Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What are Mahayana Buddhism, Neo-Paganism, and Unitarian Universalism?

Yesterday I posted some results to a couple of religion quizzes. Interestingly the top three results were the same for both (with the order differing slightly)—Mahayana Buddhism, Neo-Paganism, and Unitarian Universalism. But what are these three faiths?

Here is a bit of what I found.

Mahayana Buddhism
From Wikipedia

Mahāyāna constitutes an inclusive tradition characterized by plurality and the adoption of new Mahāyāna sūtras in addition to the earlier Āgama texts. Mahāyāna sees itself as penetrating further and more profoundly into the Buddha's Dharma. There is a tendency in Mahāyāna sūtras to regard adherence to these sūtras as generating spiritual benefits greater than those that arise from being a follower of the non-Mahāyāna approaches to Dharma. Thus the Śrīmālādevī Sūtra claims that the Buddha said that devotion to Mahāyāna is inherently superior in its virtues to the following the śravaka or pratyekabuddha paths.[32]

The fundamental principles of Mahāyāna doctrine were based on the possibility of universal liberation from suffering for all beings (hence the "Great Vehicle") and the existence of buddhas and bodhisattvas embodying Buddha Nature. Some Mahāyāna schools simplify the expression of faith by allowing salvation to be alternatively obtained through the grace of the Amitābha Buddha by having faith and devoting oneself to mindfulness of the Buddha. This devotional lifestyle of Buddhism is most strongly emphasized by the Pure Land schools and has greatly contributed to the success of Mahāyāna in East Asia, where spiritual elements traditionally relied upon mindfulness of the Buddha, mantras and dhāraṇīs, and reading of Mahāyāna sūtras. In Chinese Buddhism, most monks, let alone lay people, practice Pure Land, some combining it with Chán (Zen).[33]

Most Mahāyāna schools believe in supernatural bodhisattvas who devote themselves to the perfections (Skt. pāramitā), ultimate knowledge (Skt. sarvajñāna), and the liberation of all sentient beings. In Mahāyāna, the Buddha is seen as the ultimate, highest being, present in all times, in all beings, and in all places, and the bodhisattvas come to represent the universal ideal of altruistic excellence.
From Beliefnet.com
Belief in Deity
Mahayana Buddhism (like Theravada Buddhism) posits no Creator or ruler God. However, deity belief is present in the Mahayana doctrine of The Three Bodies (forms) of Buddha: (1) Body of Essence--the indescribable, impersonal Absolute Reality, or Ultimate Truth that is Nirvana (Infinite Bliss); (2) Body of Bliss or Enjoyment--Buddha as divine, deity, formless, celestial spirit with saving power of grace, omnipotence, omniscience; and (3) Body of Transformation or Emanation--an illusion or emanation in human form provided by the divine Buddha to guide humans to Enlightenment. Any person can potentially achieve Buddhahood, transcending personality and becoming one with the impersonal Ultimate Reality, which is Infinite Bliss (Nirvana). There are countless Buddhas presiding over countless universes. Bodhisattvas--humans and celestial spirits who sacrifice their imminent liberation (Buddhahood) to help all others to become liberated--are revered or worshipped as gods or saints by some.

[...]

Origin of Universe and Life
No Creator God. All matter is illusion or manifestation of the Ultimate Reality. Generally, Mahayana Buddhist beliefs don't find modern scientific discoveries contradictory to Buddhist thought.

After Death
There is no transmigration of individual souls, but through the law of karma, one's wholesome or unwholesome intentions become imprinted in the mind. Negative mental states persist through continual rebirth until one's intentions become wholesome. Once fully enlightened, one is liberated from rebirths, reaching a state of absolute selflessness resulting in ultimate bliss called Nirvana--the "Deathless State." One becomes Buddha (or one with Buddha). Some Buddhists, especially modern Western, don't emphasize or believe in literal rebirth.

[...]

Salvation
The goal is enlightenment, leading to Nirvana--liberation from cycles of rebirth and suffering--which is life. All are already endowed with Buddha-nature but need to come to realize fully that only the Ultimate Reality (the great "void" or "emptiness") is real (or nonconditional) and permanent. The Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path show the way, along with worship of the essential Buddha. One must work to extinguish self: All worldly cravings, desires, and attachments, through loving-kindness, compassion, charity, moral conduct, wisdom, and meditation. Renouncing worldly possessions and goals is not necessary for the laity, if balanced. Buddha taught the middle path, moderation. Human and spirit world Bodhisattvas are sought for help in gaining enlightenment. Pure Land Mahayana Buddhists aim to find a place of eternal Nirvana in a paradisiacal Pure Land, attainable by calling out the name of the Buddha ruler of the Pure Land.

Neo-Paganism
From Wikipedia

Most Neopagan traditions are polytheistic,[citation needed] but interpretations of the nature of a deity may vary widely. In principle, there is the distinction of hard vs. soft (also, "strong" vs. "weak" or "radical" vs. "moderate") polytheism. Hard polytheism is the notion of the existence of gods and goddesses independent from the human mind and from one another, or as distinct entities but however part of a greater unity, such as The One of Neoplatonism and Panentheism. The mythology of antiquity reflects this kind of understanding of the gods' natures. Soft polytheism considers the plurality of gods as "aspects" of other notions of the divine, including Monism, Pantheism, Panentheism or Deism, Psychologism (Jungianism).

