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Sunday, April 25, 2010


Symbols of evil

In countries such as Thailand and Cambodia I observe that spirit beings are often a part of local belief systems. Often these beings are considered to be evil. These beliefs come from Animism that dominated these cultures before Buddhism was introduced. Unlike some religions, Buddhism doesn't usually attempt to replace existing religions but offers its teachings as further enrichment. Over the years the two have blended. It is not uncommon to find Buddhist monks refer to spirit beings. In fact, such beings have been adopted into Buddhist teachings.

In my early study of Buddhism I read several books by Trevor Ling whose interest was largely with the Theravada Buddhism of Burma. Recently I discovered a book of Ling's 'Buddhism and the mythology of evil' first published in 1962 which discusses the various mythological 'evil' creatures and compares them to Mara as a symbol of evil.

Ling points out that Buddhist teachers have embraced the existing folk beliefs rather than contradict them but have used the all-encompassing name of Mara. Instead of trying to teach that these beings do not exist (as I'm aware of Christian missionaries doing in Cambodia) the Buddhist teachers have used them as a way of describing that which is a distraction from ones path. The stories may describe horrible beings that do terrible things but this is intended as a metaphor for our own inability to concentrate on our path. Ling also sees the Christian concept of Satan in the same light.

The problem this raises in teaching religious paths in the modern world is that science has cast doubt on the existence of such beings. However the existence of distractions from ones path is very real. Ling suggests that perhaps the symbols of Satan and Mara have had their day but the reality which is symbolised by these mythological creatures is still relevant.

'If, because the symbol is outworn and irrelevant in a scientific age, it is discarded, then the reality to which it pointed has no longer any representation by means of which men may be constantly reminded of it. There is thus a need to find other effective ways of speaking of this reality which these symbols formerly represented.'

Buddhism and the mythology of evil
A study in Theravada Buddhism
Trevor Ling
first published George Allen & Unwin, 1962
republished 1997 by Oneworld Publications, Oxford

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010


My battle with God

I've had an interesting relationship with God ever since I decided he didn't exist back when I was eight years old. God shouldn't blame me for that. Certainly the responsibility must rest with the Methodist Sunday School I attended. They couldn't provide a realistic enough picture of the Almighty to convince this sceptical child. At that stage my atheism remained a secret between me and God. I couldn't trust anyone else with the information because if it ever got back to my mother she might have beat the Jesus out of me.

Probably at that stage of my life I didn't even know the word 'atheist' but I knew what I believed. When I did discover the word I decided it was the best one to describe me. That was until a few years later I discovered the word 'agnostic' and decided that to be an atheist was just as arrogant as being a theist. Both of them think they know the answer.

A little later in my life I discovered Buddhism and was pleased that it didn't come with a prerequisite of a belief in God. I also dabbled a little in the New Age and didn't object to the concept that God might be something that exists in all of us and binds us together (but perhaps not so well) rather than the anthropomorphic God created in man's image.

Perhaps my belief system has been a fluid one throughout my life. Recently, Gaye, who is about to become a Catholic, asked me to define my beliefs at this point in time. I stated that it depends on ones definition of 'God'. If God is the all-powerful being who created everything including man in seven days then I am an atheist. At this point I looked up into the sky and said, 'I'm sorry God, but you don't exist.' On the other hand, I explained, if God is something that exists in all of us, then I am an agnostic.

The day after this it was rainy on and off. Whenever it rained it would last about two minutes and then stop again for another hour or so. That afternoon I needed to go to the supermarket which is just over the road. When I left the house I looked up in the sky and noticed it was looking like rain once again. I decided it wasn't a problem considering the current pattern. I wouldn't have to wait more than two minutes for it to pass over. I clearly didn't need an umbrella. When I was leaving the supermarket the rain was really pissing down. It was too heavy for me to run through. I would have been soaked in no time and I already had a cold. So I sat down under shelter outside the supermarket. Occasionally it seemed to be slowing down and I would get up to see if it was worth making a run for it. Each time, as I got to the edge of the awning it would come down heavy once again.

It was obvious that God was playing a game with me. It was his gentle way of letting me know I was wrong. He was serious about it. In the end I did have to run back through the rain and got soaked through. But not too serious. Let's face it, if he was really serious he could have zapped me with a bolt of lightening or sent a bus to knock me down as I ran across the road. He obviously likes me because he didn't do either and I'm still here writing this blog. But I don't give in easily. When I reached the house I looked up into the sky, shook my fist and yelled, 'You still don't exist.'

Since then there have been a number of similar incidents. God is not being mean but he obviously wants to remind me that he is more powerful than me.

When I first got my car, I was parking it in the space right outside the house. But flowers would fall from the trees and stain the paint. So I started parking it in the parking lot where there are no flowering trees. This morning when I came out to my car I could see that God had been at it again. He had sent a big bird with diarrhea to fly over my car and caused it to let fly just as it was passing over my car's windscreen.

OK God, I acknowledge that you may be more powerful than me but I still don't believe you exist.


Thursday, April 15, 2010


My next holiday

The Australian government has decided that it will no longer process asylum-seeker applications from Afghanis and Sri Lankans. Australia's Department of Immigration has decided that it is now safe to send them back to their own countries.

What wonderful news I thought. These countries must now be safe for me to travel to. Just to be sure I decided to check the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website. Unfortunately DFAT does not seem to be aware of the improvement in the situation in these countries. Their site's recommendation (as of 15 April) for Afghanistan is 'Do not travel'. It goes on to say, 'We strongly advise you not to travel to Afghanistan because of the extremely dangerous security situation and the very high threat of terrorist attack. If you are in Afghanistan, you should consider leaving.'

Looks like I need to put off my plans for a holiday in Afghanistan. So, how about Sri Lanka? I'm particularly interested in going to the northern and north-central areas because that is where the asylum seekers have most likely come from and where I assume they'd return to.

For Sri Lanka in general, DFAT says 'We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Sri Lanka at this time because of the volatile security situation. Sri Lanka remains in a State of Emergency.' And, 'Attacks could occur at any time, anywhere in Sri Lanka.' Specifically on the northern and north-central areas, it says 'We advise you not to travel to the north of Sri Lanka'.

Well, maybe I won't go to Sri Lanka either. I suppose I could always go to Thailand??? Unfortunately for the asylum seekers, they're probably not going to be given that choice.


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