Catholic vs. Buddhist - 2017-08-21 - SanathaVihari Losangeles

Author Recorded Monday August 21st, 2017

There are 2 episodes in the Versus:Buddhist series.

SanathaVihari Losangeles is a Theravada Buddhist monk from Sarathchandra Buddhist Center in Los Angeles California. He stumbled upon my podcast and reached out to put me in touch with some Canadian Buddhists. He's a bright young man with a sunny disposition. • Support the CVS Podcast: • Be a guest on a livestream:

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hi i'm sonata vhari los angeles and you're listening to Catholic verses Buddhist tell the audience a little bit about yourself if you would please who you are what you believe in why you believe it all right sounds good well my name is venerable Los Angeles so not toughy Hari that is a mouthful so people just call me Ponte I'm from Los Angeles California and I was in the military in the Air Force Reserve for 11 years during that time I came across Buddhism I was just uh looking for meditation then I came across one particular teacher venerable dr. Panaji maha terra and he had a different perspective on the teachings a more modern approach to the teachings going back to the original teachings pushing aside or suspending the tradition for a moment and just looking at the original text and that really caught my attention so the meditation itself through experiential knowledge totally changed my life I was in the military you know I was just like any young guy I like to have fun and do all these other things and I lived a beautiful life and I don't regret anything but I really had to see how far the rabbit-hole went down so uh that's how I became a Buddhist monk can you talk just a little bit about your ethnic background what your parents believe what your grandparents believe what sort of religious upbringing you might have had if any my mother she was from a small town in Zacatecas in Mexico and she grew up in a very traditional Catholic family and my father he grew up in a Catholic setting but uh when he was 17 he went off to the Marine Corps and then he never went back to his hometown really just to visit here and then so he lived in big cities so he was he was Catholic but he followed almost he would go to any kind of a Christian Church and he he wouldn't you know really stick to any one kind of religion like dogmatically or have it as his worldview he kind of let everyone do what he want but definitely he had an overall Catholic taste to everything and uh well I was small my grandma was really strict so you know I did everything Catholic that I had to do I got was baptized I my first communion my first communion was done by my cousin who was a missionary in Africa he's still there actually he's a very nice guy he's awesome he's doing great work out there and that experience of having my cousin do it for me was like the best thing like I remember being a child and my cousin's the ones doing it and I don't know I felt great so I was like one of my best memories that I have when I was a Catholic for the last 20 years he's been in Africa doing work so I feel very proud about him do you remember being very young and believing in God and praying at night in that sort of thing at least having a faith even if it was naive yeah so to me it was more like I couldn't distinguish between like religion and culture and philosophy or whatever so this is what we do so that's what we do and I felt like there was some sort of connection act I don't know if I could comprehend you know what God was but I thought some sort of connection with something I felt the sanctity of when I went into the church I knew it was a holy place I knew the priests were spiritual people so I didn't have a clear-cut understanding of it but I understood that it was something special and meaningful was there a time where you were anti religious what did you go through a dark period like that actually I went through a personal dark period but I never projected that on religion I went through like a getting Gnostic period where I I was skeptical about everything I had a lot of doubts about God but I couldn't bring myself to deny that there was something there so uh yeah I think that's it as far as I got I was just like I'm agnostic Buddhism doesn't acknowledge God but it doesn't really deny God either what is your understanding of the role of God in Buddhism each school of Buddhism probably has a different view I really guide myself by the early texts of the Buddha just like the monk who inspired me what I understand from those teachings it's just like what you said so it doesn't really acknowledge a creator god it doesn't deny one it's not really focused on that there's talks about God so they talked about like the Indian God who is supposed to be the Creator God Maha Brahma the great pragma and the has interactions with him the Buddha is like teaching brockmore what he doesn't know that's actually one discourse what Brockman didn't know what God didn't know and then actually in one discourse God kind of tells the Buddha or one of his disciples that people on earth shouldn't be upset with him because he's trying his best to keep everyone happy but he can't do everything so then Widow comes and tells people that and you know Buddha kind of takes a soft approach on God he's not critical of God he's kind of like his mentor and teacher but it just you know you really have to look to see where God's at in there and that's the Indian God it's not the Abrahamic God so yeah just to be clear so the audience knows the Abrahamic God is perfect