Eight weeks ago I started this series, “God and Buddhism.”
To recap: the general theme of this series is to highlight the fact that even though the orthodox Buddhist view is that most traditions of Buddhism are atheist traditions, there are many passages in the Buddhist Sutras that refer to Gods and heavenly states and devas (angels) and the like.
I have presented the case that these passages suggest that the Theravada Buddhist tradition is not as much of an atheist tradition as their leading teachers claim. To be fair, they would strongly disagree with this assertion of mine.
As noted in earlier posts, my goal is not to imply that atheist Buddhists should become believers in the way Christian monks and nuns are. Rather the goal is to encourage people to carefully read and think about the sacred texts and leading commentaries that are the foundation of their tradition. Invariably from such careful reading one will find passages in the sacred texts and leading commentaries that are at variance to some of the orthodox teachings of the tradition. Such passages give rise to questions that suggest the inherent limitations of any and all dogmatic formulations.
A classic example from the Christian tradition can be found in Mark 10:17-18 when a young man asks Jesus, “Good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Needless to say conservative Christians quickly point out many other passages where Jesus allegedly refers to himself, or is clearly referred to by others, as being God. Still Jesus’s response in this passage 10-18 is at sharp variance from orthodox teachings on the nature of who they insist Jesus is.
A passage that suggests, or implies, similar divergences from the orthodox dogmas in the Theravada Buddhist tradition can be found in sacred texts and commentaries that discuss the Jhana practices.
This passage refers to the development of the 2nd Jhana practice:
“Just as a lake fed by a spring, with no inflow from east, west, north, or south, where the rain-God sends moderate showers from time to time, the water welling up from below, mingling with cool water, would suffuse, fill and irradiate that cool water, so that no part of the pool was untouched by it- so, with this delight and joy born of concentration he (i.e. the practitioner) so suffuses his body so that no spot remains untouched. This….is a fruit more excellent and perfect than the former ones.
-The Long Discourses of the Buddha A Translation of the Digha Nikaya Wisdom Publications Somerville, MA 2012 Sutta 2 section 78 Fruits of the Homeless Life Page 103-
Please compare the above citation with this comment about St. Teresa of Avila’s “Prayer of Quiet” which she describes as the highest stage of contemplative prayer.
“The fourth and final method for watering a garden is by means of falling rain. This stage of prayer is totally mystical, meaning that it is infused by God and is not attained by human effort. It is called the prayer of union, and it admits of varying degrees.”
-Posted on Catholicculure.org from “St. Theresa’s Teaching on the Grades of Prayer” by Jordan Aumann who is, I believe, a Catholic priest in the Dominican order-
Certainly orthodox Theravada Buddhists would object to the interpretation I am about to draw by comparing the passage above from Sutta #2 with comments from St. Theresa of Avila, the great 16th century Spanish mystical nun of the Carmelite order.
But there is no doubt of the close parallels between St. Theresa of Avila’s stages she describes as “Prayer of Recollection, Prayer of Quiet, and Prayer of Union, and the various stages of the Jhana practices of the Theravada Buddhists.
In fact it may well be that comments from St. Theresa and comments about the Theravada Buddhist Jhana practices provide one of the most important bridges between Catholic and Buddhist practice and belief.
For a first example of this bridge, in the passage from Sutta 2 listed above, a lake is fed by a spring whose source cannot be seen. In Carmelite descriptions the soul is filled by an infusion of God’s supernatural grace, also in a way that is not seen.
Could it be that God is the unseen source of the “water” surfacing into the lake from an unseen underground spring to create the substance of the experience of the 2nd Jhana?
In the passage from Sutta #2 a rain-God sends “moderate showers from time to time”
In another comment from the article on St. Theresa
“The fourth and final method for watering a garden is by means of falling rain (God’s grace). This stage of prayer is totally mystical, meaning that it is infused by God and is not attained by human effort. It is called the prayer of union, and it admits of varying degrees.”
More next week on these interesting parallels between the Carmelite Grades of Prayer and the Theravada Buddhist Jhana passages.
Please send in your comments or stories. All constructive comments will be responded to and posted.
will at meditation practice dot com ( spelled out to limit spam)