Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Learning from Buddhism

What can Christians and other non-Buddhists learn from Buddhist meditative practice?
Many things, as Thomas Merton showed fifty years ago in his writings about Zen, as Richard Rohr and others suggest today--without becoming Buddhists.

I remain very much a beginner in Buddhist practice and derive most of my insights here from the recent (Sept. 7) post by Richard Rohr, who says our "deepest, truest reality" is our oneness with God.

Although he didn't use the term 'mindfulness,' Merton brought the ancient Christian contemplative tradition into the 20th century by emphasizing inner silence, solitude, and attention to the sacrament of the present moment, or what has been called the power of now.  His work and those who have followed him (John Main, Thomas Keating, James Finley, et al.) remind us that the goals of Buddhists are different from those of Christians, but they have much in common.

Being mindful and living mindfully, with full attention to the presence of God in the present moment, is the key mystical element that links the two traditions, Western and Eastern.  It is a unitive, non-dualistic approach that replaces dualism--body vs. soul, man vs. the planet, good vs. evil, and God "up there" vs. people "down here"--with an awareness that all things are one.  To live and move and have our being in God is to know that we are not separate from God.

Romano Guardini (cited by Finley and others) articulated in a memorable way the non-dualistic, unitive nature of this mystical experience. "Although I am not God, I am not other than God either, " Guardini wrote.  From this we can say, although I am not you, I am not other than you; although I am not the earth, I am not other than the earth.

The implications of this way of unitive thinking are enormous: we are all connected to one another, to creation, and to God, however alone we might feel.   Without losing our individuality, we exist also in relation to and with others. How then can we hate our neighbors?

In Catholic thinking, the human person is not just an individual, with freedom and rights; he or she does not find complete fulfillment until he or she lives in relationship with others. In other words, we live in relation to others in pursuit of the common good, that which benefits all, not just the isolated individual.

So, simplifying a complex topic, I would say Buddhist practice and Christian contemplation share the goal of seeking unity with God in the present moment. The effect of such a spirituality not only benefits me but reminds me of my connection with others.  I am unique yet also united with the suffering of my fellow man.

So the way I relate to myself affects how I relate to others and the world we share and, ultimately, how I relate to God.

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