Learning to be Christian from the Dalai Lama

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lamaphoto © 2009 abhikrama | more info (via: Wylio)
I got a really interesting email from a friend this week who has been wrestling with his Christian faith over the past year.  He was recently diagnosed with cancer.  He wrote the following:

“My sense of Christian Identity was pretty concrete when my health issues came to light and looking back, God’s timing was so impeccable, any whisps of doubt are now erased. I think that I would have driven myself insane had I not had faith.

Coming full circle… One of the biggest reasons my faith and mindset remained so refreshed and unwavering can be credited to the Dalai Lama. That man articulates what I consider the fundamentals of Earthly Christianity unlike any other – acts of compassion and brotherly love. Sure, he doesn’t believe in Jesus, but he has made me a better Christian.

I’m sure the vast majority of Christians would balk at, and some would DESPISE the idea of a Buddhist having any influence over their spirituality. I don’t know why he strikes such a chord with me but I DO know most modern day Christian leaders don’t impact me the same way.”

My friend sent me the link to the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page and I spent a little time reading the status updates.   This one was one of the most recent:

“Feelings of anger and hatred arise from a mind that is troubled by dissatisfaction and discontent. So you can prepare to deal with such occasions by constantly working to build inner contentment and by cultivating kindness and compassion. This brings about a certain calmness of mind that can help prevent anger from arising in the first place.”

Most of the Dalai Lama’s posts had something to do with the spiritual maturity that comes when we control our selfish emotions and seek to move toward love and compassion.

I also have a spiritual godmother who sends me the daily devotional from Richard Rohr who is a Franciscan Priest. Below is an excerpt from the latest devotional she sent me titled “From Judgment, to Contemplation, to Action.” from his January 19th Daily Devotional.

“We are supposed to move toward love.  Mature religion’s function is to make us capable of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence, and care for others.  When religion is not creating people who can reconcile things, heal things, and absorb contradictions—then religion isn’t doing its job.

When we stopped teaching the contemplative mind in a systematic way about 400 to 500 years ago, we lost the capacity to deal with paradox, inconsistency, and human imperfection.  Instead, it became “winners take all” and losers lose all.  That’s dualistic thinking at its worst; and it’s the normal mind that has taken over our world. It creates very angry and often, violent people.  Peace and happiness are no longer possible, because there is always a crusade to be waged and won.  That is ego at work and surely not soul.”

In the writing of these two men, I hear echoes of the Apostle Paul who writes in Romans 12:2,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” As well as this passage from Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  More importantly I hear the words of Christ who instructed us in John 13:34, ““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

My friend is not drawn to “Buddhism” but to “love.”  I find it sad that when he thinks of the church and Christian leaders, he thinks of judgment more than love.

My dear spiritual godmother, is a contemplative Christian and I am a contemplative activist in training.  As Richard Rohr points out, contemplative practices are deeply rooted in the Christian tradition.  Sadly, they are neglected in our contemporary expressions of the church and my friend is not the first person I have met who yearns for this level of spirituality but who sees it only expressed in other faith traditions.

As Rohr writes, to embrace contemplative practices we must be willing to embrace paradox, inconsistency, and human imperfection.  We must be willing to enter into a mystery and accept that life is not neat and tidy.  There is no guide book to avoiding suffering and we are not in control of our own lives. We must accept that life is messy, unpredictable and is often unfair.

Yesterday we had wind gusts of up to 45 miles an hour here in Richmond.  I decided to go for a run down to the lake.  I went out on a dock which jets out into the water.  I was standing on the side of the dock when a gust of wind hit and almost blew me over.  I felt God leading me to lie down and close my eyes and to simply listen to the violent sound of the rushing wind and to feel its power pushing against me.  As I felt the wind, I realized I was not moved.  It was only wind.  Most of the forces that come against us in this life are like that wind.  They can terrify us, push against us and threaten us.  Contemplative practices teach us how to lie down in the midst of the storm.  When we learn to be still and let Christ calm the storms that are brewing all around us, we can find the inner peace and tap into the Devine power that Jesus speaks of.  We cannot make the winds stop blowing, but we can learn to not be moved by them.

