Friday, August 15, 2008

Christian Buddhists?

Authors Note: I am not writing this because I am not nor do I intend to, become a Buddhist. I am simply asking a question to get opinions on something I have been thinking about recently in which this question is but a small part of a larger picture.

Can a person be both a follower of Christ and a Buddhist?

Can a person that adheres to the practices of the Buddhist religion also follow the teachings of Jesus Christ?

While one claims to be the only path to heaven, is the other just a path to enlightenment or do they claim to be a path to salvation as well? Are enlightenment and salvation the same thing?

As far as I can tell, and I could be very wrong, the Buddha never claimed to be holy or claimed to be a god. I don’t think it was ever his intention to start a new religion.

Is it possible that Buddhism should not be an –ism at all? That is, should it merely be considered a personal philosophy of how to live your life?

Isn’t it possible that one can follow a person’s teachings and still hold true to their faith in God?

Jesus said in the Scriptures that a person can’t serve two masters. However, it also says that while one person was a follower of the teaching of Paul, another was a follower of the teachings of Peter, or John, or Apollos. Or to modernize it a bit, one person (or many as the case is) might be a follower of the teachings of Martin Luther while another follows the teachings of say, Billy Graham, or another a follower of the ideas of, for instance, Rob Bell.

So isn’t it possible to entertain the thought that a person can be a devout Christian and also still follow the teachings of the Buddha and vice versa?

I encourage any and all conversation on this topic.



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11 comments:

  1. Greetings! As a Buddhist, I think it is neither possible nor desirable for anyone to attempt to follow Buddhism and Christianity. While a Christian may appreciate some parts of the Buddha's teachings and certain Buddhist themes such as human suffering and impermanence may provoke Christians to reflect on their own existence, the two teachings are really fundamentally different. Jesus taught that the meaning of life can be found by intimacy with a personal God. But the Buddha rejected such a belief and taught that the meaning of life need not be sought by paying obeisance an external deity.

    Jesus accepted the existence of a soul (Mark 8:36) but the Buddha denied the reality of the soul as it is popularly understood - an eternal unit of "you" that exists independently from other similar units. Buddhism sees all life as an interconnected whole and the individual personality as a temporary combination of aggregates which come together under karmic conditions and eventually disintegrate to form new combinations based on new karmic conditions.

    How does one reconcile such radically differing perspectives?

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  2. Yeuheng, thank you for responding.

    You are correct. They are radically different. And I don't really think the two could ever, for lack of a better statement, coexist as one.

    My post here was more a means to start a type of inter-faith dialogue and I am more interested not in just the compatibility of Buddhism with Christianity, but of other faiths as well.

    To put it bluntly, this post was really just a means to an end.

    Thank you again for helping to start the dialogue.

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  3. My pleasure, Otter. Glad to participate.

    As a former Christian, one of the doctrines that I could not accept was the teaching that salvation is only possible if one accepted Jesus. I tried to reconcile Christianity with other religions, hoping to find a way in which I could believe in Christ without having to see human beings of other faith systems as being worthy of condemnation. The thought that my friends and family, together with millions of human beings who did not share the Christian faith, were on their way to eternal damnation, was extremely agonizing.

    But it is no longer a problem now, since I am no longer a Christian. Buddhism affirms the possibility of salvation for all sentient beings, no matter how depraved or wicked they currently are. In Mahayana Buddhism, there is the concept of the bodhisattva who refuses to enter Nirvana until all beings are saved and will even enter hell to liberate them from their sufferings. Such a universalist ethos resonated with me far more than the Christian teaching of salvation through Christ alone.

    Sorry if I have rambled on a bit. Just a few remarks to tell you where I'm coming from.

    Out of curiosity, what denomination of Christianity do you subscribe to?

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  4. Actually, I find denomational titles horrid. In fact, I find the idea of divisions in the church one of the biggests problems with the Church as a whole so I do not subscribe to any particular denomination as they become too constricting to my own journey and walk with Christ.

