Issue #3, May 1995

All contents remain the copyright of the individual authors

Notes From the Editor's Desk

I must begin this issue of our newsletter with sad news. First, Henry Wiemhoff, a founder of the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship, as well as a member of our governing Board, has died. He was a fine human being, and an exemplar of the way of depth within our liberal religious tradition. He will be missed. In our next issue we will include a more formal obituary.

Second, Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi Roshi has also died. The founder of the Zen Center of Los Angeles and the White Plum Asanga, Maezumi Roshi was highly respected beyond his own community, and has become known as a "teacher of teachers." There can be no doubt his influence on the Dharma in the West will be felt for many generations.

If Buddhism teaches us anything, it is that all things composed of parts will come apart. And, in that great play of the universe, we too, are facing changes. On April 30th, I accepted the call to become minister of the Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, in Chandler, Arizona. This means our editorial offices will be moving along with my family, books and cats, to the great Southwest. The next number of UU Sangha is due out in September, and will be composed and published under the bright Arizona sun.

This issue features an essay by Janice Christensen, a student at Harvard Divinity School, and an excerpt from an essay on a very interesting Christian saint. It also contains notices of UUBF activities at the upcoming General Assembly, in Spokane, Washington. As I repeat frequently, for the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship to exist, it needs your participation. News, essays, and money are all received gratefully.



Janice Christensen

When Unitarianism first encountered Buddhism in the middle of the last century, one could say it was a marriage made in heaven. That is, one could say that, if either tradition had room for such a concept as "heaven."

"The Preaching of the Buddha," a chapter from the Saddharmapundarika-sutra translated from Eugene Burnouf's French by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, was published anonymously in the Transcendentalist journal the Dial in 1844, and is generally considered to be the first Buddhist text available in the English language. (This has often been misattributed to Henry David Thoreau. For further discussion, see James Ishmael Ford's "Historical Footnote," in Issue Two of this newsletter.)

In the intervening decades, Transcendentalists, Unitarians, and later Unitarian Universalists have exhibited an ongoing curiosity about, and kinship with, the teachings of the Buddha. As more texts were translated into English, and a deeper understanding of the Buddhist tradition came into the West, the mutuality became more apparent.

Here I will explore Vipassana and Hua Yen Buddhism, and examine how they may relate to contemporary Unitarian Universalism.


In the summer of 1974, two young meditation teachers named Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield were invited to begin their teaching work at the new Naropa Institute, founded by Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, in Boulder Colorado. Robert K. Hall, in his introduction to Goldstein and Kornfield's Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, says, "It was a magical time... (Trungpa's) wise and startling presence became the focal point that drew many very creative people together... Several thousand of us collected in Boulder without questioning why we were really there... We came together to learn the wisdom of Buddhism as it was being introduced in America, and we came to feel our way into the heart of meditation. (Joseph Goldstein & Jack Kornfield, Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, Boston, Shambala Books, 1986.)

Goldstein and Kornfield perfected their techniques over twelve years of collaborative teaching of Vipassana meditation throughout the world. Their book, and later Kornfield's A Path With Heart, have become classics of the western Vipassana community.

Western Vipassana practice is based on Theraveda Buddhism, but puts less emphasis on teachers than do other Buddhist schools. As such, it is already being adopted by informal groups throughout the continent, including a number associated with Unitarian Universalist societies. James Ford, in "The Lotus in the West," a chapter in an upcoming book from Skinner House, describes Vipassana practice as "moderately eclectic and lay-led," and having an "egalitarian style, while grounded in solid discipline." He suggest that "(t)his... may well become the strongest element in the evolution of a Unitarian Universalist Buddhism." (Dan O'Neal, et al, editors, On the Transient and Permanent in Liberal Religion, Boston, Skinner House, 1995.)


Two years later and some five hundred miles west of the magic summer in Denver, author Gary Zukav sat down to an organic, candle-lit dinner at Esalen Institute with two strangers. His table-mates, physics professor David Finkelstein and T'ai chi master Al Chung-liang Huang, Zukav would later describe as "godfathers" to his ground-breaking work revealing the new physics to non-physicists, The Dancing Wu Li Masters. The conversation that ensued at that dinner table was the inception of one of the first of many books in the last two decades which forever mingled Western science and Eastern mysticism. In the book, Zukav suggests an interesting possible connection between current particle theory and an area of Buddhist studies, whose huge body of literature was then in the process of translation: the Hua-yen, Garland or Flower Ornament Buddhism.

The following decade brought translation of the Hua-yen texts, and scholarly books of commentary that revealed more of the newly-interesting Chinese-Indian Buddhist philosophy. In the Preface to his 1977 volume, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra, Francis Cook comments on the strange familiarity of this obscure, ancient writing.

