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  • Integrating Christ and the Saints into Buddhist Ritual:The Christian Homa of Yogi Chen
  • Richard K. Payne

Concern with dual belonging reflects the increasing religious pluralism of European and American societies. This pluralism has included both an increasing variety of religious traditions from outside the monotheistic mainstream of Abrahamic religions as well as new movements and sects within that mainstream. Awareness that religious pluralism is a reality and that many people have come to see this pluralism as offering viable religious alternatives has fostered much reflection, both scholarly and popular. This increasing variety of religions present in Europe and America results from broader social trends. Discussion of these broader social trends, however, lies outside the scope of this essay, which is an examination of the utility of the concept of dual belonging for the sociology of religion.1

Dual belonging (also known as double belonging, multiple religious belonging, and so on) becomes a specifically religious issue against the background of theological responses to the reality of religious pluralism. These theological responses include, first, the comparative theology of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, then theology of religions as developed in the middle to late twentieth century, and then the “new” comparative theology2 that has developed from the end of the twentieth into the present century.3 Another dimension that has influenced the discussion of dual belonging has been the efforts of Buddhist-Christian dialogue.4 The concern on the part of religious authorities, theologians, and, one should add, parents has been not just that “they” are now “here,” but that awareness of other religions also creates the opportunity for them to be actively embraced as viable alternatives to more familiar, mainstream religious traditions.5 While conversion has been one of the motivating concerns, another can perhaps be described as the fear of impurity. As Meredith B. McGuire has noted, in contrast to “the Western image of a religion as a unitary, organizationally defined, and relatively stable set of collective beliefs and practices” stands the reality that “extensive religious blending and within-group religious heterogeneity are the norm, rather than the exception.”6 This reality conflicts [End Page 37] with legitimating rhetorics of purity and authenticity, and constitutes a challenge to the authority of those who claim the right to define and defend what they hold as the pure and authentic.

yogi chen and religiously hybrid practice

The discourse regarding dual belonging has largely focused on Christians residing in the cultural West, where they are members of the dominant society and dominant religious culture, but who also identify with Buddhism.7 This reflects the predominant role played by theological concerns in the creation and application of the category of dual belonging. Thus it seems appropriate that Wendy Cadge has asked whether the concept and its cognates can be employed as a “descriptive term for understanding issues of religious globalization and their expression at the level of individual religious commitment.” In order to answer this question, the concept of dual belonging needs to be evaluated, testing whether it is applicable to those who are not members of the demographic that has largely been the subject of study so far. Here we reverse the lens to look at someone who is both not originally a Christian, but who integrates Christian symbolism into his practice, and not part of the dominant culture, an immigrant, a minority both socially and religiously. This instance allows us to examine the category for wider application than to those to whom it has been applied to date.8 Our test case will be a Chinese Buddhist teacher known as Yogi Chen.

Yogi Chen (1906–1987) was a Chinese practitioner of esoteric Buddhism who immigrated to the United States in 1972 and practiced in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last decade and a half of his life. Like many modern Chinese teachers, he claimed to bring together all of the teachings and practices of the Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana strains of Buddhism. In addition to practicing in retreat in Hunan, he also studied and practiced with the expatriate Tibetan community in India. During the final period of his life, as an immigrant in the United States, he...


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