Friday, July 29, 2011

The Buddhist Tradition and Interreligious Dialogue

The coressponding video can be viewed at:

7/29/2011 10:46 am (et) Moderator: logs in on 7/29/2011 10:46 am (et).
7/29/2011 10:48 am (et) Bill Aiken: logs in on 7/29/2011 10:48 am (et).
7/29/2011 10:48 am (et) Mary: private message to Moderator: logs in on 7/29/2011 10:48 am (et).
7/29/2011 10:52 am (et) Susan: private message to Moderator: logs in on 7/29/2011 10:52 am (et).
7/29/2011 10:52 am (et) Josie: private message to Moderator: logs in on 7/29/2011 10:52 am (et).
7/29/2011 10:54 am (et) Christa : private message to Moderator: logs in on 7/29/2011 10:54 am (et).
7/29/2011 10:54 am (et) medina: private message to Moderator: logs in on 7/29/2011 10:54 am (et).
7/29/2011 10:55 am (et) Hussong: private message to Moderator: logs in on 7/29/2011 10:55 am (et).
7/29/2011 10:56 am (et) clarkifc: private message to Moderator: logs in on 7/29/2011 10:56 am (et).
7/29/2011 10:59 am (et) Darrow: private message to Moderator: logs in on 7/29/2011 10:59 am (et).
7/29/2011 11:00 am (et) Moderator: Welcome! This is Rebecca from the InterFaith Conference (IFC) and I will be your moderator. As this is still new, let me explain how this will work. On the right, you will see a video playing of our current topic to get the conversation going. If you have a comment and/or question send it along to me, the moderator. As long as I deem it appropriate, the comment will be posted to everyone and the speaker will have the opportunity to answer your question.
7/29/2011 11:00 am (et) Laura S: private message to Moderator: logs in on 7/29/2011 11:00 am (et).
7/29/2011 11:00 am (et) Moderator: Today, our topic is ‘The Buddhist Tradition and Interreligious Dialogue.’ We will be featuring a reflection from Bill Aiken, Executive Director of Washington SGI Buddhist Culture Center and Chair of IFC’s Board. For more information on the Culture Center go to and for more information on the Buddhist tradition go to
7/29/2011 11:00 am (et) Moderator: As always, I would like to remind you of the rules of our engagement. This is a respectful place where we come together to learn more about the religions of the world. Whether you agree or disagree, we welcome your comments and questions that are posed in a respectful manner. Please no profane or offensive remarks, they will not be posted. Also, this is a place of learning, so please refrain from ‘soapboxing.’ If there are any issues or questions about this, they can be submitted along with the comments pertaining to our topic. I am here to make this a pleasant and educational experience for all, so enjoy and remember there are no stupid questions, just hostile ones!
7/29/2011 11:01 am (et) Moderator: You can now view the beginning comments on the right. As you listen, please feel free to start sending questions or comments (YES, we want your comments). Also, the video will remain within the sidebar, so feel free to return to it as you wish. Our chat window automatically refreshes to keep the flow going, but if you wish to view the whole of the conversation, just hit the archive button. And lastly, PLEASE do not use double quotes as it led to some issues.
7/29/2011 11:09 am (et) Moderator: Mary said: Would you say there is a difference between Buddhism in the US verses Buddhism in Asia? I know that in Asia (I guess most specifically China) its basically ingrained in the culture. whereas here its more of an outside presence. Do you think that has potentially affected Buddhism in America?
7/29/2011 11:10 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Why do you think that, of all eastern religions, Buddhism has the most appeal to a western audiance (more so than Hinduism, for instance)?
7/29/2011 11:11 am (et) Bill Aiken: I do think that the expression in the US is more "individual" and in the Asia more communal. This reflects the different outlook of each of these cultures.
7/29/2011 11:12 am (et) Moderator: Darrow said: You mentioned several forms of Buddhism. Could you tell us these forms and a short synopsis of each?
7/29/2011 11:13 am (et) Bill Aiken: The influenceof Hinduism is interesting. There may noot be many Americans becoming Hindu, but there are quite a few people practicing Yogo and meditation. So there is an influence that expresses itself differently.
7/29/2011 11:15 am (et) Bill Aiken: There are three major 'streams': Theravada, or 'teaching of the elders' which is the most traditional expression and is seen mostly throughout Sri Lanka and SE Asia. NExt there is the Mahayana or "great vehicle" which spread mainly throughout china, Korea, Vietnam and Japan. Mahana schools include Zen, Pure Land, Nichiren and Shingon.
