[Buddha-l] Watery dharma

Richard Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Sat Dec 15 12:06:47 MST 2007

Recent discussions have got me thinking about hyphenated dharma, that is, a 
combination of Buddhist practice with some other tradition. In particular, I 
am intrigued with such things as Christian Zen, the Unitarian-Universalist 
Fellowship, and Quaker Buddhism. One of the phenomena I have observed in 
following discussions of such movements is that sooner or later someone makes 
the claim that trying to combine Buddhist practice with something else 
inevitably results in watered-down Buddhism. 

This morning I saw a comment to a posting on a Quaker blog 
(http://www.quakerranter.org/quaker_dharma_let_the_light_shine.php) that 
illustrates my point. The commentator was reacting to a post in which the 
blogger, one Martin Kelly, said he came to Quakerism through Buddhist 
studies. The commentator wrote

I'm not sure what the point is. If you want Buddhism, yes, go to Buddhist 
teachers. Why would you go to the Quakers for Buddhism? The Buddhist-leaning 
Quakers I've encountered are very watered down in their approach and dont 
really seem devoted or into meditation.

The commentator went on to say (or at least imply) that Buddhist-leaning 
Quakerism is also watered-down Quakerism, since Quakers are (historically) 
Christians, and one cannot mix Christianity with anything else without 
diluting it.

I'm not interested here is exploring whether a mixture of a Christian 
tradition with Buddhist practice somehow dilutes both components of the 
mixture. What I am curious about is whether similar comments are made when 
Jewish people take up Buddhist practice. Do you Jewish Buddhists have to put 
up with people saying that celebrating Passover or Yom Kippur waters down 
your Buddhist practice, or that spending time in a zendo contaminates your 
Jewishness? I suspect not, but I'm just guessing.

If my guess is correct, then I'm also interested in hearing whether anyone has 
any theories as to why one can hyphenate Judaism with Buddhadharma without 
being accused of playing water sports, but one cannot hyphenate Christianity 
with Buddhism without offending people in both camps. I have a half-baked 
theory, but I'd like to hear what others say about this before divulging my 
prejudices. (I'll defer my boorish bullying until later.)

Incidentally, in both Unitarian-Universalist and Quaker circles there are 
people sometimes jokingly called ABC Quakers (or Unitarians). ABC 
means "Anything but Christian". Barb, the commentator mentioned above, seems 
to feel that Quakers who are drawn to Buddhism are looking for an escape from 
Christian dogmatism but fail to realize they will encounter more dogmatism in 
Buddhism than in Quakerism. So in her mind, adding Buddhism to Quakerism 
dilutes Quakerism by adding dogma. She even notes that Quakers are tolerant 
of every religion except Christianity, so that when she does Christian 
meditation in a Quaker meeting she feels she has to keep it quiet, whereas 
her Buddhist Quaker friends feel quite free to talk of their Vipassana 
practice. Gosh, who would have thought that silence could be so complicated?

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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