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September 2008
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Posted by: Jim Gray @ 7:45 pm


The Buddhist religion dates back to about 563 BCE with the birth of Siddhartha Gautama in Lumbini, Northern India, which now is in Nepal. He was the son of a king, and in childhood was completely sheltered from the real world. But when he was eventually exposed to the miseries of the world, he also encountered a monk who had found peace through contemplation and the renunciation of material objects. Siddhartha was so impressed with that approach that at the age of 29 he renounced his crown and family and set out on a journey to seek the Truth.

After a lengthy period of self-denial, discipline and meditation, he attained Supreme Enlightenment. Thereafter as he worked to share his teachings with others he became known as the Buddha, or “the Enlightened One.”

The teachings of Buddha were not actually written down and finalized for about 500 years. Nevertheless, Buddhism slowly spread to numerous countries all over the world, and this resulted in the development of the religion. Today there are an estimated 350 million Buddhists in the world, with the largest concentration in China and Southeast Asia.

Buddha is not a god, and Buddhists do not believe in a god that is the creator of the universe. Instead, Buddha is the highest form of morality and the Supreme Teacher. Hence, the name Buddha is derived from “budh,” which means “to awaken and be aware or completely conscious of.”

Buddhism today is divided into large numbers of denominations, but most of these share a common set of fundamental beliefs. One of these is reincarnation, which is to say that people are reborn after dying, and this may be done repeatedly. Then after many cycles, if people release their attachment to desire and to the self, they can attain the state of liberation and freedom from suffering that is known as Nirvana.

Most Buddhists also believe in three trainings or practices that can lead to Nirvana. The first is Sila, which is virtue, good conduct and morality. This is in turn founded upon two principles: equality, which means that all living entitles are equal, and reciprocity, which is like the “Golden Rule” in Judaism and Christianity.

The second practice is Samadhi, which is concentration, meditation and mental development. Developing one’s mind is the path to wisdom, which in turn leads to personal freedom. The third practice is Prajna, which is discernment, insight, wisdom and enlightenment. This is the heart of Buddhism. Wisdom will emerge only when the mind is pure and clear.

There are also four “Noble Truths” that most Buddhists accept. They are Dukkha (Suffering exists. It is real and almost universal.); Samudaya (The cause of suffering is human failings, such as a desire for wealth, power, fame, sensual pleasures, etc.); Nirodha (There is an end to suffering when the mind reaches Nirvana, which is freedom, liberation and non-attachment.); and Magga (Following an 8-fold path of right understanding, thinking, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration).

So with the Buddhist cosmology, there are a variety of heavens and hells into which people may be born, but they are not forever. Therefore people can “fall” from a heaven, or “rise” from a hell, based upon their prayers (and other people praying for them) that repent for past transgressions and sincere vows not to repeat them, and an overarching respect for all life, which is shown by refraining from the killing of any living beings.

Humanism is more an ethic than a religion. It affirms each person’s ability and responsibility to lead meaningful and ethical lives that add to the greater good of humanity. It has its roots in ancient Greek culture (with its emphasis upon improving society), the Renaissance (for its advancement of science), the Enlightenment (with its concept of the separation of church and state), and 19th Century “freethought” (with its challenges to discrimination and advocacy of reform).

Most humanists do not believe in a supernatural power, but draw a clear distinction between belonging to a religion, on the one hand, and being “religious,” on the other. This leads humanists to explore the meaning and possibility of having a religion without having an actual god.

In his book “A Common Faith,” John Dewey described the humanist philosophy. He began by noting the “religious” attitudes that devotees had toward their religions. From this he argued that people could equally possess that religious attitude toward the ethics of most religions for the betterment of mankind, without ascribing to the dogma of any of those religions. In other words, Dewey tried to emancipate the religious experience from the religion itself.

Instead of a faith founded upon ideals guaranteed to exist by a supernatural authority, humanism is a moral faith founded upon ideals inherent in the natural relationship existing between man and his environment. And the higher purpose is to meet human needs in the here and now. In fact, most humanists believe it is immoral to wait for God to act for us. Ultimately the responsibility for the kind of world we live in rests with each of us.

We began this short series of columns on religions with a discussion about the critical importance of the separation of church and state. Then we discussed some of the world’s great religions in an attempt to learn from them, and grow from that learning. We now end the series by noting that governments could avoid many problems if they would adopt Humanism’s “religious” higher purpose to meet human needs in the here and now, instead of adopting the tenets of any particular religion. That was the approach adopted by our Founding Fathers when they said that there was a natural order of things, and that some “truths were self-evident,” and that approach should be re-emphasized and continued today.

