Friday, 5 August 2016

Buddhism and Christianity

As this blog has progressed one of its main concerns has become how to place Buddhism and Christianity within the context of an overarching reality or supreme truth because, as I said in the previous post, they are not saying the same thing. Christianity is often regarded by the mystically inclined today as though it were saying the same thing, really, as Buddhism. It just isn't saying it quite as well. But that is not true. The writings of some Christian mystics can be interpreted as if they are speaking non-dualistically, though Meister Eckhart is usually the only one who can really be seen in this light, but non-duality or monism, as conceived in Eastern terms, is not part of Christianity at all which remains a dualistic religion in which union with God, and not absolute identity, is the goal. In several previous posts I have attempted to show how Buddhism and Christianity, both seemingly true on their own terms but incorrect in terms of each other, stand in the light of overall truth, and the conclusion I have come to is that Buddhism is the highest truth but Christianity is higher.

Before I try to explain that rather gnomic utterance I should say that this view is fully borne out by the teachings the Masters gave me. They never mentioned either Buddhism or Christianity by name (though they did mention Christ), but what they taught can be seen to contain elements of both. The essential elements required for any individual treading the spiritual path, though tailored for my particular needs of the time and addressing my particular weaknesses. For instance, they spoke of both meditation and prayer as being equally important. They told me to forget the personal self and merge with the universal Self but also said I should remember the Creator. They spoke of themselves as being essentially one but were also wholly individual. They advocated detachment from emotional identification but emphasised love and humility as the highest spiritual qualities, neither one of which, incidentally, would have any meaning in a system of pure non-duality.

I say Buddhism is the highest truth because it points to the unchanging reality beyond creation and the movement of form, and details the way in which an individual may step out of the world of becoming and into pure being. This is Nirvana, the 'blown out' state in which there is no more coming and going. Oneness with the Absolute must be the highest state. It is the state beyond all ideas of states.

Or so it might seem. But actually there is something more, something better, and this is revealed in Christ.

For in Christ the world of creation, either denied outright or diminished in Buddhism and other non-dualistic religions and philosophies, is fulfilled. He is the fulcrum of the created world and uncreated reality, and in himself he reveals the perfect union of the two. He brings the one to perfection and the other to full expression and, as a result, completes them both. For while Buddhism rejects becoming for being, Christ encompasses the whole of life in himself and shows us the way to do the same, which way is through and by means of his teachings and his person.

For the Buddha the problem of life was resolved through the elimination of suffering but this also required the elimination of desire. The way of Christ is more inclusive. It involves, not the elimination of desire and suffering, but their redemption and sanctification. This is the higher path that leads to the fullest embracing of life and not the rejection of any part of it except that which is false and unreal. You might say that Buddhism and similar philosophies reject matter for spirit but in Christ matter and spirit are made one in a holy union in which the former is sanctified and the later revealed. And from this union is born something completely new, something in which the divine qualities of goodness, beauty and truth are not transcended and left behind as belonging to the relative world (as they must necessarily be in a strict non-duality), but taken up and transformed and carried along on a journey that progresses into ever deeper union and ever brighter illumination. Nirvana is an end. There is nothing more. There can be nothing more. But the way shown by Christ has no end for in it time is taken up into eternity and something more than either one on its own comes into being.

Buddhism appeals to the modern intellectual who is looking for some form of deeper understanding in the spiritual wasteland of the 20th and 21st centuries, but it can be a risky spiritual approach for Westerners. It falls too neatly into our modern way of thinking, and can be adjusted to suit our current prejudices. Its lack of a personal God is a temptation to intellectual pride.

That is one reason I regard Buddhism as an unsuitable path for the contemporary Westerner. The fact that it appears to offer spirituality without the inconvenience of God makes it attractive to some but that is its major flaw in my opinion and why, whatever its historical necessity and appropriateness in its original time and place, it is not really appropriate for Western people. The cultural context is quite different, and it tends to fortify existing deficiencies rather than correcting them as it would have done in the heavily theistic and ritualistic context in which it arose. Even in India it needed correction which is why we had first Sankara and then Ramanuja who offered a more inclusive teachings than Sankara’s, one which reconciled the impersonal and the personal. For us today Buddhism, or any spiritual approach which doesn't acknowledge the Creator, coincides too readily with our prejudices and preconceptions. But these need to be disturbed not flattered. The Buddha did that to the people of his time but we are totally different from them and need an approach which challenges and confronts our prejudices. As I see it, the great danger in not acknowledging a Creator is that our spirituality is human-centric which means that potentially we will remain in the fallen state in which the self is dominant. I know that Buddhism has the express aim of revealing the emptiness of the self but that just will not work for modern Western people for whom the self is so entrenched that it can never be bypassed (if, indeed, it can for anyone at any time). It must be first purified and then transformed by grace and the best way to do this remains the way shown by Jesus whose arrival in this world changed everything, rendering other approaches secondary, even if they remain effective on their own terms as indeed Buddhism does. Faithfully followed, it may take its most developed practitioners to some kind of enlightenment. But Christ offers something more than this, something which is more in line with God's purpose for his children. He offers the spiritual transformation of self rather than its elimination, and it is this that fulfils the reason for creation and incorporates all its goods rather than rejecting any of them.

If we accept that human beings are made of spirit, soul and body then we see that Buddhism and similar approaches reject the last two for more or less exclusive focus on the first. Modern practitioners may claim they don't do this but in effect they do or should if they are true to the teachings. The no self doctrine is clearest proof of that. Christianity, on the other hand, sees a human being equally as spirit, soul and body or life, quality and appearance, and gives all of these their due importance. They all have their place in an overall scheme of things, even if the priorities are always from above downwards. Thus in Christianity the individual self is not lost, as it is in non-dualistic religions, or even seen as belonging to a lesser reality. It is sanctified by grace and taken up to the highest reality. It is not seen as the centre of consciousness any longer, that is God, but it remains the truth of what a person is, even in its transformed state once the soul has been merged into spirit.

Praise be to God for this wonderful miracle!


ted said...

William: This post is helpful for me, seeing that I have been grounded both in Christian and Buddhist paths during my life. Instead of saying Christianity is a dualistic path, could we infer that by entering the cave of the Heart, that it truly becomes a trans-dual path. I only mention this because dualistic notions could trap us in discursive mind stuff in place of coming from the heart as to how engage in the world.

William Wildblood said...

What I mean by duality is that there is reality both in pure spirit and in creation, the latter is not made redundant by the absolute truth of God. So duality is not a dirty word for me. In fact, I now see a duality grounded in union as a higher realisation than non-duality. The essence of it all is that God is real, not a stepping down into relativity of impersonal absoluteness, and the individual created soul is also real. This makes life far richer and more dynamic than pure non-duality.

ted said...

Thanks for clarifying. I think we are on the same page: it's just the semantics I was refining by distinguishing the subject/object duality most people live in (solely in creation) verses the duality (or Trinity) you bring up (spirit and creation in relationship).

William Wildblood said...

Yes, semantics can be a minefield! You're right that duality in religious terms usually means the separation of subject and object but then non-duality means that everything is ultimately not just one but the same and I reject that view. In conventional non-dualistic terms creation is reduced to a sideshow but I think that's an error caused by an intellectual approach combined with a misinterpretation of mystical experience. No non-dualistic philosophy can explain the reason for creation or why there is something rather than nothing. Christianity does explain this. It's the love of God. Love means duality.