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End of July, +Jack C Crawford asked "Do you believe that it's possible to be a Christian believer and still adhere to (i.e. seek) Buddhist Zen principles? background: I am a Christian who is…
September 19th, 2012 (September 23rd, 2012)

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

End of July, +Jack C Crawford asked "Do you believe that it's possible to be a Christian believer and still adhere to (i.e. seek) Buddhist Zen principles? background: I am a Christian who is seeking." I did not miss the humour from finding myself struggling to find a decent answer to a comment on an original post titled "being Zen but having an opinion?" (!

After many attempts, I found it impossible to answer such a question in only one post, so I will now provide part 1 —out of N(?)— and we'll see how it goes from there.

A quick preamble: both my paternal and maternal families are mostly French catholics. As such, my understanding of what "being a Christian" is about is heavily influenced by Western understanding, European culture, and French history (in particular regarding the relationship between protestantism and catholicism, and regarding secular values inherited from the Enlightenment period and the possibility of atheist, philosophical 'moral' standards). I apologise in advance if my description of Christianity hurts anyone, as I have a deep respect for this spiritual tradition and its followers. At the same time, I know that what I will write will not necessarily be recognised as what Christianity is about by some readers (notably in the U.S.); no disrespect is intended, I simply did not find a way to describe Christian values or Buddhist values as an homogeneous whole (the limitation is mine).

Many parallels have been found between Buddhism and Christianity. For some, it is considered possible that Jesus was influenced by Buddhist teachings, notably during the 'early adult' years for which the Bible is silent [for fun, see Did Jesus Christ learn Buddhism ?? or The Missing Years of Jesus ]. There were contacts between the Hellenistic cultures and Northern India prior to Jesus' time (as attested not only by Greco-styled Buddhist statues in Gandhara, but also by philosophal influences from Greek philosophy on Mahāyāna and vice versa [ ]). Some authors have suggested that some stories and myths from the Bible might have been influenced from stories and myths from Buddhist scriptures. Since the tradition talks of Jesus but is not written by Jesus, one may naturally suspect that the influences of Buddhism were on the disciples, the compilers or the monk copyists rather than on Jesus himself. This is an important point as I think what's of interest is Buddhism and Christianity today, so later influences are relevant. On the other hand, Christianity had major late influence on Buddhism too e.g. Theravāda remained an oral tradition until Protestant missionaries came in Sri Lanka and distributed printed arguments and religious material. The first 'Buddhist' press in Colombo was actually second-hand, from Protestant missionaries. Even in China or Japan, Christianity perceived as a threat to local traditions had at least the influence of forcing such traditions to be formalised and clarified. Today's religious dialogue between Buddhist and Christian traditions is rich and vibrant (as illustrated by the Dalai-Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu). The two traditions share a lot of values and a similar disdain for self-centeredness and oppression of others. Both traditions had their lapses too, their "just wars" which may not have been so 'just'…

The most obvious similarities are on morality: the rejection of violence, the compassion toward the ignorant (sinner…), the individual consequences for one's acts… Admittedly, the bases of morality are different: Christianity would seem to assert a superior authority who knows better than human beings and who guided us, made it known to us, what we should do. God or a delegate would judge our acts at the time of death. Buddhism supports the idea of kamma. As I explained in some of my earlier posts [e.g. or ], kamma is not a retribution law: no one, no God defines what's 'good' vs. what's 'bad' and there is no judgement, no reward, no punishment, there are only causes, conditions and consequences. However, Buddhism supports morality as a 'natural' consequence of one's wish for one's (own) happiness: inducing envy, jealousy, anger around us is an efficient way to 'support' behaviours by others (who simply want the same happiness as we enjoy) that will threaten our own long-term happiness, which is enough to create anxiety earlier (i.e. already enough to weaken happiness earlier)…

Let's tackle immediately a difference between the traditions: Buddhism does not easily accept God as the Creator or even a Creator. The primary reason would be as follows: if God created the world as we know it (from the initial spark of the Big Bang, or from a closer, more creationist version), then God's 'personal' situation was not permanent. God 'evolved' ('changed') through this creation process: one day he did not have the idea of creating this world, the next day he had the idea, a few days later he had actualised the idea and had created the world. By then, his idea had 'changed' (from a creative urge to a desire of observing, of watching over his creation)… God's mind, God's ideas, are thus not permanent, thus God is not permanent. There was reciprocal influence between God and God's creation.
From a Buddhist perspective, inter-dependence affects God too, so God is 'impermanent' and has to deal with his own life and his own happiness — which most likely requires of Him that he helps all his creation to get out of suffering. The origin of the creation cannot be found according to Buddhism because there is always a previous cause, a previous intention to where one would stop e.g. where would God's idea of a Creation come from? The origin of the creation is an "unanswerable question." It is important to realise that this does not mean there is no answer at all, only that it is an infinitely long waste of time to search for the answer, notably when such an answer will not even save one from disappointment, dissatisfaction and suffering. For some Christians, it seems at times that God may experience such disappointments and even lose faith in mankind, so God is not exempt from subtle forms of suffering.