7/29/2011 11:15 am (et)
Moderator: Laura S said: And how is it that many western Buddhists can and will continue to identify as BOTH Buddhist AND Christian or Jewish?
7/29/2011 11:15 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: You talk about developing the good human qualities, such as compassion, and that these are cultivated by different religions, but even in developing these qualities, the specifics of implementing them (which you also mention as important) differ, so how do you deal with that?
7/29/2011 11:16 am (et) Bill Aiken: The third major stream is 'Vajrayana' or Diamond Vehicle which is more esoteric in nature and is found mainly in Tibet.
7/29/2011 11:17 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Laura, that seems to be an interesting tie in with one of the last discussions on here. Can you be both or is the combination something different entirely
7/29/2011 11:17 am (et) Moderator: Hussong said: Buddhists can have a belief in a divine being or can be atheists, right? Does that ever cause strife within the various schools of thought?
7/29/2011 11:17 am (et) Bill Aiken: Regarding the identity issue, I believe there are many who are influenced or inslired by Buddhist philosophy or meditaiton, but do not change their religious affiliation. Why is a very good questino for a sociologist.
7/29/2011 11:18 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: And if there are such different views, what makes them cohesive as 'Buddhism'?
7/29/2011 11:19 am (et) Bill Aiken: At the risk of being simplistic, I believe that while the traditions may differ, if there is a common will to work together to address the suffering of humanity, then these differences can be a rich source to draw on. If we are not oriented in this positive way, the differences can be a source of great conflict.
7/29/2011 11:19 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Perhaps the duel identify is possible because Buddhism is not exclusive and does not require nor prohibit belief in God?
7/29/2011 11:20 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Thus it does not conflict so much as complement other faiths?
7/29/2011 11:21 am (et) Bill Aiken: There are also important differences among Buddhist schools and traditions. In the past there was a tradition of debate which at times became very heated. I think it is more important now to find ways to work together.
7/29/2011 11:21 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: But it seemed in our discussion of interfaith families there was a stumbling block over the fact that when two groups conflict one must be chosen and then you have fallen in with a specific camp...
7/29/2011 11:22 am (et) Bill Aiken: I think that up to a point, one can retain their tradition and Buddhism acan help to inform it, etc. But I also believe that at some point it makes sense to go deep into one tradition or the other.
7/29/2011 11:22 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: you are therefore one and not both
7/29/2011 11:22 am (et) Moderator: Christa said: Along these lines do you feel that, beacuse Buddhism can be a good suppliment to any religious practice, that it is particularly helpful to interreligious dialogue?
7/29/2011 11:23 am (et) Bill Aiken: I think interfaith families have their own issues and challenges. I was the producet of a PRotestant-Catholic mariage back when it was not so easy for may parents. They agreed to raise me Catholic. In the end I became Buddhist.
7/29/2011 11:24 am (et) Bill Aiken: Re Buddhism and interreligious dialogue, I believe that Buddhism can offer some good perspectives and practices. But so can some of the other traditions.
7/29/2011 11:24 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: I feel as if it must at least at the beginning because you can point to commonalities, but when the discussion gets past that, what is tehre?
7/29/2011 11:25 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: WHY did you choose Buddhism over the religions you were raised with?
7/29/2011 11:26 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: I liked in the video how you talked not only about what Buddhism can bring to Interfaith dialogue but also what you, as a Buddhist can gain from listening to others in dialogue
7/29/2011 11:26 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: I agree with Laura, I think all traditions could benefit from that stance
7/29/2011 11:26 am (et) Bill Aiken: I chose Buddhism because it looked for the the ulti,mate within the human heart. It was this equation between the macrocosmos of the universe and the inner microcosmos of the human that made sense to me. But mostly it was the impact of Buddhist practice that gave me a way to get to and cultivate my inner self,. I thought it was helping me to become a better, happier person.
7/29/2011 11:27 am (et) Bill Aiken: I think that listening is a vital and powerful practice.
7/29/2011 11:27 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Do you consider Buddhism a religion? a philosophy? a 'way of life'?
7/29/2011 11:28 am (et) Bill Aiken: There are differing views. We are socially and historically considered a religion and that is fine. It is a philosophy with a practice that requires devotion. I'm not sure if that makes it religion or not.
7/29/2011 11:29 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: What makes Buddhism Buddhism? I mean it seems that beliefs are all over the place...
