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Buddhism and Christian Mysticism

In the following e-mail exchange, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

Exchange One

>Dear Mr. Zeolla:

I have read your article on Christian Mysticism on the Internet. I am a practitioner of Zen Buddhist meditation. But that, really, is completely unimportant: I am seeking truth in whatever form it may present itself. Like so many who have been raised in Roman Catholic cultural surroundings (Southern Germany) and have been force-fed Christianity, I have learned in my youth to resent Catholicism (-and with it Christianity) for its double standards, its superficial anthropomorphisms and its unholy alliance with political and economic power. I also had difficulties with the Christian concept of a God outside and separate from oneself, that is supposed to have saved all of us, if we only accept Him (-or Her?). Why, so I asked myself, if God is omnipotent and truly wants to save us, did he not give me the capacity to experience Him and have faith?

Lately, however, in my Buddhist practice I slowly began to remember fragments of the Christian teachings of my youth and begin to experience their true meaning: For instance, that we can never be truly free unless we have learned to turn the other cheek. Or that "Hell" is to be separate from God. I think the key here is the word "separate", and that to be separate from What Is is hell, that I can testify to. I also started to hear about the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages and the nature of their revelation experiences, that are so remarkably congruous with those of other cultures. When Madam Guyon exhorts the readers of her book to read it "without the inclination to criticize", I think she has put the finger right on the spot of human suffering: Our compulsion to interpret the truth we see and construct a reality to fit our longing for immortality.

I have searched for Christian Mysticism on the Internet because I now think I should see what my own cultural background has to offer by the way of guidance on the path to Truth, now that I have seen my "inclination to criticize " for what it is. My question to you is, if you can recommend me a book as a primer to get started on my path to acquaint myself with Christian mystics.

Thank you,
Whitehorse, Canada

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster is probably one of the better known modern books on Christian mysticism. The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard, and Encounter with God by Morton Kelsey would be others.

The Cloud of Unknowing is a anonymous work from the middle ages. The Imitation of Christ would be another.

Otherwise, since I don't particularly agree with mysticism, I'm really not that familiar with such works. But the above should give you a start if you want to pursue this path.

Exchange Two

>Dear Mr. Zeolla:

Thank you for your reply. That you do not particularly agree with mysticism I understand from reading your comments. I should mention that any honest quest for Truth can never be a matter of "agreeing" or disagreeing", or the choice of a particular "path", since such choices are by necessity made before "God" has been experienced and are hence a result of our fallen state. Seen from this point of view I, myself, cannot claim to "agree" with a certain path. I think I have made this clear in my brief statement I sent you. An honest quest for Truth has to start with one's complete and sincere confession of total ignorance, "sin", if you will, and I belief this is a fundamental principle of Christian theology, too. Without having read madam Guyon's book, her admonition to read her book "without an inclination to criticize" sounded to me like the plea for the sincerity that I think is necessary on the path,-any path.

Your thoughts on the dangers of uncritical acceptance I can follow, too. However, I am still grappling with one fundamental logical problem I see in the Christian position: If spiritual benefit was to be gained from an intellectual relationship with the Bible, as you propose, than it would be necessary to first make the initial leap of faith, namely, the acceptance of the Bible as the word of God. It is clear that this can only be the result of a deep personal experience of God and not the result of cogitation. Once this experience has taken place a logical relationship with the Bible can (-and must!) take place. But where does that leave the rest of us who are lacking this experience but are sincerely wishing to experience God? Without this experience the study of the Bible is just another busy activity of our minds, just another "whistling in the dark" in the face of our fallen state.

I think it is this experience which Madam Guyon and other mystics of all cultural backgrounds are trying to help us to gain, that without which no spiritual path can take place. I can see the possibilities for a position integrating Christian "dualism" and Buddhist non-dualistic theological paradigms: In the end even day and night need a common source.

Thank you,

To answer your question without getting too deep into theological distinctions, I would say the "first step" is when God gives someone the desire to read the Bible. The person then reads the Bible, and with the leading of the Holy Spirit, comes to understand the Bible and to know God in a personal way.

So there is no "logical problem" if you recognize that it is God who is responsible for the first step, not us. He reaches down to save us; we don't reach up to Him.

