Activity time: 5 minutes
Preparation for Activity
- Make sure you are comfortable fielding participants’ statements of prior knowledge about Buddhist thought and practice. If you wish, do a little research.
Description of Activity
Participants deepen their understanding of Universalism’s key concept of universal salvation as they explore a similar concept in Buddhism. They see how both concepts fit in our living Unitarian Universalist faith.
Explain that people other than Universalists have long taught and believed that all souls inherently belong to the divine-that anyone can attain a state of communion with the divine. Ask what participants know about Buddhism. Affirm responses you know to be correct.
Say that many people have heard of and seen statues of the Buddha, and have heard about the Buddhist idea of reincarnation. However, Buddhism is a very old, multi-faceted religion-there is much more to it, and really understanding Buddhism would require much study. So today, you will talk about a bit of Buddhist philosophy, the part that relates to universal salvation.
Tell the group, in these words or your own:
The original Buddha, called Gautama Buddha, or simply Buddha, lived around the fifth century BCE. He believed meditation was a way for people to reach a state of inner peace and enlightenment. They can achieve "nirvana," a state or condition in which they feel perfect inner peace and complete happiness that lasts through all time.
Ask the group what nirvana and universal salvation have in common. Affirm:
- Both are something an individual can get to.
- Both are positive (peaceful, happy).
- Both are linked with God or the Divine.
- Both are eternal.
Many people gradually began to accept Buddhist teachings, and now the world has about 350 million Buddhists. Today, there are several branches of Buddhism. One of them in particular, Mahayana Buddhism, says that the individual’s enlightenment-or, in our terms, salvation-is not enough. Mahayana Buddhists believe someone who becomes a Buddha is not done. To complete their enlightenment, they cannot think only of their own salvation while humankind continues in suffering and ignorance. They must continue to teach and to sacrifice, to help all the world move toward enlightenment.
Ask the group:
- How is the Mahayana Buddhist idea similar to universal salvation as the Universalists saw it?
- How is it different?
- Universalists believed everyone has the potential to be saved, in the Christian sense of being saved from eternity in hell.
- The idea of going to heaven forever is similar to the Buddhist idea of uniting with the Divine in eternity.
- Mahayna Buddhists believe one’s personal salvation or enlightenment, to be complete, requires a commitment to the salvation or enlightenment of everyone.
Conclude by affirming that both ideas are compatible with the values we live in our Unitarian Universalist faith. You might point to our Principles-particularly the first (inherent worth and dignity of each person), the second (justice and equity), the third (acceptance of one another, encouragement to spiritual growth) and the seventh (interconnected web of all life).