Thursday, 4 September 2014



In this world of plurality, New Age movements, and a more intense cultivation of our curiosity has led us to, individually, be able to synthesize religious practices from a number of different faiths. This happens through history in more mass-cultural ways as well, but now, as I said, we have the power to do so individually, and within our own communities which may, demographically, be completely different. For example: I am a Buddhist with Jewish heritage and practices. The community around me is mostly Christian (although I am in a cosmopolitan area that has a large Jewish and Buddhist community).

Anyway!...sorry to get off topic...

My question doing such a thing a good thing? Should we and can we really blend religious beliefs and practices to suit our own ends?  The Dalai Lama says no, we shouldn't because it's takes away the integrity and validity and hopes of perpetuating the good of a certain tradition. There's truth to what he says and I'm curious for your opinion!

Write below and discuss!

Best Wishes,

Denis Kurmanov


  1. It seems to me that most religions are already a synthesis of other religions that pre-date them. No modern religion is a pure tradition.

    Christianity, for example, has its roots in pre-Christian European paganism. Most Christian holidays are based on pre-Christian holidays. Christmas is based on the winter solstice. Easter is based on the Jewish passover, which in turn was based on earlier lunar spring festivals.

    The various varieties of Buddhism too are blends of earlier traditions and philosophies. Virtually all Buddhist schools share the same cosmology and soteriology of the pre-Buddhist Hindu tradition. (death, rebirth, escaping the wheel of samsara as salvation etc.) Mahayana Buddhism is heavily influenced by earlier Tantric practices. Tibetan Buddhism owes quite a bit to the Bon religion that was in place in Tibet before Buddhism was established in the 8th century C.E. Zen Buddhism or Chan Buddhism was heavily influenced by Taoism.

    On and on it goes. So synthesis seems like the rule, not the exception for religious traditions. Once they are codified, their proponents usually encourage orthodoxy to maintain the tradition. But change is inevitable.

    So on an individual level, I don't think there is anything wrong with putting together a personal blend from various influences. If you accept the premise that no single perspective is complete and 100% correct, then you are almost forced to synthesize to come up with something meaningful. Blending, for me, traditions and practices (including modern science) is the only way I can make sense of the world.

    That being said, I do see two advantages of picking a single tradition to align with even if your own personal world view doesn't match 100%. The first is what I think the Dalai Lama was alluding to. That is that sometimes you can find truths and insights that are only available on a "Deep dive" into a single tradition. So it can be worth it to study and experience such a tradition in depth.

    Secondly, it is very helpful to be a part of a community of like minded thinkers. So alignment with a particular tradition gives you those groups to be a part of. If you are like me, there is never a 100% match between what I think and what is sometimes taught. So bring plenty of grains of salt along. But the social aspects are very healthy and encourage spiritual growth. So if you can find something near you that is close to your personal beliefs, then you are very fortunate.

    That's my 2 cents. Hope it is helpful.

  2. Greetings Denis! The whole interpenetration of religions concept is a nice, pleasant way to cherry-pick the feel-good aspects of any number of different traditions...and then leave out the contradictory aspects of each. Yes, Jesus taught love and the Buddha taught love (metta anyway), but then there's that whole dualism thing that puts the two at opposite ends of the spectrum (how dualistic of me),
    God is separate and extremely unequal to you wretched sinners, and well, quite the opposite teaching from the Buddha. When you get down to it, the Buddha deflected questions about Supreme Beings as largely irrelevant, and in the Abrahmic religions the Supreme Being is the only thing that IS relevant.
    There are any number of authors (Thich Nhat Hahn, Thomas Merton, et al) who have tried to synthesize the two traditions of Christianity & Buddhism, and they are more learned than I, although neither has really found a satisfactory way to really reconcile the differences between them without essentially compromising the premise of either, or simply brushing off the areas where they do not intersect.
    That's not to say that cross-cultural dialog isn't without its purpose; the world could stand a lot more of that (say in Burma, for example). But as the 3rd Zen Patriarch points to in the Xin Xin Ming, there is sameness AND there is difference. I think recognizing that not everything has to be pleasantly the same would lead to more tolerance of other traditions rather than less.

    1. GREAT thinking and writing in this comment thread thus far. Inzan, I am taken by your uneasiness with the oft-happens blending of Buddhism and Christianity. About two months ago, I went to a 'Discussion' between Lama Marut [ ] and the dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Sacramento, The Very Rev. Dr. Brian Baker [ ]; the reason being the release of Lama Marut's new book "Be Nobody."

      Baker and Marut are good and brilliant people (and friends), but the discussion seemed, at several points, to entail a desperate effort to blend oil and water. With Baker's (frankly) absurdly lofty title -- he is not merely reverend; he is VERY reverend -- it is difficult to accept his insights on "be(ing) nobody."

      At one point in the discussion between the two, they were in agreement as to the importance of holiness. Is it true, I must ask, that us Buddhist nobodies must have a grasp of holiness? I didn't understand how this 'operated' in the meaning the two had of holiness, and I remain lost to the point.

      Late in the discussion, secularists became the target of attack. I was lost, again. I think of the great wisdom of America and other successful societies being secularist at core. which welcomes the peaceful commingling of a great diversity of people. Sure, I agree that spiritual interests can be greatly contributory to a more-meaningful life and being a more-compassionate, -responsible and -social creature, but there are GREAT (and a great many) non-religious people who have as good a character as anyone. I mean, sheesh.

  3. Thank you for the replies my friends! Now time to respond!

    Rich you said, "It seems to me that most religions are already a synthesis of other religions that pre-date them. No modern religion is a pure tradition," and I completely agree. Purity is not possible in my opinion, or we just strongly misunderstand it. Each "religious" tradition has a very important aspect of novelty, creativity, and uniqueness in responding to the "dilemma we're in." ie. reality. The Christian Vision is very different from Pagan Visions that came before it and continue to exist - there are obvious influences in both cases (like modern Paganism using heavy Mary-Catholic thought and, as you said, the Christian holidays really being Pagan.) There's a deep sense of both, influence, and novelty that comes out in all religious traditions (or else they wouldn't exist) that, I believe, can be mixed, but only with precision. I understand that doing so begs a lot of questions though.

    Inzan: Synthesis of religious understanding of deep rooted concepts like Creation, God, Suffering, Buddhahood, I believe, requires extremely rigorous thought and philosophical exercises. That is not to say that it can't be done, on the contrary, it can be, just intensively. To your example between Christianity and Buddhism--a lot, in fact, as you said, has been written and discussed between the two that goes much further than Merton and Hahn a lone. Zen appeared on the West and East coast of the US before anywhere else and the Universities there that have strong Divinity (specifically focusing on Judeo-Christian theology/philosophy) had a lot to say. Duality is not necessary to Christianity, and the irrelevance of the concept of God (not just creator) in Buddhism invites discussion I believe.The predicament of human sin is much better understood in Christianity and may shine light on Suffering...whereas meditative technique and cosmic philosophy of transparency (Emptiness) shines light on the complexity and inexhaustibility of the concept God.

    I think it goes far beyond the surface of just seeing that the Four Nobel Truths and the Eightfold Path in comparison to the Ten Commandments, but a deep understanding of what it means to be religious, human, and a participant of the world. Those are my two cents haha.

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