Saturday, April 19th, 2014

A Presbyterian Buddhist meditation?

Buddhist-ThanksgivingSomething is not sitting well from the Thanksgiving fare offered on the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s official web site.

It has commenters saying things like:

With respect, I think it shows extraordinarily poor judgment for the web site of an officially Christian denomination to be promoting the practices and beliefs of another faith. My goodness, does not our own faith have wonderful resources in itself for giving thanks? 
and:
In all due respect to Buddism,Hinduism,Islam,and other major religions of the world, my understanding is that according to the Word as identified in the PCUSA Book of Order, Scripture instructs us from the very mouth of our Lord, Jesus, that He is the way and the only way to eternal salvation. I’ve always thought that we should pray for those who are following anything but Christ, and here we seem to be an advocate for a religion that would take us away from salvation. Reading this and many other items of late coming out of PCUSA, I would urge us to consider a new confessional statement whereby we reaffirm what we believe to be the Word of God and the pathway to eternal life. This may be well intentioned but I agree with those who were suggesting that a more appropriate thanks should be directed to God alone.

They are not commenting on the denomination’s posting official resources for worship.  They are responding to the denomination’s posting of an expressly Buddhist meditation by Ilana Barach who works with the Presbyterian Hunger Program. She says:

I know it is a bit cliché to talk about thanksgiving and thankfulness, so please bear with me. I would like to introduce a unique way to cultivate thankfulness through the Buddhist practice of Metta (meaning lovingkindness). 
The writer then introduces the practice of Metta with links to an expressly Buddhist web site. She credits the web site’s curator, Bodhipaksa, as being her teacher and she advocates that those reading her post follow Bodhipaksa as well. Nowhere in Barach’s blog post is there a reference to Jesus or God. She does offer: 
… the Thanksgiving Twist … adding that, “I apologize if this is too New Age for you … /
The meditations, offered with head bowed and eyes closed, are not directed toward God, but to the people, food and animals to which your thoughts are directed. God is not thanked, the workers involved in the cultivation of the food set before you are thanked. God is not asked to supply for the needs of the less fortunate nor care for the needy, but the reader is encouraged to be mindful of them and “wish them well.” 
Barach responds to this specific concern by posting, “Thank you for your comments. Giving thanks towards God would certainly be a meaningful inclusion to this meditation. The reason why I did not include God here is because the concept of Metta (a volition that others be well) cannot be wished upon God. Metta is about the human condition. The critical part of being human (or animal for that matter) is trying to find happiness, but struggling to do so. The idea of Metta is that we want other beings to find happiness, just as we want to find it. Generally, we do not see God as struggling for happiness, like us humans. (Note that this doesn’t mean we don’t love God).”
The Presbyterian Church (USA) claims to be a witness for Christ in the world. So who failed in that mission and allowed this expressly pro-Buddhist material to be posted on the denomination’s official site? 
The vast majority of comments to Barach’s post call out the error and yet the writer and those who oversee the site have clearly not been moved. 
 

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About the author: Carmen Fowler LaBerge

Carmen Fowler LaBerge heads the ministry of the Presbyterian Lay Committee as its President and Executive Editor of its publications, including The Layman.

2 comments

  1. Tim Black says:

    I’m not directly commenting on the propriety of the “PCUSA’s Thanksgiving fare” or speaking back to the commentators’ remarks, or pretending I know much about anything. Just noting:
    my mom said she was a Buddhist and an athiest. this was ok according to her (and others, more learned academics I have heard) in that Buddhists (sects vary) don’t actually acknowledge, or disavow, any Divine (force or being etc). They (venerate?) Buddha as The great Teacher. perhaps see
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nontheistic_religions
    Sects of Buddhism vary widely on this point. I kept trying to point out to my mom the large elements of Hinduism which are present in a lot of Buddhism. If one wants to “attach” all of this stuff to basic Buddhism, well you can find almost anything in there because Hinduism is a vast realm of ideas.
    I eventually have concluded that some types of Buddhism and Christianity are not necessarily incompatible. All she ever did was go to the Wednesday night discussion group of a church of Japanese based origin…they were very big on the 4 Noble Truths and the 8-fold Path. Can one have a Teacher and a Saviour?
    I am not a Buddhist nor member of any church and could really never understand what my mom was doing with it.
    Meanwhile, our family I see was infused deeply with the values of Calvinism…subconsciously through our father, who was however completely unobservant…and through general American culture which is heavily influenced by Calvinistic ideas stemming from all of its early inhabitants of Puritan, Presbyterian, Baptist, Anabaptist (etc) faiths. I’m studying Christianity now as an outsider and find much to learn and accept, and much of great comfort.
    One can easily see the similarity of the release from Ego which is the Buddhist’s great quest through their Teacher, and the Christian’s through Christ.
    The book Lilith by the Scottish author George MacDonald (Congregationalist) contains many passages that could ring very true for the Buddhist as well as the Christian -
    The sects of Buddhism differ greatly, more even than Christianity (imho)
    in gassho – in grace ?
    Tim Black

  2. Whitey Bird says:

    Carmen,
    This can’t be a surprise to you. This is very consistant with direction of the pcusa for years now. I don’t think you can accurately say the the pcusa leadership claims to be a witness for Christ in the world as I think they gave that calling up a long time ago. Of course there are still a few within the denomination that would still consider themselves witnesses for Christ and I would agree but the witness is now just to the denomination as the denomination as a whole has blended in so well with the world there is only a left wing political witness that goes out from it these days.

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