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From the Vancouver Sun
'You could call it a religious war of words, with the West Coast serving as one of its most intense battlegrounds.
The bid to win hearts and minds pits Buddhist meditation against Christian prayer, with meditation, especially so-called “mindfulness,” seeming to be gaining ground.
It’s been the focus of more than 60 recent scholarly studies. It’s being embraced by hundreds of psychotherapists, who increasingly offer Buddhist mindfulness to clients dealing with depression and anxiety. It’s been on the cover of Time magazine.
Even though polls show there are 10 times more Christians in the Pacific Northwest than Buddhists, the forms of meditation associated with those on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean are rising to the fore in North America.
Buddhist meditators, who tend to think of themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” claim what they do is not “religious.” That’s part of the appeal of mindfulness. Such meditators complain that Christian (as well as Jewish and Muslim) prayer over-emphasizes pleading with, confessing to or praising a God.
But meditation, Western Buddhists maintain, is simply a “practice.” It’s “secular,” with no traditional God, even while it may also be “spiritual.”
It turns out, however, that the gap between Buddhist meditation and Christian prayer might not be so huge. Indeed, some forms seem almost identical.
Still, the many well-educated, well-off Westerners who have been drawn to Buddhism, including famous Vancouver spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, have scored some important points when they criticize Christian prayer for being too busy, too noisy and too focused on soliciting otherworldly aid.
Indeed, Rev. Ellen Clark-King, the archdeacon of Christ Church (Anglican) Cathedral in downtown Vancouver, is among many who acknowledge Western Buddhists may have been doing Christians an indirect favour.
She does, however, go out of her way to cite the dangers inherent in claiming one form of spiritual practice is superior. There are many paths to the holy, she points out.
In her new book, The Path to Our Door: Approaches to Christian Spirituality (Continuum), she suggests the popularity of Buddhist meditation has prodded many Christians to re-discover some of the tradition’s less well-known meditative and contemplative methods.
“When considering silence as prayer many people’s first thought is of the Eastern, especially the Buddhist, tradition rather than the Christian,” writes Clark-King.
“Buddhism is seen as the natural home of contemplation while Christian prayer is believed by many to focus almost exclusively on intercession, confession and praise – all three very wordy ways of praying. However, this is to ignore a crucial – and central – component of the Christian spiritual path.”
Why has it taken so long for many Christians to seize on to their tradition’s contemplative practices? Clark-King speculates it is hard for anyone, whether Christian or Buddhist, to face the “emptiness” of solitude, which many equate with loneliness. It takes away our distractions and leaves us with only ourselves and, as she says, God.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN MEDITATION AND PRAYER
Silent Christian prayer is closer to Buddhist meditation than many realize
It can be revealing to discover the similarities of Buddhist mindfulness and Christian prayer. The noted Buddhist magazine, The Shambhala Sun, is just one of thousands of sources on mindfulness.
In a how-to article, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche tells those who want to learn mindfulness to first get into a comfortable position and then note when thoughts arise.
Just monitor your thoughts and feelings without getting stuck on them, teaches Sakyong Mipham. “Say to yourself: ‘That may be a really important issue in my life, but right now is not the time to think about it. Now I’m practising meditation.’”
By labelling one’s “wild” thoughts and feelings, Sakyong Mipham says, mindfulness practitioners begin to recognize the mind’s discursiveness. “We notice that we have been lost in thought, we mentally label it . without judgment.” The ultimate goal, Sakyong Mipham says, is to keep noticing one’s breath, to reach tranquillity.
Even though Clark-King is not arguing that Buddhist mindfulness and Christian prayer are exactly the same, it is fascinating to note how similar her language is to that of Sakyong Mipham when she describes at least two forms of Christian contemplation.
The first form is set out in The Cloud of Unknowing, a classic book writ-ten anonymously in the 14th century, probably by an English monk.
The Cloud of Unknowing calls for a kind of contemplation that requires radical “openness” to a non-controlling God, Clark-King writes. “All that the pray-er does is keep silence as far as is possible, surrendering every thought as soon as it occurs without paying any attention to it whatsoever...
Read it all at http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2012/01/15/prayer-versus-meditation-theyre-closer-than-most-realize/