Are Buddhism and Christianity compatible
Jersey City, NJ, (USA) - Zen master Robert E. Kennedy heads Morning Star Zendo, a Buddhist zen center in Jersey City, N.J. As the organization's roshi - or "teacher" - Kennedy leadsmeditations and guides members of the group towards a deeper understanding of the Buddhist practice's benefits.
He is also the author of two books on Buddhist meditation and has trained six other zen masters who have become senseis and roshis at their own zen centers.
Kennedy has achieved a level of meditative mastery that many Buddhists only dream of reaching.
And he's done it all while serving as the theology department chairman at St. Peter's College, a Catholic school in Jersey City.
In fact, Kennedy's not even Buddhist. He's a Jesuit priest.
"I'm completely Catholic and completely Jesuit, " he said. "I have no conflict of faith."
But he is one of many who have found meaning in the practices of both Christianity and Buddhism, a practice that dates back to the 17th century, when European Christian monks began to study eastern religions.
As explorers learned more about Buddhism, religious leaders began to find parallels between the two religions, which, on the surface, seem irreconcilable.
It might seem odd — or even impossible — that one could practice the traditions of both religions. Christians preach of one God, creation and salvation, while Buddhists believe in reincarnation, enlightenment and nirvana.
"The beliefs aren't compatible at all, " said Stephen Lahey, an Episcopalian minister and religious studies professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
"The idea of a continuing self, surviving death and remaining who you are in some way is central to a lot of Christianity, but, by golly, it's not in Buddhism. The idea of Buddhism is to shrug off the burden of self."
Kennedy, who learned about the beliefs of Buddhism while assigned to a school in Japan, agreed.
"I don't think the two faiths can easily be put together on the intellectual level, " he said. "They have different starting points and they differ in the questions they ask. There's no attempt at a quick synthesis. But it's not really about belief at all, it's about practice."
Lahey said the argument of compatibility lies in the differences between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
"Both are lenses for examining a religion, " Lahey said. "When you look at a particular religious belief through the lens of orthodoxy, it's either going to measure up to that religion's tradition or diverge from it. With orthopraxy, what one believes is far less important as what one does."
In simple terms, orthodoxy focuses on beliefs while orthopraxy focuses on goals. Most forms of Christianity are orthodoxical in nature, while eastern religions such as Confucianism and Buddism are orthopraxical.