Monday, June 26, 2006

(A Short) Christian Appreciation of Buddhism

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While I am thoroughly a Christian (perhaps not always orthodox, but I'm always a dox of some sort), I do enjoy studying other religions, including Buddhism. It is perhaps my favorite of other religious movements because it reminds me of my own beloved Protestantism. Like Luther and Calvin, the Buddha sought a middle way in Hinduism. He rejected certain aspects of Hinduism and affirmed others. Granted, there are many differences in these reformers, but there are some striking similarities. I'll save that for another post. Today I want to focus on a short appreciation of Buddhism.

Buddhism and Christianity share many similarities. Granted, I cannot speak authoritatively for both, but I can appreciate Buddhism as a Christian. The Buddha, like Jesus, taught self control. The body is something to be mastered, not something that the world would have master control over. Both religions, that is assuming Buddhism as religious thinking, not simply philosophical thinking, taught (after their founders) that there is more to this world than the simple, empirical, and often painful existence. In other words, there is a metaphysic of sorts. For the Christian, that metaphysic is the narrative of the Creator God who redeems the creation through Jesus. For the Buddhist, that metaphysic is the knowledge of one's place in the universe - and how to set oneself free from this ever-changing world. While it may be argued that both teachings support escapism (i.e. don't worry about this life because there's something better waiting for you after death), I think the real understanding is appreciating the metaphysic as grounded in earthly life. What do I mean? While the hereafter is important, and deserving of consideration, the here-and-now demands our attention.

The devout Buddhist learns how to train his / her mind in ways that Westerners often completely miss. I'm one of them. I wish I could train my brain to enter a zen-like state after only a few minutes. I wish I could learn the "empty" brain exercises. I wish I could harness my thoughts and feelings in the same way that the Buddhist monk is often able to. Jesus' own teaching isn't that far from this. Jesus often spent much time alone, in the desert, contemplating, praying, and fasting. As an aesthetic, Jesus trained his mind to be alone with God. There is much to learn from this, and much to be appreciated in the Buddhist.

What I find the most intreguing of Buddhist teaching is the release from samsara, or the eternal cycle of life. This cycle encapsulates the dharma and karma that a being accumulates in multiple lives. This is no simple doctrine of reincarnation; rather it is a cycle of pain - a cycle of death, if you will. This cycle is broken only with buddha (or, literally, "enlightenment"). The knowledge of past lives and future lives, coupled with supreme knowledge, allows the individual to die into nirvana, or eternal nothingness. This nothingness is peace, it is eternal bliss in the void. It is the supreme version of unconsciousness. While I don't pretend to understand samsara, I am interested in studying it. I think it can lead to a better, even deeper, understanding of what I affirm as a Christian - that the life hereafter doesn't repeat - that this is it, this is our time to shine as the children of God - that we need to make the best of this life - and that we can hope for eternal presence with God. How can understanding the Buddhist help me in my Christian walk? There is always a place for understanding, for contemplation, for entertaining new ideas, for teasing out radical new thoughts. And, maybe, in that moment of enlightenment, I'll figure out what this life really means.



At 10:51 AM, Blogger Joey said...

This is indeed a very good is very helpful for me ministering in the Buddhist bloc here in Indochina. I would want to share this with my friends, if you will allow me.


At 4:52 PM, Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

I appreciate the beauty of some Buddhist practices, and the beauty of the yearning and striving and self-discipline that are often channeled into and through Buddhism. But whenever I think of Buddhism, I'm reminded of an article I read (long ago, wish I could find it again) where a Buddhist commented on the cross of Christ: "There is no peace in that!" There is a part of Buddhism that wants to avoid suffering, even at the cost of dampening love. Christ embraced love whole-heartedly, even at the cost of horrendous suffering.

Once suffering is gone, is nirvana a "nothingness"? I've heard of some different perspectives on this but couldn't speak authoritatively of which one is the most common. Or is nirvana, the "loss" of self, a communion with God? The Hindus I've read speak more of re-union and communion with God. Which is not too far from what Christ gave us to expect.

At 11:22 PM, Blogger James said...


By all means, please share this. But, please understand that this is a blog posting, not a totally thought-out perspective on Buddhism. I welcome all comments!

Weekend Fisher,

As I understand it, nirvana is a complete nothingness (so much as we can imagine that!). While Hindus appeal to a form of theism, a Buddhist does not. There are forms of Buddhism which have deities, but most Buddhists see the self as the ultimate reality. So, I would say that Buddhism is not deistic (in the Western sense), but rather a way of freeing the self from the continual cycle of existence. Does this answer your question?

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Looney said...

James, when I look at these comments on Buddhism, it brings me to the splits between practicing Christianity and ideal Christianity. The reason is that I have Asian Buddhists who are close relatives. My impression of this kind of Buddhism is that it is Huckleberry Finn style superstition to the core with materialism as its only objective. Not having read much on the ideal Buddlist viewpoint, this is part of Buddhism is extremely distant from me.

It seems that there is much to learn about the practice/ideal split of different religions. What bugs me is when secularists characterize Christianity by the worst of its practitioners as if the ideals of Christianity didn't exist, while praising the ideals of Buddhism and ignoring its practice. Of course, it would be very easy for me to make the reverse error, so I will stop here.

At 6:39 PM, Anonymous Phillip said...

Buddhism flourishes in countries where it is welded to a militarism and indifference to human life, it is in no way comparable to Christianity indeed it is entirely opposite, it seeks release from life which is illusion or Maya and its practices are concerned with doing as little as possible so as not to incur bad karma and thus remained trapped in the cycle of rebirth. Christian meditation seeks to bring one closer to God who is understood to the very heart of existence. Admittedly if one has been raised a Christian particularly of the misguided Luthereran or worse Calvinist ilk then a despair towards existence might infect one's thinking; but to those who have been grasped by the grace of the actual gospel there can only be that profound rejoicing at the gift of life and that more abundantly in Christ.

At 4:33 AM, Anonymous John said...

Philip. Where does militarism flourish?
Dreadfully sane "christian" America accounts for 48% of the worlds armaments manufacture.
It is also (by far) the largest owner seller and USER of weapons of all kinds including WMD's.
It has over 700 foreign military bases and over 6000 on its own territory.

Historically in contrast to Christianity, Buddhism has been a relatively peaceful religion.

Also how many millions were slaughtered in the "religious" (by the righteous "true believers")wars that raged in Europe during the post Reformation Counter Reformation period. The wars that were one of the main reasons for establishing the separation of church and state.
Wholesale slaughter became an INEVITABLE feature of Christianity
when it was coopted by the Roman state. A "holy" empire being the ultimate oxymoron!
Wholesale slaughter is also an INEVITABLE product of any "religion" that claims to be the "one true faith/way" or have the "one true revelation".
The two worst offenders of this syndrome being Christianity and Islam.
Have you read the news!!

This reference provides a unique understanding of the nature of Buddhism and its relation to Advaita Vedanta and also Christianity and the spiritual teaching of Jesus.


Chapter 14 titled "Realization & Belief" gives a summary description of the essential POLITICAL nature of the would be world conquering semitic monotheisms---and their inevitable deadly consequences.
Have you read the news!!

This essay also provides a unique
understanding of the origins & consequences of the current universal insanity.


And which image communicates a message of inherent peace?
The serene Buddha?
The brutally tortured body of jesus hanging on a cross?

The recent Passion film was an exercise in pornographic sado-masochistic brutality.
I would run as fast as I possibly could from a religion that uses such brutalising imagery to promote its message.


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