Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Thank you, Kenneth. Your comment has been a breath of fresh air to me.
I sometimes feel like an assumption is made that because I'm both Buddhist and Quaker, I deny Jesus's relevance or am ignorant of him. The truth is that this is the first year in 6 that I haven't started reading the New Testament on Christmas with the intent of finishing it by Easter. (I'm taking the year off because I think I need to come at the NT with some "new eyes".) I've read the Bible--as a whole.
I am very much a fan of Jesus's. I think the world would be a better place with more people like him. The reason I usually don't identify as a Christian is I am not sure of my beliefs about the Resurrection, which is very much--as you well know--integral to most Christians.
You wrote: "nor am I claiming that Jesus is the only way to salvation." But remember that Christ himself claimed that "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, if not through me." If we are his followers, even his Friends, should we be ashamed of his words?
Of course, Friends believe that Christ does provide everyone with light sufficient to lead them to salvation, if they follow him, even if they have never heard of him outwardly.
Here are my thoughts on that quote from John:
Greetings Friends, I know I am a little late in a reply to this topic but I do feel a leading to share with you all on this. To be a Buddhist Quaker is really saying that you are anything but a Conservative Quaker. I do not say this in anyway to offend folk on here that see themselves as such but in truth it is impossible. We only need to look at scripture and writings of Friends back in the 1650s onwards to know that the two world views are way apart from each other. Our tradition as Conservative Friends is steeped in a knowledge and presence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of our faith, all else is just secondary to this truth. When we feel a need to take on another world view to somehow prop up our Quaker world view, I worry that we may not have understood the all encompassing gift that was given to us through Christ, which is life, and not just this one, but salvation that brings us to eternal life. Jesus told us He is the way, truth and the life and all that come to Him have eternal life. No other has made the claims He has made, we need look no further than Him. As far as gaining insight from other world views I can see many benefits. I have a couple of close friends who are both Apache and Lakota and live a traditional life. Over the last forty years I have gained many insights from both these cultures but in no way do I see myself as an Apache or Lakota Quaker, its just not possible because there are very fundamental differences, one of the greatest being neither recognise the truth of the Christian message, being the truth of Christ. Can Buddhists, Apaches, Lakota and all other people of different religious beliefs come to a belief in Christ while seeking through their own religious world view, yes, I believe they can even if they don't realise it is Christ in the Christian context who they have found. But why would we, who know the truth in Christ through our Conservative Quaker religious world view feel we need to attach another religious world view to our own to somehow make it better? By all means let's learn from other sources of good religious thoughts but let's also keep in mind we have the full Truth which is in and through Christ, shown to us from the
beginning. As Conservative Friends we do what our name suggests, we "conserve" the old Quaker beliefs which in truth is primitive Christianity as our Creator laid out for us. We do not need to add another idea to our full Truth to make it better. These are my feelings Friends, and I in no way intend to offend anyone with them. I would end in saying we are told that Christ is sufficient for all our needs. The truth is, Jesus is the way and the only way to eternal life, so we are told in scripture. Sorry Friends if I have rambled on but I do pray it is helpful in some way.
Shane, I just wanted to thank you for your thoughts and your testament. Amen--Christ is sufficient, and we have indeed been blessed with the full and complete Truth through him.
I also find the Five Remembrances to be a profoundly helpful contemplations. I have used them for many years.
I question, though, your statement that the Buddhadharma holds no view of an afterlife. I think that is a very recent, and specifically Western, invention. Rebirth is a major topic in all Buddhist scriptures; including the Theravada, Mahayana, and the Vajrayana. It is difficult to go for more than three pages without rebirth being mentioned or implied. An entire section of the Buddhist Canon, the Jataka Tales, is devoted to the previous lives of the Buddha.
In many ways rebirth is the dominant view of the ordinary Buddhist in traditional Buddhist cultures. Westerners tend to take a very cerebral approach to Buddhism, but in traditional Buddhist cultures laypeople go to the temple, make offerings, attend lectures, etc., for the purpose of acquiring merit and the purpose of acquiring merit is to obtain a better rebirth next time around. The largest yearly celebration of East Asian Buddhism (Ullambana, or in Japanese Obon) has the purpose of generating large quanitites of merit which can then be transferred to one's ancestors so that one's ancestors can also obtain a better rebirth in the future.
