Yesterday I had a victory at Half Price Books. I consider it a victory whenever I find something that I didn’t go to Half Price Books to buy – it’s even better if I didn’t know it even existed – and yesterday I hit the trifecta. I found a five CD series on meditation by Pema Chodron, one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, and not one but two, four hour DVDs by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Even better, the whole transaction was less that thirty two dollars! I scrambled home in anticipation, and sat down after dinner to watch the first teaching from one of HHDL’s DVDs. I wasn’t disappointed, but I confess a point of divergence with the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama was asked about whether it would be possible to develop one world religion. He offered that, given the great diversity of humankind, he really didn’t think that such a goal would be possible or even desirable. He continued to say that since we all have different personalities and life experiences our religious needs are different. Up to this point, I agree completely with the Dalai Lama (I’m sure he would be gratified to know that I agree with him).
Then he continued to say that, since Christianity believes in a Creator God and Buddhism does not, that the two religions are not compatible. He added, however, that when Christian and Buddhist monks meditate together they have shared experience. It is here that I disagree with HHDL. I will say that I am certain that the Dalai Lama has had discussions with a variety of Christians, some of whom have a vision of Christianity that wouldn’t be compatible with my vision of Christianity, about what it means to be Christian – including the rather misleading notions of a “personal God” and a “personal relationship with Jesus” that I find most misleading.
In truth, as a part of something called the Buddhist Christian Dialogue, Buddhist and Christian monks have shared their experiences in meditation (the Buddhists) and contemplative prayer (the Christians) and found a great commonality of experience. (In truth, what the east calls meditation and what the west calls contemplative prayer are very much the same thing.) As Fr. Thomas Keating has said, when one becomes an accomplished meditator, he or she rises above the walls that divide religious perspectives and see the great commonality that lies there. I am certainly that the Dalai Lama has had this experience.
Christian contemplatives believe that they encounter God in their meditation. This has certainly been my experience. Buddhists might talk about meditation being a method of getting in touch with ultimate reality or exploring the mind. I believe we are all talking about the same thing. What is God but ultimate reality? Where do we encounter the indwelling God/Christ but in our mind? We are corporeal beings, but God is not. In this life, we can’t leave our bodies on a sustained basis, so our primary point of contact with God is in and through our very mind and body! As we encounter God through our meditation, we come to understand that the mythological vision of an embodied God creating all that is through the use of Godly hands and feet is a primitive, inaccurate vision of the God who is the Ground and Sustainer of All that is. We come to see God as transcending physicality and dwelling instead in energy and Spirit. After all, Jesus himself told the Samaritan woman and the well that God is Spirit, and the time is coming and now is when people would worship God in Spirit and Truth. This was more than the primitive understanding of God extant at that time could comprehend, but today we not only can understand it but we can experience it through spending time in the presence of God in meditation.
In truth, Buddhists and Christians are experiencing the same thing in meditation but we have assigned different language to describe it. As Fr. Keating explained, the experience is the same. I would add that doctrine distorts the experience, and it is to the doctrine that the Dalai Lama responds when he suggests incompatability between any or the mystical traditions. In point of fact, all the great mystics have experienced the same thing, be they Buddhist, Christian, Sufi, Moslem, Indigenous, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Jain, or a member of any other “system of explanation.”
If you have ever been in love you know that, no matter how hard you try, words and thoughts are never adequate to convey the experience of the beloved. Over the centuries people have tried to explain love in song, poetry, prose, art, and any number of other modalities – and never succeeded. The reason is that mystical experience cannot be captured, it must be experienced. This is as true when God is the beloved as it is when your partner is the beloved, and what is God if not absolute reality?
When division exists between religions or spiritualities, it exists because we love our thoughts and words about the Truth more than we love the Truth itself – no matter what name we assign to the Truth. Because when we finally realize that we will stop killing each other in the name of religion, there is no more important message to be teaching.