The Buddhist Phase

I've noticed something about a lot of Christians who go through prolonged periods of doubt or who eventually lose their faith. A lot of them seem to go through a Buddhist phase.

"Phase" isn't really the best word. The word "phase" implies a temporary situation. But as I said, many former Christians do convert, if that's the right word, to Buddhism. For these former Christians the word "phase" doesn't capture the fact that, in their lives, they actually went through a Christian phase.

I'm using the word "phase" here autobiographically, about the time in my life when I took a serious interest in Buddhism and might have, during these years, been more Buddhist than Christian. My observation here, about my own story, is how similar it seems to many doubting Christians. For many doubting Christians a journey with Buddhism, for a season or permanently, seems very common.

Have you noticed this yourself?

The appeal of Buddhism, for me at least, was that Buddhism offered a way of being spiritual without being metaphysical. Beliefs and doctrine just aren't that important in Buddhism. Thus, for Christians who find value in leading a spiritual life, but who have found Christian metaphysics to be hard if not impossible to swallow, Buddhism seems to be an attractive and common alternative.

I have a great respect for Buddhism. And Buddhism has informed many things in my own Christian practice. Here are four influences:

1. Mindfulness
Being in the moment and only in the moment is something I've integrated into how I understand Christian spiritual practice. Take, for example, this meditation I recently wrote on the famous passage in Ecclesiastes "there is a time for everything":
There is a time for everything. And whatever you are doing right now that is the time for that. So be present in that moment. Don't be in a different time. Don't be ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. Don't live in guilt, regret or shame. Don't live with worry, fear and apprehension. Live into the moment. The time is right now.

There is a time to tuck your kids in at night. When it's that time be present. Do that well and fully.

There is a time (in my life) to teach a class. When it's that time I should do that work to the best of my ability.

There is a time to drink a cup of coffee with a friend or loved one. When it's that time I should savor the moment and not be picking up my iPhone to check my email.

There is a time for everything.

And when it's that time be there and nowhere else. 
Consider also poems I've written like Dharma with take mindfulness as a theme.

2. Non-attachment
Related to the practice of mindfulness, the Buddhist idea of non-attachment is something I also use in my Christian practice. As I see it, non-attachment is one of the main ways a Christian does battle with the Principalities and Powers. This is something I've written about a lot, about how idolatry is striving after self-esteem by serving the Principalities and Powers. One way we "come out" of that idolatry is to "die" to the cultural self-esteem project. And by "die" I mean "practice non-attachment." To "die to the world" is to become indifferent to the lures of how the culture defines success and significance. The way we resist idolatry is in becoming apathetic to how the Principalities and Powers try to push our buttons, the neurotic weak spots of our self-esteem.

3. Moral Failure as Ignorance
In Buddhism people do bad things because they are ignorant, not because they are depraved and wicked. There isn't a moral stain, just confusion and myopia. When people do bad or evil things they think, in that moment, that this behavior is actually going to make them happier or better off. They are mistaken of course. And that's the tragedy.

By and large, this is how I see the situation. I don't think people are as wicked as they are weak and confused. As God describes the people of Nineveh to Jonah, people just don't know their right hand from their left. This theme also shows up from time to time on this blog. An example from another recent post:
When you are a college professor on a Christian campus you are often asked about your opinion as to if Behavior X is or is not a sin. The inquiring minds of college students want to know. And one can assume that their interest is more than philosophical.'s at these times where I find the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament to be a better framing than the Protestant worry about escaping the wrath of an angry God.

Specifically, some things might not be sinful, but they can be decidedly stupid. Some things don't make you a bad person, but they can mark you as foolish. And some things aren't as immoral as they are immature.
These appeals of mine to the wisdom literature have been informed by my study of Buddhism. I tend to think that people are more foolish than wicked.

4. Practice
As I said at the start, perhaps the greatest appeal of Buddhism is its lack of dogma and its focus on practice. You practice Buddhism, you don't believe in it. That's very different from Christianity where belief is paramount. There are two well-known problems with this. First, and most obviously, some of the stuff in the Christian faith is hard to believe in. And second, by privileging belief/faith many Christians never get around to actually being Jesus-followers. Christians are those who believe in Jesus. Oddly, these believers don't actually have to follow Jesus. For example, Jesus preached non-violence and few Christians actually practice non-violence. Following Jesus is optional for most Christians. Belief, by contrast, is mandatory.

