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Doing Life Together

Doing Life Together

Part 2: Christian Mindfulness: Why Buddhism Attracts

Mindfulness is popular in our culture. A few years ago, I gave a plenary address to a group of Christian therapists in terms of the differences between the Christian view of mindfulness and eastern religions. The response was so great that I wanted to pass along my comments in a series of 4 blogs. Part one of this series can be found by clicking here, The Christian Practice of Mindfulness.

Because Buddhism is not considered a religion by many, but a philosophy of life, it lends well to psychological discourse. By the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Buddhist modernists promoted a less spiritual but more humanistic form of Buddhism, emphasizing change by way of a familiar Freudian concept–make the unconscious conscious.[1] Despite attempts to naturalize Buddhism, there are those who argue that “theology” is probably at work even when presented as a philosophy.[2] Even so, the integration of Buddhism and mental health is given public discourse in the larger mental health community. This is not so for Christianity.

In many ways, American culture is ripe for Buddhist picking. America’s growing pluralism introduces multiple cultural narratives. The deconstruction of truth brought on by postmodernism allows for truth to be discovered, a major tenet of Buddhist thought. And when truth is relative, there is no sin, allowing people to discover their own path to freedom. One could even argue that some Christians have become more independent in their beliefs, straying from biblical principles and creating faith that suits them.

Our culture is curious about meditation and spirituality, especially practices that are based in experience.[3] Buddhism is experiential, allowing people to feel religious without having to adhere to religious doctrine. Furthermore, forms of Buddhism compliment an American ideal—with enough effort and knowledge, you can be the master of your own destiny.

As our world becomes more violent, Americans are attracted to the peaceful, tolerant and nonviolent qualities they see in Buddhist followers. Most would agree that the encouragement of compassion and patience towards others is desperately needed in our society. Even though Jesus had these same qualities, He is ignored or relegated to a great teacher because He claims to be the only path to salvation.

In the scientific community, brain research has made understanding the science of mental life less mystical. Changes in mental process can be studied and measured, opening up scientific inquiry into states of meditation. And since Buddhist meditation promises outcomes of liberation from suffering and pain, and a way to calm the mind and reduce stress, it lends itself to empirical study and therapeutic value.

Buddhism emphasizes compassion, a life of modesty and restraint and respect for all things living.[4] It accepts all world faiths with an emphasis on nonjudgmental and tolerant thinking. With a spark of the divine in each of us, doctrine is unnecessary as one follows his own path, not constrained by the narrow path that Christianity offers. And most Americans, Christians included, are naïve to the true spiritual underpinnings of eastern religions and deeper forms of meditation. For example, people I talk to usually have no idea that the physical movements in Yoga are based on ancient Hindu worship designed to awaken the serpent power within through the discipline of the physical body.[5]

But the problem for the Christian is that the narrative of Buddhism is very different from Christianity. And that difference in narrative makes a difference. This I will address in Part 3.


[1] Encountering Buddhism:  western psychology and Buddhist teachings Seth Robert Segal editor, pp. 9-31 (2003) State University of New York Press

 

[2] Buddhist theology: Critical reflections by contemporary Buddhist scholars. Edited by Roger Jackson and John Makransky (1999). RoutledgeCurzon

Note: the term theology is used even though there is no belief is God

[3] No other gods: Christian belief in dialogue with Buddhism, Hinduism and islam by Hendrick Vroom Wm. B. Erdsman Publisher (March 1996)

[4] Individualtion and Awakening: Romantic narrative and the psychological interpretation of Buddhism by Richard Payne pp. 31-51 from Buddhism and Psychotherapy Across Cultures: Essays on Therories and Practices by Mark Unno, Editor (2006). Wisdom Publishing Co

[5] Swamisivananda, S. (1994). Kundalini Yoga. Himalayas India: A Divine Life Society Publication. p. xiv-xv.

 

  • Linda Mintle

    I have read more than you credit me. Don’t assume because we don’t agree I have not read a broad group of writers, but my opinions have to align with Scripture. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment KD

    Clement of Alexandria described the culmination of Christian life as apatheia. Meister Eckhart taught that detachment was the highest virtue above even love. The Philokalia is mostly available in English and discusses in depth the life of prayer. The writings of the Desert Fathers have much to say about mindfulness/watchfulness. John Climacus in The Ladder of Divine Assent states that detachment is the second stage of assent for Christian’s leading the true spiritual life (after the renunciation of life). Perhaps reading some more of the writings of those Christians who have led the life of prayer and watchfulness (nepsis) would help you to clarify your ideas?

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