24 April 2010

Buddhism and Christianity

There is speculation concerning a possible connection between both the Buddha and the Christ, and between Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhism originated in India about 500 years before the Apostolic Age and the origins of Christianity. Scholars have explored connections between Buddhism and Christianity. Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton University, analyzes similarities between some Early Christian texts and Buddhism. Describing teachings in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, Pagels says, "Some of it looks like Buddhism, and may have in fact been influenced by a well-established Buddhist tradition at the time that these texts were first written." Albert Joseph Edmunds believed the Gospel of John to contain Buddhist concepts and others have compared the infancy account of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke to that of the Buddha in the later The Lalitavistara Sutra. During the life of Jesus Christ and the period in which texts like the Gospel of Thomas were composed, Buddhist missionaries lived in Alexandria, Egypt. Historians believe that in the fourth century, Christian monasticism developed in Egypt, and it emerged with a corresponding structure comparable to the Buddhist monasticism of its time and place.

In his book, Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, Thomas WIlliam Doane states "The mythological portions of the histories of Buddha and Jesus are, without doubt, nearer in resemblance than that of any two characters of antiquity"

In the thirteenth century, international travelers, such as Giovanni de Piano Carpini and William of Ruysbroeck, sent back reports of Buddhism as a religion whose scriptures, doctrine, saints, monastic life, meditation practices, and rituals were comparable to those of Christianity and of Nestorian Christian communities in close proximity to traditionally Buddhist communities. When European Christians made more direct contact with Buddhism in the early 16th century many Catholic missionaries (e.g. Francis Xavier) sent home idyllic accounts of Buddhism. At the same time, however, Portuguese colonizers of Sri Lanka confiscated Buddhist properties across the country, with the full cooperation of the Christian missionaries. This repression of Buddhism in Sri Lanka continued during the rule of subsequently the Dutch and the English. Portuguese historian Diego De Conto reminded the Vatican that their Christian Saint Josaephat was actually the Buddha.

With the arrival of Sanskrit studies in European universities in the late eighteenth century, and the subsequent availability of Buddhist texts, a discussion began of a proper encounter with Buddhism. The esteem for its teachings and practices grew, and at the end of the 19th century the first Westerners (e.g. Sir Edwin Arnold and Henry Olcott) converted to Buddhism, and in the beginning of the 20th century the first westerners (e.g. Ananda Metteyya and Nyanatiloka) entered the Buddhist monastic life.

In the 20th century Christian monastics such as Thomas Merton, Wayne Teasdale, David Steindl-Rast and the former nun Karen Armstrong, and Buddhist monastics such as Ajahn Buddhadasa, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama have put energy into Buddhist/Christian dialogue. They each see in the otherwise disparate teachings of Jesus and the Buddha a basic commonality of insight and purpose which offers the possibility of profound remedy to an ailing world. The historian of world culture Arnold Toynbee has speculated that in centuries to come the encounter between Christianity and Buddhism may come to be seen as the momentous event of the 20th century.

By the time of Jesus, the teachings of the Buddha had already spread through much of India and penetrated into Sri Lanka, Central Asia and China. They display certain similarities to Christian moral precepts of more than five centuries later; the sanctity of life, compassion for others, rejection of violence, confession and emphasis on charity and the practice of virtue.

Will Durant, noting that the Emperor Ashoka sent missionaries, not only to elsewhere in India and to Sri Lanka, but to Syria, Egypt and Greece, speculated in the 1930s that they may have helped prepare the ground for Christian teaching. Ranajit Pal, on the other hand writes that Buddhism rose in the north-west of India, not Nepal, and that the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity are only natural as both grew out of the crucible of Mitraism/Mithraism.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus, one of the monarchs Ashoka mentions in his edicts, is recorded by Pliny the Elder as having sent an ambassador named Dionysius to the Mauryan court at Pataliputra: "India has been treated of by several other Greek writers who resided at the courts of Indian kings, such, for instance, as Megasthenes, and by Dionysius, who was sent thither by Philadelphus, expressly for the purpose: all of whom have enlarged upon the power and vast resources of these nations."

Meanwhile, the Buddha's teachings had spread north-west, into Parthian territory. Buddhist stupa remains have been identified as distant as the Silk Road city of Merv. Russiqn archeological teams in Giaur Kala, near Merv, have uncovered a Buddhist monastery, complete with huge buddharupa. Parthian nobles such as An Shih Kao are known to have adopted Buddhism and were among those responsible for its further spread towards China.

Folklorist and historian Donald Alexander Mackenzie argued in his book, Buddhism in Pre-Christian Britain (1928) that Buddhism might have influenced pre-Christian Britain.

Some have suggested the Church Fathers were acquainted with Buddhist beliefs and practices.

Buddhist tradition records in the Milinda Panha that the 2nd century BCE Indo-Greek king Menander converted to the Buddhist faith and became an arhat.

The Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria states in the 2nd century BC:
"Thus philosophy, a thing of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among the barbarians, shedding its light over the nations. And afterwards it came to Greece. First in its ranks were the prophets of the Egyptians; and the Chaldeans among the Assyrians; and the Druids among the Gauls; and the Sarmanas among the Bactrians ("Σαρμαναίοι Βάκτρων"); and the philosophers of the Celts; and the Magi of the Persians, who foretold the Saviour's birth, and came into the land of Judaea guided by a star. The Indian gymnosophists are also in the number, and the other barbarian philosophers. And of these there are two classes, some of them called Sramanas ("Σαρμάναι"), and others Brahmins (Βραφμαναι)."
—Clement of Alexandria "The Stromata or Miscellanies" Book I, Chapter XV

Clement writes of the Buddha:
"Among the Indians are those philosophers also who follow the precepts of Boutta, whom they honour as a god on account of his extraordinary sanctity."
— Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Miscellanies), Book I, Chapter XV

Early 3rd-4th century Christian writers such as Hippolytus and Epiphanius write of one Scythianus who visited India around 50 CE, whence he brought the "doctrine of the Two Principles". Scythianus' pupil Terebinthus supposedly presented himself as a “Buddha” ("he called himself Buddas" Cyril of Jerusalem) and became well known in Judaea. The same author says his books and knowledge were taken over by Mani, and became the foundation of the Manichean doctrine.

"Terebinthus, his disciple in this wicked error, inherited his money and books and heresy, and came to Palestine, and becoming known and condemned in Judaea he resolved to pass into Persia: but lest he should be recognised there also by his name he changed it and called himself Buddas."
—Cyril of Jerusalem, Sixth Catechetical Lecture Chapter 22-24

Hippolytus, a Greek-speaking Christian in Rome, around 235 includes Indian ascetics among sources of heresy:
"There is ... among the Indians a heresy of those who philosophize among the Brahmins, who live a self-sufficient life, abstaining from (eating) living creatures and all cooked food . . . They say that God is light, not like the light one sees, nor like the sun nor fire, but to them God is discourse, not that which finds expression in articulate sounds, but that of knowledge (gnosis) through which the secret mysteries of nature are perceived by the wise."

The Syrian gnostic theologian Bar Daisan describes in the third century his exchanges with missions of holy men from India (Greek: Σαρμαναίοι, Sramanas), passing through Syria on their way to Elagabalus or another Severan dynasty Roman Emperor. His accounts are quoted by Porphyry (De abstin., iv, 17 [6]) and Stobaeus (Eccles., iii, 56, 141).

The Greek legend of Barlaam and Ioasaph, sometimes mistakenly attributed to the seventh century John of Damascus but first recorded by the Georgian monk Euthymius of Athos in the eleventh century, was ultimately derived, via Arabic and Georgian versions, from the life story of the Buddha. The king-turned-monk Ioasaph (Georgian Iodasaph, Arabic Yūdhasaf or Būdhasaf) also gets his name from the Sanskrit Bodhisattva, the term traditionally used to refer to Gautama before he becomes a buddha.

Barlaam and Ioasaph were placed in the Orthodox calendar of saints on 26 August, and in the Roman martyrology they were canonized (as "Barlaam and Josaphat") and assigned 27 November. The story was translated into Hebrew in the Middle Ages as "Ben-Hamelekh Vehanazir" ("The Prince and the Nazirite"). Thus the Buddhist story was turned into a Christian and Jewish legend.

In general there are two views regarding a possible connection between Buddhism and Christianity; 1.Buddhism borrowed from Christianity. 2. Christianity borrowed from Buddhism. Those who believe the former point to the many Buddhist/Christian parallels appearing in Mahayana literature which was developed around the same time as the gospels were. Some of those who believe the latter point to the many Pali, or Theravadin Buddhist/Christian parallels, and claim that the Buddhist legends circulating before the said of time of Jesus shows that the Buddha legend had no need for a selfless servant, as the early Jesus was portrayed.

Some scholars have suggested that the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas and the Nag Hammadi texts display Buddhist influence. Elaine Pagels in her widely noted The Gnostic Gospels (1979), and in Beyond Belief (2003), makes mention of such theories.

