Our different religious affiliations, with their different ways of expressing commitment to whatever is taken as absolute truth by each group, cause us to look at ourselves in terms of “us” versus “them.”
Christian and Buddhist Practices
Christians who take up Buddhist practice are confronted with a decision: to chant or not to chant the Three Refuges? This practice may be perceived as a setting aside, or even a betrayal, of the primary Christian allegiance. “We have Jesus, we have the Gospels and the creed and the authoritative teachings of the Church, we have the community of followers of Jesus Christ, so why is there need to turn to and seek refuge in another person, other teachings, other communities?” This perception may be accompanied with an underlying resistance to acknowledging whatever is good and true and holy in the Buddha, his teachings, and his followers.
A friend who also has been engaged in a form of Buddhist meditative practice for many years while staunchly affirming her Christian identity identifies the dividing line between Christian and Buddhist parameters as follows: Christians recite the Apostle’s Creed, Buddhists recite the Three Refuges. She thinks that to recite the latter would compromise her Christian commitment, and thus she remains in respectful silence as her fellow practitioners in a retreat chant the Refuges.
This friend draws a distinction between herself as a Christian and her Buddhist friends and co-practitioners. Such demarcations that separate Christians from Buddhists and from followers of all other religious traditions divide the human community. Our different religious affiliations, with their different ways of expressing commitment to whatever is taken as absolute truth by each group, cause us to look at ourselves in terms of “us” versus “them.” This attitude is at the root of the world’s conflicts, and causes us to commit internalized as well as externalized acts of violence against one another.
Is there another way of looking at the matter which can overcome this danger? Can a Christian acknowledge what is good and true and holy in another tradition without undermining his or her primary allegiance to the Good News of Jesus Christ?
It is perhaps not difficult to mentally agree with a proposition proclaimed clearly by the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, which addressed the question of Christian attitudes toward other religious traditions: “We the followers of Jesus Christ reject nothing that is good, true, and holy in the world’s religious traditions.” But it is another matter to actually acknowledge, and accept, and going a step further, appropriate into one’s own life and practice, those particular elements, attitudes, or practices, theoretically recognized as “good, true, and holy” in another tradition.
Christians can be all too sensitive and easily react to charges of “syncretism,” failing to note that “traditional Christian” elements related to our Christmas and Easter celebrations, such as the very date assigned to the birth of Jesus, features such as Yule tree, Easter eggs, the Easter bunny, and the like have non-Christian origins. Further reflection on the historical and cultural manifestations of Christian faith and devotion throughout history and in different parts of the world may open our eyes to the variety of attitudes and practices derived from the religious cultures of peoples that were there long before the coming of Christianity, which have been fully adapted and integrated into the life of Christian communities in these places.
Click here to read the sixth an final installment of Spiritual Practice for a Global Sangha.
Written by Ruben L.F. Habito and originally published on the Maria Kannon Zen Center website, as Spiritual Practice for a Global Sangha.
Ruben L. F. Habito served as a Jesuit missionary in Japan from 1970 to 1989 and taught at Sophia University for many years. He now serves as Teacher (Roshi) at Maria Kannon Zen Center (Dallas), and is on the Faculty at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. His books include Experiencing Buddhism: Ways of Wisdom and Compassion (Orbis, 2005), and Living Zen, Loving God (Wisdom, 2004).
Image: Above the Clouds, by Manu Praba, CC by 2.0, from Flickr.com