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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinSeptember 9, 2005 Issue 

Live the precepts of the Gospel

The five precepts of Buddhism call us all to a universal responsibility

September 11, 2005 -- 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

photo of Bishop Robert Morneau
Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. Which of the five precepts do you find most difficult to live?

2. Is the Buddhist's understanding of community similar to that of Christianity?

3. Why is forgiveness so central to our Christian way of life?

My knowledge of Buddhism is minimal. So this past summer I read Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Living Christ (NY: Riverhead Books, 1975) in an attempt to understand this ancient tradition a little more. One passage from Hanh's text struck me: "The Five Wonderful Precepts of Buddhism - reverence for life, generosity, responsible sexual behavior, speaking and listening deeply, and ingesting only wholesome substances - can contribute greatly to the happiness of the family and society" (91).

Presentation of note:

Islam & Buddhism, 6:30 p.m. Sept. 12 & 26, 2005, Resurrection, Green Bay.

In today's reading several of these precepts are quite evident. St. Paul, in writing to the Romans, is clear in stating that "[W]hile we live we are responsible to the Lord . . ." Responsibility is the duty of us all. We are not our own masters; we belong to God. At times we fail in our responsibilities - as leaders in the community, as parents, as teachers, as human beings - and thus we stand in need of God's mercy. The five precepts of Buddhism cut across all cultures and religions and call everyone to a universal responsibility.

A second precept - reverence for life - is implied in our reading from the book of Sirach. Wrath and anger oppose reverence for life. More, Sirach demands that we show reverence for life by being merciful to those who offend us. If not, how can we expect forgiveness for our own sins. Sirach concludes with a comment that Buddhists would appreciate and probably endorse: "Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor." Reverence and gentleness of heart lead to peace.

The Gospel speaks powerfully of forgiveness and the call to mercy. Here we witness God's generosity, a generosity that we receive and then are to pass on to others. The parable is terrifying in that the withholding of mercy to others is a self-condemnation. Our responsorial refrain states: "The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger , and rich in compassion." Each of us is called to emulate these qualities of God.

What Thich Nhat Hanh is attempting in Living Buddha, Living Christ is to show that both Buddhism and Christianity have some common values such as compassion, caring, and understanding. Hanh writes: "Whenever we see someone who is loving, compassionate, mindful, caring, and understanding, we know that the Holy Spirit is there" (181). We might add forgiveness, a theme so strong in today's reading. The Holy Spirit alters our attitudes and empowers us to live the precepts of the Gospel.

One last passage from Hanh's book, a passage that again directs us toward the way of peace and happiness. This is a reflection on community and the ingredients that are essential to this value. Christians would speak in terms of community being the Church.

"When we live as a Sangha (community), we regard others as brothers and sisters, and we practice the Six Concords - sharing space, sharing the essentials of daily life, observing the same precepts, using only words that contribute to harmony, sharing our insights and understanding. A community that follows these principles always lives happily and at peace" (65).

Jesus came to bring us the fullness of life. When we live in community and when we follow the precepts of discipleship we will experience that abundance of life given us through the Holy Spirit.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor at Resurrection Parish in Allouez.)

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