancestors, previous dynasties, Buddha, or various Bodhisattvas, yet there is no after life (Mori, 2009; Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995). While this seems to be a contradiction in itself, Shintoism somehow reconciles this within its belief system. Putting this inconsistency aside, “Shinto does not deal very well with death which is associated with corruption and decay [and therefore,] this aspect of life is mainly dealt with by Buddhism [within the religion. It is from there that Shinto arrives at the belief that all] individuals who die become kami” (Mori, 2009). However, not all deceased people become deities in a happy and positive way. Only people “[…] who have died peacefully and happily amid their family are the revered ancestors but not everyone dies this way, [and those] who die without family to care for their kami become hungry ghosts (an idea imported from China) who wander and can cause trouble” (Mori, 2009). Further, “A person who died violently or who led an unhappy life can be a source of danger or trouble to others, [so things] are done to ease these spirits, [such as leaving] flowers […] at a place where someone died in a car accident or of a heart attack [or piling up] small stones […] to indicate a place where the sacred space touches on everyday space” (Mori, 2009). Last, death (and blood) leads to “[the] most [important] value in Shinto,” which is eliminating physical and spiritual “pollution” to achieve purity and cleanliness (Mori, 2009). It is this belief that leads to the elaborate Shinto ritual of washing and cleaning. “[This is especially important when entering] a shrine, [because you are] entering a sacred and somewhat dangerous space [since] you are coming into the presence of power, [which is why] the person who enters must be ritually, spiritually purified [through the] elements that provide purification, [which are] water, salt, fire, sand and sake (alcohol)” (Mori, 2009). One of the most common rituals when entering a shrine compound is the water purification ritual in which the person collects water in their hands from a basin to wash their hands and mouth. Another common ritual with regard to purification is wafting the smoke of a burning fire over their heads in the belief that this, too, purifies and physical or spiritual pollution. However, these are only two of the most common rituals and there may be others performed, as well (Mori, 2009).

At the heart of Shinto lies a community-based celebration for life and a focus on what is sacred, yet “[the] universe [is] depicted [as] amoral and indifferent [and virtue] is not necessarily rewarded nor is evil always punished” (Mori, 2009). Shinto provides no moral code, believing morality to be “[…] a human, social concept,” and that “[society] provides through its etiquette the moral code which is partly based on ideas introduced from Confucian philosophy” (Mori, 2009). Lacking a “[…] fully developed theology [...]” is what separates and differentiates Shintoism from other religions (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995). This also “[…] creates a flexibility [within Shintoism] to suit many types of individuals […]” (Yamada, 1996). However, Shintoism does provide some core beliefs. “According to the Kojiki, the mythological chronology of Japan, the gods of the Shinto religion are believed to have created Japan as their image of paradise on earth, and the ruler of Japan, the Emperor, is a direct descendent of the Sun-goddess Amaterasu” and this is why emperors have been so respected throughout Japanese history (Yamada, 1996). Shintoism also places “a great importance in nature, in purity, and in tranquility […], right practice, sensibility, and attitude over conceptual understanding of the universe and holiness, […and the gods are pictured as disliking insincerity and disorder]” (Yamada, 1996). Further, “[all] of humanity is regarded as ‘Kami’s [child,’ and thus,] all human life and human nature is sacred [and ancestors are especially revered and worshipped]” (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995). Believers desire and seek peace, as well as “[…] revere “musuhi”, the Kamis’ creative and harmonizing powers, [which they] aspire to have “makoto”, [or] sincerity or true heart [becausde this] is regarded as the way or will of Kami” (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995). Last, there are the “Four Affirmations,” in Shinto which include tradition and the family (“[…] family is seen as the main mechanism by which traditions are preserved [and their] main celebrations relate to birth and marriage”), love of nature (“Nature is sacred; to be in contact with nature is to be close to the Gods [and natural] objects are worshipped as sacred spirits”), physical cleanliness, and matsuri, which refers to the “[…] worship and honor given to the Kami and ancestral spirits” (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995). It’s also worth taking note that Shintoism views their dieties as “[…] generally benign [and] they sustain and protect the people,” but do not necessarily punish the people (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995).