    I understand your particular conceptions about the Christian faith. The idea that Jesus is the only path to salvation is definitely one of the harder things to swallow in this day and age. Truth be told, there are just something that will never be "figured out." Some things you just have to accept on faith. Some questions will never be answered. The idea that some Christians (and Christian denominations) and it all "figured out" is preposterous.

    However, if there are any other questions that you do have for me or just questions in general that you need answered, or you would just like to talk, I would be glad to continue a conversation with you.

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  5. You initially asked two fairly different questions that in fact have slighty different answers:

    1) “Can a person be both a follower of Christ and a Buddhist?”
    Absolutely. In fact I consider myself to be a follower of both Buddha and Jesus. Much of their teachings parallel each other and I find no problems interlocking the two.

    2) “Can a person that adheres to the practices of the Buddhist religion also follow the teachings of Jesus Christ?”
    Yes. One can be a Buddhist and follow much of what Jesus taught us. The Dali Lama has at times talked of the teachings of Jesus. Gandhi was also very influenced by Jesus and the Bible (okay, I know that Gandhi was a Hindu, my point is that it is not that hard to cross over faiths).

    This is all easy for me to say seeing as I am neither Buddhist nor Christian, but being that I hold no loyalty to one over the other, I find great synchronicity between the two.

    “While one claims to be the only path to heaven, is the other just a path to enlightenment or do they claim to be a path to salvation as well? Are enlightenment and salvation the same thing?”
    The closest concept in Christianity to Enlightenment is probably the Kingdom of Heaven. There are those who believe that one enters the Kingdom of Heaven while still on Earth when one lives his/her life in service of others. Enlightenment is something one reaches in this world. Nirvana is a closer concept to Heaven. Once a person is reincarnated many times, he/she enters Nirvana. One can then decide to not stay in Nirvana and thus return to Earth to help others reach Enlightenment (this concept is big in Mahayana Buddhism).

    “As far as I can tell, and I could be very wrong, the Buddha never claimed to be holy or claimed to be a god. I don’t think it was ever his intention to start a new religion.”
    You are correct. In fact Siddhartha Gautama was a bit of an atheist. Also, like Jesus, he had no intention of starting a new religion. That was the result of the actions of those who followed him. He was an Indian prince born around 563 BCE, but also like Jesus it is hard to determine where the legend ends and the history begins.

    “Is it possible that Buddhism should not be an –ism at all? That is, should it merely be considered a personal philosophy of how to live your life?”
    This is something that has been debated quite a bit. What the Buddha himself taught could easily be seen as a philosophy more than a religion. Since his passing though, Buddhism has developed into a full blown religion. And while it is true that Buddha did not see himself as a god, he has since been deified by his followers. In some countries the local traditions were absorbed into Buddhism and local gods became Bodhisattvas. This too is very much similar to the way that Christianity assimilated local, “pagan” elements to help in spreading the faith. One can look at Confucianism in the same way. It started as a philosophy that grew into a religion in which its leader became deified over time.

    “Isn’t it possible that one can follow a person’s teachings and still hold true to their faith in God? … So isn’t it possible to entertain the thought that a person can be a devout Christian and also still follow the teachings of the Buddha and vice versa?”
    I see no problems in melding the two whatsoever but that is because I separate the teachings of the teacher from the actions of the class. Let me explain. If one is simply to look at the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha, it is very easy to follow both at the same time. However, if one is to get mired in the dogmas of the religions of Christianity and Buddhism it is easy to find conflict between the two. To me the key difference is looking at what these great men tried to teach us vs. what others have done in their names. Like Christianity, Buddhism has many different sects that all interpret the teachings of the Buddha in their own way. This is no different than the breakdown within the church and honestly I see it as a healthy thing. The idea that there is only one way in which a sacred text can be read or interpreted to me is disturbing and smacks on authoritarianism. We all have free will, unique personalities, and different outlooks and worldviews, it is thus only logical that we would interpret the sacred texts and scriptures differently.

