Christianity and Buddhism
Telling Us How to See
Sunday, November 7, 2021
This week’s meditations explore what Christians can learn about inner transformation from Buddhism. As Father Richard often says, “If it’s true, it is true all the time and everywhere, and sincere lovers of truth will take it from wherever it comes.”  In his book The Universal Christ, he writes:
I am convinced that in many ways Buddhism and Christianity shadow each other. They reveal each other’s blind spots. In general, Western Christians have not done contemplation very well, and Buddhism has not done action very well.  There is a reason that art usually shows Jesus with his eyes open and Buddha with his eyes closed. At the risk of overgeneralization: in the West, we have largely been an extroverted religion, with all the superficiality that represents; and the East has largely produced introverted forms of religion, with little social engagement up to now.
At its best, Western Christianity is dynamic and outflowing. But the downside is that this entrepreneurial instinct may have caused it to be subsumed by culture instead of transforming culture at any deep level. In our arrogance and ignorance, we also totally trampled on the cultures we entered. We became a formal and efficient religion that felt that its job was to tell people what to see instead of how to see.
I have lived for short periods of time in Buddhist monasteries in Japan, Switzerland, and the United States. They are definitely much more disciplined and serious than most Christian monasteries. The first question a Japanese abbot asked me was “What is your practice?” The first question from a Christian abbot would probably be something like “How was your trip?” or “Do you have everything you need for your stay here?”
Both approaches have their strengths and limitations. Buddhism is more a way of knowing and cleaning the lens of perception than a theistic religion concerned with metaphysical “God” questions. In telling us mostly how to see, Buddhism both appeals to us and challenges us because it demands much more vulnerability and immediate commitment to a practice—more than just “attending” a service, like many Christians do. Buddhism is more a philosophy, a worldview, a set of practices to free us for truth and love than it is a formal belief system in any notion of God. It provides insights and principles that address the how of spiritual practice, with very little concern about what or who is behind it all. That is its strength, and I am not sure why that should threaten any Christian believer.
By contrast, Christians have spent centuries trying to define the what and who of religion. We usually gave folks very little how, beyond “quasi-magical” transactions (sacraments, moral behaviors, and handy Bible verses). And yet these religious elements often seem to have little effect on how the human person actually lives, changes, or grows. Such transactions often tend to keep people on cruise control rather than offer any genuinely new encounter or engagement.
 See Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 127–138.
 In recent decades we are seeing the emergence of what is called “Engaged Buddhism,” which we have learned from teachers Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Joanna Macy, Joan Halifax, angel Kyodo williams, and many others.
Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 210–212.
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