am I inter-religious? buddhist> CHristian

I was raised nominal Methodist but dropped out in college and became irreligious. I was Buddhist for several years. I took the vows of a bodhisattva and said the vows every day, as part of a lay oblate liturgy. Last year started becomming intellectually interested in Christianity, and I also realized intellectually I have big issues with some of Buddhist philosophy. And eventually I decided there was evidence for Jesus of Nazareth and alot of the claims of Christianity. I did identify with Jesus but I’m not sure in a way that other Christians necesarily do- I don’t want to go into the specifics of my personal spiritual experiences too much on that. I have been going to Methodist, and later Episcopalian and Anglican churches and I’m exploring a more broad-church or “catholic” type faith, and I’ve also visited several Orthodox churches (though its a farther drive). There aren’t alot of Roman Catholics near me. But after about a year or so of exploration, I have been seeing more and more issues with Christianity.

One thing I am not certaint about is how the theological stuff of Christianity fits with the Biblical narrative. Maybe I need to do more intellectual reading to try and piece stuff together. I have alot of people I know who are atheist and agnostic, and they find the Biblical God quite unappealing and even loathsome, especailly in the Old Testament. I know the standard apologetic anwers, but many of them just fall flat. IMO, there is no way to justify some of the things in the Old Testament, short of faith. These people I know, some of them aren’t evil or bad people, some of them have a deep sense of justice or concern, but they’ve chosen to reject the Christian image of God. One guy I know is an ex-Mormon who has found some peace in Buddhism’s meditation, but he’s disdainful of the religious aspects, whereas I found Buddhist rituals and piety spoke to my heart alot- he does not.

Christian worship and piety doesn’t always make sense to me. I am so used to just meditating and becomming calm and using that calmness to have a sense of openness or compassion towards other beings. Even if I feel bad or down, I could channel that sentiment towards solidarity rather than being bitter. I don’t understand exactly what Christian worship does. Sometimes I feel bewildered. Also, I had some experiences of something like “God” before, and after, but I’ve never gotten the sense that God is remotely anthropomorphic. I can’t describe exactly what God is like… I would say it’s more “impersonal” in some ways. I’m not used to Christian “God-talk”. “God’s will” is also baffling to me, since I’ve never heard a voice speak to me really and tell me what to do. In the past I always follow my heart, sometimes I just get flashes of intuition too… but never the sense that some James Earl Jones voice is booming down on me from on high. Plus alot of the Biblical narrative is just too bizarre- like much of the OT I talked about, with its thousands of rules and fixation on tribal identity and primitive/atavistic religion. I definitely can’t wrap my mind around Christian concepts of inerrancy and how the Bible can be “God’s word”.

Spiritual immaturity. I think alot of Christians are very spiritually immature in general. I’ve had alot of Christian friends online (on Second Life, I go to a congregation there, besides the ones I visit in RL) tell me they think I have alot of wisdom and humility, even though i also can have a forceful personality at times (I can be very blunt and to the point sometimes). OTOH, I have encountered alot of Christians out there who have simplistic ideas of spirituality and they seem to have issues dealing with people they disagree with. In fact this seems to be common among Christians. I’ve met some Orthodox, Catholics, and some more educated Protestants and the deeper intellectual stuff really appeals me to me more. I think the more high-church or tradition-heavy Christian groups have better spiritual formation. I also have considered Quakers, reading more about their history and practices.

To sum up, Christianity is not speaking to my heart so much. I miss my bodhisattva vows and sometimes I feel a deep sense of shame over not being a part of that anymore. Sometimes I feel Christianity is too narcissistic for me, it’s too focused on my own individual salvation, whereas the bodhisattva vows are about benevolence and solidarity/compassion. Anyawys, I look forward to hearing some thoughts or opinions on what I should do. I talked to a few lay leaders and a minister or two online. 2 suggested that I return to my Buddhist practice, one, an ordained British methodist minister, said it was OK if I had an atypical Christian experience, and not to give up too soon.

I so identify with what you are saying. I would agree that all it will take is some proper study; you will begin to see that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. What changes is how we listen. Most of the time the Jews got it wrong. The Old Testament story is a story of broken covenant. God reaches out to humanity and humanity misunderstands, misdirects, usurps or ignores Him. It is a story of Revelation, which is like a whisper, growing stronger through the years until definitively revealed in Jesus Christ.

You’d be right, God doesn’t communicate with us like that. He communicates through our listening; in the stillness of our hearts and through Revelation and His divine Word.

Much of being a Catholic involves us being still and knowing He is God.

The Bible is not a story like any other, it contains different genres and styles of writing and you need to grasp these. Can I recommend some reading?

Boadt, L., Reading The Old Testament, (Paulist Press, New York, 1984).

Duggan, M., The Consuming Fire, (Ignatius, San Francisco, 1991).

Dei Verbum: vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html

No religion is perfect, and you cannot be both non-Christian and Christian because God demands fidelity.

You might want to read Without Buddha I Could Not Be A Christian, by Catholic theologian Paul Knitter (who happens to be married to a Buddhist). I’m writing a book review on it right now, and it might be right up your alley.

catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=24221

I can see at least four options:[list=1]*]Be a Christian.
*]Be a Buddhist.
*]Be both.
*]Be neither.[/list]
Others can tell you better than me about the first. You already know about the second. I will talk about the third.

