Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010


The class has taught me a number of things which I had not considered in my many years of prayer, study and research of the faiths of the world. Let us consider what happened after the Buddha's death. About 100 years after the Buddha passed into Nibbana, conflict arose among the monks. The 2nd Sangha Council was consequently called to resolve these differences. Ten points were disputed; one of which concerned whether we should always follow the advice of our Teacher. In this case, it was decided that if a monk's teachings or instructions were in accordance with the Buddha's Teachings (i.e. the earliest 4 Nikayas and Vinaya) and then his words should be followed. However, if his instructions contradicted the Buddha's Teachings, they should be ignored.

Thus, the 2nd Sangha Council's ruling on this matter was very clear and definite: the Buddha's words take precedence over any monk's words. Buddhists should, therefore, become familiar with the Suttas so that they can judge whether the instructions of monks or some other teachers are in (as we Christian’s use the form of Hermeneutics to insure proper context and content of the Holy Scriptures) accordance with the Buddha's Teachings. This is why Buddhists should always remember the Dhamma-Vinaya is their Teacher.

In the Suttas, the Buddha calls monks kalyanamitta (good friend). A monk is a good friend who introduces you to the Buddha's Teachings and encourages one in the spiritual path. It is you, however, who have to take the 3 refuges (i.e. dependence) in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. But nowadays, people have added a 4th refuge (i.e. refuge in a monk or a teacher) which contradicts the Buddha's Teachings. This is made very clear in the Suttas.

For instance, in Majjhima Nikaya Suttas 84 & 94, there was an Arahant who taught very impressively and one person asked to take refuge in him. The Arahant replied that refuge could not be taken in him but only in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. The person then asked where the Buddha was and said he wanted to go and take refuge in Him. The Arahant explained that the Buddha had passed into Nibbana, but even so people should still take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. This shows we always acknowledge the Buddha as our Teacher, now embodied in His Teachings (Dhamma-Vinaya). The Dhamma is His discourses. The Sangha is the community of monastic’s who is Noble (Ariya).

As it is very difficult to distinguish between Ariya and non-Ariya, we cannot rely on unsubstantiated information alone. Recommendations that such and such is a very famous monk who has many high attainments are very unreliable. As the Buddha stated in the Anguttara Nikaya Sutta 5.88, it is possible that a world-renowned monk of very senior status, with a huge following of lay and monastic disciples, and who is highly learned in the scriptures, can have wrong views. The Buddha gave us this warning for the future as he saw and knew that even such monks could not be relied upon. Therefore, only the Suttas and Vinaya can be relied on and made our Teacher. Thus consider those other people which can be no more than good friends.

In Anguttara Nikaya Sutta 4.180, the Buddha taught the great authorities. He advised that when any monk taught that such and such were the Teachings of the Buddha, we should, without scorning or welcoming his words compare those words with the Suttas and Vinaya. If they are not in accordance with the Suttas and Vinaya, we should reject them. Again, this illustrates how a strong grasp of the Sutta-Vinaya is a reliable guide to what the Buddha actually taught. This knowledge enables us to distinguish between a teacher who teaches the true Dhamma and another who has wrong views.

In Samyutta Nikaya Sutta 16.13, the Buddha warned that the true Dhamma would remain unadulterated for 500 years after his passing into Nibbana. Thereafter, it will become very difficult to distinguish the true Teachings from the false. Why? Because although many of these books contain a lot of Dhamma, some adhamma (i.e. what is contrary to the Dhamma) are added here and there. These alterations scattered throughout the text are only noticeable if one is sharp and very well versed in the earliest 4 Nikayas. Otherwise, one would find it very difficult to distinguish the later books from the earlier ones.

All Buddhists accept Buddha as the historical founder of the religion. Theravada emphasizes his humanity; he was a man who discovered the way to enlightenment and anyone can follow his footsteps and achieve enlightenment as well. Buddha was a teacher, a guide, one who showed the way to happiness and enlightenment. Buddha was a human who lived, discovered the middle way between pleasure and pain that leads to enlightenment, taught this path for 45 years, and then entered Nirvana (when he passed away). He is not a God, is not involved in the world and thus he cannot answer prayers or petitions. Thus, Theravada stresses self-reliance and obtaining enlightenment on one's own by following the way of the Buddha. Both Mahayana and Tantrayana, on the other hand, stress the supernatural quality of the Buddha and the fact that Buddha and other beings can help one on the way to enlightenment.

This last part from my former writings of this class is the basis of all that I have gained from the path of Buddhism; I am a Theravada Traditionalist (Christian) of the Light and may the One True Lord of all bless thee and keep thee forever in his mighty hand. This is what I have gained from this class, these are some of the discourse I am working over in my heart and these are the open paths I have walked these past few months.

Rev. Louis C. Hook


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