As far back as 1816 the historian George Faber in his book, The Origin of Pagan Idolatry Ascertained From Historical Testimony and Circumstantial Evidence, stated, "There is so strong a resemblance between the characters of Jesus and of Buddha, that it cannot have been purely accidental.”

In 1883, Max Müller, the pioneering scholar of comparative religion and orientalist, asserted in his India: What Can It Teach Us?: "That there are startling coincidences between Buddhism and Christianity cannot be denied, and it must likewise be admitted that Buddhism existed at least 400 years before Christianity. I go even further, and should feel extremely grateful if anybody would point out to me the historical channels through which Buddhism had influenced early Christianity." It is interesting to note that Muller himself, before examining the Buddhist/Christian copycat claims, stated that he intended to prove the priority of the Jesus gospels over the Buddhist texts.

In The Gospel of Jesus in relation to the Buddha Legend, and again, in 1897, in The Buddha Legend and the Life of Jesus, Professor Rudolf Seydel of the University of Leipzig noted around fifty similarities between Buddhist and Christian parables and teachings.

Much more recently, the historian Jerry H. Bentley notes "the possibility that Buddhism influenced the early development of Christianity" and that scholars "have drawn attention to many parallels concerning the births, lives, doctrines, and deaths of the Buddha and Jesus".

In his Buddhism Omnibus, Iqbal Singh similarly acknowledges the possibility of early interaction and, thus, influence of Buddhist teachings upon the Christian tradition in its formative period.

In 2004 Burkhard Scherer, Reader in Religious Studies at England's Canterbury Christ Church University has stated: "...it is very important to draw attention to the fact that there is [massive] Buddhist influence in the Gospels....Since more than a hundred years, Buddhist influence in the Gospels has been known and acknowledged by scholars from both sides." He adds: "Just recently, Duncan McDerret published his excellent The Bible and the Buddhist (Sardini, Bornato [Italy] 2001). With McDerret, I am convinced that there are many Buddhist narratives in the Gospels."

Thomas Tweed, Professor of Religious Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, notes that between 1879 and 1907 there were a "number of impassioned discussions about parallels and possible historical influence between Buddhism and Christianity in ... a variety of periodicals". By 1906 interest waned somewhat. In the end, Albert Schweitzer's conclusion appears to have been favored: that, although some indirect influence through the wider culture was "not inherently impossible", the hypothesis that Jesus' novel ideas were borrowed directly from Buddhism was "unproved, unprovable and unthinkable."

Edward Conze and Elaine Pagels have suggested that gnosticism blends teachings like those attributed to Jesus Christ with teachings found in Eastern traditions.

Philip Jenkins writes that, since the mid-nineteenth century, new and fringe religious movements have often created images of Jesus, presenting him as a sage, philosopher and occult teacher, whose teachings are very similar to those of Asian religions. He asserts that the images generated by these religious movements share much in common with the images that increasingly dominate the mainstream critical scholarship of the New Testament, especially following the rediscovery of the Gnostic Gospels found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. He alleges that, in modern scholarly writing, Jesus has become more of a Gnostic, Cynic or even a crypto-Buddhist than the traditional notion of the reformist Jewish rabbi.

Jenkins acknowledges that "the Jesus of the hidden gospels has many points of contact with the great spiritual traditions of Asia." Pagels has written that "one need only listen to the words of the Gospel of Thomas to hear how it resonates with the Buddhist tradition… these ancient gospels tend to point beyond faith toward a path of solitary searching to find understanding, or gnosis." She suggests that there is an explicitly Indian influence in the Gospel of Thomas, perhaps via the Christian communities in southern India, the so-called Thomas Christians.

It is believed by some that of all of the Nag Hammadi texts, the Gospel of Thomas has the most similarities with Pure Land Buddhism within it. Edward Conze has suggested that Hindu or Buddhist tradition may well have influenced Gnosticism. He points out that Buddhists were in contact with the Thomas Christians.

Elaine Pagels notes that the similarities between Gnosticism and Buddhism have prompted some scholars to question their interdependence and to wonder whether "...if the names were changed, the 'living Buddha' appropriately could say what the Gospel of Thomas attributes to the living Jesus. " However, she concludes that, although intriguing, the evidence is inconclusive, and she further concludes that these parallels might be coincidental since parallel traditions may emerge in different cultures without direct influence.[

The Therapeutae (known only from Philo) were mystics and ascetics who lived especially in the area around Alexandria, Philo described the Therapeutae in the beginning of the 1st century CE in De vita contemplativa ("On the contemplative life"), written ca. 10 CE. By that time, the origins of the Therapeutae were already lost in the past, and Philo was even unsure about the etymology of their name.

Philonian monachism has been seen as the forerunner of and the model for the Christian ascetic life. It has even been considered as the earliest description of Christian monasticism. This view was first espoused by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History.

According to the linguist Zacharias P. Thundy the name "Therapeutae" is simply an Hellenisation of the Pali term for the traditional Buddhist faith, "Theravada". The similarities between the monastic practices of the Therapeutae and Buddhist monastic practices have led to suggestions that the Therapeutae were in fact Buddhist monks who had reached Alexandria, descendants of Ashoka's emissaries to the West, and who influenced the early formation of Christianity. The evidence for this argument rests solely on the similarity of practices and the purported derivation of the name. There is no evidence from antiquity that supports this argument.

Asceticism can be seen as a common point between Buddhism and Christianity, and is in contrast to the absence of asceticism in Judaism:
"Asceticism is indigenous to the religions which posit as fundamental the wickedness of this life and the corruption under sin of the flesh. Buddhism, therefore, as well as Christianity, leads to ascetic practices. Monasteries are institutions of Buddhism no less than of Catholic Christianity. The assumption, found in the views of the Montanists and others, that concessions made to the natural appetites may be pardoned in those that are of a lower degree of holiness, while the perfectly holy will refuse to yield in the least to carnal needs and desires, is easily detected also in some of the teachings of Gautama Buddha. The ideal of holiness of both the Buddhist and the Christian saint culminates in poverty and chastity; i.e., celibacy. Fasting and other disciplinary methods are resorted to curb the flesh"
The Jewish Encyclopedia

One tradition claims that Jesus traveled to India and Tibet during the "Lost years of Jesus" before the beginning of his public ministry. In 1887 a Russian war correspondent, Nicolas Notovitch, visited India and Tibet. He claimed that, at the lamasery or monastery of Hemis in Ladakh, he learned of the "Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men." His story, with a translated text of the "Life of Saint Issa," was published in French in 1894 as La vie inconnue de Jesus Christ. It was subsequently translated into English, German, Spanish, and Italian.

The "Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men" purportedly recounts the travels of one known in the East as Saint Issa, whom Notovitch identified as Jesus. After initially doubting Notovitch, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Abhedananda, journeyed to Tibet, investigated his claim, helped translate part of the document, and later championed his views.

Notovitch's writings were immediately controversial. The German orientalist Max Müller corresponded with the Hemis monastery that Notovitch claimed to have visited and Archibald Douglas visited Hemis Monastery. Neither found any evidence that Notovich (much less Jesus) had even been there himself, so they rejected his claims. The head of the Hemis community signed a document that denounced Notovitch as a liar.

Despite this contradictory evidence, a number of New Age or spiritualist authors have taken this information and have incorporated it into their own works. For example, in her book The Lost Years of Jesus: Documentary Evidence of Jesus' 17-Year Journey to the East, Elizabeth Clare Prophet asserts that Buddhist manuscripts provide evidence that Jesus traveled to India, Nepal, Ladakh and Tibet.

According to Jerry Bentley, "Scholars have often considered the possibility that Buddhism influenced the early development of Christianity. They have drawn attention to many parallels concerning the births, lives, doctrines, and deaths of the Buddha and Jesus"

Although the Buddha's birthday is celebrated in most traditions in May, which relates to the Buddha's mother Maya Devi, there is no early textual evidence to validate this birthday. Others, such as the author of The Angel-Messiah of Buddhists, Essenes, and Christians, claim, that based on the ancient Indian calendar in use around 600 b.c. the new year of the Indians was November 17, and so he concludes that since the Buddha was said to be born on the eighth day of the second month that the Buddha's birthday was December 25. This belief held by Buddhists is validated by certain ancient birth accounts of the Buddha, such as in the Asvaghosha-Kirita the Buddha is described as a descendent of solar kings, who was born when the sun retired; "There the sun, even although he had retired, was unable to scorn the moon-like faces of its women which put the lotuses to shame, and as if from the access of passion, hurried towards the western ocean to enter the (cooling) water".  This Buddhist text also compares the birth of the Buddha to the constellation of the seven Rishis, which some have compared to the early Christian art depicting "seven-rays" coming out of a white dove. Others have linked this to the Pali text titled Seven Suns.

The administrative structures formed by Buddhism share the following similarities with those formed by Christianity:

  • initiation into a holy trinity.
  • monasticism and communal living for spiritual adherents which adhered to principles of practicing poverty and chastity.
  • early Christian Councils reminiscent in organization to the Buddhist councils.
  • missionaries and missions which were first organized and established by Buddhists, all predate the early Christian organizations in the same areas where Christianity was first established (Antioch, etc.).

