Coming to terms with Christianity from a Buddhist perspective

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Coming to terms with Christianity from a Buddhist perspective

Post by FiveSkandhas »

I was born into a Christian family and while my family was fairly non-religious, I did pick up the habit of praying to "God."

And by habit, I mean habit. There is something almost obsessive-compulsive about my compunction to pray to a vague monotheistic "God". Even after 33 years of Buddhism.

There are a number of ways I have tried to reconcile Buddhism and this vague "primative childhood monotheism." First of all it's not theoretical for me the way the Dharma is; there is no Biblical belief, no complex Christian theology involved. It's just that prayer is kind of "jerked out of me." I think of it as something that comes from the heart, not the head. Buddhism on the other hand is something that comes from both my heart and my head.

I used to say, "I don't believe in God, but I can't stop praying to Him," and that captures the major flavor of it for me.

So how do I reconcile the two?

Mostly I just don't. I just don't think about it much. I work on my Buddhist practice, and sometimes I find myself praying to a being called "God."

One intellectual strategy would be to consider the Abrahamic God as a kind of Deva. Or, if this somehow doesn't seem exalted enough, one could think of it as an equivalent to the Dharmadatu or the Tathagatagharba. But I feel if you get too theoretical about it, it presents problems of a technical and ultimately neurotic sort.

Then there is what I call the "Japanese Gambit." About 60 million Japanese people call themselves "Both Shinto and Buddhist." Technically, on the level of haute theology, the two systems as they are currently configured are not really comparable. (This can be seen in that Japan's Imperial Family has been officially "purely Shinto and Non-Buddhist" since the late 1800s).

However, do these 60 million Japanese Shinto-Buddhists care about the nuances of theology? Not at all. They just do Buddhist rituals when it's that time to do that, and stop off at the neighborhood shrine to pray or do other Shinto rituals when it's that time to do that. The dimension is one of action and praxis, not theory or "belief".

In other words, conceptual discrepancies are simply ignored.

That's sort of how I've treated my urges to pray vis a vis my chosen path of Mahayana Buddhism. They sort of take place for me on two non-intersecting planes.

But soon my relationship with Buddhism may deepen. After all these years of informal lay practice I may be ordaining as a true monk (僧侶) here in Japan, where I have lived most of my life. This means robes, shaved head, vows, and more serious doctrinal study and perhaps the giving of formal dharma talks, officiating at rituals, etc.

So if I become a formally ordained monk or advance to the level of Priest, I think it's important I find some doctrinal way to square these odd monotheistic...impulses. A Buddhist priest or monk is a Buddhist, with binding vows and liturgical responsibilities.

(Continued below)
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Re: Coming to terms with Christianity from a Buddhist perspective

Post by FiveSkandhas »

(continued from above)

I came across the following passage in the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra. It is spoken by Shakyamuni, the World-Honored One:
"...I have adapted myself to innumerable transforma-
tions to lead all beings, either intelligent or ignorant, to
righteousness and truth by all means. Although I have
tried my utmost to convert the erring ones from this world
of sufferings, I could see that there might be one or two out
of every ten who are still sinful. I ask you to seek transfor-
mations of other Buddhas to convert them in all possible
ways and means. There are without doubt intelligent ones
who are likely to be converted after my preaching and
attain Buddhahood by my persuasion to practise good
deeds, but unintelligent wrong-doers can only be con-
verted after a lengthy period of preaching. For the stub-
born ones, it is useless to expect any respect or faith from
them. In spite of all the obstacles, I had endeavoured to
convert these miserable creatures and lead them to real
Salvation by performing different transformations. I per-
formed transformation as males, females, devas, spirits,
devils, mountains, forests, streams, rivers, pools or any-
thing to bring benefit upon human beings and to convert
them all without any exception. Again, I transformed into
Kings or Emperors of Heavens, Brahmans or Rulers of Con-
tinents, followers of the Buddha, Kings of countries, Prime Ministers, officials of high ranks, Bhikkhus or Bhikkhunis,
Upasakas, Upasikas, Saravakas, Arahats, Pacceka Buddhas
or Bodhisattvas to convert mankind. Not only did I convert
people in the form of the Buddha, but you should recollect
how strenuously I have lived from kalpas to kalpas with
unremitting toil to convert even stubborn beings to Salva-
An alternative translation includes even more of Shakyamuni's transformations, and in this list it includes, among others, "men and women, ghosts and gods..."



I wonder if it would be possible to view my "involuntary prayer" as the influence of a transformed Buddha, using skillful means (upaya) to reach me. In such a way I could come to think of the "God" I pray to as a transformation of a Buddha.

I wonder if this is feasible.

One thing I would be unhealthy to "choke off" or "surpress" this primal urge to pray that has been with me since childhood. Rather, I must subsume it within Buddhism somehow, I feel, and turn the natural fervor from the heart into a more fully integrated form of Dharma practice.

Or would this be me just lying to myself?

Any thoughts, speculations, etc. welcome.
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Re: Coming to terms with Christianity from a Buddhist perspective

Post by Nicholas »

The Deva-God approach seems a very suitable skillful means. Buddha suggested the six recollections for meditation and one part is mediation on the wonderful qualities of devas. And since Buddha recognized a supreme Deva who leads all the others, that one is God.

Plus there are several other sutra passages that say a buddha or bodhisattva will appear or manifest as any sort of being or quality or presence that will help one. Thus your prayer to "God" will reach and be responded from either Buddha or some Mahasattva or the Deva of Devas. That latter term is one of the titles of Buddha.
Truth is against the stream of common thought, deep, subtle, difficult, delicate, unseen by passion’s slaves cloaked in the murk of ignorance. Vipassī Buddha
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Brahma Das
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Re: Coming to terms with Christianity from a Buddhist perspective

Post by Brahma Das »

God is Love in the Flesh as said in the Bible. Those specific beings that manifest themselves in the Flesh as that Love come as Buddhas, as Christs, as Prophets, as Bodhisattvas, as Servants and as Rulers of Entire Universes. But the constant in them is that they are all Awakened to Buddhahood. God is Buddha, simply said, and the narrative of the modern Christian Bible is that of a Son and a Father in a Divine parentage by which they are both One, both are Father and Son, and are both Buddhas, with distinct personalities and boundaries as living Divinity, in Heaven and Emanated down to earth. Two people that are One in the most healthy way, just through an honest Loving connection.

The best solution is to follow this method: The purpose of Christianity is to create Christs, not Christians, and the purpose of Buddhism is to create Buddhas, not Buddhists. Universal Love envelops the truth of that statement. Don’t ever give up on true practice to fit a mold. You will succeed higher than the highest Pure Land into the Heart of the Truest Love, because you are a part of God that will never fail you. Namaste. From where even the Pure Lands get their Grace. :heart:

Praise the Lord, Amen.
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