Also note, although I put a strong emphasis on the intellectual aspects of the Christian faith, I in now way deny there is an emotional or "spiritual" aspect to it as well. I just believe that our "experiences" should be tested by the Bible to be sure they are genuine. And that is the point of my comments in regards to Guyon's comment about not being "critical."

Any book or experience should be tested by the Bible. If what the book teaches, or if what we think we have learned from an experience conflicts with the Bible, then the "lesson" of the book or experience should be rejected as not being from God.

I hope that helps to clarify things some.

Exchange Three

>Thanks for your response. Our little exchange of ideas shows me again, that there is in essence very little difference in our perceptions of Truth other than maybe terminology.<

Actually, we are light-years apart. You still seem to think Christianity and Buddhism can be combined. They cannot. The conceptions of God, sin, salvation, life-after death, and many other points would be radically different. But most of all, the cornerstone of the Christian belief system is that Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to be saved. I am sure Buddhists do not teach this.

> What you call the "first step", namely God giving someone the desire to find him, is what I called the "first leap of faith," without which no matter of cogitation and search will bring you any closer to God.<

There is no "leap of faith" in what I am describing. It is God regenerating the sinful soul. We are "dead in sin" as the Bible teaches until God regenerates us, giving us a new nature that desires Him.

> That God "reaches down to save us; we don't reach up to Him" is, by the way, the cornerstone of Buddhist theology.<

I'm not real familiar with Buddhism, so you have me at somewhat of a disadvantage here. But I do know that every religion besides true Christianity teaches salvation is by some kind of "works." I am sure that would be true in some sense in Buddhism as well.

> So the question remains: What are those of us supposed to do, in whom God has not yet awakened the desire to reach the Bible?<

Someone whom God has not regenerated would not be concerned about finding the one true God. He might be "religious" but his notions would be self-serving. C.S. Lewis has a good discussion on this in his book Miracles. I won't quote it all here as I have it on my site. But the basic idea is, that unregenerate humans seek a god they can control, one that fits their conception of what they want God to be like, and most of all, a god that will meet their self-perceived needs.

Christianity teaches our one reason to come to God is that we are sinners that need forgiveness, and that the only way to attain that forgiveness is through faith in Jesus Christ.

> In what way has Jesus Christ saved ALL of us without distinction?<

He didn't. This gets into the whole matter of predestination. I won't try to go into it here as I have already discussed the subject at length on my site. See the articles listed at: Calvinism.

>If salvation is a matter of God reaching down to us, not us reaching up to Him, what is our room for action, if any? I think this is where meditation and getting to know the traps of the inquisitive mind plays a vital role: By putting us into a place where we MAY experience God reaching down to us. It is like fishing: In the middle of a busy intersection you will never catch a fish. You must go to a stream or lake and skillfully apply your art, but even there you are dependent on the fish biting. That "mystical" experience is a rather ample field including hallucinations and even delusions of an infirm mind goes without saying, just as any of those "experiences" will have to be tested against the scripture and by someone other than the subject experiencing it. This, too, is a cornerstone of Buddhist theology.<

I doubt very much that testing an experience by the Bible is "a cornerstone of Buddhist theology." Buddhists might have their own "Scriptures" but the teaching of these would be vastly different on all the points I mention above.

> Niezsche (-or was it Feuerbach?) polemically said that "man created God after his own image". I, personally, believe that the truth transcends both the literal Christian and Niezsche's position: There is no God outside Man and outside God there is no mankind.


What you express here is pantheism, which is directly contradictory to Christian theism. Man did not "create God in his image." This is completely unbiblical, and the very type of false notion that I am saying needs to be tested by the Bible. Niezsche was an atheist. What he said has no relevance whatsoever to finding Christian, Biblical truth.

Your last sentence shows how far you are away from a Christian position, and why I said we are "light years apart" in my first sentence above. God existed long before there were human beings, and does not in any way need us for His existence. We are His creation, answerable to Him. It is because we are not a part of God that we can have a relationship with Him. If He was one and the same with us then any talk of a "relationship" would be nonsense. You cannot have a relationship with yourself.

I would suggest you try reading the Book of Romans, in the New Testament. In it Paul discusses very well the problems with unbiblical notions of the nature of God, the nature of human beings, salvation, and related issues.

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