JuBus and Christian Buddhists

What is the relationship between your religious roots and your current Buddhist practice?

About a year ago, in his piece "Christian Buddhism?" on Buddhist Geeks, Dennis Hunter suggested that we Buddhists ought to more seriously consider the influence of Christianity when we speak of Buddhism in the West.


If the Dharma always melds with elements of the dominant spiritual practices of a new culture, maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree by focusing so much on the intersection of Buddhism and science. Perhaps the spotlight really belongs on the intersection of Buddhism and Christianity, and people like Stuart Lord are the forerunners of an emergent tradition blending Eastern and Western spiritual influences into something whose shape we don’t yet know how to anticipate.


Judging by the number of comments that mention Christianity in an ongoing Tricycle Community discussion, "What led you to Buddhism?," this is an interesting and important topic for Western Buddhists—especially convert Buddhists.

Discussion topic: If you come from a Jewish or Christian background (family, community, or country) and later either converted to or became influenced by Buddhism, what is the relationship between your religious roots and your current Buddhist practice? Does Judaism or Christianity inform your Buddhism? Do Judeo-Christian symbols continue to resonate with you? Or have you rejected all aspects of the Christian tradition? Is it even possible to make Christianity and Buddhism compatible? What, if anything, do you lose when you conflate them? Has your practice of Buddhism changed your relationships with Christian friends and family?

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Wayoutthere's picture

Reading through this thread I am struck and reassured that we all have to walk our own path to find our spiritual home. Two of my kids have joined and married into a fundamentalist Christian church despite having been raised in the context of catholic rituals (my personal heritage) outside of church, infused with liberal, critical and inclusive thinking and an emphasis on compassion.

During this process my husband and I have become devoted practicing Buddhists with a loving teacher and supportive sangha. I would have never guessed that any of my children would join a fundamental church but the reality was that in our small community their youth group was a an alternative to drugs, sex and non-caring behavior.

It has been quite an educational experience for us for the past 9 to 10 years to say the least. I have found my seat solidly in my Buddhist practice but am still missing the holding vessel of a sangha that can also include children in the context of ritual. My children have found community in church and I have to say that I have learned to honor fundamentalist Christians sincerity with translating their faith into daily action. I am not seeing that much in general society. I have great difficulty with their claim to exclusivity to the path to god but have been able to establish relationships with my oldest sons family that honors both of our practices because we see how they nurture us On a daily basis.

I have raised my kids to make their own choices and am still learning to trust them. Stories like the one by the Irish fellow and others give me hope that they will find their own way too

dhRma4all's picture

Thank you for your article. I have an active Buddhist practice, with teaching transmission in our sangha and about 3500 hours of meditation under my belt -- er, ah, mind. I am also an Oblate in a religious Third Order and I have maintained an active Christian practice for decades. This question has occupied much of my life for several years because both of them are such wonderful paths, and I am convinced it is the question of a lifetime.

Christianity does have, undeniably, certain elements that make one question whether following another lifestyle or "religion" has at least some element of idolatry (a big no-no in any of the Abrahamic faiths). Even today, a glance at vast swaths of the Old Testament can convince you that the slightest deviation from the Straight and Narrow will get you into deep trouble with the heavenly accounting department.
I've been able to reconcile my belief(s) system fairly well with the following:

1.) Fundamentally (oops, bad choice of words), Buddhism and Christianity complement each other more than they contradict each other. Both attempt to find order in a world which often seems meaningless or worse, and, most importantly, both affirm the presence of a path with compassion, improvement, and salvation. These are not trivial considerations.
2.) Buddhism (at least classical Buddhism) has no element of worship. Classical Buddhism is no more idolatrous than, say, art or science.
3.) Buddhism and Christianity (and scientific inquiry) also accept the principle that You Will Never Know Everything. The human mind is incomprehensibly vast but it is limited, so any -- ANY -- understanding will be contingent and incomplete. There is always Mystery and the possibility of another alternative, and as Feynman once said, Science demands a confidence in the ultimate ignorance of the experts (you could substitute Buddhism and Christianity for Science here). Even though we may say, "well, the Four Noble Truths will never change," and perhaps they won't, our understanding of them will change indeed. So ... we don't need to worry that we need some kind of perfect understanding of how the two are reconciled.
4.) There are just too many similarities among Buddhism and Christianity in the search to become a better person. These similarities include the value of habits like gratitude and compassion, and the confidence in a gratuitously given, inherent kindness and positive element in Existence itself. These are just too big to be ignored, IMHO.
5.) Both paths have unique value, but IMHO it is better to keep them distinct. I don't think there is much value in trying to "blend" the two into some amorphous gemische. It's like a human marriage -- it's best not to try to become exactly like each other, but to reinforce each others positive qualities.

Well, sorry if that was incoherent or whatever but it is just the unedited (so far) quick response to a very good discussion topic and a very good question. Thank you.

tomreinert's picture

DIFFERENT PATHS

The Christian path focuses on two questions:
Who is God?
What should my relationship to God be?
So, Christian theology and practice is about discovering the nature of God and man's interaction with God.  A successful Christian learns to know and to live for God.

The Buddhist path asks fundamentally different questions:
Who is asking these questions?
Or, what is the nature of self?
So, the Buddhist path is about breaking down the illusion of self.  A successful Buddhist learns to live in harmony with the universe by passing beyond a false perception of self.
 
At an initial level, the Christian path takes for granted human perception, human reason, and the existence of a separate individual identity. The Christian path is about how a human being perceives his or her relationship to the Creator (which it assumes exists) and his creation (including other human beings). But at advance stages, Christian spirituality is also about moving beyond a perception of self in unity with God’s will.
 
The Buddhist view focuses on an immediate interaction with all that exists and does not assume a separation between a creator and the universe.  The Buddhist path questions the accuracy of human perception, beliefs and reason.  It views the Christian questions as, perhaps, a bit presumptuous, or at least premature.  It says – understand yourself first, before you attempt to understand God.   The Christian path is based in belief and can misconstrue the fact that Buddhism is not based in beliefs and does not assume the existence of God as indicating that Buddhism is a non-spiritual path.
 