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

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Posted by: Jim Gray @ 9:26 pm




The response to the column about Judaism and Christianity was good, and many people requested to be informed about the time and date of our session in which I have invited my friend Rabbi Marc Rubenstein of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach to further discuss Judaism.  That will be this coming Tuesday, September 23 at 5:00 pm in room 109 of Heath Hall at Vanguard University.  Please join us.


            So now continuing our short series about some of the world’s great religions, we turn our attention to the religions of Islam and Hinduism.  The religion of Islam, which is the world’s second largest religion after Christianity, is monotheistic, which is to say that there is only one God.  And Islam, like Judaism, traces its roots to the prophet Abraham.  Moses is believed to have descended from Abraham’s son Isaac, and Muhammad is believed to have descended from Abraham’s other son Ishmael.  Consequently, due to lineage, one will find commonalities among Christianity, Judaism and Islam.


            The word “Islam” means “submission,” or total surrender of oneself to Allah, which is the Arabic word for God.  A person who follows the Islamic religion is known as a Muslim, which means one who submits to God.  Muslims believe that prophets were chosen by God, and those prophets include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, among others.  All of these prophets were human and not divine, though some were able to perform miracles to reinforce their claims. 


Muslims strongly believe that God revealed his final message to the prophet Muhammad, who is so revered that when his name is spoken, it is almost always followed by the phrase “Peace be upon Him.”  Muslims also believe that on numerous occasions during the period between 610 and the date of his death in 632 BCE, Muhammad received the Quran orally from God through the archangel Gabriel.  Then Muhammad passed God’s words on to his companions who, in turn, wrote them down.  Since these literally are considered to be the words of God, the Quran, which means “recitation,” is the central religious text of Islam. 


Like Judaism but unlike Christianity, Islam is a religion that emphasizes faith combined with “good works” to earn God’s forgiveness and favor.  Muslims follow the Five Pillars of Islam, which are: “There is but one God, and Muhammad is His messenger;” ritual prayer 3 or 5 times per day that is meant to focus people’s minds upon God; alms-giving; fasting during the month of Ramadan to encourage a feeling of nearness to God; and the Hajj, which is a once in a lifetime pilgrimage during a particular time of year to the City of Mecca, for those who are able.


            After Muhammad’s death there was a political schism into Sunni and Shia that was caused by disagreements over who would succeed Muhammad in the religious and political leadership of the Muslim community.  About 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni, and 14 percent are Shia, and 1 percent other.  But there are actually few theological differences between Sunnis and Shias.  Unfortunately, today when people think of Islam, they often think of violence.  This is, of course, a stereotype that disturbs the overwhelming majority of Muslims because they believe that Islam completely rejects violence against innocent civilians. 


Hinduism is generally considered to be the oldest of the world’s religions, having its roots back to 1500 BCE.  It does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, or a single system of morality, but instead has thousands of different religious groups, and it is the dominant religion of India and Nepal.  The most sacred scriptures for Hindus are the Vedas, or “Books of Knowledge,” that were written in Sanskrit from about 1500 BCE to 100 CE.


There are some bedrock concepts on which most Hindus agree.  For example, like the religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, Hindus believe there is only one, all-pervasive and Supreme Being.  This is a “three-in-one” God known as Brahman, who is composed of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Shiva (the Destroyer).  But contrary to Christianity, Brahman is not a faraway God in some remote heaven.  Instead this Supreme Being is inside each and every soul, waiting to be discovered.  This turns the focus of Hindus inward to their own soul for Brahman, which is the ultimate divine reality.


Hindus also worship the “wives” of Shiva, such as Kali, or one of Vishnu’s ten incarnations or “avators.”  But this is only the beginning, because there are literally millions of Hindu gods and goddesses, with concurrent religious festivals and holy days.


Hindus also believe in Karma, which is the law of cause and effect by which all people create their own destiny by their thoughts, words and deeds.  Thus both good and bad actions come back to people in the future, which helps them to learn life’s lessons and become better people.  Therefore, with good Karma a person can be reborn into a higher caste.  A fundamental tenet of this is to live with a minimum of “hurt” to other living beings, because all life is sacred.  This means that peace and non-violence, as espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, are ingrained into the Hindu religion. 


For Hindus the soul leaves the body at death, but does not die.  Instead it will be reborn, or “reincarnated,” which is otherwise known as the “transmigration of souls.”  Then after a soul evolves well enough spiritually, it can be released from the cycle of physical rebirth to an Enlightenment, which is attained by becoming in tune with the Brahman within.  This condition is called Nirvana, and this is the ultimate goal of the Hindu.



James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.


