Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Buddhism and the Divine

From a book I recently finished reading...
When the Buddha was asked if God exists, he responded by smiling and simply holding up a lotus flower. I believe that the Buddha's enigmatic response holds immense significance, but its meaning must be gleaned from the Hindu tradition, out of which the Buddha taught. When the Buddha responded to this important question, he was drawing on his knowledge of the great Chandogya Upanishad. This oldest of the 108 Upanishads was composed 1,200 years before the Buddha's birth, and in its oral tradition, may be a thousand years older:
In the center of the castle of Brahman, our own body, there is a small shrine in the form of a lotus-flower, and within that can be found a small space. We should find who dwells there, and we should want to know him. And if anyone asks, "Who is he who dwells in a small shrine in the form of a lotus-flower in the center of the castle of Brahman? Whom should we want to find and know?" We can answer: "The little space within the heart is as great as this vast universe. The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars; fire and lightning and winds are there; and all that now is and all that is not; for the whole universe is in Him and he dwells within our heart."
This Upanishad, I suggest, was the very text the Buddha had in mind. The Buddha was communicating a simple truth: God does exist but is a matter of experience accessed through meditation. The Buddha was directing his listeners' attention not simply to this text, but more basically to the experience of looking within, to the lotus of the heart, where the Divine dwells.

-Wayne Teasdale, A Monk In The World, pp.194-195
Three quick points:
  • For those who don't like "Him", I think it would work just as well with "this One" instead
  • Based on his writings, Teasdale's view of God is dynamic via process theology and often sounds more like the Tao or a personification of shunyata (emptiness) rather than an all-powerful static superbeing concerned with titles and honors.
  • Teasdale isn't saying Buddhism is just a branch of Hinduism, but rather that the Buddha's cultural references would be rooted in this literary tradition

Given these considerations, what do you think of this idea?

Might be a good responsive reading for an interfaith congregation.

Then I ran across a Beliefnet article from a Trappist monk, James Finley, who studied with Thomas Merton and with a connection to the Christian interfaith dialogue with the sacred traditions of the East. The essay, "Your Journey Into God", is an excerpt from his book Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God. Much of the excerpt sounds like a Buddhist monk talking about Bodhi or awakening to the Highest Perfect Wisdom...

"The path to God is like that. God is already here, all about us and within us—the very source, ground, and fulfillment of our being. But, subject to the limitations of ego consciousness, we tend not to experience the divine mystery..."

for example, or even...

"As you sit given over to this simple intention of being present, open, and awake, neither clinging to nor rejecting anything, you are likely to experience just how inept we human beings are at doing such a simple thing as being simply present in the present moment..."

Do you find this inspiring? depressing? suspicious? Do you find it easy to accept this as a valid aspect of Christian practice? Buddhist practice? Does the validity of the practice rest on being "properly" Christian or Buddhist?

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