There is no inherent conflict between these two paths, because they are so different in their basic approach.  Like a piano and a flute; both musical instruments, but fundamentally different in construction and playing technique. One can understand both Christian and Buddhist spiritual traditions, and participate at some level in each.  But we each probably have some predisposition and comfort with one approach more than the other. For those who find comfort in beliefs, the Christian path works better.  For those who prefer critical inquiry and spiritual practices, the Buddhist path works better. But this depends much on our religious upbringing and experiences. 
 
There is a potential for constructive interaction between the two traditions. Buddhism focuses on spiritual practices such as meditation, that have been largely forgotten in Christian spirituality (although they have a long history) and can be helpful to Christians in developing their spiritual practices. And Buddhism might even provide Christians with some insight on Jesus’ teachings. Christian charitable practices can be embraced and supported by engaged Buddhists.
 
The two paths can wind up at a very similar destination.  Christian and Buddhist monastics find they have much in common, and tend to be psychologically similar as gentle, altruistic human beings.  Ultimately, both paths are ways to move beyond egotism and self-centeredness, and becoming better human beings who live for others and in better harmony with the world.     
 
There is no better or worse in this comparison, just different. Understanding the differences between these two great spiritual paths should result in greater respect and potential for mutual learning.
 
 
 
 

vgwatson's picture

Wow, this thread is quite powerful and affecting for me. I love reading other people's stories about this subject.

I was raised by parents whose only religion was science. They both actively rejected religion, although I was encouraged to explore any sort of faith and practice that was available in our area. By the time I was 10, I'd been to Protestant and Catholic services, Synagouge, services at a Mosque, Hindu festivals and some Buddhist services in the Thai and Chinese traditions (too young to remember what they were). I also witnessed some pretty intense "old school" rituals from Persia due to my best friend's family.

(lest this sound totally idyllic, let me assure you that my parents had plenty of other issues. They just happened to be really awesome about this, and a couple of other things, like reading, and handmade Halloween costumes)

Despite my exposure to numerous religions as a kid, the overall doctrine in my home was "the doubting game" and that's really where my basis for evaluation still lies. I was taught to question authority, (which frequently backfired on my parents) and as religion was an authority, I questioned the heck out of it.

As an adult, I've actively explored Hinduism, which led me to Buddhism. I have also done an extensive amount of reading about Christian faiths (figured I should probably learn *something* about it, as it is a part of my heritage, whether or not my folks want to admit it) and studied numerous biographies and historical records of Jesus.

What all this boils down to, is that I don't see that much difference in the fundamental message of Buddha and Christ. Secondly, I think that the teachings of Christ have gotten so lost in Christianity, that it is difficult to find traces of them in the institutionalized practices of that religion. It was fairly eye opening for me to realize that Jesus wasn't a Christian, and that he really had nothing to do with the way the church(es) were shaped or the religion itself was organized.

In the interest of full disclosure, I still have a massive problem with organized religion of any sort (including Buddhism, in as much as it is a religion) and grit my teeth whenever I hear somebody say "Well, the Buddha said..." or "Jesus said" simply because we do not know. (Yeah, I know, that's something I need to deal with at some point.) I don't identify as either a Christian or a Buddhist, however, I attempt to incorporate the philosophies, as we know them today, of both Jesus and the Buddha into my existence.

Thank you, Tricycle, for asking this thought provoking question, and for providing a forum to discuss it in. I'm grateful for the chance to be able to share in all of the respondents' thoughts on this subject.

Yeshe's picture

Friend, I am inspired by your tesitmony , and openess to investigate to see what Truth you can find in the traditional teachings attributed to Christ and Buddha, as well as your searching for Truth among secular fields.
I am reminded of the Dalai Lama's promotion of a secularism that is friendly towards the virtous essens of Religion. Organized religion for me has it's benefits and it's flaws. I have had the positive merit thankfully to have grown up in a loving mystical Christian group (my local Quaker Meeting)....which was friendly towards other world religions, positive secularism, and native cultures. I now have been blessed to be part of a Tibetan Buddhist, sangha, receive traditional profound teachings and have a supportive Sangha. I have felt called to maintain my connection to Quakerism, as it gives me many connections to peace and justice activity, and a mystical connection to Christ and the Gospel.
There are also negative aspects of being involved in these organizede religions. Maybe I can share those another time.

With great appreciation for open and analytical minds!
Yeshe

mountainzen98's picture

Welcome to the community, Yeshe.

Yeshe's picture

Hi folks! I just found this site. I haven't read any posting here yet. I am a Buddhist monk and studying in the Tibetan Tradition. I also identify my self as aspiring to keep the commandments of the Torah and Gospel. I see this as my tribal identity (I identify with the tribe of Mannasah)..while Buddhism is my religious identity. It works weel for me in my mind. I don't believe that Jehovah is a literal creator of the universe, and I don't take him as my highest refuge. I take the Buddha, Dharma, Sanghe as my highest refuge. I feel that my Sangha is not open to me sharing the Biblical aspect to my faith, so I hope to find some community here.
Regards, Yeshe

weaver.kirk's picture

Interestingly I find myself in a similar position to many who have posted here. An evangelical by birth and practice (complete with seminary degrees), I find myself inexorably drawn to the open nature of many of the strands within Buddhism. Although not quite half a century old, I'm open to the multiverse and consider myself a kid at heart.

My first experience was with the Thai flavor of the Therevada school, and I suppose I shall always favor that. Yet the ideal of the Bodhisattva remains both powerful and influential. I love to read and study about the Dhamma and ways to explore it and experience it. During the past several years, I went through a period of regular meditation. I really don't believe I can say much more about my desire to explore the Middle Way until I begin to practice again. For me, The Buddhist approach to perspective depends on my experiencing it in a regular basis . . . . .

