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Quaker, French-speaker, educator, anti-racist; Southern-born & raised, and talking enthusaist.


Posted on Quaker Quaker: Buddhist Quakers

An acquaintance of mine posted something about Buddhism and it got me thinking of Quakers who practice Buddhism. So, to Google I went! I, of course, found comments on QuakerQuaker.org. One Friend posted about how he realized as a Christian how out of place he was in a liberal Quaker meeting, and so he, from how I read his post, quit going to his meeting and practiced Christianity alone.

I hope that he isn't doing it alone still. We are supposed to "go into our closets and pray" (Matthew 6:1-34), but most of the New Testament is how to build the Church and live in community. So, here's my posting:

"Funny" you should post this response. I certainly can't judge how you felt when you wrote this, but if it's anything like I have felt, it is nothing short of frustrated, if not somewhat disappointed. There was a time when I would have posted the same response. Much of that was because I had no clue what Buddhism was. There was a notion I had one time when pondering the question of Buddhist Quakers that it was entirely possible as there are different philosophies within Christianity already. Why not Buddhist Christians since there are so many other kinds already? The idea wouldn't leave me, but I never put much effort into investigating that leading.

Other Friends have already explained Thich Naht Hahn's teachings on Buddhism. He writes in answer to the question on whether one should leave Christianity if they are attracted to Buddhist teachings "Christians who know how to generate mindfulness, concentration and insight are already Buddhist, whether they have formally taken the Five Precepts and the Three Refuges or not. They are truly Buddhist, even if they don’t call themselves Buddhist, because the essence of Buddhism is mindfulness, concentration and insight. There are Christians who are capable of being mindful, concentrated and insightful, and they are already Buddhists; they don’t need to wear the label “Buddhist.” When they express the desire to take the Three Refuges and the Five Wonderful Precepts (Mindfulness Trainings), they know that this practice also strengthens their faith in Christianity. They know they do not lose their roots and they do not betray their tradition, based on the insight that, in their tradition, mindfulness, concentration and insight are also very important. Coming to a Buddhist practice center, they learn methods of practice that can help them generate mindfulness, concentration and insight. They know that in their tradition, these energies are also very crucial. They want to make use of their insight, their experience, in order to renew their tradition so that many young people will know more concrete ways to generate these energies. Practicing Buddhist meditation in that way not only helps them to be a better Christian, but also helps them to renew Christianity in such a way that the young generation of Christians will feel more comfortable. Every tradition should renew itself in the light of the new developments in the world; Buddhism also should renew itself."

At Old Town Friends, our little small Christ-centered meeting in Baltimore, we have no creed; and so, while we tend to use the North Carolina YM Conservative Book of Discipline which is clearly a Christian document, Friends at our meeting have different experiences of Christ, of religion, of Quakerism. Some are new, some were born into the Society. Some have had direct experiences of Jesus, some only know of him. Together, we study the Discipline, the Bible and Quaker teachings. Independently, we draw from all sorts of sources, encouraging each other to be mindful of going where the Holy Spirit leads, reinforcing the knowledge that through the Word, the Light we baptized, born again, and we are delivered from sin and we grow into perfection.

So perhaps one Friend's experience of God is the same as Jesus' experience: Father God. A personal God that is Love. Perhaps others really have experienced God as a distant being who judges, punishes and rewards. Indeed others experience God through God's creation and see God as the Mother who gives birth to all living things, who embraces us and feeds us. And then there's the Friend whose practice of Buddhism helps him center in worship, to go deeply within to find the Light there, that Love which Fox encouraged us to mind, and through that mindfulness they new insights into Truth are revealed and the Power is opened up for them to walk cheerfully over the earth ministering to everyone through example.

I think the danger comes when I don't understand what I'm talking about. I hate to admit this can happen more often than not. I'm working on it. Not all Quakers are the same, as we know. Conservatives and Evangelicals have their differences, even if they are Christians. This is why it's so hard for is to say "Quakers are .... or Quakers believe ...." The same is true for Buddhists.

Do I think this means that a person can "be anything and still be Quaker?" No. Of course not. I'm addressing the possibility of Buddhism. One need not worship the Buddha to practice Buddhist mindfulness. Indeed, many Buddhists don't worship him, and I'm not convinced that was his intention when he was alive (and some say the same of Jesus).

