Each Faith Enhances the Other
The question strikes me as being, at its conclusion, overly heavy-handed—“true to the laws of the God of Abraham”!
If the question were simply worded — “Can a Christian, Muslim or Jew embrace eastern spiritual practices…and remain true to their respective religious traditions?” — I could answer simply, “Why, yes, certainly!”
Plenty of Christians and Jews have embraced or, at least, employed eastern spiritual practices and these latter practices have enhanced the experience of their own personal faith traditions, not upset, or debased, or distorted them.
The overall health benefits of yoga are well known. Buddhist meditative exercises I believe can help one to better experience and put into practice certain principles and virtues whether they be Christian, Muslim or Jewish.
The contemplative and activist, Thomas Merton, knew this and it is confirmed in his Asian Journals. Sylvia Boorstein, whose book That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist, traces her spiritual journey from Judaism to Buddhism and back again to a stronger Judaism, knows it.
And the Dalai Lama often advises that people of all faiths should feel free to use Buddhist meditative techniques without leaving their own traditions. In other words, Buddhist meditation has the potential to enhance one’s spiritual practice whatever that central practice is.
There is a fairly long-standing Christian-Buddhist Dialogue. One of its representatives, Reuben Habito, author of Living Zen, Loving God, has been called “an authentic practitioner of both Christianity and Zen.” Born in the Philippines, Habito studied as a Jesuit priest in Japan and then trained under a renowned Zen master. His book, while aimed at Christians, discusses the many commonalities he sees between the two religions and suggests that his Zen practice helped him to expand his experience of Christ.
Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has counseled that we “ought not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.”
And, again, the current Dalai Lama has said in Many Ways to Nirvana: Reflections and Advice on Right Living, that “a sense of caring, commitment, discipline, oneness with humanity—these are very relevant in today’s world.
I call this secular ethics, and this is the first level to counter negative emotions. The second level in this connection is taught by all major religious traditions, whether Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu. They all carry the message of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment, and discipline.”
Rather than use this On Faith forum about religious dialogue as fuel for political arguments or conflicts, wouldn’t it be better to use it to discuss our common spiritual ground?
It seems to me that we have come full circle. We began this blogging project wanting to instigate and encourage dialogue among different voices and faith communities. Many of the commenters on those blogs have been angry ones, unwilling actually to engage in dialogue and seemingly unable to hear another side/view. Were all parties listeners as well as negative debaters and cynics (though there were a number of hopeful and helpful responses to be sure) we might have accomplished so much more.
If none of what I have said above moves you, we might consider this: a young African American woman once told me that she thought of Christian prayer as “asking something of/from God” while she could see that Buddhist meditation offered “the means to hear His answer.” Makes good sense to me.
We Must…Become as Empty Vessels
Many people — often people who consider themselves to be quite “religious” — believe that they have a monopoly on truth. Such a belief, however, can clearly be seen to limit one’s flexibility and ability to learn.
It greatly hampers even the possiblity for one to listen deeply to what is being said. Without such listening capability, no genuine dialogue can be had or progress made. A closed mind cannot open to hear another opinion. The late Zen master Shunryu Suzuki once said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” An “expert” believes (s)he already has the answers; why, then, listen to other views? But we would be better served to consider ourselves “beginners,” that is, with something more to learn. In fact, such a beginner’s attitude is a desideratum for learning anything at all.
No real benefit can derive from having made up one’s mind before a dialogue even begins, though I recognize how much easier this is “said than done.” We usually listen only to hear our own opinions echoed. Not hearing that, we don’t hear anything at all.
In order to engage in meaningful dialogue we must come to the table respecting all participants equally and then we must do something that is quite difficult indeed: we must ourselves become as empty vessels, ready and available to receive. If we can’t do this, we might as well not enter into discussion at all. To do so is only pretense.