Yeshe's picture

Hi Hucklebear.: in my experience Buddhist religion and following the Bible are quite compatible, but the Buddhas are my highest authority.

mountainzen98's picture

I've got two questions for the community. But first, I should mention that I was raised Catholic, trained by the Jesuits through high school and six years of university. Left the Church and conducted an eclectic study of Buddhism for 23 years, then finally planted my butt on a cushion, and still meditate.
My first question is why there's been no mention during this discussion of the Zen-Christian dialog begun in Japan in the '60s, manifesting in the Zen-Christian monastery Shinmeikutsu, established by a group of German Jesuit priests and German nuns about 1975? That dialog continues to this day between Paul Haller, co-abbot of San Francisco Zen Center and Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk (who also has been a resident of Tassajara for some years, the first Buddhist monastery established outside of Asia, which is part of San Francisco Zen Center). One can see the influence of that dialog in such books as "Benedict's Dharma; Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of St. Benedict" (with commentary by Brother Steindl-Rast) and "Zen Gifts for Christians", by Robert Kennedy, S.J., a graduate, I believe, of Shinmeikutsu, and based on the Ten Ox-herding Pictures of Chan/Zen.
My second question is why no one has quoted Adyashanti on his description of Satori as realization that no I/me exists, rather that instead we are manifestations of a universal Awareness/Awakeness/Consciousness? You can find these descriptions in several of his books.

awalts's picture

I'm a child of Israel and nature; and a secular American mutt. Buddhadharma is to me the most obviously true thing in this world, though I've tasted only drops of its oceanic nectar. Given the obvious diversity of experience and culture among us humans who all share similar minds, hearts and bodies, I have no trouble accepting HHDL's repeated emphasis on finding the juice of your own religious tradition if you can, rather than running off to pick up a new set of stories and practices that don't suit you (to crudely paraphrase); and in fact I've long felt that people should practice whatever is most beneficial for them. I've studied Christianity and been baptized, but that story never really resonated with me though I retain love for the person Jesus. From my mongrel heart, filled with an ever-growing reverence and love for the person Buddha and all the manifold expressions of Buddha-nature, I try to walk (or at least stumble down) the path of peaceful growth that is buddhadharma.

Nature is full of creatures that metamorphose in extraordinary ways during a single lifespan. Even as kids we know about tadpoles and frogs, caterpillars and butterflies. There are many beautiful stories here about the ways in which a human heart naturally transforms, and I bow to all of you for sharing them.

StarDreamz's picture

I was raised Methodist, then converted to Roman Catholicism, then back to being a protestant. Became a Southern Baptist, and visited a Assembly of God church a lot. I got a lot of good things from most of them, but just didn't get the peace and serenity that I was looking for. Had a big issue with the getcha god of my youth and some of the churches I attended. Started studying Buddhism over a year ago, and have finally found some of the peace and acceptance I was so desperately in need of.

I do find that I still love the Christ and his teachings, so my Buddhism is greatly touched by what I love about Jesus. Mostly it helps me to reach out to all people, no matter what they believe. And I am big into doing good things for others, which is one of the things I love about both Christianity and Buddhism. Still learning a lot of the Dharma teachings, and have found many similarities in both... I feel that as a sentient being that one of my main things I love to do is do for others. So, I ride with Bikers Against Child Abuse, and ride with the Patriot Guard Riders. I feel that the teachings I am learning now helps me to really understand that peace is possible, and I can bring a little by my activities.

I seem to find myself mixing a little of the teachings of Christ into the Dharma teachings more than I thought I would when I made the decision to become a Buddhist.

Yeshe's picture

Stardreamz.........blessings in yourintegration the Gospel and Buddha Dharma in your mindstream.....may we all love our neighbor (all sentient beings) as ourselves and awaken to Christhood temporarily and Buddhahood ultimately!
With Jesus Christ as my King and Shakyamuni Buddha as my Guru! .........Love, Yeshe

rich.kooyer's picture

I returned home from Iraq, and previously Bosnia, while on deployments with the US Army and realized that I had "a call" to military chaplaincy. I was informed to tensions between eastern and western religions of Judaism, Islam, Christian Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism with my own ambitiousness of being a Unitarian Universalist (UU) being in the middle somewhere.

Fast forward through a few years of bigotry at the hands of a conservative, evangelical school where I chose to finish an undergraduate degree because I felt the need to receive some western theological knowledge. Any Protestant Chaplain would need a slight bit of that and I had none leading up to it. It helped galvanize my sense of universal humanity as I entered a more progressive, ecumenical seminary for my graduate learning.

I came to Buddhism after entering Seminary and let it wash over me for a year. It entered my soul and incubated deeply within my body when I needed it the most when a Roman Catholic Priest who was to be my mentor at a VA Medical Center denied my rights as an Intern in his facility. He called me many spiteful things to include non-Christian and non-Protestant. I had to take a hard, long look at myself after my denomination that did little to support my call or the struggle through my discrimination claim. My local Sangha and Dharma teachers helped most when I cried loudest and needed to pick up the pieces.

I'm not sure if there is a place for me again at the VA, as a veteran, a Chaplain, or my call as a Monk, but the call in the worldview for worldwide religious peace amongst Christians, Muslims, Hindu, Buddhists and all others must take place.

I guess that's what I have to add.

In Peace.

Yeshe's picture

Hi Rich!
I am a Buddhist monk in a traditinal Buddhist training, who like you likes to see the Truths in the various World Religions. I believe that it is possible, in my experience to be both tradtional and Universalist at the same time. Maybe that's a bigger Rime (Tibetan for non sectarian).......view.
Love, Yeshe

Misha's picture

I agree, Eamwrites, all religions have good and bad in them, it's the participant that makes it good or bad.

And right on, "I don't know about soul or spirit - only that i am made of the Universe and to that I will always be a part of." If you think about it, it really doesn't matter if we believe in a soul or not! I used to think that was sooo important. But whatever is true is true, whether we believe it or not, and we can't prove anything either way as long as we live. All we know for sure is that wherever we came from, that's where we're going when it's all over. No matter what you believe. So let's use our practice to make this the best life we can.
(Of course if you think there's a God who will condemn you to hell for eternity for not believing something blindly then it would matter a lot. But you know, if there is a creator of some sort, I just don't think they could possibly be so petty and cruel.)

Heterodocksie's picture

Buddhism has shown me my own strength, guidance, and confidence in my ability to handle extremely stressful situations when Judaism only gave me more questions that made me refer to others for explanation.

Buddhism showed me all religions are the same. All have good. All have bad. All are whatever anyone puts into them. Buddhism is a path that has had the undergrowth cleared away. It doesn't make the path less difficult, it makes the path a little easier to see. It makes all paths easier to see.

