Christianity And Buddhism Essay Research Paper Several

Christianity And Buddhism Essay, Research Paper Several times toward the end of Zen retreats we have made together, you have asked, “But what does my Christianity add to my Buddhism?” And the

Christianity And Buddhism Essay, Research Paper

Several times toward the end of Zen retreats we have made together, you

have asked, “But what does my Christianity add to my Buddhism?” And the

answer you received was, “Nothing. It’s all going the other way right now.”

I understand that skepticism about Christianity’s “adding” to Buddhism.

Both of us know many fellow-Christians who are drawn to Buddhist practice,

either because of an alienation from the church, or, as I believe is true

for ourselves, because we find in the zendo something we believe we cannot

find in the church.

I would not call myself a “Buddhist”; even “Buddhist-Christian” has its

difficulties. Although Thich Nhat Hanh has statues of Buddha and Jesus on

his altar, the Dalai Lama has said that mixing Buddhism and Christianity is

like “trying to put a yak’s head on a cow’s body.” Even Thomas Merton, who

did so much to foster Buddhist-Christian dialogue, says in Zen and the

Birds of Appetite that “studied as structures, as systems and religions,

Zen and Catholicism don’t mix any better than oil and water.”

Despite these and other cautions, I believe that my efforts at Buddhist

practice, and my reading in Buddhist literature, have subtly and

significantly influenced my Christian faith–and, I would say, for the

better. In moving from church to zendo and back again, I know that I have

been able to respond more and more “heartily” to the gospel. It is not that

I have set up a parallel religious practice (no statues of Jesus and Buddha

side by side on my altar–no statues at all, come to think of it), but in

“Buddhist” practice I have somehow come home in a new way to my Christian

faith.

What I have found in the zendo is a deeper silence than I expect to find in

the church, at least in my lifetime.

As you know, for Buddhists, especially in the Zen tradition, the first step

in “just sitting” is to let go of all “views,” that is, quietly but firmly

to set aside all spontaneous and not-so-spontaneous discriminating

judgments of right and wrong, good and bad–all judgments whatsoever, even

those which might make up “Buddhism.” (This, I think, is the basic meaning

of the notorious Buddhist dictum, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill

him.”) I would not say that this “emptying of the mind” is the essence of

Buddhism, but Thich Nhat Hanh would certainly put as the first step for the

mindfulness practice which is at the heart of Zen living.

As our own Empty Hand Zendo (zen community) manual describes it, “Seated

meditation is the core of our practice. This involves working with the

body, breath, and mind, entering into deep silence and stillness, and

opening to a fresh awareness moment after moment.” In short, no “views” to

be clung to here!

It is this silence that many of us, including practicing Christians, have

experienced as a “coming home.” On one level, having set aside so much of

our usual busyness, one might say that we have come home just to ourselves,

or to what some folks would call our “center.” That is certainly true, but

in the Buddhist tradition I think it would be more accurate to say that we

seek to become “decentered,” less concerned with ourselves and with the

judgments, convictions, illusions, and prejudices that we so often use to

prop up those “selves.”

Raimondo Panikkar titled his major study of Buddhism The Silence of God:

The Answer of the Buddha (Orbis), and one of the things the Buddha was most

silent about was “God.” I think the Buddha has something to teach us on

that point. I was introduced at an early age into the tradition of

“negative theology,” which stresses the limits, or even the breakdown, of

all our concepts of God. And it is still a very important part of my

religious outlook. If anything, I have become over time more convinced that

our ecclesial talkativeness, and especially our all-too-facile “God-talk,”

can become a real obstacle to personal faith. (No one can say that we

haven’t been cautioned about the dangers of talkativeness. As early as the

third century, Origen warned that “to say even true things about God

involves no small risk,” and Henri de Lubac emphasized that risk again.

Even earlier, Ignatius of Antioch described God as “the silence out of

which the word comes forth.” When Karl Rahner began speaking of God as

“Mystery,” he was urging us to be more cautious. And yet we keep talking

about “God” with unseemly ease. No wonder T. S. Eliot protested in “Ash

Wednesday” that there is not enough silence for the word to be heard.)

I would not say that one has to go to a Buddhist zendo to recover an

appropriate religious silence, nor would I say that all the changes that

have taken place in my faith are the result of “just sitting.” But, in

fact, the Buddhists are better at this religious silence than we

Christians. Regularly going into this silence has made my faith freer, more

exploratory, and more personal. I have become more of a “listener” to our

own tradition, somehow more receptive to it and surely less defensive about

it.

What I have come to listen to in this way is, quite simply, “the Christian

story.” More and more I have come to think of Christian faith not primarily

as a creed or as a mystical journey but as responsibility for a story: the

story of “God,” with all its ins and outs, even as Jack Miles has most

recently retold it in God: A Biography (Knopf), and the story of Jesus, in

all its New Testament versions, even as deconstructed by John Dominic

Crossan and Marcus Borg. It is a very old story. It has been told again and

again–at Nicaea and Chalcedon; by Athanasius and Augustine and Aquinas; by

Eckhart and Ignatius and Newman. I like some versions better than others,

but I respect all the versions, even as I realize I must take

responsibility for my own deconstruction and retelling of the story. In all

the reflective writing Thomas Merton has done on Buddhism (especially Zen)

and Christianity, the recurring line is, “I live, now not I, but Christ

lives in me.” The “story,” God help us, is now incarnate in me. Or so Saint

Paul claims, and I’m willing to test it out with him.

Even as I describe a faith still in progress, I also find myself in

agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s scolding

1989 letter on “Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.” I don’t see the

dangers of Eastern mysticism that worry the congregation, but I do see that

the words of Scripture are the bearers of the Christian story and the

sacraments are the dramatic reenactment of the continuing story. If you let

Scripture, liturgy, and sacraments go and try to “disappear into the sea of

the Absolute,” as the congregation worries, you may still be part of some

story but not any longer the Christian one. So I find that even as I get

deeper into Buddhist practice, Scripture study, the liturgy, and especially

the Eucharist become not less but more important to me. That’s exactly what

I listen to and somehow “hear” in a new way across the silence.

In trying to hold Scripture, sacraments, and Buddhist silence together, I

have found the writings of John P. Keenan, a Buddhist scholar and an

Episcopal priest, very helpful. He has shown how, in at least one Buddhist

framework, the Mahayana (the mystical “Great Vehicle” tradition of Indian

Buddhism, of which Zen is in a special way “the meditation school”), it

might be possible to read Christology (”the Word”) in a way that respects

“the silence” about which Ignatius of Antioch speaks. Keenan has proposed

that reading the Christian tradition through a Buddhist lens will enable

theologians to locate the doctrine of the Incarnation in the context of

God’s ultimate “unknowability”–the divine darkness–which is also part of

the authentic Christian mystical tradition (The Meaning of Christ: A

Mahayana Theology, Orbis; and The Gospel of Mark: A Mahayana Reading,

Orbis).

Keenan makes use of two themes: the identity between “emptiness” and

“dependent co-arising” and the “differentiation between the two truths of

ultimate meaning and worldly convention.” The first of these themes applies

“horizontally” to our being in the world and says that nothing we

experience in our ordinary lives has a reality independent of the fragile

network of “causes and conditions” that bring our experienced realities

about. The second theme is “vertical” and