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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 i…
October 20th, 2012 (November 21st, 2013)

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."
This is part 3/N of my answer.

We have seen in part 1/N [ (completed by] why Buddhism in general has a difficulty with the idea of the Creator, or even a Creator.
We have seen in part 2/N [ ] similarities between the Holy Trinity and the Trikāya doctrine, as well as between the transition from the Old to the New Testament and the transition from the first Turning of the Wheel of Dharma to the second and third turnings.

Reachability of Salvation and Post-mortem Activity

Some buddhists tend to compliment themselves by the following statement: "in other religions, like Christianity, nobody can become Jesus or God. In Buddhism, one can become a buddha if one follows the path." I think this is important, because as far as I understand, the soteriological goal in Christianity has nothing to do with becoming Jesus… so who cares that no one may do so? It is also a misunderstanding by so-called buddhists of the tenets of Buddhism! The goal may be to become a buddha; it is not to become the historical Buddha Gautama.

Both traditions insist on the necessity of individual effort. However, nirvāṇa is unconditioned so one cannot 'force' the realisation of arhatship. By effort though, one can remove the barriers that make crossing to the other 'shore' difficult. Removing hindrances is important and counts, but it is not enough to make one cross over; to open a door helps, but does not make one cross the threshold…
Similarly, I do not know a way to 'force' one's entrance into Paradise. By effort, one can nonetheless remove hindrances. Saint Therese of Lisieux wrote: “this desire could certainly appear daring if one were to consider how weak and imperfect I was, and how after seven years in the religious life, I am still weak and imperfect. I always feel, however, the same bold confidence of becoming a great saint because I do not count on my own merits since I have none, but I trust in God who is Virtue and Holiness. God alone, content with my weak efforts, will raise me to Himself and make me a saint, clothing me in His infinite merits."
In Buddhism and in Christianity, a fundamental hindrance is sloth and torpor. Individual efforts are required to progress towards the goal. Efforts never guarantee achievement of the highest fruit of spiritual life, but they are nonetheless seen as a guarantee of progress, be it with a better rebirth or with a shorter time in purgatory (whatever the form this takes).

A (Mahāyānist) buddha is expected to aim for the liberation of all beings from suffering, so a buddha has some activity in the world: this is not a passive situation once nirvāṇa is reached, the activity may take the form of teaching but other compassionate support may also play a rôle. This is important to dispel a frequent misunderstanding that the goal of Zen is to be heartless and equanimous like a cold stone; one would struggle to find the positive qualities of a buddha in a cold stone. When it is said that nirvāṇa is peace, in no way does this mean nirvāṇa is inactivity.
Similarly, a saint is primarily identified by miracles attributed to his/her intercession after death (i.e. not miracles during the earthly life of the future saint). That is to say, a saint is identified by his activity after achievement of the highest fruit.
In both cases, the compassionate activity (after death) towards others is meant as a key support to the aspiration of the next generations towards holiness / wholesomeness. In a way, the highest contribution of a buddha or a saint is as a practical example that, yes, this is possible, spiritual life does indeed lead to the positive end of death.

So, although some buddhists happily claim some supposed superiority due to the reachability of buddhahood vs. the unreachability of Jesus-ship, the two traditions actually agree much on the fact that the highest fruit of the spiritual life is perceived by others in some kind of 'individual' compassionate activity after death. While one could associate this to a legacy on Earth (maybe in the form of teachings) and to a basis for faith of future generations, rather than to real individualised entities after death, it remains clear that the 'individual' somehow survives as a 'name' that others may call upon and draw inspiration and strength from.

Precepts and Commandments

Buddhism is hard to define, just like Christianity. Many variants of spiritual practices have arisen from their respective bedrocks, to the point that one may marvel at the creativity of men and the infinite power of temptations to lead us astray, and also to the point that one may wonder whether the message that reached us is still related to the original message.
Many Christians do not recognise themselves in the Bible-based exclusion of others, in judgemental attitudes justified by cherry-picking parts of the Bible; they might also struggle to adhere to some rituals, e.g. flagellation, that others see as requirements. Similarly, many buddhists do not recognise themselves in judgemental attitudes justified by karma (in blatant contradiction with how karma has been taught) or in some practises like pilgrimage to relics, mantras, asceticism, etc.
Given the context here on g+, I'll focus on what I see as practices for lay people (not monastics or priests) and on what constitutes guidelines for practical daily life rather than rituals. I think rituals may be a real source of support for some people, while others suffer from them.

Among the possible definitions of Buddhism, one may consider the four Noble Truths including the Eightfold Path [ ], the Three Marks of Existence (impermanence, non-self, suffering) or the precepts and Bodhisattva vows. Overall, Buddhism is extremely 'practical' and numerous questions (including the origin of the world) have been left unanswered because they "would not help towards the attainment of nirvāṇa."

The five precepts for lay people (from the Pāli Canon) are:
• [1] refrain from killing
• [2] refrain from taking what is not given
• [3] refrain from sexual misconduct
• [4] refrain from false speech
• [5] refrain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness

The correspondence between the five precepts for lay people and Mark 10:19 is striking: "you know the commandments: 'You must not murder [1]. You must not commit adultery [3]. You must not steal [2]. You must not testify falsely [4]. You must not cheat anyone [2,4]. Honor your father and mother.'"

Among the possible definitions of Christianity, one may consider the Ten Commandments with the addition of what Jesus taught, but one may also consider other 'precepts' from the Bible, for examples:
• "you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don't even eat with such people." (1 Corinthians 5:11) 
• "Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don't participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy." (Romans 13:13)
• "Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise." (Proverb 20:1)

"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." (Ephesians 5:18) is basically the very reason behind the fifth precept in Buddhism: alcohol is not a fault in itself, but by clouding the mind, it easily leads one to commit faults. Meditation and awareness are the key to a holy life.

From the above, it should be clear that the fundamental 'rules' to lead one's spiritual life are the same. As mentioned in part 2/N, the second and third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma will bring compassion to the forefront, just like the New Testament will. The above clearly addresses only the initial, rule-centric, approaches, but their compatibility is striking and, as far as I know, nuances and clarifications may have been brought upon them at a later phase but they remain the bedrock of how a 'good' person should behave in both traditions. I hope I've pushed further my case that in daily life (when we're not debating the origin of the world and other mystical considerations of the origin and after-life), there is no contradiction between being a Christian and following the Buddhist precepts.

One should then wonder: how do we justify these precepts or commandments? Or, more importantly: does the justification matter?
Is the key in believing that the commandments have been delivered to us straight from God, or is it in practicing them and leading a decent life? Is the key in believing particular specific myths (and debating translations, editions, additions, suppressions and a historical process leading to the emergence of today's text we use as a reference —whichever one it is), or is it in the guidance we draw from them? The same applies to Buddhism, where debates between Theravāda and Mahāyāna on the authenticity of the sūtras from the second and third Turning prove as sterile as some debates among Christians regarding what matters from the Old or the New Testament. This goes straight to the heart of the "spirit of the Law" vs. the "letter of the Law." Does one use a text as a literal weapon (e.g. against gays in the Bible belt, e.g. against the re-establishment of nun orders in Sri Lanka) or does one use a tradition as a source of inspiration to provide practical relief and help to people right around one, right now?

#Buddhism   #Christianity   #Dharma   #buddhistcircle   
(to be continued…)
[image © Justin Currie, from ]