In John 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” And in John 15:5 Jesus tells us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

If we head these words and rediscover contemplative practices, we will bear the fruit of compassion spoken of by the Dalai Lama and we will learn to lead with love as Rohr envisions.  And someday, when people like my friend think of the church, it is these images of love, acceptance and non-judgment that will come to their mind.

My prayer for my friend is that he finds a group of contemplative Christian activist who are living with compassion toward the world.  He might find Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation or Contemplative Outreach an interesting place to start.  I also praise God for using the words of the Dalai Lama to help my friend see Christ more fully and pray God continues to bring wise council into his life.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Learning to be Christian from the Dalai Lama

  1. Yvonne McCarroll

    Wendy that was a beautiful blog. Thanks for writing it.
    PS-I’m praying for that friend.

    Aunt Bonnie

  2. Thanks Wendy. Well written and lifts up Jesus Christ while acknowledging that God uses many sources to bring us wisdom and move us closer to Him. I find the work of “abiding in Jesus” to be the most difficult in my natural state of doing and accomplishing. As I wrote in a blog post just recently – my “to do” list always seems more important than my “to be” list.

    Peace, Mike

    • wmccaig

      Mike,
      Thanks for your comment. I think so often Christians dismiss the wisdom of other traditions and fail to look for the parallel wisdom with our own faith tradition. On the subject of learning to “be”, we have plenty of wisdom within our own tradition directing us toward “being.” But, as you pointed out, not many of us know how to practice it. I think that it comes primarily from our American culture which is highly focused on what we “do” and places little emphasis on who we “are” a part from what we do. Perhaps that is why eastern cultures seem to more fully embrace the contemplative practices. I really would love to spend time outside the US some day in a culture that values community and stillness more than independence and production. Perhaps if I did the Mary in me would not always succumb to the Martha.

  3. Lee Gunn

    Wendy, well written. Maybe in the future you could write about how/why modern Christianity moved away from widespread teaching of the contemplative mind. Surely historic Christian practices have a lot to teach us. New and different does not always equate to better for all. History seems to be full of examples of throwing the baby out with the bath water and this might be the case. Maybe as the study of science and Christianity separated during the Enlightenment, Christianity moved away from the contemplative mind as a way to create its own identity and to protect itself.

    In today’s world most are judged on “doing” and our society values those that “do” the most. Today we are able to “do” very quickly and easily. We have the tools to communicate quickly and most have the resources. We are able to do much good or much bad easier and quicker. To be able to “do” quickly, easy and fast answers are necessary. Paradox, inconsistency, and human imperfection do not help give easy answers. It would seem putting less value on “doing” is the first step to opening our mind to the contemplative mindset.

    Thank you for the thought provoking and challenging post.

    • wmccaig

      I will read some more of Richard Rohr’s teachings on this and see if I can find a bit more about how the Christian tradition approached contemplative teachings historically. I know the period of the dessert mothers and fathers is rich with teachings of this nature and thankfully I was taught this type of spirituality in through my seminary experience which I think is rare.

      I think you are onto something in noting our obsession for efficiency as a society. Perhaps that is why our spirituality as a society is so shallow. Easy neat answers can only take you so far.

  4. DaveLou

    Richard Rohr’s daily messages are the very best, most meaningful I’ve found anywhere. His words constantly teach and transform. On a slightly different note: I was signed up for a Brennan Manning conference three or four years ago and was flabbergasted to receive an email from the hosting church informing me the event was canceled. Seems there was rumor that Brennan’s teachings sometimes included contemplative prayer and he was too “eastern” in his thinking. Does it break you up as badly as it does me when one tiny speck of Christiandom decides they have the full story on which practices are valid, and which are “dangerous”?

    • wmccaig

      Sadly I have seen this same kind of response related to a number of Christian leaders who get tagged as too liberal. I read an article by a the far right leader claiming that yoga should be banned in churches and that Christians should not practice it. It is all fear driven and has no basis in fact. I am so thankful God liberated me from that kind of fear based Christianity.

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