Universalist Fellowship of Charlotte County
"Buddhism & Christianity
in Dialogue" - Rev.
Samuel A. Trumbore
Spoken & Silent
Selection from the Hua Hu Ching translated by Brian Walker
am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing
old. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way
to escape having ill health. I am of the nature to die. There
is no way to escape death. All that is dear to me and everyone
I love is of the nature to change. There is no way to escape
being separated from them. My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions
are the ground on which I stand. Whatever joy there is in this
world, All comes from desiring others to be happy, And whatever
suffering there is in this world, All comes from desiring myself
to be happy. To the ordinary person, the body of humanity seems
vast. In truth, it is neither bigger nor smaller than anything
else. To the ordinary person, there are others whose awareness
needs raising. In truth, there is no self, and no other. To
the ordinary person, the temple is sacred and the field is
not. This, too, is dualism which runs counter to the truth.
Those who are highly evolved maintain an undiscriminating perception.
Seeing everything, labeling nothing, they maintain their awarenesss
of the Great Oneness. Thus they are supported by it.
Buddhist and Christian Parables
sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along
the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds
fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately
they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the
sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they
withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns
grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and
brought fourth grain, some a hundred fold, some sixty, some
thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.
the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak
answered them, "To you has been given to know the secrets
of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance;
but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they
do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand."
blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they
hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men
longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear
what you hear, and did not hear it.
then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word
of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes
and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was
sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground,
this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with
joy; yet has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and
when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word,
immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns,
this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and
the delight of riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful.
for what is sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word
and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one
case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
the Blessed One thought:
have taught the truth which is excellent in the beginning,
excellent in the middle, and excellent in the end; it is glorious
in its spirit and glorious in its letter. But simple as it
is, the people cannot understand it. I must speak to them in
their own language. I must adapt my thoughts to their thoughts.
They are like unto children, and love to hear tales. Therefore,
I will tell them stories to explain the glory of the Dharma.
If they cannot grasp the truth in the abstract arguments by
which I have reached it, they may nevertheless come to understand
it, if it is illustrated in parables."
a wealthy Brahman farmer, was celebrating his harvest-thanksgiving
when the Blessed One came with his alms-bowl, begging for food.Some
of the people paid him reverence, but the Brahman was angry
and said: "O
samana, it would be more fitting for thee to go to work than
to beg. I plough and sow, and having ploughed and sown, I eat.If
thou didst likewise, thou, too, wouldst have something to eat."
Tathagata answered him and said: "O Brahman, I too, plough
and sow, and having ploughed and sown, I eat."
thou profess to be a farmer?" replied the Brahman. "Where,
then, are thy bullocks? Where is the seed and the plough?"
Blessed One said: "Confidence is the seed I sow: good
works are the rain that fertilizes it; wisdom and modesty are
the plough; my mind is the guiding-rein; I lay hold of the
handle of the law; earnestness is the goad I use, and exertion
is my draught-ox. This ploughing is ploughed to destroy the
weeds of illusion. The harvest it yields is the immortal fruit
of Nirvana, and thus all sorrow ends."
the Brahman poured rice-milk into a golden bowl and offered
it to the Blessed One, saying: "Let the Teacher of mankind
partake of the rice-milk, for the venerable Gotama ploughs
a ploughing that bears the fruit of immortality."
the spirit of parables, I'd like to share another one with
you about the meeting of a Zen Buddhist monk and a Trappist
Christian monk on a balmy spring day with the trees leafing
out and many flowers in bloom. They bowed and shook hands admiring
each other's robes and discussing many points of similarity
in the organization of their monastic lives. Both had taken
vows of poverty. Both were celibate. Both lived in separated
communities. Both had rituals they did every day. Enjoying
this process of comparing their lives, they decided to explore
the ideas that informed their religious orders. They found
a shady bench to gain shelter from the afternoon sun and began
the Trappist monk exclaimed, "Central to our thinking
is the Trinitarian understanding of God. God is one expressed
as three: The Father God from whom the Universe was created
and to whom it will return; The Son who took human form to
show us, the alienated creatures of God, how to restore our
relationship and who gave his life to appease the Father; and
the Holy Spirit who continues the Divine presence in our daily
lives by making the reality of God known to us in each moment."
Zen monk responded, "Your ideas of God are very strange
to us. We do not believe in an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent
God. In fact we believe just the opposite. That there is nothing
beyond this wheel of cause and effect. Here is how we talk
about it in the Lotus Sutra, one of our most inspiring texts:
Bodhisattva of Compassion From the depths of prajna wisdom
saw the emptiness and sundered the bonds that caused suffering.
here is only emptiness, emptiness only form. Form is no other
than emptiness, emptiness no other than form.
