Christianity and Buddhism: Building Bridges ~ Guest Post by Pastor Carness Vaughan

A thangka gifted by the Dalai Lama to Fr. Laurence Freeman depicting a Tibetan nativity scene

 

[I would like to thank Carness Vaughan, Senior Pastor of the Central Arkansas Methodist Church of Rogers AK, for this installment of guest posts on Perceptions of Buddhist Practice. Click here for some more Christian/Buddhist links).  It seems that I’m on a Christian kick this month, maybe May will be a month devoted to Buddhist posts.  Either way, read and engage with compassion and honesty.  Feel free to check out some past guest posts here. ~ The Management]

My name is Carness Vaughan, and I’m the Senior Pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Rogers, Arkansas.  Over the last few weeks, I have been preaching a series of sermons on Christianity and World Religions, based on Adam Hamilton’s book entitled, (you guessed it), Christianity and World Religions.  Each week I am giving some background to a particular world religion, the basic beliefs of the religion (and how they compare/contrast to Christianity), and then some bridges for connecting the two.  This past Sunday I dealt with Buddhism, and John has graciously offered to allow me to share a little of my viewpoint here.  I’d like to focus on the bridges, as I believe that will be the most helpful.

These bridges are opportunities for Christians to be in conversation with our Buddhist friends, neighbors, and co-workers.  Too often Christians have burned bridges with people of other faiths through words of judgment and moral superiority.  We must be willing to admit that, and I am sorry that has happened in the past.  I believe the Bible teaches us to instead build bridges through words of respect and kindness, even when we come to issues of disagreement.   The Apostle Paul in the Bible is real clear about this point, when writing about how to interact with those who are not Christians:  “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive, so that you will have the right response for everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)  So, what are the two bridges we covered last week in worship?

  1. Acknowledgment of Attachment:  We can learn a lot from our Buddhist brothers and sisters about being too attached to things that do not matter.  We spend far too much time and money trying to keep up with the Jones’ and making sure we have the biggest and the best of everything.  The iPhone is a great example of this; I have an iPhone, and I love it.  It works fine, and it does everything I need it to do.  So why do I start drooling when I see that the next version of the iPhone is coming out?  I don’t need it, I shouldn’t be spending my money on it, but there’s a part of me that really wants it!  Jesus reminds us in Luke 14, “Life is not measured by how much you own.”  Buddhists do a much better job of realizing this fact, and we can certainly learn from them on this point.
  2. The Issue of Suffering:  This is where Christians and Buddhists differ.  We believe that God wants us to be attached to the things in life that really matter – we are called to love God and love others with everything we’ve got, every ounce of our being.  We’re called to seek out and serve, to give and forgive, to live and love others just as God loves us.  That lifestyle will inevitably lead to suffering, whether it be through sickness or death, pain or rejection. God’s promise is not that suffering will not occur; His promise is that we are never alone.  He walks with us through the valleys of life (Ps.23:4, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me”).  There’s a great song by Martina McBride that really hits home here.  It’s called Anyway, and here are just a part of the lyrics:

This world’s gone crazy; it’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be better than today.  Believe it anyway.
You can love someone with all your heart for all the right reasons

In a moment they can choose to walk away; love ’em anyway
God is great but sometimes life ain’t good
And when I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway; yeah – I do it anyway.

We believe that God’s love is most powerfully seen in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived, suffered, died, and was raised from the dead.  Jesus came to show us a new way of living, a way where we love as he loved, live as he lived, serve as he served, and forgive as he forgave.  We came to give us life; a life of joy, grace, and abundance here on this earth and a life everlasting with the Father in the next. 

