Thursday, May 22, 2008


A few years ago as I sat in the library of a Buddhist society in Australia the librarian came up and began talking to me. During our conversation he described himself to me as “an Anglican Buddhist.” Not a Christian Buddhist mind you, but an Anglican Buddhist. There is probably something wrong with me but I find this kind of thing completely bewildering. But then, of course, I’m just a simple monk. Judging from the literature coming out of Buddhist America the new orthodoxy there seems to be that you can be both Jewish and Buddhist. Such people call themselves Jubus or Bujus. Some time ago I saw a book on meditation by Sylvia Boorstein. The title, Its Easier Than You Think, told me straight away that the author must be American. I picked it up and leafed through it. I thought it quite good but its claim that you can be a good (practicing?) Jew and a Buddhist astonished me. One of the author’s other books, which I later read, Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist, discusses this theme in more detail. And how about this one? Buddha Turns the Kabbalah Wheel: Jewish Buddhist Resonance From A Christian Gnostic Perspective by Thomas Ragland. Just reading this title makes me feel like I’m having an identity crisis.
Is it possible to be ethnically Jewish and a practicing Buddhist? Absolutely! Is it possible to be ethnically Jewish and a practicing Buddhist and have a deep regard for and interest in your Jewish heritage? Yes! Is it possible to be ethnically Jewish and a practicing Buddhist and participate in the various Jewish holidays and some of its rites in order to keep in touch with your roots or to please the family? Yes! Is it possible to be a practicing Jew and a practicing Buddhist at the same time? No it is not! The two are mutually incompatible. A Buddhist would have to see most of the practices of Orthodox and even Reformed Judaism as harmless but empty rituals that contributed nothing to the development of virtue or the freeing of the mind. If anything, they reinforce a specific identity; the very thing Buddhism seeks to transcend. The Torah’s unambiguous demand for total allegiance to the God of Israel and the Buddha’s God-free spirituality and world view, separate the two religions from the word go. Do Jewish and Buddhist ethical values have much in common? Yes. But to believe that you can accept all the core principles of Judaism and Buddhism is to have a profound misunderstanding of both and, quite frankly, to betray of the uniqueness of both.
Would it be possible to be a practicing Jew, do meditation, benefit from it and to have a regard for Buddhist spirituality? Yes! Would it be possible to be a practicing Buddhist and have a respect for Jewish beliefs? It would be obligatory. But to believe that you can do justice to the behavioral and intellectual requirements of both at the same time is a delusion. In the good old days the ‘we’re absolutely right and everyone else is absolutely wrong’ approach to religion was responsible for a great deal of smugness, prejudice and hatred. Now, in the ‘good new days’ the ‘we’re right but everyone else is too’ approach is causing nothing but confusion, dishonesty and hypocrisy. I’m not sure which one is worst.
Just so there is no hard feelings, treat yourself to a bit of Jubu humor.

If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?

Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?

Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another story.

Accept misfortune as a blessing. Do not wish for perfect health or a life without problems. What would you talk about?

There is no escaping kamma. In a previous life, you never called, you never wrote, you never visited. And whose fault was that?

The Torah says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The Buddha says, ‘There is no self.’ So, maybe we are off the hook.

Incidentally, everything said above applies to those who believe that you can be a Christian, a Mormon, an Exclusive Brethren, a Catholic, an Anglican, a Sikh or an Inuit walrus worshipper and be Buddhist as well. And just to show that it is I who am out of step, the BBC North Yorkshire website has an article about Sadhu Dharmaira who describes himself as a Zen Hindu monk. When asked to explain this apparent anomaly Sadhu said “Of course there is no such thing as Buddhism or Hinduism.” Wow! Deep! And on her website, Irshad Manji mentions a friend of hers who is – wait for it – a Buddhist Muslim! Is it just me or did I hear the sound of a fatwa being hurled?
Have to go now. I want to get back to a really interesting book I’m reading called A Marxist Capitalist’s Analysis Of the Future of Christian Atheism in the 19th Century.


desertboot said...

Viva Inuit walrus worshippers! Is it any wonder i'm in such a good mood these mornings? Db

footiam said...

This is great! Since you are in Singapore, most probably you will know that Chinese have this problem. Many are practising Taoism and Buddhism; and over here, while we fill in forms, claiming to Buddhists, we burn paper money too; which I am sure is not even Taoism as many people would like to believe. Maybe, we should call ourselves Buta instead, and if you happen to know, this Buta really means blind in Malay. Maybe , we are all blind but what the heck. You can be called a Buddhist or a Jews; it's just a name! What is in a person matters most.

Justin Choo said...

Hey Bhante,

My birth cert name is Boo Choo.

Where do I go from here!?

Unknown said...

A Muslim Buddhist? Haha, there is actually such a group. They call themselves Ahmadiyya.

And they treat The Buddha as one of their Holy Prophet:

"b) In the list of prophets who are specifically mentioned, there are certain names which do not seem to belong to the prophets of Israel. Many commentators therefore are inclined to believe that they are non-Arab prophets who are included in the list just for the sake of representation of the outer world. For instance, Dhul-Kifl is one name in the list of prophets which is unheard of in the Arab or Semitic references. Some scholars seem to have traced this name to Buddha, who was of Kapeel, which was the capital of a small state situated on the border of India and Nepal. Buddha not only belonged to Kapeel, but was many a time referred to as being 'Of Kapeel'. This is exactly what is meant by the word 'Dhul-Kifl'. It should be remembered that the consonant 'p' is not present in Arabic, and the nearest one to it is 'fa'. Hence, Kapeel transliterated into Arabic becomes Kifl."

So reality can be stranger than you think !

forgetit said...
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