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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Buddhist Evangelism

 
It's just my observation, but I think Christians could learn a great deal from Buddhists about evangelism.

They don't do it. They live it.

It's not about getting people to "join" them. It's about living it. It's not about the Wat or The Temple. It's about your home and your family.

Every home and business - shops, restaurants, dental or medical clinics - have a small "Spirit House" just outside or near the entrance. Sometimes it has a statue of Buddha in it. Often times it does not.

Freshly strung flowers are hung from it and, at the start of each new day, a bowl of rice, something to drink (I've noticed the Buddha apparently likes strawberry or cherry Fanta), and some incense is lit and put out in front of the Spirit House.

I watch someone - sometimes male, sometimes female - from the family come out, place the "offering tray" in front of the Spirit House, bow reverently and, for just a few moments, pray.

They pray, I've learned, mostly for the two pathways to Nirvana or Enlightenment - prajna (wisdom) and karuna (compassion).

Wisdom comes from the awareness and understanding - and, ultimately, acceptance - that everything is dynamic. The world and all creatures are both in flux and interrelated. Compassion comes from Synyata or emptiness, understanding that the self is "no self" without others.

One can not have wisdom without compassion. Neither can there be compassion without wisdom. The two are deeply, profoundly, interrelated. Well, one can have one without the other but one would be out of balance. Achieve a balance of them both, and you have a greater opportunity to achieve Enlightenment or Nirvana.

Notice, please, that you don't have to go to confession a prescribed number of times, or attend church on High Holy Days and receive communion as a requirement for membership in a Temple. No sign-ins on a registry of attendance, status of membership, either

As Mary Oliver writes,
"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting."
And, God knows, you are not expected to tithe or pledge to your Wat. You are, however, expected to be generous and to bring food and water and clothing to the monks who are, essentially, teachers and spiritual guides. Oh, and flowers, candles and incense to Buddha which you purchase from the monks at a teeny-tiny profit to the Wat.

Maybe that's because there's no guilt-tripping. No talk about "sin" or an external force of evil known as "the Devil" or how "Buddha saves" you from your sin if you only "repent and turn to the Lord". No "original sin" you were born with, only "cravings" which are a normal part of life which one learns to empty oneself of if one wants to end suffering in one's life and the world.

No promises of tomorrow or what happens after you die, only instruction on how to live a moral life.
At home. Where you are. With your family and friends and those who come into your life or home or school or business.

I suspect the Temple gets more this way than most churches reap from well-designed well executed Evangelism or Stewardship Program.

That's because Buddhism is not a religion. It's a way of life. One, I'm discovering, is highly compatible with the way of Jesus.

It really is the way Jesus lived his life, isn't it? Near as I can tell, he didn't have a Temple of his own. He didn't have an office or keep office hours. He went to were people were, teaching, healing and, on at least a few occasions, preaching.

I see the Buddhist monks doing the same thing. And, I see an entire nation of Buddhists who are working out and living their faith publicly.

Which all causes me to wonder. What if Christianity took a page from Buddhism? What if, rather than the church and her clergy being the center and mediators of our expressions of faith, the self and the family home became the primary focus of our religious lives?

What if, from the time a child drew her or his first breath, s/he breathed in prayer? What if the first sound to greet you as you ushered forth from the womb to enter the world was the chanting of prayers of joy and thanksgiving?

What if, no matter who you are or what you are or how much education or money or social status you have, people bowed to you when they met you? What if every day of your life, you saw your parents making offerings and praying at the Spirit House, and they taught you how to do that, too? What if the point of your whole life was to learn wisdom and show compassion?

And, what if, wherever you went - home or away - people greeted you with a sign of reverent prayer?

What would happen to Christianity if we practiced our faith less in church and more in our lives and homes and families?

Isn't that a better form of evangelism?

Call me a heretic if you wish, but ultimately, isn't that the best form of evangelism: to help yourself and others become a better member of the human race and a member of the family of God through the attainment of wisdom and compassion than to become a member of a Church?

Unless, of course, the church took more seriously the task of helping people attain wisdom and compassion and lead moral lives.

Then, I think, absolutely everyone would want to belong.

I know I would. Wouldn't you?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, you might want to exhibit a little epistemological humility and deal with the facts of Buddhism: in most places it is a persecutor of Christianity and Islam. What you are seeing is the live-and-let-live Thai version.

"What if, rather than the church and her clergy being the center and mediators of our expressions of faith, the self and the family home became the primary focus of our religious lives?"

I'm surprised that you weren't familiar with a strain of Christianity that does this: Catholicism. Go to the priest-scarce lands of the Philippines and Mexico-- or the Catholic ghetto of East LA-- and you will see such a version of Christianity.

xxMichael

Hutch said...

We recently stayed at the Dream hotel in midtown Manhattan, and were thrilled to find, in the nightstand drawer, The Teachings of the Buddha. What wonderful and spiritual reading. And way back in the day when I was still working as a nurse manager, one of the things I got my staff to say to the babies as they came into the nursery was "Welcome to the world - we have been waiting for you." They thought it was pretty hokey at first, but then loved it.

Hutch said...