"When a man gives his heart to some new philosophy," he writes, "it is because his heart has been there all the time. There are few real converts... So, here is Hua-yen to offer its voice. At one time, such a suggestion would have been intellectually risky, but I am encouraged by certain developments in the last few decades, in the increasing interest in Whitehead's process philosophy and in the increasing willingness to consider the implications of Einstein's theory of relativity, both of which bear startling similarities to Hua-yen, in great part if not wholly, and in spirit if not in language and intent." (Francis Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism, University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977)

In his Entry Into the Inconceivable: An Introduction to Hua-yen Buddhism, Thomas Cleary identifies the central function of the philosophy as a tool to develop "...a round, holistic perspective which, while discovering unity, does not ignore diversity but overcomes mental barriers that create fragmentation and bias." (Thomas Cleary, Entry Into the Inconceivable, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1983)

The Seven Principles

There seems to be much commonality between these two Buddhist perspectives I have described and our own Unitarian Universalist stance as articulated in the Seven Principles. Here I will examine each of these principles, and present points of agreement and dialogue between them, Vipassana and the Hua-yen.

Inherent Worth & Dignity

The first principle involves the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Both Vipassana and the Hua-yen have comments in this area.

In A Path With Heart, Jack Kornfield addresses the need to honor our personal destiny as intrinsic to the goal of awakening the Buddha nature. He writes, "In traditional Buddhist stories, it is taught that an individual might make a great vow to fulfill over the ages... The intention of many lifetimes creates a specific character and destiny for each of us according to our karma. This needs to be recognized."

Kornfield quotes Martha Graham, who offers a more traditional Western interpretation: "There is a vitality, a life force that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost."

The worth and dignity of individuals is also approached in Hua-yen Buddhism. Cleary points out that "...the bodhisattva never maligns the ordinary and does not forsake it, instead translating appropriate aspects of higher knowledge into insights and actions conducive to the common weal." He adds that "...(i)t is axiomatic, based on the world view of Buddhism, that since all people and indeed all creatures share in each other's existence, there is no true benefit for one group alone that is won at the cost of another. It is said to be characteristic of Buddhas, enlightened people, that they look upon all creatures as equal in essence (though not the same in terms of characteristics); although the needs of individuals may differ in detail, they are all equal insofar as they are dependent beings interrelated to one another."

These two views offer two different approaches to the first principle. The first is an "internal" view, stressing the importance of each individual developing unique characteristics to the fullest. The second is an "external" interpretation, stressing the point that the enlightened person values all other individuals, since all are interconnected.

Justice, Equity and Compassion

The second principle; justice, equity and compassion in human relations, is also addressed by the Hua-yen. Clearly concludes his discussion of the needs of individuals by stating "bodhisattvas therefore strive to benefit all equally, without losing sight of the diversity and complexity of the means necessary to accomplish this end."

Goldstein and Kornfield discuss the benefit of finding true tranquility and training the heart and mind to silence. They suggest that this could lead to a true revolution in human relations, creating a natural justice, equity and compassion.

Acceptance of One Another

The sangha, or community, is stressed as very important in Vipassana practice. Kornfield stresses a lesson that could be very helpful for Unitarian Universalists to remember as they come together in their congregations: that spiritual growth is not something that a church or community can give to its members; rather it occurs when individual members give of themselves.

Kornfield says, "The community is created, not when people come together in the name of religion, but when they come together bringing honesty, respect, and kindness to support an awakening of the sacred. True community arises when we can speak in accord with truth and compassion. This sense of spiritual community is a wondrous part of what heals and transforms us on our path."

Hua-yen Buddhism, by stressing the interdependent nature of all life, also affirms the importance of acceptance of one another individually, and the mutual improvement of members of all groups. Cook uses the metaphor of a square dance. Each dancer can be seen only as a performer of his or her office within the dance. But without each individual, the dance would not exist. Thus each dancer is the dance, and "...we have a profound, crucial relationship here; that I am, and that I am defined in a certain way, is completely dependent on the other individuals who comprise the dance, but this dance itself has no existence apart from the dancer."

Once again, the two traditions offer different angles on the UU principle. The Vipassana tradition stresses the importance of giving and service in a community, while the Hua-yen tradition focuses on the more esoteric, philosophical aspects. Both of these views are important for Unitarian Universalists, and can be beneficial in their approach to individuals and spiritual growth in congregations.

A Free and Responsible Search

This principle is basic to Buddhism as it is to Unitarian Universalism. The Buddhist literature is saturated with information underlining the importance of the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, or "seeing things as they are."

