Saturday, July 01, 2006

Buddhism and Christianity

I have been looking for an article that would, in a way, compare Buddhism and Christianity. This is very relevant since my family and I are working as missionaries here in Thailand. and while exploring the interesting blogs about theology written by provocative theologians I stumbled upon this great essay, I want to share this to you guys. This is from James, and you can read it in his blogspot

A Short Christian Appreciation of Buddhism

While I am thoroughly a Christian (perhaps not always orthodox, but I'm always a dox of some sort), I do enjoy studying other religions, including Buddhism. It is perhaps my favorite of other religious movements because it reminds me of my own beloved Protestantism. Like Luther and Calvin, the Buddha sought a middle way in Hinduism. He rejected certain aspects of Hinduism and affirmed others. Granted, there are many differences in these reformers, but there are some striking similarities. I'll save that for another post. Today I want to focus on a short appreciation of Buddhism.

Buddhism and Christianity share many similarities. Granted, I cannot speak authoritatively for both, but I can appreciate Buddhism as a Christian. The Buddha, like Jesus, taught self control. The body is something to be mastered, not something that the world would have master control over. Both religions, that is assuming Buddhism as religious thinking, not simply philosophical thinking, taught (after their founders) that there is more to this world than the simple, empirical, and often painful existence. In other words, there is a metaphysic of sorts. For the Christian, that metaphysic is the narrative of the Creator God who redeems the creation through Jesus. For the Buddhist, that metaphysic is the knowledge of one's place in the universe - and how to set oneself free from this ever-changing world. While it may be argued that both teachings support escapism (i.e. don't worry about this life because there's something better waiting for you after death), I think the real understanding is appreciating the metaphysic as grounded in earthly life. What do I mean? While the hereafter is important, and deserving of consideration, the here-and-now demands our attention.

The devout Buddhist learns how to train his / her mind in ways that Westerners often completely miss. I'm one of them. I wish I could train my brain to enter a zen-like state after only a few minutes. I wish I could learn the "empty" brain exercises. I wish I could harness my thoughts and feelings in the same way that the Buddhist monk is often able to. Jesus' own teaching isn't that far from this. Jesus often spent much time alone, in the desert, contemplating, praying, and fasting. As an aesthetic, Jesus trained his mind to be alone with God. There is much to learn from this, and much to be appreciated in the Buddhist.

What I find the most intreguing of Buddhist teaching is the release from samsara, or the eternal cycle of life. This cycle encapsulates the dharma and karma that a being accumulates in multiple lives. This is no simple doctrine of reincarnation; rather it is a cycle of pain - a cycle of death, if you will. This cycle is broken only with buddha (or, literally, "enlightenment"). The knowledge of past lives and future lives, coupled with supreme knowledge, allows the individual to die into nirvana, or eternal nothingness. This nothingness is peace, it is eternal bliss in the void. It is the supreme version of unconsciousness. While I don't pretend to understand samsara, I am interested in studying it. I think it can lead to a better, even deeper, understanding of what I affirm as a Christian - that the life hereafter doesn't repeat - that this is it, this is our time to shine as the children of God - that we need to make the best of this life - and that we can hope for eternal presence with God. How can understanding the Buddhist help me in my Christian walk? There is always a place for understanding, for contemplation, for entertaining new ideas, for teasing out radical new thoughts. And, maybe, in that moment of enlightenment, I'll figure out what this life really means.


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