Religion not as clear as black and white

by Kuo Yong Kooi, The Malaysian Insider, 2 March 2015

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- If someone hands me a copy of the Quran, I would be happy to accept it with no ill will in my heart. I concluded long ago that all religious texts in this world are used as guidelines to improve human behaviours.

The unfortunate part is many people mis-interpreted religious text all the time. If someone has got it right, then it does not matter what religion you are from, their action shows.

In my opinion, the rules that the fundamentalist Muslims want every Muslim to follow are not that much different from the monastic rules for the Buddhist monks and nuns.

The only big difference is their approach.

Buddhists see the rules as a path for their followers to practise if, and only if, they want to attain Nibanna (enlightenment). The themes that Buddhism carries all through a person's religious life are basically invitation to explore and the gradual training. It is a personal inward journey. No amount of compulsion can facilitate a personal journey.

If a Buddhist decides to go to the beer festivals and have vice activities, that is his or her karma. It is as simple as that, that is their own business. If you want Nibanna, the monastic codes are much stricter than the rules imposed by the Taliban or Isis.

A Buddhist monastic can't have sex, drugs/intoxicants or entertainments. The Taliban can have up to four wives. I have tried two years as a monk in 1997-98. I left the monastery and prefer to live a lay life, that is to follow the basic Buddhist rules ala Taliban. No I did not take four wives, but I am married and live a simple Buddhist "Talibanistic" lifestyle as a Yoga and Qi Gong teacher.

Here are the basic five precepts for a general practitioner of the Buddhist faith to follow; I undertake the training not to kill, steal, lie, sexual misconduct and not to use intoxicants (drugs or alcohol). Sounds familiar to Christians and Muslims?

The fifth precept of no intoxicant is the same with Islam's no alcohol consumption, basically alcohol or drugs do alter our mind states. The Buddhist's fifth precept goes as far as nothing that makes us feel addictive, which includes no cigarettes.

If the follower of the Buddhist faith wants to practice the religion a bit deeper, they can undertake the eight precepts; which includes no meals after noon (which means puasa after noon time/12pm; water and juice is fine but not solid foods or soups all through the monastic life, not only a particular month of the year); no entertainments, make-ups and jewelry (basically no fashion or self gratification lifestyles); and no high and luxurious beds. Does that sound familiar to the Muslims?

The seventh precept of no music and entertainment is needed if you want to embark on a meditative lifestyle. Music and entertainment do influence our moods and interfere with the meditative process of calming the mind.

In the time of the Buddha, high and luxurious beds are used by the rich. We need to put it in context as the rule was written 2,558 years ago. What that rule means for the present-day Buddhist follower is not living a luxurious or indulgent lifestyle. Nowadays almost everyone has got a high bed, in the Buddha's time only the rich had high beds, if you know what I am trying to get at. Basically all religions are socialistic in their lifestyle, perspective and ideology.

I just don't get it when PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang rejected Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) as a member of Pakatan Rakyat. Socialism is Islam without the religious dogma as far as I am concerned.

The Dalai Lama stated clearly that he is a socialist in his recent May 2014 Mumbai visit. He stressed that there is a need for hygiene of emotions. He said: "Human intelligence is very brilliant, but sometimes it is clouded with bad emotions. Most of the tyrannical people in human history, I think, were very intelligent people.

"Lenin, for instance," he elaborated, "was a very sharp-minded and intelligent person, but he was clouded by negative emotions of hatred and anger."

If one has an in-depth understanding in ones religion, one would be able to draw the similarities in other great religions because they all promote the cultivation of positive attitudes of a human being. Human beings can only experience common emotions. Different religions are relevant for different people because of the diversity of language and culture.

Humans have different capabilities in understanding the meaning of the words. The words used are only pointers into ones heart. The holy book is just a book, there is no point reading the holy book over and over again but fail to change your bad natured state of mind.

I am confident that if I quote from one religion a verse, some other religions will have similar themes in their books. An example in Taoism by Tung Kai Yin: "The goal is not to demonstrate ones strength, power or violence. The goal is to attain ones serenity, tranquillity and the discovery of oneself. It is truly the exercise of the mind".

I have not read the Quran before, but prove me wrong if there is no such similar theme in the Quran?

If you want to practice the Buddhist religion a bit further you can be a Buddhist monk or nun. The monastic code contains 227 major rules for Buddhist monks and 311 major rules for Buddhist nuns. The rules if you research it's content in our modern day computer god "Google" under the topic "Vinaya", you will easily conclude that they are stricter than the Taliban/IS imposed rules.

Sounds like discriminating against women, isn't it? 2,558 years ago in India, women are slaves and if their husbands die, they have to throw themselves in the fire pit together with their dead husbands. In that era, leaving home to be a Buddhist nun is the most radical thing you can ever do because they defied the society's norms in search for personal spirituality growth. A Buddhist nun is a radical feminist in those days.

In the Buddhist monastic code, a monk cannot look into the woman's eye and vice verse or touch a person of the opposite sex. Again the reason is simple, if you want to prepare your mind for meditation, potential lustful thoughts are a major hindrance to deep meditations. If you don't believe it try it out.