It is agreed that the Buddha legend was known in the general western world and it has been asserted by Orientalist Samuel Beal that the story of the birth of the Buddha was well known in the West, and possibly influenced the story of the birth of Jesus.

Saint Jerome (4th century CE) mentions the birth of the Buddha, who he says "was born from the side of a virgin" (the Buddha was, according to Buddhist tradition, born from the hip of his mother). The story of the birth of the Buddha was also known: a fragment of Archelaos of Carrha (278 CE) mentions the Buddha's virgin-birth.

Scholars see strong parallels in both the myth and life of Buddha and Jesus. Buddha and his disciples traveling preachers going into homes and preaching gospels to those who hear, is one obvious parallel of a literary motif not found in other traditions.[citation needed] Jesus too pursues this form of preaching and teaching. Jesus speaks of himself as the 'the light' and the son of a great father while the Buddha proclaims himself to be a great father with sons of light (Bodhisattva). Jesus proclaims to come to convert the wicked while the Buddha proclaims that his main goal is to save those of noble character or 'those with little dust in their eyes' although in the Lotus sutra the Buddha claims to create an illusionary 'half-way point'for those who are wicked. Ernest De Bunsen states, "With the remarkable exception of the death of Jesus on the cross, and of the doctrine of atonement by vicarious suffering, which is absolutely excluded by Buddhism, the most ancient of the Buddhistic records known to us contain statements about the life and the doctrines of Gautama Buddha which correspond in a remarkable manner, and impossibly by mere chance, with the traditions recorded in the Gospels about the life and doctrines of Jesus Christ...."

T.W. Rhys Davids, British scholar of the Pāli language, was the earliest most energetic promoter of the Theravada tradition in the West. In 1878 he wrote of its northern counterpart: "Lamaism with its shaven priests, its bells and rosaries, its images and holy water, its popes and bishops, its abbots and monks of many grades, its processions and feast days, its confessional and purgatory, and its worship of the double Virgin, so strongly resembles Romanism that the first Catholic missionaries thought it must be an imitation by the devil of the religion of Christ."

It is believed use of rosaries spread from India to Western Europe during the Crusades via its Muslim version, the tasbih. Some, however, suggest an alternative route. A form of prayer rope appears to have been used in Eastern Christendom much earlier; so, it is argued, the Muslim tasbih may in fact originate at a Christian source. Both, it is pointed out, have 33 beads, corresponding to the years of Christ's life.

Prayer with the palms touching one another, the Añjali Mudrā, is a common form of greeting and prayer gesture in all Indian spiritual traditions, including the Buddhist. It is absent in Jewish traditions, whose scriptures specify raised or clasped hands. Prayer with the palms touching one another is, however, depicted in Christian art from the Middle Ages onwards.

In 1921 the Buddhist Scholar and diplomat Sir Charles Eliot, writing of apparent similarities between Christian practices and their counterparts in Buddhist tradition, expressed the view that: " When all allowance is made for similar causes and coincidences, it is hard to believe that a collection of such practices as clerical celibacy, confession, the veneration of relics, the use of the rosary and bells can have originated independently in both religions."

Although Greek rulers as far as the Mediterranean are mentioned as having received Buddhist missionaries, only in Bactria and the Kabul valley did Buddhism really take root. Also, the statement in the late Buddhist chronicle of the Mahavamsa, that among the Buddhists who came to the dedication of a great Stupa in Sri Lanka in the second century BCE, "were over thirty thousand monks from the vicinity of Alassada, the capital of the Yona country" is sometimes taken to suggest that long before the time of Christ, Alexandria in Egypt was the centre of flourishing Buddhist communities. Although it is true that Alassada is the Pali for Alexandria; but it is usually thought that the city meant here is not the ancient capital of Egypt, but as the text indicates, the chief city of the Yona country, the Yavana country of the rock-inscriptions: Bactria and vicinity. And so, the city referred to is most likely Alexandria of the Caucasus.

Also, there are various views on the origins of the oldest Buddhist teachings of the Pali Canon. The origin of the later teachings of Mahayana Buddhism are especially obscure. It is believed that most of the Mahayana sutras only appear in writing after 100 BC, and most did not reach their final form until much later, just as the Gospels would not reach a standard form until the Nicene version.

The earlier teachings of the Pali Canon and the Agamas however, are clearly up to four centuries older than Christianity. Although Buddhism is older than Christianity, and some Buddhist influence, such as Barlaam and Josaphat, is clearly evident.

Buddhist views of Jesus differ, since Jesus is not mentioned in any Buddhist text. Some Buddhists, including Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama regard Jesus as a bodhisattva who dedicated his life to the welfare of human beings. Both Jesus and Buddha advocated radical alterations in the common religious practices of the day. There are occasional similarities in language, such as the use of the common metaphor of a line of blind men to refer to religious authorities with whom they disagreed (DN 13.15, Matthew 15:14). Some believe there is a particularly close affinity between Buddhism (or Eastern spiritual thought generally) and the doctrine of Gnostic texts such as The Gospel of Thomas.

The 14th century Zen master Gasan Joseki indicated that the Gospels were written by an enlightened being:
"And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these...Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."
Gasan said: "Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man."

The Sinologist Martin Palmer has commented on the similarity between the Blessed Virgin Mary and Guan Yin. The Tzu-Chi Foundation, a Taiwanese Buddhist organization, also noticing the similarity, commissioned a portrait of Guan Yin and a baby that resembles the typical Madonna and Child painting.

Some Chinese of the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Philippines, in an act of syncretism, have identified Guan Yin with the Virgin Mary.

During the Edo Period in Japan, when Christianity was banned and punishable by death, some underground Christian groups venerated the Virgin Mary disguised as a statue of Kannon; such statues are known as Maria Kannon. Many had a cross hidden in an inconspicuous location.

In several Asian countries, Christian missionaries over the centuries have converted in many traditionally Buddhist communities. Buddhism in Sri Lanka was for several centuries heavily affected by Christian efforts to convert the population under subsequent Portuguese, Dutch and English colonizers. In the late 19th century a national Buddhist movement started, inspired by the American Buddhist Henry Steel Olcott, and empowered by the results of the Panadura debate between a Christian priest and the Buddhist monk Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera.

Significant Christian populations exist in South Korea. In countries like China, Thailand, Burma (also known as Myanmar) and Japan, Christianity is a small minority among other beliefs.

19 April 2010

Why is the New Testament a New Covenant between God and Man?

Throughout the Old Testament we read about the Jewish people and their relationship with God. This relationship is made possible through covenants that God makes with His people. Throughout the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) and the Psalms we read of the future that God desires for His people and the things that they must do; the laws they must obey, the rituals they must keep in order for that covenant to be kept. There are several covenants with several different people throughout the Old Testament.

In all there are 6 covenants that God made with the Hebrew people.

1. The ADAMIC COVENANT: The Adamic covenant can be thought of in two parts: the Edenic Covenant (innocence) and the Adamic Covenant (grace) (Genesis 3:16-19). The Edenic Covenant is found in Genesis 1:26-30; 2:16-17. The Edenic Covenant outlined man’s responsibility toward creation and God’s directive regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Adamic Covenant included the curses pronounced against mankind for the sin of Adam and Eve, as well as God’s provision for that sin (Genesis 3:15).

The ABRAHAMIC COVEANT: (Genesis 12:1-3, 6-7; 13:14-17; 15; 17:1-14; 22:15-18). In this covenant, God promised many things to Abraham. He personally promised that He would make Abraham’s name great (Genesis 12:2), that Abraham would have numerous physical descendants (Genesis 13:16), and that he would be the father of a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:4-5). God also made promises regarding a nation called Israel. In fact, the geographical boundaries of the Abrahamic Covenant are laid out on more than one occasion in the book of Genesis (12:7; 13:14-15; 15:18-21). Another provision in the Abrahamic covenant is that the families of the world will be blessed through the physical line of Abraham (Genesis 12:3; 22:18). This is a reference to the Messiah, who would come from the line of Abraham.

The PALESTINIAN COVENANT: (Deuteronomy 30:1-10). The Palestinian Covenant amplifies the land aspect which was detailed in the Abrahamic covenant. In this covenant, God, because of the people's disobedience, would cause them to be scattered around the world (Deuteronomy 30:3-4), and He would eventually restore the nation together (verse 5). When the nation is restored, then they will obey Him perfectly (verse 8), and God will cause them to prosper (verse 9).

The MOSAIC COVENANT: (Deuteronomy 11; et al). The Mosaic Covenant was a conditional covenant that either brought God's direct blessing for obedience or God's direct cursing for disobedience upon the nation of Israel. Part of the Mosaic Covenant was the ten commandments found in Exodus 20, but also the rest of the law which contained over 600 commands—roughly 300 positive and 300 negative. The history books of the Old Testament (Joshua-Esther) detail how Israel succeeded at obeying the law or how Israel failed miserably at obeying the law. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 details specifically the blessing/cursing motif.