Morality is much the same between Christianity and Buddhism, so it is easy to follow good moral practices in both religions simultaneously. Buddhists see less value in “righteous anger”, but that does not appear to be compulsory in Christianity so you can just ignore that bit.

Christianity almost totally lacks meditation, at least for lay people. The closest Chriatian practice specifically for lay people I have seen is Saying the Jesus Prayer. Alternatively stick with a religiously neutral Buddhist meditations such as counting breaths, awareness of breathing or Zen-style ‘just sitting’. If you practice them, the four Brahmaviharas are also compatible with Christianity: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.

Try modifying your Bodhisattva vows to have a more Christian slant. Instead of “I vow to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings”, try saying “I vow to lead all sentient beings to Christ”. Experiment with different wordings until you find something that works for you.

If you feel that Christianity is too focused on self, then remember that the difference between self and other is just another aspect of emptiness - another falsely imagined difference. As there is no permanent difference between self and other so there is no real difference between saving yourself and saving others. It is all the same task. Bodhisattvas could not do their work for others without first having spent many lifetimes working on themselves.

It is impossible to follow all the practices available within Buddhism in a single lifetime; you have to pick and choose. By adding Christianity you have a wider range of practices to choose from.

Do not let the actions of some Christians (or the Old Testament God) get in the way of Christ. As Gandhi said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Every religion has its share of imperfect people. Buddhism does, as I am sure you are aware, and so does Christianity. Try to concentrate on Christ - he is much closer to the Buddha.

HTH

rossum

Go by what your conscience and heart allows.

You yourself said that you find Christianity theologically unsound and spiritually immature. You seem to see Christianity as being spiritually empty. It is a definite adjustment, going from Dharmic religions, where focus is more on mind and body, to the Abrahamic faiths, where the focus is more on devotion of beings. If there’s one word of advice from this post that you should listen to, it is this: Take your time. Do not rush it. Christianity is not the only religion that claims to conform to the will of the gods. Islam says Muhammad did it. Judaism said that Moses and Abraham were the true ways. Bahai says that Baha’u’llah was the true prophet from God. There are four different Abrahamic religions, all claiming to have a lock on God. To be intellectually honest, you would have to reconcile this fact. But as I said, you must go with what your heart and conscience tells you. I respect pretty much every religion and I understand that Buddhism is not for everyone. (Heck, I’m not even sure if Buddhism is for me, yet!)

Take your time though. There are so many stories of people who convert to this religion or that religion hastily, only to find that they didn’t do enough research on it, and they have to convert out of it. Don’t rush your spirituality. Research the religions, see how they agree with your heart and conscience, and take time to ponder their merits and whether it is for you. It may take years. Some religions, once you are in, you cannot get out, so be careful.

Good luck.
Namaste. :thumbsup:

I’d be interested in hearing more about this. I don’t know a lot about Buddhist philosophy but find it intriguing.

And eventually I decided there was evidence for Jesus of Nazareth and alot of the claims of Christianity.

What evidence? And do you still find this convincing?

One thing I am not certaint about is how the theological stuff of Christianity fits with the Biblical narrative. Maybe I need to do more intellectual reading to try and piece stuff together. I have alot of people I know who are atheist and agnostic, and they find the Biblical God quite unappealing and even loathsome, especailly in the Old Testament. I know the standard apologetic anwers, but many of them just fall flat.

What are the standard answers that fall flat?

IMO, there is no way to justify some of the things in the Old Testament, short of faith.

I don’t think faith is a blind belief in the justification of the unjustifiable. Why do you think we need to justify everything in the Old Testament? For instance, when the Old Testament says that God told the Hebrews to kill everyone in certain cities, I interpret this in the light of the norms of ancient warfare and I understand it to be a condemnation of warfare for one’s own profit and glory. Ancient Hebrews were hearing God call them to oppose the idolatrous, power-hungry ways of the nations around them. In terms of their culture and where they were in their relationship with God, they interpreted this as a call to wipe everyone out. But we as Christians read this through the lens of the Cross. Jesus waged “holy war” against the powers of evil, but He did this not through killing but through allowing Himself to be killed rather than compromise with the powers of darkness. That is the divinely inspired meaning of Old Testament Holy War. Not that God wants or ever wanted His people to kill women and children, but that God calls us to an unremitting warfare against the powers of darkness, a warfare best exemplified by the Cross of Jesus.

I know that you may not find this convincing. Many conservative Christians find it horrifying that I’d relativize the historical meaning of the OT in this way. I put this forward to provoke discussion and give you an example of how one Christian deals with this sort of thing.

I do not find the picture of God in the OT to be best characterized by these passages, though. I have to wonder if people who generalize about the "Old Testament God’ have read the Prophets, for instance. I find God’s mercy and grace stated in Isaiah as clearly as anywhere in the New Testament.

Christian worship and piety doesn’t always make sense to me. I am so used to just meditating and becomming calm and using that calmness to have a sense of openness or compassion towards other beings. Even if I feel bad or down, I could channel that sentiment towards solidarity rather than being bitter. I don’t understand exactly what Christian worship does.

