Okay, I've received a couple of emails asking for more information about and or criticizing me for expressing a greater affinity for the Buddhist tract than the Baptist tract. So, let me explain.
The Baptist tract was pretty standardized and began with the ever popular question: If you were to die today, would you go to heaven? And then it offered a host of scriptural proof texts to show me that if I didn’t know the answer, I should. Well, sorry folks, contractual certitude is utterly foreign to Orthodoxy. Yes, we trust and believe in the mercy and inexpressible love of God, we just don’t see salvation as intellectual assent representing a sort of “signing on the dotted line.” The rest of the tract went on to describe traditional substitutionary atonement and so on and so forth.
The Buddhist tract, on the other hand, talked about the foundation of Buddhism: the Four Noble Truths. Which are thus – expressed in my own vernacular (and anyone more knowledgeable than I can feel free to correct me where and when I err):
1. Life and suffering come hand in hand. Shit Happens.
2. Shit Happens because we are so attached to the world. We crave and desire. We are selfish and perceive the world as being all about fulfilling our needs and pleasures.
3. We can escape shit happening by eliminating desire and craving. We seek to become fully dispassionate (hmmmm) and thus reach Nirvana, a state in which we are completely free of worldly desire.
4. There is a defined 8 fold path for obtaining this state of dispassion, and if you so desire you can read about that: HERE.
Now, I ask you, who cannot hear in this thinking (both in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path) the ascetic teachings of the Fathers? Who cannot read Buddhist literature and see many English words translated exactly in the same manner than you will see in a good deal of Orthodox texts. It is fascinating to see the parallels.
But in the end, the comparison breaks down – naturally it must. Buddhists affirm that in order to reach Nirvana you must overcome the illusion of self. Whereas the Orthodox do not believe that in Theosis we lose our individuality or even our sense of self – at least not in the sense that it is described in Buddhism. We affirm that we can maintain our self-existence and yet still overcome the self – the passions. Of course we all know the key difference is found in the person of Jesus Christ. We Orthodox see death itself as the ultimate expression of dukkha (shit happens – noble truth #1) and that it is overcome NOT by simple illumination (for indeed we understand these “things” to be REAL), but by the work of Jesus Christ, our God. Now, don't feel the need to further elaborate all the other areas where Orthodoxy and Buddhism part company, I think we all recognize these areas. Is it not fascinating, though, to see how sometimes Orthodoxy can be seen to have as much in common with a non-christian eastern religion as it does with a western protestant Christian religion?
I appreciate Buddhism a lot; it resonates with me. But as I told my friend it doesn’t seem to address the larger issue of death as the supreme Dukkha.
...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 8:05 AM [+]