The DAVIDIC COVENANT: (2 Samuel 7:8-16). The Davidic Covenant amplifies the seed aspect which was detailed in the Abrahamic Covenant. The promises to David in this passage are very significant. God promised that David's physical line of descent would last forever and that his kingdom would never pass away permanently (verse 16). This kingdom, furthermore, would have a ruling individual exercising authority over it (verse 16). Obviously, the Davidic throne has not been in place at all times. There will be a time, however, when someone from the line of David will again sit on the throne and rule as king. This future king is Jesus (Luke 1:32-33)

The PREFIGURING COVENANT: (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The New Covenant is a covenant made with the nation of Israel which speaks about the blessings which are detailed in the Abrahamic covenant. In the new covenant, God promises to forgive sin, and there will be a universal knowledge of the Lord (verse 34). It even appears that the nation of Israel will have a special relationship with their God (verse 33).

Now after this breakdown, let us define the nature of a covenant. The Merriam-Webster dictionary has 2 definitions for the word covenant.

1: a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement : compact
2 a: a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action
b: the common-law action to recover damages for breach of such a contract

Now, let us break this down even further and look at what is and is not defined in these definitions.

A covenant is a contract. It is legal and it is binding. It is made between two parties where both parties must agree to follow it.

If one side does not follow the covenant it is broken. Normally there are stipulations in the event that the covenant is broken.

The interesting definition of covenant comes in definition 2b. "action to recover damages for breach of such a contract" This definition fits perfectly with the Adamic Covenant. This covenant was made between God and Adam precisely because Adam had transgressed the laws of God. Adam broke the rules, God has mercy and makes a covenant with him that He (God) will send a Savior into the world to save Adam and his descendants. This is also seen in the Prefiguring Covenant where God gives more detail about the coming of the promised Messiah in the Adamic covenant.

Now, let us look at the covenants that God made with His people and, realizing that there are consequences for actions, let us investigate whether breaking of these covenants has repercussions and, most importantly, if a covenant is broken, are the promises required to be kept by God?

There are those that say that God is required to keep His covenants with His people regardless of whether they fulfill their obligations to that covenant. They have "proof text" and spliced verses from each of the six covenants, which they believe, proves that God is under some sort of obligation to follow through when His people have broken their side of the bargain.

One such "proof text is from the Psalms of King David.

"The Lord...remembers His covenant...w/Abraham forever...saying 'To you I will give the Land of Canaan...' " Ps.105:7-11

Now, as beautiful as the ellipsis' are in the previous verses, let us be completely honest with ourselves and our readers and let us share the entire 5 verses with you.

7 He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.
8 He remembers his covenant forever,the word he commanded, for a thousand generations,
9 the covenant he made with Abraham,the oath he swore to Isaac.
10 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
11 “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.”

Here we have the words "everlasting covenant." What does this mean? Does this mean that God is required ot hold a covenant with a people who break His laws and continually fall again and again from His ways? We see that there were 6 covenants that were made to the Hebrew people. Why so many? Because in the end they could not fulfill the requirements set out by God for his people. They were given chance after chance, prophet after prophet.

Common sense tells us, when your Father says to you, "If you obey Me, I will give this to you." If you are not obedient then there is no requirement for Him to fulfill His obligation.

Another case and point. Marriage. Marriage is eternal. It is a contract. It is a covenant between two people witnessed before many people. "I promise to love, honor, and obey until death do us part/"This is what the Western marriage ceremony text states. People will say that divorce is forbidden. Yes, this is true, to a point.

In Matthew 5:32 we have a distinction made. Infidelity is grounds, the ONLY grounds for divorce. So, which is it? Is marriage eternal or are there stipulations? The answer is both. Marriage is eternal. Ir is a contract, a covenant, that is to be honored by both parties, until such time as one of the parties fails to keep their side of the covenant, and then, the covenant is broken. It is the same with the covenants of the Old Testament.

We could also go into a discussion on how many covenants can be in affect at one time. We know that there are 6 covenants written in the Old Testament. What are we to think of the covenant given at the Last (Mystical Supper by Christ Himself to His Apostles?

Luke 22:20 states, "In like manner, the chalice also, after he had supped, saying: This is the chalice, the new testament in my blood, which shall be shed for you."

There is a New Covenant in the Blood of Christ. How many covenants can be active at one time? Are there two simultaneous covenants going on at the same time (as some assert), or does this covenant through the Blood of Christ supersede all others through the disobedience of the once-chosen people? Can you fall away from the covenant promises and still claim rights to the covenant?

I will not answer this question. I know the answer and the answer is truth and there is only one truth. Those with eyes to see let them see. There are many verses, about the sheep and the vine that I could share, but these verses are well known. I could share them, but to what effect? Let God teach the Truth to those who will listen, but most of all, to those who will obey.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. .

18 April 2010

A Pilgrim's Way

It is impossible to relate the interplay of all the events throughout one’s life which lead to a conversion to Orthodox Christianity. From the moment of birth God unfolds the world before the human soul, influencing it in ways which are often unrecognized. In telling my story I can, therefore, only outline the main points of my conversion.

One of the major factors which began my search for the truth was my mother’s death when I was 12. This crisis forced me to think seriously about the transient nature of earthly life and to question what happens after death. My entire adolescence was pre-occupied with this quest. I went through many stages trying to figure it all out. First I went through a turbulent period of experimentation with drugs, trying to gain access to the “other world.” I certainly experienced altered states of consciousness, but found no answers to my questions.

Then, through an interesting chain of events, I was “born again”. My experience with born-again Christianity was intense, and through it I began to find some answers to my life’s questions. I studied the Bible diligently and found some comfort, but, like the Ethiopian eunuch, how could I truly understand “lest someone guide me” (Acts 8:31). There were so many denominations, each holding its own interpretation of the Scriptures – and I was not indifferent to the fact that the Protestant churches, like myself, lacked a sure guide.

In my college years I was introduced to Eastern spirituality. I was attracted to Buddism and, later, Hinduism by the element of mysticism, the idea of a spiritual director, and the fact that they were steeped in tradition.

At the same time that I was becoming more and more involved with Hinduism, I fell in love with a girl who was in the process of converting to Orthodoxy. We had many long conversations about spirituality, but with my Hinduistic understanding I perceived Orthodoxy as merely one of the many paths to God (and considered my girlfriend to be narrow-minded). Through her I was exposed to Orthodoxy, and went to several Orthodox services, including her baptism. I was impressed by Orthodoxy and Orthodox Christians, yet continued to regard it as but “one flower in the bouquet of God”.

The summer following my college graduation, I took a trip around the western United States. I conceived of this trip as a spiritual pilgrimage; roaming the West in a pickup truck and spending many days in solitude, study, and reflection. In preparing for my sojourn, I brought along many books including The Way of a Pilgrim. Somewhere in Colorado I began reading this book and found that I could not put it down. I began to re-consider Orthodoxy and even tried to attend Liturgy one Sunday in an Orthodox church in New Mexico, but the priest was away.

Only hours after I had finished the book, I came upon an interesting character named Jim. I saw Jim walking along the roadside in the desert heat and I offered him a ride. He seemed to have walked out of the pages of the Pilgrim: he had been on the road for almost 20 years, traveling with only a bedroll and a Bible, stopping whenever possible to receive Communion at a Catholic church, always trusting that God would provide for his needs. We traveled together for several days and had many in-depth conversations about God and religion. He had been involved in Hinduism in the late 50’s and seemed to understand my situation. In our discussions he began to show me the incompatibility of true Hinduism and true Christianity. The day we parted he left me with a deeper respect for Christianity and these words of wisdom, “In every religion there are some fragments of truth, but without Christ Who is Truth Himself, the fragments mean nothing.”

Reading more about Orthodoxy as I traveled north again, I resolved to visit the priest-monk who had baptized my girlfriend. We had a brief but fruitful conversation at the end of which he suggested I go visit the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery. I was given a tape of St. Innocent’s “An Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven,” to which I listened while driving. These events primed me for my stay at the monastery.

I cannot describe the impact of my impressions of the monastery and its monks. Most influential were the talks I was blessed to have had with the late Fr. Seraphim Rose. Here was a man who lived Orthodoxy. Through our conversations I began to see that here, in Orthodox Christianity, I might find that for which I had been searching for so long. He, as well as Abbot Herman, instilled in me a love and reverence for this Holy Faith. Through witnessing the beauty of the services and the Orthodox way of life there at the monastery, a firm desire for Orthodoxy was kindled in me. At the end of my stay I was made a catechumen and my conscious conversion to Orthodoxy began.

My catechumenate lasted a year during which time I witnessed Fr. Seraphim’s death, an experience which sealed my decision to become Orthodox. This man had lived, and now was dying, as a true Orthodox Christian. And this inspired me to begin resolutely preparing for baptism. Throughout my catechumenate I was blessed with the counsel and example of many fine people. The St. Herman monks (especially Fr. Herman), numerous fine priests, many good lay people, and “the elders bound in leather and gold” – Orthodox texts.

