Where I See Buddhism Working…

This is actually skipping very far ahead of the discussion that I was planning, but sometimes events do actually influence my thinking. ๐Ÿ™‚

I talked with a friend of mine today. I have never actually met her in person, just online. She strikes me as a real saint. Works as an EMT and a daycare provider. Has several kids of her own and has taken care of more foster kids than you can shake a stick at, and adopted a few. All this with a lazy slacker husband, who has not worked in a couple of years. Superhuman she is. An angel allighted on the earth.

But she is completely overwhelmed. She feels depressed and unworthy. In fact she is on medication for her “depression.” She prays and reads and goes to a Christian counselor (not that the label matters much) but still gets worse. It is a darn shame actually.

Now, don’t think for a moment that I blame “Christianity” for this, or that I think religion should cure clinical depression. But I could not help but think of the advice she might get from a theoretical Christian friend and a theoretical Buddhist one.

OK, her actual friend told her to pray more. He probably also assured her that God loves her and that her reward will be great in Heaven. I have said similar things in the past and heard them as well. The only problem is that many times it just doesn’t cut through the depression. As one of my commenters pointed out, in its most usual current form, Christianity is an exclusivist religion. I can tell you that one of the most heartbreaking feelings is when someone says or feels something like, “But what if He doesn’t?” I am sorry to say but at that point you can say, “He really does love you” all you want and all the person can see is the gates of Hell in front of them. And in most churches, Hell is very real. So a brick wall has been reached. Often times they feel that their “sins” (as my friend seems to) will keep them from heaven. Which is perhaps the very definition of depression.
Don’t misunderstand, I know there is more the Christian theology than that, and their are lots of other thoughts images and such that can be used. But the road is uphill, I am afraid. But now, let us look at a Buddhist approach.

Same sad, unworthy, overburdened person.

“My friend, you are not unworthy by any means, you are filled with Buddha-nature, your inner goodness or wholeness, or call it the grace of God if you will.”

“No, I am not, am bad, I have sinned”

“But the Buddha says that everything that is alive has Buddha-nature. It can’t be taken away or lost. You have it, snakes have it, plants have it. If it is alive, it has Buddha-nature.”

“Then I must have lost it.”

“You can lose it. It is in every living cell. It is hidden, that is all.”

“Hidden? Where? Somewhere out there?”

I’ll drop the dialogue here. ๐Ÿ™‚ It is hidden, the Buddhist would explain, under your ego or wordly mind or some words to that effect. This is the “voice inside your head.” The one that has an opinion on everything, the one that tells you that you should do something else, should be somewhere else, are not working hard enough and so on. The problem is that you take that voice too seriously. Don’t take it seriously, it is just a bunch of thoughts, an illusion. And it is these thoughts that cause our suffering.

It was at this point that my friend interupted me and asked how she could do that, that her head was always full of thousands of thoughts, that the only way to escape them was to take sleeping pills and lapse into a chemical coma. Yes, exactly.

Depression is but an extreme case of samsara, or confusing our thoughts with reality. Thinking that the voice inside our heads is US, instead of our free and clear Buddha-nature (or natural God state, if you want to put it that way).

The Buddha taught a method for quieting those thoughts, and looking beyond the mind and seeing or at least glimpsing the underlying Buddha-nature. Now, I will not claim for one second that the Buddha’s teachings were unique or that other cultures have not discovered the same thing, because they have. But it strikes me that only Buddhism makes it a central part of their religious philosophy. Try asking your priest or minister how to meditate (not pray) . Ask them how to practice mindful watching (or mindfulness, as Tich Nhat Hahn puts it). Perhaps you will get an answer, but most likely not. Maybe even a lecture about the evils of dealing with “eastern mysticism” or something worse.

But Buddhism teaches the actual practice, step by step. How recognize a thought as it bubbles up and how to let it go, to see it as simply a small cloud in a clear sky (as one of the teachings of the Buddha says.) This quieting of the ego is a godsend (no pun intended) to the anxious or depressed person. Which pretty much describes all of us at one time or another.

I was always told in my Catholic education to seek God in the quiet places, but I was never taught how to really be quiet. It is not easy, that is for sure. I would go to those quiet places, but all I would hear was my raging ego: arguing, disputing and frankly, telling me that I was unworthy.

In Buddhist meditation and mindfulness training I am starting to find that quiet place. I have seen glimpses of the Buddha nature. I hope that my friend can find that same quiet place — either by Christian, Buddhist or by whatever means makes sense to her.

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3 Comments

Filed under buddhism, Christianity, journey into Buddhism, Philosophy & Religion, Religion, Self Improvement, Thoughts on Buddhism

3 responses to “Where I See Buddhism Working…

  1. shannan

    First I’m a liberal and didn’t realize it, now I’m a Buddhist and didn’t realize it. How I’ve been taught these Buddhist ideas in my Christian faith is beyond me. That the “essense of God state” is in each of us is what I’ve been taught- ok- learned from Mother Theresa- that EVERYONE has this in them is what I believe- I just haven’t been taught that it is in non human living things- but it would make sense since I believe God made everything, and as the old saying goes- He doesn’t make junk! I know the raging, the racing thoughts, the desperation to find peace and I’d like to share something that helped quiet my mind and let me “meditate” eventually (I call it conversations with God- only sometimes it’s just a silence or just one of us talking). When things were at their worse, I started a journal. I yelled in it- I told God exactly what I thought of “his ways”, I was cautiously optimistic at times in my writings, had personal questions for myself- just anything that came to mind until I was written out or tired out- with only one requirement- to find at least one thing each entry to be thankful for. Sometimes it was something as simple as having a roof over my head. Other times it was things I hadn’t even had the sense to be thankful for. Slowly but surely, I was able to let go and find peace, somehow in those quiet times, I was simply overwhelmed with God’s presence and sense of love. Might be what a Buddhist would call- a sense of their Buddhist nature- but I was able to experience a love that was so immense and so definite, but yet defies any words to explain it. Please pass this on to your friend- what a horrible place for her to be in.

  2. One of the wonderful things about Buddhism is that ultimately it is not a “religion” in the western sense. There is no divine being to worship, no dogma to have “complete faith in” and so on. It is much more like a philosophy or psychological system, so many of the experiences are universally applicable, and things work pretty well even if you put different labels on them.

    This is not to say that there is a complete overlap between Buddhism and any religion, there cannot be, but the Buddha and those that have come after him have done a remarkable job of providing a method, a plan, for coming to grips with the human condition. It is almost completely humanistic, but still leaves open all the possibilities.

    And thanks for your compassionate heart, I am still learning mine. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Greg F.

    As I understand it, the Buddha nature, in full achieving nirvana, is reaching a godlike grace through your own actions in mediation and the quieting of the mind, achieving a mind that is universal, a type of godhead, in which you are higher than a mere man. Very attractive. Also a very, very old and very, very bad idea which lies at the root of all evil.

    Genesis 3
    The Fall of Man
    1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
    2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”

    4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

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