Can you be Christian and Buddhist?

Kevin Thew ForresterThe title question is not something I lose any sleep over. But the other day I ran across The God Blog over on the Jewish Journal, which asks this question with respect to Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester. He’s in the news due to irate Episcopalians who will not tolerate him as both a bishop in the Anglican communion and an ordained Zen teacher.

Of course, Forrester’s ordination is (I’m guessing) more along the lines of giving him the OK to teach meditation. He is not leading a secret life as an abbot of a Buddhist monastery in rural Michigan. I doubt that he even identifies himself as Buddhist. I see nothing wrong with his ordination, but clearly plenty of people (Christian and Jewish) do.

In short, I think the title question is entirely inappropriate for this situation. The question is still an interesting one, but whenever I hear it I always think back to Kusala Bhikshu’s ruminations on practicing multiple faiths. If you’re Buddhist and Christian, then where do you go when you die?

I have a hunch that Rev. Forrester has already made up his mind on this one.

19 Replies to “Can you be Christian and Buddhist?”

  1. “If you’re Buddhist and Christian, then where do you go when you die?”

    This is a very astute question which points towards the major difficulty…. I suppose anyone can call themselves whatever they want and consider themselves a part of multiple “camps,” and many people do…and further, they can feel like there is no conflict at all…and maybe in their understanding of things there isn’t…whatever…. But given the truly fundamentally different way of seeing the world and reality between Christianity and Buddhism (and I have been both…let’s just say I no longer consider myself a Christian), I personally would see a huge disconnect, or not really understanding one or the other (or maybe both) if one were to self-label as both of them. But that’s just the way I see it.

    Two cents. Probably not worth any more than that.

    Peace to all

  2. I’m hopeless enough to think that “where do you go when you die?” is a hopeless question, for Christians and Buddhists alike.

    Given the very real suffering that we face every single day of our lives, why would we spend any time on that question?

    Christians are taught that what we do right now, in each moment of this life, determines our future. Buddhists are taught the same thing.

    Truthfully, neither group pays much attention to this teaching. Not really.

  3. It may be that those who do identify as Christian/Buddhist are looking at specific, certain teachings that can be applicable to practice, such as Zen meditation. A question can be: what is their attitude to the extensive teachings on the afterlife that both religions offer? Both Christianity and Buddhism provide VERY detailed teachings on the afterlife, and these can be VERY different even within specific denominations and traditions within these religions. As example, in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, the afterlife is considered the primary concern of the nembutsu follower:

    “And because the impermanence of this world creates a condition of uncertainty for young and old alike, we should all immediately take to heart the most important matter, the afterlife, and deeply entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha, say the nembutsu.” [Letter of Rennyo Shonin, “On White Ashes”]

    Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that Shin Buddhists spend all their waking hours thinking about the afterlife, on a doctrinal level it doesn’t make it compatible with the afterlife beliefs of non-Buddhist religions, such as Christianity (where faith in Jesus Christ is essential for salvation) or even other Buddhist traditions. So again I am assuming that those who claim a Buddhist/Christian do not necessarily are primarily concerned with doctrinal issues, but more with real-time practice and a more general interpretation of the teachings of both religions, compassion, loving-kindness, etc. which is not a bad thing at all.

  4. i have thought about this question for a while. i grew up around buddhism as my only religious practice (well, that mixed with shintoism). but i find the teachings of jesus very persuasive, and many cultural trappings of christianity are alluring. so i read merton and suzuki who both wrote on mysticism in christianity and buddhism comparatively. i also read a book called something like, “the words of jesus and buddha.” there are many analogies in the actual words of both men. i think this is why i get along so well with red letter christians (people who place importance on the words jesus actually said, rather than the stuff around it as interpreted by the gospel writers). i have no answer, but in my creative practice i am addressing the question by using the text from catholic mass (credo, gloria, etc.) and the japanese text from the heart sutra in a piece about pain and illness (cancer, specifically). i’m learning more about my spirituality in this process. and i’m enjoying these comments above. thanks.

