This morning in deep meditation, I discovered a bright, clear landscape in which my understanding of Christianity and Buddhism were reconciled in my mind, for the first time in my life.
My liberating mental reconciliation has inspired me to write this blog today: I want to share what I’ve discovered with my friends and family. I want to know if other people have discovered this, too. Or maybe I’m just crazy from eating too much chocolate and doing too much yoga. Or maybe….
If I had to label myself as a “follower” of any religious tradition (which I prefer not to do), I would say, “I am a Christian,” because I believe in Jesus Christ as my savior. But this doesn’t mean that I cannot study and practice Buddhism, too. I have always been very open-minded and willing to try new things. My parents taught me to make my own decisions and were careful not to impose their beliefs onto me or expect me to do things their way (thanks, Mom and Dad!). So, over the course of my life as a Christian, I have experimented and delved deeply into eastern religious traditions, especially Buddhism.
I became a certified yoga teacher and massage therapist in my early 20s, because I found the philosophy and practice of yoga to be helpful for deepening my understanding of God and the universe. I found many wonderful teachers in Massachusetts, where I grew up; and for years after I continued to deepen my studies and practice with various teachers in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and California. It has truly been an amazing journey, and I am grateful to many friends who have joined me along the way. (Thanks, everybody!)
Five years ago I moved to Central America, where I was introduced to shamanism by some wonderful teachers and friends in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. I now own an acre of land and a thatch-roof hut in Belize; where I write, travel, and offer ongoing classes and therapeutic massage. Come on a jungle adventure retreat!
My sister Jill and I at home in Massachusetts (never forget the Princess Bride! I love you, Jill!)
My spiritual path has been somewhat… labyrinthine. You could say… meandering. But interesting, too. I was raised Catholic – baptized as a baby, received my first communion, and attended catechism. Then, my parents decided we’d convert to Protestantism, so I was re-baptized at the age of 11. Throughout high school, I went to a Protestant church, joined the youth group, and studied the bible (I kept my grandmother’s leather-bound copy by my bedside and read it before bed each night).
My college boyfriend and I on my graduation day
As a young adult, I struggled with my religious identity. I had been fond of Protestantism, but I also felt a strong kinship with Catholicism: I was called back to it. So, I attended a Catholic college in Massachusetts and took most of my courses with retired priests and nuns. I don’t know; maybe it was seeing bloody Jesus on a cross in all my lecture halls, or perhaps something else that disturbed me, but I quickly developed a distaste for Catholicism during college, so I experimented with being an atheist for several years. Actually, for many years – until I went to graduate school in New Mexico, where I joined a Zen Buddhist community and began attending monthly meditation retreats in the mountains. I continued to study and practice yoga.
Years later, I met a guru from India who “initiated” me into the yogic tradition by gifting me a Sanskrit spiritual name (“Parama”). Soon after that, I discovered a Tibetan Buddhist master whose teachings and lectures answered (finally!) many of the questions I still struggled with about God, the world, and how to be happy. Over the past decade, I have studied yoga, meditation, and Buddhist philosophy with many different teachers.
Recently I was baptized (again!) in the name of Jesus with a Pentecostal minister in a beautiful river in the deep tropical rainforest of southern Belize, where I currently live. (I am just trying to cover all my bases, to make sure I get to Heaven!) My baptism happened at the juncture of many life-changing events and transitions: career, relationships, finances, and spirituality. I feel a renewed connection to my understanding of Jesus as my Lord, my teacher, my guru, and my savior. Emphasis on Jesus as my guru.
I have since been inspired to turn my focus back to studying the bible, with the guidance of experienced missionaries – lifelong Christians – who have dedicated their lives to building churches and teaching bible school classes in Belize and Guatemala. I have deepened my respect for the Christian way of life and the dedication required to truly follow the teachings of Jesus in the bible.
As I discover a fusion of Christianity and Buddhism, I still practice yoga and meditation avidly, every day, twice a day. I regularly read the bible as well as other texts from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I keep a bible by my bedside, as well as every yogini’s bible: a copy of Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” and Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Autobiography of Yogi”. I find that all of these teachings are not only compatible; they are almost exactly the same, when you strip away language barriers and cultural/historical distinctions. I travel a lot: For the most part, I’ve found that humans are all fundamentally the same on the inside. We all just want to be happy.
My parents taught me to keep an open mind, to make my own decisions, not to follow somebody else’s rules arbitrarily. I think children understand this: They are not restricted (yet) by rigid thought patterns or strong opinions about how the world should be. Children just want to play together. Similarly, I see no conflict between Christian and Buddhist teachings. I see only beautiful connections. I have had the opportunity to “put it all to the test”: to apply the teachings from both the bible and ancient Buddhist texts into practice in my everyday life. I am convinced that there is no difference between the two traditions.
A person dedicated to the Buddhist philosophy – a boddhisattva – seeks to perfect herself so that she can help others become enlightened (reach boddhichitta): to see and realize God directly, by having a personal relationship with a living teacher (guru)…. How?… By helping others perfect themselves, by living an ethical life, by deepening one’s meditation, by treating others as oneself, by focusing on helping others…. Sounds familiar, right (you Christians out there)?
Buddhism: a daily, disciplined practice, a way of life
A Christian dedicates herself to evangelism (being a “soulwinner” for Jesus) – helping everybody become one with Christ: to see and realize God directly, by having a personal relationship with Jesus…. How?… By sharing personal testimony, being a living example and inspiration on the spiritual path, by helping others become more “like Christ” by living according to the teachings of Jesus, becoming closer and closer to God, every day. Hmmm…
Christianity: a practical path, a daily discipline, a way of life
Both Christianity and Buddhism are about making a commitment to personal, spiritual growth and helping others do the same by being a living example, an inspiration, a testimony, a guide, and a friend. Like Jesus. Like Buddha.
Thank you to all of my teachers—my friends.