Which Came First?

Buddhism: Which came first?
Advent 9

Why? I really enjoy your comments and questions but this one caught my attention. Fortunately, the initial question was followed by an explanation: Advent is a time of preparation so why are you discussing all these different ancient religions? How can they possibly help me prepare for the Christmas season which follows?

It is an excellent question! For those who follow a Christian church calendar, which is how I elected to organize my entries, this is indeed the Advent season and it is indeed a time of preparation for the Christmas that is to come. What the Christmas season really means we will discuss in approximately fifteen days. Why study these religions at all we will discuss in sixteen days. Simply put, though can such discussions really help us prepare for ….life?

Which came first – the chicken or the egg? It is an age-old question which is debated by many. Philosophers view the question as to discussing the origin of life and the universe. Theologians see the question as a challenge to creation stories. Evolutionists theorize that a bird of some nature mated with a different type of bird and a chicken was batched from an egg and that chicken mated with another bird and eventually enough chickens existed to mate together so the question must be redefined as to what type of egg, etc. A character in one of the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling answers the question thusly: “A circle has no beginning.”

There is a similar question. Which came first – religion or government? Both are a way of organizing how people act or behave. Still another question arises.

Which came first – morals or religion? Many would claim that religion provides a sense of morality and its rules and scriptures or holy writings define what is acceptable as moral code for followers. You might also ask if there is a difference between faith and religion, faith and spirituality, or religion and spirituality. It is all about perception and where you are in the circle.

Buddhism is more a way of answering some of the above questions than it is an organized religion. Many religions teach that faith is sufficient for salvation; indeed, many feel it is the way of eternal salvation for those engaged in the transitory process we call life. Faith is the psychological motivation based upon beliefs that motivates someone to follow a particular set of beliefs. Those beliefs are a set of doctrines which are not able to be proven in a court of law but which are accepted emotionally. That emotional acceptance leads to a sense of serenity, joy, and confidence in decision-making. The mental acceptance is based upon the physical well-being that results from the emotional comfort one has with one’s acceptance of the doctrines of belief. This mental comfort provides a sense of patience and trust. As Nagarjuna once explained: “One associates with the Dharma [Spirit] out of faith, but one knows truly out of understanding. Understanding is the chief of the two but faith proceeds.”

Siddhārtha Gautama is the person who lived sometime between 563 and 400 BCE that many refer to when speaking of Buddha. However, the name is simply a term meaning “Enlightened One” and he himself said he was not the first, nor would he be the last. Buddhism does not define one specific creator but believes that the actions of all create the universe and keep creating it. The modern world calls this karma. Buddhism speaks of the cycles of life, birth and death, and the followers of Buddhism believe people are reborn through a series of cycles which serve as lessons.

For the Buddhist, good deed and bad actions produce “seeds” in the mind. Either in the current life or a successive life, these seeds will blossom or bear fruit. One is reborn so that a person can avoid the “unwholesome” actions and strive to develop positive actions or, as the Sanskrit calls its, “ethical conduct”. In Buddhism what one thinks is as important and develops consequences as much as what one does or says.

Buddhism has “Four Noble Truths” about suffering or “dukkha”. They are the truth about the suffering, the origin of the suffering, truth about stopping the suffering, and what paths led to the suffering. That last truth has eight parts, all of which exist to eliminate the suffering or anxiety one has in this lifetime. Called the Noble Eightfold Path, these eight factors are divided into three main sections: Wisdom – Right View (or Right Understanding), Right Intention (or Right Thought); Ethical Conduct – Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood; Concentration – Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

Gautama combined yoga with meditation in striving to develop a better human being and what would later be called the Four Immeasurables. They are used in meditation so that the follower might cultivate a better and wise attitude towards all living beings. They include (1)May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes; (2) May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes; (3) May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering; (4) May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

Indigenous religions are those which are begun in the land where they are practiced. They are the beliefs of the people in a particular area. As areas evolve and the population grows, they change and thus, so do these indigenous faiths. Buddhism is no different. Today there are different sects. Some discourage disciplinary study while others insist upon it. Some things however remain constant, such as the saying of Gautama Buddha himself. “The number of those endowed with human life is as small as the amount of earth one can place on a fingernail. Life as a human being is hard to sustain–as hard as it is for the dew to remain on the grass. But it is better to live a single day with honor than to live to 120 and die in disgrace.”

My purpose in the brief presentations of these belief systems is to acquaint us all with them so that in the coming times we might be prepared and educated for a heightened sense of respect for them. The importance question is not perhaps which came first but what do we do last?

I will quote Buddha in my closing. “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”

Stuffed Peppers

Depending on which school of Buddhism one follows, the diet is primarily vegetarian. That said, it can become a bit complicated. Basically, Buddhism disavows the killing or painful agony of any living thing and that includes those food items which are to be consumed. Some sects do not eat root vegetables which would include potatoes, garlic, etc. Others consider eggs a meat. This meal provides complete proteins and is tasty. I will leave the seasonings up to you!

2 Tblsp cooking oil
2 cups frozen miropoix (onions, celery, carrots)
Two washed, cleaned (deseeded), halved, and parboiled bell peppers (any color)
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup frozen black eye peas
½ cup diced tomatoes
½ cup frozen chopped spinach

Heat oil over medium heat and then add the miropoix. Cook about eight minutes or until the onions are translucent and the celery and carrots are tender. Add the black eye peas, tomatoes, and spinach. Reduce the temperature to a low heat and simmer for ten minutes. Spoon into the peppers and bake at 350-degrees Fahrenheit for twenty minutes. Any left-over vegetable/rice mixture can be added to two cups of vegetable broth for a vegetarian soup or, if meat is not a problem for you, added to chicken broth and a diced chicken breast for a chicken vegetable soup. Left-over frozen vegetables can be put in sealable plastic bags or containers and placed back in the freezer for another day, making this a really economical meal for two.

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