Playing Twelve Questions: Part 1

by Rev. Jon Turner.

Many college students come to OCBC with a list of questions that were given to them by their World Religions instructor. Some are looking for answers while others just want to finish their assignment. Surprisingly, these lists are all very similar – even when the students are coming from different universities. Answering the same questions over and over again can sometimes be a bit tedious due to the sameness of it all.

But it can also be difficult because they are often the wrong type of questions for a Buddhist. This is because the questions are biased towards western religions. The context is wrong. It is hard for a Buddhist to answer questions like these. For example, questions about faith, heaven and sin. These are important questions but not the ones we focus on.

Several weeks ago, I again received an email with such a set of questions. They were from a seminary student. There were twelve of them. This time I decided to answer the questions very quickly, without looking for approval or trying to impress. I wanted to make it fun. I wanted my answers to resonant with the reader no matter their religious tradition. I wanted to answer boldly and with pride. It is important that we are able to answer these questions. We cannot choose the questions we are asked but we can choose to respond authentically.

Here is my response to that student and her first set of six questions:

The following questions are commonly asked by the three Abrahamic Monotheistic religions. Buddhism is not one of those. But I will do my best to answer them.

1. What is your statement of faith? What does the church/temple believe?

In general, Buddhism is not a religion of beliefs. There really aren’t any articles of faith. The only fundamental teaching is that life is impermanent – always changing and flowing. The problem is that we want to ignore this or pretend it is not so. This leads to difficulties in our lives. The solution is to experience this truth and flow with it.

2. What is your style of worship? Would it help me feel God's presence?

There is no God or gods in Buddhism. However, there is a devotional aspect to Buddhism. It is a trust that we can depend on this flow of life. It is the ocean of causes and conditions that are constantly manifesting in our daily lives. This is where Buddhism becomes very spiritual.

3. What is your vision, goals, objectives? (A healthy church grows by welcoming new members and evangelizing the community, and encourages its members to serve others by volunteering)

The goal is from the bottom up. Each individual is hoping to gain insight (wisdom) which transforms the orientation of their lives. This in turn helps others on the path as well. The temple provides a place to practice.

4. What is your church/temple structure how is it organized? Is there a sense of freedom at your church? Does it have small groups?

I often say that I do not belong to an organized religion – I am Buddhist. Buddhism – due to the focus on change – tends to be very open. We also see all people as fundamentally the same. We are all part of this ocean or flow. So it is a seeing problem that we are trying to solve not a being problem. The implication is that there really are no divisions between groups or peoples.

5. How do you conduct worship, discipleship and outreach? Do you have a prayer ministry for the church?

Buddhism tries to become one’s life so we have many different ways of practicing. Some are at traditional services but also social functions and volunteer work and so on.

6. What are the goals of the pastor/leader?

It is to be a guide – to help others on the path. We are like referees in a basketball game – we help define the boundaries and the approach but the actual work has to be done by the members.

I have recently turned this question and answer interaction into a personal quest. I am now patiently waiting for the professor who can ask something new. A question that is open ended, enabling any tradition to answer authentically as an equal member of the community of world religions. Stay tuned for six more questions to come – next time.

In gassho,

Rev. Jon Turner