Finally, by the infinite grace of God, I was baptized. Of course, the conversion process does not end with one’s baptism. The Orthodox life is an unceasing struggle in the conversion of the worldly man to the diving. Through the prayers of the Most Holy Mother of God and of all the saints, may we all be truly converted.

16 April 2010

Through The Eastern Gate by Nilus Stryker

I had been a Buddhist for ten years. I was ordained after seven years of study with my teacher in a small family line of the Nyingma Lineage of Vajarayana (Tibetan ) Buddhism. I had a Spiritual Master in that lineage whom I loved and still love. He was, and continues to be an example of kindness in my life. It was through his instruction that I began to see the world with wider eyes and heart. I was ordained as a Ngakpa in the Nyingma Lineage. A Ngakpa is a tantric (priest) ordination that, though there are vows (damsig), those vows are not based on celibacy nor abstention from meat and alcohol. Our sangha were not renunciates but followed basic instruction in tantra and dzogchen; both based on transformation rather than renunciation and sudden moments of insight that flicker in duration and intensity leading to rigpa (a state of mind and perception based on relaxing into the natural state of enlightenment). Those moments were engendered by the energetic intervention of our teacher or our ability to "relax" into the fabric and texture of our experience of being and non being brought about by the practices we were taught. Over the years those moments seem to manifest in seeing the world more and more in kindness, gratitude and compassion. My teacher used to say that Buddhism was ninety nine per cent method and one percent truth. The practices in Buddhism are used to develop a clarity and sense of awareness that enable you to discern a reality not skewed by neurotic mind and habits of response.

We were a non liturgical lineage and had silent sitting and yogic song, mantra, and sets of psycho-spiritual physical exercises as the core of our practice. I made pilgrimages to sacred sites in Nepal and attended retreats with my teacher and vajra sisters and brothers both in the United States and in Wales. Those retreats, both joint and individual, were very meaningful in my life. And, I can definitely say that I had some "openings" of view, widenings of perspective and experience that I attribute to my teacher and the practices I was given.

One afternoon in late January of l999 I went to my altar for my regular daily practice. Usually I began with yogic song and mantra and then did silent sitting. I lit the candles on my altar and after finishing my song and mantras began my silent practice. I cant say exactly how long I had been sitting when I hear my voice say in my own words aloud, "I miss Jesus." I said this aloud. It seemed like it came through me rather than me saying it but there were no external voices. Clearly I was saying it.

When I said "I miss Jesus" I filled with this longing. I don't know what else to call it. I ached. I hurt inside. I felt this absolute longing and I couldn't believe it. I tried to regroup my attention and awareness to continue my meditation. Often in meditation one experiences extra ordinary perceptions, smells, visual illusions, sounds perhaps, psycho-spiritual anomalies that throw one off the track and distract you from the coming and going of thoughts which one is trained to let rise and fall without attachment.

Thoughts come and go but the method I was using tried not to attach to any thought so that one avoid following a thought into an internal narrative or story. . So I tried to see this experience as a nyam (meditational experience) and not put much stock in it. I could not regroup, nor relax and got up. I thought , well that's early childhood stuff I'm projecting onto my mediation. It's mommy-daddy stuff about love I didn't get and wanted and must be about my early childhood Christianity. Though my parents were nominal Christians I had been raised as a Presbyterian mainly because that was the church close to our house. My parents certainly were not Bible Thumpers.

I ended my practice session and went to the kitchen and began doing dishes. I did my household chores and didn't think about it very much except for the continued sense of longing which did not seem to dissipate. I couldn't seem to shake the experience no matter how I tried. There was this terrible longing in me that I couldn't ignore nor explain. I didn't mention it to my wife yet I couldn't stop thinking about it nor find relief from the ache and hurt. We had an ordinary evening, watched television for awhile, chatted and then I went into my studio to paint. I am an artist and my studio is attached to our cottage and I sleep there most nights if painting late. After a few restless attempts at working on a canvas I had started I went to sleep.

That night at three in the morning I was awakened by a "presence" in my room . It was a Longing. I don't know what else to call it. I felt a "presence of Longing" in the room. I was worried that someone had broken into the house. I got out of bed and checked all the rooms.. There was no one (other than my wife) in the house and she was still sound asleep. I decided since I was awake to do some practice and went to my altar in my studio. I mediated for probably thirty to forty five minutes and returned to sleep. The next morning I made sure all the doors were locked and kind of looked around the house uneasily to see if I could find anything that would explain the "presence." We have no pets and I asked Diane if she had gotten up during the night for any reason. She had slept soundly and asked if there was anything wrong. I told her I had gotten up and couldn't sleep for awhile. I hesitated to say anything about a sense of a "presence". I didn't want to scare her and I didn't want her to think I was crazy.

The next night I was again "called" awake. I cant tell you exactly what it felt like other than this "presence" was in the room. No lights, no hallucinations, no sounds, no fanfare, no schizo stuff (as far as I understand it), yet most certainly a feeling that I was being called awake by a presence. I can only say in was a "presence of Longing." I ached inside and hurt and longed for something I couldn't express. . I felt a million miles from home.

You must understand that my life was pretty happy. My wife, of twenty five years, and I loved each other. We are both artists and had a good business in that field. We had a small cottage and garden in a small Northern California coastal town near San Francisco which we loved. I had a wonderful spiritual teacher and I had taken vows and was committed to my Buddhist Lineage and path. And I was pretty healthy for a fifty some year old fat man. Everything was generally ok. No major crisis. Nothing that seemed to speak to the experiences that I was having nor the incredible sense of longing that I was feeling. I felt like I was in love but I didn't know with whom or what. I was like a teenage boy in love. I couldn't stop feeling this ache and longing and confusion. It had all begun when I said "I miss Jesus" yet I couldn't believe that was really the source of this hurting. It had to be something else. But I didn't know what. I had tried to sort it out rationally, making an inventory of possible sources, motives, events, that would engender this longing. I was stuck. Nothing I listed seemed to be a reason for the experience of longing, and not certainly the feeling of a presence in my room at night.

Every night for a week I was called awake at three o'clock. I was beginning to get a bit scared. I had no explanation of what was happening nor any idea how I should deal with it. I realized it was beyond anything I had ever experienced and hoped my teacher could help me both to understand and cope with the experiences. If anyone knew what was happening it was him. I finally contacted my teacher in Wales and explained the entire sequence of experiences.. He gave me the name of a Tibetan "deity" to call upon and a mantra associated with that "Awareness Being" ( our sangha used the term Awareness Being as opposed to the traditional term deity). He said if the experiences continued do the practice and recite the mantra he had given me.

That night I was awakened again by the sense of a "presence"., I went to my altar and lit the candles. I sat in silent mediation for a while before using the mantra and calling on the Buddhist deity that I had been instructed to use. It was a powerful mediation. There was a deep quiet and I felt a calm and stillness that seemed to penetrate the room. I called out the name of the Awareness Being as instructed by Rinpoche (an honorific term for a Vajrayana teacher which literally means Precious Jewel). To my surprise I heard a voice say "I am not that." I can't tell you where the voice came from. It sounded like my voice even though I have no recollection of actually speaking the words. I cannot tell you exactly if the voice was interior or exterior but it was a voice which clearly and distinctively said, "I am not that."

I was completely shaken. I sat dumbfounded and in silence. I got up and went out side. It was probably three thirty in the morning and there was a pale moon just visible over the ocean. I sat on our front steps and began to cry. The longing and ache inside had not lessened but seemed to have increased. I was at my wits end and knew something was happening. I just didn't know what. I cried my heart out. I sobbed . Finally I lifted my head and asked, "Who are you?"

When I said those words something incredible happened. Please understand I have no sense of appropriateness about this. I have no way to even explain how or why it happened. I am the stupidest one. I have no right to even attempt to explain what happened nor to try and say , I, in anyway, comprehend nor deserve what happened. But when I spoke those words, I filled with a soft Light. I know that is hard to understand but I filled with this Light. It wasn't visible in the ordinary sense. It was a luminosity that filled me . I cannot describe the Light nor describe how light could bring a "knowing." But I knew that a Light had come inside me and knew me personally. I know that seems impossible but it happened. The Light not only knew me , Miles, a screw up and quick tempered crumudgen, but loved me, actually loved me. Forgive my presumption but it is what I felt. I have no way to tell you how I knew that but I did. I didn't know what to call it. I felt awkward trying to say God or Christ, yet I felt it had something to do with God and The Christ Logos. I couldn't bring myself to say that ,however. It seemed too impossible and so loaded with everything I had rejected in Christianity (the Protestant Christianity of my childhood). It was impossible to say the words though I felt like a piece of God had broken off in me and that it was Love. I felt Love. I felt a Divine Love. I felt a Love that came to me personally, like it had called my name as it came inside me. Yet it seemed to be always inside me but I had not known it. It came inside and burst forth at the same time. I know that is hard to even imagine and I have no other words that I can use to try and explain that. If there were any way for me to tell you this in a clearer way I would.

