Friday, November 28, 2008

Some meme to die for?

I was flipping through a pamphlet I found the other day at my university and came across the following well known hymn written by the Buddhist thinker Shinran:

恩徳讃(正像末和讃)

如来大悲の恩徳は
身を粉にしても報ずべし
師主知識の恩徳も
ほねをくだきても謝すべし

Such is the benevolence of Amida's great compassion,
That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies;
Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers,
That we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust.

The introduction to the pamphlet states that this hymn expresses the fundamental spirit of Shin Buddhism. Read the hymn again carefully--do you feel a twinge of discomfort?

Doesn't anyone around me see that these ideas are only a few steps away from the death cult mentality? Are religious ideas worth dying for? I'm glad that the Shin Buddhists I know only play lip service to their religious beliefs. They sure get a kick out of propagating these memes though.

Maybe you think I'm going too far. What's wrong with repaying gratitude? I can comprehend working hard to repay the generosity of one's "master" or "true teacher," whatever that means, but the benevolence of Amida? Where is this benevolence? I haven't seen it. What does a statement like "the benevolence of Amida" even mean? Are empty concepts like Amida worth "breaking our bodies" for? Is this any different from saying you will die for the ideals of scientology?

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