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Reflections on Christianity and Buddhism

Reflections on Christianity and Buddhism

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Published by Charles Day
Reflections on the ultimately irrelevent similarities and differences in Christrian and Buddhist teachings, doctrines, and metaphysics.
Reflections on the ultimately irrelevent similarities and differences in Christrian and Buddhist teachings, doctrines, and metaphysics.

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Published by: Charles Day on Nov 07, 2011
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01/15/2013

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REFLECTIONS ON BUDDHISM and CHRISTIANITYCharles Daycharlesday1@mchsi.comwww.DesMoinesMeditation.org*Years of practicing meditation and studying various religions,especially Buddhism, have resulted in a much greater understandingand appreciation of my root-religion, Christianity. Increasingly, thedifferences in religious ideologies, doctrines, rites, rituals, andpractices, while respectable and inevitable, seem ultimately andutterly irrelevant.All religions share the same basic ethics, virtues, and values andadvocate living in peace and harmony with each other, with all of creation, and within oneself. And all religions, according to their mystics, aspire to the same transcendent experience of unity,realization, enlightenment, union with God, and the awareness thateveryone and everything is interconnected and interdependent.These essential commonalties clearly outweigh the doctrinaldifferences between religions, and it is from this perspective that Ioffer the following reflections on Christianity and Buddhism. Unlessotherwise sited, my Christian reflections are based on the KingJames Version of the
Bible,
and my Buddhist reflections come frommultiple sources, including
The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching,
ThichNhat Hanh, 1998.Similarities between Christianity and BuddhismThe instructions for Centering Prayer, a contemplative practicepromoted by Catholic Father Thomas Keating and taught in manymainstream Protestant denominations, parallel those of basicBuddhist and Hindu breath and mantra meditation practices (
OpenMind, Open Heart 
, Thomas Keating, 1986, 1992). Father Keatingacknowledges its similarities with Eastern religions, as well as withearly Christian monastic contemplative practices. Not surprisingly,many methods of Christian contemplation and prayer are similar tovarious Buddhist meditation practices.
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Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has authored two booksentitled
Living Buddha, Living Christ,
1995, and
Going Home: Jesusand Buddha As Brothers,
1999. In his book,
Mysticism for ModernTimes,
2006, Willigis Jager, a German Benedictine monk, as well asa Buddhist scholar, provides an excellent overview of the parallelsbetween the teachings of Christ and Buddha. He reinterprets a fewof Jesus’ biblical teachings based upon the recently discoveredGnostic gospels, especially the Gospel of Thomas (
The Gospel of Thomas
, translated by Steven Davies, 2002).The period of silence that constitutes Quaker Meetings for Worshipand the shorter periods of meditation now included in the services of many churches reflect shared recognition with Buddhism of theprofound value of simply quieting and stilling the mind.Religions throughout history and in all cultures have been therepository for social, moral, and ethical values. And scriptures andclergy have long been relied upon to teach and promote thesevalues. The Buddhist precepts of refraining from harming, stealing,lying, and sexual misbehavior are contained within the TenCommandments. And just as peace and love are emphasized inChristianity, Buddhism teaches that all persons possess the four innate and divine virtues of lovingkindness, compassion, joy, andequanimity, and that these virtues can be not only intentionallycultivated in daily living but will spontaneously arise as a result of meditation and other spiritual practices.The Golden Rule exists in all religions. “Do unto others as you wouldhave them do unto you,” is paralleled in Buddhism by “Hurt not othersin ways that you yourself would find harmful.” And Jesus’ teaching of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” parallels Buddha’s emphasis oncultivating lovingkindness for oneself and for all beings.The importance of forgiveness in Christianity parallels the importanceof compassion in Buddhism. Jesus’ statement on the cross, “Forgivethem for they know not what they do,” is an extraordinarily exquisitereflection of the depth of compassion that Buddhism says arisesnaturally from an enlightened mind that recognizes that ignorance of our interconnectedness is the cause of all personal suffering andwanting to inflict it upon others.
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Turning the other cheek, converting swords into plowshares, blessedare the peacemakers, the beatitudes, and references to Christ as thePrince of Peace are all Christian expressions paralleling Buddhistteachings regarding non-violence, non-harming, lovingkindness,compassion, and the Bodhisattva Vow to relieve the suffering of allbeings. ” The Buddha himself summarized his teachings as “Do noharm.” The Dalai Lama expresses this in positive terms in saying, “Myreligion is kindness,” and in urging individuals of different religions tofocus upon their shared values rather than their differences.“As you sow, so shall you reap” and “By your fruits shall you beknown” are Christian expressions of the Buddhist concept of karma or the law of cause and effect as it applies to human actions. Negativeactions lead to negative consequences and positive actions lead topositive consequences.Life and all creation are considered sacred and divine in bothreligions, though Christians tend to see God as separate from Hiscreations, while Buddhism sees all of creation as the interconnectedand impermanent manifestation of and inseparable fromconsciousness or God. The frequently misunderstood Buddhistconcept of “no-self” and “no-soul” meant simply that something calleda self or soul does not exist as an autonomous, independent, andenduring entity that is separate from everything else. Everythingphysical and mental, including the sense of a self, is interconnected,interdependent, and constantly changing, according to Buddhism.The quests for redemption and salvation in Christianity can becompared to the quest for liberation or enlightenment in Buddhism.Christian experiences of an epiphany or a transformation, of being“born again,” and the spiritual revelations that arise from near-deathexperiences are what Buddhists would call glimpses or experiencesof enlightenment.Similarly, Christian mystical experiences of the Grace of God,oneness, unity, union with God, and the peace that surpassesunderstanding can be compared to Buddhist experiences of enlightenment or nirvana and the equanimity and bliss thataccompany them.
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