Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Friends - There are several very good responses here to the question of what is meant by "Buddhist Quaker." I find Americans in general have picked up the parts of Buddhism that resonate with a Western world and left the rest in the East. This is annoying because so-called "Buddhism" is touted in liberal circles as a superior "religion" which fits better with a more New Age world view than Christianity because of the pacifism, Oneness of life, lack of a true God (the personal God of Christianity being more difficult for modern folks to believe), do-it-yourself practises, and the live and let live attitude that is revered by modern Americans. In other words liberal Americans can more easily be Buddhist and not change their lives in very difficult ways. This is comfortable. Christianity is hard and not always comfortable.
As several above have said Buddhist practises can of course easily be used by Christians with no conflict. Mindfulness was practised by contemplative Christians for centuries as contemplative prayer. The book Practise of the Presence of God is an example. It is very sad to me when people explore Buddhism without first having truly understood or tried out Christianity. The Christianity of Christ and the early Christians (and early Friends) contains all the practises, understandings, guides to life, direction, comfort, etc. that is needed in this life. It is mystical, it is contemplative, it is pacifist, it leads to the Spirit of Christ, it leads to the Living Waters. But I will echo Friends above who said that it was not UNTIL a spiritual experience that they could see this and understand it. The Spirit is what shows us the Truth in Christianity, and without that Spirit it looks anything but reasonable or helpful. I believe that is where Buddhism comes in, particularly the practises of Buddhism. It is a path that leads to a degree of peace and serenity WITHOUT needing the help of the Spirit or the intervention of the Living Christ!
I helped myself along that path of Buddhist practises for several years. It was good, maybe lifesaving, but did not take me all the way. I had changed my attitudes and reactions and was able to cope with life more easily but I was still the same person and still had the same miserable soul that was yearning for the transformation that it somehow knew it had not yet experienced. Then at the bottom of the pit, over a period of a few days, I was suddenly taken over by the Living Christ and infused with a Love that blew me away. I somehow knew it was Christ, though I had never considered such an experience was even possible, let alone could happen to ME! But that is when all the practises I had been diligently following seemed like empty shells in comparison to what I now had! God is here and longing to contact us! He is REAL! He stands at the door and knocks and all we need to do is open the door. This is the miraculous discovery that lit the Early Friends on fire and that powered their movement. Without this Life we are not truly alive. After this happened to me I wanted more than anything else to tell others that God is REAL! God is not a "belief" or an old-fashioned notion or a matter of opinion. God is palpable, alive, love and almost physical. And we all have access to God! God is an experience! That is the good news. And those who have not yet experienced the Living Christ are truly missing out.
I am hoping all this is taken in love. It really is meant that way.
May God bless all our journeys,
Thee speaks my mind. A few points to add:
Some of us tried out Buddhism because we come from secular backgrounds. I did not reject Christianity when I tried Buddhism; the truth is I knew almost nothing about it. I suspect I'm not alone. Though most American Buddhists have gone through a process of rejecting western religion, there are a substantial portion that resemble me in that they come from non-religious backgrounds. When I eventually turned to Christianity, for me it was like encountering a new tradition.
Your point about Americans taking what they like from Buddhism and leaving behind the rest is precisely right. Americans have constructed a type of Buddhism which is almost unrecognizable from a traditional Buddhist perspective. Left behind are ethical commitments, prayer (which is pervasive in traditional Buddhism), rebirth/reincarnation (which is essential in all forms of traditional Buddhism), and such ideals as renunciation and asceticism. Basically, American Buddhism is a form of psychological self-help. Nothing wrong with that, but it does help to put what is going on in American Buddhism in perspective.
Thanks again for your fine post.
Jim - Thank you for your reply. I often feel what I am saying is not said as well as I would like. You fleshed out what I was trying to get at. It is very interesting to me that so many American youth think they will find something in Buddhism BEFORE they even take a glance at Christianity. It is like Christ is a last resort - and a very unpopular one to the uninformed.
Which also reminds me - when I asked why the term "Christ-centered" is being thrown about so much more than "Christian" one response was that the term "Christian" has too many bad connotations etc. But that is not the problem of Christianity! It is the problem of people not understanding Christ and his message and co-opting the name for their own purposes!! Is that a reason to drop the name and the devotion to Christ? Christ is the Spirit that feeds us all, whether we know it or not. And we should be claiming that name and helping others to unpack the baggage around the name of Christian, rather than making up a vague term like "Christ-centered" that even those who use it don't seem to know what it means. (If anyone does please let me know - like the history of the term etc.)
Look, the word "Christianity" can also cover some very easy sins, if you take it to mean "the beliefs and practices of some Christians." Buddhism, any other religion I know of, comes in many flavors -- any of which can potentially connect a practitioner with the Living All-It-Is which some of us term "Christ", some "The Living God" -- or "Allah", etc etc.
Some people might choose a particular religion because it doesn't obviously threaten to bring them face-to-face with Bigger-Than-Them -- but that can never be ruled out, can happen unexpectedly to people who haven't practiced anything whatsoever except pushing their little brothers on a swing --
It isn't "the religion" that does it; it's God, who has very definitely a will-of-Godsown in that question of who will ripen first, in what circumstances, by what apparent means.
