CONTENTS: (transcribed from a presentation at the Unitarian Fellowship of Houston, Texas)
Hello, my name is Emily Nghiem, and I would like to thank all of you, especially William and Jill for bringing me here today and helping me to prepare my materials. I would like to dedicate today's presentation on "Zen Christianity" to my youngest brother Arthur, who has struggled as I have to reconcile our personal differences with our mother. It seems that we differ not only in our understanding of Buddhism and Christianity, but on Constitutional standards on "free speech" as we continue to argue rather loudly about these things. So in honor of my mother and brother, before I start talkin' serious here, I'd like to open up with a silly ol' song I wrote about the turrible sufferin' experienced by parents of enlightened children and children of unenlightened parents. It's called "Mama's Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up To Be Buddhas", and I'm going to sing it in Texonics, so you'll hafta listen carefully, but please don't laugh cuz I only have 25 minutes. So here goes:
Mamas Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up To Be Buddhas
(to add some accump'ment, click rat here)
Mama's Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up To Be Buddhas Don't let 'em ask questions 'n' argue too much Raise 'em up Christian 'n' Muslim 'n' su-u-uch Mama's Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up To Be Buddhas They'll spend all their youth runnin' after the truth When no kinda proof is enuff Buddhists are impossible to lu-u-uv cuz they just won't let go They'll never admit they were wrong, they'll say "I didn't know" They won't make assumptions 'n' won't believe nothin' Unless you c'n prove it today An' if you don't understand 'em, you might as well shoot 'em Or the problem just won't go away Mama's Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up To Be Buddhas They'll take yer religion 'n' rip it apart Blowin' yer mind while they're breakin' yer he-e-eart Mama's Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up To Be Buddhas They'll give up their home and go out on their own Searchin' fer some other god [Searchin' fer somethang we can't ever know] Buddhas won't pay fer no college to limit their learnin' They gain all their knowledge by dreamin' all day 'n' all night Yew folks who know better don't bother 'n' those who do Waste all yer time tryin' to save 'em Those miser'ble creatures surrounded by preachers Who don't know their left from their right Mama's Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up To Be Buddhas Don't let 'em ask questions 'n' argue too much Make 'em be Coptic 'n' Catholic 'n' su-u-uch Mama's Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up To Be Buddhas They'll spend all their youth runnin' after the truth When no kinda proof is enuff [key change] Mama's Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up To Be Buddhas They'll ask fer more answers then you c'n dream up Pray that the Rapture will snatch 'em right up Mama's Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up To Be Buddhas They'll give up their home 'n' go out on their own Searchin' fer some other god They'll give up their home 'n' they'll roam 'n' they'll roam Searchin' fer some higher god. . . [Thank You]FOREWARNING
The higher god or higher truth that I found was a way of interpreting the basic core of Buddhist and Christian teachings to be consistent, or at least complementary, instead of contradictory. I felt that this approach of treating religions as different "languages" for the same laws might enable us to "translate" between them so as to topple a cultural "Tower of Babel" and to open up dialogue in order to establish one complete truth. I honestly believed that this would liberate all people and achieve the goals of all religions: Unitarian Universalists in the free and responsible search for truth and meaning; Christians in preparing for the Kingdom of God; and Buddhists in ending all suffering and reaching perfection. Instead of bringing peace, however, I succeeded mainly in disturbing the peace, upsetting others who are not quite ready to hear that these major Eastern and Western religions might be two folds of the same flock, destined to join together in the coming fulfillment of their teachings. In fact, I found that my views created so much angst, I thought that if I ever published a book on my religion, it should be marketed as a sequel to MERE CHRISTIANITY entitled MERE INSANITY. So in order to prevent human pain and suffering, I ask that you do not adopt the views that I am about to present. You will merely cause extreme grief to yourself and everyone around you, so I repeat, please do not try this at home. I only want you to know that such a religion exists so that you will recognize it when you run across it again, and will know to pray for that poor soul and encourage that person to convert to some other faith instead of trying to change the world.
