Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Discuss the Five Great Relationships. Do they play a role in modern society? If so, how? If not, why not?

 Central to Confucius' teaching are relationships and social roles. There are five great relationships:
1.     Father/ Son:  Kindness in the father and obedient devotion in the son
2.     Elder Brother/ Younger Brother:  Gentility in the eldest brother and humility and respect in the younger
3.     Husband/ Wife:  Righteous behavior in the husband and obedience in the wife
4.     Elder/ Younger:  Humane consideration in elders and deference in juniors
5.     Ruler/ Subject:  Benevolence in rulers and loyalty of ministers and subjects
Relationships.  Confucius believed that human relationships were the core of the identity to the person.  In this he was partially right.  People are their relationships in many ways.  Even in this very individualistic society, no one is without relationships defining who they are.  Guidelines in how to behave in these relationships is not a bad thing.  Unfortunately, when you elevate one person in a relationship above the other, you lose the honest give and take that differentiates personal relationships from professional ones.  The guidelines given by Confucius were quite typical of the times that he lived.  If the guidelines are updated to be more observant of the equality of each and every person then they should continue to be used.  Of course, the professional relationship will always exist in a hierarchal style.   

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Discuss the concept of karma and reincarnation.

One of the purposes of all religions is to explain the unexplainable.  The most basic question that a human asks in their lifetime is what happens after death.  It is the one inescapable fact of life; you will die.  From the very moment you are born, you are on your way to a fate that is yours alone.  The one thing that no one can do for you or even tell you what really happens.  It can be terrifying to a person who has no security in their belief of what happens when they cease to have a physical existence.  Religions have struggled to answer this question since the beginning of time.  Many various religions have definitive doctrines on their views of reincarnation; others support the idea of reincarnation but do not have clearly stated views.

Another aspect of all religions is guiding people to behave and think in a certain way.  The idea of Karma can be a powerful tool in making people think before they act.  If they believe, like many pagan religions, in the law of threefold return, it will make a person take a pause before doing something that will cause harm to another for the simple fact that they do not want to face the return.    The idea of how karma returns to you is varied.  It could be in this lifetime or the next, today or next week, one never knows when the karma debt will come due or when karma will pay off.  Another view of karma suggests that it is like smut that gathers on your “soul”.  Ones deeds and behaviors are always changing their karma by adding smut from bad karma and adding clarity by clearing it.

The beliefs regarding these two intertwined philosophies are as varied as there are religions and branches of those religions.  Scientifically, neither of these can be proved or disproved.  There are cases of past life regression that claims to have proven reincarnation but because hypnosis is not considered a reliable scientific method, it remains classified as unproven.    

The only aspect of either of them that can be proven is the existence of energy.  Death is loosely defined as when the electrical impulses stop; the electrical impulses that cause the brain to function are energy.   Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only change form or be converted into another form.  This is the Law of Thermodynamics. So if all the energy in the world existed since the beginning of time and none can be destroyed or created, it would make logical sense for some to conclude that reincarnation is a given fact.  It could be surmised that each person’s electrical impulses or energy has been here since the beginning of time.  The next logical step would be that the energy that makes part of a person’s soul would make a circuitous route through many lives, otherwise the sheer number of souls in heaven, hell, earthbound, or some other realm of existence would be nearly incalculable.  Before asking if a soul can come back, perhaps a better question would be, where does the energy that becomes part of your soul come from?   What makes your soul a unique type of energy container and can it hold its form without the physical body to keep it captive?  Does it change to another type of energy when it leaves our body?  If it can and does, then who knows where that energy might end up.  If it cannot change into another type of energy then where does this “soul energy” go?  What makes the soul energy different from any other kind of energy?  Energy just simply IS.  It is a property of a system rather than an object in and of itself.  Therefore, it either must be part of something i.e. the soul or it dissipates to be used elsewhere. 