Because of this lunacy many Christians are starting to place orthopraxy (right practice), rather than orthodoxy (right belief), at the center of their faith. Above you might have noticed some odd word choices, phrases like "my own practice of Christianity" and "how I understand Christian spiritual practice." The focus of my faith is on the practice of Christianity--actually following Jesus, being a disciple.

As I often say to my sons: "It's not just about believing in Jesus. You're actually supposed to do this stuff."
In all this you can see how my "Buddhist phase" has informed and, I believe, strengthened my understanding and practice of Christianity. And this is not to say that these ideas aren't found within Christianity. Mindfulness, non-attachment, wisdom, practice--these are all found within the bible and the Christian tradition. The problem was that my Sunday School training in Christianity never pulled these ideas to the surface. Ironically, it took an exposure to Buddhism to help me find these treasures within my own faith tradition.

So here's the question you might be wondering about. Why didn't I become a Buddhist like so many other former Christians?

I think, at root, it was a psychological reason. To be blunt, I'm too pissed off to be a Buddhist.

In Buddhism negative emotions are forms of dukkha, the suffering we experience because we cling to (become attached to) things that are changing. To be free from negative emotions we are to cultivate non-attachment. A key part of this involves not making value judgments like "good" or "bad." Such dualisms and valuations are forms of attachment that cause suffering. Consequently, when we let go of these forms of attachment we no longer suffer and can experience peace.

The problem I discovered about myself is that I'm too emotional to get very far down this road. Here's what I mean by that.

I'm unsettled, grieved, angry and broken by the suffering in human experience. And I take these feelings to be at the root of my religious experience, of my encounter with the Divine. These feelings are primary to me. These feelings are holy. These feelings are not illusions, they are not mistakes. They are forms of attachment, yes, but these attachments are where God is encountered in my life. And I do not wish to be emancipated from the suffering they cause me.

In all this I'm wired like the Jewish prophets who histrionically raged and wept as the Word of God in the world. I encounter God most profoundly in their pathos and in the pathos of those like them in the world today. And I'm a Christian because I see Jesus as the climax of the prophetic tradition showing how the pathos of God can be incarnated in a way of life, a way of being human in the world.

So there it is, the main reason why I didn't convert to Buddhism. I couldn't sacrifice this aspect of my religious experience.

And so my Buddhist phase ended. But, as seen above, Buddhism helped me to become a better Christian. I carry so much of it with me.

And for that, I'm grateful.

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65 thoughts on “The Buddhist Phase”

  1. I was somewhat similar if backwards. I was a lapsed Catholic (strictly C&E) who went through a 'Buddhist phase" and now, I'm a pretty conservative Christian. (Note: I'm also Canadian, I don't mean the same thing as most Americans when I say I'm "Conservative")

  2.  I'm very fond of Canadians. I grew up in Erie, PA and loved to cross over at the Falls to visit.

  3. Been there, done that and may do it again --- one never knows. Thank you for what, for me, was a remarkably timely post.

  4. Oh my goodness, I have SO been through (and in some ways am still in) a Buddhist phase. I like that Buddhism seems compatible with science, I like that it cultivates mindfulness and peace and compassion, and I like - best of all - that it promotes a healthy acceptance of death. 

  5. I'm actually reading "The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching" (Thich Nhat Hanh) right now; I've been in this "phase" for a couple of years now, and I'll admit that I do aften think about converting. Sometimes I realize that the Christian mystical tradition offers the same sort of guidance, sometimes the only reason I stay Christian is that I simply don't know how to convert...not many buddhists in the rural deep south. All I know is that I haven't found peace yet.

  6. Thanks for the reminder that there is goodness, truth, and beauty that can be found outside of Christianity. I think Jesus said he came to fulfill the truth, which means there had to be some already there to work with.

    One question, sometimes when I look at some of the tenants of non-attachment and evil as ignorance, I think that it is leading to a "there's nothing out there worth embracing" type view. Am I missing something with that and Buddhism?

