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Center for Action and Contemplation


Friday, August 24, 2018

Taoism and Buddhism

Friday, August 24, 2018

Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion. 

—Thich Nhat Hanh [1]

Thich Nhat Hanh, the beloved Buddhist monk, explores the meaning of the name Buddha and applies this rich word to ordinary humans:

The appellation “Buddha” comes from the root of the verb budh—which means to wake up, to understand, to know what is happening in a very deep way. In knowing, understanding, and waking up to reality, there is mindfulness, because mindfulness means seeing and knowing what is happening. [2]

Paul Knitter recalls when he “realized that [Tibetan Buddhist] Pema Chödrön’s talk of Groundlessness and [Jesuit theologian] Karl Rahner’s emphasis on Mystery were two different fingers pointing to the same moon”:

For both of them, to feel the Reality of Mystery or Sunyata means to let go of self, to trust totally in what both of them call infinite openness. Openness to what? To what is, to what’s going on right now, in the trust that what is going on is what I am a part of and what will sustain and lead me, moment by moment. Only moment by moment. There are no grand visions promised here. Just a mindful trusting of each moment as it comes, with what it contains, with its confusion or inspiration, with its joy or horror, with its hope or despair. Whatever is there, this suchness right now, is the breath of the Spirit, the power of Mystery, the connectedness of Emptiness. . . . The suchness of each moment is the infinite Mercy of God. [3]

Pema Chödrön teaches three graces of mindfulness practice: precision, gentleness, and letting go. Once we can honestly acknowledge whatever is going on in the moment with clarity and acceptance, we can let our unmet expectations go. This allows us to live more freely and vibrantly, fully awake to Presence. Knitter writes:

If we can truly be mind-ful of what is going on in us or around us—that’s how we can find or feel “the Spirit” in it. Then our response to the situation will be originating from the Spirit rather than from our knee-jerk feelings of fear or anger or envy. And whether the response is to endure bravely or to act creatively, it will be done with understanding and compassion—which means it will be life-giving or life-creating. [4]

I hope these meditations invite you to go deeper—beyond words and ideas about mindfulness—to actual practice and experience. When you stay with your practice, eventually you will realize, as Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “that our life is the path, and we no longer rely merely on the forms of practice.” [5] I hope you are seeing that Christianity and Buddhism are not in competition with one another. Christians are usually talking about metaphysics (“what is”) and Buddhists are usually talking about epistemology (“how do we know what is”). In that sense, they offer great gifts to one another.

[1] Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Broadway Books: 1998), 102.

[2] Ibid., 187.

[3] Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian (Oneworld Publications: 2009), 159-160.

[4] Ibid., 162.

[5] Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, 122.

Image Credit: Woman Sitting in Front of Monk
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Buddhism can help Christians to be mystical Christians . . . to realize and enter into the non-dualistic, or unitive, heart of Christian experience—a way to be one with the Father, to live Christ’s life, to be not just a container of the Spirit but an embodiment and expression of the Spirit, to live by and with and in the Spirit, to live and move and have our being in God. —Paul Knitter
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