Christianity and Buddhism don’t belong together

Christianity and Buddhism don’t belong together.  Just over fifty years ago, the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, made a pilgrimage to India to meet the Tibetan Buddhist, Chongyam Trungpa, in the hope of fostering an interfaith dialog between Christianity and Buddhism.  The dialog has flourished.  Buddhist-Christian Studies is an established journal, and interfaith conferences abound.  Curiously, a number of believers have chosen to combine their faiths.  Paul Knitter’s Without the Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian explains why this combination works for him; evidently it does for many.

This makes no sense to me.  Christianity and Buddhism are so fundamentally different that even the question of dialog makes me wonder.  Not about the desirability of people of different faiths talking with each other; that’s always a good thing.  But about attempts to show similarities: Jesus was like a bodhisattva (a Buddhist holy man), or that the experience of prajna, or enlightenment, corresponds to the Christian experience of God.  The only work I know of that even questions their commensurability is in an essay of that title, “Are Buddhism and Christianity Commensurable?”  Remember that commensurable means not similar, but alike enough even to be fruitfully compared.  The essay in Wikipedia, “Buddhism and Christianity,” is as good as anything I have read on this subject, primarily because it displays their vast differences.

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