It brings us together as Christ’s Body and it orients us toward the action of God in history, supremely in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It also does some of the same things that Buddhist meditation does. But clearly it doesn’t focus on inner peace in the same way, and I see no reason not to meditate as well. Also, some forms of Christian worship are closer to Buddhist practice than others. Have you ever been to a Taize service–or any monastic liturgy–for instance? In my experience much Anglican worship is very contemplative, but some isn’t–my own current parish not so much, for example.

Also, I had some experiences of something like “God” before, and after, but I’ve never gotten the sense that God is remotely anthropomorphic. I can’t describe exactly what God is like… I would say it’s more “impersonal” in some ways.

I like C. S. Lewis’s phrase: God is “beyond personality.” Wolfhart Pannenberg would say that we can only talk about God’s personhood in terms of the persons of the Trinity.

My own experience of God is not primarily anthropomorphic either. But I accept the teaching of the Christian tradition that anthropomorphic language about God also speaks truly, when properly understood.

I’m not used to Christian “God-talk”. “God’s will” is also baffling to me, since I’ve never heard a voice speak to me really and tell me what to do. In the past I always follow my heart, sometimes I just get flashes of intuition too… but never the sense that some James Earl Jones voice is booming down on me from on high.

I don’t think that’s what God’s will is about. You seem to me to be confusing some of the images or metaphors Christians use with the reality to which those images refer.

Plus alot of the Biblical narrative is just too bizarre- like much of the OT I talked about, with its thousands of rules and fixation on tribal identity and primitive/atavistic religion.

I think you can only take the OT as a whole. Indeed, the only Christian way to read the OT is as part of the whole Bible, and the only Catholic way is to read it as part of the whole Christian tradition. The Prophets make it clear that God is not “fixated on tribal identity,” but has called one people in order to bless all nations. But Biblical religion is certainly fundamentally particularistic. It calls us away from glowing abstractions to the particular ways in which God has made Himself known to us.

You said above that you found the evidence for Christianity compelling. If that’s so, then that evidence points you to a God who does reveal Himself in specific events, in a specific story. That’s why you find all those rules and “fixation on tribal identity.” It doesn’t exist for its own sake. I suspect that coming from a Buddhist perspective you may expect the Bible to be more like a philosophy and less like a story than it is.

I definitely can’t wrap my mind around Christian concepts of inerrancy

That is a concept to which I cannot subscribe. However, I would say that the Bible is infallible. What I mean by the distinction is that the Bible as a whole teaches the truth about God and how we are to relate to God. But I do not claim that each part of the Bible, interpreted in its historical context, is entirely accurate. The parts of the Bible are infallible when read in the light of the whole. So to go back to the earlier example: the Book of Joshua is not infallibly teaching us that God sometimes tells people to slaughter women and children. It is infallibly teaching us that God led His people into the land He had promised them (as Joshua the son of Mary has done in a fuller way); that we should follow God faithfully and not compromise with evil; and many other things.

and how the Bible can be “God’s word”.

Jesus is God’s Word. The Bible is God’s Word because it points us to Jesus.

To sum up, Christianity is not speaking to my heart so much. I miss my bodhisattva vows and sometimes I feel a deep sense of shame over not being a part of that anymore. Sometimes I feel Christianity is too narcissistic for me, it’s too focused on my own individual salvation

Which version of Christianity? The Presiding Bishop of my denomination, the Episcopal Church, has called individualism the “Great Western heresy.” Now admittedly her own orthodoxy is suspect in certain ways, and many evangelicals within my denomination have responded angrily to what they see as her attack on them. But I think she has a point, and it’s the same point you are making. I don’t think orthodox Christianity is primarily about “individual salvation.”

Anyawys, I look forward to hearing some thoughts or opinions on what I should do. I talked to a few lay leaders and a minister or two online. 2 suggested that I return to my Buddhist practice, one, an ordained British methodist minister, said it was OK if I had an atypical Christian experience, and not to give up too soon.

I would second that opinion. But I would also encourage you to explore ways in which Buddhist practice may be compatible with Christianity.

Another of our controversial figures in the Episcopal Church is a priest named Thew Forrester who was elected Bishop of Northern Michigan but did not receive the consent of the Episcopal Church as a whole and so will not become bishop, at least not at this point. Like you, he has received Buddhist lay ordination. This bothered many people. But I think the main reason he was not elected was that his theology was clearly unorthodox, in ways that probably reflected Buddhist belief. So clearly for Christians there are problems with trying to blend Buddhism and Christianity. If you reinterpret Christianity radically on the basis of Buddhism (as Fr. Forrester appears to have done), you will get a lot of criticism and may not become bishop. But in my opinion we need more Christians who are willing to explore the relationship between Christianity and Buddhism, precisely because so many of those who are currently doing it are not sufficiently attached to orthodox Christianity. And even if you are unorthodox in the way you blend the two, you will have plenty of company among priests and laity in both Anglicanism and Catholicism and a number of other Christian traditions as well.

In other words, if you see truth in Christianity and Buddhism, pursue the truth as you see it. Perhaps we Christians will object to some of what you say or do. But that’s the cool thing about Christianity. We’re in this together. We keep each other accountable. If you think there is evidence for our core beliefs, don’t turn away from us because you have problems with certian issues or because you find Buddhism appealing as well. Just pursue the truth with all your heart, and learn from us as hopefully we can learn from you.

