Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Buddhism and Christianity

Buddhists teach impermanence and “no soul”. Christians proclaim resurrection and immortality. These are opposites. If one is right, is the other wrong, or do they somehow describe the same spiritual reality with different conceptual systems?

When I asked this in Lancaster Serene Reflection Meditation Group (Soto Zen), I was reminded first that there are different Buddhists and different Christians. Secondly, Buddhism is philosophical and all the evidence that we can see supports impermanence. After this preliminary discussion, the monk visiting the group replied that, if any Christians teach (i) that there definitely is a permanent realm, (ii) that we can enter that realm simply by believing that it is there and (iii) that we do not need to do anything else/work on ourselves/cleanse our karma, then he would say that their teaching is delusional.

This specific and satisfying response leaves room for dialogue with the seeking of common ground and the clarification of disagreements between Buddhists and other Christians. Some Evangelicals believe that anyone who has been “saved” or “born again” cannot then be lost or damned even if he tortures and commits genocide. God will somehow punish him, maybe just by making him feel guilty, but he is nevertheless guaranteed salvation immediately after death. Other Christians believe that it is their responsibility to maintain their state of grace and to work towards moral perfection albeit with God’s help since human effort alone is ineffective.

I suggest the following common ground: human action cannot overcome our alienation from reality. Differences: Christianity – reality is a person, we can respond to his action; Buddhism – reality is impersonal, we can contemplate it. (Contemplation is not action but cessation of unnecessary mental action.)

Christians pray and try to live appropriately. Buddhists meditate and try to live appropriately. Both groups recognize that they have not yet resolved all their issues but also believe that they are approaching resolution.


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