My children start religious school this week because, thanks to Buddhism, I can offer them a deeper connection with the Universe, their home, than Judaism gives to most adherents. I use Buddhist philosophy (as well as Western) and meditation to deepen my connections to my Jewish traditions - it allows me to leave at the door that which doesn't work. By replacing some modern words in Jewish traditions with Buddhist terms of generality, I have found that they are quite the complement to each other.

I do not like the word, God. It implies one. It implies separation. It implies intention and better-then. We are not separate. We are made of the same materials as the earth, the sun, space, the asteriods, the light. We are interconnected. We are matter and energy. When we die we return to the Universe - because we never left. I don't know about soul or spirit - only that i am made of the Universe and to that I will always be a part of. So to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur or Easter and Christmas doesn't matter. That becomes a cultural thing. Buddhism is a personal relationship to the Universe and its beings that has no concern over which way you spend your Friday nite.

Misha's picture

I don't know what I am. :) I used to consider myself Christian. I have always believed in The Divine, and that God-Realization and nirvana were pretty much the same thing. That enlightenment is enlightenment whether it be Hindu or Buddhist or what not, but that I just jive with Buddhist meditation techniques much better, and experience their relevance to my life, and experience insight with them. But reading The Meditator's Atlas by Matthew Flickstein, he makes clear that one of the misperceptions you must release in order to fully realize no-self is the idea that you are a part of a Universal Consciousness, Atman or God. This all comes straight from Buddhist scripture, the views that we may have in relationship to the five aggregates, views that will keep us from experiencing truth, according to the Buddha. So this is pretty fundamental. I mean, I always imagined that no self and True Self were really the same realization. But no. We're not working toward realizing that we are just Consciousness. Even Consciousness is not self. There is seriously NO SELF. According to Buddhist belief. So I don't know where I'm going to go from here. Maybe I don't have to know the answer. Maybe it's okay if we don't have a soul. But if we don't, what gets reborn according to the Buddha? I mean, either we believe everything he said or we don't. Maybe we should just try to experience without assigning meaning to our experience, and see what happens. I think that's what the Buddha advised above all else anyway, not to believe him but to see what we experience when we drop all our notions and conceptions. Maybe I should just try to sit with ZERO expectation about union with the divine or losing my self or anything, and see what happens without interpretations getting in the way. I think that would be the purest practice. And if there is a God, I don't think I will be abandoned for having an open mind, or not trusting what others say about the nature of the Divine.

islomane's picture

When I have to, I describe myself to others outside of Buddhism as a "Mormon-Christian Buddhist". Within the practice, I most I identify myself as a Mormon-Vadjrayana Buddhist. I was raised Mormon in a rural Utah farming town. My senior year of high school, I put a label on feelings I had had since a young age: "homosexual." I left the Mormon church officially in the early 1990's over the LDS Church's involvement in the same-sex marriage debacle here in Hawai'i, and to protest the Mormon church's token excommunications of its three heretics: feminists, intellectuals, and homosexuals. When I requested that my name be removed from the church's membership roster, I was sent a letter by my ecclesiastical leader for me to sign that I understood that I was giving up all my rights to baptism in the faith. Essentially, I was being condemned by LDS Church leaders to a kind of hell for my decision to leave the religion.

After having a distinct spiritual experience calling me to a Buddhist path in the Tibetan tradition, I have slowly (and a bit reluctantly) taken up a Buddhist practice. Enculturated and socialized as a Mormon, I still sometimes find it challenging to pray before Buddhist statuary, though I am quick to fabricate my own syncretic ritual in which I pray to God (of Abraham) that I take on all the virtuous qualities of the Buddha icon before me. So I still have difficulty casting aside my religious trappings totally. But I think that is quite fine for me.

I have asked the lama at the temple I'm affiliated with if he thinks it incompatible for me to be a "Christian Buddhist". His answer was no. I also attended an interfaith panel discussion between a Catholic archbishop and a Buddhist bishop here in Honolulu last year. Someone asked the two the very question I had in my mind, which was, to the Buddhist Bishop: "Can I be a Christian Buddhist?" The answer, after a moment's pause by the bishop, was, "Yes. I think so." A similar question of whether one could be a "Buddhist Catholic" was put to the archbishop. His answer, without a moment's thought, was a definitive, "No." in that regard, towards being more ecumenical, more inclusive and embracing, in being more truly "catholic", I am proud to call myself a "wanna-be" Buddhist. (I say that because I make no claim to being realized as the Buddha was--yet!)

All the infrequent, but significant clashing of religious dogma and details of my current spiritual path aside, I believe that I can be a good, devout "Buddhist" and hold to some of the remnants of my Mormonism. I would, though, like to get to a point where I feel comfortable with the dissolution of those dividing dogmas. I would like to get to the point where I worship nothing, but seek only to manifest my own God-like Buddha nature, without feeling guilty for realizing what most readily lies within my own grasp.

shikantasean's picture

I am a Christian Buddhist. As Clark Strand implies in an earlier post, it is so deeply ingrained that we just can't deny it. Our roots that is. For me, I had to come to the understanding that to be the most authentic Buddhist that I was capable to be, I had to recognise and honor my Christian roots. I had to put down my bat and stop beating everything that I did not agree with in Christianity.(and everything else that gets under my skin about this world and the times we live in!) Thomas Merton and HH the Dali Lama, and the relationship that they shared with each other helped me come to this understanding about myself and my practice.

Yeshe's picture

Hi Sean:
I echo your statement that to be the most authentic Buddhist that I am capable of being I have to recognise my Christian roots. It works weel for me as a Christian (Quaker) Buddhist (Vajrayana). All the best in your journey! Love, Yeshe

ClarkStrand's picture

Hi, Shikan. I was inspired by that relationship as well. Here's a little something I wrote on Brian McLaren's blog a few years ago. Very few people know the story. It was told to me by Suzuki's personal secretary.

<< What Brian wrote calls to mind a story I was told some years ago while living in a Buddhist monastery. A woman named Myhoko, who had been the personal secretary of the Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki, told me about a meeting she’d witnessed between Thomas Merton and Suzuki sometime during the 1960s (both would be dead just a few years later). Myhoko thought the meeting was conducted in secret, and maybe this is true. In any case, I have never been able to find any other record of the event.