  7. Like most doubting Christians, I went through a Canadian phase, but I couldn't get past the hats.

  8. "Life is suffering," and "Suffering is an illusion."  I, too, am so gripped by the reality of suffering that I couldn't go far on the Buddhist path.

    Christianity offers the truth that "The Almighty suffers, too" and "The Almighty suffers with."  Maybe it's even true that "The Almighty suffers *more*."  That's more in tune with my pissed-off-ness.

  9. I resonated with every single thing in this post. I've been a Christian most of my life, and within the last few years I've developed a strong appreciation for Buddhism. It started when I met a Buddhist meditation instructor, talked to her for a while, and realized that her attitude and her actions were more Christ-like than those of most Christians that I knew. Thank you for affirming the idea that you can take good things from another religion-- Christianity is not the only religion with good things to say.

  10. If I may re-state what you are saying:  You are "unsettled, grieved, angry, and broken" because of human suffering, which in turn causes your own.  And these feelings are the root of your religious experience, they are sacred ("holy"), "primary", and you revel in and cultivate them, and you do not wish to be freed ("emancipated") from them.  It is your "pissed-offness" which creates the need in you for a modern pathos which leads to a permanent state (in you) of suffering.  It is at this point that you encounter the Divine, an Incarnation whom I assume must share in your anger.

    "Evil" is not as worrisome as ignorance.  Cause and effect are not an issue, except in the sense that suffering in others causes suffering in you.  This would include "evil" at both the natural level (such as defective DNA, disease, tornadoes) and human (violence, abuse, neglect).  And yet, no matter what its name, this is the source of your anger.  You admit these feelings are "attachments", but not that they can be addressed other than through sharing with others in them.  So alleviating pain and suffering is not important, because it is the source of our true humanity and our connection to the Divine.

    Or, once again, have I completely missed the point?

  11. That's a good question.  I'm no expert, but I am an enthusiast, so I can give you my understanding.  There are many forms of Buddhism, and a lot of them seem alien to me for just this reason.  I did, however, really gravitate to the Zen flavor of Buddhism.  They way I understand their sense of non-attachment is that they want to clear away the emotional, habitual, metaphysical clutter that humans everywhere have.  By arriving at "nothingness" and "non-attachment", someone doesn't need to experience a dark sense of nihilism, but rather a free and open sense of possibility.  They place a premium on clearing the way for you to act and feel spontaneously, rather than act and feel and see through the cloudy lens of your attachments etc..  And, so the theory goes, if you are not ignorant, but understand The Truth, these spontaneous actions and feelings will tend to be loving and compassionate and all good stuff.  You are free to love and be enthusiastic in an unencumbered way.

    So - that's how I understand one strand of Buddhism.  I think the sentiment is beautifully captured by the last ever Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:

  12. Dr. Beck, you've hit a major nerve with something I'm increasingly frustrated with.  I too am often pissed off. The intensity of community that we read about early in Acts just doesn't exist much these days.  Discipleship has more to do with increasing knowledge and little to do with actually practicing the faith together.  Every church I've attended gives lip-service to an idea of community, but the evidence of changed lives and togetherness is not there. Prayer groups and Bible studies are not too intimate and nothing seems to go very deep. Our shared life together exists formally but not practically.

    I find myself sometimes wondering if the church as a vital counter-cultural community even exists in the US.  I'm still committed to organizational Christianity, but am really questioning whether it ultimately has much of a real-world impact anymore. 

  13. Dear Sam, though you probably are not looking for an answer from me...

    Suffering comes in some form or another, in varying degrees, to every human being.  It's not so much the cause but what meaning we make of suffering.  One would be a glutton for punishment to revel in pain, anger, and grief.  I think Dr. Beck was expressing a response to suffering that is heartfelt -- a willingness to look and listen, be aware, and stand with those who suffer; to alleviate the suffering of others, if one has anything to offer; and to be a healing presence (as opposed to causing more suffering).  When I have been hurting and felt alone, it has been a blessing when others have listened, cared, and encouraged me.  Sometimes, suffering exists, no matter how much we wish to end it.  I think of my nursing home friends.  They suffer with illness and disease, loneliness, spiritual discouragement, etc.  I can't do much for them, except to be present with them as their friend and encourager.  While I still grieve the messiness of life (my own and others whom I love), I am still capable of looking past my own problems and doing some small things to relieve the suffering of others.  It's important to do that, for me, anyway.