In Christ,

Edwin

Actually, some forms of Buddhism do have “righteous anger”, it is considered “crazy wisdom” almost. Anger in general though is usually bad.

Christianity almost totally lacks meditation, at least for lay people.

Catholicism has a tradition of “meditation”, contemplatio, and infused prayer. This usually reserved for monastics. And there has been periodic suppression of these movements as “quietism”, which with the Scholastic emphasis on reason, tended to see this as damaging to the dignity of human beings. Eastern Christianity, OTOH, has always had a meditative tradition of sorts (including the Jesus Prayer and apatheia or withdrawl from the senses). They also never really pitted grace vs. works, or reason vs. intuition.

Episcopalians/Anglicans also apparrently have their own rosary now too, similar to the orthodox prayer beads. And a few Anglicans/Episcopalians pray the traditional rosary, too (one Continuing church I sometimes go to in RL- the nearest church to me, has a rosary club, though I’ve never attended).

Try modifying your Bodhisattva vows to have a more Christian slant.

To be honest, the famous prayer of St. Francis (“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace”), is much closer to the sentiments of a bodhisattva. The bodhisattva vows are actually not as totalitarian/grandiose as they sound.

It is impossible to follow all the practices available within Buddhism in a single lifetime; you have to pick and choose.

I don’t really see great empirical evidence for reincarnation though :slight_smile: Like I was saying, I kept hoping that people I met and cared about, went to their Christian heaven after all, even while I myself saw it as an irrelevent goal (I figured when I died, it would be the end of “me” in a conscious sense- I’d just return to whatever “stuff” I came from, one withe verything, or else I might exist in a cosmic sense as a bodhisattva doing something.

I still don’t see why we should necessarily exist discretely after death, sometimes. It’s not really nihilistic the way I see it- it’s enough to seek to do what is good right here and now. In reality, I think every moment of our lives exists eternally, somehow (objective immortality). In fact I think I have felt this. I think I can see hints of this in the Heart Sutra too, when it’s talking about everything being “empty”, and yet in emptiness nothing is really lost. Thitch Nhat Hanh in one of his books talks about this beautifully about “no-birth and no-death”, he took the ashes of a young boy who died of leukemia, chanted the Heart Sutra, planted them in a flowerbead, and he sees the boy in the flowers. It’s a funky existential feeling that once is grasped, it has an element of fear or mystery in it, but also is beautiful, it’s like things being intrinsicly sacred.

I get asked alot by agnostics and atheists why God would act only towards a particular people like that. Why not do stuff with other nations, why just have a favorite nation like Israel?

Read about ancient Chinese folk religion though. They believed in a being they called"Shangdi" (Supreme Lord) or “Heaven” (Tien), the being who created everything, and had vaguely similar attributes to the Hebrew idea of YHWH/God - justice, compassion, usually seen as male, listened to human prayers and accepted sacrifices, and never depicted in statues. (Shangdi is still the Chinese name used by some Christians for God). They also had positive views of the afterlife, unlike the Hebrews who tended to see it as somewhat bleak or negative. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shangdi

It doesn’t exist for its own sake. I suspect that coming from a Buddhist perspective you may expect the Bible to be more like a philosophy and less like a story than it is.

Very true but many Christians, especially Protestants, treat the Bible in a very specific, elevated manner, as a textbook.

Which version of Christianity? The Presiding Bishop of my denomination, the Episcopal Church, has called individualism the “Great Western heresy.” Now admittedly her own orthodoxy is suspect in certain ways, and many evangelicals within my denomination have responded angrily to what they see as her attack on them.

I think alot of Episcopalians are highly modernistic.  I'm shocked at the number of them that seem to believe miracles are silly/impossible, for instance, or that alot of the morality traditionally held by Chrisitans is "outdated".  Otherwise, I agree with that sentiment, individualism in religion can be caustic and I reject the Evangelical sentiment of going off to have your own personal spiritual quest without any responsibility/accountability to anybody outside yourself.

I have actually seriously been thinking about Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy too. I appreciate the more demanding nature of the religious life there, and they also have monasticism which I am interested in (so do Anglicans/Episcopalians, but not as much).

Another of our controversial figures in the Episcopal Church is a priest named Thew Forrester.

I have heard about him and honestly I’m not sure his stuff is all that “heretical” but I’m no expert. Part of it may be due to the fact the West has tended to negate the mystical tradition, so perhaps people feel they need to turn to Buddhism. And Fr. Forrester seems to be expressing alot of his stuff in vaguely Buddhism terms (OTOH, the Gospel of John’s mystical language, being “the Body of Christ”, etc… all is rather “Eastern” really, and unless Christians want to claim that stuf isn’t “real”, isn’t really alien to Buddhist sentiment.)

Also, it’s hyperbole to say that Buddhism negates sin. Sin is quite a real concept in Buddhism (the term used is usually “defilement” or “karmic burden” - there are 5 big sins in buddism, hatred, greed, envy, lust, pride), though it’s overcome in different ways than Christianity (it’s “burned off” through various “skillfull means” or practice, including repentence/contrition). Buddhism is far less guilt-focused than Western Christianity, though it’s view is closer to Orthodox in that it sees sin/confession/contrition as ultimately being about solidarity, and not something legal/individual.

