May 17 - May 19, 2002
Sunday 19th May, 2002
"Peace and Love and So On" - Dalai Lama Update
Read Tim Blair
to learn how the Australian media are covering the Dalai Lama's visit. And
find out what Tim thinks of the man himself. (Hint: His posting is headed
"Eastern Arrogance" and the Dalai Lama is referred to, respectively, as
Rolly Polly Holy, Mr Lama, Daily Llama, Dolly Lamer and the Dalster.)
The Religion to Have When You’re Not
Having a Religion
The Dalai Lama received a
pop star welcome in Melbourne last night. And the papers debate whether
Australia is turning Buddhist.
In a full-page article (available online
only for a fee) The Age says:
Australia today has 348 organisations that describe themselves as Buddhist,
more than twice as many as in 1995. The Dalai Lama’s book, The Art of
Happiness, has sold more than 150,000 copies in Australia and is among a
series of Buddhist best-sellers in Western countries. They include The
Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, whose author Sogyal Rinpoche, spoke on
business ethics to a seminar organised by Sydney’s Commonwealth Bank.
Buddhism also has a huge presence on the internet. The world’s most visited
Buddhanet, is run from a Sydney
office by an Australian-born Thai-Buddhist monk.
The paper interviewed many Australian
Buddhist converts, who gave a variety of reasons for choosing their new
Lindsay Falvey, a professor of agriculture at Melbourne University…developed
a deep respect for Buddhism over 25 years of visiting Thailand as an
agricultural aid worker. This has shaped his ideas of the need to take a
moral approach to agriculture, which includes a responsibility both to the
environment and to feeding people.
Contrast this with my own observations
from living in Japan for 17 years. I too became deeply attached to Buddhism,
only to become disillusioned. Here is an excerpt from
Chapter 8 of my book
Living Water to Light the Journey (which I am slowly putting
I saw the dreadful despoliation of the environment that had occurred in
Japan and in other Asian Buddhist countries, far worse than anything in
Australia or in most other Western nations. And I also could not help but
notice that Japan, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, devoted
relatively little attention to helping the poor of the world. I became
disillusioned with a religion that at heart seemed to me then to be mainly
concerned with the self.
I tend to agree with the comments of two
academics in the article in The Age:
“People grossly over-estimate Buddhism’s Western numbers,” says Professor
Gary Bouma, a Monash University sociology professor and Anglican minister.
Bouma believes many more people profess vague allegiance to the ideals of
Buddhism than are card-carrying members. “Buddhism,” he adds, “is the
religion to have when you’re not having a religion.”
Similarly, Greg Bailey, a reader in Sanskrit at LaTrobe University, believes
the allure of Tibetan Buddhism is fuelled by Western fascination with the
exotic. The Dalai Lama, he says, “is promoting a particular image of
Buddhism popular with the middle classes.”
That fits in with my own experiences in
Japan. Here are more excerpts from
Chapter 8 of my book:
I loved these Buddhist services: monks wearing colourful robes chanted
sutras; there were bells, gongs, drums and chimes, and the fragrances of
incense; and there were all kinds of dazzling Oriental rituals. It was all
very exotic, and for me, coming from a non-religious background, the whole
atmosphere always seemed to be one of great holiness and the presence of the
I sometimes experienced a real spiritual buzz from these flowing, dream-like
Buddhist services, seated with dozens of priests on the tatami floor,
listening to the soft-percussion melodies, and chanting long, layered sutras
that seemed to soar upwards and then float to earth in deep, guttural
growls. Often an entire face of the temple building was opened to reveal a
mountain or lake setting. Some of these services were real theatre, with
chanting priests walking in single file slowly through the morning mist into
And here are my warnings in
The spiritual and mystical traditions of Christianity have become an
important part of my life. Yet I also see dangers in veering too far towards
this side of religion—in putting all the emphasis on the experiential.
That is what worries me about idealistic young Australians who seek out an
adviser for instruction in Eastern and New Age spiritualities. Too often,
these people operate in “pick ‘n’ mix” fashion, moving from one fashionable,
articulate guru to the next, absorbing a bit of Oriental philosophy and
timeless wisdom and achieving some transcendental-like experiences. They
feel they are on a voyage, journeying closer to the divine. Often it is
little more than a pilgrimage deeper into their own egos.
In Japan, the country of the East that I know best, a person engaged in a
spiritual journey will normally become attached to a teacher, and that
teacher will be attached to a hierarchy of other teachers, some of whom will
have many decades of experience. These teachers will be revered and
respected, and they will put enormous stress on hard work and discipline,
some of it intensely unpleasant. Dedicated study of traditional scripture
will be required, and the teachers will also be likely to emphasise
continuing humility, duty and service. There will probably be a strong
Unfortunately, too often the Australian Oriental experience is designed to
give people a quick fix, to make them feel better about themselves. And
though there is, of course, nothing intrinsically wrong with feeling better
about yourself, especially if you have problems, the point is that it is a
short-term fix only. When big difficulties crop up in your life, you may
find that you have nothing solid supporting you. For me, it is the support
of God that has proven to be one of the major differences between my past
Buddhist experiences and my present life as a Christian.
I find that I am continually drawn back to the Bible, and to the figure of
Jesus….In our society, where so many are seeking values, and where so many
feel such a spiritual desolation in their lives, I suspect that the answer
is a genuinely listening heart, open to the message of Jesus.