and there's no lack of knowledge or a lack of perfection in in our God just to make sure that's understood but what does your name mean that that Buddhist name that you took on did you choose it or was it given to you and what did the different parts of it mean the name was given to me by the chief Abbot who was my preceptor who is my teacher so everything in Buddhism within the monks community has to be brought to a vote so nothing's done without a vote so the monks in the temple got together they thought about names they voted on one and then my teacher gave it to me in Sri Lanka at least they have the tradition that one part of your name has to be where you're from so they can identify you because there's so many monks by the same so it's like they have the same name there's only so many names you can choose so they pick where you're from so they called me Los Angeles because I'm from LA and then so not tucky Hari so vhari is like the same word that they use for dwelling vihara so dwelling sonata' like Atta means like self a person so saw as two kind of like the person who dwells who dwells in this dwelling and usually when they talk about be Hara or Vita vhari they're talking about some sort of divine dwelling originally like an original Pali and Sanskrit that's not what I meant but throughout the times it's been synonymous with divine dwelling so the one who is protected by the divine dwelling or the one who dwells in divine dwelling something like that I'd like to change gears a little bit and sort of talk about morality because it's something that's always on my mind with everyone that I talk with I'm deeply troubled and disturbed by any religion that says that everyone ends up in heaven and Buddhism it seems to me says that everyone is one person there's only the one mind of Buddhism and that everything is illusion you and I are not two separate beings that's illusion that's Maya and the ultimate reality is only the one mind of Buddha it correct me if I'm wrong but I think the ultimate happy ending is being reunited in Nirvana or in Buddha or something to that effect which I would equate with perfect bliss and eternal happiness so in in MOT from my perspective that seems to say that there's only God there's only heaven and suffering is illusion and therefore it doesn't really matter what we do eventually the illusion will dissolve and will go back to being that one mind of Buddha can you please correct me where I'm wrong in my interpretation so you're correct that idea was picked up by particular schools but when we look at the early Buddhist literature you don't see that kind of a view there so there isn't like this one mind that connects everything everyone doesn't end up going to heaven you know that stuff's not there in the early literature basically what I want to know is is there a difference between the best-case scenario of what's possible and the worst-case scenario of what's possible and I ask all of my guests this sort of question and I'd like I'd like to have your perspective from your particular brand of Buddhism what does it say about the best case scenario or the worst case scenario for someone like me or someone like you are we one or are we two and what what's the best and what's the worst so the traditional view as I understand it is that there are several different planes of existence there's three main divisions there's like the material world with which you live in there's like the non form world or imageless world and then there's the hells and within those there's different varieties and categories of hells if you do really really really good actions then you will go to these heavenly material realms so within the material realm there's heavenly realms and then the highest heavenly realms are the immaterial but if you do bad actions you might be born in the material world with bad consequences or you might be born as another being in the material world that doesn't have you know the intellectual capacity that we do to solve problems and fix ourselves or if you do really bad things you can end up in as a Hungry Ghost or different forms of like bad states of being or you can end up in hell or if you kill a Buddha an enlightened being your mother or your father you go to the deepest hell which is called the avicii hell and you stay there for many universal cycles so you stay there for not only this universe but many more once your bad karma runs out then you go out but it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to come back to the human world so that person once their Karma's done they might even just go to like a lesser Hell and stay in that lesser hell and go through all the hills until they come back to a human form or they might go from that hill to a human form or from that hell to an animal form it's very difficult to tell because there's so many variables we really can't tell it's very individually based on each person's Karma does this process end no unless you become awakened to the dream of existence that means you become a Buddha and enlightening being an awakened being then it ends but if you do good things if you're the best person best possible person you can ever be in existence then you will become the greatest God in the highest heaven and you'll stay there for many universes countless eons you we can't even imagine it but eventually your karma will run out I don't really see any motivation to not explore every nook and cranny of this complex karmic system I want to lift every rock I want to look behind every tree I want to indulge in every good in every