The two men met in Suzuki’s apartment near Columbia on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and spent the better part of a weekend trying to find the common thread that united Buddhism and Christianity, but without either man feeling, in the end, that they had found the “secret language” Brian refers to. Of the two, Suzuki was the more reconciled to this, being older and having had more experience with the limits of interfaith dialogue. Merton, on the other hand, was really struggling and, in Myhoko’s words, seemed “genuinely dispirited” in the end.

Finally the two men parted. But just as Merton entered the elevator, Suzuki suddenly appeared at the door, holding it open. “Father Tom,” he said. “After all, what could it be but love?” At this, Merton finally smiled, the two men shook hands, and then Suzuki let the elevator door close. Too my knowledge the two men never met again. But then, as Myhoko said to me, “They didn’t need to.” >>

Jonathan.s's picture

I do think of myself as both Christian and Buddhist. I grew up in a very post-Christian household - my parents not at all churchgoers or interested in religion. Nobody I knew was religious or even overtly Christian (or they didn't mention it, anyway). I went to a Christian school, and definitely 'heard the words of Jesus', but chose not to get confirmed in the faith.

Later in life when I started to practice meditation, I didn't relate the idea of enlightenment to anything religious, but as time went by, I began to think that what was showing up in my meditation was a lot like what I remembered from the words of Jesus. I also realized that the very idea of following the precepts and maintaining a meditation practice really is a sadhana, and a sadhana is a spiritual discipline. And I was not atheist. So now I have a very non-specific relationship with what I call 'Lord', although my theology, if you can call it that, has been mostly shaped by the teaching of sunyata. No name, no description, no image, no thing whatever. And besides, the whole idea of 'apophatic theology' and the negative way is very, very close in spirit to Zen. I have also discovered Christian Platonism, which is a marvellous spiritual tradition in its own right, as well as the Teachings of Ramana Maharishi. So all of these form the basis of my spiritual view of life.

But then, perhaps all these images, symbols, and traditions are simply 'fingers pointing at the moon', which remains above it all. It is awakening to a great truth which is within each faith but also beyond it.

Stephen Shogaku Zenshin Echard Musgrave Roshi's picture

My people were Southerners,except my grandmother who was from Ulster. Church was never pushed on me. I was born with a philosophical bent, My culture outside of that was tyupical poor but hearty Virginians ans Texans everything was about kin.
, My great grandfather fought with Stonewall Jackson,we were and I still am a rebel. What was important was beind self reliant and being tough. I am the last of the Zen Confederates, Ha ha
Critical thinking and questioning authoritys of all stripes. My kinfolk are Christians and they are wonderfull.our house was always full of strangers down on their luck. that being said Christianinty has little to do with historuical Christ I suspect.Just as Buddhism sometimes has little to do with Buddha.

jenneil's picture

I consider myself a "newbie" with Buddhism.

As a child my family did not attend any church services except for funerals and weddings.

Because I was a victim of ridicule from my classmates, living in an alcoholic home and alcoholic neighborhood, having disabilities, my perception of God and religion in general was that of God being a hostile and vengeful being.

With aging, being among kinder people, an having more opportunities to experience the good things in life, and to learn about different religions my perception of God changed for the better, and I became a Christian.

In what I have read thus far about Buddhism I see more simalarities between Jesus' (God) teaching than differences. There are differences of course, just as there are different sects of Buddhism, Christianity and etc.

People with disabilities have differences, some have physical disabilities, some have sensory or cognitive disabilities, yet despite the differences in specific disabilities, people with disablilities all have to deal with the same issues.

To me, the goal of Christianity, Buddhism, Judism, and other religions is enhancing spiritual growth. Both Christianity and Buddhism is helping me in my spiritual growth.

eric.hagedorn's picture

The relationship between my religious roots (Catholicism) and Buddhism is hard for me to describe. I have a great deal of negative feelings about Catholicism - even hostility. I can "respect" my wife and parents' Catholic beliefs, but pretty much by never discussing it. It's not really respect, but I don't want to hurt people I love, so I keep it to myself. When I first explored Buddhism seriously, there was a Tibetan Buddhist group on campus (our university has a relationship with the Kingdom of Bhutan) but when I attended several sessions there was so much that reminded me of Catholicism (malas = rosary, bodhisattvas = saints, religious art/statues, Tara = Mary, etc.) that I fled. What truly comforts me is Buddha's sermon where he said: "Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it." (If someone could identify the original source of this quote, I'd be much obliged.) As a scientist, this sort of empiricism is very comfortable. I am haltingly pursuing Zen - the meditation and koans appeal to me. I rarely participate in the rituals of Zen (Soto), but think they will be sufficiently different from Catholic ritual and within such a different context that I won't react negatively to them.

Dominic Gomez's picture

When I first started practicing Buddhism, it was mentioned that Christians who did so became "better" Christians, or Jews became "better" Jews. It wasn't until I saw by their thoughts, words and actions what my fellow Buddhists meant. Studying and practicing Buddhism was helping me become a better person...a better human being not just for my sake, but also for the sake of people around me. And isn't this the goal of most of our major religions?

dharmagita's picture

I grew up Methodist, but secretly wanted to be a Catholic. I felt that the Catholic structure, traditions, and approach were more authentic. Unfortunately, I became quite angry with Christianity due to personal experiences and "incongruities" I saw between scripture and the practice of Christians I knew. Upon practicing Buddhism (Tibetan), I now see many parallels between the two religions and their practices. For instance, Jesus says something to the effect of "You can only enter the kingdom of heaven through me." I find the same logic in the Lam Rim: you can only reach high spiritual realizations with a qualified teacher. I also interpret the Judeo-Christian idea of "God" as something similar to Buddhism's concept of emptiness or suchness or non-concept. The Old Testament mentions that they could not speak the name of God. I interpret this as being unable to label the ineffable; they understood the limit of concept. I have also noted the similarities between the Catholic mass and the meditation preliminaries of my lineage. For sake of time, I'll end my comparisons there, but I feel that Buddhism has brought me closer to Christianity. I can now attend a church service without rolling my eyes or tuning out. I have open and informative dialogue with my Christian family and friends. I no longer get angry when I see a Christian bumper sticker. I understand that we're all trying to reach the same understandings; we're just using different routes. I do, however, feel that Buddhism approaches spirituality with more purity, precision, and personal responsibility. But that's only my experience.

