Sunday, November 26, 2006


I've been thinking of writing a book about Jesus. So I'm gonna write down these thoughts and post them without really editing it much. It'll be messy. But maybe something useful will come of it. Here goes...

There must be a hundred "Buddha and Jesus" books out there. But, although it's a subject I've been intrigued by for a very long time, I have never come across a Buddha & Jesus book that interested me enough I ever even considered buying it. I flip through them in the book stores and, at best I might go, "Oh, that's nice." But that's it. It seems like most of them fall into a few categories, which I'll list along with my reactions to them (like you're just dying to know).

1) Buddhist Master from a non-Christian country trying to convince to folks from Christian countries that Buddhism is not devil worship. These guys want to demonstrate how Buddha and Jesus really said the same kinds of things and so we should all just get along. Fine. Not interested. The Masters in question usually don't know enough about Christianity to say a whole lot so they just kinda go on and on and on...

2) Christian convert to Buddhism writes about why Buddhism is a more refined version of what Jesus had to say. Or, again, that Buddha and Jesus really said pretty much the same thing. Sweet. Not interested.

3) New Age True Believer who wants to prove that Jesus really was a Buddhist because maybe he went to India and stayed in a Buddhist monastery before returning to Palestine to start his mission. This is an intriguing idea. But I've yet to come across any books about it that seem truly level-headed and present a real historical analysis. There seems to be some evidence this may have happened. But nothing very conclusive.

4) Jesus talks to Buddha imaginary conversation books. OH GOD PLEASE NO!!!!!!!!!

5) Christian (usually Catholic) who's interested in Buddhism and gives his view of it. Usually, like #1, in an effort to demonstrate how we all should just get along. Slightly more interested, but not really. Again, the Christians involved don't ever really seem to get what Buddhism is about and rarely have any experience of Buddhist practice.

I've been interested in Christianity since I was a little kid. In my teens I wanted to become a Christian. The problem was that when I investigated Christianity, I found I could not make heads or tails of it. For example, when I was a Freshman at Kent State University, I visited a booth run by the Campus Christian Ministries and started talking to them. Their view seemed to be that Jesus did miracles, this proved he was God, therefore what he said must be very important. The problem for me was that the evidence for these miracles is so flimsy I could not accept it at all. And, in any case, why do we need miracles in order to believe what someone said if he said some really kick-ass stuff?

Nevertheless, I pressed on. I visited some churches. They were all either boring as shit or they seemed to be packed full of genuine crazy people who scared me. I prayed to Jesus to come into my heart. Nothing happened. I bought a little silver cross and wore it for a while. No change. I read the New Testament. Nice. But not very moving. After a few years I just gave up. But I've maintained an interest in Christianity ever since. In fact, I'm far more inclined to read and study about Jesus' life than I am to read and study about Buddha's.

Now before you write in and try to convert me, let me say clearly and unambiguously that I am too far gone to ever be "Saved." I'm a Buddhist monk and a thoroughly convicted believer in Dogen's philosophy. I've seen the truth in what Dogen wrote about for myself and there is no way I can ever turn my back on that.

Still I remain fascinated by Jesus' life, mission and teaching. I do not think Buddhism and Christianity are incompatible. I think you could practice Zazen, study Dogen's outlook and attitude towards life and yet still remain a Christian. But I think you'd emerge from you study a very different kind of Christian. Possibly a Christian that other Christians may not even recognize as a Christian. The same is true, I think, of any religion you mighty come to Zazen practice believing in. But I don't know enough about Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Zorastranism, Wiccanism or any of those to make any intelligent or useful specific comments on them. But, just maybe, I might be able to do so with Christianity.

Still, I'm not sure this is really my point. I mean, I don't really get why so many people want to write "why don't we all just get along" type books about Christianity and Buddhism. It's not as if Christian/Buddhist clashes have ever been a big problem in the world. Nor does it seem to me likely they ever will be. But we are living in a time when Buddhism is starting to infiltrate what have been up till now Christian cultures. As this interpenetration occurs, a new kind of Buddhism will emerge. In the same way that Inidan Buddhism was influenced by Taoist ideas when it entered China, Euro-American Buddhism is even now being reinterpretted through a Judeo-Christian outlook. What will happen?

A lot of people wonder whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. I'm starting to think more and more that Buddhism is really neither. It's more of an attitude. Buddha himself made use of certain aspects of the religions he knew, just as later Buddhists used aspects of the religions they knew. So American and European Buddhists today are doing the same. Yet it's important that in doing so we maintain the core attitude. We can't just grab stuff willy-nilly because it makes people in the culture we live in comfortable or to gain more followers and converts. Buddhism has nothing to do with gaining converts.

