To Buddhism and Back Again

Ah, Buddhism. Where to begin? I’ll just say it.

I am a Christian and I love Buddhism. But don’t turn the channel just yet! I promise I am going somewhere with this.

Those close to me know that I began to study Buddhism in my mid-20’s during a time when Christianity just didn’t make sense to me anymore. I had been raised in a Christian family, went to Sunday School, knew all the big Bible stories (remember the little felt board with Jonah and the Whale?), and had been a good church-going girl, fundamentalist even. But imagine the good church-going girl who leaves her tiny Missouri town, heads to the liberal arts university, starts taking classes in feminist theory and world religions, and BAM. I thought my world was suddenly too big for the God I had grown up with.

Enter the Buddha.

My journey into Buddhism would last for over 10 years, and eventually led me all the way to Mongolia to work alongside monks and other fellow travelers on the restoration of a beautiful Tibetan Buddhist monastery that had been laid to waste during the occupation of Mongolia by China and Russia in the early 1920’s. It was an amazing experience. Working on clearing rocks and rubble to uncover statues and relics during the day and sleeping in a traditional ger (“yurt”) at night. Rising in the morning to the sounds of the cows munching grass outside the door (Mongolia is a land without fences) and walking quietly in the dark to sit in meditation and chant morning prayers.

The deeper I delved into Buddhism the more I felt both comforted and incredibly lonely. The teachings spoke to my deepest being but it always seemed like I was opening up a beautiful treasure box that was disappointingly empty inside. Any Buddhist would tell you that maybe this feeling of emptiness was actually a glimpse of the non-attachment that is the goal of true enlightenment. I don’t know. It just felt empty.

One afternoon a work colleague took me to lunch and asked me very simply, “Why Buddhism?” I recall stumbling and stuttering over an answer. Shortly after that, a Christian girlfriend invited me to a Bible study at her house. My Bibles had been packed away in boxes for so long I didn’t even know where they were, but I found them and I went. Mostly to see what it would feel like, if it would be familiar again to me, or if it would feel empty too.

That was 12 years ago. I believe now that Jesus knew I would choose to spend time apart from Him, and He knew that I would return. My soul belongs to Him but He would not prevent me from seeking and knocking on other doors. Through His servant Paul He tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2: 12b-13) God promises: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD…” (Jeremiah 29:13-14a) I am confident that we should never be afraid of the search.

This post represents the first of what may likely be many posts on “to Buddhism and back again.” I hope to share a humble Christian perspective on the teachings of the Buddha. I hope this will engage and not alienate. I hope to grow in the awe of a sovereign God who is ultimately restoring all things in creation to Himself, including the Buddha.

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5 thoughts on “To Buddhism and Back Again

  1. Cool, I was intrigued by the title so I read. So are you glad of your journey and that your time in Buddhism made you value Jesus or do you think that the Buddha is an eastern manifestation of Jesus?

    • Thank you for your comment. I used to wonder a great deal about this, but I don’t believe the Buddha is an eastern manifestation of Jesus. There are several books out there that attempt to parallel the 2 figures (eg, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers by Thich Nhat Hanh and Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings) — these are excellent books no doubt, but I find it most compelling that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has very firmly warned against the impulse to view the real, strong parallels between the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha as a path to constructing a synthetic universal religion. In HHDL’s view, people have different needs that are met by the unique differences of each religion. For a Christian this raises very difficult questions…something for a future blog post I suspect! :)

      • I agree and am excited about your answer. I just wanted to peel apart your comments becauseI wasn’t sure from the post. There is only one way, Jesus. Eastern practices are appealing like yoga and meditation because they will prove the judeo-christian God’s laws but they can’t be fully embraced. For example Psalm 1 tells us to meditate but we are to meditate on the word. Chanting and clearing your mind from the framework of an eastern practice makes a believer vulnerable to weaken their faith. Also classic Buddhism is non-theistic. Gautama Buddha was a Hindu who did not believe in God(s), and whose goal was to obtain nirvana from the observances of “nature’s laws”. May the Lord continue to bless you on your journey.

  2. Yes, please share more! I love hearing your history and thought-process. I always think to myself, we can’t *really* know someone well until we know how they came to Christ. These are important stories.

  3. Quite looking forward to hearing your journey. Recently I have come across many Christ Followers who find they have learned much from and through a Buddhist style of meditation.

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