groucho27's picture

An aside,

Although I grew up a devout little Catholic choir boy, Eventually, though, the discrepancy between its ideals and practice, as well as its enforcing doctinal purity in the face of the natural human curiosity of the Enlightenment were too much.
These many doubts and moral dilemmas seem to be overcome for me in the Dharma of the awakened one. Still, I wonder if there is a hypocrisy growing inside me. I find when I look into my heart, that there are many human beings for whom my feelings are anger, disdain, contempt---very much the opposite of compassion. And who are these beings? My many noisy fellow citizens clamoring for returning to the law of the jungle--ie promoting social darwinism, religious intolerance, political gangsterism.
So, how do I develop and practice the compassion of the buddha toward my fellow beings who seem to serve as the instruments of suffering???

katyk's picture

The background of my path is similar to Anda's. I was not raised Christian. My mother had been a Mormon but left the church when I was 6. She became involved with the Church of Religious Science. She listened alot to Alan Watts. She explored psychodrama, Tai Chi Chuan. This was in the 60's. I ran around being "free." I was an agnostic, verging on atheism, but had a deep mystical nature. It wasn't until I came to terms with my alcoholism and entered AA in my early 30's that I started seriously exploring my beliefs. I read many books both about Christianity and Buddhism. I explored many practice traditions. But my need was becoming greater to actually live a spiritual life and not just play around. I became a hospice volunteer. When I read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, it had a profound effect. I especially appreciated the practical nature of Buddhism. I started studying with a local monk and meditating and attending our local sangha for about 3 years. I would also go to the local mission and pray. I finally ended up being drawn to Christ. It was a deep heart reaction to the suffering of Christ that drew me in. I became a Catholic convert approximately 15 years ago. I am currently a member of an Episcopalian community. I still have trouble with the Nicene creed (I usually don't say it). In fact, there are many aspects of "Christianity" that I can't abide. But I love the mystery of the Eucharist. As long as I stay in my heart and not in my head, I am on the right path.
When I am asked on medical forms what my religion is, I say I am a Christian/Buddhist. If I am dying and you need to call someone, a priest or a monk will do fine.

JimJackson's picture

WOW..... Christ was not a Christian and if he were alive today, I doubt he'd be one. Buddha was not a Buddhist and if he were alive today, I doubt he'd be one. We know only a little of what they taught and even less of what they actually might have said. However, that we can and should know ourselves seems to be a starting point they likely agreed on.

For me, it's experiencing the letting go of culturally conditioned notions (such as competing religious views) so as to experience what is the way it is that eliminates suffering and strengthens compassion. This is not a unique experience nor is it exclusive to any particular religion. It's just spiritual.

I don't believe in the gods created by man nor do I attend to any of their associated religions. However, I do recognize the Divine from mindful living. This is hard to convey. Slight modifications to the Tao Te Ching comes closest. Here's my interpretation of the first verse written in a way to express my understanding.

The Divine that can be described
is not the Divine.
The name that can be spoken
is not the eternal Name.

The nameless is the boundary of
Heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of mankind's
created things.

Freed from desire, I can experience the
hidden mystery.
Consumed with desire, I can only experience
what is visibly real.

Yet, mystery and reality emerge
from the same source.
This source is called the unknown.

Unknown born from my ignorance.
The beginning of understanding.

fyrefighter591's picture

I grew up as a P.K. in the Baptist tradition. Christianity was never fully a good fit for me as I question everything including myself all the time. It seemed it was too easy to hide behind the scriptures sometimes and not deal with the issue headon in the here and now. As I read someone else here say " the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it" quote seemed to end all discussions that had a hint of questioning things. My other issue was the seeming lack of practical skills or techniques to help one over come problems such as anger, addictions, pride, hate and such. The use of prayer seemed to rely on mainly the benevolent nature of God and seemed to me to be putting our problem solving on someone else. This left us out the solution and we never seemed to learn the skills to deal with things on our own. When I finally came into adapting Buddhism, I found a teaching that seemed to cover what was missing in other deity based religions. It helped one to train their mind and tame it along with the means to transform yourself to a more compassionate and mindful person.

The Buddha left many questions unanswered that dealt with the origin and endings. Christianity leaves much to be desired in "self help" and it would seem to focus more on the future afterlife than it does the here and now. For me, the blending of Buddhism into Christianity fills in a lot of the blanks. But I am now more of a Buddhist than anything else. Having a Buddhist thought pattern and a Baptist upbringing leads to a lot of strange mixes in my head sometimes. That is why, it seems best to have only one as your path. However, the concept of Karma and reincarnation can bring up some interesting concepts in regards to Christian pre-destination and the idea that all humans will have had the opportunity to accept or reject Christ before the final judgement. Emptiness also can combine with the "pre-earth" idea of Genesis to provoke some interesting thoughts. Melding the views of Buddhism and Christianity together to create a new hybrid faith will be interesting to watch. As with any religious practice, when it enters an new environment, there will be adaptations to create something that blends the old with the new. Will it still be Buddhism or Christian or a whole new faith. I find that it is fun to contemplate both, but remember not to loose sight of the true goals by clouding the path to enlightenment and compassion with questions that may not really matter.

fyrefighter591's picture

a

andapeterson's picture

Charlie,
Thanks for the concise description of A Course in Miracles and its similarities to Buddhism--I found that to be the case also--it to follows the same "golden thread" that weaves through all wisdom traditions. I am always glad to see the same wisdom in different places and from vastly different cultures. I'm a practicing Buddhist now, but am grateful to ACIM for what it offered me on my way to settling on my "home" practice---not the only way, just my way. Many paths, same destination.

CharlieAH's picture

Hi Anda,

I'm glad you connected with Buddhist practice. They are very sympathetic paths, to my mind.

One thing that has really cleared up my Buddhist understanding through the Course, is the sense
of true renunciation; which is disgust with ego. It can be very easy in Buddhism to think renunciation
is about the so called world "Out there." But in both systems, there is no world out there. It is mind, and
mind's split nature that keeps us circling.