Mystically I think Orthodox Christianity is the most powerfull religion alloing peopleto go to Heavn from this life. Goal of religion is not to move osciloscopes when praying so so called scientifical confirmations of osciloscopes changing is nothing, this is like I prove a tree can help me go to Anywhere in the world and I prove you this because I am shacking the tree and makes noise, so what? making noise has to do with traveling the same thing osciloscopes has to do with going to Heaven…
monachos.net/forum/showthread.php?t=6114

"Now as to why someone moves from Buddhism to Orthodoxy - everyone’s story
is different - some are miraculous - some are frightening - some are
fairly ordinary. But a common denominator seems to be that; if a person
has even the smallest history of knowledge of Christ before becoming a
Buddhist, then even the smallest of such impressions, even from early
childhood, will cause a Buddhist to reach a point beyond which they cannot
grow as a Buddhist. There are Buddhist practices which serve to “open the
heart”. Such a practice will often not work for one whose heart has been
visited even briefly by Christ - their heart will open only for Him. More
than one Buddhist has caught himself chanting a mantra that he or she had
previously chanted over 100,000 times, that somehow, one day turns into
“Lord have mercy”. And He does have mercy!
"

Not really. I think you’d be surprised how many Catholics (and other Christians) practice some form of this. Many lay Catholics are “oblates” or members of “third orders,” which means that they share in the spiritual life of a monastic community or religious order insofar as their calling allows them to do. Monastic spirituality has quite an effect on laypeople, it seems to me.

And there has been periodic suppression of these movements as “quietism”, which with the Scholastic emphasis on reason, tended to see this as damaging to the dignity of human beings.

You’re painting with too broad a brush. Scholasticism is not hostile to the contemplative tradition. Quietism is an unorthodox form of Catholic mysticism which was suppressed because it seemed to downplay the need for good works, the sacraments, and the hierarchical Church. The problem wasn’t the practice of contemplative prayer itself. Obviously that is very different from Buddhism, though, in which the practice of meditation *is *the core of the religion. For Christians, particularly Catholics, such contemplative practices cannot displace the more “external” aspects of the religion such as the sacraments, the study and proclamation of Scripture, or the doing of good works.

Eastern Christianity, OTOH, has always had a meditative tradition of sorts (including the Jesus Prayer and apatheia or withdrawl from the senses).

The main formal difference between Eastern and Western theology with regard to mysticism is that Eastern Christians believe that through the practice of contemplative prayer (and physical techniques such as breath control along with more traditional ascetic practices, all of which is seen as less directly relevant in the Western tradition) mystics can see the Uncreated Light of God’s “energies.” This “hesychastic” tradition has traditionally been regarded as a delusion by Latin Christians, although as far as I know hesychasm has never been formally condemned, and I believe that many Catholics today would be open to it. Bear in mind that there are Eastern Catholics who would claim that all of Eastern Christian spirituality is valid within the Catholic tradition (although this isn’t always evident in practice).

They also never really pitted grace vs. works

That’s what they will tell you. To many Western Christians, particularly Protestants, it looks as if they are more works-oriented than the Catholics at times.

or reason vs. intuition.

Are you sure that that’s what Catholics do? What examples do you have, other than the suppression of quietism, which as I said was not about reason suppressing intuition but about the insistence on the necessity of the “outward” elements in Christianity?

Episcopalians/Anglicans also apparrently have their own rosary now too, similar to the orthodox prayer beads

Yes, there is an “Anglican Rosary.” Myself, if I’m going to say the Rosary, I’m probably going to say the traditional one. I don’t find the Rosary extremely helpful in my prayer life, although perhaps I didn’t stick at it patiently enough.

And a few Anglicans/Episcopalians pray the traditional rosary, too (one Continuing church I sometimes go to in RL- the nearest church to me, has a rosary club, though I’ve never attended).

This is not terribly unusual. The parish in NC where I became Episcopalian also had such a group (the priest is now a Continuing Anglican, actually).

To be honest, the famous prayer of St. Francis (“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace”), is much closer to the sentiments of a bodhisattva. The bodhisattva vows are actually not as totalitarian/grandiose as they sound.

I think the bodhisattva vows are wonderful. (I just taught about them on Friday.) They are “grandiose” mostly because South Asian rhetoric sounds grandiose to Western ears. I don’t know why anyone would call them “totalitarian.”

I don’t really see great empirical evidence for reincarnation though :slight_smile: Like I was saying, I kept hoping that people I met and cared about, went to their Christian heaven after all, even while I myself saw it as an irrelevent goal (I figured when I died, it would be the end of “me” in a conscious sense- I’d just return to whatever “stuff” I came from, one withe verything, or else I might exist in a cosmic sense as a bodhisattva doing something.

I still don’t see why we should necessarily exist discretely after death, sometimes. It’s not really nihilistic the way I see it- it’s enough to seek to do what is good right here and now. In reality, I think every moment of our lives exists eternally, somehow (objective immortality). In fact I think I have felt this. I think I can see hints of this in the Heart Sutra too, when it’s talking about everything being “empty”, and yet in emptiness nothing is really lost. Thitch Nhat Hanh in one of his books talks about this beautifully about “no-birth and no-death”, he took the ashes of a young boy who died of leukemia, chanted the Heart Sutra, planted them in a flowerbead, and he sees the boy in the flowers. It’s a funky existential feeling that once is grasped, it has an element of fear or mystery in it, but also is beautiful, it’s like things being intrinsicly sacred.

