This is a post from visiting writer Janet Taylor. More of her writing is stored in the file “Visiting Writers.”
A woman asked me why I consider myself both a Buddhist and a Christian, and I thought my response might be thought-provoking for others.
I grew up in a Methodist household; my parents were very religious. But, for me, I was having a difficult time believing that there was some guy in the sky who was watching everything and making decisions about things. I just couldn’t get it. So, I wandered off to find something that made more sense. I went to India to study when I was in college and had an opportunity to learn more about Buddhism, and the ideas that I learned simply made more sense to me. Buddhism at its essence has four components that are unique (based on work by the Buddhist teacher Stephen Batchelor):
- The idea of dependent origination: The idea that everything is interconnected. We are all always interacting with our environment and each other and ourselves in an ever-changing flow. The sense of separation and permanence is just an illusion.
- The Four Noble Truths: Life is difficult, and we make it more difficult by trying to be happy by doing and thinking things that are inherently unsatisfying over the long haul. In other words, we try to be happy by changing our external circumstances (I’ll be happy if I get a new car, house, boyfriend, etc.) That never works over the long-term. Happiness is a state of being that we choose to reside in, regardless of our external circumstances.
- The practice of mindful awareness: Most of what confuses us is that we are sleepwalking through life, responding in old conditioned ways based on our upbringing and our old experiences in life. If we choose to be more aware of what we are thinking and doing, we start to get a better idea of what is motivating our thoughts and actions, then we can choose differently.
- The importance of self-reliance: It’s not enough to just read stuff and say we believe. We must take responsibility for our thoughts and actions, and channel the incredible power within us to be a beneficial presence in the world.
With this inspiration, I decided to deepen my practice. I made a connection with a Buddhist teacher named Lama Surya Das, and I have been his student since 1999. Having a teacher helps people have a more objective perspective of how we get stuck and how to move forward.
Then, I rediscovered Christianity within the context of these Buddhist teachings. I now see how Jesus was saying very similar things. Although he talked about “God”, I believe that he was using terms like Father as a metaphor, not as an actuality. I interpret “God” as Pure Potential, the “stuff” that all things are made of, this incredible energy that manifests into everything and everyone. Buddha called this Buddha Nature, the innate Great Perfection. I now see Jesus as a way shower, as someone who figured it out and tried to get us to see with fresh eyes as well. I think Jesus would have agreed with everything Buddha said.
One point of uncertainty is whether there is a soul, or something that is eternal. Christianity obviously talks about it as existing, and certain traditions of Buddhism refer to something similar that goes on beyond death. I’m not sure. I still have questions about whether there is some eternal part of us that stays intact after death, or if everything is truly impermanent and ever-changing. I guess we’ll find out for sure when we die :-> Regardless, I don’t need to believe in a soul to try and be a good person right here right now. I can use these tools to improve my life and be happy regardless of my external circumstances. That’s what draws me to the Buddhist way of living.