Understanding Christian Belief in a Buddhist Monastery

I recently visited a Buddhist monastery in upstate New York.

My wife and I were in the area for the weekend and they offered free tours. We are spiritual seekers, so we figured we’d see what it was all about.

It was a wonderful place with a wonderful tour guide and she said something that struck me.

It wasn’t necessarily what she said, but how she said it.

She was speaking about the different gods and ceremonial objects when she said, “Buddhism teaches…” and then continued to explain what Buddhism taught about the given object.

It may not seem like much, but I noticed she didn’t make any abstract truth claims about reality.

She didn’t say, “This object is…”

Instead she said, “Buddhism teaches that this object is…”

That’s a significant difference.

It’s a humble way to phrase it.

It’s more uncertain.

It’s less dogmatic.

One morning, I was able to join several monks and practitioners for a Green Tara prayer service called a Vajrayana puja. It was very different from the Christian worship services I’m so familiar with.

It began without notice as a Buddhist monk performed five prostrations and then began to chant.

The chant was in Tibetan but I had an English transliteration to follow along.

It lasted exactly one hour.

I love these two experiences because they helped me see the benefit of belief.

These Buddhists believed.

Their belief led to practice.

Their practice formed their character.

For these Buddhists, their beliefs are a framework for seeing and understanding reality.

But they didn’t force their beliefs on me.

They didn’t even suggest that I should accept these beliefs.

They just invited me into their practices without the prerequisite of belief.

I don’t believe that Green Tara is a literal goddess who is thousands of years old and whose body is made up of green light.

But to Buddhists, this belief calls forth compassion and a willingness to act compassionately.

What if Christianity is the same kind of framework?

What if Christian beliefs lead to practices which produce character?

What if Christian beliefs help Christians see and understand and interact with reality?

Even if Christianity weren’t literally true, it could be helpful.

I think the idea is at least worth considering.

Somewhere in that monastery, there was a template for how to engage Christianity.

I’m sure that sounds like utter heresy to some.

That’s okay.

It’s helpful for me, now.

I hope it can be helpful for others.


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