evil and just not though the whole complex system and I have all of eternity apparently to do it if that's the case I see morality as hinging and depending on a fixed eternal outcome such as I have in Catholicism I have heaven or hell and you can't get out the Buddha said that all beings are seeking happiness and pleasure and all beings aversion towards pain and suffering so that alone would deter them from even going to hell even if it's only for like one universe cycle which who knows how many billions of years that would be or trillions of years no one wants that kind of stuff so that is the deterrent it sounds like what you're saying is that we have a human nature and that we are built to work with goodness and to be good for goodness sake and this would explain the conscience that we have is there a Buddhist explanation for the conscience that little voice in our head that says no don't do that well the Buddhist says something like the mind in his natural state is luminous and clear so he doesn't say like good or bad but he says that it's luminous and clear when we get into like the deeper teachings it kind of goes into like non-dual kind of concepts what is the goal of Buddhism and is Buddhism better at arriving at that goal than any other Eastern religion and why most religions everyone wants to go to heaven and they want to be with God that's the outcome right that's not the Buddhist idea the Buddhist idea is to get out of samsara to get out of cyclical rebirth and dying rebirth and dying to escape it so actually to step out of the system so heaven and hell and all of them are within the system and you step out of the system kind of like your neo and the matrix or something another way to understand it is that you realize that existence itself was a self-imposed prison or house that you put yourself in and you realize that you never existed in the way you think you existed so there's no one to die and there was no one to be born everything's kind of like ephemeral it's kind of like where you get into this whole thing we talk about illusion but these kind of words like illusion and delusion are like there's not exact parallels to them in Buddhism but it's something like that so we're actually trying to step out of this whole system of heaven and hell and earth and all these things eventually in Buddhism they talk about ultimate reality and conventional reality but in the original Buddhist teachings I have never found the word the Buddha used words like ultimate and conventional realities or different realities he says there is only one reality so this kind of like transcendent aspect is within this reality people just have to be able to see it and they'll realize like oh this was just the simulation and I was just a simulation I'm just a component of different functions of the mind and the body working together and it gives off this like holographic experience where I think that I'm here doing these things his Buddhism and is your particular form of Buddhism better than the other Eastern religions and if so why if your goal is to step out of the universe step out of yourself then what the Buddha taught would be the most efficient way but for those people who want to be with God I mean Buddhism has no problem with that I mean who are we to tell you what's the best way to get there are you saying that the goal of Hinduism and Sikhism is to be with the one God as far as I understand it yes okay and that God is different from the one mind of Buddha that was adopted and adopted by Buddhism later so what happened is over hundreds of years Buddhist religion started incorporating the local aspects of Indian religion and that's how you get these whole ideas about the one Buddha mind and all of these these are really just imports for convenience for whatever time that Buddhism found itself in so it incorporated all these things from whatever was around at that time can you think of an example of an organised religion that is pointing people in the wrong direction is there a lateral movement that could be brought to people by a philosophy or religion and is there a religion that could possibly bring people down you know I think there is the possibility or there might be religions out there that could bring people towards unwholesome states of being to hell to destructive States painful states so anyone who's doing good who's doing good things is progressing regardless of whatever religion they are so on that level we would say that all religions that are promoting charity and morals and Brotherhood fraternity and all these kind of good things they're progressing but if we take what the Buddhists telling us to be true that this goes on forever then according to to the Buddhists early teachings you would want to step out of it so if we take that kind of worldview from the Buddhist that you want to step out of it then I think we would kind of sort of get kind of this like horizontal kind of thing you were talking about with all the other religions that are doing good but they're kind of like you know that is going on forever so it kind of goes sideways they're not going up or down on that level but on the level like here on like in the in samsara itself they are going up within these levels but they're not stepping out so it would kind of be like a lateral okay I see now I want to talk about something controversial especially within the Catholic Church and that's sexual morality what is the Buddhist perspective generally and in particular in your school of Buddhism what is the what is the teaching about sexuality