Saturday, May 4, 2013

Jesus and the Buddha

A Buddha Statue in My Meditation Garden

When I was a parish priest I would occasionally include a quote from the Buddha or from Buddhist literature in my sermons. While this was well-received by most people, others were not so pleased. 

Some felt that references to the Buddha "watered down" the Christian faith or "reduced" Christianity to be equal to Buddhism.  One time I was even asked if I had converted to Buddhism.

Whenever I was asked about why I referenced the Buddha in a sermon, I would usually say that the teaching of the Buddha helps me better understand and better appreciate the teaching of Jesus. 

One day, a few years ago, I found a book written by a formally-trained Roman Catholic Theologian by the name of Paul Knitter. The title of the book was "Without Buddha I could not be a Christian." I was immediately attracted to the title because somehow it expressed what I was feeling. 

In the book, Knitter gives a description of who the Buddha was and what the Buddha taught:

He saw, not only with his mind but with his whole being, just how the world and human existence in it worked, how everything was in a constant process of interconnected movement, how suffering is caused when humans greedily try to break the interconnections and hold onto things just for themselves, how suffering can be stopped through letting go not just of selfishness but of the very self in compassion for all beings (all this is based on a summary of the Buddha's first sermon).

When I first read this description of the Buddha and his teachings,  I thought to myself, "This is a perfect description of who Jesus was and what Jesus taught." It made me even more convinced that the insights of the Buddha can indeed help me to be a more faithful follower of Jesus.

In his book, Professor Knitter calls himself a Christian and a Buddhist. I can totally understand that. 

Without the Buddha I could not be a Christian.

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