Pure Land Buddhism is the numerically largest Buddhist tradition in East Asia; it dwarfs the number of adherents to Zen or any other tradition. The purpose of this tradition is to attain rebirth in Amitabha's (Buddha of infinite light and life) Pure Land, a land of bliss where it is possible to practice the Buddhadharma and become enlightened.
I do not know of any Buddhist tradition where rebirth is not a central teaching and reality. Again, the idea that one can have Buddhism without rebirth is very, very recent; I would say in the last 20 to 30 years, and it is a view that one finds primarily in the West, and among Asians influenced by western secularism. But it is a completely ahistorical interpretation and does not represent the view held by countless of ordinary Buddhists today, or any (and I do mean any) Buddhist teaching from the past.
Bree and Jim are both right ; )
One huge thing Jesus and the Buddha have in common is that they each taught a really good chapter, and then their followers, and the followers of their followers have added books and books and books of teachings onto the original and it is all now thought of as Christianity and Buddhism.
The Buddha himself never set out to create an all encompassing religion. Nor did he ever promise to save anyone's soul, or bring them to a heaven. He taught 'awakening', the process of letting go of our illusions and seeing life as it is.
He saw that some of our suffering is just the pain itself, for example the pain of a broken leg. Much of our suffering, however, is mental suffering that comes not from a situation but from our ideas about it. Why did I have to have a broken leg? Oh poor me...now I can't ride my bicycle, now I can't dance, maybe my leg will heal crooked and I'll limp and no one will ever want to date me again because I'm this homely person with a limp and why did I have to have a broken leg when none of my friends have a broken leg...ooooh poor poor me.....
The first kind of suffering is unavoidable. The second kind is strictly optional, and if you don't like suffering you can choose more productive ways of thinking and not have that suffering.
As the Buddha's teachings were carried from India to Tibet, Nepal, China and beyond the local people essentially added these teachings onto whatever religion they practiced, which worked fine for them, but leaves us in a muddle of teachings from many sources.
A similar thing happened with Jesus and his teachings.
Unless someone finds a way to erase history this is unlikely to ever get less confusing.
For myself, I was baptized as a child, raised in a Christian home, I study the Bible, pray, but because I do not agree with all the creeds and doctrines made up by men I do not consider myself a Christian.
Likewise I took Soto Zen Buddhist vows many years ago, still practice meditation, follow the Buddha's precepts, but because I do not believe the afterlife theories of the various schools I am reluctant to advertise myself as a Buddhist.
The original teachings are so beautiful to me, but the added on and re-interpreted bits put me off.
Happily God, (whatever God is and I'm not bright enough to know) is quite capable of instructing me as needed, when I'm willing to hush up and listen. We don't need a middle-man.
This is well-said.
For me personally, I consider myself agnostic and apathetic about the afterlife: I acknowledge that reincarnation is certainly possible, as is going to heaven (I don't usually believe in hell, except as a self-imposed idea, as it goes against everything I've ever believed about God), but what interests me most is life.
I enjoyed your post and particularly the way you briefly touched on your own journey.
I would only add that in my opinion the idea of rebirth isn't an add-on; I think it goes all the way back to the original teachings of the Buddha. I would place it right at the center and heart of the Buddhadharma, right up their with the Four Noble Truths that you alluded to and his view of karma. I think there is a tendency among westerners to regard views they either don't like or disagree with as in some sense extraneous, or later additions, to Buddhism (a similar process happens with other Eastern traditions). However, the earliest strata of Buddhist Discourses assumes the reality of rebirth. In addition, the earliest archaeological remains in India, such as the first Stupas, contain inscriptions that assume rebirth as a (I would say 'the') central tenet of lay Buddhist practice.
I think it is fine to borrow Buddhist techniques and repackage them, adapt them to new circumstances, etc. But I think we should be honest about what we are doing. Certain Buddhist contemplations and techniques are efficacious regardless of the spiritual context and have been previously absorbed into non-Buddhist traditions such as Taoism or Shinto. There's no reason not to do the same thing in the west. But I think we should be upfront and say what it is we are doing rather than projecting our preferences back onto the Buddha's life, teaching and time.