As we Christians seek to be in relationship with and have conversation with Buddhists, it’s my goal that we can do so in these two ways – being grateful for a chance to reevaluate the way we get attached to our “stuff,” and sharing what we believe about God’s presence with us in the midst of the difficulties of life.  I hope this has been helpful, and I would love to continue the conversation anytime.  I realize I speak about Buddhism as an outsider, and so I may need some correction in some areas.  As I am preaching these sermons, I am trying to do so with the thought, “Would I say this if there was a Buddhist here in the congregation today?”  I don’t want to make light of, fun of, or belittle anyone’s faith.  If you get an opportunity to watch the sermon on the website, I’d love some feedback, either on what Buddhists believe or how it comes across.  Thanks again for this opportunity; I realize this is long for a blog post, so I hope you’ve been able to stay with me here to the end.  Take care, and God bless.

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13 thoughts on “Christianity and Buddhism: Building Bridges ~ Guest Post by Pastor Carness Vaughan

  1. I get the impression that Mr. Vaughan’s purpose in building this bridge is to be able to preach the gospel to Buddhists. This impression stems from the history and present behavior of that which is self-identified as Christianity, and from certain key words in his writing, like “sharing” — which has a specific meaning in Pauline, evangelical Christianity.

    I suppose he means it as a kindness.

    Anyway, to address the content of his piece: what a Buddhist “thinks” or “believes” is profoundly uninteresting. Buddhism is practice.

  2. Pastor Vaughan,

    “We believe that God’s love is most powerfully seen in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived, suffered, died, and was raised from the dead. Jesus came to show us a new way of living, a way where we love as he loved, live as he lived, serve as he served, and forgive as he forgave. We came to give us life; a life of joy, grace, and abundance here on this earth and a life everlasting with the Father in the next. ”

    Nearly every Buddhist born in the U.S. has heard comments like this. We cannot escape learning Christianity; you and your fellow Christians, have the privilege to learn, or not learn, about our practice. (And although faith plays a role in our lives, too, we’re very much focused on teachings as practiced in our lives, not having a certain set of beliefs about life.)

    One thing I have to say is challenging is that so many Christians who say they want to make connections and have dialogue actually just want to make conversions. It’s not enough to want to talk; you have to let go of having an agenda of being right and getting more followers to truly have a dialogue.

    I appreciate that you are taking the time to actually examine Buddhism, and to draw some parallels, as well as see the differences between Christianity and Buddhism.

    Buddhism, though, is about much more than attachment to stuff. I’d really invite you to check out the list of blogs John has, which give a gateway into the diversity of our practice and teachings.

  3. LOL@ Possibly related posts “Toyota Lawnmower recall”

    I suppose a misconception I see quite a bit, and one that I myself fell victim to is how the Buddha viewed attachment. It is my understanding that when the Buddha spoke of non-attachment, he wasn’t talkng about becoming detached from anything. He was talking about how we perceive ourselves and the world around us as existing in a fixed state, and that our forcing ourselves to attempt to grasp at an attach to these “fixed states” (which are non-existent) is what causes our suffering. It is because we are ignorant of the impermenance of reality that we suffer. Once we realize that “we” exist in a state that is in constant flux, we can experience present, fresh wakefulness and love unconditionally.

    Or maybe I’m way off base.

    Cheers.

    • I can go with that. I tend to hear that we are “detached” from our surroundings but in reality, I feel as you do, that attachment is an aftereffect of not understanding impermenance. But that seems to be a “big picture” sort of view. On the smaller scale, I think there is a case to make about the grasping or yearning for things.

      Well, Toyota may be releasing a new “Zen” Lawnmower.

      • Yeah, it might be semantics, but there is a difference between non-attachment, and detachment, and I think that’s where outsiders seem to get tripped up.

        My problem with it is that there exists the preception that we all just want to be these weird, self-centered people who want to detach from reality and are basically nihlisits.

        When in reality, we’re just weird people.

