Places of worship in south Palo Alto

A few days ago, I started at my office in the Unitarian Universalist Church, and took a walk around the neighborhood. In less than an hour, I walked past or near 7 different faith communities.

I walked to the corner of Charleston and Middlefield; down the street and just out of sight on my left was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at 3865 Middlefield Rd., which is locally famous for the annual Christmas Creche exhibit that is erected in its front yard in December.

Continuing down Charleston, I crossed Fabian Way; to my left, a few blocks down at 3900 Fabian Way is Kehillah Jewish High School, where the Keddem Congregation, a Reconstructionist Jewish faith community, holds its larger events and services.

At the corner of Charleston and San Antonio Road, I walked next to the Jewish Community Center, where, every Sunday, the C3 Silicon Valley Church rents their auditorium for a worship service. The C3 Church is a worldwide movement based in Pentecostal Christianity.

Turning left on San Antonio, I came to Anjuman-e-Jamali, a new Dahwoodi Bohra mosque, an impressive stone-clad building; the minaret is over 60 feet tall, though supposedly it isn’t functional.

BlogAug1216a

I crossed back over Charleston Rd., and went a block or two into the city of Mountain View, where I saw the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, in a large building that looks like a corporate headquarters or maybe a big-box store. The Web site lists no denominational connection, but recent pastors have had connections to Pentecostalism.

BlogAug1216b

Back over the city line in Palo Alto, along San Antonio Rd., I walked by the small Central Chinese Christian Church. Unfortunately, the Web site is in Chinese, so I don’t know which branch of Christianity this church comes from.

BlogAug1216c

I walked back down Charleston Rd., and returned to the Unitarian Universalist Church.

The final tally for a one-hour, 2-12 mile walk:
1 Jewish congregation: Reconstructionist Jewish congregation, rented space
1 Muslim congregation: Dahwoodi Bohra (a sect of Shia Islam)
4 Christian congregations:
— Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), Restorationist Christian
— C3 Church, Pentecostal Christian
— Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, nondenominational Christian
— Central Chinese Christian Church, unknown Christian
1 post-Christian congregation, Unitarian Universalist

Environmental ethics panel

Presenters at the Environmental Ethics session of the Sacred Texts Human Contexts conference at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 25, were Lyndsey Graves, recent graduate of Boston University School of Theology; Michael Malley, student at Methodist Theological School in Ohio; and Etin Anwar, professor at Hobart and William Smith College.

I was particularly interested to hear Graves’s presentation, “Liberal vs. Literal?: Opportunities for Environmentally Ethical Pentecostal Interpretations of Genesis 1:26-28.” Pentecostalism is arguably the fastest growing religious group in the world, and as such could be a valuable interfaith ally in addressing the current global environmental crises.

Graves chose to address Gen. 1:26-28 because it has been such an influential text, with its injunction to “subdue” and have “dominion” over the earth. While this text has often been interpreted as giving humankind license to exploit other organisms and non-living things, eco-theologians have re-interpreted the text as calling on humans to be responsible stewards of the earth. Graves said that today, some Pentecostals are now “creatively coming up with ways to reinterpret Genesis 1:26-28.”

“I am focusing on the words ‘dominion’ and ‘subdue’,” Graves said. She pointed out that liberal Christians can say that this passage is not particularly important to them, or they can re-interpret the text to call for stewardship, “which I do not think is really justified in the Hebrew.”

But Pentecostals do not really have these options. Pentecostals assert the “inerrancy of the word of God, and because of this they do not aim to evaluate the Bible, but “to understand it and submit” to the will of God.

Graves reviewed the work of several relevant theologians who have provided readings of the text that might prove useful to Pentecostals.

Continue reading “Environmental ethics panel”

List of faith communities near Palo Alto

I’ve been compiling a list of religious organizations mostly in Silicon Valley, from San Jose to San Francisco. The middle school class of our congregation visits other faith communities, and this list is designed to be used as a resource to help the class find places to visit.

Even though I was familiar with the work of Harvard’s Pluralism Project, even though I expected a wide diversity of religious traditions, I was still astonished at the religious diversity I found: there are hundreds of faith communities, ranging from Anabaptists to Zoroastrians, within an hour’s drive of our congregation.

Most of the research I did was online. It proved difficult to research some faith communities online, as quite a few do not have Web sites, or they have Web sites that are so outdated you don’t trust them. Yelp proved to an excellent source of information about many faith communities, especially when there were recent reviews (search for “Religious organizations” in a given locale). Youtube also proved a good source of information in a few cases; sometimes faith communities have inadequate Web sites but their members may post videos that provide useful information. One or two congregations had Facebook pages that provided the most recent information.

This list also relies on some real-world research. Our middle school class has visited some of these congregations, as noted on the list below. I also relied a lot on word-of-mouth information — people telling me about some faith community that they knew about, or had friends in, or belonged to.