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Posted by: Jim Gray @ 6:12 pm


For a long time I have wanted to take a class about the comparative religions of the world, but it has never worked out. Nevertheless, and especially considering last week’s column about the dangerous situations all around the world due to the merging of church and state, I thought I would try to learn about and then discuss one or two of the world’s great religions in each of our upcoming columns for the next few weeks. Unfortunately, our public schools seem to have treated this fascinating and critical subject as taboo for many decades, but there is no logical reason for this situation to continue.

Please join me in this endeavor. Each day the world seems to become a smaller place, which means that all of our “neighbors” keep getting closer to us. So it would promote peace in the world for all of us to have a better understanding of each other’s religions, customs and points of view.

But as we begin, please understand that, although I will consult with knowledgeable people, I myself have no particular expertise or background in these subjects. That means I might at times misspeak or make other mistakes. Please do not take offense if I do, and please feel free to correct me. But if this will make us all a little less ignorant about our own and other people’s religions, it will be well worth the effort.

Of course, let us also not delude ourselves that simply by espousing universal education about each other’s religions, or engaging in interfaith dialogue we will somehow miraculously close the divide among Muslims, Christians, Jews and others. Throughout history, even a common religious background has not deterred significant difficulties among people of the same faith, such as Catholic and Protestant Christians, Orthodox and Reformed Jews, and Sunni and Shiite Muslims. But such efforts will at least allow us to focus upon real differences instead of false or even imagined ones.

Let us begin by making the point that each of the world’s great religions has similar values of peace, justice and respect for our parents and elders. Of course all of them are quite different from each other in many ways, but their basic values are similar. In addition, it is also true that each of the holy books of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths contain some “problematic” passages that can be interpreted as asserting superiority of its particular faith over all of the others.

For example, a passage in the Gospel of Mark in the Bible says: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Similarly a verse from Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures says: “(O)f all the peoples of the earth the Lord your God chose you to be his treasured people.” And also chapter 5, verse 51 of the Koran says: “Anyone who takes (Jews and Christians) as an ally becomes one of them - God does not guide such wrongdoers.” As we have seen, some people in each of these religions have used their interpretations of these passages for their own radical ends.

But despite these problems, let us try to move toward a mindset of “respect” for the religions, values and beliefs of others, as long as they do not profess or condone violence or subjugation over others, as opposed to a “tolerance” for those beliefs. The former connotes that all people who worship sincerely in their communities are entitled to be respected. The latter basically implies that other people’s beliefs are really mistaken or even silly, but we who have the “true faith” will patronize and humor those people by allowing them to persist in their deluded conditions.

Actually, the seeds of these articles were planted when I heard Dr. John Huffman include in his sermon at St. Andrew’s Church in Newport Beach a reference to a book written by Charles Colson and Harold Fickett entitled “The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters.” So I decided that if this book had Dr. Huffman’s “seal of approval,” I would read it.

I did so, and thus discovered many things I did not know about my own protestant religion. This led to further reading adventures about other religions, which disclosed much additional interesting information. For example, Jews have between 4 and 7 “expressions” or denominations of their religion, depending upon how you count them. Moslems have a score or more, and Buddhists even a greater number. Hindus, Mormons, and other faith groups also have quite a few divisions as well.

But Christians take the cake. They have literally thousands of denominations or expressions around the world. In fact there are somewhere around 470 denominations in the United States alone. Generally, most Christians see this diversity as both good and bad. It is “good” in that it speaks to how many ways there are to approach God and to worship and follow Him, and it also allows for individual personality and cultural needs. It is “bad” in that it is can be confusing to others, and also because so many of the religious differences are over seemingly small issues. But to summarize, and to quote my own pastor, to talk about Christianity is to talk about differences.

So in the coming few weeks I invite you to join us in exploring the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist religions, as well as humanist and some other atheistic views of life. We will begin next week with an exploration of Judaism as well as Christianity, which I openly acknowledge as being my faith. And throughout these weeks to come, if you have a different good faith perspective about any of the religions we discuss, please feel free to share it with all of us on the Daily Pilot’s website.

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

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Posted by: Jim Gray @ 6:07 pm


When I completed a draft of this column I forwarded it to several people for their comments, including a local rabbi friend of mine.  I want to share his response with you.  He said: “I would really like you to talk about the essence of what it is to be a Jew.  In ‘Jew,’ J stands for Justice, e for education, and w for worship. Judaism is based on this life and its focus is helping his fellow man.  Christianity’s focus is more on the self and of getting to Heaven.  They are like two different sports: baseball and football.  Jews often get upset when Christians see (Christianity) as the fulfillment of Judaism.  Most Jews feel that the two religions emphasize different things.  Like Jews have no concept of salvation or grace and emphasize obedience to Jewish law.  There are many other differences too, like God has no body in Judaism and there is no concept of hell or the devil.  I would like to discuss more about this with you in person.”