'Christianity' doesn't mean, 'We've got it & they don't.' Some people's versions of 'Christianity' -- Well, some people just don't understand that God loves anybody else, that God approaches anybody else in any other way. But I'd expect what Jesus says about God to clue them in better than that.
Thank you for sharing such a powerful testimony to and affirmation of deepened Christian experience in the immediacy of the Spirit of Christ within the conscious and conscience; giving immediate knowledge and experience of the one religion (through direct experience) rather than the borrowed experiences of outward religious institutions, practices, doctrines, etc.
I discovered Buddhism when I was 13, via Jack Kerouac. This was around 1959 or 60. At age 17 I had a “religious experience with the religion” then attended silent meeting for worship, had a few more profound mystical experiences at age 18. Then I lost faith entirely. There was a point, as a young man, when I was able to use the word “God” without gagging. Yet, my 'faith' had never entirely disappeared, as my basic faith had been rooted in Love. The reality of that had been shown to me in my experiences, as was the experience of being cast out, cut off, 'forced' to experience the conditions that underlie the causes of war and endless suffering, physical and spiritual.
I took the vows of refuge about 6 years ago and have only recently started attending the Chico Meeting of Friends, where I immediately felt as if I had returned home.
A while back I dreamed of powerful energy bringing to life a female figure; of me outdoors bringing together Heaven and Earth and the energy was TREMENDOUSLY powerful and I looked into the sky and saw the face of Jesus Christ in an oval and thought how, yes, into order to take this in, to survive, one needs what Jesus had.
Yet I hesitate to speak openly of being a “Christian.” But I did, for the first time, during our Wednesday meeting and book discussion (Faith and Practice, Pacific Yearly Meeting). Another Friend has made a comment about “suffering” in Buddhism. This fact is the first Noble Truth. Suffering can be gross and visible (disease, starvation, torture) and it can so subtle that one can barely discern it; it gets life from desire and aversion. One can port that suffering over to the Christian term “sin,” though my thought is that sin must be understood in the original meaning of “falling short of the mark.” But “sin” I think still falls short of the profound understandings of Buddhism, and another Noble Truth: there is a way out, the 8 fold path.
I think this is the best conjunction of East and West (“East and mid-East”?) in giving a way to live in this world as a moral, ethical, loving person. There is nothing in Buddhism that contradicts the teachings of Jesus. In my youth, when I considered myself to be a Christian, I based it solely on the notions of “when two or three are gathered in My name” and “love God with all heart soul and mind, love your neighbor as yourself; on these two hang all the Laws of all the prophets.”
Accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior is as absurd as accepting Buddha as the mayor of Philadelphia. But I know, without every part of my soul and heart, that when I act in accordance with the Buddhist precepts, when I act as if I love God and my neighbor, with all my heart, soul and mind, then I am doing the good work and am as much a Christian as a Buddhist. And I'm absolutely certain that Jesus would smile.
I think it depends on how Christian and how Buddhist you are. As a devout Pureland Buddhist I think of Jesus as a wise person, but not my savior. I have been a minister assistant in a Pureland temple, but I have grown to think of Asian Buddhist rituals as excessive and alien. It is the light of "God" and simplicity of Quaker practice that draws me, and while many of the concepts are similar I fully embrace my Pureland faith. I am inspired by the book "Amitabha, A Story of Buddhist Theology" by Paul Carus, so using the word "God" is not an issue for me. -- However, one cannot practice Buddhism and Christianity, you would either be a poor Christian or a poor Buddhist, the deepest beliefs are not compatible. But that does not mean a Christian cannot practice meditation, it just means they shouldn't call themselves a Buddhist.
Practicing Buddhism allows me to better follow Jesus's teachings. Should I not practice Buddhism because it's not Christianity?
When you say that you took bodhisattva vows I am assuming that is Zen. It seems that the modern interpretation of Zen is as a philosophy and practice, not a religion. However, I am a Pureland Buddhist and it is very much a religion for me. Although Pureland is the biggest sect in the world, it is largely unknown in the west. The core is faith in Amida Buddha, desire to go to the pureland (a buddha field beyond heaven), and recitation of nembutsu (name of buddha). There are similarities of Quaker practice like komyo (the light of Amida Buddha), monpo (deep listening vs waiting in silence), shinjin (sincere faith), tariki (other power vs holy spirit). While there is nothing similar in Buddhism, I really like the idea of holding in the light. I guess that while Zen is more mental and heavy on meditation, Pureland is more spiritual and heavy on faith. Another big difference is the Zen humanist focus on salvation in this life (rather difficult to do in my opinion), while Pureland is a refuge where this salvation is easy but it seems that shinjin and reliance on tariki continue to get stronger. Zen which is jariki (self power) conceives of buddha nature (sounds like that of god within), but for Pureland this same idea is the working of the primal vow of Amida Buddha to save everyone and we only have buddha nature when we have shinjin. -- Well that is probably enough. Nice to find you.