The Dalai Lama has said that he feels that Buddhism has an especially close relationship with Christianity. One reason for this is the existence of monks (and nuns). Christianity and Buddhism are the only two religions that support large, organized communities of monks. I will have a lot to say about monks in this blog because this is the point of commonality between Christianity and Buddhism that I feel allows them to be combined in practice. However, there is an important difference between the two religions on this topic. Buddhism is clear that monks embody the ideal practice that everyone should strive for. This is because Buddhism is clear that enlightenment is the goal, and that monks are more likely to get there than lay people. In Christianity, it is generally believed that monks are more likely to become saints, but moving toward being a saint is not the overt goal at most churches. There is a strong emphasis on being good, which is a step in the right direction, but the practices and beliefs of monks, which are meant to bring you much closer to God, are not encouraged for lay people.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The enlightenment hypothesis proposes that the mystical and compassionate aspect of all major religions is based on the same fundamental experience, and that all major religions have at their core some instructions on how to live based on this experience. Therefore, by studying and comparing different religions on this dimension we can gain a clearer idea about this experience, which I refer to as enlightenment. From a scientific point of view, if there is anything real about religion, it must arise from being human and not from a particular cultural/historical/metaphysical point of view. In this blog I search for this truth in Buddhism and Christianity. Comparing more religions would be great but religions are complex and it is hard enough to learn about one, let alone two. However, according to this hypothesis, interpretations that lead to agreement between religions are more likely to be right. Therefore, this approach (if you believe in it) can provide insights that might not be so clear without making the comparisons.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Christmas is such a great holiday. The Christmas story about the birth of Jesus is a fantastic example of a myth with deep metaphorical meaning. It also illustrates two important points about the religious language of metaphor. The first point is that myths may be based on actual events. Most scholars agree that Jesus was most likely born into poverty. Carpenters, like Joseph, where landless and generally poor. Also, Galilee at the time of Jesus’ birth was a violent place where the Roman troops actively oppressed the population. Because of this, the possibility that Mary was raped has been raised. Personally, I think this version of the story is even more powerful. The second point is that metaphorical understanding is not just intellectual; it is also emotional. Sometimes, intellectually understanding the meaning of a metaphor destroys the emotional message by making it into an abstract academic exercise. I think this is why a lot of people need to believe that the story is factually true - to avoid undercutting the emotional message. But you need to receive both messages. This means believing in the story, but not necessarily believing the story (although parts may be true).
Monday, December 21, 2009
Did you know that the Catholic church (and therefore the Pope) officially recognizes Buddhism as a way to get into heaven. Although Buddhist theology is regarded as incorrect (e.g., you will not be reincarnated), the Buddhist focus on love and compassion is correct, and a life of love and good works is what gets you into heaven. So if you are Catholic you should have no hesitation over being a Buddhist Catholic if you want. In fact, if adding Buddhism helps you to be more compassionate it actually makes you a better Catholic (i.e., more likely to get into heaven). If you turned to Buddhism after rejecting the Catholic church, as so many have, consider the advice of the Dalai Lama and Tich Nat Han and try to make peace with your roots. Some bad things have occurred through the Catholic bureaucracy but the bureaucracy is not the religion. Officially, it is love that gets you into heaven, not the bureaucracy.
Friday, December 18, 2009
I was walking down the street yesterday thinking about this blog and I saw an old beat up medallion on the sidewalk. I picked it up and it was Saint Jude, the patron saint of desperate causes. Clearly, this is a sign that Buddhist Christianity is a desperate but worthy cause and Saint Jude is our patron saint.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I am a research psychologist. I do experiments. I apply the scientific method to studying the mind. Some people see a science and religion as being in conflict. I do not agree, although there is a conflict between science and "fundamentalist" religion. Richard Dawkins (who wrote The God Delusion) likes to refer to the bible as a bunch of bronze age scribblings. Dismissing the bible in this way is only legitimate if you take it as a book that is meant to be factual about history and metaphysical reality. There are a lot of different ways to approach the study of religion, but my focus in is on understanding religion as a method for creating and developing states of mind. However, in the past people often expressed ideas about this metaphorically, through myth and story (google Joseph Campbell on this). The experiences and states of mind resulting from religion are the parts that are real, that we actually experience. Maybe something happens after you die (heaven, reincarnation), maybe not. Jesus said, let the dead bury the dead. In Zen they say, if you meet the Buddha, kill him. In other words, focus on living in the now, not on external philosophical questions.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Here is how C. S. Lewis defined Christianity - "We are told that Christ was killed for us, that his death washed out our sins, and that by dying he disabled death itself. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed." - I like C. S. Lewis but this is not correct. There are many Christians who do not believe this, even if the majority do (e.g., google Marcus Borg). However, what CS believed does not contradict the Buddhist Christian view that Jesus was talking about enlightenment. Jesus spoke in parables, which have metaphorical meaning. Likewise, CS's definition is a metaphor that refers enlightenment. Metaphor is the language of religion. Mistaking metaphor for literal truth is the tragedy that undermines religion. Christianity is highly metaphorical. Buddhism is less metaphorical but I think that confusion between metaphor and literal truth still plays a strong role.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Enlightenment is difficult to understand and probably even more difficult to achieve. As they say – those who know, cannot say. At a talk by the Dalai Lama, during the question period, a man asked his holiness to just spit it out and explain enlightenment in clear terms. The Dali Lamas response was to cry. I’m not sure why, but this answer seems completely right to me. However, I still don’t understand what enlightenment is or how to achieve it. Likewise, it is also impossible to define or say clearly how to achieve a union with God. So we do not know what it is but enlightenment is the highest achievement for practitioners in both religions – Saints in Christianity and Bodhisattvas in Buddhism. I realize these terms have a range of meaning across Christianity and Buddhism, but I will use them to mean enlightened persons, and it is in the writings and behaviors of these enlightened persons that we can see great similarities.
Monday, December 14, 2009
The goal of Buddhism is to achieve enlightenment, which is a state of mind and a way of being (and may also involve other things according to some Buddhist Masters). Jesus spoke frequently about the kingdom of heaven, saying things like - The kingdom of God is in the midst of you – or - The kingdom of heaven is at hand (which can also be translated as the kingdom of heaven is now). Most Christians believe that heaven is a place that you go to after you die (if you are good). But many Christians also believe that Jesus was referring a state of mind or a way of being that can be achieved by the living. The main idea behind Buddhist Christianity is that Jesus was referring to the state of enlightenment when he talked about the kingdom of heaven.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Actually both Buddhism and Christianity encompass varieties of different beliefs. So, whether or not Buddhism and Christianity are compatible depends on which beliefs are chosen. I have been told that my belief set is not a religion because my set of evolving beliefs is particular to me and religions involve clear sets of beliefs (usually written down) that more than one person follows. But, maybe there are people out there who have evolved similar beliefs, that allow Buddhism and Christianity to co-exist. I suspect this is the case.
I consider myself to be a Buddhist Christian. That is, I am a Buddhist and a Christian. I see no problem with this. In fact, I think there are a lot of advantages. To me, Buddhism and Christianity are completely compatible, but I have found that a lot of people have difficulty with this idea.