    I think it would do everyone a world of good to just sit down and read the teachings of Buddha and Jesus, without any preconceptions. Let their teachings speak for themselves and speak to you, everyone else be damned. If one can find solace in the words of Jesus or the Buddha then let him/her do so without trying to prove that one is better, holier, or righter than the other. We often waste so much time arguing over the minute details that we lose sight of the big picture.

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  6. Otter:

    Like you, I have a resistance against denominational labelling. I don't even like to call myself a Buddhist (even though I do so for convenience and also Buddhism is the religion I feel most "at home" with). I don't believe that Truth, Tao, God or whatever you want to call Ultimate Reality is Christian, Buddhist or bound any other human label.

    One question I have about Christianity is this: Perhaps you are aware of the passages in the Old Testament that refer to God sanctioning acts that we would consider grossly unethical. For example in Numbers 31, Moses and his followers were ordered to slaughter the entire Midianite race, sparing only the virgins, no doubt to be passed off as trophies of war for the Israelites. The Old Testament also contains many passages that speak of God ordering genocide and ethnic cleansing (1 Samuel 15:2-3 is an example). How do you reconcile this with the teaching that God loves all human beings?

    Some Christians might argue that those passages were in the OT and the NT shows a different side of God. But if the Christian God is supposed to be eternal, it means that he is always the same and if he finds it acceptable to kill children and enslave comfort women at some point in history, it follows that he still finds such actions to be acceptable...doesn't it?

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  7. The thing that you really have to look at when comparing the New and Old Testaments is the history of when they were written and who they were written for. I am reading a book on this called The Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong. Very interesting stuff.

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  8. Dave is correct Yueheng. These two different parts of the Bible were written during different periods of history. However, you are correct, they are referring to the same God.

    But just as God instructed the Israelites to take out another tribe of people, He also just as many times used other tribes of people to enact judgment on His own people, the Israelites themselves.

    However, there is only one real answer to the question you are asking, and I hate to have to put it this way, but to be honest it is something I too have been dealing with for many years. The answer is that there are things about the true nature of God and His will and His plan for the universe and for us, His people, many things, that we will never understand and cannot hope to get a full grasp on. There are things that, if they were really simple enough for us to fully understand, we would get God ourself, and we our not.

    That might be too hard for many to swallow. The fact that for some things there are no answers. But for my own personal journey and my own personal relationship with God, I am okay with it. I'm okay there are things I don't understand and let God Himself handle. I'll sweat the small stuff, let Him worry about the big things.

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  9. And another answer might be, and I could be absolutely 100% off base on this one but......perhaps the folks that wrote the Old Testament went off and did those things to their enemies all by themselves and felt compelled to write them down for future generations as if God had ordered them to do so. This way, they would feel justified in their actions and would not be looked down on by future generations. Just a random thought there.

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  10. Thanks for taking the time to explain your faith, Otter. I'll take some time to mull over what you have written. Stay well! :)

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  11. So Dave, you made some very good
    points in your comments here but at the same time so did Yeuheng. Of course, he is going to have a different respective coming from a biased viewpoint. But than again, he did mention he used to be a Christian.

    For me, the jury is still out on the issue. While I think, as a
    religion, the two could not both be practiced by the same person. But considering I really don't think Buddhism should be considered a religion, it is very
    possible that a believer (in Christ) could very well also
    follow some of the Buddha's teaching without being considered a Buddhist themselves.

    Technically, the Buddha did not
    consider himself a God. In his own personal walk, he may or may not have been an atheist but that is not the point due to the fact that he really was not trying
    to start a religion, he was just trying to get people to look at certain things differently.

    Some of the things he taught do not totally go against the things that Jesus taught, they are just
    a way at looking at life differently.

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