Friday, July 23, 2004

From St Stephen’s Musings (Karl Thienes)
The Buddhist-Byzantine Christian connection
He's not the first one to see the affinity people from Buddhism have to this particular rite and tradition of the Catholic faith.

(Or, as it is known to us who are récherché archaic in young-fogey fashion, an Oriental rite. Of course it's not as in East Asian, and not to be confused with the similar Oriental Orthodox, formerly called Monophysites - the Churches of Egypt, Ethiopia, Armenia and the Syrian Rite of which the Church of India is part - but the point here is that the old name may have a point!)

A page from a couple of years ago, transcribing a conversation on Usenet among Western (white, black, etc.) former Buddhists who felt at home in Eastern Orthodoxy:

From Buddhism to Orthodoxy

I have Alan Watts' The Supreme Identity on what friend Charley Wingate calls the woo-woo shelf of my little library but haven't read it yet. He shares the honour with Paramahansa Yogananda, Joseph Campbell, Ram Dass, Richard Bach, Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - I read it; big f*cking derivative deal) and a couple of obnoxious little tracts by whitebread converts to Eastern Orthodoxy basically trying to screw over their former church.

He strikes me as very credible and thus very dangerous because he knew the Catholic faith very well as he was an apostate Anglican priest.

This bit rings true though:

Since writing The Supreme Identity I have travelled over much of the world and have witnessed the religious observances of many traditions. It has struck me that if one pay no attention to the meaning of words, most forms of temple-doings are essentially the same - chanting, bowing, candles, incense, gongs and bells - from the peyote ritual of the Oglala Sioux [I think that's done by some Southwestern desert American Indians and not the Lakota, actually] to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Paris, and from the Abbey of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome to the Daitoku Temple in Kyoto... This is why one must become again as a child to enter the kingdom of heaven...

At face value that's not indifferentism (though doubtless that's what Watts was getting at) but rather a recognition of the commonality of natural religion. No problem.

In Not of This World, about sometime Buddhist convert Fr Seraphim (Rose)*, Fr Damascene (Christiansen) had Watts well sussed (Eugene Rose knew Watts in the 1950s) as the prototypical New Age dilettante, disrespecting the Asian religions he exploited (swamis reminded him their religion has rules and stuff) as he became a kind of hippy guru, ending up by his own admission an unhappy drunk who didn't like himself when he was sober.

I live in two rooms in an Edwardian house not counting the bath/WC: the front, the original living room, is naturally dark and very European-looking (like in England where of course it's overcast a lot); the back room where I'm writing this is in contrast bright and lends itself well to austere Asian décor. A Japanese wood-and-paper screen hides most of my bed and a big example of original Chinese calligraphy (all I know is it's a poem every Chinese child learns in school) hangs right above this computer (hooray for 10-foot walls). To one side along one wall is a shelf with a couple of icons of Our Lady and a blue votive light (on an antique silver stand got for next to nothing secondhand)... and below that is one of those little fountains with rocks in a bowl, with the Chinese ideograph for 'serenity' on the bowl. Fitting: my baptismal certificate is right above, framed on that wall above the icons.

*The favourite page from my original site of people in Eastern Europe, interestingly enough: Greece, Russia and Romania.

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