Ask Me Anything: Thoughts on Buddhism? Ctd


A reader writes:

Thanks for sharing. In regards to "knowing" the theological differences between Christianity and Buddhism, but still "feeling" their kindred spirit, I was reminded of Joseph Campbell. He spoke once about attending a global conference of world religions and noted that the priests/rabbis/ministers etc. spent most of the time squabbling about doctrinal conflicts but that the monastics and mystics of the various sects tended to get along famously. So there you go.

As a Zen Buddhist, I can say that the differences between various forms of Buddhism can be as extreme as those between variations of Christianity (i.e. Catholicism, Evangelism, and Mormonism). For example, you mention your discomfort with the idea of losing your individual identity. In my experience of Zen in the West, we put less emphasis on this.

Saying you "lose" your individuality in order to become part of an amorphous collective conscious creates a duality – individual vs. collective, or, in Buddhist terms, form vs. emptiness. Instead, we emphasize that there is no form without emptiness and no emptiness without form. As Thich Nhat Hanh might say, they are "interdependent".

Buddhism's emphasis on the collective, or the "emptiness" aspect of our lives is not because it is believed to be some sort of ultimate reality, but because it seems to be part of our human nature to focus exclusively on our individuality or form – often at the expense of our deep connectedness to all sentient beings. In their emphasis on group sitting practices and collective efforts to address human suffering, many Buddhist sects are trying to emphasize this deep connectedness – not to erase the individuality of the participants.