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Lions Roar : September 2016
BEGINNER’S MIND A recent editorial in Lion’s Roar said there is no God in Buddhism. I am a practicing Christian who has recently become interested in Buddhism. Does this mean I can’t be both a Christian and a Buddhist? People of many different religions—and none at all—find Buddhist medita- tion techniques and philosophy helpful to their spiritual lives. Obviously there’s no problem with that. But your question about whether you can be both a Christian and a Buddhist is more challenging. It probably comes down to your conception of God. Buddhism is defined as a nontheistic religion, which means that it denies any kind of separate creator. So if you see God as an omnipotent, external being, it’s going to be hard to reconcile that with the Buddhist view that mind alone is the cause and answer to suffering. But many Christian practitioners have a less anthropo- morphic view of God. They see God not as an external creator but as univer- sal love, wisdom, and sacredness, the basic ground of the universe, as much inside as outside us. If that’s your experience of God, then you may find, as Thomas Merton and other Christian contemplatives have, that God and Bud- dha are merely two names for the same ineffable spiritual reality. DHARMA FAQS We answer your questions about Buddhism & meditation. BUDDHISM BY THE NUMBERS ACCORDING TO MAHAYANA Buddhism, any concepts we have about the basic nature of reality are incomplete, inaccurate, and in fact block our direct experience of things as they really are. The Middle Way (Madhyamaka) philosophy pioneered by the Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (2nd–3rd century CE) uses reason to negate our mistaken concepts about reality. Take a pair of opposites, such as real and unreal. Madhyamaka logic looks at four possibilities—that things are either real, unreal, both, or neither—and refutes them in turn. So in this case, the four negations are: 1. Not real. 2. Not unreal. 3. Not both real and unreal. 4. Not neither real nor unreal. Another way we can look at reality is as one (or “one- ness” in spiritual terms), as many separate things, or as any combination thereof. So the four negations are: 1. Not one. 2. Not many. 3. Not both one and many. 4. Not neither one nor many. You can practice Madhyamaka by studying its logical arguments why any assertions about the nature of reality are self-defeating. You can also use it as a kind of koan practice. Accept, for the sake of argument, that things are not real, unreal, both, or neither. Contemplate where that leaves you. In either case, the Middle Way philosophy cuts through conceptualization and points you directly to the true nature of reality. ILLUSTRATIONSBYNOLANPELLETIERRAYFENWICK LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2016 36