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Buddha Made Me a Better Christian

Today many of us find ourselves hyphenated. We are feminist catholics, gay catholics, ethnic catholics, social justice catholics, and of course Roman or Episcopal or Lutheran catholics,you name it. I invite you hyphenated people to share your experiences.

Fallible leads off with his reflections on being a catholic buddhist. Buddhism today is a way many Christians have discovered a spirituality that enables us to move along the path from ignorance to enlightenment or in our words from sin to grace. I hope my own adventures will be helpful as you grow your own spiritual path.

Fallible’s Adventures in the Buddha Lands -

Part One - yoga

Thomas Merton said that the greatest spiritual event of the 21st century would be the marriage of Christianity and Buddhism. I once attended a conference on Buddhism and Christianity. I was surprised to find that many of the Asians were Christians just as many of the Westerners were buddhists.

Today many of us identify as both Christian and Buddhist. Our encounter with Buddhism has re-invigorated Christian spirituality. Our own spiritual tradition was forgotten until Buddhism re-awakened it.

Thanks to our encounter with Buddhism Western spirituality has once again found a voice. Today we can practice Centering Prayer, learn from John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, or take up the Jesus prayer from Eastern Christiantiy. None of this was available when I entered seminary.

But I didn’t begin my spiritual quest with Buddhism but with yoga. I became a Catholic during the Second Vatican Council. It seemed as though everything was made new again. But something was missing.

Today we are awash in different spiritualities. But back in the 60s we never even thought about spirituality. The word was not in our vocabulary during my training.

Around the time of my conversion I discovered yoga. Looking back I was searching for some kind of spiritual experience. Yoga seemed ideal: it was exotic, and it would also provide a way for me something to pray with my body.

Christianity has had a hard time coming to grips with the fullness of the Incarnation. We believe that God took on human flesh. But then we try our best to leave that body behind. Many Christians are more Platonic than Christian. Plato claimed that we are stuck here in exile. After death we will be released from our bodies and become pure spirit. And that theme gets taken up in the Salve Regina as we weep and sigh in this world of tears.

But Christianity does not believe in the immortality of the soul. Instead we look for the resurrection of the body. It will not be cast off so we better take another look at how our bodies can help us move along the spiritual path.

Just consider our body in prayer. The best most of us can do is make the sign of the cross or finger our rosary beads.

The sacraments allow us to encounter God in human form touching our lives. But even there the church has recoiled from the raw flesh of the sacrament.

We sprinkle a little drop of water and call it baptism whereas the fullness of baptism consists of being pushed under the water and lifted up three times. No need to explain that it is about death and resurrection when it is celebrated in its fullness.

Consider the Eucharist. It takes more faith to believe the host is bread than it does to believe it is God. And for centuries we withheld the wine from the people for fear it should be spilled.

In reaction to the Reformation catholicism became ashamed of its incarnational character. In the Middle Ages bishops danced down the church aisle with their deacons. Can you even begin to picture that today?

Yoga was a way for me to bring my body into my spirituality. It was important for me as well because it was the least developed aspect of my being. I was an egghead and operated out of my head. With my head in the clouds I was constantly tripping over my feet. Yoga would help me move my center down out of my head and into my body.

I found a wonderful book to help me integrate yoga with my newfound catholicism. A French Benedictine monk DeChanet’s book Chrisitan Yoga not only introduced me to various asanas (postures) but also allowed me to integrate it into my Christian faith.

On Sunday, February 14 at 10:15 AM, Paulist Father Dick Chilson will lead a class on Buddhism and Christianity in the Paulist Center. All are welcome!

Check back back for part 2!

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