7/29/2011 11:30 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Sorry I guess I just don't know much about it
7/29/2011 11:30 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Many westerners would have a hard time understanding Buddhism as a 'religion' due to it not having a god. How would you respond to this way of understanding what a 'religion' is?
7/29/2011 11:31 am (et) Bill Aiken: It is not a set of beliefs. It begins with one person;s awakening. His teaching and example are meant to lead us to our own awakening. The teaching are mainly to guide and support us in this way. THere are also expressions with more delineated moral codes, etc.
7/29/2011 11:31 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Hmmm, I guess I'm not so much stumbling over no god, but more of an issue is the cohesiveness...again the Catholic thing must be gettign in the way
7/29/2011 11:32 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Ok, so basically it is a way to help you discover yourself?
7/29/2011 11:32 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Susan: or to become a BETTER self
7/29/2011 11:33 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: a 'selfless' self
7/29/2011 11:33 am (et) Bill Aiken: It's true that we are not focused. It is instead a human-centered religion. That can sound narcissistic, but Buddhist practice is actually aiming to help us go beyond the smaller, 'lesser' self and fuse with the 'great self' of the cosmos. Toward this end we seek out and fuse with the dharma or Law.
7/29/2011 11:33 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Susan, beyond Catholic unity, Christianity is even more diverse (and sometimes internally divisive) than Buddhism
7/29/2011 11:34 am (et) Bill Aiken: The important thing is one's heart. For me BUddhist practice gave me a way t cultivate my inner heart and spirit.
7/29/2011 11:34 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Yea, I mean I am well aware of even the differences among Catholics, but at the same time we are all bound by a specific doctrine
7/29/2011 11:35 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Yea, I mean I am well aware of even the differences among Catholics, but at the same time we are all bound by a specific doctrine
7/29/2011 11:35 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: I can see where that helps in IRD, I mean I find my Catholicism does the same for me.
7/29/2011 11:35 am (et) Bill Aiken: Buddhists are bound together by their commitment to the three treasures (Buddha, Law and Community).
7/29/2011 11:36 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Can you explain Law in more depth?
7/29/2011 11:36 am (et) Moderator: Josie said: So say I share many of the Buddhist beliefs. At what point would I be considered 'Buddhist'?
7/29/2011 11:36 am (et) Moderator: Hussong said: And expounding further on law.. how would Buddhists in America look at issues of separation from church and state?
7/29/2011 11:38 am (et) Bill Aiken: The Law or Dharma can be thought of as the fundamental compassionate impulse and wisdom of life itself. All life, from them ost base to the most noble is an expression of this dharma. To be awaoken to this dharma is to fuse our lives with this fundamental law of life.
7/29/2011 11:39 am (et) Bill Aiken: BEcoming a Buddhist is usually a mtter of joining a community and practicing with a teacher.
7/29/2011 11:39 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Ok, not to get too philosophical, but what is dharma ontologically? It seems pretty amorphous to me and that description can honestly be applied to other vocabulary
7/29/2011 11:40 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: and then you discover and embody the law (dharma)
7/29/2011 11:40 am (et) Bill Aiken: As to separation of Church and State, there is a mixed tradition. I personally believe strngly that religion does best when it is not touched by the hand of the state. On the other hand, I believe that people of faith should by all meaens be engaged in the public square.
7/29/2011 11:41 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Bill: Is the answer to Susan's question found in the Four Noble Truths?
7/29/2011 11:41 am (et) Bill Aiken: Sorry, I do not have a better more succinct description of the dharma. It is here that volumes are written.
7/29/2011 11:42 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: I can see that happen, so people have a wide variety of interpretation of dharma?
7/29/2011 11:42 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Bill: isn't the essence of the Dharma found in the Four Noble Truths and Eight Fold Path?
7/29/2011 11:42 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Isn't that the minimum that all Buddhists recognize (beyond the Three Treasures)?
7/29/2011 11:43 am (et) Bill Aiken: I think the path to the dharma is indeed found there, i.e. in Buddhist practice.
7/29/2011 11:44 am (et) Bill Aiken: The eightfold path can be broken down into three area: precepts (ethics), meditation and wisdom.
7/29/2011 11:45 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Getting back to the topic of Buddhism and interreligious dialogue... I understand that it took some time for the IFC to accept the Buddhist community into dialogue as official members. Why was this? Was it because Buddhism does not necessarilly have God or a god as its focus?
7/29/2011 11:45 am (et) Bill Aiken: IT should be noted that to be Buddhist one must base their practice and beliefs on the Buddha's teachings and intent.
