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All saints
November 1st, 2015

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

All saints

   Many turn to Buddhism after some disappointment with other traditions, notably with Christianity. Such a disappointment often arises from perceiving a gap between the ideals and the practices of many Christians, and considering it as an 'hypocrisy' that one doesn't want to associate with.
   As M. Halteman would write:
   « For fallen human beings, of course, there is always a wide gulf separating who we are called to be as Christ-followers from who we actually are at any given time in our daily Christian walk. We are called to be sacrificial givers, for instance, but we rarely even manage to tithe. We are called to be Jesus to the outcasts in our midst, but we prefer to keep them out of sight and mind. We are called to do good to those who hate us, but we often seek their destruction. We are called to stand with the weak against the tyranny of the strong, but we extol the halls of power for our own selfish gain. The hard truth is that our bondage to sinful patterns of thought and action presents a significant obstacle on the path that leads from who we are as “Christians” to who we are called to be as Christ- followers. »

   One might note that "bondage to sinful patterns of thought and action"  very much echoes the teachings on karma  (habitual tendencies, linked to mental fabrications and ignorant views), so to phrase any such disenchanting insight with Buddhist vocabulary might seem a good fit. 
   Righteousness being a hindrance though, Buddhist practitioners should refrain from pretending that they're already being beyond  karma… so, instead of blaming others for hypocrisy, the work for the newly convert would immediately be to reflect on how one manifests similar traits, how one participates in the status quo (maybe by complicit silence), etc.
   And, in fact, such an approach is shared with Christians! Becoming aware of the gap ought to constitute the start of a journey of remediation, rather than of desperation.

   As M. Halteman continues
   « If we’re sincere in our desire to make progress as disciples of Jesus, we’ll have to acknowledge this gulf between who we are at the moment and who we are called to be and to take concrete steps, however imperfect and incomplete, to narrow the gap. »
   As in Buddhism, awareness in Christianity implies responsibility and a call for an embodiment of wisdom, a call for an appropriate response! And one might note the insistence on self-cultivation over criticising / blaming 'others'.

   If the above is true, then there's little point in 'converting' from Christianity to Buddhism upon getting the 'gap' insight. There might be valid reasons to do so ('valid' in accordance to a context at hand), but the realisation of "Christianity isn't a silver bullet" isn't particularly one of them (notably if it assumed that another tradition is  the magic answer…).

   Is the observed 'gap' unsatisfactory? Is it dukkha?  Sure it is, but this doesn't imply a necessity to cling to the label 'dukkha'!  The practical embodiment of an appropriate response might be the same in both sets of traditions!
   So one may remain inside the tradition the metaphysics of which one feels most attuned to (since they do differ, e.g. re. the 'creation' or the 'source' of morality…), while also respecting the other traditions based on the shared practicalities, shared wisdom… and shared insights. It's also fine to share tools and techniques.
   The Dalai-lama has many times issued similar advice to Westerners too eager to embrace 'exotic' beliefs, notably since "Ethics for a New Millennium" (1999). Cf. e.g. Of course, this doesn't mean to prevent people from embracing Buddhism (even if some might be tempted to argue so: but merely to promote the examination of one's motivation to do so.
   « Freedom from lust, from aversion, from ignorance » is a goal of Buddhism, and this also covers the lust for powerful exotic answers, the aversion for aspects of one's own culture (at the expense of disengaging, and therefore of not contributing to a resolution), the ignorance of the causes and of the consequences of a conversion…

   Inter-faith dialogue isn't a disguised attempt to convert others, isn't proselytism ( Instead, it is a willingness not to close on ourselves but to learn from others (
   With this in mind, Buddhists like Christians may find some of the reflections in a Christian view on "compassionate eating" ( worthy of further enquiry and examination, and of peaceful dialogue too ;-)

   Sometimes, it is advised to Buddhists to see Buddha in everyone, to treat enemies as the best teacher ( so, on this all saints' day,  maybe we might try and see 'saints' in everyone (instead of 'enemies', 'terrorists' and other 'migrants') and be mindful of how this view may affect other phenomena (actions, attitudes, responses, vicious or virtuous circles…). If this sounds impossible, maybe some news related to Jews and Muslims, easily presented as 'enemies', might shed a more nuanced and useful light: (and connected update:
   Seeing 'saints' in everyone may bring a 'here&now'  dimension to a day of remembrance:  just like Buddhists have lineages but should refrain from getting lost in them at the expense of the present,  Christians inherit from past saints but benefit from focusing on the present  acts that such a past might inspire.

#Buddhism   #Christianity    
This post is a long delayed continuation (4/n…) of my answer to +Jack C Crawford. Cf. the « Christianity and Zen Buddhism » series discussing other similarities and differences: (with annex,