Christianity and Buddhism
Thursday, November 11, 2021
Father Richard offers his understanding of how Christian contemplation and Buddhist meditation share a common goal. Both seek to de-center the thinking mind to allow a deeper experience of truth, love, and compassion to emerge:
The word Buddha means “I am awake.” Jesus told us in a number of places to stay awake and aware (Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:33–37; Luke 21:36). But awareness is not something that just means thinking about things carefully or being really conscious. The Buddhists speak of objectless consciousness, where we are not conscious of anything in particular. It is a panoramic, receptive awareness whereby we take in all that the situation, the moment, the event offers, without eliminating anything. That really does not come naturally to us. We have to work at it! All forms of meditation and contemplation are teaching us some way to compartmentalize our thinking mind. Some have even called it the “monkey mind,” because it keeps jumping from observation to observation, thought after thought, feeling after feeling, most of which mean very little. We have lived with it for so many years that we take the monkey mind as normative.
What the great traditions, such as Buddhism, teach us is that the monkey mind really is rather useless when we get to things like truth, love, freedom, infinity, eternity, and God. The monkey mind can’t access such things and has no ability to take them in at any depth. What we have to do is learn a different mind, which we Christians call contemplation. Contemplation is not churchy, pious, or quiet. It has little to do with having an introverted personality. It really is a different mind—it’s not thinking, which is what we mean by calling it objectless awareness. We don’t focus on any particular object of consciousness.
Paradoxically, the path to get to objectless awareness is to start with just one thing, one object. We could even call it practicing awareness. Here is an invitation: I encourage you to take some time today to focus on one single object. Focus on it not so much with your mind, but with your senses. See it for what it is—its texture, its shape, its giftedness, its gratuity, its color, its reflection of light, its isness. Focus on this object until your mind or ego stops fighting the moment and stops saying something to this effect: “This is silly. This is stupid. This doesn’t mean anything. This doesn’t make a bit of difference.”
If we can truly love this, whatever this is, it becomes the gateway to everything. How we love one thing is finally how we love everything. We have to find our capacity to see, to love, to accept, to forgive, and to delight in one thing. If we can’t delight in one lizard or one leaf, we are not going to delight in God. How we see is how we see. How we do anything is how we do everything.
Story from Our Community:
I have been searching for the God I loved as a young child. I found love and divine truth through the Dalai Lama and the teachings of the Buddha—but I still longed for my simple, obvious God. I’ve always talked to God, even when my doubt was its staunchest! Discovering Friar Richard Rohr has been a blessing to me. I still consider myself Buddhist. I still doubt—but now I feel like that’s ok. I feel like it is part of a genuine passionate relationship with God. —Jeremy R.
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