7/29/2011 11:46 am (et) Bill Aiken: But, yes how we understand this is where differences arise.
7/29/2011 11:46 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: intent=becoming enlightened, practice=the meditation and stuff like that
7/29/2011 11:46 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: As, to be Christian, one bases one's beliefs on the teachings of Christ?
7/29/2011 11:47 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: Or being Muslim is based on following the teachings that came through Muhammad and the model for behaivor he set
7/29/2011 11:48 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: and his teachings are the 4 noble truths and 8 fold path, correct?
7/29/2011 11:48 am (et) Bill Aiken: I'll leave it to others to descrivbe any issues about Buddhism not being God-centered. As far as I know this was not an issue. THere was a requirement that - given the diverse schools of Buddhism in the DC area (25 more or less) the IFC asked that we pull together an umbrella organization to represent the diverse traditions. This took some time. We did eventually form the Wash DC Buddhist network, rrepresenting nine of the schools in the area.
7/29/2011 11:49 am (et) Moderator: Hussong said: The Buddhist Network of Metropolitan Washington
7/29/2011 11:49 am (et) Bill Aiken: regarding intent, I would say, yes, attaining enlightenment, but also devoting oneself to removing the suffering of all living beings. THis is the Buddha's fundamental vow.
7/29/2011 11:50 am (et) Bill Aiken: YEs,
7/29/2011 11:50 am (et) Moderator: Darrow said: Bill, appreciated your video and found it helpful in gaining an overview of Buddhism. Gained some further insight from the questions. Not easy to work with bits and pieces like this. Thanks very much.
7/29/2011 11:51 am (et) Moderator: clarkifc said: Laura, The length of time it took for the Buddhist faith community to become a member of the IFC was related to the time it took to create the Washington Area Buddhist Network of both South Asian Buddhist congregations and convert Buddhist communities. We did not want just the convert community (often called 'blue eyed' Buddhists) to become a member knowing that the origins of the tradition were in South Asia.
7/29/2011 11:51 am (et) Bill Aiken: Thanks. It's also not easy for me to type very fast. Sorry for the typos.
7/29/2011 11:52 am (et) Moderator: Josie said: Bill, has the Buddhist faith taken any recent action to become more interfaith oriented?
7/29/2011 11:52 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: 'blue eyed Buddhsts' - never heard that expression before! I also understand that there is not much of a mixing of Asian and western Buddhists. True?
7/29/2011 11:53 am (et) Bill Aiken: I believe that here in DC there has been the effort of forming the Buddhist Network to become more involved with interfaith activities.
7/29/2011 11:55 am (et) Bill Aiken: Laura, I agree that there are some real gaps in perception and culture between Asian and Western Buddhists. IN the SGI we have both so it has been a great learning process for all!
7/29/2011 11:55 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: I am sorry to go back to beliefs, but I do feel that in this discussion trying to find where one can talk about difference in IRD is also important. So to clarify one must be oriented towards alleviating suffering and they do this through the different practice illuminated in the 4 noble truths and 8 fold path?
7/29/2011 11:56 am (et) Moderator: Laura S said: I also know that Ekoji Pure Land Buddhism (Fairfax) is a very culturally mixed group
7/29/2011 11:56 am (et) Bill Aiken: YEs, Susan, I think that this is a fair, but general statement. How each tradition embraces this is a bit different.
7/29/2011 11:57 am (et) Bill Aiken: YEs, Ekoji is mixed.
7/29/2011 11:57 am (et) Moderator: Ok everyone, we have to wrap up in couple of minutes, so if you have any further comments/questions, now is the time!
7/29/2011 11:58 am (et) Bill Aiken: WEll, I appreciate the chance to share these thoughts and I really appreciate your interest and great questions.
7/29/2011 11:58 am (et) Moderator: Susan said: Yes, this has given me a lot of food for thought. It is interesting to see the ways these beliefs interact with my own
7/29/2011 11:59 am (et) Moderator: Thank you for your participation today. If you would like to reach our speaker please contact me at Next week we will be discussing ‘When Religions Turn Violent.’
7/29/2011 11:59 am (et) Moderator: Also, this is a new effort on our part so we welcome your feedback! Any comments will be helpful. If you have any suggestion please feel free to email me at
7/29/2011 11:59 am (et) Bill Aiken: Thank you.
7/29/2011 11:59 am (et) Moderator: If you are interested in finding out more about our organization please feel free to browse our website: and sign up for our bi-monthly e-newsletter by emailing me, again the address is

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