In short, Shinto is an extremely “[…] tolerant religion which accepts the validity of other religions [and it’s even] common for a believer to pay respects to other religions, their practices, and objects of worship” (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995).

Works Cited

Mori, Barbara. “Shinto- The Way of the Gods.” 2009. California Polytechnic State University. 29 April 2013 <http://cla.calpoly.edu/~bmori/syll/Hum310japan/Shinto.html&gt;.

Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. “Religions of the world:.” 24 November 1995. Religious Tolerance. 29 April 2013 <http://www.religioustolerance.org/shinto.htm >.

Yamada, N. Alice. “Shinto: The Way of the Gods.” 1996. Trinity College: Trincoll Journal. 3 May 2013 <http://www.trincoll.edu/zines/tj/tj4.4.96/articles/cover.html&gt;.

 

E) Art in Daoism, Confucianism, or Shintoism

Bowl with painting of Immortals

Bowl with painting of the Immortals

In Daoism, there are tales of the Eight Immortals which act along the lines of Gods as Daoists look up to them and expect them to help ‘find their way’. The names of the Eight Immortals translate to An Ancient Man, A Diseased Beggar, A Defeated Warrior, An Elegant Scholar, An Eternal Teenager, An Immortal Maid, A Difficult Nephew, and A Penitent Official. These Eight Immortals are found most commonly on Daoist art and represent the relationship between man, nature, and eternity (Jordan). A religious body of art, a white and blue vase with the Eight Immortals intricately painted onto it, was made for a Ming Dynasty emperor (Jordan). In fact, this blue and white painting of the Immortals can be found on a variety of vases, bowls, and other dishes. The artwork presents the immortals with their associated aspect of the story, representing strength on all eight sides. The artwork symbolizes the Yin and the Yang that Daoist believe in and represent the life and virtues that they must strive for.

Works Cited:

David, Jordan. “Tales of the Eight Immortals”. 30 October 2012. UCSD. 7 May 2013. http://weber.ucsd.edu/~dkjordan/chin/bashian/bs0Intro.html#top

Part A: Pilgrimage and Tourism- Pilgrimage as Ritual and Similarities between Pilgrimage and Tourism 

pilgrimageOxford Dictionaries defines Pilgrimage as “[…] a journey to a place associated with someone or something well known or respected [or a] life viewed as a

The Hajj is a famous pilgrimage to Mecca associated with Islam.

The Hajj is a famous pilgrimage to Mecca associated with Islam.

journey” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013). Pilgrimage may be

further understood by the definition provided by the Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology, which states that “Pilgrimage in all religions is pre-eminently a journey of the religious imagination. It obviously constitutes physical movement from one place to another, but at the same time involves spiritual or temporal movement” (Encyclopedia, 2002). Pilgrimage seems to go hand-in-hand with a mindset based away from ethnocentrism. Pilgrimage is having the desire and motivation to travel around the world for the sole purpose of having an innovative openness to how different cultures live, learn, behave, and communicate.

tourismOn a similar note, tourism is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “[the] commercial organization and operation of holidays and visits to places of interest” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013). The motivation of Tourists is often seen as different from those of Pilgrims. Tourists are thought of as travelers who are less motivated by the desire of new-found religious and socio-cultural understanding of new

"Pilgrims walk with crosses as the Northern Cross pilgrimage makes its final leg of the journey to Holy Island on April 2, 2010 in Berwick-upon-Tweed, England. More than 60 people, young and old, celebrated Easter by crossing the tidal causeway during the annual Christian pilgrimage. Every year people of all ages, from all over the world and from all realms of Christian life walk together at Easter to Holy Island. (April 1, 2010 - Source: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe)"

“Pilgrims walk with crosses as the Northern Cross pilgrimage makes its final leg of the journey to Holy Island on April 2, 2010 in Berwick-upon-Tweed, England. More than 60 people, young and old, celebrated Easter by crossing the tidal causeway during the annual Christian pilgrimage. Every year people of all ages, from all over the world and from all realms of Christian life walk together at Easter to Holy Island. (April 1, 2010 – Source: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe)”

places, and more motivated by the desire to gain the thrill and new experience of traveling in itself.