and morality well you know the Buddha was actually very strict on this matter especially with monks and nuns there is no funny business you can't even be along with a member of the opposite sex or that you can't receive things from them hand to hand and with the monks and nuns very strict but with the laypeople it says comment sue me cha cha Tibetan monastic oppidum Samadhi ami I will not abuse sensuality the Buddha says you cannot have a relationship with someone who is under guardianship of their mom of their dad of their brother of their sister of the government unless you get permission from who who's ever in charge of them in inch in India that would require for you to get married with them so they shouldn't be any relationships outside of marriage as I understand it in the traditional teachings is it frowned upon to create more people because these people then are trapped in this material world no because regardless if you have people or not they would just find some sort of other vehicle to get into but being in the human form itself is what the Buddha says is like the middle place so even though like there's other beings in this material playing like animals insects bacteria but the human condition with the possibility to you know go up and go down other beings that are beneath us it's very difficult for them to progress because they'll act like the intellect or cognitive abilities to make judgments on moral judgments so they get stuck where they're at and the ones who are above in heaven well there they're having a party so they're not really concerned about trying to make new good carbon and stuff like that we pray to the Saints because they can help us do you have a similar mechanism there isn't a praying per se where we ask anything because the Buddha is gone and all the Buddhist Saints the are hunts that's what they're called the awakened beings they're all gone too so there's no one to pray to to begin with but as we all know people left to their own devices will do anything so people do pray to the Buddha and eventually in other Buddhist schools Buddha is still around oh there's other Buddha's that are around and people pray to them now Buddha has enough karma to be up in heaven one of the highest heavens probably you would say for quite a long time probably for many iterations of the universe right he had that potential and he was in a very high heaven I think it's called the Taba team saw or the two-seat to heaven one of those two heavens he was in one of those heavens before he came here to earth to become awakened because this is the ideal state for awakening but after he became the Buddha before that he was Prince Siddhartha he wasn't the Buddha he was just a regular person like everyone else when he became the Buddha then he stepped out of existence itself so heaven hail all these things do not apply to him because he realized that there is no him there he went away he's not subject to the kind of understanding that we have of the world heaven in hell oh and that's a permanent condition I can't remember if you're talking it was permanent or not I can't say it's permanent or impermanent but the Buddha does say that it's unconditioned it's an unconditional state okay so if it's permanent then he will always be out of the experience out of this something you call it samsara so I'm sorry a cyclical birth he's at the umbrella of samsara does that cover every heaven and every hell and everything between yes everything in existence okay and you can step outside of that and that's what Buddha did allegedly yes how much certainty do we have that he did that well the Buddha always told us this find out for yourselves there's a very famous Sutra it's like probably the most butchered sayings of the Buddha the Buddha says you know don't take something on tradition don't take it because it's your teacher take it because it's like passed down through culture all these things but only after you've thoroughly analyzed it and practiced it and seeing that it's good for you then take it as you're teaching so the Buddha is really telling you like come and try it and tell me what you get and if you think it's good then take that as truth because it works so the way it would work like this how we know if the Buddha really achieved that is by practicing ourselves and if we if we progress on the path and we get stages that kind of mirror what the Buddha was saying then we can take that as pragmatic truth that that Buddha was right upon his ultimate final conclusion because the first steps are correct also now I want to change gears a little bit and talk about love in my religion God is love and love is the central teaching of the church we need to love God for his own sake and we need to love neighbor and ourselves for God's sake so how does that view compare and contrast with the Buddhist view where we're not supposed to desire we're not supposed to desire anything can you talk a little bit about love from your Buddhist perspective yeah so what you say we're not supposed to desire anything that's like another Buddhist meme that's been butchered okay so when the Buddha talks about desire he talked about three particular kinds of desires that were not supposed to have he gives that in his first sermon called the dhammacakkappavattana sutta the turning of the wheel of Dharma setting in motion the wheel of Dharma he says there's three kinds of desires that we shouldn't have the word desire is Tonka which really comes from thirst so it's not like the kind of desire that we have that we think about in the West or