A Buddhist in Catholic Clothes
Living Buddha, Living Christ
On the anniversary of my confirmation into the Catholic Church, I spent part of the afternoon listening to an audiobook by the late Thích Nhat Hanh, a Thien Buddhist monk whom I admired during my time as a practicing Buddhist. Thích Nhat Hanh was renowned for introducing mindfulness to the West, and inspiring the "Engaged Buddhism" movement to address social, political, and environmental challenges.
I have felt a lot of self-imposed pressure to get my life together before my 45th birthday in 3 years. Struggles with anxiety and doubt have resurfaced, making it difficult for me to fully engage in prayer. It seems like whenever I start feeling comfortable as a Catholic, new debilitating questions lurch from the shadows.
One major point of contention for me is the belief that God, during the 12,000-year span from the Neolithic era to modern day, assumed human form only once in the person of Jesus Christ. Christians are responsible for sharing the message of Christianity across Europe, Asia, Africa, and beyond. Non-Christians who fail to convert in a timely manner upon receiving this message risk eternal damnation. How is this reasonable? Convincing people of anything is often difficult, and yet God expects Christians to persuade millions, if not billions, of people to change their entire worldview? Has God been to Afghanistan lately?
The more complex a belief is, the more compelled I feel to scrutinize and verify the sturdiness of its arguments. While I can envision Jesus as a human incarnation of God, I struggle to see Him as the only incarnation. It seems more plausible that if God were to manifest in our world, it would happen on multiple occasions and across multiple continents. Additionally, it seems terribly unlikely that an equitable God would condemn peace-loving people like Thích Nhat Hanh to hell for not being Christian.
Thien Buddhism is a branch of Zen Buddhism that emphasizes simplicity. Zazen, a form of Zen meditation, translates to "sit and breathe." There is no pressure and little to doubt—just sit and breathe.
The audiobook I chose was "Old Path White Clouds," which narrates the life and teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, more commonly known as just the Buddha. The Buddha, upon realizing the universality of suffering, and the vulnerability of the human condition, dedicated his life to teaching spiritual liberation. This message has always resonated with me. I yearn not only for more peace in my own life, but also for more peace in our broken world. I have witnessed a lot of pain.
I became Catholic because I wanted a deeper relationship with the God whom I hope exists. I admire the Catholic community, the intellectual rigor of the academics, and the richness of the tradition. However, when life becomes too chaotic, I often resort to the mindfulness practices I learned as a Buddhist. I wonder how long this will continue. Perhaps there is a way, similar to Zen, for me to focus on prayer without fixating on doctrine.