I'm not interested in making Buddhism feel safe to Christians or vice-versa. In fact, to an extent, I'd say Buddhism is slightly dangerous to Christians in a way. Not in the sense that it poses any kind of physical threat, of course. But it may become more and more necessary for Christians to come to terms with the ideas expressed by Buddha and Dogen and other Buddhist teachers. Coversely, though, I do not feel Christianity is any sort of threat to Buddhism. It may be a threat to certain oddball philosophies that call themselves Buddhism. But true Buddhism is just realism. And the realistic attitude can be applied to anything. If what you call "Buddhism" is not 100% realistic and therefore able to withstand anything it encounters, then it isn't Buddhism and should be discarded immediately.

If Christianity is realistic, it can emerge from its encounter with Buddhism unharmed. I, for one, hope it can. I want it to. But I wonder if that's possible.


kitano0 said...

the first book i read about zen was "christian zen" by william johnston. this was back in the early 70's, but the book is still available. it was written by a catholic priest and is one of the best "christian/buddhist" books i have ever come across.

Anonymous said...

You have the germ of a few good ideas here, but (as I'm sure you realize) it needs more thought and a lot more polish. I don't see a book in the subject, but maybe a decent-sized article, certainly more than a blog post could (or should) cover. This whole post, in fact, reads like an intro to a longer article; I'm just not sure what the article is about yet.

Anonymous said...

Seems like it would be interesting to compare them with respect to their attitudes towards suffering. Jesus chose to be martyred, to suffer to save other people, which I suppose is like what a Boddhisatva does.

Jesus' example seems to be to go seeking out suffering in order to save others. God, being omnipotent, didn't *have* to wait for Jesus to martyr himself in order to forgive everyone's sins -- he could have just up and forgiven them. The message seems to be that suffering is a necessary part of God's plan.

Buddha on the other hand teaches that suffering can be avoided by letting go of desire. If Jesus had done zen while hanging on the cross, and avoided the suffering, I wonder if it the martyrdom wouldn't have counted in God's eyes.

So: Buddha says you can avoid suffering, and Jesus sets an example of seeking it out. Not necessarily incompatible. But my experience in the world is that happy people are good to be around, and make things better for the people around them, while people with martyr complexes make everyone miserable. I'm sure it's an overly simplified understanding of the two faiths, but it's the core of what doesn't click for me about Christianity.

DoctorFunkenstein said...

To be truthful I am not really concerned at all about yet another Christian/Buddhist type book. It seems trite and irrelevant at this point of time. I think what would be interesting to me is an Atheist/Buddhist type book. I am concerned by the fact that some of the prominent atheist out there tend haphazardly include Buddhism in their attacks on religion. I have never seen Buddhism as a religion but as someone who came to Buddhism as an atheist I can see how looking at Buddhism from the outside appears to have all bad qualities of a religion. I was looking at Richard Dawkins book God Delusion the other day and saw at one point him addressing Buddhism as a lifestyle and not so much as a religion which I did not think was too bad at all. However, I later on read how he mentions how a friend went to Thailand and talked to a woman caring for a sick child and then that woman said the child must have done something wrong in another life to have deserved this. Dawkins then says that the idea of Karma is something or someone is keeping tabs on all the good deeds and such, which I thought I was a very wrong interpretation of Karma. I do not find atheist a threat but I think that atheist would benefit from a better understanding of Buddhism in general.

Lone Wolf said...

You should come to my town where a certain groups of Christians(with their little kids) scream hell fire and damnation type slogans through PA speakers at cars driving by at the bussiest intersection (I live in a small town). It's rather interesting.

I feel that the world is better off with the popularity of Christianity because it teachers a since of morals, but at the same time it has done alot of damage with things like the "Spanish inquisition" and the hate torwards gays, jews, and women at times. Christian's who concentrate on the positive, such as "love they neigbor" and "forgive them for they know not what they do," aspects of Christianity then it seems to have quite a positive effect.

I think improving the relationship between all religions and cultural differences is the main thing we can do to help humanity. Because when it comes down to it, most wars and conficits in the world are caused by one group (or one person) disagreeing with another group ( or person).

This is what I am most interested in.

The sad thing is when one finds a solution and it takes a form, it becomes just another idea that other people will want to rebel against.

A person can rebel against reality all they want, but reality will still remain reality no matter what one thinks or does.

nai wakara said...

"It's not as if Christian/Buddhist clashes have ever been a big problem in the world."

zen at war! please.

Ryuei said...


Did you just say that you are a Buddhist monk?!? And when did you take the tonsure, divorce your wife and move into a monaster? This bs about calling the clergy of Japanese Buddhist lineages "monks" has really got to stop. It is just misleading false advertising. And the word "priest" is just as misleading because "priests" in most cultures are usually intermediaries who perform sacrifices on behalf of the community for God(s). Even Catholic priests (whose Roman rite clergy have only been celibate since the 12th century in theory anyway) are offering the "sacrifice of the mass." There is no room for that sacrificial intermediary bs in Buddhism either. Now the Buddha did not set up an order of professional ministers, but that is in fact what most Japanese Buddhist clergy and their non-Japanese heirs are. We are more like ministers or rabbis perhaps than we are like monks/nun or priests(esses). We have taken it upon ourselves while still householders to learn and practice and realize and share the Dharma to the extent that we can.