In understanding the differences between these two terms, it is interesting to compare a specific religious pilgrimage, such as Christian pilgrimage, with tourism vacations to Hawaii. A Christian pilgrim would travel with the intentions of spending sacred time with God “[…] as he travels to a place of special meaning” (Re:Quest, 2007). Goals of many Christian pilgrims have included seeking forgiveness from God through travel and devotion, or even searching for a remedy to a sickness (Re:Quest, 2007). Some places that Christian pilgrims may visit include Israel/Palestine (where Jesus lived), Spain (where Saint James is buried), or even France where it is rumored that a little girl had a vision of Mary (Re:Quest, 2007). In contrast, the intentions for a vacation to Hawaii may be based around the nice weather, relaxation, and beautiful scenery that the island holds.

It seems that a major difference between these two instances of travel is that the motivation behind each adventure because while pilgrimage is based around religion and becoming closer to God, a trip to Hawaii may be motivated by the attractive idea of simply getting away for a while and visiting a pleasant destination.

Works Cited

Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology. (2002). “Pilgrimage”. Received April 25th from web: http://books.google.com/books?id=o1VpdrbH3BUC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Intersecting Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage and Tourism. (2004). Retrieved April 24, 2013 from web: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/77atk6rb9780252029400.html

Oxford Dictionaries. (2013). Pilgrimage. Retrieved April 25, 2013 from Oxford Dictionaries: http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/religion

Oxford Dictionaries. (2013). Tourism. Retrieved April 25, 2013 from Oxford Dictionaries: http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/religion

Re:Quest. (2007). “Some Places of Pilgrimage”. Received April 25th from web: http://www.request.org.uk/main/dowhat/pilgrimage/places/places01.htm

Buddhism

Part B: Intro to Buddhism & the Basic Teachings of Buddhism

statue of buddha

A statue of buddha.

It was said that Buddha was born into a great deal of wealth and lived a comfortable life. Siddhartha (Buddha’s birth name) married and had a son, Rahula. Around the same time he left the palace with his charioteer, leaving everything behind in search of enlightenment. Buddha was taught by two leading ascetics and had mastered what they had offered; however Buddha felt there was an answer for the problem of human suffering. Buddha continued searching for an answer and eventually remembered being in a state of clam and peace as a child. Being in that state is now known as meditating. Which lead to the Four Noble Truths (Gethin, 1998).

The first noble truth is suffering. Suffering comes in all forms throughout life. Suffering can be very literal or suffering within (BBC, 2009). As human beings we are always looking for comfort and having high expectations. When we realize our expectations are not met, we suffer. Knowing that life is realistic and accepting that will go a long way.

The second noble is the origin of suffering; which is also known as Samudāya. According to Buddha the source of all suffering comes from desire. Desire can be for good or for bad. The desire to lead a enlightening life is a positive desire (BBC, 2009); Wanting to be rich and willing to do anything is opposite of that. Going into depth, desire is broken into three categories. One is greed and desire, two is ignorance and delusion, and last hatred and destructive urges. Buddha gave a compelling sermon, “Bhikkhus, all is burning. And what is the all that is burning? The eye is burning, forms are burning, eye-consciousness is burning, eye-contact is burning, also whatever is felt as pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant that arises with eye-contact for its indispensable condition, that too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, with the fire of hate, with the fire of delusionI say it is burning with birth, aging and death, with sorrows, with lamentations, with pains, with griefs, with despairs.” (BBC, 2009).