Goldstein and Kornfield list "Investigation" as the third of the seven factors of enlightenment. "Investigation of the dharma," they explain, "means not settling for secondhand knowledge or adopting someone else's opinion. It says, 'I must see for myself what is true.' What makes someone a true heir of the Buddha, what makes a buddha, is the courage and willingness to look directly and honestly into the body, the heart, and the mind without relying on or settling for what others say is true."

The Hua-yen tradition offers a somewhat more challenging point on this topic. It calls its practitioners to begin by acknowledging and seeing the "...pernicious, vexing contraries harmonized within the whole... (T)he real world is a world of lice as well as butterflies, horse piss as well as vintage champagne, and to the person who has truly realized this, one is as good as the other. To insist otherwise is to make an impious demand of existence which it is unwilling and unable to satisfy."

But Hua-yen takes one far beyond this traditional Buddhist view into a realm of intercausality and interdependence. To see things as they really are through the Hua-yen lens, one acknowledges not only that extremes exist, but they actually depend on each other and cause each other. Further, everything in the universe depends and is caused by each individual thing. So, in this system, it might seem that "...a drop of water in the Nile river (or a drop of horse piss, for that matter) is the cause for the whole universe. Mysticism indeed!" But the fallacy of that statement lies in the whole concept of a "sole causal agent," which is a fiction that Hua-yen philosophy is set up to destroy. The truth we're invited to see here is, again, the intercausality and interdependence of parts and events, each one causing everything else.

It seems that this byroad on the search for truth and meaning might be a bit challenging, even for UUs. But it does stretch the principle, offering fresh areas for discussion and thought.

The Right of Conscience

The UU principle calling for democratic process is very pragmatic. It is addressed clearly in the Vipassana tradition; but not at all in the more esoteric Hua-yen.

Kornfield looks at a variety of possible problems in spiritual communities in his chapter titled, "The Emperor's New Clothes." He chooses a telling quote from Thomas Merton (This citing of a Christian monk to describe a Buddhist perspective may itself be worth thinking about.) to address the need for democratic process, particularly in situations involving persons on a spiritual path:

"The most dangerous man (sic) in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody. He trusts his own visions. He obeys the attractions of an inner voice, but will not listen to other men. He identifies the will of God with his own heart... And if the sheer force of his own self-confidence communicates itself to other people and gives them the impression that he really is a saint, such a man can wreck a whole city or religious order or even a nation. The world is covered with scars that have been left in its flesh by visionaries like these."

The Goal of World Community

The Hua-yen tradition should not be thought of as only philosophical; it addresses pragmatic issues as well. Cook points out that, although "...there is a lot of 'philosophy' in Buddhism, in the form of logic, cosmology, and epistemology, ...to be a Buddhist entails much more than having a certain philosophy of existence. One must make the philosophy a lived reality, so that systems of thought such as Hua-yen must give rise to a particular mode of activity. Otherwise, the believer is merely indulging in intellectual fun, and Buddhism would claim that the problem of life is too pressing to waste time in fruitless mind-games."

As Cook points out: "...one's skin is not necessarily a boundary marking off the self from the not-self but rather that which brings one into contact with the other... I am in some sense boundless, my being encompassing the farthest limits of the universe, touching and moving every atom in existence. The same is true of everything else. When in a rare moment I manage painfully to rise above a petty individualism by knowing my true nature, I perceive that I dwell in the wondrous net of Indra, and in this incredible network of interdependence, the career of the Bodhisattva must begin. It is not just that 'we are all in it' together. We all are it, rising or falling as one living body."

Respect for the Interdependent Web

Which brings us to the seventh principle, and the central metaphor of Hua-yen Buddhism. The "interdependent web" is probably the most easily remembered of the seven principles, and the most often quoted as the under-one-minute answer to the question "What do UUs believe?" Its resonance with the Jewel Net of Indra is striking, both in imagery and meaning.

Cook describes the Jewel Net this way:

"Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each 'eye' of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring... This relationship is said to be one of simultaneous mutual identity and mutual intercausality."

In the West we tend to think of the universe as part of a divine plan, with a beginning and end. The Hua-yen world, on the other hand, is "completely nontelelogical. There is no theory of a beginning time, no concept of a creator, no question of the purpose of it all. The universe is taken as a given, a vast fact which can be explained only in terms of its own inner dynamism..."

This universe also differs from our convention Western concepts in that there are no "beings" with boundaries between them, but rather a "Being," a "...unity of existence in which numerically separate entities are all interrelated in a profound manner... The Hua-yen universe is essentially a universe of identity and total intercausality; what affects one item in the vast inventory of the cosmos affects every other individual therein, whether it is death, enlightenment, or sin."

The final difference between Hua-yen and the traditional Western world-view involves hierarchy and the creator-god. "The Hua-yen universe... has no hierarchy. There is no center, or, perhaps if there is one, it is everywhere. Man certainly is not the center, nor is some god."

