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 Fire and Brimstone Buddhism

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amalia



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PostSubject: Fire and Brimstone Buddhism   Wed Aug 18, 2010 4:06 am

I am just starting this topic new over from the isitacult thread. I realize that I don't even know if other temples other than the North Cascades Buddhist Priory even teach this stuff. Maybe it is all just a specialty of my former master, Koshin Schomberg, who was himself brought up in a fundamentalist Christian setting.
One thing I am clear on: the fire and brimstone teachings were not generally shared with the laity. There were always certain topics that were considered off limits for non-ordained people. Here is a list of what teachings we were given:

-- Hungry ghosts that hang around inside and outside of trainees and that can "take over in them". I don't know if he actually used the word "possessed", but he definitely told me and in the case of another novice that we had been "taken over" by them.

-- Deadly karmic consequences that can come up from past lives and kill us in this life after being ordained as monks. Only within the temple as an ordained monk would you then have the "support" necessary to deal with it. Then the consequences would be much milder and probably not fatal.

-- Past lives were encouraged to come up in dramatic, extreme sessions with graphic horror stories, hyperventilation, trance like states and physical illness

-- The unbelievable bad karma you would create if you left, or disobeyed your seniors. I was specifically told that I would go crazy or die if I left my master.

-- The belief that past life karma is a great, heavy burden. Working through this karma is the only meaningful way to live a life as a human being, and this can only be done in a monastic setting.

-- Exorcism ceremonies, for example there was one done on a novice monk during Shosan which I witnessed, as well as hour long exorcism litany ceremonies, don't remember the name of it, where
evil beings are being banished and converted right and left:

There is supposedly some big difference because Buddhists only "convert" the "misguided gakis", and the Catholics banish or whatever. That didn't make much difference to me when my master told me that I had almost died because of one, and that if I had, it would have been suicide and I would have been reborn a hungry ghost! Scary stuff, considering I came to the religion because I loved the teaching on "following your own heart". It is very depressing to see how such a beautiful teaching could turn into all this. I suspect it doesn't even have any roots in traditional Buddhism, maybe Tibetan? I don't know.

Probably there are other examples but I can't think of everything. It was a major part of the teachings at the NCBP. I would be interested in hearing if any lay people have ever heard any of this. Also if the older Kennet teachings had any of this in it? Any other temples preaching this f&b stuff?

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glorfindel

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PostSubject: Re: Fire and Brimstone Buddhism   Wed Aug 18, 2010 7:16 am

amalia wrote:


-- Hungry ghosts that hang around inside and outside of trainees and that can "take over in them". I don't know if he actually used the word "possessed", but he definitely told me and in the case of another novice that we had been "taken over" by them.


It seems so contrary to the usual Buddhist (and even OBC) teaching of non dualism. I used to believe in Bogey Men too, when I was six years old. Sometimes I thought they were under my bed.

Also, when i was a tiny boy lying in bed at night, I used to see angels outside my window. My dad said if they came back he'd get 'em with his shotgun. I felt better after that. Perhaps North Cascades ought to stockpile firearms to keep the Hungry Ghosts at bay? eek

More seriously; I'm guessing that the basic hinayana teachings absorbed plenty of practices from the native chinese and japanese religions (in the same way Tibetan Buddhism abosrbed Bon practices). I think The OBC 'Book of Life' has some translations of Chinese (or Japanese?) manuscripts that describe parasitical spirits that can cause spiritual/physical illness.
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jack



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PostSubject: Re: Fire and Brimstone Buddhism   Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:48 am

I only have lay experience, yet I picked up on a little of that.

One the things told me was that during training, before transmission of the mind, the master supposedly shouldered some of the karmic load of the trainee so that training could take root. Hungry ghosts were mentioned but there were never any organized witch hunts for them or exorcisms. I remember during Segaki, which was performed periodically, we were told to keep our left hand made into a fist to keep hungry ghosts from jumping into us -- seemed odd to be asked to do stuff like that seriously as an adult in a what was presented as a non-superstitious religion.

There were some instances of karmic threatening, even for lay people, though it was, I'm sure much more restrained than that with monks. It was the normal priesthood type stuff, common in Christianity, predicting dire consequences if this or that was done or not done. It was clearly done with the intent of instilling whatever fear they could to control behavior. It was unabashed arrogance when they as senior monks assumed that their own training failures, particularly the frequent loss of equanimity, were some specialized spiritual insight to be levied on others.

Though such was always rationalized as trying to be helpful, it in fact seemed be the stock in trade tirades of preachers and priests. I'd heard much fire and brimstone in Christianity before I left home; I was disappointed to find it in a Buddhism priory.