I very much understand where you are coming from. This is something I find appealing about Buddhism too.

I get asked alot by agnostics and atheists why God would act only towards a particular people like that. Why not do stuff with other nations, why just have a favorite nation like Israel?

Read about ancient Chinese folk religion though.

Not to sound snooty, but I’m actually going to be teaching about it on Wednesday! (Today we are reading some material from the Dalai Lama in Paul Griffiths, *Christianity through Non-Christian Eyes.)

*I’m not quite sure what the point is that you are making here. If you are saying that God has clearly revealed Himself to some extent to other peoples as well, I totally agree.
The traditional Christian view (though this is denied by many Protestants, most notably Barth) is that there is genuine “natural revelation” through which people gain some truths about God, and that there is continuity between that revelation and the fuller truth found in Christ. However, we don’t simply worship God as a universal Being who is known by our reason and intuition. We believe that this Being has acted in history in specific ways, which for Christians culminate in the life, death, and resurrection of one man in ancient Palestine.

Very true but many Christians, especially Protestants, treat the Bible in a very specific, elevated manner, as a textbook.

Many Christians do a lot of silly things. And I don’t think that treating the Bible as a different sort of text than the one God chose to inspire is “elevating” it at all.

I think alot of Episcopalians are highly modernistic. I’m shocked at the number of them that seem to believe miracles are silly/impossible, for instance,

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how few believe this, given what I had heard about them before I became one. But sure, there are some who think this.

or that alot of the morality traditionally held by Chrisitans is “outdated”.

Well, some of it clearly is tied to a particular culture. Discerning how to translate moral principles from ancient culture to our own can be a difficult task. Seeing the Faith as a story rather than primarily a philosophy helps–though to some that is itself “modernistic”! But certainly many liberal Episcopalians say silly things. Many Christians of all sorts say silly things, as I already noted. It seems to me that you are too hung up on the silly things that Christians say. Set those aside and look at the core elements of Christianity as practiced by the best and wisest Christians you know. Compare them to the similar elements of Buddhism as best practiced. Only then, it seems to me, is it fair to add in to consideration the extent to which each religion seems to lend itself to silly misinterpretations. In part that’s because only when you have come to some conclusion as to what you regard as the most appealing and valid elements of a religion can you have a meaningful opinion as to what is a misinterpretation of that religion. (I get very frustrated with folks on this forum, for instance, who insist that the more appealing elements of Islam are really a misinterpretation of the core teachings of Islam, which are wicked and false–this seems like an irrational way to approach any religion.)

I have actually seriously been thinking about Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy too. I appreciate the more demanding nature of the religious life there, and they also have monasticism which I am interested in (so do Anglicans/Episcopalians, but not as much).

I would strongly encourage people in general to convert to Catholicism or Orthodoxy rather than to Anglicanism or some other form of Protestantism. I hold no particular brief for the tradition to which I belong. I am Anglican because it’s as Catholic as I can get without renouncing my Protestant tradition entirely–and to some extent also because I like the flexibility of Anglicanism (recognizing that it has huge drawbacks) and have some problems signing on to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy without qualification. If you can make such a commitment, I urge you to do so.

I have heard about him and honestly I’m not sure his stuff is all that “heretical” but I’m no expert. Part of it may be due to the fact the West has tended to negate the mystical tradition, so perhaps people feel they need to turn to Buddhism. And Fr. Forrester seems to be expressing alot of his stuff in vaguely Buddhism terms (OTOH, the Gospel of John’s mystical language, being “the Body of Christ”, etc… all is rather “Eastern” really, and unless Christians want to claim that stuf isn’t “real”, isn’t really alien to Buddhist sentiment.)

I’m not sure about that. Some scholars have suggested that the Gospel of John may have been written in response to the Gospel of Thomas, which *is *very similar to Buddhism in many ways. That’s a rather extreme view–it’s more likely that John was written first–but I think the contrast between the two texts is fairly clear. For John human beings apart from Jesus are “children of the devil” and reach salvation only through faith in Jesus.

Also, it’s hyperbole to say that Buddhism negates sin. Sin is quite a real concept in Buddhism (the term used is usually “defilement” or “karmic burden” - there are 5 big sins in buddism, hatred, greed, envy, lust, pride), though it’s overcome in different ways than Christianity (it’s “burned off” through various “skillfull means” or practice, including repentence/contrition).

Yes, but in some forms of Mahayana isn’t everyone regarded as being objectively already in nirvana, only they don’t realize it? Isn’t sin or bad karma really just illusion for Mahayana Buddhists? That’s what I understand Fr. Forrester to be teaching. Theravada Buddhism is different, as I understand it.

I admit that my understanding of Buddhism is still very superficial. I am a historian of Christianity and teach world religions because none of my colleagues are more qualified to do so than I am, and because I find the subject interesting!

Edwin

I know a few Anglicans who are also part of these type orders or movements.

