This blog explores various topics concerned with practicing both Buddhism and Christianity. The blog postings are my personal meditations (or rants) on these topics. They are notes to myself on what I believe, at the time, to be insights.
I really like the podcast of Fr Seraphim (on iTunes). It always gives me something to think about. Here I wanted to mention something that Fr Seraphim said that he heard from someone else (I cannot recall the name). It was a simple observation about what we should expect when we make ourselves like Christ. Christ’s life is the answering to this. The world will not like it and it will not go well. I take it to mean that there is a certain way of things not going well that is actually a sign that one is on the right track, and in this sense things are going very well indeed.
Trials, in the Christian sense, should mot be called trials. Trial sounds like a hardship that we need to go through as a test, with a reward at the end if we survive or pass the trial. In this sense a trial is negative. But the Desert Fathers and the Saints sought out trials and considered them to be a blessing. A trial, in this sense, corresponds to suffering in Buddhism. In Buddhism, suffering is good if it is not so great that it overwhelms you and not so small that it can be ignored. Buddhist practices are often said to be aimed at eliminating suffering, but this can be misleading. The practices are meant to manage suffering to keep it in the middle range, because it is only in the middle range that suffering can be transcended. This is the middle way. This is also why the Saints constantly sought out a certain level of suffering. Without the suffering we will not practice hard, and without long and hard practice the transcendence of suffering cannot be achieved or maintained.
Humility and the middle way are two concepts that compliment each other very well. The concept of the middle way can be considered as a product of the practice of humility. Humility is often thought of as putting yourself down but that is not, or should not, be the Christian meaning. This conceptualization of humility is a consequence of thinking from within an egotistical framework that implicitly enshrines the concept of self. Real humility is about understanding the limits of human knowledge and thought. Ignorance is bad but so is being overconfident in a set of beliefs. The middle way is an acceptance of the limitations of human knowledge and the ability to be intelligent while tolerating ambiguity. Humility is the act of doing this in your daily life
In the Lords Prayer I prefer the forgive debts version over the forgive sins version. This is how I think of it
A debt is something you are owed within a system of borrowing and exchange. If someone owes me a debt it means that the system agrees that the debt is owed. Justice is served when the debt is paid. If they don't pay I can use the law to collect. When someone has wronged me justice demands that they pay me back in some way. The idea of justice implies that the universe somehow agrees that my claim is just. Forgiveness, in this context, means erasing the debt.
Forgive us our debts is usually taken to mean that I'm guilty within the cosmic system of justice but God can make an exception for me because I admit guilt and I'm trying to get it right. This is very much like a liberal justice system. But if I take the debt to be a sense of debt within myself then forgiving the debt means erasing the sense of debt from within me. It is a request to be freed from an emotional attachment to a false belief in cosmic justice.
“As we forgive our debtors,” can also be interpreted in a similar way. Here I believe that the cosmic justice system owes me because someone has wronged me. I feel I am owed restitution or compensation and that includes punishing those who wronged me. But, “as we forgive our debtors,” means I should not attach to the idea of justice being owed to me or to anyone. I should erase those debts. I should let go of any sense that I am owed anything.
Essentially, I owe nothing and nobody owes me. This seems like recipe for social disorder but that's only if you take it in isolation. The liberal justice system metaphor is also a legitimate way of understanding this part of the Lord's Prayer. Here the emphasis is on following rules and begging for forgiveness when you fail. I think both are right and also each is the antidote for the other. In Buddhism, an antidote is a thought that undoes another thought. Usually antidotes are thought of as countering harmful ideas, but in this case the antidotes balance each other. I like this version because I feel that Christianity is in need of rebalancing, away from an excessive focus on sin, guilt, justice, and retribution. More generally, I think it is a good practice to find balance in contradiction.
When is the rapture? We could also ask when is enlightenment? Many Christians believe that the rapture will come at some definite point in the future. However, some Christians believe that the rapture is on God's time. God's time is outside of ordinary time and it's eternal so everything has already happened, everything is happening, and nothing has happened yet. Likewise, many Buddhists believe that enlightenment is an event in the future but enlightenment can also be thought of as outside of time. Therefore, with regard to my own enlightenment, I can say - I am enlightened, I am becoming enlightened, I am not enlightened. So it goes
"The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small dirty, object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether" - C. S. Lewis
In, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points out that the centre of Christian morality is humility, but he makes a mistake when he says that this is unique to Christianity. In Buddhism, the concept of no-self is perfect humility. In some Christian texts, perfect humility is compared to complete silence, which in Buddhism would be known as emptiness.