Buddhism for a Christian

As a Christian, I think it is important to have a working knowledge of world religions. Studying a different religion not only expands your understanding of varying beliefs but also helps you appreciate your own spirituality to a greater extent. Some people are wary of studying different religions because they believe it will tarnish their devoutness or lead them astray. In reality, the opposite almost always happens – for example, learning about Buddhism made me appreciate Jesus Christ to a far higher degree. Thanks to my physical therapist, I was recommended an excellent book on Buddhism called Old Path White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hand is a Buddhist monk, and a proliferate author – he wrote this book as a factual biography of the Buddha – heavy on doctrine and light on myths.

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It follows the life of Siddhartha, a wealthy prince who seeks the path of enlightenment and eventually becomes known as the Buddha. The word Buddha actually means “the enlightened one” and this book explains how Buddhism was initially spread throughout eastern India around 450 BC. At that time, many religions believed in various gods and degrees of asceticism – how much humans should avoid or indulge in pleasure. Siddhartha followed the greatest spiritual leaders but was never able to reach enlightenment until he understood the actual source of human suffering.

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What is the central root of human suffering? Ignorance. Not knowing the truth is the cause of all the pain in the world. Well, what then is the truth? The Buddha believed that…

“People were caught in endless suffering because of their erroneous perceptions; they believed that which is impermanent is permanent, that which is without self contains self, that which has no birth and death has birth and death, and they divided that which is inseparable into parts.”

Put in another way, people have the wrong perceptions of the world and hence inaccurate realities of truth. So the next question then is how can one fix their reality? Again the Buddha believed that…

“…the key to liberation would be to break through ignorance and to enter deeply into the heart of reality and attain a direct experience of it. Such knowledge would not be the knowledge of the intellect, but of direct experience.”

This “direct experience” is achieved through mindfulness of the present moment. Complete mindfulness requires one to understand that there is no “self” and that there is no permanence – all things depend on each other in a cyclical-eternal fashion. Understanding this interdependence of life – the Buddha was able to shed all the sources of suffering: fear, anger, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, greed, and ignorance. The Buddha taught his followers to meditate to reach this awareness and connectedness. In a way, Buddhism is more of a philosophy than a religion – there is no soul, higher power, or afterlife; the goal is to reach Nirvana which is complete enlightenment and the extinction of self.

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Buddhism is complex – especially with reincarnation – and what I have described are the main tenets; there are many different schools of thought just like those in Christianity. So how did I apply these Buddhist teachings as a Christian? First off, Christianity teaches that you can not earn your way into heaven and that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. In Buddhism, the individual is responsible for their enlightenment, and the path to salvation is earned rather than gifted. Just that fact makes me want to shout “Praise the Lord for Jesus!” I did, however, find several parallels between Buddhism and Christianity in respects to suffering.

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Jesus, just like the Buddha, teaches that we need to love one another and that we are all interconnected – we fall apart because of fear, anger, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, greed, and ignorance. I also took away the important message of impermanence and mindfulness. Nothing on this earth is forever, and this life is just a blip on the map of eternity; we shouldn’t be sad about death because it is transient. We must be mindful of the present because it not only makes us more aware of our blessings but it gives us a glimpse of what eternity will actually feel like – no past or future. I actually have been meditating more, and it helps me with gratitude, calms my mind, and rids me of thoughts that cause suffering. No matter what you believe, learning about different religions will always give you a greater sense of the world and the human condition.

The Essence of Essentialism

Has anyone heard about or seen news concerning the Flint water crisis? My wife and I live in Flint and we have been faced with the real life scariness of not having clean water for daily usage. Water is one of those things that is 100% essential to health and happiness. Fortunately our water is now clean because we just purchased a whole house filtering system which will last for 1,000,000 gallons (a crap ton). This water scare has made me hyper aware of what is truly essential in our lives. To further explore what is essential in my life I picked up Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.

Essentialism is very similar to minimalism because it seeks to rebuke excess in our lives. It is different however because it impacts all avenues of life whereas minimalism (in my opinion) focuses more on decreasing material possessions. So what does it mean to be an Essentialist?