The bottom line is that Buddha's message from the beginning had the sole purpose of taking away suffering from human beings, such that they could be free, happy, and joyous. Whatever terrifies people, binds them, enchains them or frightens them is contrary to the core purpose of Buddhism.

Instilling fear and inflicting isolation with the purpose of gaining and maintaining control is completely contrary to the freedom the Buddha taught.


Last edited by jack on Wed Aug 18, 2010 3:03 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Added Segaki sentence)
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cmpnwtr

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PostSubject: Re: Fire and Brimstone Buddhism   Wed Aug 18, 2010 12:14 pm

Amalia, I'm sorry you were exposed to that kind of fear mongering and magical thinking. I would only say that in my experience with Shasta Abbey there were some much more modified elements of what you describe which I always took with a huge grain of salt. I suppose at some level even as a child I intuitively discounted and rejected the fear mongering from Roman Catholicism, and did likewise with Buddhism. What always helped me progress was to trust that the Infinite within and without is itself infinite mercy and infinite love and that fear mongering is not helpful to that trust. The fear mongering simply reinforces our own wound of separateness and alienation and adds to the problem rather than to the healing that is needed. Having been acquainted with Koshin since early 70s, even before he was a monk, I'm not overly surprised at what I'm hearing. I'm hopeful in due time you will recover and heal from the effects of these experiences.
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Fire and Brimstone Buddhism   Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:44 pm

amalia wrote:

-- Hungry ghosts that hang around inside and outside of trainees and that can "take over in them". I don't know if he actually used the word "possessed", but he definitely told me and in the case of another novice that we had been "taken over" by them.

Perhaps it will be helpful if I put this in a broader context. In Buddhism there is what is called The Wheel Of Life - a graphic representation of the "six realms" that human beings experience. The six realms are: Gods, Titans, Humans, Animals, Hungry Ghosts and Hell. Roshi Kennett taught that these realms represent states of mind that we experience. Specifically the Hungry Ghost state is one where we feel empty yet cannot accept the necessary nourishment. If Roshi Kennett saw someone in that condition she might say (and I paraphrase) that person was troubled by a hungry ghost. However she never meant that a person was literally possessed by a ghost. That was not her teaching and not something I or anyone I knew at the Abbey believed. What you were told is an exaggeration and distortion of the concept.

In Japanese Buddhism there is a ceremony performed once each year called Segaki, The Feeding of the Hungry Ghosts. It is a time to remember departed family members and friends, and offer them prayers for a safe journey. It also serves as an affirmation that we can overcome the needy, empty parts of ourselves and experience wholeness. Looked at this way it is a very positive thing.


Last edited by Isan on Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:45 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : clarification)
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amalia



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PostSubject: Re: Fire and Brimstone Buddhism   Thu Aug 19, 2010 4:11 am

Quote :
In Japanese Buddhism there is a ceremony performed once each year called Segaki, The Feeding of the Hungry Ghosts. It is a time to remember departed family members and friends, and offer them prayers for a safe journey. It also serves as an affirmation that we can overcome the needy, empty parts of ourselves and experience wholeness. Looked at this way it is a very positive thing.

This wasn't a Segaki ceremony. It was an hour long ceremony that we were doing daily during the week previous to my departure. It was a very long recitation of some scripture I had never heard and all about all the various evils ones who should be gone. more or less. I have honestly no idea what it was really about, whether it was even a Kennett translation or what it was.
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Laura

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PostSubject: Re: Fire and Brimstone Buddhism   Fri Aug 20, 2010 12:28 am

Hi Amalia,

It might have been the Surangama Ceremony. You can find a copy of it in Shasta Abbey's "Monastic Office" book. It was primarily a litany of of the names of all sorts of quasi-religious/cultural beings, each of whom had some particular positive or negative attribute, interspersed with the word "Peace" between each of them. One way of looking at it is as an enumeration of all the possible difficulties one could have, and all the ways that those difficulties could be resolved or set to rest.

