Western Buddha, Eastern Jesus

East meets west

More and more I find language of “eastern religion” and “western religion” superficial and outmoded, if not down right ignorant and misleading.

For starters, both Christianity and Buddhism are “world religions” that transcended their ancestral homes millennia ago. But more, their demographic centres of gravity are shifting, to the point where western Buddhism and eastern Christianity are no longer be exotic concepts for many of us. What, with China being an important growth area for Christianity and America being an important growth area for Buddhism, it is clear that some seismic spiritual shifts are going on.

How though, does this effect your understanding of Christianity and Buddhism, or for that matter, Christ and Buddha?

4 thoughts on “Western Buddha, Eastern Jesus”

  1. Thanks Jim, I had not come across that book before. Mind you, I like to explore the contrasts as well as the correlations as I think both aid in understanding. For example, what aspects of Christianity and Buddhism are merely cultural and what are transcultural? To what extend do the tanscultural elements of Christianity and Buddhism correlate and to what extent are they distinct? To what extent can Christianity and Buddhism take on the styles of different cultures, even each others traditional cultures, without diluting their distinctives? These are all questions that fascinate me. Personally I seek to do Christian theology in the style of Lao Tzu and Nagarjuna as much as Plato and Aristotle.

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  2. I am currently living in Korea and am working at a Catholic school. It has been interesting to see the Korean “spin” (for lack of a better word) on Christianity. The services are the same, the scripture quotes are the same and yet… I feel like there’s something missing/deeply different. The overall culture doesn’t adhere to mercy, honesty, and authenticity in a Western way so sometimes Christ’s teachings are translated in the real world differently. (In my experience, the focus seems to be much more on working through levels of church authority than being a good person.) I also get the sense that some of the deeper levels of symbolism are missing. Several of my Christian Korean friends told me that “they were taught from childhood to love Jesus but have no clue what it’s actually all about.” I was raised Christian but am currently agnostic, so my coworkers and friends go out of their way to teach me about Christ. Even though I personally don’t practice, my ancestors worshiped Christ for almost 2,000 years and I do know quite a bit about it. It comes across as a little awkward to me, like me (a White American) trying to teach a Tibetan about Buddhism. I can’t help but suspect a similar event is happening with Western Buddhism tweaking or interpreting through our own cultural lens. (I heard of an instance where a Western Buddhist on pilgrimage to Sri Lanka, was deported because her Buddha tattoo was offensive to immigration officials.)Just some observations and thoughts.

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  3. Thanks for your perspectives Michelle. I suspect some of what you report has to do with Korea having an honor / shame culture rather than a guilt / innocence culture as is more typical of America. Western Buddhism is indeed struggling with the reverse. I have read a number of Buddhist accounts that affirm the distinctions between monks and lay practitioners are blurring considerably in America and Britain under the influence of different understandings of authority. What seems to be emerging is more of a hybrid path, not as serious as celebate Asian monasticism, but more serious than Asian lay practice.

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