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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This is the Real Deal

There are a few times in life, if you're lucky, that you have a moment of complete authenticity and feel completely at home. It's like sliding your feet into a new pair of comfortable slippers, only on a much larger scale. What I am talking about is different that an momentary glimpse of enlightenment, or kensho. I have had such experiences, and they are truly beyond words because at their heart they are mystical experiences. A moment of authenticity is a mystical experience as well, but of a different sort.

I had such a moment after deciding to start this blog and the associated website, I knew I had come home, knew that I had, in two places and in two simple words, succeeded in expressing my spirituality in a succinct yet fairly complete manner. My arrival at this point in my journey is in part due to a reconsideration of the Christian Gospels. What I discovered there was a Jesus who, contrary to what the Church has taught for the last seventeen hundred years, said virtually nothing about salvation. He did spend a lot of time talking about what he variously called the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God, which he said was present here and now - or, in the case of his listeners, there and then. He didn't preach pie in the sky, by and by; he wasn't selling some sort of life insurance policy that paid off in heaven after we die. Rather, he talked about real life and how to live it properly. He spoke out in favor of the oppressed and marginalized of his day: Tax collectors, prostitutes, notorious sinners, women, bi-racial people (Samaritans), and similar shady characters. He spoke out in steadfast opposition to the corrupt forces of his day: Religious and political leaders, a group that in Jesus day contained many of the same people, and the Roman occupying forces, who would eventually destroy the Jewish Temple in 70 C.E. That same Jesus was silent about the issues that preoccupy today's "Culture War:" Human sexual orientation, abortion, or anything resembling the so-called holiness code which is so important in segments of Pentecostalism and in the Baptist tradition, beginning in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Around the same time, beginning in 2000 C.E., I found myself an eager student of Buddhism. Beginning with two Thich Nhat Hanh books, Living Buddha, Living Christ and Coming Home, Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, my study of Buddhism began with a study of the similarities between Christ Consciousness, if you will, and Buddha Nature. I rapidly gobbled up every book I could find about Buddhism, not restricting myself to any one tradition. Living in the Midwest, it was difficult to find a Buddhist Teacher in the tradition that I most resonated with, so I used technology to learn from a diverse group of teachers - Pema Chodron, Sharon Salzberg, Gil Fronsdal, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and others. If they had a CD or could be found on Podcast, I listened to them. I read almost every book I could find on Buddhism, having already spent the previous decade doing scholarly work in the Christian tradition. I quickly saw the great common link between the teachings of Jesus and Buddha: Love, or/Lovingkindness, and Compassion.

Were there differences? Certainly there were differences between Buddhism and Christianity, but for a non-theistic Christian like me the differences were relatively small. Much more significant was the way in which, for example, Buddhist meditation instructions finally moved me to understand what in my native Christian tradition is called Contemplative Prayer. Can I wrap my head around Tibetan cosmology? Not really, but I can't get excited about Christian Eco-spirituality, either. Can I solve a Zen Koan? No, but I never have been a fan of mental auto-eroticism either. If a tree falls in the woods and there's nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound? I couldn't care less, but I have never been intrigued by how many angels fit on the head of a pin, either.

My Buddhist self is probably best described as a Theravadan with a Bodhisattva vow. I realize that's a contradiction, but no more so that being a non-theistic Christian who believes that Joseph was Jesus' biological father and that the Holy Spirit moved over his conception in a way that made Jesus Divine - and his mother's virginity had nothing to do with physical virginity. Most Christian Churches would want nothing to do with that kind of theology, but the way I see it most North Americans want nothing to do with most Christian Churches, so we are probably even. What I have to offer is a spiritual path that isn't afraid to look at truth wherever it is found. It's a path that is willing to listen to and consider every person's spiritual journey and every spiritual tradition AND allow each person to explore what works for them. Nowhere did any great spiritual teacher ever claim that there was only one path to the truth. I am aware that in John's Gospel Jesus is quoted as saying, "no one gets to the Father but through me." My problem is that is so unlike anything Jesus said in the synoptic gospels, and John's Gospel is the last written and therefore most theologically processed of the four. I simply don't believe Jesus said those words.