  5. Wow, so when I read the article about Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, I wanted to post about it too. I was busy at the time and thought to wait a few days to write about it, but I’m very happy that you have beat me to it!

    As with the question of whether one can be both Buddhist and Christian, I really want to say yes. I really wanted to embrace both faiths and let my Christian friends know that they can stop their quest to convert people to Christianity because guess what, you don’t have to identify yourself with only one faith, but you can have both at the same time. Buddhism gives a path to end human suffering, and Christianity gives a path to eternal life. They seem to address two different issues so why not be both? But the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s not so simple.

    “If you’re Buddhist and Christian, then where do you go when you die? ”I’ve always thought about this question in a less literal way. I think its problematic to detail the places we will end up after we die because it is something we will never know until we get there. At least with Buddhism, I tend to think of its description of the six realms and what happens we die as a way of understanding and applying of the idea of rebirth and karma. For all we know, maybe the human terms we use such as rebirth, nirvana, salvation, heaven, eternal life, are really all just the same thing.

    Thanks for the post. It’s good to know that I’m not pondering this question alone.

  6. As the child of a Buddhist and a Catholic, and someone who attends church as the UCC (United Church of Christ) and still goes to Buddhist Temple every once in a while, I have to tell you it’s tough to be both Christian and Buddhist. But what’s interesting to me is the UCC, has Buddhist meditation and classes on Buddhist teachings. So maybe these two things aren’t so far apart as we think?

  7. I was pointed to this piece by Jaime Licauco in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. There goes my off-the-cuff remark comparing Buddhist and Christian afterlives! Licauco writes:

    Regarding reincarnation, I have thoroughly researched this subject for a number of years. I found that even St. Jerome and St. Augustine initially believed in reincarnation but later changed their minds and followed others in denouncing it, especially after Origen, who believed in multiple rebirth, was condemned during the Second Council of Constantinople (otherwise known in Church history as the Fifth Ecumenical Council) in 553 A.D.

    I found that belief in rebirth called “resurrection” was part of early Christian teachings. And there are very clear passages in the Bible that can be interpreted in a reincarnational manner. Of course, the official stand of the Church is contrary to this.

    Click here to read the article in full.

  8. After my counselor suggested meditation for me my interest in Buddhism has grown day by day. I first became interested in what was happening in Tibet and began supporting a child there. I have read things by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama which have taught me much. With daily meditation and practice I now have more optimism which doesn’t fade easily. My sense of compassion toward others has increased. My own ability of self-introspection has been enhanced greatly.
    Having been generation-raised Christian however, making a full transformation to Buddhism is not easy for me. Even having been through many off-and-on periods of Christian inspiration it is still rooted firmly in some ways.
    For me I honestly think however that Buddhism is the way to go because it is so directly good for the mind. The American Psychology Association ran an article on a symposium that was held at MIT to study meditation techniques of Buddhist monks on their ability to withstand disturbances in their lives.
    A while back this decision in my life, which to choose, was
    giving me some stress and I solved it by simply telling myself
    that when I went to bed at night, what do you feel like reading? The Bible or the Dalai Lama? I would pick up whichever book I wanted to at the time.
    When the choice is clear to me at some point I will
    choose it. Until then I’ll be straddling the fence.

    All the best.

  9. I asked my religion teacher and the answer is no. She is a Christian and according to her, by being a ‘Christian-Buddhist’ you’re having a stranger god before you. Although Buddhism is a pantheism, by practicing the Buddhism meditation while trusting Dharma, Sharma, and sangha. She gave me different analogies about it not being possible for you to be in both sides of the religion. They obviously have differences as well as similarities. Keep it to one.

  10. I’m not sure how this will add to anything, but I too have this “struggle” about these two faiths of which I consider myself a believer in; both. The Buddhism ties very well into the recovering alcoholic part of myself, and has almost exact parallels with the philosophies of the ‘resentment’ and ‘reactionary’ parts of Alcoholics Anonymous. And I belong to, and really enjoy the UCC church I attend and I find peace in trying to understand and dissect the teaching of Jesus. I don’t take either teachings too literally because I feel that’s what sparks fundamentalism which has a very negative and closed side. The “God is Still Speaking” mantra of the UCC fits well with the Buddhist part of myself, in that it nudges one to look at things as if they are new and relevant and not ‘stuck’ in any finite form. I suppose as far as the ‘absoluteness’ of Christianity, I must filter out in order to understand how to love purpose and existence with out all of that self-centeredness. I hope all of you in the same boat can be happy with both teachcings!