Am I propagating the Buddhist religion to Muslims or increasing the Muslim's faith in their religion in this article? If you have the state of mind like Ibrahim Ali, Zul Noordin and Abdullah Zaik, then you can conclude that I am leading Muslims astray.

If you don't feel that I am propagating the Buddhist religion, then you might feel relieved.

Islam is not unique in their strict rules after all, it's a rule for humanity if they want to explore deeper into their faith. So what are the things that humans try to explore throughout history? Is it just words or just dress codes or compulsory attendance of prayer time, or something deeper than that ?

In one of the 227 rules, a Buddhist monk cannot live and stay under the same roof with a woman (and vice versa). That was written over 2,558 years ago, if you follow the word literally  "under the same roof" now, basically Buddhist monks and nuns cannot stay in any high rise buildings. But an intelligent practitioner should look at it in context, the purpose of the rule is to prevent potential sensual activities so that the monastic code of celibacy is not broken. Now, there are high rise buildings everywhere, as long as you are at different addresses, technically you are at different houses.

I was on a meditation holiday three years ago in Sri Lanka and happened to bump into a Muslim old man going to the Haj at the airport. He dressed and looked like Mahatma Ghandhi wearing the simple white sling robe the same way Ghandhi did. That got me thinking whether if the Muslims have copied the Hindus on that type of dressing during Haj? After all the Middle-easterners do not wear that type of clothing in the desert.

Is this point good enough to insult Perkasa or Isma? The Buddhist Anagarika (monks and nuns to be) wear the same type of white robes like the Muslims during the haj.

Why can't we sit down and have an intelligent conversation on the good purpose of all religions? Instead the easily insulted so-called defender of Islam goes to make a police report and make a mountain out of a mole hill with the knowledge that the police are one sided in their investigations.

In the Pali canon there are words like suka, duka, citta, dana, Pahla and many more. If you are a Malaysian or Indonesian who explore the Buddhist Pali canon, you will be surprise to find about 5-10% of the words used are similar to the Malay language. Do Buddhist want to have exclusivity over those words? Words are just words, claiming exclusivity is petty and shows limited understanding of the purpose of religions. All religions want us to understand our hearts and act with a clear conscience. Words are just sign post to direct the heart into the right direction.

The Buddhist five precepts is called Panca Sila.  No correlation with the Indonesian Suharto's modern Panca Sila.

There is not much difference between wearing a saffron/yellow robe with a shaved head and turban with beard. These are just cultural practices that suit the specific climatic conditions. Both are symbol of simplicity and belonging to a particular religion. As far as I am concerned it defeats the purpose of simplicity if you cover yourself fully but wear expensive jewelries with heavy make up under the cover. That only indicates that the society forces you to wear a certain dress code but in your heart you fancy something totally opposite to what your religion wants you to do.

Wearing the same gear also gives the practitioner the comfort that you are not alone in the path. There are others around you that practice the same to encourage and inspire you on your inner spiritual journey. It also removes doubt as in whether you on the right path or not. Humans are social beings, seeing others practicing the same way gives them confidence one is on a right path.

The modern world is testing the understanding of the religious educators in their religions. They have to revamp their style of teaching so as the younger generation are able to relate to their religion of birth. If we are to place any blame on anyone for the deterioration of a particular religion, then some of the blame should be directed to the religious educationalists. Most traditional religious educationalists are holding on to dogma. They have difficulties explaining the context of the books that was written thousands of years ago in the modern world. Modern world needs multi-disciplinary religious teachers.

I must admit this is common in Buddhism too, there are many who can regurgitate and quote from the traditional Buddhist text, they sound very professional too when they quote the traditional Pali language. There are not many who have in-depth knowledge of the modern scientific world, as a result they are unable to tie the two together to explain its modern world applications in our lives.

It is easier for the traditional religious educationalists to pigeon hole it under the category of "our religion is under attack" than relating it in modern terms because of their restricted understanding of modern world developments.

If you cry Islam is under attack, I am sure Buddhism is also under attack too! Many are leaving the religion in droves in traditional Buddhist countries. Many traditional Buddhists are joining beer festivals, drinking heavily in wedding dinners and they still call themselves Buddhists/Taoists. Is it my job to stop them from drinking or their own job to understand their own religions? Probably it is the fault of the Buddhist monks and nuns for they failed to inspire them to understand their traditional religion in the modern context. It is for us to find out, isn't it?

I can easily cry "Buddhism is under attack!" or they are the main reason why we Buddhists are poor. If I do that, I have deficit thinking. That kind of thinking can only put your own race and religion down in the long run. The Buddhist will classify that as the fault finding mind. If one has a fault finding mind one is creating bad Karma for oneself.

The Quran or the Bible will have their similar version or theme. Negative thinking is a common human trait and all religions in this world would have something to say about this kind of thinking. I hope the reader can prove me wrong.

In short all religious texts are guidelines for people to embark on a personal spiritual journey. It does not matter what religious book you are holding, if you behave badly, you are shaming your own religion.

All religions want their followers to be fair to others. If others are not allowed to mention the word "Allah" in their Bible let alone distribute them publicly yet you can freely distribute your Quran to others, do you think that is fairness?

"It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a way, the traditional notion of God is outdated. One can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money, for many nature can be the Church. Some of the best people in history do not believe in God, while some of the worst deeds was done in His name." (Pope Francis).

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