This is my little pet peeve I suppose. But I really wish that householder Buddhist clergy in this country would drop the Japanese bs and stop referring to themselves as monks/nun or as priests, when in fact they are not pledged to celibacy, do not have to live in monasteries (and most don't), do not wear special clothes or haircuts (though some do or on certain occasions do), and do not perform some superspecial sacrifices (symbolic or otherwise) as intermediaries between humans and God(s). My own personal choice is that we should call ourselves ministers for want of a better word.

As for the Buddhist/Christian stuff, I like your summary of the different types. I think you've got it pegged. I used to be really into trying to reconcile Buddhism and Christianity myself. I actually have been baptized as a Catholic and used to go to mass and confession and all the rest. But then I realized it really wasn't helping anyone, including myself. We were all the same selfish bastards before and after these feel good ceremonies. After many years I realized that Buddhism was simply more comprehensive, grounded and authentic than what passed for Christianity and didn't rely on dogmas and creeds and authorities and holy books but on being centered and aware of reality as it is. Basically Buddhism was about reality, Christianity was about pious devotiona and propositions about reality or metareality. I opted for reality. I no longer needed to reconcile the two because Christianity no longer had any authority or power, I no longer needed to get "approval of Buddhism" from Christianity or Christians. As for Christianity, all that was good about it has a place in Buddhism, so it hasn't been rejected but assimilated into what I think of as the more universal perspective of Buddha Dharma. That doesn't mean Buddhism and Christianity are the same, that just means I recognize that they share many of the same insights and values - simply because that is how reality is and the two traditions are both experessions of people's realization and actualization (to varying degrees) of that same reality. So for me now, I am not concerned with proving that the two are the same or which is superior or whether they can approve of one another. I am much more concerned with the reality they are both pointing to, and I happen to have found that Buddhist teachings and methods are the most direct and helpful in terms of helping me do that.

Sorry to go on for so long, this just all came out in a single burst of writing in reaction to your comments.

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

Andrew said...

Read Thomas Merton.

"hardcore zen" fan said...

Religion is for people afraid of going to hell...spirtuality is for people who have been to hell...

The Very Left Reverend said...

Buddha on the other hand teaches that suffering can be avoided by letting go of desire. If Jesus had done zen while hanging on the cross, and avoided the suffering, I wonder if it the martyrdom wouldn't have counted in God's eyes.


It might be helpful to view Christ's death in a similar fashion to the motives and actions of a bodhisattva.

Gesus said...

Am with DoctorFunkenstein on this. Personally, I would read a Buddishist(zen)/Atheist book over a Jesus/Buddhist one.
That's not to say it wouldn't be worth writing about.

Both religion/attudies do have common ground, (as most categories in Brads list highlights) but people in both camps will make a point of shouting out (or in lone wolfs case, over a pa system) the differences.
Biggest one's being, the highly ambigious character of God and lack of one with Buddhism. Aswell as the concept of faith. The Christian veiw point makes it nessacry to have faith IN something, be it God, Christ, the Church or the bible. While in Buddhism, faith IN something is a hindrance rather a virtue.
Then there's the whole issue of dualism and ego. Religion (Evangl" christianity esp) effecs the ego, changes it or transforms it. Yet, that still is a dualisic, seperate ego or "little mind" approch. And does not even recoigised it.Which is the opposite of what Buddist practice is.

Know this isnt taking account of the more subtle and sopiscated (open minded) religious. But, i think Buddism is more atheistic, than religious.

Anonymous said...

re, buddhism and atheism:

there's a good book by an English buddhist, Stephen Bachelor, called 'Buddhism without Beliefs'.

My experience of Christians is that they have firmly decided themselves what they believe, and the whole meaning of their faith to them depends on the strength of those views... So they're not going to question them or give them up easily, which is kinda what buddhism is about, is it not? Of course there are common characteristics, as someone said, as they're both concerned with human experience. But, in terms of how buddhism could develop in the west, I think a more useful book would be one about buddhism and the scientific, 'rational' tradition that we have in the west.

As was mentioned, most folk's idea of buddhism is a religion with karma and reincarnation, things which can hardly be held up scientifically, so 'rational' minded folks then tend to label buddhism along with other 'irrational' religions and not investigate further. Something debunking all that would be nice.

Jules said...

Brad wrote: Now before you write in and try to convert me, let me say clearly and unambiguously that I am too far gone to ever be "Saved."

Hey Brad,
You said that Buddhism and Christianity aren't incompatible, but it seems to me that if they're compatible then you already are "Saved," to the extent that it's possible for one to be "Saved." No?

