Category Archives: universalism

Bi-religious Duality

There’s often an underlying tension when one professes to be a member of two religions. There’s the constant challenge of “Well, how can you be both X and Y?” And often one avoids answering the question by either outright ignoring it or starting a long convoluted explanation about how even though these two religions seem to have differences, they’re really not all that different when all is said and done.

Except sure they are, or you wouldn’t find it necessary to be part of both. You would be satisfied with one religion and wouldn’t feel the need to have two.

I am both Quaker and Buddhist. These two religions do have some similar beliefs—Quaker’s “that of God” is comparable to Buddhism’s bodhichitta or the idea that anyone can find enlightenment, not just monks—and some similar practices—when I sit in Meeting for Worship or for meditation, physically I am doing the same thing—but Quakerism is not Buddhism and Buddhism is not Quakerism. Nor should they be!

In this post, I’m going to focus on one of the most important theological differences I find between Buddhism and Quakerism. Now given the wide diversity of beliefs in both Buddhism and Quakerism, this post is going to involve lots of generalities and is just my understanding of what are the foundations of both religions, regardless of whether all Buddhists and all Quakers currently believe in these foundations or not.

This foundational difference is the concept of God. In Buddhism, there is no God, at least not in the personal, creative (as in, creator of the Universe) sense. The universe and all its inhabitants are, ultimately, ruled by karma, the law of cause and effect. In this sense, Buddhism is very scientific: because this happened, this then came to be, and so on. Pema Chödröm has this to say about the belief in a personal God, the kind of God who actually cares about you as an individual and interacts in the world:

“The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God… Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us… Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.”

Quakerism, on the other hand, has a foundational belief in the existence of a personal God. We sit in Meeting for Worship waiting to be Moved by Him (or Her or It or Whatever), and if we are so Moved, we stand and share the message. We believe that one can be Led. We have clearness committees to test Leadings. Now whether all Quakers today would agree that a personal God exists, we clearly believe that there is Something that has the ability to lead us. We believe in Something that can call us to an action or an inaction. We believe all can have a personal relationship with this Something without the need of a priest or outward sacraments.

Now whether Quakers today would name this Something God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Light Within, Allah, Nature, or Our Inner Goodness, this belief is not one that is found—as far as I know—within Buddhism.

The belief that I can be led—personally—by the Something seems at odds with the Buddhist belief in karma. How does a Something that can interact with me personally fit in with the Buddhist understanding of the universe as a mechanism of karma? How does that work?

It doesn’t seem to work, to be honest. Buddhist and Quaker dogma aren’t the same. They are inherently different. They come from different foundations: Quakerism is founded upon the idea of a Creator God, specifically the God of Jesus, that is accessible to all people; while Buddhism is founded upon the idea that anyone, despite current caste and past karma, can become enlightened and free from this world of suffering by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path. Quakerism in a sense encourages the individual—one has a personal relationship with God, one can be led—while Buddhism discourages the individual—the idea of a Self is ultimately a delusion. And if that is true, then how can something that doesn’t truly exist be led?

Wow, I am really over-simplifying and generalizing, aren’t I?

But what it comes down to is that practicing Quakerism and practicing Buddhism works for me—experimentally—as George Fox would say. The Buddhist practice of meditation—the maitri/metta I talked about in my last post; the mindfulness of breathing, of pain, of sound, of Being—works for me. The Quaker practice of waiting upon the Light works for me. How can I deny that I have been Led? Can I look back upon the ministry I’ve given in Meetings for Worship and dismiss the heart-pounding, body trembling that inspired me to stand and speak?

And yet, I can’t deny that there are serious differences between the two religions, and that these differences in some cases seem to be contradictory.

And so I am forced to stand in the Center, between what seems to be two choices, and wait in the tension.

Because what it comes down is that I believe more in experience than in notions. And that is something that both Buddha and George Fox would agree with.

