The Dalai Lama’s visit to Portland this weekend for the Life After Life Symposium sponsored by Maitripa College, a graduate school of Tibetan Buddhism in Southeast Portland, has sparked a discussion of Buddhism in the local media.
Many people are intrigued by Buddhism because it offers a disciplined ethical path without a traditional belief in God. They wonder whether Buddhism is really a religion.
In a discussion on the subject conducted by the Oregonian, local Buddhist scholars offered insights. Michael Conklin, resident lama of a Buddhist community that meets in Northeast Portland, said this:
“Religions tend to share an interest in things beyond the boundaries of this life, rather than just things relating to this current experience in this world …In this sense we would have to say Buddhism is a religion in that it is definitely concerned about our past lives and future lives. Some teachings even say that our future lives are more important than this one.
James Blumenthal, professor of Buddhist philosophy at Maitripa College and the University of Oregon State, agreed:
“I think of Buddhism as a religion which offers a path to salvation, liberation in the Buddhist sense. It has myths, rituals, practices, world view, etc. In the early years of the study of world religions in the west, scholars defined religion in terms of a monotheistic creator God, but these days our thinking is broader.”
When the Dalai Lama visited Portland in 2001 he drew 25,000 people to Pioneer Courthouse Square. Most of them were not Tibetans or Tibetan Buddhists. There are more than 40 diverse Buddhist groups in Portland.
Nancy Haught of the Oregonian posed the question: “Does Buddhism ‘work’ for people who see themselves as spiritual but not religious?”
Blumenthal responded: “One can consider the Dalai Lama as one of their teachers if they find his teachings and advice to be beneficial to their lives. From a Buddhist perspective, one can have more than one teacher or lama. It is probably also useful to have teachers who one can have more direct contact with as well.”
Leigh Sangster, program director at Maitripa College put it this way: “From my point of view, Buddhism, or it’s core principles, appeals to people of many cultural and religious backgrounds, including those who consider themselves ‘spiritual but not religious.'”
Sangster added this: “His Holiness the Dalai Lama often points out that the basic values – love, compassion, a sense of caring for others – at the heart of all religious traditions are ‘universal’ and can compel us towards a completely secular ethics as well.
The weekend’s events will be live-streamed by the Oregonian at http://www.dalailamaportland2013.net/ .