For Christians, particularly Catholics, such contemplative practices cannot displace the more “external” aspects of the religion such as the sacraments, the study and proclamation of Scripture, or the doing of good works.

Some, though, went off to be hermits later in life, which would mean they did not fully participate in the exoteric/communal aspects?

I also think it would be a mistake to think of Buddhism as only a religion about meditation. Perhaps in the most extreme forms of Japanese Zen packaged for the West, but even then, Buddhist do alot of community rituals and the “Sangha” (congregation) itself is emphasized alot. In some forms of Buddhism, emphasis on meditation is downplayed or even nonexistent (Tibetan Buddhism- insight meditation is reserved for later stages. In Pure Land, the most commonly practiced form, and Nichiren Buddhism, people chant mantras alot or gathas/prayers and sutras). It’s only in the West that it has been sold as a highly intellectualized, inwardly focused tradition. Actually, in Thitch Nhat Hanh’s practice (which is Vietnamese Zen/Pure Land), he emphasizes sitting meditation much less than the Japanese.

The main formal difference between Eastern and Western theology with regard to mysticism is that Eastern Christians believe that through the practice of contemplative prayer (and physical techniques such as breath control along with more traditional ascetic practices, all of which is seen as less directly relevant in the Western tradition) mystics can see the Uncreated Light of God’s “energies.”

Augustine wrote of a similar experience, though (the “unchanging light of God”). In fact I think similar experiences through contemplation have appeared throughout church history. And to open up a can of worms, some Buddhists have described very similar experiences from prolongued meditation. (I had a similar experience, in fact, from meditation).

I’ve met quite a few, American episcopalians are far more modernistic/rationalistic than other Anglicans (I also go to an Anglican church on Second Life, BTW).

Set those aside and look at the core elements of Christianity as practiced by the best and wisest Christians you know. Compare them to the similar elements of Buddhism as best practiced. Only then, it seems to me, is it fair to add in to consideration the extent to which each religion seems to lend itself to silly misinterpretations. In part that’s because only when you have come to some conclusion as to what you regard as the most appealing and valid elements of a religion can you have a meaningful opinion as to what is a misinterpretation of that religion

If this were valid, I would have to conclude many religions had something to offer.

I would strongly encourage people in general to convert to Catholicism or Orthodoxy rather than to Anglicanism or some other form of Protestantism. I hold no particular brief for the tradition to which I belong. I am Anglican because it’s as Catholic as I can get without renouncing my Protestant tradition entirely

I have similar feelings, actually… though I could see myself easily being Catholic or even Orthodox. I’m not sure I buy into their historical particulars though. From my POV, though, Reformed Christianity, especially the more conservative type, is almost another religion altogether. Which makes Anglicanism problematic because there are some Calvinist Anglicans. Anglicans have only settled by being so latitudinal that they allow a huge spectrum of theological opinion. Frankly, I have met some people of the Calvinist persuasion I would be reluctant to call “brother” and commune with, because even though their theology/philosophy is airtight, it often seems their piety and conduct is pharisaical and weak on responsibility and authenticity.

Yes, but in some forms of Mahayana isn’t everyone regarded as being objectively already in nirvana, only they don’t realize it? Isn’t sin or bad karma really just illusion for Mahayana Buddhists?

Well, “The Kingdom of God is in your midst”. Sin and karma is not just an illusion in the sense it is absolutely inconsequential. In some sense, yes, they would say people have a perfect nature, even if it is defiled. Buddhism is very much therapeutic in mindset, and you are trying to force into a highly western religious model just doesn’t work. Buddhism most certainly does believe in repentence/atonement:

“All evil acts ever commited by me since of old, due to my limitless greed, anger, and ignorance, born in my body, speech, and mind. Now I atone for it all”. (Repentence Gatha)

Like Orthodoxy, repentence is therapeutic rather than legal in nature, though. It’s ultimately about solidarity with samsara, not about guilt. Western religion has a tendency to want to play “moralist”, but in Buddhism it’s more about not having a hard heart.

It may be the core for “Western” Buddhists, maybe (with their love of all things samadhic), but not for Asian or Asian-American Buddhists.

Really? I recognize that many Buddhists may not practice meditation that much, preferring to do good works and contribute to the support of the monks and thus acquire merit for a subsequent life. But in Theravada Buddhism isn’t the monastic sangha the core of the religion? Laypeople may not meditate much, but their religion is focused on the monks, who do meditate.

The core of Zen is surely meditation.

Devotional forms of Mahayana may contradict my claim, and since those forms may actually embrace more Buddhists than Theravada and Zen combined, I can see that you have a point here! Is that what you are talking about? I guess I assumed that even there the forms of Buddhism where meditation was not in some sense at the “core” were relatively few–Pure Land maybe, Soka Gakkai, etc. But I admit that I don’t know a great deal.

Edwin

That was always a source of tension. It’s one reason why the cenobitic forms of monasticism have been historically more central. Ideally, even hermits should receive the Eucharist and should be accountable to the broader Christian community in some way. One interesting example of quasi-eremitic monasticism is the Carthusian Order, in which the monks live in a monastery together but spend much of their time in their own cells. In the Middle Ages there were also “anchorites” who lived next to a church building so that they could receive the Eucharist. In other words, while the eremitic life was practiced, Catholics have always sought ways to keep it anchored in community life and particularly in the sacraments.