Perhaps the most difficult part of making this list was figuring out a reasonable way to organize it. I started with the eight major world religions identified in Stephen Prothero’s book God Is Not One; added Zoroastrian, Sikh, Baha’i, and Jain to the list; then finished off with a list of New Religious Movements organized according to the categories in the book New Religious Movements, ed. Christopher Partridge. That takes care of the major divisions. It was more difficult to know how to categorize sub-groups within Christianity and Islam. Christianity is arguably the most diverse of the major world religions, and I did the best I could based on various scholarly reference works. Islam was also challenging to categorize, and I finally decided to use the categories from the Salatomatic Web site.

If you live in Silicon Valley, I’d love it if you looked over the list — then let me know if you see any errors or obvious omissions.

And now: the list! Continue reading “List of faith communities near Palo Alto”

Fudo Myoo

FudoMyoo

Fudo Myoo is a Japanese Buddhist deity, one of the Five Great Kings, or Godai Myoo.

The Godai Myoo “are considered to have great magical powers to fight against heresy, passion, ignorance, illusion, and other spiritual obstacles. The most popular Myoo in Japan is Fudo, whose name means literally ‘The Immovable One.’ He is an incarnation of Dainichi Nyorai, who is an idealization of the truth of the universe, from whom all other Buddhas and boddhisatvas are born. Fudo is thought to fight against all evil to protect Buddhist law.” — Selected Works: The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (San Francisco: Asian Art Museum, c1994), p. 179.

This image is a digitally manipulated photograph of a sculpture in the Asian Art Museum labeled “The Buddhist deity Achala Vidyaraja (Japanese: Fudo Myoo),” dated to 1100-1185, catalog no. B605146+.

The story of Kisa Gotami, and women in early Buddhism

Generations of Unitarian Universalist children have learned the story of Kisa Gotami since it was first included in Sophia Fahs’s classic Sunday school text, From Long Ago and Many Lands. That book was published in 1948, and I included the story in an updated version of From Long Ago that we still use in Sunday school today.

But I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with this story for its depiction of the state and status of women. Kisa Gotami’s story shows that the Buddha accepted that women were able to follow his path to liberation. At the end of the story, the Buddha ordained Kisa Gotami as a nun, and she “quickly attained arhantship,” and Buddha praised her accomplishments. (1)

But this does not mean that Buddha and the early Buddhists considered women to be the equals of men. Early Buddhism was part of a patriarchal society. Buddha did acknolwedge that women were able to follow the path to liberation (as Kisa Gotami does), but early Buddhist women also were required “to submit to the standards of male control.” (2)

And early Buddhist writings tend promote the following negative stereotypes of women:
“1. A woman is stupid; a beautiful woman has no brains.
2. A girl should be a devoted daughter, and agree to the arrangements made for her by her parents and inlaws.
3. A woman in only concerned with her body, her clothes, and her jewelry.
4. A woman is sensual and seductive, and should therefore be under male control.
5. Children and relatives are a central concern in a woman’s life. Female reproduction i painful and having children binds womend to the world of matter.
6. Women who are old are ugly and useless. A woman’s body is an example of impernance and decay.” (3)

The story of Kisa Gotami plays into these stereotypes, as does the poem attributed to her that is found in the Therigatha, a collection of early Buddhist poems supposedly written by women. Kisa Gotami’s poem in the Therigatha includes the following:

“Being a woman is suffering,
that has been shown by the Buddha,
the tamer of those to be tamed.

“Sharing a husband with another wife is suffering for some,
while for others, having a baby just once is more than enough suffering.

“Some women cut their throats,
others take poison,
some die in pregnancy,
and then both mother and child experience miseries.” (4)

This poem stereotypes women by saying that the suffering a woman feels is due to her reproductive biology and her social status — whereas, for example, her suffering is not due to her intellect. So we can admire the Buddha for going beyond some of the stereotypes about women that held sway in his time and in his land, when he acknowledged that women could follow his path of liberation. Yet we must also recognize that early Buddhism was run by men, and that the early buddhists (including the Buddha himself) were not able to let go of their negative stereotypes of women.

So I think I’m going to have to rewrite that lesson plan on Kisa Gotami to include some more pointed feminist critique of the story….

Notes:

(1) Rita M. Gross, Buddhism after Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1993), p. 53.

(2) Ria Kloppenberg, “Female Stereotypes in Early Buddhism: The Women of the Therigatha,” in Female Stereotypes in Religious Traditions, ed. Ria Kloppenberg and Wouter J. Hanegraff, (Leiden, Netherlands, and New York: E. J. Brill, 1995), pp. 152.

(3) Kloppenberg, pp. 153-154.

(4) Therigatha: Poems of the First Buddhist Women, trans. Charles Hallisey (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015), pp. 111 ff.