    1. I too am in AA, which is where i found God. Recently have also found Buddha. I find wonderful helpful things in both practices ~ and I see no reason why I can’t do both unless I decide to worship Buddha as a God, which he isn’t and even Buddists don’t. belief he is God. It’s working for me and I don’t believe I’m doing anything wrong. When I meditate, for example, I invite God into my mediation. I feel more open minded now, which is what investigation PRIOR to contempt will give. 🙂 Namaste.

  11. I was born in Japan and raised there for my early years. The Nichiren Shoshu buddhism sect is one that I started doing some research on and I asked some of the buddhist members this exact question since I was adopted into a Christian family. The Buddhist members stated that you can be a Christian and a Buddhist, but it really depends upon the sect of Buddhism.
    I struggle with this a little still be cause I believe that both beliefs have benefits for your daily walk through life. I look at people from both faiths and I see good and bad in both. I am starting to think more of the belief that you can take parts from each faith / belief that gives you peace.

  12. That’s why Philosophy is better than religion. You can decide what makes sense and come to your own conclusions with out being stuck with dogma. Religion is practiced in a social context and provides for social needs. If your creative you can say what you think in the religious jargon of the group your with you don’t need to be limited by them and you don’t need to be too honest with them either.

  13. Hi i really like this topic a lot. I am a christian but I also believe that buddhism is just as valid to my spiritual journey. From meditating on both beliefs I have come to realize that christianity and a buddhism are the same same thing. spiritual beings on the journey of transformation from being ego centered to other oriented. Awakened beings. I bellieve that no one can tell you what or who you chosse to believe in. That is up to you in your journey. My journey is founded on this belief: I am open to things and people that contribute to my positve growth, transformation and transcendency. All else I ignore because they are hinderances and will keep me stagnant. I honestly don’t spend a lot of time wondering where I will go when i die because to me the most important thing fro me to be concerned about is my time here on earth. I am more focused on loving and accepting people and living in reality. learning to be more compassionate seeing and accepting that therei s no greater than or less among human beings but equality. I firmly believe that if you live this life trully loving and not causing suffering in the world you shouln’t have to question where you are going to go when you die. I would rather enjoy being human and enjoying the ride of my life before it ends cool article! peace to all of you.

  14. To me the answer is simple. They both teach Dharma, Christianity just doesn’t know it. The only difference is that the Buddhists don’t want to be born again, they want to escape that cycle, Christianity talks non stop about re birth. What I take from both, Buddhism making the most sense by the way, is love everyone, peace on earth good will toward men, and most of all life should be valued. I am studying Buddhism and I am also going to the Christian church.

    I am going to be free when I die.

  15. I have been born around Buddhists too and I’ve witnessed as well as been effected by it. I truly believe in Buddhism and whenever I go to the temples, i feel inner peace and secure. As I go to US to study, I get to know Christianity. I start to get interested and I enjoy their teachings a lot. I start to have conflict thoughts on whether to become a Christian or a Buddhist. Now, thanks to this article, I can at least be less confused and assume that I can be both:) I feel really relieved now.

  16. Every moment we breathe and take in the same air that every other creature alive has also breathed. The plants and trees filter and recycle our breath for us. We all are an integrated part of a whole dynamic existing universe. We flow with the atoms of eternity. It is a different river each time we take out our foot and replace it to submerse it again, Buddha was actually the first to be ‘born again’. He just refuse to be called a god. When asked if he were a god or a man the Buddha replied, ‘I am awake’.

  17. I am Catholic and Buddhist its ok to be both really your just following the bible’s teaching and Buddha’s teachings and advice nothing wrong with that. As long as you value God an do not worship gods before him.

Comments are closed.