We recently stayed at the Dream hotel in midtown Manhattan, and were thrilled to find, in the nightstand drawer, The Teachings of the Buddha. What wonderful and spiritual reading. And way back in the day when I was still working as a nurse manager, one of the things I got my staff to say to the babies as they came into the nursery was "Welcome to the world - we have been waiting for you." They thought it was pretty hokey at first, but then loved it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael, you say "in most places it (Buddhism) is a persecutor of Christianity and Islam". I'm not sure of your point. I thought everyone knew that about Buddhism. It's not so much "live and let live" as "everyone is responsible for their own lives and future". Very few Christian "do gooders" here who muck up other people's lives with their good intentions.

Wait, wait, wait - Are you talking about the practical applications of liberation theology? The same one the Vatican doesn't like? That "strain" of Christianity?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I have come to believe that what many people have said is true: Buddhism can help make us better followers of Christ. The monks here are not at all interested in me becoming Buddhist. They want me to be a better Christian. It's marvelous.

MarkBrunson said...

Is this the usual "persecution" of Christianity, in which conservative, so-called-christians are tragically deprived of the right to make the very name of Jesus a curse and misery by their incredible, blundering, selfish proselytism and attempts at political maneuvering? The "persecution" in which they scream how the local populace is going to Hell if they don't convert, and still nobody's buying what you're selling?

Or are we reaching aaaaaalll the way back to the Tokugawa shogunate and the "martyrs" of Japan, who were, in fact, the pawns of political intriguers on the behalf of Spain? Hmmmm?

You play with fire, you get burned.

You lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.

You try to undermine an Asian autocrat, you get executed.

See - Buddhism is right; cause and effect.

Further Buddhist teaching in action, there's certainly a good deal of "emptiness" to the "form" of Buddhist oppression of Islam. Oh, wait! You mean when the Buddhists blew up all those priceless, ancient statues of Muhammad carved into the living rock of the mountainside? (Oh . . . that's right . . .)

The actions of missionaries - protestant and roman, alike - have poisoned the name of Jesus to vast parts of the world for a hundred generations to come - that isn't persecution, that's paying for stupidity.

MarkBrunson said...

Is this the usual "persecution" of Christianity, in which conservative, so-called-christians are tragically deprived of the right to make the very name of Jesus a curse and misery by their incredible, blundering, selfish proselytism and attempts at political maneuvering? The "persecution" in which they scream how the local populace is going to Hell if they don't convert, and still nobody's buying what you're selling?

Or are we reaching aaaaaalll the way back to the Tokugawa shogunate and the "martyrs" of Japan, who were, in fact, the pawns of political intriguers on the behalf of Spain? Hmmmm?

You play with fire, you get burned.

You lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.

You try to undermine an Asian autocrat, you get executed.

See - Buddhism is right; cause and effect.

Further Buddhist teaching in action, there's certainly a good deal of "emptiness" to the "form" of Buddhist oppression of Islam. Oh, wait! You mean when the Buddhists blew up all those priceless, ancient statues of Muhammad carved into the living rock of the mountainside? (Oh . . . that's right . . .)

The actions of missionaries - protestant and roman, alike - have poisoned the name of Jesus to vast parts of the world for a hundred generations to come - that isn't persecution, that's paying for stupidity.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - Christianity has very ugly parts of its history. I am smirking at Michael's admonition to me to have "a little epistemological humility".

Why is it that those who are so very "certain" always admonish others to have humility?

Anonymous said...

I am saying go to the State Department or Amnesty International or simply google Buddhist persecution of Christians and see what you get. Thailand is the happy exception to the rule.

The Islam angle was something I hadn't known about until I had done some research regarding Christian persecution.

BTW Mr. Brunson I'm well aware of Muslim persecution of Buddhists (and Hindus and Jews and Christians) and the archaelogical destruction of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. But since the blog host was extolling the virtues of Islam in the post, I tried to keep on point.

xxMichael

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael - If I believed that you believed everything you read online, I'd believe you were much more open-minded than you appear to be.

Buddhists in other countries in Asia have been persecuted and do fight back but (1) Christians are not their primary target and (2) it is not in their nature so you must know how badly they are being persecuted.

Why you pursue this line of thinking is beyond me. If we all concentrated on being the best Christian - or Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim - we could possibly be without trying to change each other, the world would be such a better place, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

I see I had a typo in my comment to Mr. Brunson: "But since the blog host was NOT extolling the virtues of Islam in the post, I tried to keep on point." Inserted the missing word "not."

"(2) it is not in their nature so you must know how badly they are being persecuted." Well, my point is that it IS in their nature, since Buddhists have the same fallen human nature as the rest of us do. All of us, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, et al, have it in our nature to be nasty to each other. The solution is not to pretend that the Buddha found a way out of this dilemma. The solution is Christ.

FrMichael

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael - Your ability to ignore the obvious in service of your own perspective never ceases to amaze me.

No one - especially Buddha - ever said that Buddhists were "conceived without sin". We Christians talk about "original sin". Buddhists talk about "cravings" as being an integral part of the human enterprise.

While I have serious problems with "original sin" and other Christian's needs to tell me and others of our need to "repent and return to the Lord" (usually THEIR image and understanding of the nature and character of God and Jesus), and, for me, Jesus is 'the Way, the Truth and the Life", I can not - WILL not - assert my beliefs and understandings on others. The best evangelism I can do for Jesus is not to try and convert others to His Way, but to live my life in such a fashion as inspires admiration and emulation.

"Jesus is the answer" depends solely on the question. "Jesus is the solution" depends entirely on the problem.