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Buddhism Blemished


This is a reflection from a recent conversation with a 20something young woman. It has much in common with many conversations I have.

I need to preface this post by underlining that I don’t play the my-religion-is-better-than-your-religion game. I also need to highlight how much Buddhists and Buddhism have helped me on my own faith journey. I have much sympathy for the sentiment that Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian.

Soon into the conversation, I discover that she is heading overseas to have a silent fortnight devoted to Vipassana Meditation. [She has never done anything like this previously]. I know other young people who have done this. Including just staying and doing this in NZ. I talk about my own experience with silence and meditation. She is interested that there is a Christian meditation tradition.

How often has it been a refrain of mine here that it is the fault of Christians, of the Church, that our contemplative, our meditation, our mystical tradition is so little known. With the burgeoning Mindfulness movement – where are Christians, where are churches making creative connections?

We have, in the West, romanticised Buddhism and Buddhists – bathing all in a rosy, orientalised glow. It seems to be the exact opposite of the demonising reaction to Islam. It is as if we are simply unable to go beyond a binary response to the world – Islam: Bad; Buddhism: Good.

And the current events in Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh defy our false simplification. We are witnessing one of the worst human rights abuses in the world. And perpetrated by Buddhists. And people have also struggled with the slowness of a response from Aung San Suu Kyi – again, as if we can only understand people to be totally good or totally bad. Surely, Aung San Suu Kyi could have gotten so much right previously – and have not got it right this time?

As my conversation continues with the young woman, we agree that there is a common perception that Christians (and Christian clergy/leaders particularly) are anti-science, anti-gay, in fact anti-sex, press that: anti-fun; that is when they are not sexually abusing others. Online, it is not difficult to find whole communities of Christians reinforcing anti-evolution, climate-change-denying, proud-to-be-gun-toting “Bible believers”. And that’s not even starting on money and power…

Yes, the response (rightly IMO) to the Buddhist atrocities against Rohingya is to say this is not a Buddhist action, this is not what the Buddha would approve of. [To be fair: this line of defence was not taken by my young friend]. But we must, then, do similarly for terrorism by Muslims and the barbarity of Christians.

There must be a common honesty. Religion is a powerful magnifier – human evil can be and has been magnified by every religion be it Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, or Buddhism. Every religion is capable of being used for political ends and for the destruction of difference. And religion also tempers our evil – and magnifies human good.

My conversation with the young woman can image a conversation between Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus. I can see them happily together in a cafe promoting compassion and the value of the inner journey. Buddhists are known for this compassion and the inner journey. Christians may be known for compassion. It is high time that the inner journey became seen as a central passion of Christianity.

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3 thoughts on “Buddhism Blemished”

  1. Yes we must encourage contemplative prayer. In our diocese our Bishop has appointed a priest, Fr Peter Murphy, to promote Christian meditation. Last week we had a retreat day in our parish focusing on it with a nun from the Mercy Spirituality Centre who promote contemplative prayer. We mention it in homilies.

    Certainly the antidote to much that is negative in the Church today.

    Many Blessings

  2. I had a close friend from Taiwan who would get very irritated by ‘Western Buddhism’, he said it’s very different to the reality of superstition and irrationality which he grew up with!

    But every religion I have observed or participated in has been the same, frankly.

    When people don’t accept or comprehend concepts like myth and allegory and interpretation as part of every faith it quickly unravels to an ‘ I must be right otherwise why would I believe in it’ type stance!

    ‘Popular narratives’ make up so much of the planet’s communications now, out of a need for simplicity, and a ‘collective conscience’ mentality to identify en masse ‘the other’.

    Today I shook my head to see one deranged world leader call another deranged world leader ‘deranged’, both apparently lacking self-awareness. Yet both will have millions of adherents no matter what they do.

    Erich Fromm expressed it well:

    “Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows what he wants, while he actually wants what he is supposed to want. In order to accept this it is necessary to realize that to know what one really wants is not comparatively easy, as most people think, but one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve. It is a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they were our own.” ( 1941 Fear of freedom )

    I have heard many times in my own tradition, christianity ‘only believe’. Sometimes I think what the various groups mean is ‘only belong’. Hate and oppose who you are supposed to follows on.

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