Oakeshott, Buddhist?

A reader writes:

You wrote:

"My doctoral thesis focused on Oakeshott's understanding of religion not as part of the world of philosophy, or of poetry – but of practice. Religion, in one profound sense, is simply what we do every day, the practice of daily compassion and spiritual discipline that brings us closer to God and to our highest nature as humans. The obsession with doctrine is rather modern, let alone the imposition of doctrine through politics or, worse, violence. Religion, properly understood, is less the assertion of facts we cannot prove than the living of a love that transcends fact into mindful compassion."

This IS the heart of Buddhism, especially the Zen tradition. What we believe and what we do 41EK7KG5XPL._SL500_AA240_ are totally separate entities. While our beliefs, our faith, can motivate the action we take, the emphasis has to be on the action, or else the belief is worthless. In Zen, we express this with daily Zazen practice. Make no mistake, Zazen IS Buddhism. You can memorize the Shobogenzo, you can learn Sanskrit, you can recite the timeline of the Gautama Buddha's life and agree fully and completely with the philosophy, but unless you sit Zazen, unless you DO the practice, you are in no way Buddhist. You cannot separate the belief from the action, because they inform one another. Also worth noting is the idea that Buddhism lacks a moral code. Rather, many of the teachings are simply an outline of the morality that practitioners have in common. This common denominator exists in most religions, but as Karen Armstrong points out, its something we often lose sight of.

One of the wonderful things about Oakeshott's Toryism was its openness to all human experience. Montaigne was one of his idols, as he remains mine. And Oakeshott often used Eastern texts and Chinese Zen masters to inform English conservatism's respect for practice as a mode of experience within which he placed religion. If you want to explore this further, my book on Oakeshott's religious teaching – deeply buried in his work – can be bought here. It was the first treatment that focused on his Christianity (which was very close, in some respects, to Buddhism). A much more comprehensive treatment – partly because she was able to use all of Oakeshott's posthumously revealed notes and unpublished work – is in Elizabeth Corey's brilliant book which can buy here. Glenn Worthington's treatment of Oakeshott on faith is also a must-read.

I think a conversation between Christians and Buddhists – the project Merton was intent on before he died – is one of the more important conversations of our time.