Why I am a UU Buddhist

Rev. Don Beaudreault
First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist
October 18, 2015
OPENING WORDS: #597 (Responsive Reading) “Love Versus Hate” – Singing the Living Tradition

Never does hatred cease by hating in return;
Only through love can hatred come to an end.
Victory breeds hatred;
The conquered dwell in sorrow and resentment.
They who give up all thought of victory or defeat,
May be calm and live happily at peace.
Let us overcome violence by gentleness;
Let us overcome evil by good;
Let us overcome the miserly by liberality;
Let us overcome the liar by truth.


Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.

Thích Nhất Hạnh

Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.

Ray Bradbury

You only lose what you cling to.

Gautama Buddha

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

Gautama Buddha

Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.

Alan W. Watts

Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.

Thích Nhất Hạnh

Even if things don’t unfold the way you expected, don’t be disheartened or give up. One who continues to advance will win in the end.

Daisaku Ikeda

If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.

Pema Chödrön

It was Swami Vivekananda, the founder of the Vedanta Society in America, and a person who was very much in demand as a speaker in Unitarian churches more than a century ago, who said:

Buddha stands as the perfection of the active type, and the very height to which he attained shows that through the power of work we can also attain to the highest spirituality…He is the only prophet who said: “I do not care to know your various theories about God. Do good and be good, and this will take you to freedom and whatever truth there is.”

No theories about the Divine, please, says Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha who lived six centuries before the birth of Jesus. No God theories, please.

Buddhism in its basic philosophical approach toward life, allows the individual to interpret and act upon humanitarian precepts, rather than to force the individual to respond in absolutist, lock-step patterns.

In effect, Buddhism provides an ethical blueprint upon which to act upon one’s loving beliefs.

Deeds not creeds is an attitude and a fervent construct for Buddhism, as well as for our own Unitarian Universalism, allowing an open conversation between the two movements – at least in this very specific regard. And in this, I can affirm that I am a Buddhist.

The Buddha, a word meaning “the enlightened one,” practiced “karma” yoga – which is the path to God through work or action. And “yoga” simply means to “yoke” in the sense of uniting and disciplining. Said in another way, “yoga” is a method of training undertaken to achieve union with the Divine, with the Universe, with the All in All, with that larger “Self” which cannot be named.

This practice of hard work, the disciplining of their minds, hearts, and bodies to achieve some good in the face of such bad, goes to the heart of a Buddhist approach to life, but is, of course, not limited to Buddhism.

Said the Buddha:

Do good and be good, and this will take you to freedom and whatever truth there is.

A wonderful image of the Buddha’s belief in doing and being rather than in proclaiming or theorizing is illustrated in his so-called “Flower Sermon.” Standing atop a mountain with his followers, Buddha began, developed, and concluded his “sermon” by not saying a word. Instead, he simply held up a golden lotus for all to behold.

What was he saying by NOT saying?

That the key to enlightenment is beyond words, beyond concepts. It, like the golden lotus, just is.

This is a far cry from some ancient or modern day polemicists who are so sure that through their verbiage they will achieve enlightenment for themselves and others.

So, the first point we have made this morning, is that Buddhism desires to create connection between human beings and the world in which we live by calling forth acts of love. By accomplishing these, we gain spiritual peace and deep meaning – that is to say, a relationship with that which transcends what we usually perceive as “reality.” Peace, indeed!

The process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead puts it poetically with these words:

Peace carries with it a surpassing of personality. There is involved a grasp of infinitude, an appeal beyond boundaries…It comes as a gift…It is largely for this reason that Peace is so essential for civilization. It is the barrier against narrowness. It is a positive feeling which crowns the life and motion of the soul.” (ADVENTURES OF IDEAS, Alfred North Whitehead, pp. 367 & 368).

A second major point about Buddhism which connects with a Unitarian Universalist approach toward life, is also illustrated in the Buddha’s words we have quoted already:

Do good and be good and this will take you to freedom and to whatever truth there is.

