By Edward O’Connor
In my early thirties, I spent a couple of years dabbling in Buddhism. This mostly meant reading a lot about Buddhism and occasionally meditating, but for a while I made an attempt at cultivating a dedicated practice. In the end, Buddhism wasn’t for me and I am very happy to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
One of the things that attracted me to Buddhism was its integrity. Buddhists are quite frank about the difficulty of their religion: ‘You have a problem’, they say, ‘life is suffering. Your suffering is caused by desire. The only way to free yourself from suffering is to follow the middle path outlined by the Buddha.’ The middle path is not easy. It takes a lifetime of practice to cultivate. If you don’t fully commit to the middle path then you will not be liberated, it’s that simple. Buddhism is primarily a practice with an aim, not a community group or organisation.
Because of this, a Buddhist teacher generally has no interest in watering down the teachings of Buddha to appeal to a wider audience. Either you follow the middle path or you don’t. If a Buddhist teacher were to change components of the middle path, they might get more people through the door but they will be leading people astray. Generally, a Buddhist teacher will advertise on the strength of their character and practice. Whether you want to follow them or not is up to you. It is not of their concern.
My return to Christianity has been strongly influenced by the Buddhist’s approach to their religion. I see Jesus Christ as a man of great integrity, faith, and perseverance. You have a problem, Christ tells us, you have lost your connection to God. Where is your faith? The return to God is not an easy one. It requires great discipline, sacrifice, and perseverance. You will also go astray many times on your journey. But in the end, you commit to the path or you don’t. God will always open the door but you are the one who has to walk through it.
What I love about Christ’s message is that, unlike Buddhism, we receive assistance from the divine; our quest is one formed in a growing relationship with God. I find it interesting that the apostles didn’t refer to themselves as ‘Christians’, but followers of The Way (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 23, 22:4, 24:14, 22). The Way, unfortunately, has not been as well defined as Buddhism’s middle path. But Christ gives us wonderful guideposts in his teachings and parables, as well as the implicit instruction in the example he sets. I could put together quite a list of verses that highlight the Way of Christ but perhaps the best place to start is Matthew 7: 13 – 14:
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Eddie O’Connor is the director of Sister Eveleen Retreat House in Christchurch. Contemplative prayer is held three times a day (7 am, 12 pm, 6 pm) during the week (all welcome). For more information on Sister Eveleen Retreat House, visit the website: www.sistereretreat.com