The Practice of Buddhism from a Christian Perspective ~ Guest Post Via Karen Anderson

[In my ongoing series of guest bloggers on Buddhism/practice/etc. from different perspectives, I would like to introduce Karen Anderson, a Christian blogger whose writing can be found here.   Remember, to be polite but feel free to engage – Cheers]

Our world is a living example of unity in diversity – there are numerous religions, but for the most part, we manage to follow our own even as we tolerate the rest. Some religions are closely linked to others in their history, culture, beliefs and/or teachings, probably because they one is an offshoot of the other or because they teach the same principles. Buddhism and Christianity are two such religions, and although they seem like strange bedfellows, there’s more to the linkage between these two than meets the eye.

Buddhism is the most syncretistic religion in the world in that it is combined with the beliefs of many other religions and cultures and as such, is easy for people belonging to other faiths to adapt to. For example, people who embrace Buddhism in American call their houses of worship and their meeting places “churches”, a term that is obviously borrowed from Christianity. But the same cannot be said of Christianity – most Christians believe that their God is the only sovereign Supreme Being and that all other religions are humbug and all other deities/gods/prophets are the devil and various demons.

So if we were to look at Buddhism from a Christian perspective, we would probably see the former in a negative light. Most Christians are tolerant of other religions, but as in any community, there are always the hardcore fanatics who believe that those who follow the Buddhist way of life are encroaching on their space and beliefs.

Christians feel that the Buddhist view of life with infinite cycles is very far removed from their belief of one finite life – for the Buddhist, the bad karma that we accumulate in this life leads us to be reincarnated again and again and undergo suffering as human beings. It is only when we completely rid ourselves of all desires and accumulate only good karma that we can avoid being reborn and attain a state of nirvana. For the Christians however, desire can never be completely eliminated and man is doomed to sin because Adam and Eve ate the apple. Their redemption lies in believing that Christ died for our sins and that if we believe in him, we will attain salvation.

In general, the Christian perception of Buddhism is that it is an intruder on its turf. Christians feel that Buddhists are a danger to them, because of their varying cultural and spiritual beliefs and their way of life. For them, it is an anathema to even think that there is no God (Buddhists follow a way of life, not a God), and that the Buddhists can think this way, makes them some kind of atheists who they cannot identify with.

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15 thoughts on “The Practice of Buddhism from a Christian Perspective ~ Guest Post Via Karen Anderson

  1. “For example, people who embrace Buddhism in American call their houses of worship and their meeting places “churches”, a term that is obviously borrowed from Christianity.”

    Maybe it’s just borrowed from the language they’re speaking?

  2. “Christians feel that the Buddhist view of life with infinite cycles is very far removed from their belief of one finite life”

    Huh? When Christians die, as I understand they go to Heaven or Hell for all eternity. That’s ‘finite’? Sounds like everlasting infinite life to me.

    Now aside from the misunderstanding between incarnation and reincarnation, there is nothing permanent in Self as Buddhism proposes. Self is empty of any fixed unconditioned thing. Sounds finite to me.

  3. “It is only when we completely rid ourselves of all desires and accumulate only good karma that we can avoid being reborn and attain a state of nirvana.”

    Your reading of this idea comes from a purely Christian transposition of ideas.

    Desire will never end. Attachment to Desire can be eliminated. Being driven by Desire can be overcome.

    To say “we can avoid being reborn” and “we can… attain… nirvana” implies a sense of Self as permanent, that there is a permanent self-aware person which can experience these states. Only when the sense of this permanent self-aware person is gone can these states be known.

  4. thanks, john, for publishing people from different views, and giving us a chance to see them. i guess, with this post, it would have been more interesting if it had been more personal. Karen, what about you? Where do you stand? What drew you to write about this?

  5. Interesting perspective. I like that you’re publishing alternative opinions to keep us thinking.

    I’m a member of The United Church of Christ, one of the more liberal branches. I also study Buddhism and Taoism on my own. I’ve been syncretic for a while and am more comfortable than when I practiced Christianity exclusively.

    We can argue philosophy and semantics all day, but in the end it comes down to this: How can we use our abilities to bring more wisdom, compassion, and healing into the world? Whether we do it by sharing the words of Christ or Buddha, or both, we cannot do it by teaching that there is only one way to better yourself as a human being.

    But then my beliefs can be just as polarizing when stated a certain way. : )

  6. Karen, here is something I still don’t understand:

    “In general, the Christian perception of Buddhism is that it is an intruder on its turf. Christians feel that Buddhists are a danger to them, because of their varying cultural and spiritual beliefs and their way of life.”

    I don’t understand where the danger lies. I know that this perception is there in the minds of some Christians, but I don’t understand why, and how it came to be. If it is merely a matter of “makes them some kind of atheists who they cannot identify with”, I would understand it even less. I can’t identify with the Muslim faith at all. Not even in the least bit. Likewise with many of the world religions. But I don’t see them as a threat either. Can you help clarify this at all? Why is it that different = bad? Why can’t different just be different?