The Essentialist…

-Pauses constantly and asks, “Am I investing in the right activities?”

-Doesn’t focus on getting more things done but rather the right things done

-Says “no” to everything except the essential

-Realizes there can only be one priority at a time

-Thinks almost all things are nonessential

-Creates time to escape and explore life

-Hears what is not being said

-Makes playing and sleeping priorities

-Makes one decision that will eliminate multiple future decisions

-Says “yes” only to the things that matter

-Is comfortable cutting losses

-Practices preparation and buffers for unexpected events

-Removes obstacles to progress

-Celebrates small acts of progress

-Keeps their thoughts in the present

-Enjoys the moment

-Asks what is important right now

The Essentialist lifestyle can be summed up by the German saying-Weniger aber besser-“Less but better”. I’m sure most people can identify with a few aforementioned attributes but the key to being an Essentialist is that all facets of life are defined by only those things that are essential. So what is essential? On a biological level, healthy food, water, sleep, exercise, and shelter are essential. On a psychological/spiritual level, autonomy, control, friendship, play, meditation, and purpose are essential. And the most essential of all…TIME. We need to construct our lives so that time is abundant. Without time we will push aside essentials and fill our lives with cheap fillers: material objects, social media, pride, vanity, power, etc. We need to remember that LESS is better and that the more we refine our priorities the more poignant our life’s purpose will become.

 

 

 

 

 

The Preposition of God

Question, should you live your life from God, over God, for God, or under God? Confused? Well, it was a trick question, you should live your life with God. Still confused? Don’t worry, I was to when I first started reading With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani which uses the above mentioned prepositions to explain how most of us relate to God. This book is an excellent read and I highly recommend it to religious and non-religious people alike. Alright, let’s define Mr. Jethani’s prepositions…

-Life from God: “People in this category want God’s blessings and gifts, but they are not particularly interested in God himself.” Think of the person who only seeks God out when they need something.

-Life over God: “The mystery and wonder of the world is lost as God is abandoned in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes.” Think of the person who uses the Bible as a complete resource manual for life and believes they have control as long as divine procedures are followed.

-Life for God: “This most celebrated of religious postures…The most significant life…is the one expended accomplishing great things in God’s service.” Think the uber-religous type who devote their lives to the service of God because they want to have a greater purpose and please God through their accomplishments.

-Life under God: “[this] posture sees God in simple cause-and-effect terms–we obey his commands and he blesses our lives, our families, our nation. Our primary role is to determine what he approves (or disapproves) and work vigilantly to remain within those boundaries.” Think of people who always focus of sins and think that blessings or calamities are a result of behavior.

In the real world, most people fit into all four of these categories depending on the circumstance. The correct way of relating to God is just being with Him. What the frick does “being with Him” mean? Well it means having an actual relationship with God and realizing that a relationship is the only thing He wants from us. God just wants us to hang out with Him because we are his creation and He loves us. It’s like any relationship you have with friends, family, or a loved one; you want interaction with each other because both individuals enjoy each other’s company. Sin is not something that God is tallying against us but is rather a barrier to us having a relationship with God. Sin is a punishment in of itself because it prevents us from spending time with our Creator. God doesn’t care what we accomplish in this life-all He cares about is spending time with us. God’s love for us has no strings attached and that is why all the previous prepositions fall short of a healthy relationship. We cannot control God and once we realize God cares for us then we can let go of that control and enjoy His love more completely. Of course, the idea of releasing fear is easier said then done, but it should be our ultimate goal if we desire a closer connection with God. How do we have a relationship with God? The best way is to just talk to God and try to listen. Prayer does not have to be a formal thing that happens at church or before dinner. Prayer is just the communion between you and God. Sit down and just say “What’s up God?” Personally, I combine prayer, yoga, and meditation together to help deepen my communication with God. It isn’t formal, boring, or strained. I just listen and speak to God as if He were a friend sitting next to me. This stuff isn’t easy but it can transform you into a more relaxed, loving, and peaceful person because you know that nothing is in your control but its okay because your BFF will help you through everything.