Can you be Buddhist and Christian? Does anyone care?

Read full article here about a Episcopalian minister that also practiced Zen meditation (not a completely unsightly mix). But it seems that not everybody in his congregation was as excited and perhaps he wasn’t either…

A number expressed concern about the Michigan priest’s decade-long practice of Zen meditation, changes he made to baptism rites, and ideas he espoused about salvation, including the existence of multiple paths to God. Others objected to the election process in Northern Michigan because Thew Forrester was the only candidate on the ballot.Bishops are rarely rejected once they are elected by their diocese.

It sounds as though Thew has got a few other more salient issues with Christianity that more pressing than Zen meditation practice. Bishops are not elected by their progressive policies or for their ability to think laterally. They are elected or chosen based upon the scope and breadth of their understanding of scripture and for their ability at bureaucracy…just as in Buddhism (we have dogma and hierarchy too). Seems that They has been taking some liberties with the liturgy.

Don’t get me wrong. I respect a person that can see the many paths that exist towards the same goal and also accepts the fact that individuals chose the path that best fits them. I am alos a huge fan of people that skew the system a bit. However, those people, with those beliefs will probably not move that high up in the hierarchy. They would not go up in pay scale. They won’t get a bigger hat.

But Thew is an ordained lay-practitioner in the Soto Zen sect. Would this be in conflict to his Christian duties? Would his role as bishop affect his duties as a Soto Zen practitioner? HOw could you remedy this?

The two beliefs are not necessarily at odds with each other but viewing how Thew has treated his Buddhist beliefs and practice in the public forum it seems that he does not place much stock in his role as a Zen Buddhist nor in the jukai that he took or the vows that come with it. Personally I think this shows a lack of character.

That being said, I am familiar with Christian clergy that also are ordained lay-practitioners or are otherwise fairly serious in their Buddhist practice. I also sit with individuals that can meld the two belief systems in varying levels with some success. Some just want to sit and meditate, others also chant and do prostrations and others delve deeper into Buddhist scripture and philosophy with no real affect upon their Christian beliefs. It all depends upon the depth that they wish to take it.
I would never expect most of these individuals to be ordained as priests or monks but they are finding what they need to make themselves a more spiritual whole.

I wonder if this is what Thew is doing. It seems unlikely. More likely that he is engaging in “stamp-collecting” rather than actually having the drive and need to become ordained. Jukai isn’t nor should it be, taken lightly. It isn’t a tick on a card or a notch on a belt. It is a statement of your commitment of practice. I can perform yoga stretches in the morning and I can read the Vedas and maybe even gain some spiritual guidance from them. It doesn’t make me Hindu and I wouldn’t say that it does. As Thew himself stated

I hope this provides some clarity. I am not a Buddhist. I am a Christian who has benefited from being taught the spiritual practice of meditation.

So I guess even if he did get elected we wouldn’t have had a Buddhist bishop anyway. So if he did receive jukai which involves taking the precepts, the Bodhisattva vows and the Refuges as well as receiving a dharma name and rakusu and still claims that he is not a Buddhist then the whole thing was a farce.

He could have easily stated that he was both or just took a meditation class. Maybe I will become a deacon because I like bland wafers and wine. That wouldn’t insult anyone.



3 thoughts on “Can you be Buddhist and Christian? Does anyone care?

  1. @ Brooke

    I don't mind people using aspects of Buddhism to enhance their own Christian belief. We all start somewhere. At some point I was both Christian and Buddhist as well. But while a Christian I would have not taken jukai unless I was damned serious about those vows.

    Buddhist identity is becoming blurred around the edges thus the birth of Christian Buddhists or Zen Christians, (whatever you want to call them) but with that birth comes the inevitable afterbirth – New Age marketing gurus and self-help Buddhism.

    Overall, while complicating the issue of Buddhism, I try not to identify any melding of traditions as a problem, more of an opportunity.


  2. @ Seiho

    I agree, despite any of Thew's dishonesty about his jukai, the lack of acceptance from the church was particulary troubling.

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