    I believe that God cares about our suffering, and must have wanted us to know that because of the way Jesus was *with* us, even in suffering and dying.  I don't know anything about what will happen after I ultimately die -- heaven, hell, judgment, all that.  All I can know is that this life matters, and it sure hasn't been perfect (or free of suffering), and I am not perfect in loving God or others, but it matters that I care.  In caring, I too get angry and sad when I see others suffering.  I wish I could be helping.  I certainly don't want to add to anyone else's suffering.  Every person has value, and should be treated with dignity.

    Who or what to be pissed off at, and how to channel that into something useful, are the big questions for me.

    Of the little I know of Buddhism, a major tenet is to achieve ultimate "nothingness."  That just seems like a bizarre concept to me.  We are created with such beautiful diversity, with abilities and personalities and experiences, that I can't believe the goal is to end up totally attached to no thing and no one.  Divine oneness is...not caring?  Unless I'm mistaken, that is the aspect of Buddhism that caused me to reject it out of hand.

    I am sorry to be so pathetically limited in my ability to respond clearly and succinctly.  I'm more sad than mad (i.e., "pissed off") about the situation.  As I have said, anger doesn't do much for me, except wear me out and use up precious energy and time.  Your friend, Susan

  14. Wow, as others have said, I totally resonated with this post. Every little detail. Sometimes reading your posts feels like total déjà vu. Freaky!

  15. As a post-Christian almost-Buddhist I was girding my loins waiting for the self-defensiveness to kick in.

    Which it didn't.  I so get this.  I have been having a bit of an epiphany lately about what anger is, what it's there for, what it feels like when it's wielded properly.  It's not a "negative" emotion to me.  It's the only area of Buddhism that clangs a little like an out of tune gong.

  16. So great I didn't offend. I wanted Buddhists to hear gratitude and kinship.

  17. For me, Buddhism and Christianity co-exist. They operate together in me, without much conflict. Buddhism is a very useful tool for Christians, I think. I think Jesus preached well against attachment. And part of Buddhist practice is to enter into the suffering of the world, breathe it in, breathe out blessing.

  18. This is a great article, Richard. I found myself relating to a good deal of it as I was reading. Especially at the end with your reasons for not being able to depart from the pathos of the Jewish prophets and compassion for human suffering. What I love so very much about Jesus is his "human-ness." The way he wept at the sight of human suffering and loss is striking, and, as you've pointed out, very non-Buddhist.

  19. Thank you, Susan.  There is too much mystery here for me, too many unanswered questions, too much serendipity, caprice, and random chance.  Neither "system" works for me, because neither satisfies my need to know.  I can respond to pain, suffering, and evil on an individual level, but these actions do nothing to change the larger picture of the reality I see all around me.  Most importantly, they simply cannot explain it.

    Two thousand years seems time enough for the world's largest religion to have made the world brighter and not darker.  There must be a reason why it has not.

  20. I always found Christians and their so called "theology" to be incredibly boring.
    I was thus converted to the Way of Truth & Reality as taught and demonstrated by the Ruchira Buddha as communicated via these references.
    Which is to also to say that the Christian tradition binds everyone entirely to the mortal meat-body fear saturated level of existence-being - or the fitst three stages of life, as described here.

    Where, for instance within the Chistian blogosphere, will you find anything remotely congruent with this description of what it really takes to live Right Life.
    Even though all of that is implicit in the Ten Commamdments, and  all of  which  is intrinsically communicated in the Spirit-Breatihng Spiritual Way of Life taught and demonstrated by Saint Jesus of Galilee while he was alive.

  21. In Buddhism, all those emotions you consider unBuddhist are considered perfect expressions of mahamudra.  The only thing is if you embrace them as perfect expressions of the divine reality just like everything else, they flower into the compassion and wisdom of the bodhisattvas (along with everything else, straining at the bit to selflessly act on no self).  So, ironically, I'd say you're in even more of a Buddhist phase now! After all, the Buddha said not to give up your old religion when you started practicing his method.