Unless by "Saved," you only meant renouncing Buddhism and saying all the proper things to appease and embrace the One True and Vengeful G-D, Smiter of All Who Do Not Worship Correctly. Then, yeah, I guess a lot of us here are beyond saving.

Anatman said...

Christianity and Buddhism are not compatible.

Christianity is defined by faith and acceptance of official church dogma.

Buddhism, by your definition, is "realism."

"Christian Buddhists" and "Buddhist Christians" misunderstand either Christianity, Buddhism, or both.

The two perspectives are diametrically opposed, and cannot be reconciled.

The best we can hope for is mutual respect and understanding.

Jules said...

Gesus wrote: But, i think Buddism is more atheistic, than religious.

I guess it depends what you mean by religious, but I would disagree. I think Atheism's just another religion, while I think Buddhism's something else altogether.

Atheists have their own set of beliefs about the world, just like the rest of the religious folks. For example: the statement "There is no God," is much like saying "There are no Little Green Men on Theta Centauri-Three."

A reasonable person probably wouldn't be talking with strangers about the Little Green Men, but a reasonable person also has no evidence to deny that the LGMs exist.

What's the reasonable response if many people claim to have personally seen evidence of the existence of the LGMs? Well, let's say I haven't seen all the evidence myself. Should I establish an unfounded belief of my own denying their existence (atheism), or should I just keep an open mind and keep my eyes open (realism)?

I don't like atheism because it puts artificial limits on the infinite wonder and possibility of what exists in the Universe.

The Very Left Reverend said...

Christianity is defined by faith and acceptance of official church dogma.


Christianity is defined by two things: orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice). Both are nessesary and a life of Christian discipleship cannot exist without both.

Sounda familiar? Sure it does. It's very similar to the Eightfold path.

(Besides, what is faith and which official church's dogma are you referring to?)

Anonymous said...

Anatman: are you a fundamentalist buddhist or a fundamentalist christian?

Anatman said...


"Orthodox" = conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early church.

"Dogma" = a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church: the dogma of the Assumption.

Faith, Dogma, and Orthodoxy are parts of what defines a Christian as "Christian."

Roberto: I am neither fundamental Buddhist nor fundamental Christian, but I am quite familiar with both Buddhist and Christian doctrine. How about you?

Anatman said...

Landon, my main point is that Christianity is defined primarily by faith/belief in Jesus as the One God.

Using Brad's definition of Buddhism as "realism," the Christian belief system is incompatible with Buddhism.

You mentioned the Eightfold Path, but this is a recommended system for overcoming suffering. It has nothing to do with theology.

Anonymous said...

"My experience of Christians is that they have firmly decided themselves what they believe, and the whole meaning of their faith to them depends on the strength of those views... So they're not going to question them or give them up easily, which is kinda what buddhism is about, is it not?"

This encapsulates the problem with Buddhist/Christian relationships...

EXCEPT - There are Catholic priests who are also Buddhist Roshis. I think that reconciling Buddhism with post-Reformation sects is nearly impossible, but the Catholic tradition (and probably GO or EO also) has a meditative tradition that isn't entirely unlike some Tibetan Buddhist practices...

But of course, Tibetan Buddhism isn't really Buddhism. *puts on flame-retardant underpants*

BlueWolfNine said...

yo brad, i found some zero defex earlier today.
demos or something..... talk about PUNK as FUCK. i rike it arot. ^_^

Jordan & The Tortoise said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jordan & The Tortoise said...

If Hardcore Zen is an introduction to Buddhisim, and Sit Down And Shut Up will be a comentary on the Shobogenso,
I would like to see a book going deeper or farther back. Perhaps punk rock comentaries on The Mulamadyamaka-karika or The Dhammapada. I am going to agree with db and say that the Christian/Buddhisim issue is more of an essay than a book.

Be Well and Happy!
8:21 PM

gniz said...

I have a new blog post for anyone who may or may not be interested.
Sorry for spamming.


MikeDoe said...

The two are fundamentally different.

In Christianity you are praised for holding onto your beliefs in the face of reality and using them to re-interpret reality to fit those beliefs.

In Buddhism the goal(!) is to throw away all beliefs and see reality as it is with strongly held beliefs being the sign of a beginner.

These different approaches are irreconcilable.

Esmerelda said...

anatman has it right: Christianity and Buddhism are not compatible.

Christianity is defined by faith and acceptance of official church dogma.

Buddhism, by your definition, is "realism."

"Christian Buddhists" and "Buddhist Christians" misunderstand either Christianity, Buddhism, or both.

The two perspectives are diametrically opposed, and cannot be reconciled.

The best we can hope for is mutual respect and understanding.

Actually religions because of their insistence on belief rather than reality are at the root of most of the world's problems. I have no interest in any of them. If I want fantasy I will read a novel. It is true some forms of Buddhism contain large doses of religion. Zen does not seem to which is the attraction. I think a book about science and Zen would be much more interesting.

Anonymous said...