craving it kind of means something like an urge so we have the urge for kama Tonga which sensual experiences we want to see things we want to hear things we want to taste things that's one desire that we have the other one is bhava Tonga the urge to exist to become that's what keeps us going through existence one of the forces that keeps us going through some sorrow because we never want to die we want to keep living even if it's in heaven after we died we want to go somewhere else and the last one is be bhava Tonka be bhava talk that means annihilation that you want to commit suicide that you don't want to exist at all you have an aversion towards existence so the Buddha said strain away from sensuality strain away from wanting to exist in strain being away from not wanting to exist I have found the middle path so now I'll go back to your question about love can I get some clarification about love because you know how we use it in the West it's like whatever yeah the Catholic definition is to will the good of the other it's an act of the will it's not a sentiment it's not an emotion it's not a feeling although those physical aspects they accompany love but they're not what love is otherwise it would make no sense for Christ to have commanded us to a love our neighbor we can't be commanded to feel a certain way or to like someone or to have good chemistry with someone right yeah so on that level the Buddha talked about four different factors or aspects the Buddha talks about meta or my tree commonly translated as loving-kindness and there's like a loving-kindness meditation it's really popular this loving-kindness meditation so when he talks about meta or my tree he talks about Universal friendship because meta or my tree comes from the word friendship so it's kind of like a fraternal love that you have for all beings you kind of have to recognize that in the same way that I like to be well happy comfortable and peaceful and other beings don't like to be sick don't like to suffer they like to feel pain you know they're just like me they have these tendencies so I have to cut it try to protect them the Buddha gives an example like a mother wants to protect her only her only child in the similar way we have to have this kind of meta for all beings in the universe from you know the smallest roach an ant to like the biggest elephant or whale or to even beings that we're not aware of that might exist in other places in other realms even the beings in hell we should care about them the next step is called Karuna Karuna I guess the best word we can use is like compassion so you see other beings suffering and you want to do something about it and you do something about it you help them you try to help them that's the next step the third step is mudita mudita means being happy for others when goodness comes their way so a lot of people in the West are like jealous of their neighbors they're always trying to keep up with the Jones and stuff like that so the Buddha says that's not good anytime someone you know does something good and they get rewarded for it we should be happy for them that's the third one and the last one is OPEC OPEC Shah and that's equanimity so equanimity doesn't mean like your toe detached from the situation that's not the kind of equanimity the Buddha's talking about but he's talking about having a tranquil calm harmonious perspective on how things really are and when you have that clear mind you won't be judgmental you won't have all these other things because you're in a tranquil wholesome state of mine a complete state of mind very good it all sounds good and it all sounds very very Catholic I want to talk a little bit about origins does Buddhism talk about origins of where do you come from and where did you know this whole cause and effect chain is this one of the questions that was ignored by Buddha yeah he ignored that question because it said it doesn't lead to the end of suffering but later there's kind of like little things that are left behind that people use to say oh the Buddha did talk about creation because you know back in the colonial times Buddhists wanted to justify themselves to Christians so they looked at particular sutras and interpreted them a certain way so there is a there is one suta in the long discourses where it talks about how one universe was created and how beings arose in that one universe but that's just the context to the story it's not what the story is about but people have used that particular Sutra that discourse to say oh Buddha does talk about the origin of the physical world but the Buddha was you know from what I understand he was not at all concerned about where this physical world came from he's more concerned about how this belief that we are here how that arose so there's one particular sutra when discourse were an angel comes to like question the Buddha to see if he's like really the Buddha and he tells them you know is there an end to the world and then the Buddha says no there's like no into the world the angel goes that's true because in my previous life I was a yogi I had psychic powers I traveled through space very fast and I went as far as I could in a hundred years I didn't see an end so then the Buddha said although I said there's no into the world you can't conquer suffering until you find the end of the world so at first that sounds like paradox and sometimes people think all Buddhists are happy with paradox but that's not true Buddhists are not satisfied with paradox we just have to switch levels now so we switch levels in the Buddhist as it