“Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian”

– from “Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others” by Barbara Brown Taylor – HarperOne

One of my favorite authors, Paul Knitter, has written a book called “Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian”. In it, he describes the “double-belonging” that led him to become a more committed Christian at the same time that it led him to become a more devoted member of a Tibetan Buddhist community in the United States. When one of his students at Union Seminary in New York asked him if this was “spiritual sleeping around,” Knitter took the question seriously. His core identity is Christian, he explained, but it is an identity that flourishes only through mixing it up with others.

Well, that’s true, I thought, counting how many other religions Christians mixed it up with during their early years—not just Judaism, but also Samaritanism, Zoroastrianism, and Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and Syrian religions. When Islam arrived in the seventh century, it changed the way Christians thought about their religious images. During that same century, manuscripts blending Buddhist, Taoist, and Christian teachings were being written in China under the influence of a Syriac monk named Alopen. In all of these ways and more, Christian teaching has flourished from its mingling with other religious Teachings.

“The more deeply one sinks into one’s own religious truth,” Knitter says, “the more broadly one can appreciate and learn from other truths.” That has been true for me, both as a teacher and as a spiritual seeker. Unlike the young man bent on keeping his Christian faith uncontested and pure, I have gained insight every time I have put mine to the test. Sometimes the results are distressing, as when I find the silence of the meditation bench more healing than the words of my favorite psalms, or when I take greater refuge in the Buddhist concept of impermanence than in the Christian assurance of eternal life. Yet this is how I have discovered that I am Christian to the core. However many other religious languages I learn, I dream in Christian. However much I learn from other spiritual teachers, it is Jesus I come home to at night.

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