Buddhism may not seem like a natural fit for a retreat center owned and founded by Catholic Sisters. However, as Fernando Camacho and Maeve Eng-Wong, both Buddhist priests and the leaders of Four Heavenly Abodes and Introduction to Zen at The Mariandale Center, will tell you, Buddhism isn’t itself a religion. Instead, when understood correctly, it can actually make us each more steadfast in our own religious beliefs, including Catholicism.
Below, we’re sharing five tenets of Buddhism that we can all embrace for the better.
As Buddhist as it sounds, every religion has a tried-and-true way of putting energy out into the world. In the Abrahamic religions, concentrating one’s energy toward one being or thing is called “prayer.”
In his book The Energy of Prayer, Thich Nhat Hanh posits that prayer is about creating an intentional internal environment and then living in a way that radiates from that space. When focusing energy, we expel good energy to a person, group, or to the universe at large. Likewise, when we pray, we do the same thing, we just “communicate” it through God.
Hanh writes, “The one who prays and the one prayed to are two realities that cannot be separated from each other. This is basic in Buddhism, and I’m quite sure in every religion there are those who have practiced for a long time and have this understanding. They can see that God is in our heart.”
Prayer, then, is the act of living as close to God as possible, regardless of how we define “God.”
2. Love Is the Bottom Line
It turns out that Christ isn’t the only one who bears the message that love is the greatest “of these.”
Perhaps Thomas Merton says it best:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…If only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
This concept of “waking from a dream of separateness” is the exact love at the core of Buddhism, much like most religions. Love isn’t only about good deeds; it’s about realizing that we’re all connected, that we very much belong to each other. It’s about our attitude, our relationship with ourselves, and our treatment of the world around us. This oneness might seem like a Buddhist concept, but it’s very much at the heart of Christianity, too.
This is a big word. Basically, it means that everything shall pass— good and bad. Ever heard the phrase, “God giveth and God taketh away?” Look no further than Ecclesiastes to preach the same message: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”
Actually, this text is in the Torah, too. It is read on Sukkot as a reminder to not get too caught up in the festivities of the holiday, as well as to carry over the happiness of Sukkot to the rest of the year. The belief is that, when the listeners take this to heart, then true happiness can be achieved throughout the year. Moreover, for Sukkot, many Jews construct a makeshift shelter called a “sukkah,” which is symbolically meant to encourage trust in God and to signal that, like the temporary structure built for the holiday, all physical and ideological human dwellings are transitory.
According to Nachman Davies, a Catholic monk turned Orthodox contemplative Jew, “The Joy of Sukkot is the joy of optimism in all circumstances -the good and the bad- and it is the fruit of gratitude for whatever we are provided with daily. How can we feel joy at ANY time when we are aware that there is so much poverty, suffering and cruelty in our broken world? We are given a choice… We can moan and grumble when the roof leaks… or we can try to keep our spirits up and focus on the beauty of the stars we can see through the hole. We can give up the task of re-building when the winds blow the makeshift walls down or we can be optimistic and remember that all we have is temporary anyway…and just plod on with hope.”
The takeaway: one key to achieving happiness is relinquishing control and increasing faith. When we understand that good times and bad are both inherent to life and unavoidable, we make room to grow in peace and hope.
4. The Power of the Present Moment
Just as the Bible refers to the birds and flowers being perfectly content in their present state, Buddhism relies heavily on the concept of experiencing life right now, rather than reliving the past or worrying about the future.
“The best time of my life is this minute, because this is all I have,” Fernando Camacho said at The Mariandale Center.
That’s powerful stuff: how many of us can say that right now is the best moment of our lives? It’s a different way of being to rely only on the present moment and to experience it fully. Perhaps that’s why so many religions utilize the power of chant to help us transcend the nagging voice in our heads and experience presence.
For an excerpt of a chant that we find powerful, check out the video below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36ti0KW5fQc
5. Generosity and Gratitude
In the Four Heavenly Abodes session, Maeve Eng-Wong challenged participants to spend a year being generous. Indeed, generosity helps us not only serve others but grow in gratitude for the many blessings in our own lives. And, generosity isn’t only financial. When Jesus helped heal others, when he listened to others and was present with them, when he broke bread with others, that was all generosity (not to mention Him giving of Himself, the ultimate sacrifice).
It’s no surprise that generosity plays a key role in other religions, too. In the Quran, the first chapter starts with “Alhamdulillah” which is generally translated as “all praise is for God.” Muslims repeat this phrase throughout the day, even in response to a greeting or a basic “how are you?” As Azra Pervez writes on WhyIslam.org: “In reality, the word Alhamdulillah signifies gratitude in our everyday lives…Islam teaches us to be thankful throughout the day: for waking up from sleep, after eating our meals, drinking water, etc. In this way, one’s entire life revolves around gratitude to God.”
Another post on IslamiCity reads: There are many verses in the Quran that talks about Allah’s mercies. One of them tells us to not take the water for granted (35:12). The water in the ocean goes through many phases and figures in the maintenance of life and the ecosystem. When the water of the earths surface evaporates, the wind will move the water and convert it to clouds which will bring fresh water on land in form of rain or snow. This cycle of water doesn’t flow on it’s own. It is only upheld due to the mercy of Allah. So why don’t we give thanks?”
The Buddha himself said: “If you knew, as I do, the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing some of it.” Jesus knew the power of sharing meals, as a metaphor for sharing oneself, more than anyone. In her work in Nicaragua, Dominican Sister of Hope Debbie Blow sees this concept in action daily.
“Gratitude empowers,” Sister Debbie explains. “It’s an empowerment that allows you to share your blessings. Because you’re grateful, you are moved to action.”
Whether you seek to deepen your spirit of generosity, prayer, connectedness, presence, or gratitude, Buddhism offers tools to do it. What a blessing it is that, like the graces we seek, these tools transcend religions themselves.
Four Heavenly Abodes, with a focus on Equanimity, will take place at The Mariandale Center from 10 am – 2 pm on Monday, December 10th. Introduction to Zen will take place at The Mariandale Center on Jan. 14, Feb. 11, Mar. 11, April 8, each from 10am to 2pm. Each session costs $40 and includes lunch. Come to learn the beauty and peace of these teachings and experience meditations that will help you develop these practices.