And I also am very keen on seeing that all paths which include wisdom, compassion, some element
of surrender and mind training, are heading to the same end. Liberation.

May yours come swift, delightfully, and with great humor.

Charlie

CharlieAH's picture

I started studying and practicing Buddhism with Tibetan teachers about 15 years ago - and found in it all the things that the traditional Christian teachings did not seem to articulate or understand. It explained, without heavy dogmatic language, the nature of our world as a non-dualistic experience and provided a path to have direct access to the Absolute nature of our being and truly how to generate non-sentinmental compassion for all other wandering beings in this world, without bias. The practice changed my life and gave me a deeper insight into what is going on with mind and experience and oriented my life to understand there are no "answers" but rather a series of questions and recipes designed to urge one's mind into liberated awareness and natural compassion.

Then several years ago my mom began reading "A Course In Miracles," an 1,800 page text supposedly channeled by Jesus, and she wanted me to see if I could help her understand its very dense message. So, I started reading it, and found it to have a very powerful non-dualistic message and path. I went to see one of the tradition's main teachers, Kenneth Wapnick, and found him to be one of the most natural, open, non-pretentious people I've come across. So, this amazing and unlikely teaching began to enter my mind and path. I say unlikely because I always saw it as a New Agey sort of approach, but after examination, nothing could be further from the truth.

I cannot explain why it is so powerful for me, except to say that previously I had been cut off from any positive feeling towards Jesus because of my reaction, since childhood, to fundamentalist teachings of "christians" - and the obvious perversion of his teachings that the modern church exemplified; but this text and view of spirituality, especially the teachings on the ego's psychology, has truly deepened my practice and understanding of what the inner Teacher is, what ego is, what looking at mind is, and what nondual forgiveness implies.

So, I don't consider myself a "christian" - because "A Course in Miracles" has nothing to do with the christian bible, but I do consider Jesus one of my teachers now. And don't get me wrong, when I say "Jesus" from the Course's point of view, he is not "the body or figure" of Jesus from the traditional scriptures; rather he is the Light of Awareness in our mind, which is always present. Much like Buddhism's Buddha Nature.

I would challenge anyone from a Western orientation to explore "A Course in Miracles," because it uses our Western symbols, language and ideas to help us undo the ego's powerful grip on us, especially in terms of our unconscious guilt and projections of the world.

The entire text can be found at http://acim-search.miraclevision.com/std-second-edition-and-supps/index.... And there is more explanation about the path and practice at http://facim.org/ - It looks sort of cheesy, but the power and help is beyond measure.

Caron Miller's picture

I agree with you about A Course in Miracles. I facilitated an ACIM study group for 7 years. Although I consider myself to be a Buddhist Christian, I feel that ACIM offers the most profound and powerful teachings on the planet today for people who are willing to take the time to really study them.

MRad60's picture

I was raised Catholic and as I grew up I couldn't believe in or accept most teachings of the Catholic Catechism. Most of all, I was struck by the hypocrisy of day-to-day Catholic practice: the way in which the institutional Church and most believers simply seem to ignore the ethical teachings of Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. Buddhism attracted me not only because of the profundity and brilliance of the Buddha's teachings on the psychology of the cessation of suffering, but also because so many aspects of the practice seem aimed at cultivating the very moral qualities that Jesus Christ urged his followers to embody: compassion, loving kindness, forgiveness, peace.

I wonder now whether some form of Buddhism (or Vedanta) was known to Jesus: it's not far-fetched to think that the Buddha's teaching could have been known to some in the Greek world of the eastern Roman Empire, of which Jesus was a part, since influences between Buddhist civilization and the Hellenistic Empire are well-documented. I think the Church may have gotten key aspects of Jesus's teaching wrong.

I now combine a Buddhist meditation practice with Christian prayer and attend both a local Zen sangha and Quaker meetings. I don't believe the Buddha taught a sectarian religion, but pointed the way to end suffering. This is compatible with a personal relationship with Jesus, in my view. I realize I'm not a very orthodox Christian or Buddhist, but I don't worry about it.

JuBU52's picture

Buddhism and Christianity or Judaism...what's the problem? Kensho is holding two paradoxical thoughts at the same time without linear discursive thinking.

Think Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form.
Judaism is Buddhism. Buddhism is Judaism . Make this your koan and the answer will appear like Mu.

Aletha's picture

I was drawn to quite a radical version of Christianity in my early twenties: that we literally have been given, through Christ, a new nature; we are already forgiven and so don’t need to keep asking for it, and we are already holy, so we don’t have to keep striving for it. In fact, “we” are altogether done away with. No matter what our five senses may tell us. It is now Christ who lives...in us.

“How few of us dare to confess to the world what the Word declares that we are in Christ! Take this scripture: ‘Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation’ II Corinthians 5:17. What a revolutionary thing it would be for the Church to make a confession like that! They are not just forgiven sinners, not poor, weak, staggering, sinning church members. They are New Creations created in Christ Jesus with the LIFE of God, the NATURE of God, and the ABILITY of God in them.” (The Power of Your Words, p12).

The NATURE of GOD! Blasphemy! I loved it. I just didn’t realise at the time that each religious tradition – sometimes in the “controversial” branch or its highest instruction – shares this same premise: our true nature is whole and holy, not something we need to achieve but rather to re-discover underneath stacks of ego-generated conditioning and illusion.

Perhaps predictably, considering my attraction to “New Creation” Christian doctrine, I have been drawn to Dzogchen Buddhism, the highest teaching of Tibet, translated as ‘Innate Great Perfection’. “Dzogchen is based on seeing things as they are. We call this ‘resting in the View’. The view is like the vast sky without limits, corners, distortions, or bias. It’s clear, radiant, and complete. It’s simple, profound, peaceful, and naturally at rest. This is the nature of the sky; it is also the nature of mind...Dzogchen is the Natural Buddha Meditation. What this means is that you, me, and everyone else are all Buddhas by nature. We have only to realise it. The practice of Dzogchen is about recognising and realising who we are. Dzogchen provides direct access to what is already there, right here. Right now. Other levels of Buddhist teaching talk about the many lifetimes that are necessary before one can become fully awakened, enlightened, and free. According to the consummate teachings of Dzogchen, the entire journey of enlightenment can take place in one lifetime. All we have to do is be open to the truth about who we are.” (Awakening to the Sacred, p324).