Gate, Para gate, Para sam gate, bohdi svaha! Gone, Gone, Gone
beyond; Gone beyond the beyond, Wow! (very loosely translated)
Respect, honor and attention to the Awakened One!
the Trappist Monk. "This isn't going to be as easy as
I had hoped. Some of what you say reminds me of the centering
prayer we do but it is also different. One thing I think we
can agree upon is the importance of what we do to help people
get to heaven. I know that the fruit of my cloistered life
will be to ascend to heaven after I die.
me!" said the Zen monk. "I have taken Bodhisattva
vows. I will be reborn in this world again and again until
all beings have been brought to enlightenment. If being born
in hell helps in that process, I'd gladly go."
noble and courageous!" said the Trappist monk. "I
see our cosmologies are very different. I think though there
is one area that I'm sure we can find agreement. The importance
of faith. We must believe our scriptures and teachers. We must
clean out our doubts and fill our mind with Divine Truth."
again we have differences in thinking" said the Zen monk. "The
Buddha taught that we must not speculate about the nature of
divine truth or overly revere a particular teacher. In fact
if we meet the Buddha on the road, kill him! This expression
is a very profound puzzle, what we call a koan, we wrestle
with. Our goal is to be independent of outside authority and
find out what is true for ourselves. The Buddha insisted that
his disciples not take his word for anything. The disciple
was encouraged to sit down, meditate, follow his instructions
and find out the answer through personal experience."
a moment the two sat with their brows furrowed wondering how
they could talk to each other when they had so many conceptual
disagreements. One believed in God and the other didn't. One
was guided by faith and the other wasn't. One believed we had
one life and the other many lives. How could they communicate?
propose another way for us to dialogue with each other." Said
the Zen monk.
he drew in a long deep breath and slowly exhaled the breath
followed by a short shallow breath in and out. The Trappist
monk winked at him and repeated the same breaths. The incense
of lilac was in the warming spring air which awakened their
minds to the present moment. The Trappist monk gestured to
a bold robin as it flew to their feet and chirped at them.
The Zen monk closed his eyes as a gentle breeze brushed his
cheek. The Trappist monk scooped up some water from a nearby
pool and sprinkled a little on the Zen monk's shaved head.
The Zen monk smiled and bowed.
they couldn't agree conceptually about the structures of their
religions, in that silent moment of spiritual practice, they
recognized something in the other which connected them as brothers
in wordless agreement.
speak to you in parables this morning because the Christian
and Buddhist worlds construct the universe, humanity, our ultimate
goals and ends, and our experience of consciousness very differently.
Yet for all their differences, the West and the East have been
in contact with each other directly and indirectly over many,
many years. The Buddha attained his enlightenment 2,500 years
ago and taught for 40 or so years. About 200 years later, the
Indian King Asoka was converted to Buddhism and sent out missionaries
in all directions. Undoubtedly, Alexander the Great in his
conquests had contact with Buddhist monks. The Greek king Milindra
met one of these monks named Nagasena and had an extended dialogue
which was recorded for posterity in Buddhist Scriptures. While
races and tribes may have been restricted geographically, their
religious ideas probably traveled along their trade routes
with them. I've argued that Jesus was probably affected by
these ideas most likely though Greek Philosophy that came with
their conquest of Palestine.
our century, this dialogue as continued on two fronts. The
first is among the theologians. Whitehead's Process Theology
has a number of interesting connections with Eastern thinking
which the academics have noted. In the early 70's Process theologian
John Cobb initiated meetings with Kyoto School Buddhist philosopher
Abe Masao to explore these interconnections. These dialogues
gave birth to the Society for Buddhist Christian Studies in
1987. Their work together so far has focused on philosophy
and doctrine, spiritual practice and cooperative social engagement.
A great deal of intellectual cross pollination has come from
second avenue has been to investigate the other religious tradition
from the inside through spiritual practice based connections.
Thomas Merton is probably the best known Westerner to explore
this approach. Today there are a number of Christians who have
been rigorously trained in Zen to the point that they have
even been authorized to teach Zen to others.
Kennedy is one such ex-Catholic priest. What I find interesting
is he hasn't converted to Buddhism. He remains a follower of
Jesus. In fact, he says he is probably a better Catholic than
before studying Zen. When he studied with his first Roshi,
the Roshi told him that he didn't want to convert him to Buddhism
but rather help him be a better Catholic.
Catholic monk, David Steindl-Rast, has also practiced Zen under
a number of teachers. His practice has brought him to make
this rather striking statement:
have no problem identifying differences between the [Buddhist
and Christian] traditions, but I have an enormous problem accepting
differences that are opposed rather than complementary. It
just doesn't fit my worldview. I have never come across such
a thing, and I don't expect ever to come across it.
I were to discover an apparent opposition between the two traditions,
it would merely make me say, "Well, I haven't fully understood
it. I know that when I understand it, I'll see it as complementary
it be great if our fundamentalist neighbors could have such
a broad minded view?)
of the productive dialogue between different religious traditions
comes from this kind of attitude. It often gets formulated
in this analogy: We are all trying to climb the same mountain.
There are many paths up the mountain. On the rainy side of
the mountain, everything is lush and green along the path.
On the dry side of the mountain the path is barren and rocky.
