Jason wrote: ↑
Fri Aug 22, 2014 1:52 am
I hate to admit it (both because of the critical things I've said about Christianity in the past as well as because of the criticism I'll potentially receive by some Buddhists presently), but I've recently find myself comparing aspects of Christianity and Buddhism and finding them less antagonistic than I once did, greatly expanding my understanding and appreciation of the former, particularly the more contemplative and mystical aspects relating to living a spiritual life.
In The Seven Storey Mountain
, for example, Thomas Merton writes about seeing his father in the hospital near the end of his life and the suffering he experienced, a suffering characteristic of people 'without faith' in the presence of war, disease, pain, starvation, suffering, plague, bombardment, and death” (91), which immediately reminded of the first noble truth: “Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering — in short, suffering is the five categories of clinging objects” (SN 56.11
Later on, when describing his month-long attempt to devote himself to St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises
, he recollects that he was mildly appalled by St. Ignatius' notion of indifference to all created things in themselves: “Wherefore it is necessary that we make ourselves indifferent to all created things, in so far as it is permitted to our free will…in such a way that, as far as we are concerned, we should not desire health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than ignominy, a long life rather than a short life, and so on, desiring and choosing only these things which more efficaciously lead us to the end for which we were created” (294). Which is strikingly similar to the Buddha's teachings on the middle way between sensual indulgence and self-mortification and dispassion towards the conditioned.
Even one of the more controversial teachings of the Buddha, that of anatta
or not-self, has it's parallels in Christianity. Merton speaks of the inescapable anguish arising from of the “shame at the inescapable stigma of our sins” as long as there's any self-love left in us, that, “Only when all pride, all self-love has been consumed in our souls by the love of God, are we delivered from the things which is the subject of those torments” (323). And in the book In the Spirit of Happiness
by the monks of New Skete, while discussing the real meaning of asceticism and some of the more 'negative' sounding passages in the New Testament like Mark 8:34-35
and John 12:24-25
, they mention that:
- "Dying to self" is spiritual shorthand for rooting out all manner of exaggerated self-interest, characteristics of ourselves that constrict us in narcissism and blind self-centeredness. This is the self within us that, while all too real, is what nonetheless must due, the "false self," which must gives way to the new life we are called to attain. The false self embodies the very characteristics we loathe in our better moments. Were we to look at ourselves honestly, we would see how petty, thoughtless, and loveless we can be at any given moment. We might have an occasional, fleeting insight that we will never attain any real happiness unless we come to terms with what really counts in life. One doesn't have to search far to find pathetic examples of individuals who struck it rich by the standards of "the world," yet whose personal lives were utterly miserable. (86)
Both of which I think are apt descriptions of the proper use of the teachings on not-self, albeit in Christian terminology—an approach that's quite similar to the way Thanissaro Bhikkhu approaches the teachings on not-self in his short book Selves & Not-selves
I'd say that what 'dies' during awakening in the Buddhist context is a self built on, or influenced by, ignorance and the defilements of greed, hatred, and delusion; and what's left is a mind that's liberated, unbound, freed from grasping and self-centeredness, and expressive of love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Nibbana
, then, isn't a kind of annihilation or state of nothingness as I think many mistakenly believe it to be based upon the numerous 'negative' references as to what it's not; it's the experience of the fullness of life free from the suffering that arise from clinging.
Where God fits into this, I can't say for certain; but it's interesting that nibbana, the final goal of the path to liberation, and which is ineffable and beyond concepts and language, is described as in terms like the deathless, the unborn, the unbecome, the unmade, the unfabricated. And the Dhamma that the Buddha teaches should be our island, our refuge, and which his teachings point towards, is none other than the laws of nature, the reality of things are they truly are, truth. If that's not an apt definition of God, I don't know what is.
I suppose that in Christianity, I see these ideas presented from a more revelatory point of view, arising out of a peculiar Semitic culture (and later, Greco-Roman), replete with its own religious traditions and worldviews in which they're framed. And in Buddhism, I see these ideas presented from a more philosophical and/or empirical point of view, arising out a peculiar Indic culture, replete with its own religious traditions and worldview in which they're framed.