I share a concern, however, with Geoffrey in this: in many liberal Friends meetings, there is little mention of Jesus and people tend to talk of their individual practices during worship which are not Quaker nor Christian. They do not do what Thich Nhat Hahn said, which is basically to use Buddhism as a tool to go more deeply into their own tradition. They do not educate themselves on Quaker foundations, they do not seek Christ or even try to wrestle with the traditional Quaker teachings of Jesus, the Bible. Conversation about faith becomes difficult because we do not speak the same language, we do not wrestle with the same tradition. It's not impossible, just difficult. And frankly, I can't tell you how many times I've heard Friends from liberal and Evangelical Quakerism say something to the effect of "really? I had no idea Quakers had such an understanding of God/Jesus/Bible/Christianity/Religion" when sharing my understanding of Conservative and earlier forms of Quakerism. At least the Evangelicals center on Jesus and wrestle with his teachings and how to be disciples.

Anyway I digress as usual. Point is, for me anyway, do we mind the Light and live up to what is given? Do we come to know Jesus experientially? Are our hearts and minds being transformed so that our lives speak? Does our faith produce good works? Are we sharing our faith or hiding it? As Quakers are we disciplined? Do we seek God in private moments and deliberately engage the Scriptures and other writings in order to learn and grow? Do we make our involvement in our Quaker meetings a priority, as a central part of our lives, believing that not only is our physical being the temple of Christ, but also the gathered assembly, the church is the body of Christ; when we are absent from it, part of the body is missing.

Finally, an anecdote: When I came to Quakers as a kid, I was more influenced by the Baptist faith and the culture around me. I had read Fox's Journal and being a somewhat ornery child I identified with his confrontational, oppositional (and perhaps self-righteous) zeal. You can imagine being a teen how that mix went over in a liberal Quaker meeting. Oh the confrontations, the wounds (they weren't alway nice, either) ..... Yet after a few years of worshiping there, I never once changed what I believed God to lead me to do or say. I probably out ran my Guide way too often, and spoke in worship more than I should have (but without elders, how is one to learn to grow in ministry?). I know now that I had not been grounded in Love and didn't always speak from it (and boy the difference in reactions from others to Christian ministry when I learned to do this). Still, my meeting threw me a huge going away party when I left for Guilford. Some time later, a Friend who considered herself a Universalist Friend sent me an letter thanking me for being faithful to Christ; he had finally reached her somehow and it had been from whatever it is I had done. She reminded me never to stop being faithful to him.

So, for years later, I would find myself at Evangelical and Liberal meetings (mostly liberal). I'd be The Gay that some Evangelicals had to hold their nose and learn to love, and the Christian that Liberals would have to do the same. I stayed at Homewood from 2002-2010 and it was HARD. But, I learned a lot there. God led me there, and God did not release me until late 2009. It was while there that I learned how to speak from a place of Love, to be humble (FLGBTQC Friends also played a large role in this).

I am very grateful that God gave me a leading to start a new group, and that while we struggle to meet our rental obligations, and we are a meeting of mostly young grad students and professionals who are paying back loans and are broke, we seem to be making it. We don't have support from local Friends, though we've reached out. It's frustrating. We are learning what it means to live in community, to encourage one another to grow in Christ, to share each other's burdens, to not isolate ourselves, and to confess and forgive. I love my new meeting, and don't miss the difficulties of being a Christian in a liberal meeting. I'm also aware that this may be a temporary thing, and one day God may lead me back to another meeting; and we've already experienced difficulties in ours so it's not all pie!

So, I hope that Friends will gain something from my experience. Be faithful friends and seek that Love. Otherwise, not matter how true our words and insights may be, they will be nothing but a distraction, a noise and perhaps even keep people from finding the Truth. That would be a great sin.

I no longer label myself. My experiences have changed, and I think labels have their uses, but also their dangers. I am a Quaker. I lean Conservative, have Evangelical stripes, and a universalist world view. I've been all over the map, and have worshiped with all sorts of Christians, Jews, Quakers, and even pagans. I got so distracted by trying to "find myself" that it became a problem. What a joy to finally just release it and pay attention to what Friends have been teaching all along: GO WITHIN YOUNG MAN! BE MINDFUL! PRAY! How Buddhist! (I don't practice Buddhism at all). How Quaker!

1 comment:

  1. Hi KD: I find that QuakerQuaker thread so fascinating. Lots of people come to it via Google searches for "quakers buddhists" and get a much richer discussion than might be expected. I've used it as a demonstration of how Conservative Friends can meaningfully engage with other types of Quakers on diverse forums like QuakerQuaker. I was very happy to see your response today, along with Tania's.