My Flirtation with Christian Buddhism
|There is a reason why this image is offensive|
Rowan Williams maintains that in the morning he 'squats' to pray. Physical postures for prayer are quite important. We are told that Our Lord spent nights in prayer - so despite what His Holiness tells us, it is simply untrue to suggest that Our Lord was a pastor who had no time for contemplation, but did Our Lord adopt the 'yogi' position? Would the desert fathers recommend it? Is the Buddhist posture of the 'lotus pose' suitable for Christian prayer?
I think I understand where Rowan Williams is coming from here. While a Catholic not very long into his conversion, I bought a book called 'Light Within' by Laurence Freeman OSB, a Benedictine monk. At the time I was particularly vulnerable and already very self-absorbed. The kind of Christian meditation (repeating 'Maranatha' while squatting on my bed in a bid to find 'inner peace') was really very unhelpful to me. I believe it succeeded in sending me even further up my own behind than I was already at the time. I became more arrogant than I already was at that time, more proud than I already was at that time and behaved as something of a 'little god'. I am not saying I am without such vices now, I am saying the spiritual methods advocated in Christian meditation drawing upon the Buddhist tradition seemed to inflame, rather than dampen, or root out, these vices. Of course, these Buddhist-informed spiritual methods did sister chastity no favours either.
|Laurence Freeman OSB and the Dalai Llama|
In reality, I used 'Christian meditation' as a way not of seeking God but of escaping from myself at a time when I was particularly in turmoil. I look back on this episode in horror, not because I am 'such a better person now', but because traditional Catholic devotion to the Mass, to the Blessed Sacrament, frequent Confession, the authentic liturgical prayer of the Church to be discovered in the Divine Office or Little Office of Our Lady and the Holy Rosary help me truly to look away from myself and to turn towards the Lord. Traditional Catholic spirituality is all about the Other and the Other, most especially in the Mass, is visible and tangible, God Incarnate - not 'out there' or even, until Holy Communion, 'within'. We do not have to search for Him 'within' ourselves when He is truly present! It is then that we adore, adoring not ourselves but our God. Of course, every Catholic Church has the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament, but not every Church has reverent liturgy that advertises the Real Presence and fosters devotion.
|Our faith in Jesus is mysterious but tangible. He is Other but present.|
Adherents of Christian prayer that incorporate the Buddhist methods of meditation would protest, I am sure, at my criticism, but within the still relatively new emergence of those who seek the 'light within', there rarely seems to be a love of Catholic Truth, a sense of loyalty to the Magisterium and love of Our Blessed Lady and the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. There doesn't tend to be much of a sense of sin and our need to be saved from it. It is not impossible that those who advocate such practices have discovered within this unique blending of Christianity and Buddhism, a 'higher truth' that makes the true Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and our need for repentance irrelevant. When we disappear up our own behinds, that is what tends to happen, though I understand the importance of not making universal what, for me, was particularly unhelpful.
The sad truth is that these time-tested spiritual practices recommended by the Saints and holy Popes of the Church are much neglected in modern times by modern Catholics who are always open to the temptation to find within 'eastern' spiritual traditions, something that accommodates itself to their particular tastes, doesn't upset their sensibilities and really makes spirituality revolve around the self under the pretense that this spirituality is focused uniquely on the Godhead. This is not, of course, to denigrate the Orthodox model of ceaseless prayer of the desert Fathers in recitation of the 'Jesus prayer', but merely to suggest that Buddhist techniques of 'prayer and meditation' are somewhat in contradiction to authentic Christian prayer, if for no other reason than the physical position adopted by the one who prays. It models a posture of self-dependence and self-exploration that can lead to self-absorbtion. Praying while standing and praying while sitting may not be the absolute ideal, we may find we pray as we can when we can, but to deliberately adopt the posture of 'squatting' does rather say to ourselves and to God that we are deliberately looking within, towards introspection of self, rather than looking towards Him.
Our Lord spent nights Himself on His knees to pray to His Eternal Father. The Gospels recount those times when men and women prostrated or knelt before Our Lord in recognition of His divinity and power. There really is nothing within the Orthodox spiritual tradition or the Latin spiritual tradition - or even the Anglican spiritual tradition - that remotely suggests that the one who prays is the one who "squats" like a Buddhist seeking 'wisdom within' and I don't think St Benedict would approve of this still new Christian Buddhist tradition of "squatting" to pray, if only because it is the tradition of those who do not believe. But, hey ho, now that Communists are 'closet Christians', I guess Buddhists are as well...
I do hope this blogpost does not sound unnecessarily harsh.