Meanwhile, the newspapers miss what I
believe is a big story: the steady move to Christianity by so many Chinese
and other Asian migrants to Australian, many of them from a Buddhist
background. It’s a story I intend to cover on this website. Please stay
Saturday 18th May, 2002
Christian BlogList Continues to Grow
That’s what happens when you neglect your
email for a few days – more than 20 new blogs for the Christian BlogList,
which continues to grow and now numbers more than 180 sites. Some are blogs
I simply hadn’t discovered before. But quite a few are brand new.
Some of the sites came from a new list,
Some Catholic Blogs, drawn up by Gerard Serafin. He has divided this
list into 45 Catholic blogs, six Orthodox and two Christian. (I’d be far too
nervous to categorise blogs – or anything else – into Catholic, Orthodox and
Christian; I guess I’m just an over-sensitive Evangelical.)
Gerard himself has a new blog,
A Catholic Blog for Lovers. It’s a deeply spiritual site, and also
extremely attractive, incorporating Christian artworks.
I got bitten by the blog bug. Decided to launch out into the deep (even if I
am not particularly deep myself): and I guess I see my Catholic Blog for
Lovers as another nook in my rather rambling garden of a website. I hope to
share images, poetry, prayers, reflections from the saints and mystics,
readings and a few comments here and there on the current life of the Church
(mostly the Catholic Church).
Another list of Christian blogs is at the
manna cabana site (thank you to
Joyful Christian Jeffrey Collins for telling me of it). Most of the
blogs on this list are personal diaries of Christians, often with little
actual Christian content. Many are very touching. But I have decided that
with my own list getting so large I’m not going to include these personal
diaries any more (unless diarists themselves ask to be included – I wish to
manage the list under grace, not law).
Of the new blogs on my list, one I
particularly liked was
e-church.com, from Tim Bednar, a former inner-city pastor in
Minneapolis, and now a web designer. He bills himself as pastor of e-church,
and plans to write about the church in the world, “what it means to think
and act as a Christian in the world as it actually exists”.
He has a lively style and plenty of ideas.
one posting he reflected on why people nowadays seem more comfortable
getting their ethics from a humorist such as Randy Cohen (who writes about
ethics for the New York Times) rather than from Christians.
My answer is that [a humorist] is perceived as being closer to humans. Many
outsiders perceive that Christians walk five feet above the ground…
In thinking about this, I would like to work to cultivate a sense of wit and
humour that is disarming. I think that would be a powerful way to help
outsiders hear the truth as truth.
I want to affirm Christian humorists to shout louder, to become more daring.
Those of quick wit: do not concede to boredom or to the opinion of others.
Learn to balance your humour with prophetic poignancy. Learn how to pierce
the soul with laughter. The Kingdom needs prophet/clown/comedian to help us
see ourselves as we really are – this is comedy at its best and most
And check out
Stranger in a Strange Land, the blog of Ellen Hampton, a Christian
worker in Bosnia.
We decided to continue our church tour, and found ourselves at the Serbian
Orthodox church just as the service was ending. Happy Easter! It was
orthodox Easter on Sunday, and after our experience there we felt welcomed
and blessed, for as we were standing around the back of the church, enjoying
the gold and blue painted ceiling and the painting of the Last Supper over
the iconostasis, one of the church members motioned for us to come forward
to the front of the church and proceeded to give us each an egg dyed dark
red. I felt very joyful in seeing how the celebration of our risen Lord had
affected these believers to welcome us strangers (despite the fact that we
were tourists and Protestants) in this way. We felt graced.
Friday 17th May, 2002
All Spiritual Leaders Are Equal – But
Some Are More Equal Than Others
Prime Minister John Howard will
refuse to meet the Dalai Lama, who is due in Australia tomorrow for a
"Well, he's a spiritual leader. I don't see every spiritual leader who comes
to Australia on every occasion that he or she comes to Australia," he said.
"I saw him in 1996. There is no particular reason why I should see him on
In fact, there’s a very good reason why
Prime Minister Howard does not want to see him on this occasion – the
PM is off to Beijing next week to promote an Australian bid for a $26
billion project to supply China with liquefied natural gas.
According to the Dalai Lama’s Australian
the reaction from the Chinese Government [is] always the same. "There's no
difference," he said. "Wherever he visits, the Chinese warn them. They (the
Chinese) get very upset before he visits, but some countries tend to
withstand that and others give in. Australia is in the middle."
Instead, a Parliamentary reception is
being organised by Greens senator Bob Brown, who is clearly not afraid of
meeting spiritual leaders.
Actually, there's one spiritual leader the
senator seems scared of meeting. Bob Brown is, of course, the politician who
ban the Lord’s Prayer from Parliament.
Heathens of Sydney and Perth
I noted yesterday (scroll down) that
according to the Operation World handbook, Papua New Guinea is 97.3%
Christian, one of the highest percentages of any country. It also has a huge
number of foreign missionaries, many from Australia.
A reader asks:
Why not, other than the sexiness of going to the Deep Dark Jungle to
Civilize the Natives, send some of those missionaries to Sydney and Perth
rather than Port Moresby?
Australia is just 67.5% Christian,
according to Operation World.
Turning again to the highly detailed
Operation World handbook, we learn that just 55.9% of the population of
the Netherlands is Christian, one of the lowest rates of 52 European
countries (Bosnia, at 35.0%, is bottom).
So Christians should be rejoicing at
yesterday’s Dutch election results. The country’s new Prime Minister
seems likely to be Jan Peter Balkenende,
a Christian philosophy professor who takes a dim view of cannabis cafes, gay
marriage and euthanasia.
Just one problem. The
Christianity Today weblog wonders if American Christians will like him.
After all, he looks - gulp - just like Harry Potter.