  22. You're right that a great weakness in Buddhism is its downplaying of emotion.

    Not to mention that the aim in Buddhism is to no longer exist. How very depressing.

  23. Dear Sam, I do understand and respect your view of religious systems.  To err is human, no doubt.  The religions of the world each express truths about God, imho.  I think the difference (Good News) in the person of Jesus Christ is the revelation of "God *with* us."  We got a glimpse of what a human being fully united with the Divine would look like, say, and do.  And suffering was a big part of that.  As Joshua Lawson stated above, Jesus -- though perfectly fact, the Word made flesh / God incarnate, *did* feel and express emotions of anger and grief at the injustice and suffering he encountered.

    I struggle with that which is still a mystery to me about God too, Sam.  Please don't give up or close yourself off to the possibility of faith.  Keep asking and seeking.

    I know that it is frustrating.  So often it feels like one step forward and two steps back.  But in the long view, I do not believe that any effort to step into the light or *be* a light in the midst of darkness (ignorance, confusion, evil, "lostness" -- whatever we call it) is ever wasted.  Even if it seems that the yield of such effort is nothing in your estimation, you never know what little change you have been to another person...what ray of hope you may have provided.

    I was thinking some more about the idea of "ignorance or confusion" instead of "evil" as the cause of suffering.  I realized my own incomplete understanding, reflected in my initial response.  It is not *only* the ignorance or confusion of others that compels me to compassionately suffer with.  It is, perhaps more than anything, an acknowledgement of my own ignorance and confusion.  I guess if I start with a posture of humility, and assume that I do not know much, really, then I will be much more gentle and approachable, and, ultimately, helpful, to those who are suffering.

    When I experience goodness, compassion, beauty, and truth that is love and light, I celebrate with joy and gratitude.  Pure grace.  When darkness is all around, I lament.  What would the valleys of life have been, if not for those who were willing to come alongside and light a candle?  I know that I have been changed (for the better) in those moments of casting aside fear and hesitation, and facing the darkness *with* another person.

    Is the world darker now than it was 2,000 years ago?  Was it Solomon the wise who said, "There's nothing new under the sun?"  And yet, we keep pressing on.  Don't be overcome, overwhelmed, or discouraged by "evil."  Overcome it, instead, with goodness.  You are good, Sam.  To me.  Hope in the power of Love.  Peace, friend.

  24. As I finish my morning coffee, I have been exploring the Peace Theology blog site (Ted Grimsrud) that Jonathan Ray cited here last week.  Under the subheading 'Jesus', I found this sermon:

    "Mercy all the way down..."  Yes.  Amen, and Amen.

    Have a good weekend, Sam.  ~Peace~

  25. It sounds like that's what Richard is saying, but it would be nice to get a reply from him. If suffering brings us closer to God, then shouldn't we (1) seek opportunities to suffer and (2) encourage others to suffer as much as possible? I certainly don't have all the answers, but this particular approach ultimately seems to blur the distinction between good and evil.

  26. Wonderful post. For a few seasons, I've been enjoying a number of Buddhist writers and
    speakers (and a bit of Zen practice), and I'm amazed at
    how well Buddhist philosophy and practice fit with certain teachings of
    Jesus (although Jesus seems to have more urgency when approaching issues
    of social justice, especially within religious social systems).

    It's also interesting to read/hear from several Christian writers
    (Aelred Graham, Paul Knitter, Jim Finley, Thomas Merton to name just a few) who have gained a deep appreciation for Buddhist philosophy and mindfulness practices and yet still embrace Christianity. You can see how well these writers understand Buddhism by the language they use is consistent with the language and descriptions Buddhists actually use to explain their points of view. After reading Merton's Zen
    and the Birds of Appetite, I'm impressed by Merton's ability to
    thoroughly understand and value Buddhist principles and practice in his
    engagement with eastern thinkers, while apparently holding on to a
    Christian identity.

  27.  Wonderful post. For a few seasons, I've been enjoying a number of Buddhist writers and
    speakers (and a bit of Zen practice), and I'm amazed at
    how well Buddhist philosophy and practice fit with certain teachings of
    Jesus (although Jesus seems to have more urgency when approaching issues
    of social justice, especially within religious social systems).

