Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Buddhist Lens

"Monk in the Garden"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

As a child I attended a Roman Catholic school. There the nuns taught us that if we were to even walk into a "Protestant" church, we would be committing a grievous sin that could result in being condemned to the fires of hell.  As a young boy I kept my distance from Protestant churches.

Now many years later, the world has changed significantly and so have I. 

I have walked inside a wide variety of many different churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. In fact, the older I get, the more value I place in being literate and informed about all sorts of religious traditions and perspectives. I have truly come to believe that there are many paths to the truth and we can all learn from one another's wisdom as we help each other along the way.

Yesterday someone asked me if I had become a Buddhist. It was an interesting question and I took a long pause before answering it because in one sense the answer is "yes." But that doesn't mean I am no longer a committed follower of Jesus.  As I see it,  Christianity and Buddhism are almost perfect complements to one another.

While answering the question about whether or not I had become a Buddhist, I explained that,  when I discovered Buddhism it was like finding a new pair of glasses to put on - a lens to help my "Christian" eyes see the world more clearly. 

In fact, the more I read the Buddhist literature,  the more I find a greater clarity about the core teachings of Jesus - unencumbered by all the theological clutter and institutional trappings that often obscure rather than illuminate. 

A recent article in the New York Times was very helpful to me. It not only helped me to see Buddhism more clearly, it also showed me why that "Buddhist lens" has helped me see the "Christ-way" more clearly. 

Jay Garfield is a Buddhist practitioner, author and professor of religion at a college in Singapore. In the New York Times' article,  Professor Garfield was interviewed about the "essentials of Buddhism,"and at the end of this interview he gave a one-paragraph, very simple, yet extremely insightful summary that really helped me put it all into perspective:

The Buddhist tradition encourages us to see ourselves as impermanent, interdependent individuals, linked to one another and to our world through shared commitments to achieving an understanding of our lives and a reduction of suffering.  It encourages us to rethink egoism and to consider an orientation to the world characterized by care, compassion and joint responsibility. 

I have studied Christian theology for more years than I care to talk about. And yet, I find these few simple sentences about Buddhism to be an almost perfect summary of the core teachings of Jesus who preached a message about losing the ego, the self-centered self,  in order to find the true self.

The core message of Jesus is the core message of Buddhism: we all belong to one another, no one is to be cast away, we all have the responsibility to embrace one another with unbridled compassion as we work together to make this world a better place.

When I put on my Buddhist lens,  my eyes can see the "Christ-way" so much more clearly. 

But of course you hardly have to be a Christian or a Buddhist, or be affiliated with any religious tradition, or be a believer of any kind in order to put on a Buddhist lens - a worldview that rejects egoism, accepts the truth that we are all linked to one another and that we all have the responsibility to compassionately care for one another. 

In today's culture which is so "ruggedly individualistic," where self-gratification is the ethic of the day and alienation from others is the norm, we would all do well to put on a Buddhist lens to help us see the world more clearly lest we stumble blindly into a dead-end.   


  1. I often find that Buddhist teachings most closely mirror mine. Although I don't consider myself any particular religion, the fundamentals of Buddhism, particularly with respect to ridding the self of ego really resonate with me. So...once again, I'm eager to learn more about the journey that led you from Christianity to Buddhism. :)

    1. Naji. There have been many prominent Christians who are also Buddhist practitioners.The well known priest and monk, Thomas Merton, was one such person and he highly influenced me.