  7. I certainly appreciate the input from other view points. Kudo’s to ZDZD for encouraging guests.

    For me, I suppose, it doesn’t matter if there’s a creator God or not. We should live our life with compassion and caring not because the all-father will spank us if we’re bad, but because it’s the best thing for everyone involved. Live lightly, with compassion and kindness and it doesn’t matter if you believe or not.

  8. I was particularly interested in the next-to-last paragraph in which Karen mentions that Christians think they can achieve salvation and be forgiven because Jesus died for their sins.

    I was raised in the ELCA church and have always had issues with Christianity and accountability. Oops, sinned? Well, it’s ok, God forgives you. (Granted, I know there’s more to it than that, but…)
    The Buddhists I have met seem a little more interested in acting properly.

    Another observation: I have met very few Christians who actually follow the teachings of CHRIST. The church is not Christ, and indeed many Christian churches are about as far from the teachings of Christ as you can get.
    Buddhism, on the other hand…

    Not a scholarly comment, I know, but just what was on my mind.

  9. “In general, the Christian perception of Buddhism is that it is an intruder on its turf.
    Turf as in religion/philosophy or physical turf? If r/p surely educated people can read, discuss and choose what they see is correct/most fitting for them. Physical turf? Buddhism is the older of the two so only christianity could “intrude”.

    On a more absurd note: “man is doomed to sin because Adam and Eve ate the apple” – is this really something educated people believe in 2010? Two people/characters in a book did something and we are all doomed?

  10. Buddhism has no god. Its founder is said to have declared the uselessness of prayer. He set up rules for monks, but apparently not for ordinary people who wanted to follow his practices. So how is Buddhism a religion?

    The error you point out about Christianity–its claim of an exclusive lock on the holy–is ane enormous structural flaw, not just in Christianity but in every monotheism. As soon as you proclaim that god is yours, you have created a problem: how are you going to deal with everybody else?

    The millennia of slaughter, oppression, slavery, committed in religion’s names are the result. If the world is ever going to move beyond this bronze age tribalism religion must abandon that posture and surrender its political pretensions. Issuing commandments will never permit the world to unite, which it must.

    • A very interesting article, thank you for providing another perspective. Just wanted to respond to weneedus and say that the Buddha did lay down teachings and rules for ordinary people. Two quick examples are the Five Precepts and the Sigalovada sutra.

  11. The life we live now is temporary, regardless of the idea of the afterlife. To this observation, the Buddha was able to gain valuable insight and achieve enlightenment.

    Stripping down the mysticism of Buddhism (which changes from culture to culture), Buddhism is no more mystical than any other psychotherapy. In fact, cognitive therapy is a derivitave of Buddhist understanding.

    To say that Christianity is “anathema” to Buddhism assumes that all Christians think the same as do Buddhists. That just isn’t true. Just as it isn’t true that Buddhism espouses “no God.” Just like psychology, Buddhism does not discuss the validity of a Creator God. That is not atheist but non-theist.

    You are right that Buddhism is adaptive. It is willing to allow your faith in God and still co-exist. Buddhism teaches the understanding of suffering and the end of suffering (from our temporary human condition).

    Many Christians, especially free thinking American Christians, create their own personal relationship with their faith and incorporate Buddhist practice to enrich their lives and their relationship with their God.

    J Sumitta
    http://www.appliedbuddhism.com

  12. Buddha did not lay down rules to any one. He had said so himself, when a brahmin asked lord buddha;

    “How come some people,who hear your dhamma (preachings) attain nibbana yet others do not?”

    To which the Buddha replied;

    “Brahmin, if some one asks you the way to the city, would you not tell him to go this way and to take this route?, it is the same with Dhamma, those who understands it and follows it will attain nibbana and others will not”

    There are very few who tread that part nowadays, true buddists and buddhist monks are very rare.

  13. “In general, the Christian perception of Buddhism is that it is an intruder on its turf. Christians feel that Buddhists are a danger to them, because of their varying cultural and spiritual beliefs and their way of life. For them, it is an anathema to even think that there is no God (Buddhists follow a way of life, not a God), and that the Buddhists can think this way, makes them some kind of atheists who they cannot identify with. ”

    I understand where you are coming from, but I disagree. Christianity is a diverse population. While there are fundamentalists who don’t even accept Christians like Glenn Beck, because he is Mormon, there are those who are more humanist in their faith.

    My anecdotal experience is that American Christianity as a movement is mostly Protestant and Evangelical. These Church doctrines do not accept or allow for variation of other faiths on any level (although they may tolerate their existence, the do not incorporate them).

    However, most Americans are independently minded. They are mostly the unspoken and quiet American Christians who are more liberal in their opinions– even so far as to disagree with their sect. They are almost agnostic in their practice.

    I recently had to deal with my family, who are zealots in their faith and wrote about the experience and my Buddhist thoughts on that experience. Knowing many Buddhist-Christians, I thought it was an important topic.

    http://appliedbuddhism.com/2010/08/18/can-you-be-a-buddhist-christian/

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