Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Continuing Saga of Christian Buddhism

Reader comments on my recent articles "Christian Buddhism?" and "The Koan of Christian Buddhism" continue to be posted. Check them out for a very interesting, often deep, and sometimes heated discussion.

Here's a fresh assault from a disturbed reader identified as Asa, posted early this morning in response to the first article:

A deeply disturbing post.. the blind leading the blind..
Someone who has REALIZATION in Buddhism and Christianity, actual deep, permanent spiritual development, would have the ability to synthesize the two.. Though I cant conceive why he/she would.
But for just intellectualization, smug philosophizing.. it is truly dangerous.
Not knowing what you dont know, but plunging ahead anyway, is truly the Western scientific reductionist materialistic approach.. even to religion. To say "it doesnt matter an iota" who one prays to, is the cry of a lost soul.. staying in his comfort zone with clever sophistry. Seek a teacher, one far superior to you in understanding, and follow his/her lead. Then learn what you dont know. Then there might be a chance...

My response:

Well, Asa....I guess now I will have to tell Clark Strand that his years of training as a Buddhist monk and senior student of Eido Roshi, and the years he spent as senior editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, were all in vain -- he needs to go back to school, and stop all this nonsense about combining different traditions. Come to think of it, I should also write to Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh and explain to him how misguided he was for writing the book Living Buddha, Living Christ and for drawing parallels between the teachings of Buddha and Jesus. Same goes for the Dalai Lama, and Rev. John Lundin, and everyone engaging in Buddhist-Christian interfaith dialogue -- misguided! And Bernadette Roberts? I'll tell her that from now on, despite her realization, she can no longer write about the Christian mystical experience of "no-self," because Buddhists have an exclusive copyright on that idea. And Father Thomas Keating? A heretic! Burn all his books. ;-)

What I and others have described in these articles and the comments on them is not smug philosophizing or intellectualization, but a deeply informed and very personal spiritual inquiry that is unfolding right now in many individuals' lives and practice. You can agree with it or not, but the fact is that there is a growing number of people out there exploring some version of a combined Christian/Buddhist practice and faith. People are finding many ways of approaching that -- but, clearly, none of those ways involve staying in one's comfort zone. If people really wanted to stay comfortable and follow the status quo, I doubt that they would bother with such a deep and iconoclastic form of inquiry.

Asa, as I like to imagine my teacher might say (I've heard him say it in response to many other things): if you're feeling disturbed, "that's good!" It means your ego is being challenged. Look directly at that. Investigate it. Be curious about it. Find out what is beneath the surface. The greater the disturbance, the more there is for you to look at. Whether you will see what is there or not, and how you will respond to it if you do, is up to you. But -- although I don't claim to have any particular "realization" -- I can assure you that projecting your judgments onto other people's spiritual experience isn't going to lead you towards the realization you seek. That leads in the completely opposite direction.

If you missed "Christian Buddhism?" or "The Koan of Christian Buddhism," find out why they polarized readers so strongly.

Meanwhile, a 70-year-old woman with whom I've been in email correspondence about these articles said this:

What I realized in reading your articles is that I have struggled through my life with a sense that mystical awareness although possible is elusive: it keeps falling apart in my hands.... The Cherokee rose story in the first article is very helpful in giving me an insight into how to proceed. It turns out that the 'program' that I first experimented with to do my meditations, is the most useful after all: first, meditation to approach calmness, second, reading in Buddhist texts and reflecting on them, and third, my Christian prayers and readings. During the day, I try to identify and work through my 'kleshas' and also to keep my focus. This gives priority to Buddhist teachings, and that is just how I need to work it at the moment.

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