Special Topics

Practicing Chan and another Religion Simultaneously

QUESTION:

Would Shih-fu discuss the practice of Buddhism in relation to other religions? Is it possible to practice Buddhism and still maintain faith in another religion?

SHIH-FU:


Buddhism can be practiced at five levels. The first level corresponds to the human realm, the second to the heavenly realms. In both of these levels, there are appropriate ways to practice according to Buddhadharma Most religions do not venture past the human and heavenly realms. Some, perhaps, are not even concerned with the heavens, but only with human life. In the sutras, the appropriate actions and practices necessary for sentient beings in the first two levels, or for those beings in the human realm who wish to enter the heavenly realms, are explicitly taught in accordance with Buddhadharma. In this sense. Buddhism is not opposed to people seeking to be reborn in the heavens, and therefore, is not opposed to other religions which teach the same.

 

Buddhism wants to help everyone, and welcomes people of any faith to use the Buddhist methods of practice. People of other religions who are newcomers to Buddhism need not give up their previous faiths. If you wish to hold on to your original faith, it is not a problem.

In most societies, families usually pass on their faiths from generation to generation. If you had to give up your faith for Buddhism, you would separate yourself in many ways from family and society because a large part of any religion includes social and cultural interaction. There's no need to force people to abandon all of this. When I came to the United States, I believed that people who espoused Buddhadharma should be very flexible and accepting of all people, no matter what their beliefs.

How does Buddhism respond to Western religions? Throughout their history, Christianity and Judaism have done much good and have helped many people. Had these religions not existed, some of the civilizations of Europe might have been deprived of moral and ethical teachings.

 
Some Buddhists may like to think of Jesus as the incarnation of a great bodhisattva. From this perspective, many Buddhists would view Christianity as a branch of Buddhism. However, I have a problem accepting this viewpoint. Viewing Christianity as a branch of Buddhism may create undesirable consequences. People would have the misunderstanding that accepting the teachings of Jesus and Christianity would be the same as accepting the teachings of Buddhadharma. The fact is, there are certain parts of Jesus's teachings which do not accord with Buddhadharma and vice versa. As Buddhists, we should only consider those aspects of Jesus's teachings which are identical with those of the Dharma, and we can only consider the teachings of Christianity at the level of the human and heavenly realms.
 
I doubt that in the future the numerous religions will fuse into one. The world is not so simple. It is important for the major religions to recognize and support those parts of their faiths that are the same, as well as understand and accept those parts that are different. It would be wrong for Buddhists to make claims that their religion is superior to other religions. It would cause unnecessary dispute and tension. We can only explain our teachings so others might understand. It is not our right to judge whether another religion is good or bad, correct or incorrect.
 
 

Resources

Zen Wisdom, Practicing Chan and another Religion Simultaneously, p.93
 

Book Store

Zen Wisdom (Amazon.com)