Historically polytheistic religious traditions in the west were not solely concerned with religious belief in gods, but focussed on ritual, tradition (ethos) and notions of virtue (arete, pietas). As Christianity became a rising force, pagan thinkers such as Celsus and the Roman Emperor Julian wrote arguments against Christian ideas and in defense of the traditional religions, which give us insight into their contrasting beliefs.[citation needed] Hutton states that the historical Pagans did not see "All Goddesses as one Goddess; all Gods as one God", but some types of modern Neopagans believe that there is but a single divinity or life force of the universe, which is immanent in the world. The various manifestations and archetypes of this divinity are not viewed as wholly separate, but as different aspects of the divine which are ineffable.[citation needed]

In Wicca, (especially Dianic Wicca) the concept of an Earth or Mother Goddess similar to the Greek Gaia is emphasized. Male counterparts are usually also evoked, such as the Green Man and the Horned God (who is loosely based on the Celtic Cernunnos.) These Duotheistic philosophies tend to emphasize the God and Goddess' (or Lord and Lady's) genders as being analogous to that of yin and yang in ancient Chinese philosophy; i.e., two complementary opposites. Many Oriental philosophies equate weakness with femininity and strength with masculinity; this is not the prevailing attitude in Neopaganism and Wicca.[13] Among many Neopagans, there is a strong desire to incorporate the female aspects of the divine in their worship and within their lives, which can partially explain the attitude which sometimes manifests as the veneration of women.[14] Other Neopagans reject the concept of binary gender roles.
From Beliefnet.com

Belief in Deity
Some believe in a Supreme Being. Many believe in God and Goddess--a duality. Many believe there are countless spirit beings, gods and goddesses, in the cosmos and within all of nature--God is all and within all; all are one God. The Great Mother Earth, or Mother Nature, is highly worshipped. Divinity is immanent and may become manifest within anyone at any time through various methods.

[...]

Origin of Universe and Life
Generally, there is no conflict between observations revealed through science and Neo-Pagan beliefs on origins of the physical universe and of man. Many believe in a supreme intelligence that created a duality of God/Goddess who then created a spirit world of gods and goddesses as well as all of the universe and nature.

After Death
Many believe in reincarnation after some rest and recovery in the "Otherworld." There is generally no concept of hell as a place of punishment, but some believe wrongdoing can trap the soul in state of suffering after death. Some (Wicca) believe the soul joins their dead ancestors who watch over and protect their family. Some believe that life energy continues in some, if unknown, form. Some believe in various spiritual resting places. Many say we don't or can't know what happens after death.

[...]

Salvation
The concept of "salvation" is essentially irrelevant; rather the belief that people can attain spiritual balance and harmony with each other and nature. The path includes group ceremonies, dances, songs/chants, prayers, meditation, trance, altered states of consciousness, the metaphysical, magic, invoking or evoking deities or spirits, Tantric practices. Intercessors are commonly used: psychics, seers, shamans, tarot, Oui-Ja board. Ethical choices are influenced by a belief that one is rewarded or punished within this or after this lifetime for one's choices and an ethical code to do no harm.
Unitarian Universalism
From Wikipedia
There is no single unifying belief that all Unitarian Universalists (UUs) hold, aside from complete and responsible freedom of speech, thought, belief, faith, and disposition. They believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues, such as the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife. UUs can come from any religious background, and hold beliefs from a variety of cultures or religions.

Concepts about deity are diverse among UUs. Some believe that there is no god (atheism); others believe in many gods (polytheism). Some believe that the question of the existence of any god is most likely unascertainable or unknowable (agnosticism). Some believe that God is a metaphor for a transcendent reality. Some believe in a female god (goddess), a passive god (Deism), an Abrahamic god, or a god manifested in nature or the universe (pantheism). Many UUs reject the idea of deities and instead speak of the "spirit of life" that binds all life on earth. UUs support each person's search for truth and meaning in concepts of spirituality.

From Beliefnet.com
Belief in Deity
Very diverse beliefs--Unitarian/Universalists welcome all deity beliefs as well as nontheistic beliefs. Some congregations are formed for those who share a common belief, e.g. Christianity.

[...]

Origin of Universe and Life
Diverse beliefs, but most believe in the Bible as symbolic and that natural processes account for origins.

After Death
Diverse beliefs, but most believe that heaven and hell are not places but are symbolic. Some believe heaven and hell are states of consciousness either in life or continuing after death; some believe in reincarnation; some believe that afterlife is nonexistent or not known or not important, as actions in life are all that matter.

[...]

Salvation
Some believe in salvation through faith in God and Jesus Christ, along with doing good works and doing no harm to others. Many believe all will be saved, as God is good and forgiving. Some believe in reincarnation and the necessity to eliminate personal greed or to learn all of life’s lessons before achieving enlightenment or salvation. For some, the concepts of salvation or enlightenment are irrelevant or disbelieved.

It seems that all three of these faiths encompass a variety of different beliefs, but they all seem to share an openness to the world of spiritual possibilities. I’m sure there is much, much more to each of these (I know there is more to Mahayana Buddhism based on what I learned in Comparative Religions) but this gives you a little glimpse into each.

One thing that I really liked about Unitarian Universalism was their Principles and purposes:
  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

How could anyone disagree with that set of principles? That is great stuff!

My own personal beliefs are probably a hodgepodge of these three faiths with a little bit of Hinduism thrown in for good measure.

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