One of the most important concepts associated with this view is the idea of "intercausation." In the Hua-yen view, everything in the universe is not just interdependent, everything is actually the cause of everything else. The traditional term to describe such a situation is fa-chiai yuan-ch'i which seems to be a translation of the Sanskrit dharma-dhatu pratitya-samutpada, translated either as the "interdependent arising of the universe," or, perhaps better, the "interdependent arising which is the universe..."

I believe the concept of intercausality adds a new urgency to the seventh principle. It challenges UUs to go beyond "respect" for the interdependent web. And, it sheds a new light on the traditional UU commitment to social justice. For if we're all in a web that includes the concept of causality, it means that the full presence and action of each of us is required. We are challenged as never before to "wake up" to our responsibilities as individuals in the universe; to "pay attention" to our actions. To be enlightened.

Comfort and Challenge

I believe there is a great area of dialogue between contemporary Western Buddhist thought and Unitarian Universalism. In some ways, it's a real comfort to realize that a tradition like our Unitarian Universalism has so much in common with a twenty-five hundred year old belief system.

But there is challenge in this dialogue, as well. Here I am most interested in the challenge to us as UUs. It is the challenge to expand the meaning of our Seven Principles. The challenge to deepen the understanding, to strengthen the commitment, to broaden the scope. This is what Buddhism brings to Unitarian Universalism, and through the interchange that is beginning now, both traditions may grow.

(Janice Christensen is currently preparing for the Unitarian Universalist ministry at the Harvard Divinity School. This essay was abridged from her paper, "The Jeweled Net of Indra and the Interdependent Web: A Dialogue Between Contemporary American Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism.")


D.M. Lang

There are few medieval Christian worthies whose renown exceeds that of Barlaam and Josaphat, who were credited with the second conversion of India to Christianity, after the country had relapsed into paganism following the mission of the Apostle Thomas. Barlaam and Josaphat were numbered in the roll of saints recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, their festival day being 27 November. In the Greek Church, Ioasaph (Josaphat) was commemorated on 26 August, while the Russians remember both Barlaam and Ioasaph, together with the latter's father, King Abenner, on 19 November (2 December Old Style). Sir Henry Yule once visited a church at Palermo dedicated to 'Divo Josaphat.' In 1571 the Doge Luigi Mocenigo presented to King Sebastian of Portugal a bone and part of the spine of St Josaphat. When Spain seized Portugal in 1580, these sacred treasures were removed by Antonio, the Pretender to the Portuguese crown, and ultimately found their way to Antwerp, where they were preserved in the cloister of St Salvator.

After the European settlement of India, and the arrival there of Roman Catholic missionaries, certain enquiring spirits were struck by similarities between features of the life of St Josaphat, and corresponding episodes in the life of the Buddha. Early in the seventeenth century, the Portuguese writer Diogo do Couto remarked that Josaphat 'is represented in his legend as the son of a great kind in India, who had just the same upbringing, with all the same particulars that we have recounted in the life of the Buddha... and as it informs us that he was the son of a great king in India, it may well be... that he was the Buddha of whom they relate such marvels.' Diogo do Conto was on the right track, though it was not until the 1850s that scholars in Western Europe embarked on a systematic comparison between the Christian legend of Barlaam and Ioasaph, and the traditional life of Gautama Buddha, and came to the startling conclusion that for almost a thousand years, the Buddha in the guise of the holy Josaphat, had been revered as a saint of the principal Churches of Christendom.

(This essay was excerpted & reprinted from Dr Lang's Introduction to the Loeb Classic edition of St John Damascene, Barlaam and Ioasaph, Harvard University Press, 1914.)

UUBF Activities at the 1995 UUA General Assembly in Spokane, Washington

at the UUMA Ministry Days

Feeding the Minister's Spirit
James Ishmael Ford
James will offer pointers about deepening and enriching an appreciation of life while meeting the demands of ministry. James is secretary of the UUBF, a senior Zen student, and a popular meditation teacher.
14 June, 1:30pm (& with sufficient registration) 3:30pm, at the Sheraton Spokane Hotel, room to be announced at the General Assembly

Buddhist Practice & Unitarian Universalism
Robert Tokushu Senghas
Why are more Unitarian Universalist's becoming interested in Buddhism? What are some of the difficulties UUs find with Buddhism? What does Buddhism have to say to Unitarian Universalism? Bob is a retired UU minister, president of the UUBF, and a senior Zen student of Daido Loori Sensei. Bob was recently elected as a District Trustee to the continental Unitarian Universalist Association Board.
16 June, 8:30pm, at the Sheraton Spokane Hotel, South Ball Room A (please confirm room & time at GA)