    It's also interesting to read/hear from several Christian writers
    (Aelred Graham, Paul Knitter, Jim Finley, Thomas Merton to name just a
    few) who have gained a deep appreciation for Buddhist philosophy and
    mindfulness practices and yet still embrace Christianity. You can see
    how well these writers understand Buddhism by the language they use is
    consistent with the language and descriptions Buddhists actually use to
    explain their points of view. After reading Merton's Zen
    and the Birds of Appetite, I'm impressed by Merton's ability to
    thoroughly understand and value Buddhist principles and practice in his
    engagement with eastern thinkers, while apparently holding on to a
    Christian identity.

  28. Wonderful post. For a few seasons, I've been enjoying a number of Buddhist writers and
    speakers (and a bit of Zen practice), and I'm amazed at
    how well Buddhist philosophy and practice fit with certain teachings of
    Jesus (although Jesus seems to have more urgency when approaching issues
    of social justice, especially within religious social systems).

    It's also interesting to read/hear from several Christian writers
    (Aelred Graham, Paul Knitter, Jim Finley, Thomas Merton to name just a
    few) who, like you, have gained an appreciation for Buddhist philosophy and
    mindfulness practices and yet still embrace Christianity. You can see
    how well these writers understand Buddhism in that the language they use is
    consistent with the language and descriptions Buddhists actually use to
    explain their points of view. After reading Merton's Zen
    and the Birds of Appetite, I'm impressed by Merton's ability to
    thoroughly understand and value Buddhist practices and perspective in his
    engagement with eastern thinkers, while apparently holding on to a
    Christian identity.

  29. Er, you can't be the all-mighty and suffer with or more. Maybe you can be the all-good and do so, but if you're the all-mighty, you have an obligation to use your might to stop the suffering.

  30. I am so powerfully with you on these perspectives...but now, back in what I call Christianity (or at least Jesus-following, also with your prophetic angers), how to deal with the dogma that is still unbelievable? Mostly I ignore it; but a strict reading of canon would boot me out.

  31. Perhaps if Buddha's father hadn't prevented him from seeing the outside world, he would have been a more well-rounded religious teacher and founded something more like Jesus's faith-positive, love-centered movement. Although, you have to hand it to Buddha, he had a lot of inner peace given his circumstances, and for all that he admitted he did not know ... something I lack tragically. Buddhism to me is still full of despair, since there are certain metaphysical questions I simply do not refrain to deal with  ... there's a lot of parallels between Buddhism and existentialism, really. If there is no stable soul-self and no God, contentment is something farcical. I will be that gadfly who says that it is farcical. That's why I, like Richard Beck, can never be a Buddhist.

    I do wear a Tibetan Buddhist mala bracelet every day (nice accessory), and I love the 14th Dalai Lama. Tibetan Buddhism, if any Buddhism.

  32. I don't consider my current journey position to be a "phase", but rather an awakening to the necessity of the knowing/unknowing (non-duality/integral). Thanks to the work of Cynthia Bourgeault and Richard Rohr, I am learning of the non-dual Wisdom Jesus that the institution tried to bury.

  33. "Mindfulness, non-attachment, wisdom, practice--these are all found
    within the bible and the Christian tradition. The problem was that my
    Sunday School training in Christianity never pulled these ideas to the

    Left Behind, the Prosperity Gospel, the Moral Majority, and the Truth Project are more reflective of evangelicalism today than mindfulness, non-attachment, wisdom, and practice. I wonder if it is possible for an alternative message of the way of Jesus to become embedded in our Christian conversation at the level of tradition and to become as loud in our culture as this predominantly public image and message of evangelical Christianity.

  34. I certainly remember my 'Buddhist phase'. This is a very interesting post. 

    For me, I did not convert because of this quote from the Dalai Lama:  "Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are." This was refreshing, and also made a lot of sense to me at the time. 
    You may find the book The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz interesting on this issue. It involves a quite long look at a similar phenomenon among Jews - that of the 'Jewish Buddhist' (or 'JuBu' as he calls them). The Background is that the writer was a journalist accompanying a delegation of Jews from a range of different traditions who were invited to Dharamsala by the Dalai Lama to help him understand how a religion can make the transition from one centred around a homeland to one which survives in diaspora. But, in his book, he describes how the encounter with Buddhists led him to a deeper understanding of his own Judaism. 

