Unitive Consciousness

Taoism and Buddhism

Unitive Consciousness
Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Paul Knitter, a theologian and colleague of mine from my days in Cincinnati, wrote an insightful book called Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. In it, he explains that Buddhism teaches “practices that will help Christians draw on the mystical contents of our faith. 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.” [1] What a wonderful Trinitarian description of living as an image and likeness of God! Like Christian contemplative practices, Buddhist practices such as meditation, silence, and living mindfully help us encounter the deepest, truest reality—our oneness with God.

Knitter writes:

True, what Christians are after is different than what Buddhists are after. For Christians, it’s identification with the Christ-Spirit. For Buddhists, it’s realizing their Buddha-nature. And yet, both of these very different experiences have something in common: they are unitive, non-dualistic, mystical experiences in which we find that our own identity is somehow joined with that which is both more than, and at the same time one with, our identity. This is what the Buddhist practices are so good at—achieving such unitive experiences in which the self is so transformed that it finds itself through losing itself. [2]

Knitter paraphrases Raimon Panikkar, a Roman Catholic priest, theologian, and advocate of inter-faith dialogue, by describing true nonduality: “the interrelating partners are not two. But neither are they one! Can Christians say something similar about the relationship between God and creation?” [3]

According to another Catholic priest, Romano Guardini (1885-1968), they certainly can! James Finley explains:

Guardini says that it’s a principle of logic that A cannot be B at the same time and in the same respect that it’s A. . . . Likewise, God is the Creator and we are the creature. And yet, Guardini adds, “Although I am not God, I am not other than God either.” [4] He says the direct intuitive realization that although I am not God, I am not other than God either, fans out in all directions. Although I am not you, I am not other than you either. Although I am not the earth, I am not other than the earth, either. As this soaks into me, what are the implications of this in the way I act in the world, in relationships with other people?

Finley shares how another Christian mystic understood such interdependence: “Thomas Merton realized that people of different religions are not other than me, and how I treat them I’m treating myself, and as Jesus says, I’m treating Jesus. That’s the social consciousness dimension of contemplation.” [5]

References:
[1] Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian (Oneworld Publications: 2009), 154-155.

[2] Ibid., 155.

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] Romano Guardini, The World and the Person, trans. Stella Lange (Regnery: 1965, ©1939), 31. Cited by James Finley, Christian Meditation (HarperCollins: 2004), 51.

[5] James Finley, Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening, disc 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), CDDVDMP3 download.

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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