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Filed under belief, buddhism, different faiths, discernment, faith, leadings, practice, quakerism, statement of faith, that of God, universalism

Thoughts on Dually-Affiliated Friends

I’ve always felt a certain discomfort about Nontheist Friends and other dually-affiliated Friends. (But, you protest, aren’t you a dually-affiliated Friend?? Yes, but I don’t identify as a Buddhist Quaker or a Quaker Buddhist: I am both a Buddhist and a Quaker.) Some of this discomfort about Nontheist Friends stemmed from preconceptions I, as a theist* (more on that later), had. A few weeks ago, I joined a Nontheist Friends Google group. At the time, I was questioning my belief in God. I’d recently come across several passages in Buddhist books that described theism as, basically, the adult version of a blankie: the belief in a supernatural being that could, at a moment’s notice, if one prayed hard enough, fix all of your problems. This was not my kind of theism, so I began to wonder if I might actually be one of those “nontheist Friends” I actually mocked with another Friend a few years ago:

“Here’s what I don’t get about nontheist Friends. What, exactly, are they DOING in Meeting for Worship? Who do they think is leading them?”

We had a good laugh and moved on.

And, thankfully, I’ve moved on, too. I now feel that ANY one, regardless of faith or belief, should be welcomed into Meeting for Worship. As I’ve said previously on here, if the person sitting next to me calls that which moves him or her to speak “God”, “Jesus”, “Holy Spirit”, “Spirit”, “Gaia”, “Allah”, “innate humanity”, “connection to the universe”, “bodhichitta”, etc., that doesn’t change that we are being moved by the same One.

The conversations I’ve had via email with nontheist Friends over the past few weeks have been helpful to me. They, overall, appear to be a thoughtful, kind, open group. Nontheism is not just made up of the “Angry Atheist” (i.e., the person who lost his or her faith in God because of a traumatic event and is angry about it) or the “Overly Rationalist”, as I have thought in the past, but a wide variety of beliefs about the world, people, the universe, etc. There’s currently an engaging discussion going on about “supernatural events”, e.g., ghosts. My time spent interacting with this group has been helpful not only in dispelling preconceptions I’ve had (and I likely still have some that need to be dispelled, so I am planning on remaining on this email list for a while), but also in helping me narrow down what, exactly, it is that I believe.

And what became apparent to me in reading these emails is that I am not a nontheist. It’s just not what I believe. Panentheism–the belief in God as universe and more (similar to the idea that the whole is more than the sum of its parts)–is closest to where I am right now.

So, while I’m comfortable with worshiping with those who would describe their worship experience differently than I would, I’ve come to realize what I am not comfortable with in our Religious Society. This realization was brought about by a comment a Friend made on facebook about his experience at this year’s FGC:

“I heard no references to Jesus from ordinary participants, and remarkably few to God. I heard, multiple times, that Quakers can believe anything and have no rituals. There was evangelizing by “nontheist Friends” who had a table offering tracts (albeit tucked away out of the flow of the crowd) and one of whom buttonholed me, unsought, in a hallway. There was no sign I could find of evangelizing either by mystics of the Jonesite sort or by Quaker traditionalists within FGC.”

Here’s the thing: while I am a Buddhist, I don’t expect my Quaker Meeting to be Buddhist. I don’t expect messages delivered in Meeting for Worship to be given in Buddhist terms. I don’t–and wouldn’t, unless I had a very, very clear sense of being Led–give ministry in Meeting for Worship using Buddhist terms.

Quakerism, while it is a faith where anyone can join us in worship, no matter what they do or not believe, is a religion rooted in Christian mysticism. Historically, those are our roots. And what concerns me about this Friend’s comment is I worry that some dually-affiliated Friends may be trying to deny those roots. Again, I do not believe that one needs to be Christian to be a Quaker. (I do not identify as a Christian.) But I do feel that one needs to understand and respect Quakerism’s Christian roots. Quaker language and tradition have evolved from these roots, to be sure, but the roots are there.

I want to make clear that I do not believe all dually-affiliated Friends are trying to deny Quakerism’s roots and change Quakerism into some kind of “melting pot” religion. I know I’m not the only dually-affiliated Friend who wholly respects Quakerism for what it is.

But for those dually-affiliated Friends who may be trying to disentangle Quakerism from its Christian roots and reform it into a religion that matches their particular faith, I would ask these Friends to reconsider their actions. Is Quakerism made better by the existence of nontheist Friends? I would say yes. Is Quakerism made better by the existence of dually-affiliated Friends (pagans, Buddhists, Jews, etc.)? I would say yes.

But should Quakerism as a religion become Nontheist, Buddhist, pagan, or Jewish, etc.? I answer no.

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Filed under convergence, convergent Friends, different faiths, meeting for worship, Quaker Quaker, quakerism, universalism

“Only Breath” By Rumi (As Translated By Coleman Barks)

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

*******

There is a way between voice and presence
where information flows.

