Regarding All Sentient Beings…

So begins a prayer chanted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the 1994 John Main Seminar in London. This yearly seminar is sponsored by the World Community for Christian Meditation, and was the first time that the Dalai Lama had been invited to comment publicly on the Gospels of Jesus Christ. It was truly a momentous occasion, captured in detail in the book The Good Heart, A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus. I share this prayer – not only because it is poignant and lovely – but because it vividly describes the view that I believe a Christian should have of his fellow man and the world. In Buddhist terms, it beautifully reflects Christ’s example of humility as described in Philippians 2:1-8:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

“When His Holiness resumed his place on a straight chair in the center of the raised platform, the lights were dimmed in the auditorium. He tucked and folded various ends and corners of his robes, shifted and settled his body into a quiet position, took out his beads, closed his eyes, and began to pray. It must have struck many members of the audience who have Catholic mothers and grandmothers how the Dalai Lama’s small preparations and especially his completely familiar, comfortable, easy, and tender way with the beads seemed to cut across the divisions of culture and language. The chant itself did not sound at all like a Hail Mary, but the reverence with which it was sung and listened to was unmistakable.

Regarding all sentient beings
as excelling even the wish-granting gem
for accomplishing the highest aim,
may I always hold them most dear.

When in the company of others
I shall always consider myself the lowest of all,
And from the depth of my heart
Hold them dear and supreme.

Vigilant, the moment a delusion appears,
Which endangers myself and others,
I shall confront and avert it
Without delay.

When I see beings of wicked nature
Overwhelmed by violent negative actions and suffering
I shall hold such rare ones dear,
As if I have found a precious treasure.

When others, out of envy, treat me with abuse,
Insult me or the like,
I shall accept defeat,
And offer the victory to others.

When someone I have benefited
And in whom I have great hopes
Gives me terrible harm,
I shall regard him as my holy spiritual friend.

In short, both directly and indirectly, do I offer
Every benefit and happiness to all sentient beings, my mothers;
May I secretly take upon myself
All their harmful actions and suffering.

May they not be defined by the concepts
Of the eight profane concerns,
And aware that all things are illusory,
may they, ungrasping, be freed from bondage.

Advertisements

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.