19 January 2017
My admiration for Buddhism does not contradict my Christian faith
Although Buddhism has been one of the greatest passions of my life, I almost never talk about it. Few of my colleagues are aware that my first research degree was in Buddhist philosophy. Few of my Christian friends are aware that my first religious practice was Zen.
My reticence stems from the way contemporary Western culture constructs Buddhism. The reaction of one of my students to an undergraduate course I taught was typical. “But when are we going to study Buddhism?” “This is a course in Christian thought. We won’t be looking at Buddhism.” Her face fell. “But I’m only interested in Buddhism.”
Buddhism for most of us in the West has a glow of mystery and romance about it. It possesses an exotic, mystical appeal that we do not sense in our own religious heritage. This effect is multiplied by the perception that in Buddhism, “You don’t have to believe anything” – it is simply a practice, floating blissfully free of any binding claims to which we might have to subscribe. Popular Buddhist leaders contribute to this perception, as in the Dalai Lama’s comment: “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” For the dogma-phobic culture of the post-1960s generation and liberally educated youth, Buddhism spells liberation from the straitjacket of doctrine.
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