So these days I consider myself as much a "Christian" mystic as a Buddhist and a Taoist. I agree wholeheartedly with each and have not gotten stuck at the Teacher or the Teachings. The more I explore the golden thread woven through each of these traditions, the clearer my View becomes.

isolde100's picture

The purpose of Buddhist practice is to pierce through all the crap that the mainstream religions stuff down your throat. For example, the idea of original sin -- that every human is flawed from the beginning and needs to rid himself of this "flaw" through, surprise, surprise, the Catholic Church (or whatever church is espousing its own version of original sin). I can't tell you how many people have been damaged by the belief that they are bad from the get go. Buddhist practice offers a way to look at this squarely: is it true? who benefits when you believe you're bad and need fixing? who gains power from you believing it? Buddhism encourages critical thinking, not mindless sitting on your cushion with an empty head space. If you use your Buddhist practice to simply blend all the junk you've been fed when you were young, with vague notions of Buddhism, you are wasting your time meditating and reading the teachings.

ClarkStrand's picture

Good questions, Isolde: "who benefits when you believe you're bad and need fixing? who gains power from you believing it?" There's a great book by Daniel Lord Smail, a Harvard historian, called On Deep History and the Brain, where he talks about all of this in a chapter on "Culture and Psychotropy." The basic idea is that culture (in the beginning religion, and then later a much broader spectrum of social institutions) deleloped "psychotropic mechanisms" to influence and subvert human brain chemistry. These were rituals and beliefs, symbols, music, and so forth that had the effect of manipulating brain chemistry so as to elicit certain predictable responses in people that would make them far easier to manipulate and control under what sociologist and anthropologist today call "dominance heirarchies." Oddly enough, what really controls us (and always has controlled us) is only our own brain chemistry. We're manipulated by governments, religions, and so forth only to the degree that we accept the cues they offer to our own internal pharmacopeia.

Tharpa Pema's picture

"Seemingly opposite things."

For me the seeming oppositeness is also a product of mind. -"Opposition" itself--the belief in opposites--is a product of mind.

That all people, whatever their religious identification, should live together in peace and joy is the fundamental goal, for my mind. If a rigid belief in the reality of opposite concepts leads to aggression and suffering amongst people, I can let that belief go.

LaceyR's picture

Please, if someone could just please answer this question for me
I don't understand how there can be Christian Buddhists.... Here are my thoughts..
In Christianity, there is a soul. This soul goes to heaven or hell, whatever. Angels; Demons. Good and Evil.

On the other hand,
There is no soul, There isn't even an I. Everything is a label upon a label that is merely imputed by the mind. Good and Evil are only concepts that are created by the mind. Heaven and Hell are only states of mind that we live in temporarily. Everything exists in the mind.

Without a soul, what would be the point of a God?
Are you just picking and choosing teachings from different books that fit you the best?
Or are there teachings of Jesus that I just happened to miss growing up in a christian household?

OR
are you calling emptiness the soul? The fact that everything is empty down to it's very base of energy particles? This mass collection of energy is our soul? But then where is God?
What do you mean?! Please someone explain your view on how these seemingly opposite things can come together.
I'm deeply confused.

jsmith.flsv's picture

To try to reply to Lacey: I follow both Jesus Christ and the Buddha, and I have trouble ranking them or dismissing one as unimportant, relative to the other. I deeply love, honor, and respect them both as teachers who have changed my life.

Buddhism has a concept of reincarnation. What confuses me is, what exactly is reincarnated if not a soul?

ToonForever's picture

Interestingly enough, this was one of the primary issues that convinced me I could not ride the fence and needed to decide what I really believed (as I mentioned above) - Well, that, along with the concept of duality vs. monism.

They are not very compatible.

So now I take my worldview from Buddhism, but there is still much wisdom in the Christian scriptures...

ClarkStrand's picture

Well, for some they're not very compatible, and for others they are. Modern people (which is to say, all of us on this blog) like to have things carefully delineated and categorized, but not one of these religions originated with such a person. Their relationship to God, Vishnu, Allah, Buddha (as principle, rather than person) was far more numinous and vague. Remember that this was not an age of writing and books.

gerry_yancey's picture

I find no problem mixing my Judaism with my Soto Zen practicer.I find there is NO conflict. I also study Kabbalah and am an ordained Reiki Master. It appears to me there is a lot of confusion in this world. I feel blessed to have found the correct mixture that has no conflict. Baruch HaShem!

Rev. Gerry Yancey, RM

ClarkStrand's picture

Agreed, Gerry. I'm a mutt, too, but a happy one. One might as well get bent out of shape about having, for instance, an Irish mother and a Spanish father. At a certain point, we just are who we are.

ClarkStrand's picture

Hi, Lacey. There are a lot of questions/issues here. My own answer would be that nearly all converts in America today (i.e., people calling themselves Buddhists) are really Jewish Buddhists or Christian Buddhists, whether they like it or not, and regardless of their conscious beliefs, for the simple reason that religion is sown so deepely in the collective psyche that it's damn near impossible to get it out. The same is true for Asians who adopt Christianity or one of the other Abrahamic faiths. A very deep part of them remains Hindu or Buddhist or Taoist or Confucian or Jain, or what have you. Even Western atheists, in over-defining themselves in terms of a God they do NOT believe in, fall in with the same camp.

In my own way of looking at things, I'd say that human beings are, in general, "religiously confused." One is not particularly more confused than another, and mixing and matching doesn't make it that much better or worse. The human psyche seems to be driven by some kind of transcendent function that says, in essence, that--while most stones fall back to Earth when you toss them into the air--there is a class of stones out there that can be "thrown out of this world." Each religion has its set of guidelines on how to transcend worldly suffering (how to transcend the biological realities of ceaseles birth and death), and each one believes that this is possible. This, it seems to me, is the fundamental confusion which is common to them all. To me, it doesn't matter one way or another which flavor I choose, as long as that delusion is at work within it. For me the real question is, what is the underlying teaching of all of these religions (the one that got lost shortly after each of its founders died) which pointed toward this world, rather than away from it? Buddhism has such teachings. Christianity does to.