Young Prince Rahula prompted by his mother to ...
Young Prince Rahula prompted by his mother to ask for his inheritance, left behind by the Buddha after His renunciation. Instead, the Buddha told Venerable Sariputta (Sariputra) to ordain Prince Rahula, giving him a spiritual inheritance better than the one he asked for. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The third noble truth is cessation of suffering. In order to not have desires we must liberate oneself from attachment (BBC, 2009) Having attachments causes feelings which can lead to suffering. Nirvana, which means extinguishing is a state of mind, it is acquired without negative emotions and fears; with that it can lead to spiritual joy. Once enlightenment is reached, a person is liberated from rebirth.

The forth noble truth is path to the cessation of suffering. The path to enlightenment is having/feeling all the right things; what is also known to be the Eighth Fold (BBC, 2009). What I mean by that is being in the right mindset, the right understanding, having the right action, putting in the right effort and basically doing and being positive.

As for the rules of life, it is to help do the right thing. The first is to never take life from anything that is alive. The second is not to take anything that wasn’t given to you. The third is be abstain from sexual acts and overindulgence, the fourth is always being truthful and last, avoid intoxication (White, 1993).The five precepts are hard to achieve with the world we live in but when we truly commit it can be done.

Buddhism is widely known as a way of life, not a religion (White, 1993). Of course that is a personal option with each individual. Buddha himself was born a human, who died a human but he was also righteous life leader. Buddha found ways to live in peace and harmony, both internal and external.

Works Cited:

“The Four Noble Truths.” BBC – Religions. BBC, 17 Nov 2009. Web. 27 Apr 2013, from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/beliefs/fournobletruths_1.shtml.
Gethin, Rupert. “The Illustrated Life of the Buddha .” . Oxford University Press, 1998. Web. 27 Apr 2013, from: http://orias.berkeley.edu/visuals/buddha/Life.html.
White, Brian. “5 Minute Introduction.” A Basic Buddhism Guide. 1993. Web. 27 Apr 2013, from:  http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/5minbud.htm.

Rituals Defined

use-rituals-clean-bad-energy-800X800

Buddhism, like most religions, has specific customs, rituals, and traditions that make it unique. The Oxford Dictionaries define “ritual” as “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order […]” and further elaborates that “[…] the role of ritual in religion […]” refers to “[…] the prescribed order of performing a ceremony, especially one characteristic of a particular religion or church [or] a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone” (Oxford University Press, 2013). Ritualism, then, is defined as “the regular observance or practice of ritual, especially when excessive or without regard to its function” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013).  Other definitions include “a repetitive social practice, […] differentiated […and] extra-ordinary practices as opposed to ordinary daily activities, […] vital to the creation and renewal of cultural meanings and rules for social interaction, […and] as a culturally strategic way of acting,” among others (Shiva, 2012).

Photo by Huang Shi-shan; date: 2012/05/13; location: Jing Si Hall, New Jersey, USA

Photo by Huang Shi-shan; date: 2012/05/13; location: Jing Si Hall, New Jersey, USA

Buddhism has traditionally had many rituals throughout its long history. Annual rituals are few, but have included monasteries celebrating their date of founding, countries celebrating the date that Buddhism was first introduced to their land, Buddha Day (which is also referred to as Visakha Puja), observances linked to the Rain Retreat of the monsoon season, Chakri Day, the celebration of particular bodhisattvas, such as Kuan Yin, and their gifts, and All Souls’ Feast. However, it should also be noted that since there are so many sects of Buddhism worldwide, “[…and] because of the differences in the structure of belief among Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, and [even] among the different schools of Mahayana [itself], there is no one event or person who is understood in the same manner, and thus worshipped in the same manner. So although all forms of Buddhism celebrate the Buddha’s life, they do so at different times” (Flesher, 1996). That being said, monthly and daily rituals are more standardized throughout Buddhism.

Monthly rituals occur quarterly according to the lunar schedule, once with the new moon, one with the full moon, and twice with the days in the middle. The ritual itself is different for monks and lay people. While this is a traditional ritual in general terms, this “[…] practice of gathering on Moon days is particularly important for Theravada Buddhism” (Flesher, 1996).

