- Christians Talk About Buddhist Meditation; Buddhists Talk About Christian Prayer
It is popularly assumed that meditation enhances well-being and relieves stress. In the West, Asian practices are taught to persons from mainly Christian and Jewish backgrounds as new forms of spirituality, often presented as dramatically different from monotheistic traditions. Yet some practitioners consider meditation and other forms of Asian spirituality as enhancing rather than replacing worship of God.
This book presents essays by twelve authors that explore similarities and differences between Buddhist meditation and Christian prayer. The book reprints pieces that originally appeared in the journal Buddhist-Christian Studies in 2001 and 2002. It is thoroughly dialogical in format. Part 1 contains five Christian reflections on Buddhist spiritual practice followed by two Buddhist responses, while part 2 consists of five Buddhist reflections on Christian spiritual practice with two Christian responses. Many of the contributors are connected with the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies. Importantly, they combine academic and experiential knowledge of the two religions. The collection is framed by an introduction by Terry Muck and a conclusion by Rita Gross, the book's editors, who are Christian and Buddhist practitioners, respectively. The symmetry of the chapter layout is pleasing and apt.
Sociologically, the major impetus for this dialogue is the fact that a growing number of Christians have found Buddhist meditation fruitful. However, these Christians have not left behind their original religious identification. As they interact with Buddhists, dialogue has emerged comparing the two traditions. Clearly for Christians practicing some Buddhism, the emphasis is on mutual appreciation and commonality. To examine the motivation for interreligious dialogue, it is fitting to ask, whose interests does the dialogue serve? First and foremost, the interests are Christian. While Christian authors have gained from Buddhist spiritual practice, Buddhists have not adapted Christian prayer techniques in return. But although the genealogy of dialogue has Christian origins, the editors intend to take a neutral approach. They frame the topic broadly and invite [End Page 204] contributors to remark on any facet of the other tradition, including critical points.
In part 1, Frances Adeney, Mary Frohlich, Paul Ingram, Terry Muck, and Bardwell Smith express how aspects of Buddhist meditation have enriched their Christian spirituality. Adeney learned techniques of Buddhist silent meditation from a Jesuit priest in Indonesia that enable heightened awareness of God's presence. Frohlich belongs to a Catholic religious order for women and finds Buddhism helpful for developing discipline in prayer. For Ingram, Buddhist meditation is one ingredient in a spiritual journey focused on social liberation and discovering God's presence. Muck has found reflection on Theravada teaching about morality (sila) to be an impetus to overcome the theological dichotomy between faith and works and to develop the importance of spiritual readiness that cuts across religious traditions. Smith's participation in interfaith pilgrimage and meditation illustrates the spiritual discipline that Buddhism offers.
There are many overlapping insights among these chapters that Grace Burford helpfully summarizes in her response essay: first, Buddhist practice can confirm aspects of Christian practice, such as silent prayer; second, the encounter with Buddhism can lead Christians to uncover untapped streams within Christianity, especially monastic and mystical traditions; third, Buddhism can offer unique new techniques to Christians, such as zazen, which provide rigor in developing mental concentration. Christian appreciation of Buddhism blurs religious boundaries but never requires abandonment of church or creed. Robert Thurman's response concludes with a comment on the postmodern insecurity about boundaries, and praises these Christian authors for resisting the hardening of religious identities. He reminds readers of the Dalai Lama's exhortation that conversion to Buddhism is not generally the best option for non-Buddhists drawn to his Tibetan tradition. Rather, he advises taking what seems good in Buddhism to enrich one's original religion, thus remaining integrated with family members, communities, and local customs.
In part 2, the contributions of Buddhist authors display more academic distance because of the fact that the authors are not engaged in Christian practices in their Buddhist lives. But the essays...