This is the most important essay in the entire series, primarily because it outlines the assumptions upon which the rest of the series depends. Just as a house is only as good as its foundation, so philosophical, moralistic, and religious arguments are only as good as the assumptions they are founded upon.
If I were reading a series of this sort, I would want to know a couple of things right from the start. Knowing these things would help me easily decide if I wanted to read an author’s work at all. First, I would want to know their primary assumptions, and second, I would like to know their stated purpose. If I found either of these in alignment with my own assumptions or purposes, I would dive right in. Otherwise, I would have to have a darned good reason to not move on.
In some cases, an author may actually give me a reason to move on perhaps I respect the fruits of their labors, ideas, or personal lifestyle. Perhaps they were recommended to me by a respected friend. Or, in rare cases, perhaps their writing itself, through effective use of vocabulary, intellectual wit, or concise and organized presentation of ideas, has captured my attention. It is my hope that I capture the readers attention in one of these ways.
My own personal history with both Christianity and Buddhism has led me to the synthesis I have outlined in this series. I was raised in an agnostic home in which science and reason were respected as the sole authorities in all spheres of knowledge. Religion was generally disparaged, a habit for the weak-minded, or those who grew up acculturated within its unfortunate, limiting, and often anti-knowledge rubrics.
After a conversion to Christianity in my senior year of undergraduate school, I spent most of my twenty’s as a devoted and active born-again, charismatic believer. For those who are unfamiliar with these terms, suffice it to say that I took the bible very literally, or fundamentally, and was outspokenly evangelistic about my faith.
However, there came a point in my spiritual and personal growth where the Christian doctrines and practice did not offer my soul the tools needed for my own healing and progress, and after much resistance, I finally submitted to the fact that psychology, followed by Buddhism, held the keys for my continued transformation. Years of powerful spiritual and psychological transformation followed these decisions, with some unintended consequences. I left Christianity, my faith in its doctrines and scriptures failing to the point of unbelief.
However, now at the cusp of midlife, I find myself returning to Christianity with a new, broader perspective, with new respect for its depth and revelatory truths, and not a little disdain for the narrowness of modern Christianity’s approach to truth.
Yet, I must admit that I approach these materials primarily as a Christian, who now believes that Christianity has much to learn from the practices and perspectives of Buddhism. Certainly, there are areas in which the two are not compatible, and the reader must determine whom to believe. However, I also believe that Christianity offers the Buddhist spiritual revelation that fills in some serious gaps in the Buddhist view of reality, especially with respect to the existence of a personal, loving God.
My primary assumption about Christianity is that it is defined in a semi-literal fashion, or as I put it, a contextual literalist, as opposed to a “biblicist” or strict fundamentalist. Like the protestant reformers, I look to the Bible as my main rule for what a Christian is, not to the doctrines of either the Catholic or Protestant churches themselves. I lean towards what is today called neo-Calvinism, if that helps.
My primary assumption about Buddhism is that it is essentially a belief system that denies the existence of a personal, transcendent God, or at least denies that we can know such things. The Buddhism I am discussing focuses on the practices of mindful meditation, and is embodied in the basic teachings of the Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eight Fold Path, and the Three Jewels, all of which will be discussed later. You can also review this excellent wikipedia post entitled Basic Points Unifying the Theravada and the Mahayana
It is my sincere hope that individuals in both communities, as well as fellow danielgs, find themselves, truth, valuable spiritual tools for practice and growth, and most of all, find God through this work. I have prayed for you, and do pray for you, that you find peace, and that the longing of your heart for God is met with abundance and joy.