King Usinara and the Huge Hound

Another in a series of stories for liberal religious kids, this is a Jataka tale, shortened and altered to make it suitable for middle elementary children. Sophia Fahs included her version of this story in the classic curriculum From Long Ago and Many Lands. Fahs heavily altered the story, however. More about that in the notes at the end of the story. Now, here’s the story:

One day, the followers of Buddha were sitting in the Hall of Truth talking with one another.

“Isn’t it amazing,” one of them said, “that the Buddha gave up a beautiful home, and now lives only for the good of the world?”

“Yes,” said another, “isn’t it amazing that he has attained supreme wisdom, yet rather than making himself rich, he goes about teaching goodness?”

Buddha came into the Hall and heard them talking. “Yes, it is true,” said the Buddha. “Even in my previous lives, even then when I had not attained supreme wisdom, I still always tried to live for the good of the world. Let me tell you the story of one of my previous lives.”

And this is the story the Buddha told:

 

Once upon a time, there reigned a king named Usinara. In the land of this king, the people had given up doing good, given up all religion, and instead they followed the paths of evil-doing. Sakka, the ruler of all the gods, looked upon this, and saw that people were suffering because they did evil.

“What shall I do, now?” he said to himself. “Ah, I have it! I will scare and terrify humankind. And when I see they are terrified, I will comfort them, I will tell them the universal Law of life, I will restore the religion which has decayed!” Continue reading “King Usinara and the Huge Hound”

Sutra

The headlines on today’s newspaper screamed: “U.S.CLIMATE HAS ALREADY CHANGED, STUDY FINDS, CITING HEAT AND FLOODS” [New York Times, 7 May 2014, p. A1]. This is news because we didn’t already know what this report, the National Climate Assessment, is telling us. A related story tells us that “Polls Find Americans Skeptical On Climate” [ibid., p. A13]. And why? “Scientists predict that climate change will cause larger problems for poor countries than rich ones….” And the U.S. is way ahead of all other countries in per person emissions of climate-changing gasses.

Smokey the BearThis is human nature: the ones who are causing the problem are least likely to be affected by the problem, so they believe they are not causing the problem. The minority of U.S. citizens who are aware of the magnitude of the problem attempt to convince other U.S. citizens of the truth with rational arguments, but since when did humans change their behavior as a result of rational argument?

No, it is time to call on a higher power. One of the growing problems caused by climate change is the increased incidence of forest fires, and so we immediately know on whom we must call. We will follow the example set by poet Gary Snyder in 1969. Both Buddhists and non-Buddhists, both those who follow the circumpolar Bear cult and those who don’t, should call on the Boddhisattva of Compassion Avalokitesvara — who is also Kamui Kimun of the Ainu — who is also a consort of She Who Saves, Boddhisattva Tara, Mother of Liberation — who is he who carries the vajra-shovel.

Abandon rational argument, and chant together:

Smokey the Bear Sutra

Once in the Jurassic, about 150 million years ago, the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infinite Void gave a Discourse to all the assembled elements and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings, the flying beings, and the sitting beings—even grasses, to the number of thirteen billions, each one born from a seed—assembled there: a Discourse concerning Enlightenment on the planet Earth.

   “In some future time, there will be a continent called America. It will have great centers of power called such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur, Everglades, and so forth, and powerful nerves and channels such as Columbia River, Mississippi River, and Grand Canyon. The human race in that era will get into troubles all over its head, and practically wreck everything in spite of its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature.”

   “The twisting strata of the great mountains and the pulsings of volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth. My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that future American Era I shall enter a new form, to cure the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger, and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it.”

   And he showed himself in his true form of

         SMOKEY THE BEAR.

Continue reading “Sutra”

Tibetan Monks, closing ceremony

The Tibetan Buddhist monks spent their final morning at the Palo Alto church. In addition to completing the sand mandala, they chanted for ten minutes in each worship service. As beautiful as the sand mandala was, I enjoyed the chanting the most: something about the low notes they managed to produce with their throat-singing, or more properly overtone singing, really got to me.

And of course they destroyed the sand mandala in a closing ceremony. They chanted for a good twenty minutes, and then one of them walked around the table and then drew his hand radially out from the center across the design in each quadrant and then again between each of those places. Then another monk came and swept the sand into the center; he used an ordinary four inch paint brush, which I thought was a nice touch; the best religious ceremonies mix the sublime with the ordinary.

The closing ceremony, just before the monks destroyed the mandala.

After the ceremony was over, I was talking with someone who said that twenty minutes of their chanting was plenty for her; but I said I disagreed, and could easily have listened for another hour.

Tibetan monks, day 3

Another picture of the monks working; the monk closest to the camera is incising a design into a background using a stylus (the point of a compass, actually); the monk at rear is adding a line of sand to the incised design:

At the end of the day today, the mandala was nearly complete:

It is hard to see in this photo, but the mandala is not a two-dimensional work; the sand is built up in low relief that is difficult to capture in a photograph.