I got on my knees and prostrated myself on the ground. I can't tell how long I was there but I eventually sat back up on the stairs and again cried. I have no way to explain what I felt. It may be wrong to say but I felt words fall away as the Light entered and I felt a "knowing" in me that seemed to be born with Love. I knew that God loved me yet I couldn't say the word God. I knew that Christ called me though I couldn't say the word Christ.

I had come to some realizations in my Buddhism, some small flickers of understanding the Big Picture, through my teacher and my practice but nothing like this.. I was glowing inside with Love and a knowing of Light. It wasn't a real glow, visible, nor tangible yet I felt like I was shinning inside. I couldn't tell if God was longing for me or I was longing for God. It seemed almost like we met in the longing. For the first time the Longing seemed to be the experience of the presence of God and my relation to Him. In Buddhism we often talked about finding the presence of our awareness in a life circumstance. In tantra all that is experienced presents the possibility of experiencing enlightenment in that moment. Our practices were often based on finding the presence of awareness in the emotion or life situations we were experiencing. I seem to have found the presence of my awareness in the longing of and by God as Light and Love.

For the first time in my life there was Divine Love, a Love that knew my name. I don't know how long I sat on the steps. The sky seemed to lighten but I cant say when I went inside. I'm sure I eventually went to sleep but I don't remember exactly when that was even though I woke up in bed with my clothes on.

The next morning when I told my wife what had happened I said that A Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name had come inside me. I didn't know what else to call it. I described the experience but I still couldn't bring myself to say the word God nor could I use the name Christ.

I called it a Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name.

Of course my wife, being a good Californian , asked if I was stoned. We both laughed. It had been a long time since that had been a possibility (no smoking of anything allowed in our sangha) but she listened and I told her the details. I knew at that point that everything was different. Somehow Love had entered the picture and life as I knew it had come crashing down. My teacher was an atheist and the Buddhism that I had learned certainly did not present the idea of a creator God nor a divinity that was a source of Love. We spoke of compassion and wisdom, kindness and awareness but rarely was the word love ever mentioned, and certainly not within the context of a Divine Love. My wife was scared I could tell. No matter how much we joked about it she felt that everything was up for grabs. She didn't know where it would lead me. I didn't know either. Everything had become pretty stable in our lives. That night everything was shaken to the core and my wife sensed it.

When The Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name infused me with itself I knew things I could not explain. I experienced a personal Love from a Source that was beyond anything I had experienced before. It was wonderful and terrible at the same time.

Why couldn't I use the word God nor Christ? What held me back.? It seemed too chilling to even think that this was either, yet for the first time it seemed possible. It was possible that his was God's Love. It was possible that this was an experience of The Christ. I guess in some ways that was too uncool to say. I certainly didn't want to be a Christian. I had castigated Christians as hypocrites and idiots for years. As a Buddhist I was a bit kinder in that regard but I still had no intention of being a Christian nor any desire to explore that path. I never really could get rid of a concept of a God even though Rinpoche said I had to deal with my idea of God in relationship to blame. I blamed God for a lot of stuff in my life and he said to grow spiritually I had to let go of the concept of blame. He was right.

One world was opening and another was falling away. The vows I had made in becoming a Ngakpa were taken as lifelong vows. The commitment I had made were seen as "lives long" commitments both to my teacher and my lineage. Now I faced the fact that there was a Creator of Love, a Source of Love and a Spirit of Love that was unexplainable in my Buddhism, and from my experience, a reality that could not be denied. I struggled with what to do. I had no context to help sort out the experience. My teacher's atheism seemed to preclude the possibility of him understanding the reality that had just come alive in my life. I had had an experience that seemed to turn my Buddhism inside out. The structure of our practice and the instruction of my teacher seemed limited and I must admit incomplete. I knew my teacher was wrong about God. What was I going to do?

Pantelemon David Walker is my acupuncturist and a member of the Orthodox Church in America. We had discussed Buddhism and Christianity for months as he treated me. The next week I had an appointment with him. After we greeted each other he said, " I have a book for you I think you will enjoy." It was Christ the Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene. That night I poured through the book. I have no idea when I went to sleep but I read for days and it gave me a base for sorting out the experiences that I had been having in relation to The Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name.

I knew there was a Source of Love and an Energy of Love yet I hesitated to call it The Holy Spirit. I had left my childhood Christianity far behind. The words still stuck in my throat.

David suggested I try and attend an Orthodox church and mentioned an OCA Church in San Francisco. Yet that seemed too weird, too much of a commitment to a religion I had left. I wanted something that wasn't based on an institutional setting. The last thing I wanted to do was get involved in a church. After all I was a Buddhist. Why was I being drawn into another religion, especially Christianity.? I had made a commitment to my teacher and lineage. I shouldn't be exploring at this late date any other form of worship. But my Buddhism didn't address or acknowledge the experiences I had just had in relation to the Divine. I knew as certainly as I knew anything else that the experiences I had of A Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name were real and true. My teacher said there was no God and I knew that I had experienced Divine Love personally.

I resisted the idea of a church yet Orthodoxy had an ancient contemplative tradition and a way of working in deepening and widening a personal sense of transformation of self in relation to the Divine. Fr. Damascene's book opened me to the possibility of at least exploring (without) commitment a tradition in Christianity that was far beyond any Christian tradition I had ever heard of. I called the Holy Trinity Cathedral (an OCA church in San Francisco.) A man answered the phone and I asked if the services were in English. He said in a thick Russian accent "broken." I cracked up laughing. I already liked his deadpan sense of humor. I got times for Liturgy and thanked him,

On Sunday February the seventh I woke and dressed and told my wife I was going to find a church. She was shocked. What? she shouted.

"I know, don't ask. I'll be back in awhile."

It was pouring down rain and the streets were pretty empty. I drove into San Francisco and had a vague notion of a Russian church with blue domes downtown. The listing for Holy Trinity Cathedral was on Green street and I thought I was headed in that direction. I finally saw the dome and cross. There is never any parking around that area so as I approached I said to myself. "If there's parking I'll stop, if not I'll go to Burger King." The minute I said it a person pulls out of a space across from the church. "Ok, ok I'll go." I walked into the church on February the seventh, l999. I didn't know it at that time but it was Prodigal Son Sunday.

In Tantra all the sense fields are used in one's practice. The senses are not denied but used to both open and relax into the natural state of one's own enlightenment. When I walked into the church I felt this vast display of light and fragrance. I was met at the door and welcomed. When asked if I was Orthodoxy I responded quickly ( and probably brusquely) I wasn't a Christian I was Buddhist. I stood in the rear and watched . As the Liturgy began the music and cant and readings seemed to fill the room as much as the light and fragrances. The whole service seemed to become this elaborate ritual of the senses. It was wonderful and it scared me to death. There was something that felt right. If only it didn't have to be so Christian. After services I was asked to join folks for lunch. I did. There was good conversation and even an interest in my Buddhism. I left feeling like I had found a new kind of Christianity. Definitely not the Christianity of my childhood. I returned the following Sunday.

I began to listen to the words in the Liturgy. Soon I began to come to some of the evening services and was amazed at what was being recited. I had never heard of a theology that was sung and canted along with the readings. More and more I began to realize that there was a Christianity in Orthodoxy that was vaster and deeper then I knew. And I began to hear references to the Light , a Light which seemed to have a lot in common with my experience of A Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name. There was even a theology that acknowledged the Light and used that Light as a description of how God, Logos, and The Holy Spirit call and love.. I began to feel more comfortable with the words God and Christ. Of course my wife and friends felt very uncomfortable hearing me begin to use those dreaded words. Most folks became silent when they heard I was attending a Christian church, much less an Orthodox Christian church. I still was attending my Buddhist group and knew that when my teacher arrived in March that we had to talk. I felt like I was sneaking around in away going to a Christian church and I didn't want to do that. But I had to try and sort out my experiences and felt like the church offered some possibility for answers that neither my teacher nor my Buddhist lineage seemed to be able to explain..

Fr. Damascene's book had been the catalyst for that exploration and the unfolding of the church in my life seems an almost natural progression from that initial reading of his book. The more I attended the services the more I felt like this was a place I could be comfortable as a Christian. Though you must realize I never used that word. I still resisted. I still hung back. I lurked on the edges of Christianity, in the shadows of the candles as much as in the light. I resisted and resisted prostrating and crossing myself. That was just going too far. I was still a Buddhist. I was just visiting Christianity. That way I could still attend and explore but not make a commitment.. One night Matushka Barbara came over and asked if I wanted to learn how to cross myself. When I said yes, I surprised myself.

I know it seems odd but crossing myself made a difference in how I saw myself and how I begin to worship. It was the first sign I would make publicly that acknowledged that I trusted Christianity and had begun to see myself within the Christian frame. It's hard to explain. It's such a simple act but in many ways it became my first act of Christian acknowledgement. It became the first sign that I was "putting on Christ.". I had been raised to hate Papist. My father was raised German Luthern and he hated the Catholic church. I still had that in me. But I crossed myself that night and other nights as I began to more and more attend services and look to Orthodoxy for answers and a new form of devotion.

