Christianity Through My Buddhist Eyes.

Via on Dec 2, 2010

God is love, and we are the temple.

This article is a testament of how I see Christianity without the censorship of resentment—Christianity through my Buddhist eyes.

My stumbling onto the spiritual path was an awkward act of desperation.

I was not looking to broaden my horizons or challenge my world-view. I was a kid who had been medicated into actin’ right since I was about 10 years old. By the time I was 17 my behavioral problems apparently warranted the addition of a few new psychotropic drugs…and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back!

I felt like I was being turned into a lifeless robot with each pill I swallowed. So I refused. I didn’t take the new medicines, and gave up the already existing regiment as well. I knew that giving up the medicine and ignoring the symptoms they were designed to treat was a recipe for personal disaster. I had to do something different.  So I began to look into spirituality.

At the time, I hated Christianity far too much to give it a fair shake. Someone I knew turned me onto meditation, which led me to Buddhism, and the rest is (my) history.

This article is not comparing Christianity to Buddhism. I have no intention of juxtaposing these two great systems of interior exploration. This is more of an admission of past misunderstandings  (inspired by my reading of Scott Robinson’s article). Buddhism and meditation worked to undo all of the fear and anger I harbored toward Christianity, and this article is a testament of how I see Christianity without the censorship of resentment—Christianity through my Buddhist eyes.

So I guess I can go ahead and get started, and the most logical starting place seems to be with Christianity’s central theme…

Love, in my words…

Learning to Love is not difficult in the laborious sense of the word, but it can be a struggle. Unlearning the fear based ego-centric patterns that close us off to the breath of Reality is a purging process; “A Dark Night of the Soul.” It is an evolutionary ascent back to our true nature, in which all things founded upon ignorance & confusion (and therefore are without being) dissolve into pure nothingness. In the fleeting moments when all of these superficial distinctions have dispersed, life in all of it’s textures, is laid bare in the mind’s eye. At which point the mind and reality are revealed to be of one essence. As vague and nebulous as this may sound, this “one substance” is in fact the most fundamental truth of our existence, Love.

There is a living quality to Love, which is called compassion. In this context what is meant by compassion is the spirit of Love.  Love is based on the discovery of equanimity. In equanimity all of the distinctions that establish and sustain a self-centered world-view  are realized to be devoid of any real substance. So, what was once thought to be a collection of isolated and independently existing organisms, is in fact one great big family, the human family. It is a single essence- humanity- manifesting in many ways. Compassion then comes forth from love to recognize and respect this divinity in everything.  In love it is discovered that I am a child or image of God. Then, through likeness compassion recognizes and respects this same image in others…

The third and final aspect in the Trinity of Life is Natural Joy. Through the infinite power of Love all of the barriers which proclaimed false individuality were destroyed. Once those conceptual walls have been disassembled the waters of love begin to stir, and this movement is known as compassion. We learn to love, to be loved, and in Natural Joy we learn to be Love. Natural Joy is the completion or perfection of Love; not because it perfectly adheres to some definition or idea about love, but because it is the complete expression of Love. Natural Joy is full, lacking no thing, and therefore in need of no thing. It is not poor, but infinitely wealthy. We can rest in the realization that through the miraculous power of Grace all things have already been accomplished; we need not worry about becoming some-one or some-thing. Natural Joy is the discovery that we need not take another step towards perfection. In the words of Jesus, “It is finished.”

This is how I have come to understand the Holy Trinity, but thats enough from me…

Now, lets get Biblical.

Genesis 1:27 says, “ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” So according to Christian theology humanity is the image of God. We are cut from the original stone! “The Garden of Eden” speaks of mans fall from Grace, commonly referred to as original sin. This fall hinged on mans decision to indulge in the world of duality, or the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. With one ignorant bite human nature- the image of God- became imprisoned in man!

The most common side effect of a dualistic perspective is the notion of self & other. Governed by ego-centric consciousness we forget spontaneity or become self-consciousness. As the story goes, this self-conscious mentality manifests in Adam and Eve’s embarrassment. They noticed that they were naked, and covered themselves up.We are no different. When we become aware of the fact that that we are naked, or without reference points we begin to hide our embarrassment behind layers of masks. In order to define our position we identify with these layers or reference points, and in the process St. Augustine says, “we become lost in multiplicity.” Remember that God’s first words to Adam after eating the fruit were, “Adam where are you?” Of course God knows the answer to this  question. He is asking Adam if he knows where he is. This is the eternal question, the question we are asked every moment of every day-”Where are you?”

