Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Living Buddha, Living Christ

By Rich Bordner

At the request of a colleague, I recently read a book titled Living Buddha, Living Christ, by Buddhist Thich Nath Hahn.

The author seems to be a man of character. He makes some good observations about character virtues, the fruit of the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit in his book. But other things he says are misguided, I think.

Below are some of the things he says in the book, followed by some of my thoughts.

Hahn:
People kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies. When we believe that ours is the only faith that contains the truth, violence and suffering will surely be the result. The second precept of the Order of interbeing, founded within the Zen Buddhist tradition during the war in Vietnam, is about letting go of views: "Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non attachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints." To me, this is the most essential practice of peace.
My thought:
Of course, being open to a change in perspective can be a good thing. I’ve found that far too often, rather than engaging opposing viewpoints and either being changed by them or refuting them, we put our hands to our ears and shout "LALALALALALAAA!!!" Sometimes we’d rather stick our heads in the sand than consider the possibility that we’re wrong. But this is only one side of the coin. Sometimes it’s good to be "bound to present views" and attached to them. It can be good to be zealous for your beliefs... what matters is not your zealousness, but the truth of the belief you are zealous about. Martin Luther King, Jr. was definitely attached to his beliefs in the equality of all human beings, and the world is a better place as a result. William Wilberforce was "bound" to his abolitionist beliefs, and we should thank him for that. Other examples abound, but you get the point.

Another thing that bears commenting on is Hahn’s remark that "When we believe that ours is the only faith that contains the truth, violence and suffering will surely be the result." This is a very passive-aggressive way to argue against a religion or point of view. His book is peppered with statements like this, but all throughout the book, Hahn himself believes he gets it right. That is, he believes that his pluralism ("all roads lead to god"), as opposed to more exclusivistic faiths (i.e. fundamentalist Christianity, Islam, etc), is the faith that contains the truth. This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. Better to just admit you (as well as everyone else) think your point of view is correct, and that this is ok. Then, argue for your point of view. Simple as that.

Hahn:
If we say, "According to Buddhism, this exists," or, "This does not exist," it is not Buddhism, because the ideas of being and non-being are extremes that the Buddha transcended.
My thought:
Interesting. And ironic, given the fact that his whole book is an exercise in pointing out what is true and false, what exists and doesn’t exist. Kinda like the vegetarian who walked into In-n-Out and ordered a double-double.

Hahn:
When we see something overflowing with love and understanding, someone who is keenly aware of what is going on, we know that they are very close to the Buddha and to Jesus Christ. (emphasis mine)
My thought:
Anyone see any contradiction between this and Hahn’s previous comment? Just checking.

Hahn:
In this small book, I shall try to share some of my experiences of and insights into two of the world’s beautiful flowers, Buddhism and Christianity, so that we as a society can begin to dissolve our wrong perceptions, transcend our wrong views, and see one another in fresh, new ways. (emphasis mine)
My thought:
Time and again in his book, Hahn critiques those who are judgmental and intolerant (meaning: those who think other’s religions are wrong), like Pope John Paul II, yet also time and again he does the same thing himself.

Hahn tries to compare the Buddha to Christ, but at the end of the day, the two are as unlike as aspirin and arsenic. Sure, both aspirin & arsenic are white and come in tablet form, but the differences are legion, and they make all the difference. Likewise, both Christ and Buddha might have spoken about living a moral and peaceful life, but only One has risen from the grave in history, and only One claimed to be God in human flesh, the only One who can eradicate your sin debt.

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