August 11, 2009

Does Buddhism serve as a bridge?

Can Buddhism strengthen ties to the church? An article in Sunday's Denver Post suggests that it does. Author Electa Draper investigates a growing interest in the meditative and spiritual aspects of Buddhism amongst Christian Americans, finding that many employ eastern religions as a tool to forge a deeper connection to their Christian beliefs.

For many Christians cut off from the past, or alienated from the faith of their upbringing, Buddhism has served as the bridge to ancient wisdom.

"The problem is the contemplative tradition in the Christian Church has had its ups and downs over the centuries," said Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk and leader in the Centering Prayer movement, a modern revival of Christian contemplative practice.

"We sensed that the Eastern religions, with their highly developed spirituality, had something we didn't have," Keating said. "In the last generation, 10 to 20 years, some didn't even think there was a Christian spirituality, just rules — do's and don'ts and dogma they didn't find spiritually nourishing. It's important to recover the mystical aspects of the gospel."

The new president of Naropa University, a school dedicated to Buddhist contemplative education, weighs in:

"There is growing permission to turn back to some of the early church practices and pieces that helped us to be whole," said the Rev. Stuart Lord, an ordained Baptist minister and new president of Naropa University, a Buddhist-founded institution. "I've been studying Buddhism and meditation for about seven years. I look at it as helping a person lead a fuller Christian life."

To read Draper's entire article, click here.

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J. Sumitta Hudson's picture

I have been very fortunate here in Pittsburgh. Our Sri Lankan monks have been invited to speak at various Christian organizations. When they are not available, I have been able to speak as a dhamma follower.

When we present Buddhism as something not in competition with Christianity but as something that may be beneficial to Christian life, people are much more receptive. I have now spoken at three Churches this year and the response has been very positive. We have even had more Christians show up to our meditation/dhamma nights.

Even if a Christian does not want to take refuge in the triple gem, they can gain benefit from Buddhist practice and meditation. They can use it to become better and happier people.

Talking to Christians should not be focused on whether their faith is right or wrong, but about how we can develop compassion, loving kindness, and wholesome and mindful living.

Ed's picture

Approaching Zen from a Christian (specifically Episcolian) heritage, I find both practices have valuable lessons to share with each other.

Probably the greatest lesson the modern Christian church can learn from Zen is to return to its more contemplative traditions, the practices of silent prayer and more silence in general. One of my major criticisms of the standard modern Christian worship service is that you can't get a moment's peace -- if someone isn't preaching at you, you're standing and singing or praying out loud. All of these things have their place, but without a silence to sound an echo and hear God respond to you, it's pretty much a one-sided conversation. One-way conversations get boring after awhile -- even if you're the one doing the talking.

Today's Christian churches should actively embrace their strong roots in contemplation and help guide their congregations back to it. I think many congregations are secretly hungry for more space and quiet in their worship, and perhaps more ready for it than many of their clergy would like to believe. The renewal of a truly Christian church in America can begin with establishing a meditation hall as part of the standard church campus.

Drew Clement's picture

I could not agree more with the message that is trying to be passed down through this article.

In many ways there is nothing wrong with strong religious ties or religious beliefes, but those ties can be ultimately strengthened by a better connection with one's self and an overall better understanding. Spirituality connects you with yourself more than religion can in many cases, and allows you to understand why your religion is important, or possibly why you may need to look to something else.

In my honest opinion religion and spirituality together cannot survive without an open mind. And that is exactly where Buddhism can act as a bridge for many people.

Lee's picture

I'm a practicing Buddhist for some 18 years. My daughter in law comes from a Baptist background and is tired of the 'guilt and do's and do not's" and is interested in looking at other things... her family says she's going to hell and threaten her and accuse her of many things that I think are non christian in nature. I tell her Jesus taught that you should love God and love your neighbor and that many christians believe you should strive to become Christ like in your life which is showing love and compassion (just like Buddhist practice) and that you can love Jesus while disliking what some churches have done to the teachings. You can learn to meditate and allow compassion to rise up in you and put that love into practice without being a Buddhist.... you can be a Christian and practice the same things and there must be Christian Churches that encourage such wonderful things. Even The Dali Lama says Christians should practice their own religion and not turn to others "Just do it seriously"
I'd appreciate anyones input as to what denominations (churches) allow for such open minded practice.