In Vajrayana Buddhism you view your teacher as an enlightened being who represents fully your path toward that goal. One prostrates to their teacher as a sign of complete respect and as a sign of dependence upon them for your spiritual advancement and realization. I would prostrate to my teacher without any reservation (except for my fat and my knees). In the Orthodox church one prostrates before God, before, Christ, before the Holy Spirit. One Prostrates before images of saints as an act of devotion and respect. I still would not do the prostrations. There was something in my stubbornness that didn't even make sense to me. I knew it was weird to be able to prostrate before a teacher and still not do it toward God. Somehow it seemed easier to trust a man rather than the Divine. I would cross myself but I wouldn't prostrate. Here I was literally pulled from bed, called in a away that even I seemed to hear, and have this incredible experience of Light and Love in a personal way, and yet my pride and stubbornness still resisted a richer and fuller expression of devotion. I would not bend. I wouldn't bow down before God. Something was still strongly resisting the call Christ and the Orthodoxy church. Though I knew I couldn't turn back.

. Great Lent is a time of intense spiritual evaluation. The whole church collectively begins a journey toward Jerusalem with Christ. The entire forty days becomes a cosmic drama suspended in a time I had rarely experienced in Buddhism. Time seems to drop away almost in relation to how the services lengthen. Somehow time was being used to destroy time.

I had attended long rituals in Buddhism. I had on occasion felt that they had going quicker than I had expected. But I had never experienced time in an "eternal" way. I know again how difficult that is to understand but the increased length of the services and Liturgies actually seemed to collapse into a timelessness that I had never felt so intently. Every word of the hymn or service seemed to be directed at me. Every verse about being lost and confused and put upon by life's circumstances was read for me. I was found by Love but still lost. I left every evening feeling that everything that had been sung, or canted was what I would have said, if I could have said anything as beautiful and true. I let the choir sing my praises and the reader cant my love. More and more as Lent deepened and became vaster and wider and, I must say, more sorrowful. I began to experience time in the church like no other time.

Even though spending hours in mediation and weeks in solitary retreat, time had never become so still. The services of Great Lent began to change me. One night during the Great Compline (I think). My knees bent. I felt myself kneeling before God and I felt so terrible about holding back. I felt like such a fool and prideful idiot. Everything in me had told me of Christ's Great Good Heart and I had refused His embrace. When my head touched the floor, God broke my heart. I sobbed. As Fr. Victor came cense the Icon near me I knew he heard me crying. I couldn't stop. I was so embarrassed. I felt so exposed. There were folks I had been with on a regular bases for weeks who stood near me in the church. They had seem me arrogant in My Buddhism, They had seem stand back. They had seem me cross myself and still hold back. And now they saw my knees bend and my head touch the wooden floor and me cry when God broke my heart.

He broke my heart right there. I can point to the spot. He had called me in the night. He had entered me as Light. He now broke my heart. I can't explain it any clearer. God broke my heart and my arrogance and my aloneness and had made loneliness impossible. He held me suspended in time and Love and I was not worthy of one iota of it.

Now I was broken with Love. I was a beggar. I am a beggar.

The evening services became more frequent and intense. My wife was angry that I was away so much and we disagreed often. I wasn't getting a lot of personal support for continuing this move toward the Christian Path. My friends thought I was crazy. My Buddhist sangha members didn't even know of my parallel church attendance. The more I was drawn toward the church the greater the forces seemed to be pulling me back. The contradictions and hypocrisy of my own participation as a Buddhist in a Christian church was obvious even to me.

It wasn't until that night that I realized there was no turning back. I was in Love and I had to get as close as I could to that Source of Love. I think I went a little bit crazy for awhile . The longing didn't stop. It seemed to get deeper as Great Lent progressed. I cried at the drop of a hat. I'd walk down the street and see an old couple holding hands and I'd brim over with tears. I was lost at services and Liturgy. I'd hear the bells ring with the beginning of the recitation of the Creed and I have to turn away with tears. My nose running was bad enough. . I tried to tell Diane that I could bring a thousand editions of great books to back up each sentence of the Creed and they would collapse before a handful of tears. I begin standing in the corner because I was so embarrassed. I missed being up front hearing the choir more fully but I stood in my corner and felt like this beggar getting warmed by a hobo fire.

I wrote to both Fr. Damascene, who was in Alaska, and to the rector of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Fr. Victor Sokolov, to tell them of what was happening to me and my growing need to address the possibility of exploring Orthodoxy more seriously. Fr. Damascene responded with a wonderful letter and encouragement. I was very moved by his kindness. I asked to meet with Fr. Victor.

I knew that my teacher was soon to arrive and I called and asked to schedule some time together. I had broken my vows to him not because I was beginning to embrace Christianity but because I didn't trust him enough to understand the experience of the light that is not light that knows my name. I felt since he took an atheist position he would not understand a priori the essence of the experience of the Light. That was actually when I broke my vows. I violated that teacher student trust. then not by asking to leave my vows. It was in that breach that I was actually able to open to the fuller expression of the Holy Spirit/ I had committed part of myself to not open because of my vows. Those Buddhist Vows were at one time the center of my identity and life. I tried to take the vows seriouslu. I loved Rinpoche . I still do. I felt this incredible responsibility to mystically continue a train of thought and method that helped people see the patterns which hold them back from relaxing into the natural goodness of being and non-being. I had made a commitment to that and I still hope there is a part of that commitment toward goodness and liberation in me.

I met with Rinpoche and we began to talk. I asked if we could move from the living room into his private room for some privacy. I know he sensed an uneasiness. I told him what had happened, tried to explain The Light That Is Not Light experience fully . I think he saw in me that the experience was real. Maybe it was reflected in the tears. Again I was lost in these tears of joy and terror. I was afraid I had cut a cord that nourished me spiritually. I had asked to be taken out of the line of energy that moves through the cosmos like a rive. I had been taken out of the stream. I was this former Buddhist. All my gods had been taken away; my images of consciousness, the way the world was becoming reflected. The Yidams and Protectors that I shared a world with were no longer there for me. It was a strange loss. but it was a powerful one.

Rather suddenly I asked to be released from my vows. It kind of exploded out of my mouth,. I felt terrible. I heard my own words ask to be released from my vows and I felt I had betrayed a man that I loved and who loved me dearly. He was my Spiritual Father for almost eight years. I knew I was hurting him . I was hurting him because he loved me and I knew it and I had made a commitment to add to this stream of lineage until all beings had been liberated. It was more than a personal vow to him alone. I knew that. Those methods of viewing and identifying in the vast scope of beings and worlds and energies was the central reference points of my life. There are streams of liberation in Buddhism that have specific cosmologies and ways of seeing the world. They are all refer to the base of their religion on compassion and awareness. I was asking not to be apart of more than a sangha.

Everything was etched in sadness. Rinpoche said he would release me from my .vows. He said for me to explore the Christian Path for a year and within that year if I wished to return to my vows He saw that I had gone through some transformation but I have no idea what he saw. He as always opted for kindness and created the possibility of a spaciousness in a terrible moment. He always could turn a moment of flux in beingness upside down. That's why he was such a good teacher for me. He turned my patterns of reaction to the world inside out. But it was through the experience of God's Light that everything seemed to be over ridden I told him I wasn't going to hold back that I was going to go into this as deeply as I could.

He said my only responsibility to him was to be a good Christian.

I think we cried together. That's the way I remember it . But it could have been just me. I left kind of in shock. I felt like someone had died. I felt this terrible feeling like there has been an accident and everything changes in a second. That terrible moment where the fifteen year old kid is holding a gun and touches the trigger. There is that tearing moment of certainty and dread where something is born and something fades into the last moment. Rinpoche had always tried to show us how to transform those moments into points of awareness.

I was driving over the Bay Bridge and it suddenly struck me that beyond the sorrow was a sense of certainty the decision was right. It was a strange bitter sweet memory of The Light That Is Not Light That Knows My Name. Even in all the distress there it was. I begin to remember and recall everything from the call in the night and looking for burglars. I forget God all the time. That's my problem. I forgot God for twenty years.

I had been called awake literally and taken to the gate and asked in. I tried to remember the first time I crossed myself and the place where God broke my heart.

Sometimes God has to hit us idiots over the head with a 2 X 4 before we get it. My stomach was in knots yet there was some sense of a point that was ok. There was this small point of calm. There was an eye in the storm. Doubt and sorrow were an atmosphere surrounding this small bead of the certainty of God's Love. It was a matter of remembering and remembering throughout the day, somehow, that it was there.