I am fully going to accept the rabbi’s invitation, and plan to meet with him for a discussion in about two weeks.  I have also invited several classes at Vanguard University to join us.  If you would like to meet with us as well, please contact me by e-mail message and I will give you the time and place.

Otherwise, I have learned that a Jew is not a race of people, because race is determined by genetics and cannot be changed.  Instead it is defined as either a person whose mother was a Jew, or someone who has gone through the formal process of conversion to the religion of Judaism.  But Jews do see themselves as a “family,” and trace their descent from the Israelites of the Bible, or from others who were exiled from Babylon in the 6th Century, BC.

There is no specific dogma or formal set of beliefs that a person must have to be a Jew.  To the contrary, it is mostly a religion of “good acts,” where a person must earn God’s forgiveness and favor.  Nevertheless, Jews have and treat as holy the teachings of the Torah, which is a divinely-inspired and hand-written parchment scroll that is so sacred that it is only kept in a synagogue, which is the Jewish house of worship. 

To Orthodox Jews the Torah consists of only the first 5 books of the Old Testament.  This is “the Law,” and it must be strictly followed in every respect.  Conservative Jews generally believe that the laws and traditions must be interpreted based upon the times, except that most observe some form of dietary rules (kosher) and other traditional practices.  Jews who are a part of the Reform / Liberal / Progressive Movements generally believe that people can choose which particular traditions to follow.  And many non-orthodox Jews believe that the Torah consists of the first 5 books of the Old Testament, which is “the Law,” as well as the next 8 books, which constitute “the Prophets,” as well as the last books, which constitute “the Writings.” 

To this many Jews add the oral teachings of the Torah, which is the Talmud and other collections of writings about Jewish law and traditions.  The Talmud contains the arguments, debates, agreements and disagreements of literally tens of thousands of Jewish scholars, who, over thousands of years, have studied each and every aspect of the biblical text in an attempt to distill the wisdom contained therein.  One of the best known of these scholars is a 12th Century scholar named Rambam, who wrote the “13 Principles of Faith.” 

This widely accepted document basically teaches that there is only one God, who is unique, eternal and incorporeal, which is to say that He is not a physical being; that prayer is to be directed to God alone and no other; that the words of the prophets are true, and Moses is the greatest of the prophets; that the Torah was given to Moses directly by God; that God knows the deeds as well as thoughts of human beings, and will reward the good and punish the wicked; and that the Messiah will come.

Of course in many significant ways the religion of Christianity evolved from Judaism, since Jesus Christ was a Jew.  But Christians believe that Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God was sent down to earth by God to die for the sins of mankind.  By this act, Christians would be forgiven, and could obtain everlasting life by giving themselves to Jesus.

Like Jews, Christians believe in only one God, but they describe God as “Three persons in One.”  Therefore God is the Father and Creator; God also is Jesus; and God is also the Holy Spirit, whose being is present as guide, comforter, wisdom and sustainer.

Jesus on the cross unconditionally reaches out to everyone in an attempt to reconcile each person to God as well as to one another.  The central theme that makes reconciliation possible is forgiveness.  And when forgiveness is put into practice, it is life changing, and even world changing.  Why?  Because it can break the cycle of violence.  At the same time, the contrary life of unforgiveness is a curse.

The three major historic divisions of Christianity are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, and those have many, many subdivisions.  The beliefs and practices of Christians come from the Holy Bible, which is a divinely-inspired combination of the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament), and Christian writings (or New Testament). 

But Jesus as revealed in the Bible is understood by most Christians as fully divine, and also fully human.  His divinity means that He is understood to part of “the Godhead,” which means that God is fully present.  His humanity means that He was an historical figure who felt pain and joy.  His teachings are given power by His willing death and His resurrection, which is a clear sign of God’s doing something new in the world.  In fact, Jesus is often called “The New Adam” as a way of emphasizing the new beginning He signaled.

Most Christians believe that even though theirs is not a religion of “good acts,” “being Christian” also means that their faith should make a difference in their private as well as public lives.  Some denominations go so far as to have lists of “dos and don’ts.”  Others avoid lists, except for the Ten Commandments, and instead say to use the reason and intellect that God gave them to “be a little Christ” or to “follow the example of Christ.”  Therefore, most Christians believe that their experience of God’s love means they should reflect that love to others through forgiveness and acts of charity and mercy - both individually and for society.  This explains the many hospitals, orphanages and educational institutions that Christians have established.

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2009), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

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