Example of Buddhist altar.

Example of Buddhist altar.

Daily rituals are also fairly standardized throughout the religion and include a few main practices. “For the laity, daily worship usually takes place at a shrine in the home, [which] usually consists of an image of the Buddha and a vase for flowers [and the] ceremonies usually include puja (usually the offering of flowers), the lighting of candles, the recitation of the Three Refuges and the Five, and specific requests, such as a long life, a good rebirth, and so on. [...] For the monks, daily worship activities will vary from school to school [and] may include meditation, the saying of mantras, reading from sacred texts, and so on” (Flesher, 1996).

how-to-meditate-for-beginners-1Special attention should be given to meditation, which is a central teaching of Buddhism, both traditionally, as well as in the most modern teachings of Buddhism, including Western Buddhism in the United States. That being said, let us take a deeper look at this ancient practice that is sweeping through America today.

Works Cited

Flesher, Paul. “Buddhism: Time and Worship.” 1996. University of Wyoming: Religious Life. 1 May 2013 <http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/religionet/er/buddhism/BTIME.HTM&gt;.

Oxford Dictionaries. “Ritual.” 2013. Oxford Dictionaries: The World’s Most Trusted Dictionaries. 1 May 2013 <http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/ritual&gt;.

—. “Ritualism.” 2013. Oxford Dictionaries: The World’s Most Trusted Dictionaries. 1 May 2013 <http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/ritualism&gt;.

Shiva, Manouchehr. “Unit Four – Buddhism, Religious Ritual.” 8 October 2012. Anthropology of Religion. 1 May 2013 <http://anthreligion.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/unit-four-buddhism-and-pilgrimage/&gt;.

 

Meditation

Drawing of Siddhartha meditation

Drawing of Siddhartha meditation

Mediation is utilized as a way to find peace of mind, gain awareness, become conscious of one’s emotions and thoughts, and relieve stress. The commonly used and well-known word, Zen, is actually primarily based on meditation. The seventh step in “The Noble Eightfold Path,” which is a program, for lack of a better word, that Buddha created to help people become liberated from “[...] the impermanence and suffering of reality,” is dhyana, which translated into Japanese means Zen (Molloy, 2010). This step is all about “right meditation” and mediating in order “[...] to contemplate the nature of reality more deeply” (Molloy, 2010). Meditation is extremely important in Buddhism. It’s one of the main practices that Buddhists do in order to become more enlightened and gain spiritual freedom. In fact, it was through his constant practice of meditation that Siddhartha became Buddha.

One of the objectives of meditation is the unity of mind and body, which in Buddhism is known as duality, and there are many different types of Buddhist meditations. The first major type of meditation is samatha, which is known as tranquility meditation. The purpose of samatha meditation is to still the mind and gain control over one’s thoughts. Samatha meditation, also known as concentration meditation, is one of the more popular types of meditation in the United States. “Unlike some other forms of meditation, samatha involves focusing on a specific object for an extended period of time” (Hughes, 2012). This form of meditation is likely popular in the United States because people have so much stress from work, family, school, finances, other daily struggles, and “Samatha meditation is one way to develop a strong and dependable inner strength” (Hughes, 2012).

With this type of meditation, there are four major steps that one takes in order to accomplish the goal of samatha. The first step is “[...] detachment from the external world and a consciousness of joy and tranquility” (Oxford University Press Australia). The second step is concentration. One is supposed to stop analyzing and investigating. The third step is to remain tranquil but let the joy slip away. The last “[...] step is passing away of tranquility also, bringing about a state of pure self-possession and equanimity” (Oxford University Press Australia).