People who belive in Christianity are still people,
there're not Christians (despite what they say!)

People who belive in buddhisim/zen are just people too.

There's one compatible thing.

Jules said...

I think some of you guys might want to take another look at this statement, I think Brad makes an excellent point here:

Brad wrote: I think you could practice Zazen, study Dogen's outlook and attitude towards life and yet still remain a Christian. But I think you'd emerge from your study a very different kind of Christian. Possibly a Christian that other Christians may not even recognize as a Christian.

MikeDoe said...

In some cases those people are the same people. I have moved from one camp to the other.

Other than that I fully agree with you. People are still people.

My mother is still a strong Christian although I am clearly not.

We each choose to do our own thing and respect (if not agree with) the 'beliefs' of the other.

My mother sees the benefits that Buddhism has brought me which Christianity did not and I likewise see the benefits that Christianity brings to her life.

Sometimes she invites me to Church events and sometimes I go. Mostly I do not.

I still have an open mind as to the existence of Heaven/Hell. All I can say is that if such a place exists and there is an afterlife as described in Christianty then the phrase "oops" would be approriate for me.

Likewise, if my Mother's beliefs are not in fact valid then she may never find that out.

If reincaranation is real would I ever know it?

Anonymous said...


May I suggest Robert Kennedy, roshi in the white plum lineage and Jesuit priest. I have sat with his group in Long Island here.
One of his successors is Rev Kevin Hunt a trappist monk. (He always brings Jelly to the retreats!)

For more about Fr Kennedy check out Morning star zendo.
and this

ps With respect to Misquoting Jesus blog entry
"I don't know how to love him" written by Andrew Lloyd Webber
sung by Yvonne Elliman
better known for "If I can't have you" Disco one hit wonder.

The Very Left Reverend said...

"Orthodox" = conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early church.

Again, no. The term Orthodox combines the adjective orthos, which means right, correct or true, and the noun doxa, which comes from the verb doxazo, "I hold an opinion," or "I believe." Hence "right belief," or "true doctrine." But in a deeper sense it also means "right worship," since doxazo can also mean "I glorify."

Landon, my main point is that Christianity is defined primarily by faith/belief in Jesus as the One God.

In our Great Commission Jesus tells us to "obey what I taught you." What is it Jesus taught? Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love you neighbor as yourself.

I'm not trying to be a jerk, but you've got it wrong if your trying to blanket Christianity with your projections. What I would love for you to acknowledge is that a significant thing is not what one holds in faith but how one holds it. You seem to show forth the the same level of dedication to Buddhism as you are chiding us Jesus freaks for showing. Different dogma - same kind of "faith."

Using Brad's definition of Buddhism as "realism," the Christian belief system is incompatible with Buddhism.

Sure..the mythic-literal form of it. But I also see that Jesus said "You will know the truth and it will set you free." What is that truth? All we know is that Jesus told us to find in in our "inner room." (cf. - Centering Prayer) That seems pretty damn "real" (and mystical!) to me.

You mentioned the Eightfold Path, but this is a recommended system for overcoming suffering. It has nothing to do with theology.

Recommended? You mean there just might be another way? Say it ain't so.

I'm sorry, but "Correct View" is pretty damn similar to "Right Doctrine." Both are ways of ordering and moving into the world with love and compassion.

I think what I'm most amused by here is the rigid dogmatic belief that "Christianity sucks" by some pretty serious non-practictioners.

Do you think that I'm defending Christianity in order to protect it from a lie I know to be false? Do you think I'm making excuses? I'm an ordained Christian minister - I'm pretty sure I pull rank on you here. I will bow if you correct my representation of Buddhism, but please cut me some clack on the Jesus front - what do you say?

Jordan & The Tortoise said...

I like Christ, I think he said some great things. I don’t think anyone here has said "Christianity sucks" maybe I missed it.

But I think the debate is on Christianity and the compatibility with Buddhism. Below, I think is what sums up "my" faith in reality. I may be completely wrong about Christians, But …

"Rely not on the teacher/person, but on the teaching. Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words.
Rely not on theory, but on experience.
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."

- the Buddha

I don’t know or care if Buddha actually said it. But it makes a whole lot of sense to me.
Will this line of questions work with your faith?

That being said, there may be a handful of ordained Buddhist ministers posting here.
But to pull rank, I’m a Staff Sergeant in the Marines 

Bows to you

Shonen said...

There is a very interesting article on Zen and Christianity by AMA Samy (another Catholic priest/Zen Roshi) called "How to Teach Zen to Christians." The article is a review of a German book profiling a number of Christian Zen teachers. Samy takes a critical look at the various approaches these teachers take in presenting Zen, and offers his own take on the subject, which I find to be quite unique.

Jordan & The Tortoise said...

A good article on comparing Buddhism and Christianity here.
I am not sure about the afterlife view represented here, but it may reflect someone’s views.


V for Vendetta said...

"Religion is for people afraid of going to hell...spirtuality is for people who have been to hell..."