So on this great Interspiritual journey we travel. With discerning minds and hearts, and in the silence in which the mystery of the universe speaks to us, we all seek to be faithful to our understanding and experience, tried in the crucible of community. Here is my path, I know no other.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Meditation and Contemplative Prayer

Years ago, when I had a spiritual director who was an Episcopal priest and monk, I was trying to develop some sort of acumen at Contemplative Prayer. He assigned me to read The Cloud of Unknowing but then pretty much told me that he wasn't much for "methods of prayer." He advised that I just sit in the silence and listen.

He's a good man, and a good priest, and I am sure he truly is one of those rare people who don't need an anchor for their thoughts. Or, perhaps it had been so long since he had to use an anchor that he had simply forgotten that any anchor had ever been necessary to him. He also introduced me to the Jesus Prayer and the use of a prayer rope or chotki, but instructed me that the Jesus Prayer wasn't enough, that I must sit in the silence. It would be hard to pin down one or two times in my life when I was more frustrated with anything.

It wasn't until I was exposed to Buddhist Meditation - completely accidentally - about five or six years later that I even knew there was such a thing as following the breath. This I could do, rather easily after spending five years spinning my wheels except for my Jesus Prayer Mantra Practice. I knew that my director was a good, well intentioned human being, and I felt certain that he wouldn't have kept anything from me intentionally. I began to wonder what other gems might be available that Christianity had either forgotten or overlooked, and I quickly became convinced that to limit myself to what what available from any one tradition on my spiritual journey was to quite possibly limit my journey.

Since that day, I have made many discoveries from within Buddhism. There have been times when I felt more the Buddhist than the Christian, and other times I felt I needed to immerse myself in aspects of historic Christianity. In the long run, I truly believe I need both. I have given up trying to explain or justify it - people will either understand or not, but I feel I must be true to where God is leading me.

I no longer pray the Jesus Prayer. It no longer fits my understanding of who the Jesus of my experience is, and it no longer fits my understanding of the relationship between Jesus and humanity. When I take a break from my Buddhist Mantra, I pray the prayer of St. Gregory Palamas, "Enlighten my darkness." It's said that is the only prayer that he ever used, and that's good enough for me.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Welcome to a new blog offering - The Buddhist Christian. This is neither a blog about Buddhism nor a blog about Christianity. This isn't a doctrinal blog, or a sectarian blog, or an evaluation of any particular spiritual path. I seek not to enter into a debate nor to provoke any particular response. This blog is a reflection on more than a decade of practice and exploration of what it means to be a Buddhist Christian.

Prior to picking up and reading a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Living Christ when I was forty years old, about all I knew about Buddhism was that it was an Asian religion. I don't know that I would have recognized a picture of the Dalai Lama. In less that a week I had finished that book and moved onto its sequel. My spiritual journey was forever changed, not because I had discovered a new religion that I would convert to as soon as possible. I had discovered that Buddhism answered for me all the questions that Christianity had been unable to answer. I had mystical experiences of Jesus that would not allow me to cast Jesus aside, but I saw that, as the title of the above mentioned sequel suggested, Jesus and Buddha were, in fact, brothers. I saw that there was nothing about the teachings of the Buddha, who had in fact refused to get caught in the God debate, that contradicted the teachings of Jesus. In fact, I found that spiritual topics such as compassion and love were the great link between the two traditions and were more clearly expressed in Buddhism than in Christianity, where the voices of legalism and sectarianism more often than not drown out the voice of Love and Compassion.

This blog will examine the interspiritual journey through Buddhist Christianity by examining various issues, subjects, and aspects of my personal journey. I am glad you're here!