All in all, there are as many theories as to what happens after death as there are people, but that is all they will be, are theories.  No one knows,  nor is anyone likely to know until their own fateful day, at which time, they can’t tell anyone the secrets that lie on the other side.  At that time any knowledge we seem to gain, certainly does not return with us if reincarnation does exist.  If karma is a fact then it seems to balance things out quite nicely here on Earth most of the time.  It would certainly go much further towards explaining all the suffering in the world than any other explanation that I have yet to hear.  Unfortunately, even karma and reincarnation cannot fully explain that one.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Discuss the Buddhist concept of Nirvana.

I really struggled to get a flow going on this one.  It still needs work, but time is not on my side. :-)


Nirvana.  What do you think of when you hear the word?  Besides being the name of an extremely popular band, Nirvana is a concept in both the Buddhist religion and Hinduism.   The overall concept agrees that Nirvana and enlightenment are so closely linked that many incorrectly use the word interchangeably.   
According to , Hinduism defines Nirvana as  “Emancipation from ignorance and the extinction of all attachment”.  Buddhism defines it as “The ineffable ultimate in which one has attained disinterested wisdom and compassion”.  Of course, that is a very simplified definition but it serves as a start.  Buddhism was born from Hinduism so it is not surprising that they share similar beliefs and values.

In Buddhism, there seems to be some disagreement as to what Nirvana really is or how it can be reached.  The schools of thought differ mainly on when Nirvana can be reached.    According to the Theravada Buddhism Nirvana is an letting go of the defilement's of the mind.  It is when you are released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth.  Mahayana Buddhism believes that Nirvana extinguishes the duality and merging with Nirvana into an “absolute existence”.

Whichever school of thought, its followers believe the path to enlightenment comes through living the Eight Aspects of Enlightenment.  They are also known as the guide to Buddhist practice.  The Aspects or Awareness’s come from the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which records the final teachings of The Buddha before his death.   It is said that to fully realize the Awareness’s is to reach Nirvana.   The eight Awareness’s build on each other and they support each other.

Although they aren't numbered in reality, you have to start somewhere with a list so we will start with “Freedom from Desire”.   It comes from one of the four Nobel truths.  The cause of suffering is thirst or craving.  It is believed that this comes from a thirst that grows from ignorance of one’s self.  We feel small in comparison to the universe so we go through life trying to grab something that will make us feel secure.  Realizing “freedom from desire” leads to and supports “satisfaction”.

“Satisfaction” comes directly from the release of desires.  We are dissatisfied because we want things that we think we need or want.  Releasing the desires leads to satisfaction, which in turn leads to “Serenity”.
“Serenity” comes naturally from the other Awareness’s and true serenity cannot be created.  It just happens when we realize the “uncreated”. “ …To realize the uncreated is to realize that which has no beginning or end”.  Realizing the uncreated takes “meticulous effort” which is another of the eight awareness’s.

“Meticulous Effort” sometimes translated correctly as “diligence”.   This “Meticulous Effort” relates to the “right Effort” of the Eightfold Path. 

“Correct Remembrance”  also called “right mindfulness” also relates to the Eightfold Path.  It refers to ‘remembering’ where we are,  what we are doing, and who we are with.  In other words, being in the moment and being aware of where you are.

“Samadhi” which is translated as “concentration” develops from mindfulness.  It is a special type of concentration that comes in a state of deep meditation.  As Samadhi comes from mindfulness, “wisdom” develops from Samadhi. 

“Wisdom” is a particular kind of wisdom that is experienced rather than simply conceptualized.  It is the insight that casts away ignorance of the self.  This point is often thought of as “enlightened” but to reach Nirvana one must incorporate another of the Eightfold Path.  It is “Avoiding idle talk”.  Since Karma is not confined to mind and body but speech as well. 

In reaching enlightenment, some say you have reached Nirvana, but according to The Buddha, most must die to reach Nirvana.  The fact that he reached Nirvana while sitting under a Bodhi tree, served to show all who heard of his story, that he was a very spiritual man whose words  should be heeded.