Thursday, October 4, 2012

St. Francis The Christian Buddhist?

Today is the feast day of  Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), one of the most interesting person in Western spiritual history. St. Francis was born in Italy into a wealthy family and led a worldly,  reckless life during much of his youth. In 1202 he was imprisoned for several months and on his release became seriously ill. Dissatisfied with his life, he turned to prayer and four years later publicly renounced his family and his wealth, to the horror of his father. After this Francis lived as a simple hermit and spent much of his time ministering to the poor. Gradually he began to attract disciples and eventually founded an order called the Order of Friars Minor and later an order for women called the Poor Clares. However, Francis was not a good organizer and in time he handed over the day-to-day running of his orders to others and retired to a life of silent contemplation. It was during this period that he began to manifest strange wounds on his body similar to those of Jesus. Francis died in 1226 and two years later was proclaimed a saint by the Catholic Church.

For Buddhists, Saint Francis is the most attractive of all the Christian saints. In many ways his life was similar to the Buddha’s. His behaviour and teachings manifested the best of Jesus’ gospel of love, gentleness, forgiveness, simplicity and renunciation. He  actually did “go and sell that thou hast, and give it to the poor...and follow me” (Matthew 19,21). He was also particularly kind to animals, something that had no place in Christian theology up till then and only recently has been given attention. As a brief aside it is worth pointing out that while ‘official’ Christianity gave no place to animals, Christians themselves, individuals and simple people, could be very tender-hearted towards them. On this subject have a look at  W. E. H, Lecky’s magisterial History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne, Vol.II, pp. 161-73. You will be delighted and surprised.
If Francis had been one of his disciples, the Buddha would have praised him as an exemplary monk. However, the two men were also different in some ways. Francis was inept in practical matters while the Buddha showed sound judgment and common sense in most things he did. Francis’  simplicity extended to intellectual matters; he was innocent, trusting and guileless in the best possible way. The Buddha by contrast, was thoughtful, knowledgeable and intellectually rigorous. Francis had all the endearing qualities of a child; the Buddha, all the finest attributes of an adult. In keeping with Jesus’ teachings Francis had a particular love for the poor and the neglected while this attitude was not characteristic of the Buddha. Not that  the Buddha was callous towards such people but that he did not give them special attention. The lives, teachings and examples of the Buddha and Saint Francis are important today in that they can serve as bridges of understanding between Buddhists and Christians.


Gui Do said...
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Gui Do said...

NO! For two simple reasons. Franz von Assisi lived according to his literal understanding of the evangelium, and Shakyamuni Buddha couldn't do so. Buddhist scriptures were created long after his departure.

Although Franz and Shakyamuni came from rich parents and were warriors once, Franz gave part of the possessions of their household to the poor and only stopped this because his father went to court against him. This is different from Shakyamuni who lacked that social pragmatism. Shakyamuni who was also reported to have eaten animals would therefore have to be a disciple of Franz von Assisi, who until his end did not give up fasting.

brahmavihara said...

Dear Gui Do
I cannot understand those people who disagree with everything on a blog but insist on reading it and commenting on it. Why don’t they just find a blog that agrees with them on all matters and read that?

ze said...

the bowl, Cisco Fran, colect alms, food of dayly meal as a sacrament : this fall in desuse at occident ; this custume he learn at the oriental cruzade : he came from the orient !

ze said...

the occidental state at Jerusalem at the time of the saint order may be compared with the buddhist state. lirium of winds, eight winds as octogonal is the baptismal font and the beatitudes at evangelium. could be lotus of winds or rose.

Gui Do said...

Oh, brahmavira, I like a lot of Bhante's postings here and "profit" from them. But in this case I believe that being a Robin Hood trumps being just meditative, and when you respect self immolating monks, you could not easily criticise someone who is fasting to the end.

I also believe that modern Buddhists who follow the literal understanding of the Pali Canon have more to do with Franz than with a Buddha. That's the other site.