I would say BOTH create hell.

Anonymous said...

Most presentations of Christianity rely on accepting some form of fixed view.

That's one huge difference between Christianity and Buddhadharma.

Two, the Christian salvation narrative requires the existence of external enemies (Satan)and persecuting or skeptical foes.

Buddhadharma does not require a villain to give life purpose.

Three, in Christianity, once you 'have faith' or 'believe' you have to worry that you might lose faith, (become lukewarm) or get tricked into believing the wrong stuff. I remember thinking that this is like being given a priceless antique, feeling thrilled at first, then gradually feeling burdened by possessing it because one has to worry about burglars, or knocking it off the table and breaking it if one makes a wrong move, or fretting about the right product to clean it.

In short, because Christianity is based on fixed view, you are stuck in a defensive position and constantly have to expend enerby to maintain it. You're pressured to feel concerned about your own faith, your own state of mind, and in some traditions, you're under pressure to 'testify' and bring in new converts.

Finally, there's constant fear and menace in the Christian narratives--impendng persecution, God's wrath if people refuse to believe, etc.

Jules said...

A lot of people commenting here seem to think that Christianity is nothing more than their perception of Christianity.

It might be useful to look at it in reverse: imagine a similar conversation on a Christian blog where people just assume all Buddhists spend a lot of time trying to "kill the ego," or believe in reincarnation and multiple heavens/hells, study mandalas and all the bodhisattvas and heavenly figures, etc. Those things may be true of many Buddhists. But I don't think it's correct for someone to say, "That's what Buddhism is," because there are many Buddhists those things aren't true of.

Ryuei said...

Hi again,

In case anyone cares I long ago wrote an FAQ for Christians and put it on my website. I wrote it because I kept getting the same questions about the differences between Buddhism and Christianity over and over again and I basically decided to just sum up my general responses. For what its worth:

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

Anonymous said...

Thank you shonen. By the way, both Kennedy and Samy are Jesuit and descendants of the Harada-Yasutani Lineage. The rest of is pretty interesting as well. For instance, Fr Samy heir Fr. Stefan Bauberger is also Jesuit with a Phd in particle physics.

Anonymous said...

Wat jules said.

One of the things I disliked about Hardcore Zen was the religion-bashing, where it seemed obvious that you only encountered certain kinds of religious people: the kind that wanted to convert you. This makes you dismiss religion as an option, but when, in Japan, you meet buddhists that you feel nothing in common with, you do not write off buddhism, you simply acknowledge that this is not "real" buddhism.

In my experience (I am not in the US) christianity can be completely different. I have experience with the evangelic christians (did not feel comfortable), but also spent time in a contemplative convent. If you are going to compare buddhism to christianity, you should check out convents and monasteries as well. There is a Dutch monastery that combines traditional monastic prayers with zen. They have a web page about zen (unfortunately it is in Dutch).

Most nuns and monks I met did not pretend to have all the answers. They did not want to convert me. If I wanted to pray: fine. If I did not: that's fine as well. Study was important, and they did not claim to have found "the truth" whatever that is.

Anatman said...

Regardless of the subtleties, various shades, flavors, and definitions of orthodoxy, a central tenet of Christianity is the BELIEF IN JESUS AS THE ONE GOD.

Landon, you can dance around this all you want, but name one major Christian denomination that does not hold this to be true. Belief in Jesus as the One God defines Christianity and its followers.

I don't see any need to "cut you slack" on this, because I am not disparaging you or your religion. Let me emphasize, there are wonderful, beautiful, empathetic, compassionate people in the world who are Christian, and Christian churches have quietly helped untold numbers of sick, poor, elderly, and needy people in the world.

Christians can study Buddhism, and Buddhists can study Christianity, and both can respect and cherish each other. Buddhists can live according to the Christian ideal (i.e. The Golden Rule), and Christians can practice Zazen and other forms of meditation.


NONE of this changes the fact that Christians believe in Jesus as the One God.

And Buddhists do not.

Thus the diametrical opposition, and thus the philosophical incompatibility. The two can love eachother, get married, have sex, and have babies, but the two perspectives are diametrically opposed. A Christian cannot be a Buddhist and a Buddhist cannot be a Christian.

And Landon, regarding rank, I sing tenor in a barbershop quartet, so I'm afraid it is I who pull rank here.

Anonymous said...

Atheist, Buddhist,
Christian, Muslim, Jew,
Hindu, Rastafarian, Zoroastrian,

Who the hell cares what you believe?
What matters is how you behave!

Jules said...

I don't recall reading in the Bible where it said Jesus was the one God, I seem to remember seeing "son of God" a lot. But I haven't read the whole thing.

There's a lot more about Christianity that I don't know than what I do know. So maybe this is blasphemy and contrary to every Christian teaching. But maybe Jesus was the one God. And maybe Britney Spears is the one God, too. And you, and me, and this computer. Does that conflict with Buddhism?