I must say, though, that during my time at the Abbey I was frequently surprised by what I viewed as moderately superstitious beliefs and practices. There were "purification" ceremonies done regularly to "cleanse" certain areas of "negative karmic residues". I can assure you that they were not symbolic in nature but that some of the seniors truly believed in their efficacy. I've seen a very senior monk bless the tires of someone's car to help protect them before going on a long trip. I can see how a person might feel comforted by such a thing, but this monk actually did this quite secretively and had not been asked to do so by the person who was traveling. I was sorry to see this type of superstitious behavior taking hold of the community, for it seemed to be a huge departure from what the Buddha actually taught.
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amalia



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PostSubject: Re: Fire and Brimstone Buddhism   Fri Aug 20, 2010 3:55 am

It may have been a Surungama ceremony, though I would probably have recognized that and had it in my own liturgy. Whatever, it doesn't matter now. The thing that was so awful about it for me at the time was knowing that the whole community thought I had become somehow inhibited by a spirit, and that the ceremony was being done for my benefit alone, as I was told. I can't imagine how much pain it must have caused the other novice who went through the wierd Shosan ceremony in the spring. I remember how he actually spoke directly to "her little friend" as he called the hungry ghost right in front of the entire community. It was very creepy.

It is a horrible thing to say to anyone, much less to a devoted, trusting monastic disciple. I knew it was ridiculous and superstitious when Koshin explained it all to me the last time I saw him. And yet I can't just erase the effect it had on me. He was my master. Maybe that is why I started this thread: hoping for reassurances that it isn't true. And I hope very much that my dear friend from the NCBP, the other novice I mention, knows that I never thought such a thing about her. I hope she is ok now.

Reading all your posts here in this thread and in this forum, I sometimes can almost remember what it was like when I also thought of Buddhism as this great source of love and truth. It has been such a long time since I felt that. For me, the religion is just one big horror film. Well done, Koshin.
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Laura

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PostSubject: Re: Fire and Brimstone Buddhism   Fri Aug 20, 2010 11:10 am

I am truly appalled by the treatment you received Amalia. One of the worst things about it is how much it made you doubt your own heart. I sincerely hope that you will be able to regain your self-confidence and find healing and joy once again.
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: Fire and Brimstone Buddhism   Sun Aug 22, 2010 10:15 am

violet wrote:
The New York Times carried an article today headlined "Sex Scandals Have US Buddhists Looking Within." See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/21/us/21beliefs.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper. The first paragraph reads: "Sooner or later, every traditional faith has to confront sexual impropriety by its spiritual leaders: extramarital sex, or sex with the wrong people (members of the congregation, minors) or, for supposedly celibate clergy, any sex at all." The story is a reminder that Zen Buddhists are no purer than any other religious group.

I'm not sure where this post fits, but it was partly inspired by Rev. Seikai's thoughtful and candid explanation of RM Eko's departure. I don't mean to imply in any way that RM Eko's conduct involved a "sex scandal."But I think the whole question of sex/celibacy/romantic misdeeds is easier for a religious organization like the OBC to deal with than other types of misconduct by senior priests.

To me, the “Buddhist Fire and Brimstone” teaching and practice to which Amalia was exposed at North Cascades is far worse than sexual or romantic impropriety by a monk. (See her post for Aug. 18.) It seems easier for the OBC to dismiss romantic misconduct by priests as "bad" or a violation of the rules than it is for the Order to condemn teaching and practice like that of the senior monk at NCBP. Presumably, her master was trying to teach Amalia something about hungry ghosts and demons. But his terrifying threats and his gross neglect of her physical and mental safety led to suffering that was every bit as horrific for Amalia as sexual misconduct would have been. Amalia never received anything like an apology either from her master or from the OBC.

This kind of “teaching” is contrary to what Rev. Seikai wisely said about RM Eko’s departure: “As always, compassion and understanding are what will help everyone the most.” Amalia received nothing but blame, frightening threats and “exorcisms” when what she most needed was compassion and understanding.


Violet,

I wanted to pick up with some thoughts related to the OBC taking corrective action in regard to inappropriate teaching or practice. I agree, it must be easier to take action for certain kinds of misconduct, and esp. where the proof is clear-cut. Sometimes a writing exists or there are people willing to verify what they've seen and heard.

It has happened that a prior was recalled to the Abbey for training/discipline -- in 2003 there was a situation where the leader was found to be "making grave mistakes in his understanding of his role and the teachings given to laity", something to that effect. I'm not sure how long he was out of the priory or how the mistakes/transgressions were acknowledged to the congregation, if at all. But in that case I think they didn't have to work too hard to find proof of the person's activity and so recalling him became a necessity. Of course this was not like Amalia's situation where there wasn't the same exposure of the behavior, where only a small group saw it and presumably what they said did not match up with her account.

If the OBC had been willing to meet personally with Amalia, I wonder if they could have gotten stronger proof, or at least enough to keep the investigation going. Maybe at some point the inquiry could be re-opened and the unexplored issues given a closer look -- otherwise it's hard to imagine that an apology or even an acknowledgment could ever happen --
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