In reference to the Creator (under the name Brahma), Buddhism would tend to consider that God is mistaken when He thinks that His wish for the world to appear was what actually made the world appear. Being the first being falling from the higher realms with enough desire to wish for a creation (or to wish for some company or to wish for something to do), God–Brahma would surely be the 'first' being appearing with some sense of identity. Other beings (also falling from higher realms) would later appear and God-Brahma would have all the reasons in the world to believe that such subsequent beings appeared purely out of His own creative desire. However, just like a mirage appears true, God is mistaken regarding the origin of the Creation. Tendencies such as desire (for existence, e.g. via 'observing' a world) and appropriation (this is 'my' Creation) are what leads to the co-dependent arising of God and of a meaning-embedded world perceived by God. The law of cause and effect, the law of kamma, apply to God too. In fairness, this makes God the wisest and longest-living 'identified' being, and the supreme master of the brahmavihāras (the four immeasurables: loving-kindness or benevolence, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity, i.e. the most powerful antidotes to unwholesome mental states such as avarice, anger and pride)… According to the suttas, when Gotama realised nibbāna, he thought that nobody would understand the Dharma and that there was little reason to teach. God-Brahma is who convinced the Buddha to teach to those "beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dharma. There will be those who will understand the Dharma." Previous buddhas also hesitated. Some have wondered why a bodhisattva like the Buddha himself would suddenly hesitate to save all beings from suffering; the answers vary from a hesitation when finally realising the true difficulty of the task, a test of Gotama's own faith in a way, to a ruse to get God-Brahma to recognise the value of the Dharma and wish to hear it for Himself and be liberated. In any case, God plays an important role in saving 'his' Creation.

Buddhist traditions could almost be happy with acknowledging the myth of God as the Creator, in the sense that it would provide the believer with reassurance and the believer could then be free to focus on what's truly important: what to do with his life to be 'saved' from endless suffering? A focus on the here & now! The difference is whether one takes the Genesis as the undebatable Truth, or only as a meaningful metaphor, possibly rich and embedded with teachings but nonetheless a fiction (be it a 'fiction' revealed by God, the wisest entity around, in order to help us!).

However, clinging to the myth as being the undisputed Truth (and not just a teaching or model) is a major source of suffering from a Buddhist perspective. For example, such a clinging-inflicted suffering would appear when people are confronted with tragedy (e.g. the atrocious death of a child): they ask how God could let an innocent suffer this way. Shattering the belief in a merciful God is a painful experience in itself and adds to the initial tragedy. Another example would relate to religious wars, or to feeling threatened by societal changes. Therefore Buddhist traditions stayed with the teachings from Gotama that seeking the origin of the world is unanswerable and a waste of time, and one is better off not having a myth of creation at all.

Both traditions primarily consider human existence as an opportunity: one can rise to the challenges and sufferings of life and reach endless happiness, or one can give in to selfish behaviours and keep on suffering (for a long time or even forever) even after this death. Both traditions have a soteriological purpose. Moreover, both traditions consider that the challenges one faces are not necessarily individually 'deserved:' God's will is impenetrable and kamma is not the only causal agent. Both traditions thus agree that a natural disaster is not necessarily an individual punishment to those who suffer; it may simply be a challenge, a test of faith, a test of one's surrendering and compassion for others around them, i.e. a spiritual opportunity.

Both traditions insist that one's spiritual progress is based on one's individual acts and choices, a sense of responsibility. Both traditions support "free will," as what makes a sense of 'responsibility' possible: an individual is responsible because one is free to choose to do good or bad, to be selfish or selfless… The law of Christ that the disciples should love one another as he himself had loved them is a clear call to see beyond oneself. It is clear to me that at least four of the Pāramitās (6 Perfections) would be endorsed in Christianity in a straightforward manner: (1) generosity; (2) virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct; (3) patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance; (4) diligence, effort. The fifth Pāramitā commonly refers meditation but also contemplation, and may easily be linked to prayer. The sixth Pāramitā, wisdom, would most probably relate to knowing God's will by listening to one's heart.

For now, we've seen one difficulty in clinging to the idea of God as the undisputed, real, Creator. However, overall, we've found little practical contradiction in being a Christian believer and following some principles from Zen Buddhism…
(to be continued… if one focuses on human experience here and now, rather than the origin of the world, how compatible are the analyses and soteriological means from both traditions?)

[possible complement: ]
[image: part of the "triptych" by Christina Varga —]
#Buddhism   #Christianity   #Dharma   #buddhistcircle