    I think one of his main conclusions about the attraction of Buddhism was the presence of the esoteric, something which has largely been lost in modern Judaism. But he also wonders if perhaps Buddhists today wish they hadn't been so free with teaching their esoteric traditions to Westerners, because without the years of context and training and character-formation, esoteric traditions can be misused. 

  35. I don't know. I tend to think the Kingdom will never be popular as it pushes against our self-interest. General rule of thumb: popular = idolatry.

  36.  I'm
    not sure that one 'converts' to Buddhism, even as a doubting Christian.
    You either practice meditation, mindfulness, and eventually the rest
    as a result, or not. It's not an exclusive state in the way that old
    school Christianity, Islam, or Judaism
    are taken to be. Christians can practice those things, too, without
    terminating their Christianity. Even the Catholic church has ruled that
    priests can go on the grounds of a Buddhist temple, because technically
    it is not a religious site. That said, you present a nice
    'nutshell' version of Buddhism. But were you aware of 'Lovingkindness'
    meditation? That's specifically targetted at increasing your self-love
    and eventually your readiness to let go of unfulfilling anger.

  37. I am aware of loving kindness meditation. I've a question about that practice for any Buddhist readers. Did the Buddha teach that practice? In my study of the oldest Buddhist scriptures/teachings I don't recall coming across it.

  38. From Fr. Richard Rohr's daily meditation for today:

    "The word “Buddha” means “I am awake.” The last words of Jesus before his arrest in the garden were also "Stay Awake" (Matthew 26:38).
    To be awake is to be fully conscious. The Buddhists sometimes call it
    “object-less consciousness”; I might just call it "undefended knowing.”
    It is a consciousness where we are not conscious of anything in
    particular but everything in general. It is a panoramic receptive
    awareness—whereby you take in all that the moment offers without
    eliminating anything or attaching to anything. You just watch it pass.
    This does not come naturally to us, surely not in our culture. We have to work at it."

    I don't think that I have been in an out of a "Buddhist" phase, so much as I have begun to discover that Buddha and Jesus had a lot in common, and I find myself wanting to re-capture the contemplative side of spirituality that both of them encouraged.

  39. Thanks Matt. It reminds me that I need to get on Rohr's email list. People send me stuff from him all the time.

  40. I feel sheepish to make yet another comment on this post.  I've really been thinking about the positive aspects of Buddhism in the
    context of my own (Christian) spirituality and practices.

    So sorry; I know I've been talking too much.  It's all Ted Grimsrud's fault!  The Peace Theology site is really wonderful.  I could get lost there for hours.  If I go missing, there I'll be.  :-)

    This essay is well-worth the read:

    Thank you, God, for mercy and compassion...and for wise and good friends.  ~Peace~

  41. Fr. Richard's daily meditation was taken from a wonderful talk he did with James Finley: Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening. WELL worth a listen:

  42. Thanks Richard, like others I can resonate with this post, although I came to Buddhism lately. When I was at university it was Taoism that allowed me to reignite my Christianity through its wisdom and profound simplicity. Lately though, I have been struck by my misconception of Buddhism all these years. I could never get past the seemingly egocentricity of reincarnation. How pleased I was to discover the absolute overcoming of ego within Buddhism particularly in the notions of reincarnation, detatchment and mindfullness. All of a sudden I saw the eternity of my own tradition held and known within Buddhism with profound and simple practice and elegance. I guess I am still in my phase, although I hope never to pass through it.

  43. Richard, I don't know if you have read this.  It is very good.

  44. I found this a great article. I was a former Christian who discovered Buddhism. I'm not a Buddhist now but have certainly incorporated facets of Buddhism into my life. Namely the ones the writer of this post mentioned-mindfulness, non-attachment, etc. This post made e understand more of where Thomas Merton was coming from when he also said that Buddhism made hi a better Christian.

  45. A deeper point that you may or may not have addressed in other entries is 'Spiritual Bypass' and 'Spiritual Materialism'..  