I also think it would be a mistake to think of Buddhism as only a religion about meditation.

That wasn’t what I meant. What I meant was that meditation is generally seen as the highest, ideal form of spiritual practice. Isn’t it true that in most forms of Buddhism the practice of meditation is key to achieving nirvana? Most Buddhists may not be far enough along to worry about that, and Pure Land Buddhists sidestep the issue by seeking rebirth in the Pure Land rather than nirvana itself. So I recognize that there are many qualifications to be made.

Perhaps in the most extreme forms of Japanese Zen packaged for the West, but even then, Buddhist do alot of community rituals and the “Sangha” (congregation) itself is emphasized alot. In some forms of Buddhism, emphasis on meditation is downplayed or even nonexistent (Tibetan Buddhism- insight meditation is reserved for later stages. In Pure Land, the most commonly practiced form, and Nichiren Buddhism, people chant mantras alot or gathas/prayers and sutras). It’s only in the West that it has been sold as a highly intellectualized, inwardly focused tradition.

I don’t think it’s just that. I think it’s also that textbooks and readers often focus on the classic texts rather than on popular practice, and frankly I think that may be the best way to start off. But it’s inevitably misleading.

Augustine wrote of a similar experience, though (the “unchanging light of God”).

Yes. But of course that was relatively early–early even in Augustine’s spiritual life, for that matter.

Edwin

If by “core” you mean something that all Buddhists do, by the very fact of having taken refuge, then “systematic, methodical, stationless meditation” would not be “core”. The core would be having trust/faith in the Triple Gem. Everything would flow from that, including the personal realization of what was once held in trust/faith.

Perhaps, although you can find plenty in the C of E as well.

If this were valid, I would have to conclude many religions had something to offer.

Obviously they do. Whether they have “something to offer” is surely not the point. If they didn’t they would not have lasted long or attracted many converts. I’m not sure Scientology has anything valid to offer, but if I heard of or encountered a wise and apparently holy Scientologist I might change my mind. I certainly can’t claim that Mormonism has nothing to offer, given how many people clearly find something in it.

Having something to offer is not necessarily the same thing as being true.

I have similar feelings, actually… though I could see myself easily being Catholic or even Orthodox. I’m not sure I buy into their historical particulars though. From my POV, though, Reformed Christianity, especially the more conservative type, is almost another religion altogether. Which makes Anglicanism problematic because there are some Calvinist Anglicans. Anglicans have only settled by being so latitudinal that they allow a huge spectrum of theological opinion. Frankly, I have met some people of the Calvinist persuasion I would be reluctant to call “brother” and commune with, because even though their theology/philosophy is airtight, it often seems their piety and conduct is pharisaical and weak on responsibility and authenticity.

I don’t find their theology and philosophy to be airtight. Well, sure it is if you accept their assumptions and learn to say “mystery” exactly when they tell you to (no sooner, no later).

And I respect most of the conservative Calvinists I know. A stern bunch for the most part, but people of integrity. I don’t find them to lack responsibility or authenticity.

I’d like to hear more about what attracts you to Christianity. So far I know that you have a lot of problems with it, that you find both liberal Episcopalians and conservative Calvinists lacking, and that you admire Catholicism and Orthodoxy. But I still don’t have a good sense of what it is that makes you think Christianity might be true, and what specifically you find appealing about Catholicism and Orthodoxy in particular.

Well, “The Kingdom of God is in your midst”. Sin and karma is not just an illusion in the sense it is absolutely inconsequential. In some sense, yes, they would say people have a perfect nature, even if it is defiled. Buddhism is very much therapeutic in mindset, and you are trying to force into a highly western religious model just doesn’t work.

I am aware of the difficulties of comparing the two and the danger of distorting one tradition by expressing it in the language of the other. But Fr. Forrester is forcing Christianity into a model that seems to have Buddhist inspiration. He has changed the Christian liturgy in ways that support what I’m saying. Now perhaps this doesn’t come from Buddhism. Perhaps he’s just interpreting Buddhism to support his theological agenda. But the fact is that he is deeply uncomfortable with the traditional Christian language of Jesus saving us from our sin.

Buddhism most certainly does believe in repentence/atonement:

I never said it didn’t.

Like Orthodoxy, repentence is therapeutic rather than legal in nature, though. It’s ultimately about solidarity with samsara, not about guilt. .

I’m not so interested in the legal aspects as I am in the patristic teaching that human beings are under the power of death and need to be redeemed from it. That’s why I like the bodhisattva vows–they are the closest to Christian salvation language that I’ve found in Buddhism. But as I understand Mahayana, salvation is primarily about dispelling ignorance.

The fact that I’m teaching early Christianity and world religions in the same semester may be shaping where I’m coming from right now. It’s pretty hard for me not to see similarities between Mahayana and western Gnosticism, and when I hear Fr. Forrester use Gnostic-sounding language, that reinforces my impression. I’m quite happy to believe that Gnosticism is a kind of caricature of Buddhism precisely because it’s been “forced” into the Western context! But there do seem to be some basic similarities in the idea of salvation and of what humans need to be saved from.

Edwin

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