On the Two Great Commandments
The first thing I would like to show you is how to focus on the "spirit of the laws" in Buddhism and Christianity to avoid unnecessary division over the "letter of the law", [which, of course, can lead to endless arguments if you get caught up emotionally in details]. [Regarding Christianity] When Jesus was asked what were the most important commandments, he answered: (1) to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and (2) to love your neighbor as yourself; and said that ALL the laws and the prophets hang on these commandments. In other words, all of God's laws, or the universal laws of creation, stem from these two basic laws. In Buddhism, the equivalents of the two great commandments are the two main principles or promises on which all Buddha's teachings were based: (1) to develop perfect WISDOM or understanding, and to develop perfect COMPASSION. The parallels and differences I would like to point out here are that seeking wisdom is ONE way of loving God, and that loving one's neighbor as oneself is ONE way of perfecting one's compassion. If you are looking to reconcile these two belief systems, you can strengthen the connection here -- between loving God and seeking wisdom -- by looking in the Bible to check that the references to God as "wisdom" really do outnumber those to God as "the Father" by a ratio of 10:1. But if you want to make life easy and keep these religions separate, you may cling to the perception that Christians worship a personal God while Buddhists worship the creation. You can even argue that perfecting one's compassion means respect for ALL things and not just "loving your neighbor", unless, of course, you include loving environmentalists as your neighbor, in which case they WILL recruit you into all kinds of causes to save every living thing on the planet and everything else under the sun.
On the Holy Trinity
The second thing I'd like to discuss is this whole mysterious business about the Holy Trinity. To me, this is as simple as understanding that each individual human being consists of a spiritual element and a physical body, and a psychological level of the conscience joining the two, so that collectively, any institution or social system that we devise to organize people, to describe human nature [and relations], or to govern human behavior reflects a collective trinity, usually in symbolic form.
In terms of religion, modern Christianity is associated with a Holy Trinity of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Again if you want to keep Christianity patriarchal, you can cling to the idea of all three faces of God as being male and safely beyond human comprehension. However, if you want to cause trouble, you can strive to be more culturally inclusive and "politically correct" by associating the Holy Spirit with the female side of God's spirit and linking it somehow with the spirit of the Mother Church, or Mother Nature, or Mother Earth. This is not a far stretch from Biblical references to the church or the people as being the bride of Christ; and Christ as the husband or bride-groom representing the laws that we adopt by conscience. Any such unifying social contract can be symbolized collectively as a marriage between the people [or church] as the bride and the law [or government] as the husband, who serves as protector. Next, from there you can make the quantum leap to believing in universal laws forming a global union between heaven and earth, or God and all humanity, or the spiritual and the physical worlds collectively. If you interpret "Jesus" to mean the spirit of "divine justice", or the Word or Laws of God incarnated in humanity, this idea would seem compatible with the idea of the Kingdom of God coming to the people on earth. So that's the Holy Trinity.
Secondly, to tie the trinity with Buddhism, you may simply point out Buddha's definition of what it takes to become a Buddhist: to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha -- or the Buddha, the Law, and the Order -- known as the three refuges or the three gems. Instead of imagining that "Buddha" is some happy bald guy with a big belly worshipped by Buddhists, remember that "'Buddha" comes from the word meaning "perfection", so that again, seeking perfect wisdom and perfect compassion is the same as seeking divine understanding or God within one's own conscience. Even Buddha, when asked who he was, answered "One who knows" which can easily be translated as "One who knows God" to make it compatible with the Christian trinity. Next, you may interpret the Dharma or the Law not so much as Buddha's teachings, but as universal laws in general, so that Jesus or Divine Justice fulfills these laws regardless of how they are expressed. As pointed out before, parallels can be drawn between the two basic laws in Buddhism and Christianity if we forgive cultural differences. And finally, you may interpret the Sangha or the Order as being the whole church community. So again, we have the physical level of the people on earth or the world community, the divine or spiritual level, and the level of conscience by which we follow the laws, joining the two in perfect harmony. [Hold up HPD seal] Now if you want to get really wild, you can point out the Buddhist/Christian values proclaimed on the Houston Police Department logo, which reads at the top "ORDER through LAW", or the Sangha and the Dharma; and "JUSTICE with MERCY" along the bottom, which are often associated with praying to Jesus and Mary, respectively, unless you really do get arrested by the cops, in which case you may find yourself praying to a judge instead.
