Compassion without borders: Religious scholar leads workshop examining links between Christ, Buddha

Compassion without borders: Religious scholar leads workshop examining links between Christ, Buddha

April 9th, 2015 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Images of statues depicting Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha are combined together in this photo illustration.

Illustration by Thinkstoc Photos

IF YOU GO

* What: "Love in Action: Christ and the Buddha," presented by the Center for Mindful Living and Grace Episcopal Church.
* When: Saturday, April 11, 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
* Where: Grace Episcopal Church, 20 Belvoir Ave.
* Admission: $60, includes lunch.
* Phone: 486-1279.
* Website: centerformindfulliving.wildapricot.org/event-1841174

Schedule

* 10 a.m.: Intro and guided meditation by Thanissara
* 10:30 a.m.: "Love in Action" by Andrew Harvey
* Noon: Lunch
* 1 p.m.: Compassion meditation by Thanissara
* 1:15 p.m.: "Love in Action" by Kittisaro
* 2-2:15 p.m.: Silent break
* 2:15-3:15 p.m.: Panel discussion and questions with Andrew Harvey, Thanissara and Kittisaro
* 3:15 p.m.: Closing and blessing by Andrew Harvey
* 3:30-4:30 p.m.: Book signing

Speakers
* Andrew Harvey is an author, religious scholar and teacher of mystic traditions. Born in India, he served as a professor at the University of Oxford before returning to India to begin a lifelong study of universal spirituality. He has written more than 30 books, including co-authoring the bestselling work "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying." In 2012, he was nominated for the Templeton Prize, which is awarded to those who "made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works." The prize ultimately was awarded to the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.

* Kittisaro (born Harry Randolph Weinberg) is a Chattanooga native and Rhodes Scholar who attended Princeton and the University of Oxford before traveling to Thailand to be ordained by Thai Buddhist luminary Ajahn Chah. He spent 15 years as a monk, during which time he trained and taught. He left the monastery in 1991 and since has written and taught internationally.

* Thanissara (born Linda Mary Peacock) is a U.K. native who began studying Buddhism in 1975, later serving 12 years as a nun after meeting Thai Buddhist luminary Ajahn Chah. For the last 25 years, she has managed meditation retreats internationally. She also is an author and co-facilitator of the Community Dharma Leader Program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, Calif. She lives in Chattanooga with her husband, Kittisaro.

As a child growing up in India, Andrew Harvey remembers feeling "deeply shaken by the serenity and power" that seemed to emanate from statues of the Buddha in the Delhia National Museum.

"My whole early life, my whole mind, my whole being was saturated with ... the extraordinary sacred intensity of India," recalls Harvey, now 62 and a world-renowned religious scholar and author, who sees links between Buddha and Christ.

On Saturday, Harvey will serve as the keynote speaker during "Love in Action," an all-day seminar at Grace Episcopal Church co-presented by the Center for Mindful Living. He will discuss the compatibility and underlying similarities that exist between Buddhism and Christianity and seek to inspire others to take part in "sacred activism" by putting their spiritual beliefs into practice.

"The Buddha's prime message is one of boundless compassion, of treating all beings like a mother would treat her children," he says. "That ... also rang true to me because of my absorption of the message of Jesus, that the whole point of taking the Christ path is to become strong and luminous and selfless enough to love all beings.

"That was the fundamental link that was clear to me at the beginning."

Harvey is not alone in his beliefs; the similarities between the statements of Jesus and Buddha have been noted by many, including well-known Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who wrote the books "Living Buddha, Living Christ" and "Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers."

"When you are a truly happy Christian, you are also a Buddhist. And vice versa," Hanh wrote in "Living Buddha, Living Christ."

Other books on the links between the two include "Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings," by New Testament scholar Marcus J. Borg and "Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit: The Place of Zen in Christian Life" by Robert E. Kennedy. Some scholars also have noted the similarities between the teachings of Buddha and The Gospel of Thomas, the list of 113 sayings from Christ that were discovered in Egypt in 1945.

Harvey's own journey to embracing a universal spirituality that transcends organized religion traces its roots to the awe he felt at that initial encounter in the museum.

At age 9, he traveled from India to the United Kingdom to attend private school and "to be put through the English concentration camp of reason," but the sense of peaceful resonance he felt with eastern mysticism stayed with him.

By 21, he had attained a professorship at the University of Oxford -- the youngest person ever to achieve that position -- but he began to feel spiritually and emotionally unfulfilled. By his mid-20s, he was overcome by a deep, overwhelming sense of disillusionment with academia, with his faith and with himself.

"These led me to see that, in many, many ways ... the western paradigm, both philosophical and spiritual, was bankrupt," he says.

To try to assuage these feelings, he returned to India, where he hoped to reconnect with his childhood and rekindle his spiritual flame by embarking on a pilgrimage to the locations at which the Buddha had achieved enlightenment.

He wasn't seeking to his own enlightened, but the experience proved revelatory.

In the Himalayan region of Ladakh in the far north of India, Harvey met an aging Buddhist master named Thuksey Rinpoche, who initiated him into the path of Tibetan Buddhism. He says his study of Buddhism inspired a "very profound love" of its traditions but also helped him to acknowledge the many fundamental similarities between the teachings of the Buddha and those of Jesus Christ.

In 1992, Harvey experienced a second spiritual epiphany after meeting Father Bede Griffiths in a South Indian ashram, or Buddhist monastery. A British-born Christian monk, Griffiths embraced Eastern mysticism, and Harvey describes him as a "living saint" and credits him with showing him the path to universal spirituality.

"I was given ... an image of what I could become, if I grounded my vision in the truth of the Christ consciousness ... but also if I was able to bring together everything else I had learned on my path," he says. "I didn't have to abandon anything I'd learned in any of those paths, because they all could feed and illumine and deepened the Christ path itself."

The inherent spiritual links between eastern and western traditions will form the nucleus of Harvey's discussion during "Love in Action." Attendees also will take part in guided meditation and hear presentations by Kittisaro (Randy Weinberg) and Thanissara (Mary Weinberg), disrobed Buddhist monks and teachers who since have married and now are based in Chattanooga.

Considering his own spiritual awakening took place on a much longer timescale, helping others to achieve a similar perspective in six hours may seem like setting a high bar, but Harvey is confident he quickly can set them on the path to further study and enlightenment.

"If it's a real teaching, it should be possible," he says. "After all, Jesus covered the whole of reality in 'The Sermon on the Mount,' and if you read 'The Sermon on the Mount,' it takes about four minutes to read out loud."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205.


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