The second type of meditation is vipassana, which means insight meditation. Needless to say, insight meditation is all about realizing important thoughts. These important thoughts often pertain to some of Buddha’s central teachings, including that suffering is inevitable, the reality of impermanence, and the concept of “no-self.”  Insight meditation is highly centered on mindfulness, which will be discussed later in depth due to its prevalence in America. For now, vipassana meditation is often practiced through either walking mindfulness, sitting meditation, or applying mindfulness into every action in one’s day. Walking mindfulness is usually practiced by finding a quiet place to walk, relax, and just think. One is supposed to get lost in the act of walking and thinking. Sitting meditation is centered mainly on just sitting, relaxing, and focusing on one’s breathing.

The third type of meditation is metta bhavana, which is loving-kindness meditation. Loving-kindness is a virtue and one of the most important parts of Buddhism. It is through is through loving-kindness meditation that one develops this virtue. The purpose of loving-kindness meditation is “[…] to develop the mental habit of selfless or altruistic love. In the [Dhammapada, it says that] ‘Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness’” (BDEA, 1996) In short, metta bhavana is described as “Unconditional well-wishing for safety, happiness, good health and comfort of any living being or beings, including oneself” (Dhammarakkhita, 2001).

Metta bhavana meditation is usually practiced in three steps, which include specific pervasion, directional pervasion, and non-specific pervasion. Specific pervasion is focused on sending loving-kindness energy to specific people, including oneself, an admired person (such as a spiritual teacher), a beloved person (such as a family member), a neutral person (such as an acquaintance), and finally a hostile person (such as an enemy). One sends loving-kindness energy by visualization, reflection, and mantra. Then directional pervasion is sending loving-kindness energy to each geographical direction, including to the north, south, east, and west. Last, non-specific pervasion is about embodying loving-kindness and projecting that universal and unconditional love into one’s everyday actions and life (BDEA, 1996).

Along with Buddhism in general, meditation has become quite popular in the United States. The most common type of meditation practiced in the United States is insight mediation or vipassana, as previously described. Zen was “[...] popularized in the United States in the 1950′s and 60′s by Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki and poets of the Beat Generation” (Heckert, n.d.). This type of meditation can vary from sitting quietly doing nothing, to observing one’s thoughts come and go, to pondering a word puzzle. There are countless Zen centers in the United States and people attend different retreats at these Zen centers, in which they train and learn the art of meditation.

There are also hundreds of Tibetan centers in the United States today. Tantra and Dzogchen are the two types of Tibetan meditation that are most commonly practiced in America. Tantra focuses on unity of the mind and body in order to advance one’s spiritual awareness, which is often practiced and achieved through visualization and mantras. Dzogchen, on the other hand,  focuses on “[...] direct, non-conceptual perception of reality [and] draws on the rich repository of Tibetan techniques like visualizations and tantra, to help the student achieve this non-conceptual state of mind and then sustain it” (Heckert, n.d.).

Works Cited:
Anonymous. (January, 28th 2007). “Buddhist Meditation.” ReligionFacts. Retrieved April 24th from web http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/practices/meditation.htm

Heckert, L. (n.d.) “An Overview of Buddhist Meditation” Retrieved April. 25th from web http://www.philadelphiameditation.org/Buddhist_Meditation.html

Molloy, M. (2010). Experiencing the World’s Religions; Tradition, Challenge, and Change. Chapter 4 Buddhism. Retrieved from web http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/007340750x/information_center_view0/sample_chapter.html

