When I Took Bodhisattva Vows I Did Not Promise To Look At The Bright Side by Miriam Sagan

When I Took Bodhisattva Vows I Did Not Promise To Look At The Bright Side

Organized religion has always exerted a push/pull on me. My father was a rabid and bossy atheist who forbid his children any religious or spiritual experience or expression. When I ran off to San Francisco I soon found myself at SF Zen Center, and then married to a Soto lineage monk. In my thirties I studied Judaism with a Hassidic woman teacher, learned a bit of Hebrew, and immersed in a mikvah. Then back to Buddhism—koans with the remarkable Joan Sutherland-roshi. And now, voila, an interfaith Beit Midrash torah study group led by a thoughtful rabbi.
I’m a lightweight ping-ponger by most standards…at best a seeker …at worst shallow. I even like my friends’ religions and find myself from time to time at the Christian Science Mother Church, singing along at Christ in the Desert, or deep in a discussion about Ramazan.
But I also can’t deny that certain experiences have been central, and compelling. I took Boddhisatva vows daily at SF Zen Center, at my first wedding ceremony (the second time I got married it was by ketuba!), and I still chant them as needed, even when I’m driving.

Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to put an end to them
The dharma gate is boundless, I vow to enter it
The Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to attain it

…or, variations…I vow to let them save me, The Buddha’s way is unsurpassable/I vow to become it…

In any case, those vows cannot be undone, nor would I wish to. I cannot be a person who never took these vows, in the same way I cannot be an “ex” Jew. Of course, I—or you—could spend a lifetime working with these vows. How does each bit function? What does that mean about today’s mundane tasks? Does this mean I shouldn’t be a drug pusher, or arms manufacturer (traditional Buddhist bans). Can a classroom teacher save all beings? And so on.

Here’s the thing, though. These vows are a promise to live consciously in ambiguity. To get a hold of my reactions, to not overstate the positive or the negative. It even has a name—The Middle Way. And the moderate ancient Greek philosophers would approve.

Which leads me to social media (#drinkthe hemlock?). Sometimes when I blog or post something that has some vulnerability for me, I wish I hadn’t. Because I need encouragement to stay in the middle. Whatever our current problem is, I don’t want to eat lotuses and say life is so delightful I can just ignore it, nor do I want to flip out and declare it the worst thing ever.

And, despite my vows, I’m just not that good at this. But since I knew the vows were impossible, I continue to take them.

How To Start Your Own Religion by Isabel W. S.

“How To Start Your Own Religion” offers easy, step-by-step instructions on how to get in on the ground floor of one of the world’s oldest institutions. By following these simple directions, you can be the newest entrepreneur on the world stage of spirituality. No more religion that doesn’t quite fit, no higher authority telling you what to do- now you can have a religion that fits YOU, that’s perfect for YOU, and that you can control from the ground up. All you have to do is relax, be creative, have fun, and read the instructions listed below.

1. Choose a focus . Why are you interested in forming your own religion? Many a faith has been crafted because people were discontented with the status quo. Bobby Henderson, the inventor of Pastafarianism, created his Church with a distinctly anti-Intelligent Design agenda. Buddhism developed initially as a protestant movement within Hinduism, and broke with the caste system as a form of social protest. But obviously, not all religion started as a radical movement. Anton LaVey identified strongly with the carnie community, and consequently he combined a love of flair with Nietzschean philosophy and founded modern Satanism. So look at your own motives for making a religious system. Does it center around a person, an idea, or a physical object? Is it revolutionary or just plain fun? Religion can serve all sorts of purposes, so choose what works best for you. Remember, Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer before he came up with Scientology. Play to your strengths!

2. Next, create a central belief system . Feel free to start small with this step. You don’t have to decide how your followers feel about everything right now, because as your religion grows so will the doctrines of belief. Leave the nit-picky stuff for later, like medical ethics and child rearing, and choose two or three main dogmas. What’s considered sacred in your religion? Pirates, aliens, and vegetarianism are a few examples. Or you could always go the way of Buddhism and reject the duality of that whole sacred/profane construct. Another article of belief might center around historical events, such as the Exodus from Egypt in the Jewish Bible. The possibilities are endless. Whatever you choose, remember to use your imagination and enjoy yourself!

3. Third, design your rituals . Very few religions survive without a strong ritual component. Especially in fledging religions, ritual can help bind a new community together and instill a sense of loyalty to the new faith. Ritual can also be very psychologically gratifying. Why do you think that Neo-Paganism is so popular? Those guys have some great rituals. Now, its your choice how strict the ritual should be and how it ties in with your belief system, but if you’re all out of ideas try referring back to your focus. Symbolism is a big part of religion, and you can always create a ritual that references your focus, and reminds everyone that that’s why you’re doing this in the first place.

4. Pay attention to aesthetics . This means that you should assemble all of your tools and materials, and get started on the symbols and artwork of your new regime. What clothes should your followers wear? What symbol will easily identify them as your followers? Your religion’s visual appearance will be your calling card in the world. What is your theme? Consider colors, design, and nick-knacks.

5. Now you need to choose your own role within the power structure of your religion. Are you the head priest? The enlightened one? A mystic? An equal community member? Or perhaps the anonymous founder, setting your creation adrift in the world? Christianity and Islam both started with a single prophet. Just remember that whatever your role, timing and social context can make or break a religion. Before declaring yourself the next Messiah, consider if the world is ready for that. Perhaps a guru would be more appropriate.

6. Now get out there and advertise, advertise, advertise ! Whatever your medium, a soapbox, the internet, protesting at the U.N., you probably want exposure. Otherwise, how will you attract others to your cause? In order to gain official recognition and get those tax breaks, you’re going to need followers, so let the world know you’re here. Try putting an add on Craig’s list.

Quick recap of the steps:
1. Choose a focus, a central theme, idea, or person.
2. Create a central belief system, consisting of 2 or 3 main dogmas.
3. Design your rituals.
4. Pay attention to aesthetics, in terms of materials, symbols, etc.
5. Choose your own role. Who are you in this religion?
6. Advertise, advertise, advertise!

WARNING: Side effects may include martyrdom, madness, and ostracization from society.

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The author is a comparative religion major at UNM. This set of instructions was written for a DIY art studio class.