Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Buddhist explication of Eucharist

You might guess, from occasional posts in this blog (good detecting, Holyfoolishness!) that I have serious approach/avoidance issues with Christianity and The Church. This morning I was reading Conversations With Christ, a book a dear friend recommended about St. Teresa of Avila's teachings on prayer and meditation, and I read that she recommended spending time with some aspect of the passion of Christ; meeting Christ there, hearing his story and reflecting on "the pains which He bore there, why He bore them, Who He is that bore them and with what love He suffered them."

As a former Presbyterian, I grew up in a church whose altar was dominated by flower arrangements and an empty cross, and though I was led to my first conversion experience by a meditation on the suffering of Jesus on the cross, I am nonetheless uncomfortable sitting in this space. The older I get, the more I realize that it is the teachings of Jesus, not the stories told surrounding Him, that inspire me to faith.

So I drifted away from St. Teresa, though I am by no means done with her, and turned to Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Living Christ, to find this:

When I was a young monk in Vietnam, each village temple had a big bell, like those in Christian churches in Europe and America. Whenever the bell was invited to sound (in Buddhist circles, we never say "hit" or "strike" a bell) all the villagers would stop what they were doing and pause for a few moments to breathe in and out in mindfulness...Breathing in, we say, silently, "Listen, listen," and breathing out, we say, "this wonderful sound brings me back to my true home."
Our true home is in the present moment. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment. Peace is all around us -- in the world and in nature -- and within us -- in our bodies and our spirits. Once we learn to touch this peace, we will be healed and transformed.

This talk of the true home seems to me to be very like what Jesus said -- as opposed to the story of his passion. In Logion 3 of the gospel of Thomas, for example, he says,

"Divine Reality exists inside and all around you. Only when you have come to know your true Self will you be fully known -- realizing at last that you are a child of the Living One."

So then -- because, like most humans, I like to declare one thing better than another -- I found myself saying, "Phew! Too much Catholicism for me; maybe I'm a Buddhist after all!" and went on reading Thich Nhat Hanh. He began talking about mindfulness during eating, and suddenly I was in this passage:

"When a priest performs the Eucharistic rite, his role is to bring life to the community. The miracle happens not because he says the words correctly, but because we eat and drink in mindfulness. Holy Communion is a strong bell of mindfulness...If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply, we become reborn, because our bread is life itself. Eating it deeply, we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, and everything in the cosmos. We touch life, and we touch the Kingdom of God."

Ah, I thought. That's it. There was a wonderful surge of clarity, and a huge sense of gratitude for the ritual of Eucharist as I experienced it, just this morning, in a circle of some thirty people, knowing that in Anaheim Eucharist is being shared among some 8,000 people. And having drifted away from Christ, I drifted back in again, swinging lightly in the breezes of spirit. But why, I wonder, does it take a Buddhist to remind me about the heart of Christianity?


karengberger said...

Hello again, friend; I'll be excited to learn more about this new adventure you are beginning. And your birthday is coming up, isn't it? Happy Birthday to you!

Thich Nhat Hanh seems to encourage each person to stay with his/her own tradition, to learn to transform the pain and suffering that each one of us experiences, no matter where we are. As you've probably seen in "Living Buddha, Living Christ," he writes about returning to our own roots through the illumination that Buddhism brings to each life, and does NOT encourage people to become a Buddhist in rebellion against the difficulties we have within our (other religious) traditions. He is like an ancient sage...he has seen so much, knows so much, and is not surprised by much. He is a comforter!

Virginia Wieringa said...

What a lovely meditation and reflection on what you read! Thank you!