Maybe this is something like what Brad meant by "a Christian that other Christians may not even recognize as a Christian."

Anonymous said...

Why can't human beings be honest
agnostics and admit
when they just don't know? What's
the big deal with having to BELIEVE
this or that? Why can't they just
accept experimental probabilities?

MikeDoe said...

People hate uncertainty. Beliefs give you a false sense of certainty.

Anonymous said...

anatman said:

>a central tenet of Christianity is

>Landon, you can dance around this
>all you want, but name one major
>Christian denomination that does
>not hold this to be true. Belief in
>Jesus as the One God defines
>Christianity and its followers.

How about the Unitarians or the United Church of Christ?

I think your point is valid for a large number of Christian sects, but in my experience, quite a lot of mainstream non-evangelical Christians are open to the idea that theirs is not the only useful religious path, whatever their church might officially teach. But, maybe I just happen to know a lot of loosey-goosey Christians :-)

xaaronx said...

Brad, and others: there are several books doing something similar to what you are talking about here by a man named John P. Keenan. He's an Episcopal priest and a Buddhologist. He's also translated, among other things, Nagao Gadjin's The Foundational Standpoint Of Madhyamika Philosophy.

The first of these books, and the most dense, is The Meaning Of Christ: A Mahayana Theology, in which he presents the development of early Christian mystic and theoretical thought, the development of Madhyamika and Yogacara, and then brings the two together. But this is not a syncretistic "Buddhism and Christianity ar really the same" approach. Rather, he uses the philosophical framework of dependent co-arising and emptiness, worldly convention and ultimate truth, to interpret traditional Christian doctrines such as the Incarnation and the Trinity.

The other two books are a commentary on Mark highlighting theses same themes--I especially recommend a section on the transfiguration called "The Epiphany of Just Jesus"--and another on James, which I have not read but which I understand finds parallels with Buddhism in James' idea of non-discriminative wisdom. I suggest starting with The Meaning Of Christ.

Another good book to take a look at to learn more about the kind of Christianity those outside the tradition are rarely exposed to, and which I kept wishing Brad had been exposed to every time he opened his mouth on it in his book, is Ched Myers' Binding The Strong Man: a Political Reading Of Mark's Story of Jesus. At least read through the intro if you live in a town with a university library.

Anatman said...



"Briefly described, Unitarian Christianity is, like other forms of Christianity, a religion that asserts the divine character, divine spirit, and divine foundation of the teaching of Jesus Christ."

Source: American Unitarian Conference Website (

United Church of Christ:

"United Church of Christ Statement of Faith—original version:
We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father, and to his deeds we testify: He calls the worlds into being, creates man in his own image and sets before him the ways of life and death."

Source: United Church of Christ Website (

The Very Left Reverend said...

Belief in Jesus as the One God defines Christianity and its followers.

To be sure, we get our name from Jesus as the Christ. Yes, our earliest creed states that "the Son is of the same substance as the Father." I don't recall that I was trying to argue or discount that point, but just to be clear...

What I am trying to submit to you is that, philosophically, simply saying that Christians believe in a God and Buddhist believe in "realism" does not make them incompatible. Especially by the standards of Buddhist philosophy. If Christianity and Buddhism are not compatible then "the cypress tree in the courtyard" cannot be the "the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the west."

To say that the Jesus is the Son of God is to say that we believe that emptiness and form are not two. You take refuge in the Dharma, the Buddha, and the Sanga; we take refuge in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Are they different? On the surface, sure. My religion comes from a place where there were no lotus plants, so of course the mythic imagery is different. But, I believe, that the core structures are the same., namely:

1. Spirit (by whatever name - emptiness, etc) exists.
2. Spirit is found within.
3. Most of us don't realize this Spirit within, however, because we are living in a world of sin, separation, and duality--that is, we are living in a fallen or illusory state.
4. There is a way out of this fallen state of sin and illusion, there is a Path to our liberation.
5. If we follow this path to its conclusion, the result is a Rebirth or Enlightenment, a direct experience of Spirit within, a Supreme Liberation, which--
6. marks the end of sin and suffering, and which--
7. issues in social action of mercy and compassion on behalf of all sentient beings.

If that is truly representative then it sounds pretty much like a compatible structure to me.

Jules said...

"The Kingdom of God is here in the present moment, but because we have hatred and discrimination we are not able to be in touch with it."

"We practice in such a way that Buddha is born every moment of our daily life, that Jesus Christ is born every moment of our daily life."

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Anonymous said...


Ed said...

Check out Marcus Borg's new book: Jesus: Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary. Accessible, intelligent, wholly sane, and very insightful.

Andrew S. said...

Hahah, Ryuei doesn't geeeeeeet iiiiiiiit.

Sunyata said...