In relation to Unitarian Universalism
For those of you who are not interested in following either Buddhism, Christianity, or the Houston Police, I would like to offer you other ways of expressing these same spiritual values using the Unitarian Universalist creed and the First Amendment, which is guaranteed to get you arrested so, once again, please ignore that part. But do use this interpretation of the UU creed if it helps to reconcile your congregation with [traditional] Christian denominations. [Show three consecutive values in 7 UU principles] First equate the "free and responsible search for TRUTH and meaning" with seeking God, since seeking the truth includes understanding the nature of God in order to love God. Next consider "the right of CONSCIENCE and the use of the democratic process" as taking the laws to [heart or by] conscience, or accepting equal personal responsibility for the laws, thus carrying the spirit of Jesus or Justice in our hearts. Last, associate "the goal of WORLD COMMUNITY" with the Holy Spirit of the unified church. So again we have a spiritual level of divine wisdom or truth [or love], the physical level of the world community, and the psychological level of conscience joining the two levels; while the other parts of the creed serve to define these in more detail. The point of the trinity is not to divide, but to help us to recognize these three basic levels as universal so that all people may be unified as one in spirit, despite cultural variations on how our various laws or creeds are expressed.
In relation to Constitutional Law
Now I shall present the most ill-advised application of my religious views: how to interpret the First Amendment to claim equal rights to exercise all three powers of government. Please do not adopt this viewpoint unless you want to be blacklisted as being "anti-government" and be forced to live among the anarchists, who won't accept you either if you apply any part of the laws, even your precious U.S. Constitution. I know, because I've tried to defend anarchy using the First Amendment, which merely caused great confusion. What I did was decide to try interpreting "free exercise [of religion]" as free will in general, and to check this freedom by interpreting "the right. . . peaceably to assemble" as including the "right to peace" or to "peaceful coexistence" so that no one could abuse one's freedom or free will to the point of causing a breach of the peace without violating the same law. I thought that this broader interpretation might be culturally more inclusive and more fair to followers of political views who reject state authority, while still allowing for peaceful coexistence. However, I ran into opposition against interpreting "religious freedom" as applying to anything but traditional religious practices, which I felt was unfair to those like me with nontraditional beliefs, including the belief that (1) the Constitution itself, in establishing a system of authority, becomes religious in nature and that (2) one cannot even define what does or does not count as "religious free exercise" without imposing a religious bias, thus violating the establishment clause in the First Amendment itself. Worse, my standard on what constitutes "free speech" puts me at odds with the entire justice system, which I perceive as imposing restrictions not only on the freedom of speech, but on the right to petition, and even on religious freedom, since I have found that defining and administering "justice" is inherently a religious matter, so that the only way to guarantee equal rights and religious freedom is to mediate each case until a consensus is reached that all parties [agree, or] "believe" to be fair. This, I have been told, is impossible in the current court system, thus the conflict. [Hold up poster of the First Amendment.] The solution I offer is to treat people both inside and outside governmental positions as equal human beings with equal judicial, legislative, and executive power as follows:
I equate the first clause regarding "an establishment of religion" and "the free exercise thereof" with equal EXECUTIVE power (and JUDICIAL power to interpret law, which again, I consider an aspect of religious freedom); the second clause on "freedom of speech, or of the press" as equal JUDICIAL and LEGISLATIVE power to express these opinions or to share information so as to form verbal and written contracts, which again can only be applied to those who consent so as not to violate the first clause; and the third clause on "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" as equal CONGRESSIONAL power, which combines EXECUTIVE power in terms of freedom of association and LEGISLATIVE power in terms of changing a contract by consensus. I believe that this interpretation is consistent with the spirit of the law in that there are three powers of government which are interrelated so as to check each other. The main difference here is that I interpret "people" and "Government" not as separate, but as one body of people with EQUAL responsibility for petitioning each other directly to resolve grievances and to form social contracts, instead of dividing them into two groups with unequal