Mindfulness Meditation

mindfulness1With “Buddhism [being] fundamentally about helping us to stay awake, [it] reminds us that our day-to-day thoughts, words and actions are not simply animations that spill out of us with little consequence, but rather represent the means by which we place our signature on our lives, and enable that signature to enhance love, goodness and care throughout the world” (Wapner, 2010). Therefore, smṛti (mindfulness) meditation, which is based on acute awareness, is not only a ritual, but ideally becomes a daily practice of the traditional Buddhist ritual of meditation in which one can remain in a state of meditation throughout the entire day through both formal and informal practices. It is a core foundation within all sects of Buddhism, as Buddha considered mindfulness to be an essential component of being able to reach enlightenment. In fact, it’s the first element of sapta bodhyanga, also known as the Seven mindfulness-means-paying-attention-inFactors of Enlightenment, as well as the seventh element of āryāṣṭāṅgamārga, which is known in the western world as the Noble Eightfold Path, two of the most basic and central teachings within the religion (Burke, 2012). Mindfulness meditation is seen as the balancing factor between what is commonly referred to as “Five Hindrances,” which include kāmacchanda (sensory desire), vyāpāda (ill-will), thīna-middha (sloth and torpor), uddhacca-kukkucca (restlessness and worry), and vicikicchā (doubt) and the seven factors of enlightenment (Ruhe, Sona, & Bodhi, 2010; Ruhe 2012). Buddha said that mindfulness was “[the one and only way…] for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the extinguishing of suffering and grief, for walking on the path of truth, for the realization of nibbāna, [also known as nirvana in the west,]” which is total enlightenment (Goenka, 1996).

Photo Credit Boxhall, Barbara. "Scientific Research." 2013. Daily Mindfulness. 28 May 2013 .

Photo Credit Boxhall, Barbara. “Scientific Research.” 2013. Daily Mindfulness. 28 May 2013 <http://www.dailymindfulness.com/scientific-research&gt;.

While mindfulness is an old tradition, it’s now making a splash in the west, especially here in the United States. “[This movement] movement has seeped into Silicon Valley, Capitol Hill, […] the United States Military Academy at West Point, […to] calm hyperactive kids, ease the pain of drug addicts, […] tame the egos of Fortune 500 CEOs, [to treat pain, and is even being used by mental health professionals to treat a myriad of psychiatric disorders, even some of the most severe and difficult to treat illnesses]” (Burke, 2012). In fact, the leading treatment for borderline personality disorder (BPD), which is considered by clinicians to be probably “the” most difficult disorder to treat, is dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which is founded on teaching such clients mindfulness skills (Linehan, 1995). In other words, the ancient ritual of mindfulness meditation “[…] practices are maturing in our country and entering the mainstream […]” (Burke, 2012).

lotus_sitting_posturesAs briefly mentioned earlier, there are two ways to perform mindfulness meditations. Formal meditations can be done while sitting in the traditional meditation asana, or pose, called lotus, or even while laying supine, kneeling, or standing. These may be individual meditations or guided meditations, such as those offered by licensed therapist, author, and mindfulness expert Dr. Ronald Siegel through his website called The Mindfulness Solution. The other form of mindfulness meditation is referred to as “informal” and can be done throughout the entire day even while one is engaged in other activities, which is explained quite well in Siegel’s book (Siegel, 2009). These types of mindfulness meditation might include things like focusing all of one’s awareness to the feeling of their feet hitting the ground as they are walking, taking in the scenery in great detail, focusing on the cold air hitting their face, focusing on all of the sensations from texture, taste, to temperature of one’s food when eating, or on each circle of every scrub while washing the dishes. Essentially, one becomes very focused on the present moment, acutely aware of everything in that moment, and remains more of an observer of all that is happening, rather than getting caught up emotionally in the happenings of the world and becoming reactive or, equally bad, operating on autopilot. Therefore, multitasking is definitely discouraged in mindfulness meditation. What researchers have found is that this one ritualized practice reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and judgment, and increases brain function, health, happiness, empathy, and overall wellbeing. With all of these effects that it has on a person, it’s easy to see why Buddha credited mindfulness as the only path to nirvana.

Works Cited

Burke, Daniel. “Buddhist Voters Aim To Bring Mindfulness To The Ballot Box .” Huffington Post 6 November 2012. Web. 24 April 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/06/buddhist-voters-bring-mindfulness-to-ballot-box_n_2079801.html&gt;.

Goenka, S.N. Mahasatipatthana Sutta: The Great Discourse on the Establishing of Awareness (English translation). Seattle: Vipassana Research Institute, 1996. Print.

Linehan, Marsha M., University of Washington. Treating Borderline Personality Disorder: The Dialectical Approach. New York: Guilford Publishers, 1995. Print.

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