From my many years of personal experience with the Christian religion and private study and practice of Buddhism my thought is this.
The two are as oil and water. They do not mix and should not mix as they were each created for seperate and varying levels of consciousness.
Respect between the two and all other religions, beliefs/non-beliefs, philosophies etc. could gain much by simply teaching respect.
I do agree though that another book or group about the similarities of Buddha and Jesus seems uncessary and fruitless.
Great post and great comments.

Drunken Monkey said...

"They do not mix and should not mix as they were each created for seperate and varying levels of consciousness."

Lawl. Seperate and varying levels of consciousness, eh?
So are we higher or lower than the Christian folk in terms of conscious awareness?

Sunyata said...

'So are we higher or lower than the Christian folk in terms of conscious awareness?'

Yes. But that is not in terms of better or worse than. It is simply reality. We are all at different stages of consciousness. The Buddha knew this and adjusted his teaching to the levels of those he spoke to and his teachings changed through the years as his enlightenment expanded.

All religions meet the level of the person practicing. No offense intended.


Drunken Monkey said...

So Sunyata, my disaproval of biblical religions is not due to logic and reasoning, but instead my higher consciousness. Wow very mystical. Complete bullshit though.

Sunyata said...

How you perceive is how you perceive drunken monkey...afterall, it is 'your' journey.

With Metta

Anonymous said...

I reconsidered my comment about talking to christian nuns and monks. While I still think it is a good idea, I think it may be too much of a challenge to find the people you are looking for, and it will probably make you give up on christianity yet again.

If you are really interested in this, interested enough to write a book, you should talk to theologicians. I studied theology for a while and NONE of my professors believed any of the things you think all christians believe. They really do not believe that God is a magical creature in the sky that made heaven and earth in seven days etc. etc. They all agree that it does not matter what actually happend thousands of years ago, it matters what the books mean to us, right now (yes, that's actually what they teach, I am not making this up after reading your book). They way you describe Kannon is exactly like the way many "modern christians" view saints like the Virgin Mary. They really do not believe that there is an actual women in the sky, listening to our prayers and telling them to "God".

This is not just true at very modern theology universities. Mine was a normal university here, that was accepted by the Roman Catholic church as a university where you can get a priest-education. Granted, there are some bishops who think these teachings are awful, but they are a minority.

Anonymous said...

It's striking how most hold their "path", "faith, "practice", "truth", "experience", "belief", you name it, to be "the realistic one" and deny that "reality quality" to others'.

Anonymous said...

A nice complement to Ehrman's book
that you should probably read before
writing your own Jesus book is
The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty.

Anonymous said...

>Belief in
>Jesus as the One God defines
>Christianity and its followers.

Me (Chris):
>How about the Unitarians or the >United Church of Christ?

Anatman quoting Unitarians:
>asserts the divine character,
>divine spirit, and divine
>foundation of the teaching of
>Jesus Christ

I think this, and to a lesser extent the UCC quote, are carefully worded to assert the divinity of Christ without claiming that he is the "One God". It's one thing to say someone is divine, another to say they are the only one who is divine.

I don't mean to split hairs, I just think you're misunderstanding the attitudes of some Christians. There are definitely Christians who see Jesus as the divine path they have chosen personally, and not as the only divine path. I think your quotes demonstrate that nicely by their carefully worded non-exclusiveness.

But, as you have stated, plenty, plenty of Christians, perhaps most Christians, do believe they have the only answer, so you're mostly right. I'm just picking nits because I happen to know some Christians who don't believe they have the only answer.

Anonymous said...

Never piss off a Unitarian
or he might come and burn
a giant question mark
in your yard!

Good point, chris bogart.
It might be safe to say
that Christianity is not
one religion but a thousand
different religions that
just happen to use some
of the same words (with
different meanings?) to describe
ambiguous beliefs and experiences.

Anonymous said...

Jesus never existed, so who cares?

Anonymous said...

Cool website. Thanks.
Here's another:

Jonathan said...

What about the fact that budhism is an atheistic religion. It's not that Budhism doesn't involve a God, it's that it believes there is not onw. Clearly this make Christianity and Budhism incompatible. You can not be a Christian and a Budhist at the same time.

Tim Cook said...

Mention was made of "centering prayer," which is sometimes portrayed as a sort of Christian catch-up to zazen. That may be partly true, at least for some, but centering prayer is more accurately a revival of a Christian meditative tradition that lasted lineage intact up to the Enlightenment, which is to say Christianity has a longer history of meditation than it has a history without meditation. Ancient texts such as those by the Desert Fathers, St. John of the Cross, the medieval Cloud of Unknowing, despite differences in particularities, often read like Buddhist tracts. Such a revival of meditation is not unknown in Buddhism either. Meditation among the laity is a relatively modern concern in Buddhism, and even now, most Asian Buddhists, even Zen priests, have no interest in meditating. It's something they had to slog through in training. This is not to say one religion or the other, or some third one, is purer than the other, just that they're all human constructions and thus susceptible to messy histories.