Among Rochester’s many communities is a group called the White Lotus Society. They are a group dedicated to a specific interpretation of the religion of Buddhism and I had the pleasure of meeting one of them not too long ago during a weekly gathering of the Flower City Philosophy group. During the discussion, he spoke often about how understanding and peace was necessary in today’s world, within the context of our talk. His ideas are common in other western promotions of other eastern religions and practices rooted in them.
This is the perception that many of us have and the practitioners here are indeed peaceful and seeking enlightenment. Christianity and Islam are usually the beliefs we hold in suspension. Christianity has a long record violence and corruption that existed both alongside and opposite of its teachings of love and nonviolence. Islam has a similar history, but also has the burden of their dichotomy playing out in the every night on the six o’clock news.
However, yoga is considered relaxing and healthy. Buddhist are known for seeking peace or tranquility, and so on. Much of these views are inherited from the 1960’s and the Hippie movements, looking for alternatives to the ‘corrupt’, traditional institutions that brought them into the Vietnam War. However, while many interpretations of eastern spiritual practices are what they preach regarding inner peace, much of their history has also been turbulent.
In the past, there were forms of yoga that were for developing a tranquil and peaceful spirit, and others dedicated to the practice of war. The Battle of Thaneshwar in India during 1567 was one such event were yogis fought and killed. Samurai are considered by many to be one of the best warriors in the world, armed with the most efficient killing blades ever created. However, many samurai were also Zen Buddhist followers.
This gap of knowledge is understandable. Most people are neither inclined, nor have the time to study the history of things outside of their own world. Nor is it a conspiracy by eastern religious communities to seduce us into becoming like them. Indeed most religious communities in the western world play down the bloodier chapters of their history, dumbing it down to some cultural deviation from the ‘true’ faith.
Despite these facts, the lack of knowledge has contributed to perceptions and judgments we share that are not entirely true. We are choosing a selective history. Awareness of a religion’s or ritual practices’ violent past does not mean we have to emulate it. Still, if we want to remain true to institutional transparency and not falsely judge others, which our culture seems to imply is the ideal, then this unpleasant knowledge would be a necessity. It is always best to base our judgments on all of the facts, not just the pleasant ones we want to believe and match our lifestyles.