is here in this fathom long body with its perceptions and conceptions that I declare the beginning of the world the world and the end of the world so what this angel was trying to do was trying to find out if there was an end to this physical universe if there somewhere you know we can travel in space far enough and get out try to escape it materially but the Buddha says no there's no way you can get out of it that way you have to look inside and realize that you yourself have created the world that you've existed in and that's the only way to be free I still have not understood how many beings they're really and truly and actually are if you and I are two or a41 can you just briefly really briefly tell me what the case is in your understanding on this level everyone's an individual there's several different beings on this level but on other levels well if you realize what the Buddhists been telling us that we through personalizing these experiences of sensations and emotions and conceptions and all these other things that we do that we fabricate if you break it down you'll see that there's no that was there was no one there in the beginning to exist that you created yourself basically it's like a delusion if you achieve your goal and you escape some Sara will you and if Buddha is has escaped some Sara will there then be two of you will you be will you meet each other outside of samsara or does that question not make any sense at all yeah it doesn't make any sense because it supposes that there's a me and then there was a Buddha when the Buddha said there is like no true essential person here to begin with so we can't talk about entities in that kind of level we can only talk about activities and all activities cease to be personalised on that level so there's just components left over within samsara but no one to own them but the material world and all that stuff might still be there he doesn't say yes or no it might be there but that's not his concern he wants to break down this illusion that we're in that's his main concern would it be a good thing or a bad thing if every being that can escape samsara did escape some Sara what is that a good thing or bad thing and can you describe what that might mean I can't understand how that would happen but it would be good so you are you are a monk is that correct yes I'm a monk and how many years or months have you been a monk so there's two different levels there's some in there a monk which is a monk in training and then there's full monk bhiku so there's two levels I've been a sama near a monk for a little over two years and I'm waiting to go to Sri Lanka to get my higher ordination the reason I haven't done that is because I was finishing up my religious degree so my teacher said get your school done and then we'll send you over there the foreign words that you've used in this interview are they all Sri Lankan they're all Pali Pali the word itself literally means text so that system of language is what we would scholars call now ma Gaddy Marga da was a kingdom the most powerful kingdom in the time of the Buddha and since the Buddhist kingdom of the sake ins was very close to market on next door they most likely scholars think that they spoke a form of maha Dhamma daddy so we say Polly everywhere you look I'll say the Buddha spoke Kali you know everything about Polly but Polly is just what we call it now but back then it was it could have been known something like maggoty the language of you know the the language of those people at that time in that country in today's geography we're on the map is that it would be on the eastern part of India near the Ganges River and can you tell the listeners what the name of your brand of Buddhism is I was ordained as a terawatt a Buddhist monk tarah meaning elder vada meaning way this school holds to what we know as the most conservative or original teachings of the Buddha within that particularly this school comes from Sri Lanka so there's tera vaada monks in Thailand Myanmar Cambodia different parts but this particular group that I'm here with these monks are from Sri Lanka did you handpick that because you were drawn to its teachings you know I tried other kinds of Buddhism but that one particular monk that I told you about venerable dr. who nojima ho Tara the way he presented it to me it resonated with me so this is the school that I followed because I just felt experientially that it was what connected with me the most and how far could you bend your beliefs until someone tapped you on the shoulder and said you're getting out of line with your Buddhism if you said well I believe that there's only one lifetime and then there's either eternal hell or eternal heaven would you raise some eyebrows in your community yeah I'd raise some eyebrows but it wouldn't get me kicked out from being a monk because there really is no like things you're forced to believe there's things that you should practice for especially for monks there's a disciplinary rules that you have to do it if you don't do them you're not a monk but as far as believing goes the ideas in your head there's no like thing about ideas right so just to wrap up the show what would you say to anyone out there that's listening now if you know anything from your experience in this world is that nothing lasts forever nothing lasts forever not even the worst time so you can take refuge in this kind of flux and impermanent state of the world good times are coming you just have to endure you have to be diligent and you will make it you have the strength and this too will pass