access to power and thus unequal voice in shaping public policy. And THAT is what gets me into so much trouble. I believe that establishing "equal justice under the law", the motto of the U.S. Supreme Court; the "inherent worth and dignity of every person" and "justice, equity, and compassion in human relations" as included in the UU creed; and loving others equally as ourselves as called for in Christianity all depend on treating people as equals in every respect, including governmental authority and political power. I hope to encourage all UU congregations to work together to perfect the democratic process, and would like to give special thanks to two member of the UU community who have been particularly helpful to me in this endeavor: one is William Ware, whom I thank again for inviting not only me, but my friends with Allen Parkway Village who have been denied the free speech necessary to petition their case properly; and the other is Dr. Tom Wayburn with whom I first started debating my Constitutional arguments, and who blessed me with a vocabulary word to define my beliefs so that I would no longer be mislabelled an "anarchist". He told me that what I was seeking was "ISOCRACY", or a system of government in which everybody has equal political power. So in closing, I would like to share with you a poem I wrote to inspire others in the peace and justice community to help make room for "isocracy" through Constitutional literacy education, and make it safe to practice through intensive mediation training. This poem is called "The Last Commandment", and it's a modern American retake on the cause of the Trojan War, where instead of Paris choosing between the three goddesses, we now have the Judgment of Perez, who is facing a political power struggle:
Perez, a young shepherd boy, stood by his sheep, Playing his harp for his favorite Bo-Peep, When down from the heavens, three goddesses came: Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera by name, To settle a conflict of major discord In the [last Anno Domini] year of our Lord. Each of the goddesses wanted to claim A prized golden apple of envious fame That Eris had left in the gods' banquet hall Inscribed with the words "Peace and Justice for All" Not to bring peace, but divide by the sword In the [last Anno Domini] year of our Lord. When Zeus was asked "Who is most righteous of all? Who merits this apple if you made the call: The goddess of wisdom? The goddess of love? Or the queen of all gods only you reign above?" Said Zeus "A great lawsuit I cannot afford; I submit jurisdiction to Jesus our Lord." He prayed 'til the answer was sent from above: "Seek a young lad tending sheep in the grove. Let each one petition, the apple to claim, The truth shall be known if you ask in my name. Perez will speak honestly, you have my word. This is a message from Jesus your Lord." Taking instruction from Jesus their Lord, Zeus called on Perez to establish God's Word. The goddesses found the young man half asleep, As commonly caused by the counting of sheep. The three with petitions for him to address Assembled applying their free speech and press: First spoke Athena: "I give you free speech. Choose me and divinity lies in your reach. If judicial power is that which you seek, Pick me and the unabridged freedom to speak Of wisdom and truth, to interpret the Word And the Laws of the land in the name of the Lord." Aphrodite, in writing, said: "Choose a free press To educate people the state would oppress, Fair laws to record and great poems express, Your favorite maiden to woo and impress! All this is yours for the asking, my lord, Without written knowledge, you'll die by the sword." Said Hera: "I'll make you a free human being With equal executive rights as a king! The free exercise of religion you'll need To rule not by force but example and deed. True freedom of choice is a gift from the Lord, Choose me and the power to act on his Word." The goddesses, certain their cases were heard, Submitted in silence to wait on God's Word. The boy stared at them and the apple of gold "No comprendo" he told them "Habla Espanol?" The goddesses stormed back to Zeus in a fury: "How dare you send us to a non-English jury!" To which the great King of Olympus replied: "How dare you bribe judges to favor one side! Go back to the hill where your shepherd awaits, And ask Little Bo-Peep to co-mediate." The trio marched back to the couple and asked Ms. Bo-Peep for help, who accepted the task: "I've heard your petitions, I honor your pleas. You're equally vital for justice and peace! Alone your three powers can only oppress, But together, all grievances may be redressed." Suddenly down from the clouds came the Lord Who applauded the five for receiving his Word: "Free speech and free press, and the right to petition, Peaceful assembly, free choice of religion, I see you have gathered and answered my call, Now go spread the message of freedom to all." Perez took the apple and cut it in parts, Giving each goddess a piece of his heart, Saving the seeds for himself and Bo-Peep To grow golden apples to feed all his sheep. Thank you Emily Nghiem P.O. Box 981101 Houston TX 77098 (713)867-5998 [firstname.lastname@example.org]