Thursday, November 25, 2010

How to read the bible and think about Jesus

I just replied to a response addressing a very important issue - how to read the bible and how to think about Jesus. Here are two books I highly recommend on this topic. What I said is here. Of course, since this is the Buddhist Christianity blog, I believe the best way to interpret these things is in a way consistent with Buddhist principles.

Reading the Bible Again For the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not LiterallyMeeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Luke 14:26 (New International Version)

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

Like the Buddha, Jesus tailored his message depending on who he was talking to. Remember, he wasn't trying to write a book, he was trying to get communicate with specific people and specific groups. In this case Jesus was being followed by a large crowd so he was trying to shock them, to challenge them. Jesus was not like some two bit tele-evangelist, trying to get as big an audience as possible. Instead he tried to drive people away, for their own good. So he gave them a teaching that is easy to misunderstand.

What does hate mean here? The hate is directed at specific relationships, that were embedded in tradition. Mother is role and a position, so is father and brother, and this is what must be hated. Not people, but roles. The roles are in you, it does not refer to other people. It is about how we think about other people, our attachments and preconceptions that put other people into roles. We are to love other people but we should hate and despise our own tendency to place people into roles, because this prevents us from truly loving them. When someone is in a role they are not themselves, they are the role. You cannot truly love someone who plays a role for you, because you see them through the role you have placed on them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


This is a talk about imagination by a colleague of mine. Please watch this to see what I mean about how the way imagination works shapes the way we imagine Jesus, or the Buddha

Difficulties along the path

When I go to Buddhist workshops most people say their reason for taking up Buddhism is to find happiness, peace, and/or fulfilment. This motivation is good because it brings them to the spiritual path, but it will take them only so far up the path before this desire becomes a road block. I'm not sure why, but in North America, Buddhism tends to avoid focusing on the difficulties associated with the path. I have found that Christian monastic sources can be helpful here because they focus strongly on the suffering and difficulties associated with the path. Perhaps they emphasize this part too much and are therefore not very popular. At any rate here is what Thomas Merton had to say about it. Note that his answer to this question is 100% consistent with the Buddhist answer.

"- the desire which we cherish, in the secrecy of our soul, as our "heaven" sometimes turns, when offered as a solution to common problems, into everybody's hell."

"- it would be singularly unfeeling as well as dishonest for me to suggest that peace, joy, and happiness are easily found along that most arid stretch of man's spiritual pilgrimage: the life of contemplation."

"- One of the strange laws of contemplative life is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Or until life itself solves them for you. Usually the solution consists in a discovery that they only existed insofar as they were inseparably connected with your own illusory exterior self. And consequently another law of the contemplative life is that if you enter it with the set purpose of seeking contemplation , or worse still, happiness, you will find neither. For neither can be found unless it is first in some sense renounced. And again, this means renouncing the illusory self that seeks to be "happy" and to find "fulfilment" (whatever that may mean) in contemplation. For the contemplative and spiritual self, the dormant, mysterious, and hidden self that is always effaced by the activity of our exterior self does not seek fulfillment. It is content to be, and in its being it is fulfilled, because its being is rooted in God."

Thomas Merton
from chapter 1 in this book

The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation

Friday, November 5, 2010


In the imitation of Christ it recommends setting an intention in the morning and reviewing your behavior at night, in part to see if you followed the intention. The practice of generating intention is also found in Buddhism. For example, many sources recommend generating intention before starting meditation so that the intention carries through the meditation. In cognitive psychology we generally understand intention as setting a goal. Human behavior appears often to be goal directed and some believe that we have a special brain module for remembering and managing our goals. So the practice of setting and maintaining intention can be viewed as an attempt to strengthen our ability to maintain a particular goal against our tendency to switch to more habitual goals. Research shows that humans can be extremely clever and resourceful at attaining goals, but it also shows that we are not so clever at choosing goals. This makes sense from an evolutionary point of view since in the past our goals where simpler and more immediate, e.g., get food, get shelter, run away, try to have sex. So our ancestors only needed to be good at achieving goals, the actual choice of goals was obvious. Now we have more freedom but our minds are pulled in different directions by our consumer culture. Setting intention helps us to focus. 
Ritual and daily practices are meant to help us maintain intention. Meditation strengthens our ability to maintain focus and thereby maintain intention, so meditation is very important. There are not many practices for increasing internal focus in Christianity. However, there is the Heart Prayer, which is an excellent practice. A really good source for this, and also an entertaining read, is The Way of the Pilgrim

The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way.

Jesus in America

I just replied to a post on my blog about Buddhism and Islam. It is about the fact that the more conservative elements of Islam seek to define what Islam is so that they can point at other Muslims who do not believe what they do and call them bad Muslims. Now I am looking at Christian blogs about the difference between Buddhism and Christianity and I see the same thing - Christians narrowly defining what it means to be a Christian and then contrasting this with a superficial or wrong version of Buddhism. It is ironic that a lot of this comes from Protestant America. Protestantism was founded on the idea that people could work out for themselves what being a Christian means and the people who founded America where searching for a place where they could be free to do this. Ironically, the first thing they did was to force everyone to obey their ideas about Christianity. The first episode of the PBS series, God in America, provides a good portrayal of the actual historical events.

There is no set definition of what it means to be Christian. You do not need to believe that the Bible is literally true, you do not need to believe in heaven, and you do not need to believe that Jesus died to atone for our sins or that he is the only route to salvation. Many Christians do not believe these things. For more on this I have posted a number of christian sources

God in America