Buddhism is not included in the monotheistic traditions partly because the teachings of the Buddha, unlike the Abrahamic faiths, cropped up independently from the Bible. Yet, if one looks carefully and puts the teachings of the Buddha into practice, one can see that Buddha knew God well, he just did not use the vocabulary to speak about God that the monotheistic traditions use. Had Buddha known Jesus, I'm sure he would have very humbly bowed down before him as a teacher of truth.
Matt. 6:25 reads, "And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin."
This passage echoes the Buddha's teaching on the importance of living in the present moment. Buddha said, "Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future. The past no longer is. The future has not yet come. Looking deeply at life as it is, in the very here and now, the practitioner dwells in stability and freedom ..."
There are myriads of meditative practices and prayers in both the Buddhist and monotheistic traditions that bring us to the place recommended by both Jesus and Buddha in the quotes above. In the Zen Buddhist tradition, for example, there is the practice of sitting still, upright and following the breath very closely. Anyone who has watched their breath, even for a couple of minutes, knows how easy it is to be distracted from the breath. It's not unusual for beginners and advanced meditators alike to be pre-occupied with the future or past while attempting to focus the mind on the present.
It's not that the future or past are bad places. The admonition of the Buddha is that when we do think of the future or past we not be burdened by them. He is not saying we never should reminisce or plan ahead. Yet, if we are really honest about our life, we can see that we do worry about our future and where the money will come from to make the mortgage, pay the rent, pay that loan, etc. This is why we need a spiritual discipline. Spiritual disciplines, such as meditation on the breath, help the practitioner to turn away from worry and bring the mind back to the present moment, or to God. Furthermore, we have the Church or the Sangha (Buddhist community) to aid us in remembering the preciousness of God, or the present moment, even in the midst of suffering.
When we suffer, God suffers. The Buddha taught that the first noble truth is that all life is suffering. Yet, there is a way out of suffering as well. Jesus said God is in those that are suffering, such as the poor. "Do unto others as you would do unto yourself." This is the way out of our collective suffering; recognizing the universality of suffering, whether as Christian, Jew, Muslim or Buddhist, we learn skillful ways to address ill-being. To some it means opening a soup kitchen. To others it means learning how to calm down before reacting to something negative your spouse says.
Regardless of how we address suffering, we are entering an era of openness and inclusivity of diversity, and no longer in a position to exclude the teachings of some spiritual traditions over others. We can use all the help we can get. While Buddha did not invoke the name of God, his practices and teachings lead a sincere Buddhist to what my brothers and sisters in the Abrahamic faiths call experiencing and serving God.
- McCabe is the leader at Mount Equity Zendo in Pennsdale.