If we look only at the path, they look very different. But
if we follow the paths to their destination, they arrive at
the same place.
analogy was used recently at one of our Unitarian Universalist
minister's meetings and one of our number, a professor of religion,
objected to the analogy. He proposed that it might be possible
that there are actually two peaks, not just one, that are quite
different. In conversation afterwards, I probed further. He
complained that some of the religious paths in the world may
actually lead away from the greatness of what humanity can
achieve and de-evolve us back into the animal world. I suggested
perhaps his analogy might be better put, many paths might lead
up the mountain but others might lead down into a bottomless
all I can see neither the Buddhists nor the Christians who
are willing to engage in dialogue are headed for the bottomless
pit. The dialogue is actually having an unintended result which
I find very exciting. As the Christians and Buddhists dialogue,
they are helping mark another newer trail up the mountain we
call Unitarian Universalism.
in God is central to all Christian doctrines. While some Buddhists
do have deities they revere, they are not parallel to the Western
conception of God. Buddhism has heaven and hell realms but
they are not ontological. They are temporary abodes where beings
can be reborn and reside while not here on earth. Eventually
all will be reborn back in this world to try again until they
escape from the wheel of birth and death. In Buddhism there
is no absolute creator God outside of time and space.
pushed on the nature of the absolute, the Buddha would deflect
the question directing people away from speculation and into
practice. In human form we can discover satisfying answers
to all our questions by carefully observing our own experience.
(Easy to say, very hard to do)
dialogue makes room for our non-theistic approach to religion.
We do not require belief or unbelief in God for participation
in Unitarian Universalism. Like the Buddhists, we are directed
to the wisdom of our own experience. Instead of basing our
religious ideals on faith in revealed doctrine, we direct people
to figure things out for ourselves by listening both inwardly
to our hearts and outwardly to each other and our leaders and
philosophers. This may lead us to a devout belief in God...or
to atheism. There are no pre-ordained answers. If there were,
it wouldn't be a free search.
the issue of soul verses the Buddhist idea of emptiness and
no-self, we find ourselves more informed by our Christian heritage,
especially the Universalists who believed we are all saved
by Jesus' atonement. We rejected the idea of Original Sin and
the depravity of man as it came to us from Calvinism. In the
Buddhist Christian dialogue, coming to a more expansive understanding
of no-self has brought further support to our first principle,
the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Buddhists don't
separate the saved and the damned - they want to save everyone
and more. The Buddhists don't worry about just helping all
people become enlightened, they want to bring all sentient
beings to enlightenment which includes the birds, the bees
and the bears. The absence of the soul idea means that we are
not separate from other life forms but part of a larger universe
which includes us. There are no good creatures and bad creatures
just as there are no absolutely good people or evil people.
We are all deluded not knowing our true Buddha nature which
we can realize in this or some future lifetime.
most important encouragement to our liberal tradition from
Buddhist Christian dialogue is the process of dialogue itself.
The process of dialogue is a central article of UU faith and
practice. My words are not authoritative. Neither are yours.
It is, to use Henry Nelson Wieman's term, our creative interchange
of ideas and experiences which allows new ideas and understandings
to emerge; new ideas and understanding more expansive than
the ones initially brought to the conversation. This is the
great gift to us of the free religious tradition we inherit
from our forebears. None of us are asked to conform our thinking
to a doctrine we may not understand and which will limit our
perception of what is real. Rather, we take up the challenge
to engage each other creatively in the pursuit of truth. For
all truth is new and fresh when we first discover and later
reconfirm its reality for ourselves.
puts this process so beautifully in these words:
wish to live deep and suck all the marrow of life. I want to
cut a broad swath, to drive life into a corner, and reduce
it to its lowest terms. If it proves to be mean, then to get
the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness
to the world, Or if it is sublime, to know it by experience,
and to be able to give a true account of it."
Christian dialogue is representative of the essence of our
religious tradition which calls us to live life passionately,
know it, speak the truth we find, follow the guidance of that
truth and integrate it into our existence. Rather than pretending
we know the answers when we don't, we honestly take up the
path before us.
us be faithful companions to each other as we dialogue, walking
together in the search for beauty, truth and right.
Merton said, "I couldn't understand the Christian teaching
the way I do if it weren't in the light of Buddhism." I
add to that, I couldn't understand Unitarian Universalism the
way I do without my contact with Christianity and Buddhism,
and Sufism, and Hinduism, and Taoism, and Humanism, and Science
and many other isms. Our ever growing dialogue expands us and
does not diminish us.
we take up the opportunity to engage others in our congregation
who do not think and believe as we do and learn from the exchange.
It is a gift of our free faith for our growth.
in peace, Make peace, Be at peace.
Jones, Charles B., "Reflections on the Buddhist-Christian
Dialogue in its Second Decade: Issues in Theory and Practice",
Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Volume 4 1997: p310-320 ISSN 1076-9005
 Aitken, Robert & Steindl-Rast, David, The Ground We
Share: Everyday Practice, Buddhist and Christian, Shambala,
1994, ISBN 1-57062-219-1, p. 22.  Other good books are:
The Zen Teaching of Jesus by Kenneth S. Leong (ISBN 0-8245-1481-5)
The Gethsemani Encounter: a Dialogue on the Spiritual Life
by Buddhist and Christian Monastics edited by Mitchell & Wiseman
(ISBN 0-8264-1046-4)  Aitken & Steindel-Rast, p. 47.