In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.

This pretty much sums up my faith.

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“Faith Journey”

Let us do our God-given duties.
Let us wage our God-sanctioned wars.
Let us scorn those God calls scornful.
Let us never ask what for.

But in the silence, there is a glimmer.
And in the glimmer, there lies a seed.
And from this seed, all of Creation —
Never knowing what we truly need.

From the Light, the shapes of sin
Now too visible to be ignored.
Self’s worthiness torn bare,
Left as remnants toward

That life within, that Light within,
That removes the without,
Until all the world is made one Being
And outside, now unfeared, rests doubt.

Written by me 10/4/07

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Paradox

I’ve been wondering about the first commandment recently:

“I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods before me.”

It seems like a fairly straightforward commandment: basically, don’t worship anyone or anything other than God. I always assumed that this commandment at least was one that I didn’t have to worry about. But recent online conversations I’ve both been watching and a part of have made me start to question that assumption.

I think evangelical Quakers (and other conservative Christians) are right to criticize us liberal Quakers about the fuzziness of our faith. Let me be brutally honest and not stereotypical: they are right to criticize me about the fuzziness of my faith. Ask me if the God I worship is the God of the Bible, and I’ll reply with something like: “Well, yes, I think so, but I think I maybe see a different side of Him than what’s portrayed in parts of the Bible.” Ask me if Jesus is the Son of God and part of the Trinity, and I’ll say, “Well, I don’t know, but I do believe he led his life in accordance with God’s will more than pretty much anyone else.”

Fuzziness. Ask me any specific question about the God I worship, and my answer will be fuzzy. Even the most basic question of His existence, and I’ll account for the possibility that I could be wrong!

How can I be sure that I am worshiping God and not an idol of my own creation if I don’t know — can’t say — who He is? I want to be right, but I don’t want to be right when it means other people are wrong. What’s left? How can I say or think things like “I believe in God, but it doesn’t bother me if you don’t”, or “I could always be wrong”? What kind of commitment is that? If I’m too scared to jump in, to have a faith that has real definition, why should I be disappointed when I don’t feel God’s presence as often as I’d like?

And yet, there are problems with defining God, and I don’t just mean philosophically. If I can say without any uncertainty that I know who God is, how do I reconcile that with my flawed humanity? (Perhaps humanity isn’t flawed, but that’s another discussion.) How can I relate to people who don’t know God, or know another God, or know God differently, without making myself superior to them? And any who say that that wouldn’t happen, frankly, have some trouble with empathy. If knowing God is better than not knowing God, then knowing God is a good thing, then those who know God are, at least in that aspect, better than those who don’t. Frankly, I’m not comfortable with that. How could I respond to that of God in them if all I see is that of God in me?

(There are also theological questions about how the nature of God could possibly have limits, but I’m not interested in a theological debate here. I’m interested in a purely practical one.)

I just feel very stuck here. If I can’t move past the fuzziness, I feel my faith will suffer, as it is hard to maintain a relationship when one party is undefined (and that’s what faith should be: an ongoing relationship between deity and person). But if I move past the fuzziness to a solid definition, I worry about that knowledge, that certainty, feeding my ego and diminishing God’s other creations.

So the question remains: how do I truly follow the first commandment without breaking Jesus’s commandment (…“that you love one another as I have loved you.”)?

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Filed under belief, different faiths, discernment, faith, God, Jesus, pride, quakerism, struggling with faith, that of God, the bible, universalism, worship

Quick Update

I’ve just finished reading “If Grace Is True” and “If God Is Love”. They are two of the most Christ-affirming books I’ve ever read and have made me content to call myself a universalist… and a Christian again:

“… a Christian, one who has come to know God through the life and teachings of Jesus…” pg. 137, “If God Is Love”

That’s me.

My surgery went well (the metal came out) and I’m recovering well enough; but until the dressing comes off on Friday, I’m stuck typing one-handed. I had a revelation about God having a sense of humor before the surgery; I might post about that once I can type with both hands again.

Also, Anne, the clerk of my Meeting and a friend, came over on Wednesday to supervise me as I was recovering from general anesthesia. We had a long talk about our concerns for our Meeting and I’d be interested in sharing some of those concerns and maybe getting some advice from you all… when I can type easier. But I was moved that she was willing to be such a good friend to me and act above and beyond what our friendship required.

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