This poses a problem- the original problem! Recalling Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, it is absolutely clear that all things poured forth from God. So how does sin come forth from God? The original meaning of the word sin is, “To miss the mark.” Sin is falsity, a misunderstanding, and therefore lacks any substance. In this case sin refers to the unfounded belief that we are somehow a solid self existing apart from the garden, and the subsequent false assumption that being naked is a problem! The situation is intensely confusing because of the nature of sin. People have wrestled for so long with the question of sin’s origins, but not due to the complexity of the question; rather because it is a bad question. Sin is an illusion, and an illusion provides no basis for negation.Trying to negate an illusion is like trying to pinpoint on a map the exact coordinates of a fictitious location!

The key to waking up from this impossible misunderstanding is discovering the natural order of “things.” The natural order of things is God, hence St. Augustine’s famous words: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” This movement is totally organic or effortless. Grace suggests that the image of God in man naturally seeks to rest in God. In other words, grace is the  gravitational force that seeks union with God.  St. John reminds us in 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love”. Therefore, it seems rather obvious that we must come to know God, by discovering His internal resting place, Love. In the Christian Tradition this discovery of God in Man through Love is revealed in the Holy Trinity. This movement is called contemplation. The word contemplation means, “that which is done in the temple.” It is interesting to note that 1 Corinthians 3:17 says, “…God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” So we will forever be discontented until we come to rest in God, who is at rest in the temple… God is love, and we are the temple… Contemplative prayer is an excavation of the temple grounds in order to discover God who is love, which is held captive in man!

When we knock at the temple door we are asked the secret question, “Where are you?” This is a trick question! By which I mean it has no answer. God is giving us a Koan! It is clear that I am not God, but what may be difficult to see is that I am not other than God. To say that I am not God, nor other than God is in effect saying that the term “I” has no substance- it is neither existent nor non-existent. I am here. I am nowhere. I am everywhere. In this case, if you know the answer you have misunderstood the question! The very notion of “I” is sin, or the misunderstanding that initiated our fall from grace or spontaneity. The confessed belief in the solidity of “I” is little more than a conceptual hallucination, and a hallucination can’t be proved or disproved, as its insubstantial nature provides no basis for analysis. In Truth, Love/ God is all that there is. “He and I cannot dwell together in the same world.” So where I am he is not! Heaven is a state of mind without a center, and hell is the separation of man from God by virtue of nothing more than the belief that man is other than God… When you let go of this misguided belief you can truly say, I am a son of God!

Hopefully everyone will come to realize the Trinity of Love in their own life, as it is the totality of this Life, and in doing so realize that they have been running around in the Garden of Eden all along!

With that said I am sure there are plenty of people who disagree…  That is if you have managed to read this whole article (man that was long & wordy!). I would certainly like to hear your comments,  ideas, questions, and rebuttals. Please share your them below…

P.S. I think that Buddhists, especially western practitioners, stand to gain a lot from a sincere study of contemplative Christianity. Buddhism cleared away the resentment so I could see Christianity, and people like Thomas Merton and St. John of the Cross helped me to develop a more mature and subtle understanding of Buddhism.

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About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist & Christian spirituality and politics for The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, The Web of Enlightenment, and is the editor & chief for Henry Harbor--an online magazine concerned with art, culture, spirituality, & politics in the deep South. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Looking for a real bio? Click here to read my story....

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35 Responses to “Christianity Through My Buddhist Eyes.”

  1. CC says:

    This is a great article! Often, in the past, I have read articles or comments of Buddhists practitioners, and felt assaulted (and most cases in the nicest way). I deeply appreciate your lack of contempt. The part of your blog that caught my attention the most was dualistic perspective. I do not find dualistic perspective a problem. The idea that all things are of and from God is logical but the notion of a soul that has freewill is a comforting and logical thought for me as well. In the beginning God…that part of the verse gives my mind pause every time I hear it or read it. A power of that magnitude can will anything…so it seems possible that God and the individual can be both separate and one at the same time.

    • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

      I am glad you liked the article… I have a great appreciation for Christianity.
      However, I did say in the article that a dualistic perspective and original sin are the same thing. I think the overarching point of this article is that a soul is truly free, when it loses its will in God who is expressed or made known by His will. A single energy or will!

  2. Jill Anderson says:

    This was WONDERFUL Ben! Thank you SO much. I truly feel a burst of love and energy now. I love the perspective and I appreciate you. xoxo

  3. Angel Nosorrow says:

    wonderful!

  4. Brandy Bates says:

    Faith is what kept coming to mind for me.

  5. Roger Wolsey BrotherRog says:

    Benjamin

  6. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    Yeah I do not think we have actually fallen from anything. I definitely appreciate your description of sin having a snowball or multiplying effect… It is reminiscent of Karma. I will check FB

  7. robin says:

    oh, and for your next article (ha!- do you take requests?) What do you think about romantic love based on what you've said about love here? Is it an illusion? or have I asked another illogical question?

  8. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    No I think love is love… And as I say in this post it is all that there is! Romantic is a word that I think churches up the concept of love a bit. So I think it might make for a great article. Now whether I am the one to write it is another story all together!