One time in the television show X Files Files, Scully ends the show by saying something like, "suppose He's calling all the time and no one is listening." Years ago I would have said it was a matter of frequency. Now I think it's a matter of Grace. Finally there was a destination in this strange confluence of time, circumstance and Mysterion. There seems to be in this great drama and economy of the being an emptiness a center Source of Love that become The Word (Logos) and Spirit to sweep through all that is and is not calling everyone and thing back to Divine Love.That's as close as I can get to it. But there seems to be a possibility that I am absolutely right. I e-mailed Fr. Victor that I had been released from my Buddhist vows. I asked to meet so I could find out how one continues from here. I continued to attend services during Great Lent. By the time Pascha arrived I was tired. In fact I was worn out. I was drained and empty accept for this little Light that stood somewhere in the back. Everything had been turned upside down. At least I think this is the chronology. Yet the whole flow and confluence of circumstance seemed to ebb and flow a tad faster than I could follow. It all was turned inside out in a few months. "Busted in the Blinding Light," I think the song goes. .

I met with Fr. Victor and we talked. He suggested a few books and encouraged me to continue to attend services . He reminded me that there was a study group every few weeks after Vespers. It was a very congenial meeting He didn't know when he said it But it was probably one of the most important pieces of advice anyone could give to a Buddhist who was looking toward Christ. He said it quickly and in kind of an off hand way. He stopped and turned and said. "Even if you have nothing , you offer nothing. It was at that moment God made the world seem abundant and Fr. Victor helped. I realized that I could offer God anything. I could give him my sadness and depression, my anger and distrust. In fact on a good day he could get some joy and a cluster of happiness. It was a very important thing for me to hear. Whether it is a paraphrase of someone else or not I don't care. At that moment those words were Fr. Victor's . and they have been with me ever since. Never has there been one moment since then that I didn't have something to offer to God.

The closer I moved to the church the more tense it became at home. Diane missed me and wasn't real subtle about letting me know it. Of course after twenty three years (at that time) she knew subtle didn't work with me. I'm too stupid. . The most difficult personal breaks were with dear friends in my Buddhist group. I asked my teacher's permission to tell my vajra sister and brother (my closest relations in the group) the entire tale so they would know exactly what happened. I'm afraid we didn't seem to share a base of experience nor language. No matter what I said had happened they saw that I had broken my vows. It was very hurtful and difficult for folks to hear. As I said more was at stake than just a small group of people. We were talking about the continuation of a Lineage and those vows were part of that commitment. Their anger was actually a sign of their devotion to Rinpoche. They felt betrayed and hurt and angry. I was breaking a spiritual bond between us . They were right. But I still had a very hard time trying to understand what seemed to me a lack of love. There has been a long silence.

On May twenty third of l999 I was Baptized into the Orthodox Church in America. The following copy of a letter I sent my priest may convey some of what the Sacrament meant to me.

Dear Father Victor- Tonight please let me talk about Mystery... Today was magic and somehow consummated four months of trying to accept the MYSTERY of God's Being and deep Longing for each of us. I know this is just the beginning. I know I am so new and young in this that there is a danger that the power of this joy will make me think I know things I do not. But today was wonderful- wonder filled- full of wonder.

The incredible gratitude I felt yesterday was incomplete, faint, stupid. I was not complete in gratitude-empty in gratitude. I am not now, nor ever will be able to fill myself with God's gratitude in the way that could be of any use to Him. I am a poor example of devotion but for me this day is a measure of brimming over-spilling on the floor-ruining the carpets with gratitude- filling the basement with gratitude-How can I possibly give back to God? What could I even conceive of that could be an offering? I can't imagine ever being able to express this springtime in me- these flowers in my veins- this garden that has worms and slugs and bird shit on the roses. But If I could it would be today. I would go to God and offer him this day as what I could give. I would empty my pockets with this day. I would turn myself inside out with this day and say, "Please, Lord it is the best I have. Please take this from me- This Day."

I am like a song leaping into the cold sea-salt tears and Grace run down my cheeks- My wife stands watching just a heartbeat away. I hear the choir. I catch her eye . I watch you move toward me. It's in slow motion- some film shot out of time. There is breath. There is your breath- there is God's breath -there is my breath -the church breathes with this light. I know it sounds like I'm talking magic here. Yes! God's magic- God's moment gift to me this day and mine to Him. Please cut my hair take what you think He'll like-I don't care what Fr. Schmemann might say about magic. Its not your magic, though you are part of it. Its not my magic, though I am part of it. But this wonderful day is God's ordinary magic. Each leaf-each day- each ten thousand ants that crawl in this day shimmer in magic. Because we are blind and turn away we don't see it in God's magical way. But when you begin to see- it seems like Grace is everywhere. God's ordinary magic breaking through my blindness and shallowness and myopia.

I watch your cross in front of me-the gold and the diffuse sun-the white material of your vestment-the words calling me to ring like bells. I am only standing there. I am only this still person standing in this beautiful place. There is a fullness I have never known-a sense of being known by God deep inside me. I am sure in this. His music sends shivers through me- coral blue violins and cello, oboe and flute-good dark beer that tastes like wheat- Liturgy and sweat and inside me laughter mixing with reunion dance at an airport. My heart's deep crevices, those dark hidden sad places-those places that I have closed to Love for all my life seem touched by a Great Kindness. The snow is melting. I feel it inside me. The glaciers are turning into lakes. The bears move south and the birds fly inside me to the warm forest just over the last ridge. The doors are open and the wind is blowing the curtains. There is a patch of warm sunlight on the floor and specks of dust shine in the air, swirling as the patterns of a dancer's skirt brush the floor.

Dear Father Victor this is not a second chance it's a first chance. I am new to life. I really am. I am new to this world. I have never felt like this newness. I feel clean. I really do-I feel clean inside. I feel like menthol everywhere. I feel like I've never seen sunlight before. I am amazed by people's eyes. The small wrinkles around their mouths when they smile. The way the morning shines through them and not just on them. They look so wonderful- they still look wonderful.

The water washed me. Please believe me. I never thought I could understand this nor even say this.

The oil blessed me. Sealed me in the Body of a timeless Church. That is true.- It is timeless and has always existed in God (before words).

Please understand that this is real. This isn't some archetype-nor symbol- nor ritual trapped in a small church in San Francisco. It is real and it is Wonderous and it is from God to us all. Everything in me says that that is true. I remember Johann's hand on my arm helping me as I stepped into the Jordan River. I remember the sun and Christ through the Royal Doors. I remember Diane crying on the banks. I remember your voice and I remember how God spread the constellations through the night sky and held me under the water and took me up and washed me and lifted me up to show the world that a new child had been born.

As a friend of mine used to say "pulled kicking and screaming into Glory."

You lead me from the river, my clothes sticking to me, gripping your hand wrapped in vestments-the desert sand burning my feet-joy mesmerized in my heart-watching each step and the smiles and eyes of the church living in the morning. On the banks the people waited. My wife watched and those wonderful folks who have encouraged me since Prodigal Son Sunday to come back- always come back. That formula for repentance- to come back- to always come back-that course of freedom to return-that freeway that FREE WAY of return and repentance- when God broke my heart. I can show you the place where God broke my heart in your church- in our church. I can show you where I wiped the floor with my sleeve after prostrating finally to Him and called out to Him and answered Him. How could I go anywhere else? What place could be more home? I want to be in the place where God broke my heart.

When I approached the chalice I returned home. I am home.

I grew up taking communion but I have never really taken part in the Eucharist. Today I was given through Grace the opportunity to eat of The Body and drink of the Blood of Christ. I never had experienced that before though I have often taken communion. There are no real words for that- That is a Mystery I can not even begin to speak of. I am dumb before this. I am only grateful beyond measure and blessed into silence.

And I am finally home. Can you believe these words? I am finally home. God loves me. Me! I think this is true. I know this is true. God, for some unknown reason- loves me. He loves me as me- with a name, my name. God knows my name! And He loves me! God knows my heart and brain and fat and muscle and He loves me. God knows my every thought and fear and pain and He still accepts me. That is the most incredible reality possible. Oh Father, Today was God's great gift to me and mine to Him. I am empty before this. I am poor and empty before this.

Yet in that emptiness of mine I am full of Him. Do you see that? My words are so limited. But today I was emptied and today I was filled. You held the cup for God. That is what He has given you to do. You breathed on me as a representative of the Body of Christ and washed and anointed me with His oil. That is what He has given you to do. You gave me drink and you gave me eat. That is what He has given you to do. But +He+ emptied me today and +He+ filled me today with His Grace.

That is the Mystery we shared today. You and I and the great goodhearts that make up The Body of The Church. It was my journey-mine- with a name ( in the emptiness and fullness of Grace) and ours as a Church.

I have been shaken awake by water and Grace and God's Love. I have been anointed with oil in this time and forever in God's Being. I have been renewed, found and called forth, forgiven and forgiven and forgiven. I have been infused with an understanding of a Mystery that is beyond my understanding. I am an idiot in Love. A beggar and fool and sinner. I have been embraced in Holy Spirit and named before a Church that has existed forever. Today was wonderous and beyond measure. I am dumb before this-numb with gratitude and thanksgiving-tired and happy- and ready to rest in God's comfortable night.
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