The trials of being both a Buddhist and a PK.

Hello everyone, my name is Keith and I’m a Buddhist. I am also a pastor’s kid (PK). With the impending visit of my parents, I’m hoping that my father (a retired pastor) and I can have a civil conversation about the fact that I have decided to follow a different spiritual path than he has.

There are some irreconcilable differences between Buddhism and Christianity.

  • Free will vs. predestination.
  • Karma vs. Grace
  • Heaven vs. Nirvana
  • An eternal soul vs. no-self
  • An omniscient, omnipresent God vs various devas/gods.

Being brought up in one tradition, and immersing myself in another has made it difficult for me to definitively say which side of each of the above differences I side with. One of the core ideas of Buddhism is to see for oneself things as they really are. There have been several times in my life that I’ve experienced things that I can not explain with my rational mind. Were these things a result of the presence of a higher power, or were they due to experiencing the true nature of a moment, being beyond words and concepts? Honestly, I don’t know.

In preparation for said civil conversation, I’ll put my thoughts down for each of the differences between Christianity and Buddhism listed above.

Free will vs. predestination

As Buddhist practitioner B. Allen Wallace said “although we may be empty of an autonomous self, we function in the phenomenal world as autonomous beings. And as long as that is so, we are responsible for what we do.” This conclusion softens the strict notion of karma, but also flies in the face of “God has a plan for each of us.” I lean towards the free will side of this one.

Karma vs. Grace

In the Christian tradition grace is “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it.“[1] Karma on the other hand is “the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.” As much as I like love and mercy, I’ve seen time and time again in my life that good returns to people who do good as negative consequences ensue for those who act in unwholesome ways.  Once again, I’ll stand with the Buddha on this one.

Heaven vs.  Nirvania

According to Buddhist belief, Nirvana “is the ultimate spiritual goal in Buddhism and marks the release from rebirths in saṃsāra.“[2] All those who are not fully enlightened will continue to be reborn (according to their karma) and inevitably experience suffering at some point. Heaven on the other hand is the place you go when you die if you accept Jesus as your savior. The pragmatic part of me says that it’s a lot less work to accept Jesus and live an ethical life from there on out than it is to spend lifetimes developing the mind and spirit with the goal of enlightenment. Also, spending eternity in a happy place, floating on clouds and playing a harp sounds more appealing than total cessation. I’m going to have to side with Jesus on this one.

An eternal soul vs. no-self

The best quote I’ve found relating to the Buddhist side of this pairing is as follows: “The Buddha regarded soul-speculation as useless and illusory. He once said, ‘Only through ignorance and delusion do men indulge in the dream that their souls are separate and self-existing entities. Their heart still clings to Self. They are anxious about heaven and they seek the pleasure of Self in heaven. Thus they cannot see the bliss of righteousness and the immortality of truth.’ Selfish ideas appear in man’s mind due to his conception of Self and craving for existence.”[3] On the other hand, I think this quote pretty much sums up the Christian view of things:

“Although mankind is physical, subject to death, the good news is that God promises a resurrection to eternal life to everyone who repents, worships God and accepts Jesus as the Messiah and His sacrifice. The first resurrection to immortality will take place when Christ returns to establish God’s Kingdom on this earth.

Later will come another resurrection—to physical life—for people who had never had a relationship with the Father and Jesus Christ. They, too, will gain the opportunity for immortality. The true final answer is not death but resurrection. “[4]

My stance on this one is wait-and-see. If through meditation and and living ethically (from a Buddhist perspective) I am someday able to grasp full the concept of no-self, I’ll take the side of the Buddha. Otherwise, if after meditating and living ethically (from a Christian perspecive), I end up in heaven, I’ll side with Christ.

An omniscient, omnipresent God vs. various devas/gods

I have no doubt in my mind that a higher power exists. However, I believe that the human mind, as radiant it can possibly become, just doesn’t have the capacity to understand the fullness of the divine.  For this one, I will not take a side.

 

I don’t know how my cursory preparation for the discussion will fare against my father’s M.Div. and 22 years of experience as a pastor, but I have a feeling I won’t convert him. :-) That’s ok, since I’m not really trying to convert anyone. If we can get through our conversation without getting too fired up, and with a mutual respect of each others beliefs, I will consider it a success.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_in_Christianity
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana_(Buddhism)
[3] http://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/115.htm
[4] https://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/what-does-the-bible-say-about-the-immortal-soul

Sit tall and fight.

Everyday a great war takes place on the battlefield of your mind. 


On one side of this internal struggle stands a vast army, led by “The Ego” and it’s troops: Laziness, Arrogance, Depression, Lust, Jealousy, Selfishness, Procrastination, Fear, Worry, Anger, Impatience, Indecision, Guilt, Greed and Hate. Easily influenced by the opinions of others, trapped and utterly confused it drives oneself into complete misery. 

On the other side stands a humble yet powerful army led by “The Will” and it’s troops: Steadfastness, Joy, Selflessness, Confidence, Humility, Drive, Productivity, Creativity, Intuition, Content, Devotion, Purpose, Calmness, Composure and Love. Uninfluenced by the opinions of others, free and elevating one to true success. 

Through the disciplined art of consistent meditation, one trains their self control and strengthens The Will and it’s army. Allowing it to fight stronger and roar louder, victoriously overthrowing The Ego and claiming dominion over their mind and life. Thus achieving complete self mastery and total freedom. 

Therefore, sit tall and fight!

Faith in Reason

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

     “On life’s journey faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day and right mindfulness is the protection by night.  If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him.”

–Kalama Sutra from the Anguttara Nikaya (Numerical Discourses of the Buddha)

 

At first, I found the above quote somewhat contradictory. The first paragraph seems to say that one should not have blind faith in knowledge/concepts, yet the second paragraph states explicitly that “faith is nourishment”. So I looked up the definition of the word faith.

faith (noun) – trust or confidence in someone or something

Being more of a logical than an emotional thinker, I reread the quote from the Kalama Sutra. The second time through, the quote seemed less contradictory. The  sentence But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it is what caught my eye during the reread. “Agreeing with reason” really resonated with my rational brain. I realized that faith in reason, gained through experience might be what the Buddha was talking about when he said “faith is nourishment”.

You are the paper…

What you really are is like the paper behind the words. You are not your life story, your achievements, your lack of achievements, your successes or failures, your behavior or personality. What you really are is That on which all is written. You are not your personality, character, strengths, weaknesses, regrets and hopes, or what you believe yourself to be. 

From David Bhodan’s book The Lazy Man’s Way to Enlightenment