    Things like the teaching of non-attachment, or various practices like mindfulness can become methods to avoid and escape from life and your suffering.  Instead of getting closer to the direct experience (mystical) that lies underneath all experiences (good and bad).

    The 'Spiritual Materialism' comes in when you start identifying (worshiping) the practices, your progress (deeds), spiritual image, etc.  Our modern economy is all about earthly possessions, so it's all too easy to simply switch over to identifying and valuing spiritual possessions.

    So.... with Buddhism, I've seen many people mistake dissociation for spiritual progress, hiding from negative emotions using the excuse of imitating non-attachment, or focusing too much on keeping a separated awareness view in mindfulness...  
    But... I've seen the same thing with Christians.. though they might hide in bible verses..  social aspects of the church, or various self affirmations to avoid/distract/delay/numb themselves from their negative emotions.

  46. Good point, Deef.  It's fascinating to me that both Buddhism and Christianity teach non-duality.  Which to me means that we are free to face the bad because it's a part of the good in some deep and mystical way that means we do not need to fear it.  It is a liberation when you look at it in a certain light, that we are free to enter into our sufferings and it''s okay, because we will come out the other side.  A painful evolution, but the light both of these ways shine upon the dark path is a thing of beauty to me :)

  47. If we choose to view the bad as part of the good, why should we bother to look for the cure to cancer and malaria? Why treat the ill at all? Why bother to provide clean water to those who need it? Why feed the hungry? Why help anyone who is suffering--or hope that someone would help us if we were suffering--if, in some "deep and mystical way," suffering is actually good? Also, what evidence do we have that the victims of the Indian Ocean and Japanese tsunamis or of the recent shooting spree in Colorado really experienced something "good" in these events?

  48. There's Buddhism and Buddhism. Nothing in my study (Ch'an in the lineage of Dogen) contradicts my view of Christianity, but I wouldn't say that about eg Pure Land or Tibetan. 

    I think Zazen (quiet sitting) practice is enormously valuable - learning about what you're doing when you're not doing anything. Soto/Rinzai Zen isn't at all passive; it can be in the bedrock of some very intense martial arts practice. "Form is not other than emptiness" but also "emptiness is not other than form". In order to be effective caretakers of the world, we have to see things as they are, uncontaminated by what we think about them. We can be naturally drawn to what is appropriate to do without being pissed off.

  49. "As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings; radiating kindness over the entire world." The Buddha, Sutta Nipata I, 8

    Not exactly the same as Sharon Salzburg's LovingKindness practice; but close.

  50. Two completely unrelated thoughts spurred by your post:

    First, it is telling how many Christians who appreciate such things identify with the "Jedi" religious views of Star Wars, even though those views were primarly informed by the Buddhism of George Lucas and also the understanding of myth from Joseph Campbell.

    Second, during a study of Buddhism for an evangelistic series on how to witness to people of various religious traditions, I came across the fact that Buddhists have no doctrine of inerrancy for their scriptures; they freely admit that they are the works of humans and as open to factual error as any historical writings. Nevertheless they still adhere to the philosophy taught by the Buddha. It made me consider what effect, if any, giving up the doctrine of inerrancy would have on my faith. Could I accept the works of the Bible, specifically the New Testament, as merely human observations of the remarkalble life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and of those who followed Him, and if so, could I still have faith in Jesus? In point of fact, I am still working through the ramifications of this train of thought, but I believe the answer is "yes" on both counts.

  51. Thank you for sharing this Richard. I am in a "Buddhist Phase" now I guess you could say, and loving it! It is a great season :) Not sure what the future holds for my beliefs or thoughts, but I could never imagine regretting the things I am learning within Buddhism right now, seems like these simple truths will stay with me forever no matter where my life takes me. Thanks again, great read!

  52. I am reading your book "Unclean" and came here to see what's up. We may use your book "Unclean" next term for an adult Sunday school class. Your ideas about Eucharist in its Conclusion intrigue me. I think get it for an individual and his/her relationship to the divine. I am having trouble translating it to my Anabaptist community that is striving to be Christ's body in the world.

    I like my Buddhism phase(s) too. Wonderful description of how to intercalate Buddhism with Christian practice. As a scientist also, I chew but never really swallow the beliefs.


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