Something related to the permission to wear sandals:
Today I walked on pindapata (almsround) to a nearby town. It is a good two-hour walk through the countryside with many big oak trees along the road. We got enough food from just three people. I went with Tan A. and his sandal broke on the way, so he walked barefoot on the way back until we reached the golf club. Then a car stopped and the man inside offered to give us a lift. (I almost thought: This is like a devata coming to rescue, a 'gift from above'.) The driver who was in his 60s asked how long we have been Buddhist monks, and then he inquired whether we have ever been evangelized before. We started talking about Christianity and he said that the Roman Catholic church is not really Christianity proper. Instead, he said, he belongs to Jesus Christ himself. Then he asked us about the Buddha statues and decorated temples in Buddhism, and I explained to him that some people are more faith-oriented and need such external symbols to focus on, but others have a more analytical character and like to question and examine things. He said that he believes that the Bible is the Word of God that was written down exactly as he wanted it, so we have the true guidelines in there. Then he talked about the creation of the world and how the will of God is behind it all, and how totally logical it all is, if only we can open up to God and accept him. He mentioned the words "good and evil" and also "sin" which is acting against God's will. So I explained to him how we understand these concepts in Buddhism: it all depends on our intention, for example to harm somebody, and then if we follow that intention and act on it, we create some bad actions in the world which will also bring bad results. We do not speculate about the origin of evil, who brought sin into the world, or anything else that lies beyond our direct experience. We also do not rely on second-hand knowledge, such as dogmas in religious books. He said that it was God who created the world but because something "went wrong" with one of his creations, or Satan, he then brought sin into the world and he is -- with his devils -- behind every sin that happens in the world. I said that this whole scenario seems a bit hard to believe to me. Why would God create an imperfect world and put us in it together with sin, so that he can later send his son Jesus to rescue us? And when they define "sin" or "evil" simply as acting against God's will, without any reference to the quality of our intention, we come up against ethical problems soon: For example, according to the Old Testament, God told Abraham to take his young son Isaac and kill him as a sacrifice, just as they normally kill sheep. So his intention at that moment was to commit an evil act, to kill his son, in order to obey God's will. But at the last moment, God told him to stop, because he was just testing his faith in him. Well, that seems a pretty dodgy way to define good and evil to me. But the driver said that in this case, there was no sin involved at all, it was just a test of faith. Then he expressed his belief that God appears as a "light" or reveals himself to every human being sometime in their life. And it would be sin to refuse to accept him. I asked him whether we can really choose to do it, because the Christians also believe that it is due to God's grace that people can have faith in him. So, logically, I don't have a free will to decide that I want to believe in God, it must be granted through his grace. But again the driver said that the Christian Bible is completely logical and superior to other religious texts. We ended the long discussion in the monastery car park and I said that it must surely be God's will that he saw us today and gave us a lift to the monastery. He obviously felt satisfied with his evangelical efforts, and I remembered the scene from the film "Buddha Comes to Sussex" where Ajahn Chah and the Western monks are having a "metaphysical discussion with the local vicar" at a nearby church.