  4. I was interested in this topic because, as a Christian with an interest in Buddhism, I had recently reflected on some of these issues as well:

    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/04/reflections-on-craving-babies-bottle-girls-and-catholic-priests/

    I agree with some of the above that Pastor Vaughn’s approach seems to miss a genuine opportunity. For instance, it’s far too easy to see attachment as greed or lust or envy. But that would be mistaken. As I understand it, attachment is largely a physical process, which is why it leads to birth, becoming, suffering, and death. In other words, all attempts to make permanent the impermanent are instances of attachment. So, in a real sense, the belief that Jesus Christ saves us once and for all and grants us eternal life is a primary instance of attachment. To confront Buddhism seriously is to confront the fact that this central doctrine of Christian teaching is incompatible with Buddhist teaching.

    I was more interested in my post on revising our notions of sin from the perspective of the Buddhist concept of craving. I do think that the prevalent doctrine of salvation often misses the point about what is truly trying about sin. (I argue it’s the principle reason why the Catholic church was so inept at dealing with sex abuse.) Buddhism can remind Christians that salvation is not a one-time event, it’s an ongoing practice. Or, the way I put it, a life of benefit and well-being begins with grace. In other words, salvation makes life possible. It’s not the goal, it’s just a reminder of what is already the case: God loves us.

  5. I think Pastor Vaughan should read this:
    http://buddhism.about.com/b/2010/04/23/the-continued-pernicious-influence-of-sloppy-translating.htm

    and some other Buddhist texts.

    And this: “This is where Christians and Buddhists differ. We believe that God wants us to be attached to …”

    OK, so you assert that the two are different, but then go on to preach Christianity, with nothing about Buddhism. How do they differ? You’ve told us nothing about your interpretation of Buddhism on this matter, just Christian dogma.

    John, I have to admit I am disappointed. Your posts are (almost) always informative. I know there are more learned people writing on this topic that you could have picked.

    • Hi Pam,

      I acknowledge your dissapointment and am sorry that this guest post didn’t (almost) satisfy you. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

      Let me explain how I do guest posts. I occassionally come across interesting people (on Twitter, FB, other blogs) that I think may have something pertinent to say concerning their perceptions of Buddhist practice, Dharma, etc. I ask them if they are interested in writing something. 1 out of 10 actually end up showing interest for me (or even talking to me) and I am full of thanks to them for taking the time and effort to engage. Some have asked that I close comments and I refuse. A few want me to moderate comments and again I refuse. I do not edit nor really provide much guidance for the make up of the post (sometimes I make loose suggestions).

      I admit that a Christian perspective is a difficult one since the conversation can possibly trend toward evangelizing or condescending blubber. If you have suggestions of interested people then feel free to let me know.

      But in the end I just want to see honest discussion and to be fair, I think it would be tough to have a discussion of Buddhism and Christianity without some dogma popping up.

      Thank you very much for your comment. You can always let me know when a post dissappoints for whatever reason.

      Cheers,

      John

      PS. Please feel free to send topics you would like to see posted. I try to update daily and it is such a challenge to keep it going at times! I would love suggestions and love the honest input. The fact that you feel so strongly hints to me that this blog is something engaging for others as it is for me. And that makes me feel good.

      And as a quick teaser ~ a few possible future contributors include a South American Vajrayana practitioner, A Zen priest, a British SGI practitioner, a Christian Pastor (yes another), A Sri Lankan 20s Lay-Buddhist, two twin atheist volleyball players and a man that believes himself to be Jesus Christ.

      I can honestly say that I have no idea if any will come through.

  6. I love the intention, but of course it turned into blah blah yada yada… It’s too bad really, we could have had a real conversation.

  7. Here’s an off-the-wall thought for you, Rev. Vaughan: if you’re interested in Buddhist/Christian dialog, why not invite a Buddhist to do the talking? You acknowledge yourself that you’re not qualified to do so, y’know.

  8. Hey, has anyone read this ‘Blake-Feyerabend Hypothesis’? It’s by some Australian Philosopher called Timb Hoswell. It’s meant to put an end to the Religion vs Atheist debate, the conflict between Buddhism and Christianity, and like begin some sort of new age of Post-Atheism/ Post-Religion or something.

    I just want to know where I can get a copy?

    T.

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