The search for freedom and truth through doing and being good is within our liberating movement of Unitarian Universalism historically.

The Buddha was seeking the truth in life. He gave up the rich life he had been living, realizing that material possessions did not make him ultimately happy. Then he turned to a path of extreme self-denial and asceticism. But that, too, did not bring him contentment.

Part of his enlightenment was to understand that only the Middle Path – the mean between the extremes of materialism and asceticism – was the way to achieve happiness – or at least a modicum amount of release from suffering.

As Philip Zaleski phrases this concept:

Buddha has extinguished all illusions and attained a perfect balance beyond self and no-self. This has ever been the heart of spiritual search: a striving for balance, for right proportion between the constituent members of our inner life, and between our inner and outer lives, and between our total being and the Ground of Being. (RESTORING THE IMAGO DEI)

This was part of the “truth” Buddha attained.

The Middle Path of Buddhism includes following the Eightfold Path, which allows one to be begin effecting release from suffering. By practicing Right Knowledge, Aspiration, Speech, Behavior, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Absorption, one can move beyond the purely materialistic or purely ascetic strivings.

And one moves beyond one’s self, one’s culture, and begins to embrace the other selves on the planet, and in doing this, one “yokes” with the other “Self” – the Higher Self and Purpose, the Creative Life Force, a god – however so one might call the human experience of transcendence of individual “self.”

This search for freedom and truth, – and we must be “free” from creed or culture or class to pursue the truth without prejudging – is very Unitarian Universalist.

The grand philosopher John Dewey explains to us that there are really only two philosophies – one that allows for freedom to pursue truth and one which does not. Says he:

One of them accepts life and experience in all its uncertainty, mystery, doubt, and half-knowledge and turns that experience upon itself to deepen and intensify its own qualities, pursuing ends instituted by the infinite fertility of life. The other philosophy interposes itself into the organic rhythm of nature, flying like a homing pigeon toward fixed form and immutable entities variously called “Reality, Truth, Being, and the Cosmos at Large…”

Dewey (and the Buddha, I believe) are urging us to discover that “infinite fertility of life” – that uncertain, mysterious, and doubtful place – a path down from the one now in front of our doorways. An open way, ever progressive. To journey on that path, to be a Buddhist, is ultra-revolutionary in this narcissistic and materialist world society most of us live in, this culture which touts property, performance, personality profile, and prestige. These things are of the “ego” says the Buddha – they are closed, false, spiritually dead, illusionary aspects of “Being.” Ultimately they bring darkness, not light; suffering not joy.

Certainly, the world has suffered so terribly throughout the human experience.

Tragedy can do that to us. It is an unwelcome gift, to be sure. But if suffering comes our way, we can turn toward others for help or to help, and in this is our freedom and our truth.

By our deeds, our spirituality – let us say, our love – is known. And no theories about God need be propounded then.

William Ernest Hocking in his explanation of what it means to be religious is saying something very Buddhist:

We know religion when we meet it in persons. We are in no need of definition to guide our eyes, to help in identifying it. We are perpetually seeing its fruits, or missing them in our neighbors. We are sensitive even to its shade and degrees; aware of its depth, its texture, its resistance. Indeed, we are instinctive connoisseurs on this subject. (THE MEANING OF GOD IN HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 27

Why I am a Buddhist and a Unitarian Universalist, too, is that both tell me to act out my deepest spiritual strivings, and seek connection with others and a creative life force (a transcendence), and in doing this I can achieve freedom and a glimpse of the truth.

So may we claim our common humanity. May we seek that which unites us, rather than divides us, and may we stand firm in our resolve to bring the message of love to all.

Hoping these things, let us meditate on these words of Rabindranath Tagore who echoes the Buddha’s message:

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and death, in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp. Hold fast as a refuge to the Truth… Work out your own salvation with diligence.

from the Buddhist tradition