In the Winter 2000 Newsletter of Shalem, we find the following article by Tilden Edwards, an Episcopal Priest and Director of Shalem.
"For many years, I have kept in my office an ink drawing of two smiling figures with their arms around each other: Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha, with the caption: "Jesus and Buddha must be very good friends." They are not the same, but they are friends, not enemies, and they are not indifferent to one another. From the very beginning of Shalem, I have been moved to affirm that statement. In my recently revised book, 'Living Simply Through the Day,' I tell the story of my experience with a Tibetan Buddhist lama in 1973 and how my time with him helped me understand Christian contemplative tradition in a more experiential way.
"Many years ago, the Roman Catholic theologian, John Dunne, said that the spiritual adventure of our time is the passing over to the standpoint of another religion or culture and returning with a new insight to one's own. Indeed, many members of Roman Catholic religious orders have taken the lead in recent decades in "passing over" to Buddhist practices and standpoints and returning with a fresh perspective on Christian faith and practice. This venture also has been shared by many mainstream non-Catholic clergy and laity, as well as by many Jews. What has led so many to value such an exploration?
"We live in a time of great renaissance for contemplative understanding and practice. Many people have discovered the contemplative strands of other traditions that contribute to Judeo-Christian ones. I believe that the Holy Spirit is in these enrichments across faith lines, not only for individual deepening but as a way of discovering an underlying human spiritual connectedness beyond our authentic differences - a sense of connectedness that is essential to the world's peace. Rather than being competitors and finding grounds for holy wars, we can recognize we can recognize that we share the same basic yearnings for truth, love and wholeness, and that each tradition has received a unique treasure of grace that can enlarge the other's understanding and response to these longings.
"Judeo-Christian scripture itself is full of the influences of other traditions. These were incorporated where they were seen to be complementary to and enriching of basic strands of Hebraic and early Christian experience. The period of history that follows the freezing of the Biblical canon of scripture has continued this enrichment process in its own way, through great Spirit -inspired saints and movements. The Gautama Buddha actually entered Christian tradition in the Middle Ages in a disguised way as the story of a popular saint: Josephat's at the time). As I have encountered that story through some of the Buddha's living practitioners, the story of Jesus has not disappeared nor been watered down for me. On the contrary, Jesus has come alive in a larger and more intimate way than ever before.
"In the space that I have, I will give the barest outline of just three places of overlap and enrichment that I have discovered.
1. In their contemplative strands, each tradition shares in its own way a basic stance of compassionate "presence to what is," before and through any mental interpretation of what is. Particular Buddhist practices that I have experienced in the last twenty six years have, with grace, shown me such an "inclusive" mind. They have helped me recognize and sometimes drop beneath my ego-conditioned fears and grasping that skew my perceptions and quality of presence. In graced times, I have been brought to a place of energetic availability to the loving Holy Spirit in the heart of what is. There I have realized my intimate interdependence with everything that appears. I think this awareness touches the edge of the Mind of Christ, which I am called to share.
"2. "The mind is as large as the sky, and our actions need to be as fine as sand." This quote of a Buddhist teacher summarizes the intimate connection of contemplative presence and action. I have learned that a fully graced contemplative presence is free, boundary-less, and loving, and that this presence is not just an end in itself but is meant to be a gift for others. From the openness of this sky-large mind, grounded in the tradition's teachings, discerning actions are meant to flow with great attentiveness to what is called for in the moment. Contemplation and action, prayer and morality, are not independent realms. They are meant to be intimately connected, as we see in Jesus' life and in the heart of Judeo-Christian tradition but in practice they are often insulated from one another.
"3. Certain Buddhist practices include: 'skillful means' for the body's assistance to the mind in becoming open to the larger Loving Wisdom that pervades reality. Particular practices, 'skillful means," have given me an intimate sense of the body's connection with the mind. These practices have offered subtle ways of actualizing a basic Christian view of enspirited bodies: the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (not only the human body but the body of creation). Our bodies are precious carriers of divine loving energy. The "skillful means" for realizing this spiritual truth have been impoverished by the over separation of body and spirit in much of Christian practice, despite Christian advocacy of an incarnational faith.
"Many Buddhists have been learning a lot from Western traditions as well recently. In the new millennium, I expect we're going to learn even more from each other across contemplative faith lines. The Buddhist-Christian encounter has been the most extensive of these recent border crossings, but other explorations are well under way with the contemplative strands of different traditions.
"Today so many spiritual boundaries are being stretched. We seem to be living in the midst of a Spirit-caused earthquake that is shifting the ground of all faiths. The Spirit appears to be sharing out our minds and structures so that we can let collapse what doesn't assist our presence to the Presence and let rise what the Spirit is calling forth in this time. As some have suggested, perhaps we should no longer speak of interfaith relations but of intra-faith relations as we come to realize that we share the same mysterious divine ground with different, evolving experiences of it.
"Contemplative traditions can be particularly helpful in showing us the inclusive ground that is deeper than words, structures and categories; a holy ground that is finally trustworthy, liberating, and pervaded by a mysterious love even drawing us.
"Jesus Christ has his own unique way of showing us that great, underlying, loving light. Gautama Buddha illuminates some of its facets through his own profound experience. Today, I think many of us are called to see them as special friends. The world will be richer for it."