  9. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    Thank you very much for your comment Sonyata,
    Do you think that every religion is the same? Or every religion is working toward the same realization, i.e. truth?

  10. tamingauthor says:

    Very nice article, Ben. Well written and well conceived. There is a great deal of truth in what you have shared.

    Thomas Merton is an excellent source. The book The Gethsemani Encounter is one that many will enjoy. It is the story of a Buddhist-Christian retreat organized by the Dalai Lama to honor the memory of Merton.

    The works of Bonaventure also provide insight into some of the themes you have raised. His work The Soul's Journey into God is excellent. And, as you note, St. John of the Cross and other mystics are good sources.

    The Catholic Church has tended to retain the mystical history, the history of the Church Fathers, and has a very active mystical tradition in place. In the Eucharist we have a celebration that brings heaven to earth. Protestant ministers are starting to become aware of this through works such as Chasing Francis, the story of a protestant minister who burns out and then journeys to Assisi to discover Francis. (A wonderful book by former protestant minister Scott Hahn on the Eucharist is The Lamb's Supper.)

    Like a number of people on this thread, I started in Christianity, was intuitively aware of the Holy Spirit and the mystical realms, but did not find much in the institutional part of the faith, including a spell spent in a protestant seminary in Chicago. After leaving the seminary I traveled back to Boulder where, within a couple months, I met Trungpa. The interesting thing for most of us who have come to appreciate both faith traditions is our past life experiences, good and bad, with both faiths. For many of us the recognition of these traditions comes from a long history of involvement… much longer than most realize.

    Great article.

  11. tamingauthor says:

    Could not help but smile at your account of being chased out of so many doors. You are my kind of person.

    I wrote a little piece on the yoga-Christian dust up a few weeks ago. It ties in with Ben's presentation of the mystical aspects of Christianity. http://tamingthewolf.com/blog/interfaith-dialogue

  12. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    As always thank you very much Rhea for reading my stuff. I have not read the "Book of Pi." But I have seen it if you are talking about the title: "The Book of π" Its good? What is it about?

  13. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    Love the frostbite simile! When you put it that way, it's startlingly like the Hindu concept of samskaras, the "impressions" left in the mind by our actions that predispose us to continue acting in that way. Or as George Eliot put it, "Our deeds determine us as much as we determine our deeds."

  14. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    Thanks for posting this, Ben; it's always inspiring when someone goes to the trouble of really trying to understand another tradition. Your openness is a breath of fresh air!

  15. Hi, Ben. This is probably the single best reconciliation and "universalization" of Buddhist/Yoga and Christian thought I have ever read.

    What a great week for Elephant religion. Just before I read your blog, I read Kabbalah in 60 Seconds: What Madonna Didn’t Tell You.

    Great thinking and great writing, Ben. Bravo.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  16. [...] week I published an article here on Elephant Journal entitled, “Christianity Through My Buddhist Eyes.” This article was a subjective exploration of the Christian faith from the point of view of [...]

  17. [...] big family, the human family. It is a single essence- humanity- manifesting in many ways. ~ from Christianity Through My Buddhist Eyes by Ben Riggs on Elephant [...]

  18. [...] have a few friends who are Christians and we often discuss matters of faith and, of course, have discussions about the various [...]

  19. [...] 10-a: Christianity Through My Buddhist Eyes (it looks at the movement of [...]

  20. [...] are all “born” with ego, (in the Christian tradition we call it “original sin.”) and yes, it is tragic and sad that we often don’t recognize it when it takes control of our [...]

  21. Jim Hetzer says:

    Hi Ben:
    It has been way too long since I looked at the Christian Spiritualist Temple group on Facebook. Shame on me… I liked you article. There is one Creator and as many paths to that Creator as there are spirits. Thanks for your inputs.
    Rev. Jim Hetzer

  22. Tom Pedersen says:

    Anything is viewed from a point~of view. If that point encompassed ALL, there would be nothing to view and no "point" would exist. As I see it (pun intended), this is God and it is "image". The only way to vanquish any illusion is to see it so thoroughly that it vanishes, seeing it for what it IS. How does one vanquish an illusion? ~~ By becoming it.~~ In essence, this is saying LOVE IT completely so as to permeate it. Conversely, what is most solid? ~~ What you are NOT being~~
    Detested Terrible realities, ever increasing in solidity, is what we get in the absence of our love.

  23. [...] not depressed. I’m not Buddhist. But I love this [...]

  24. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    I guess classifying original sin as un-biblical has a lot to do with how you define original sin… What do you mean when you say original sin?

    Yeah I would love (be honored) to look it over… I tried finding you on facebook the other day (after reading your "Hate" article, but couldn't find you… Here s my facebook profile. Friend me and we can talk more there! http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?i

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