Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wholeness and Filling

Emptiness of faith Image by Swamibu via FlickrI have already mentioned that one of the key differences between Eastern Mindfulness and Christian Mindfulness is emptiness versus filling.  There are some definite similarities between these concepts and then some stark contrasts. 
One similarity that is worth looking at is the tendency of the human mind to develop preconceived ideas and notions.  This is a universal phenomena and can be readily observed.  One problem though is that these are more easily seen by others (or in others), not in examining yourself.  Most of these tendencies for preconceptions and notions tend to operate at the level of our subconscious (ie outside of our awareness).  Eastern Mindfulness and Christian mindfulness agree then that these fixed beliefs created by the human mind are a source of misperception, misunderstanding, self-deception, misbehavior, and errors in thinking.  In Christian faith this is called sin.  It is interesting to note that the most common meaning of the word sin (in Hebrew and Greek) is to miss the mark!  So Eastern and Christian thought agree that there is a natural tendency to miss in the human mind and played out in human behavior.  The key difference in how to resolve this tendency to miss (sin). 

One of the core teachings in Buddhism is emptiness (Sunyata).  Buddhists teach that the things that happen around us really do not have permanence.  Stated another way "once it happens it will never happen again."  When we hold on to our conceptions we are holding on to this emptiness as if it were real and tangible.  We become more insightful as we release these conceptions (I think this is where the term emptying the mind comes in) and allow the observable world (and our thoughts about this world) to come into our awareness and then pass like a stream.  By practicing this type of meditation it is proposed that a person gains greater insight into his/her life as well as the world around them.  This realization of the emptiness leads to the ability to transcend suffering, antagonism, fear, etc.  Further awareness of this emptiness leads a person to enlightenment (Nirvana).  I am by no means an expert in Buddhism.  If I have misrepresented please feel free to comment below.

In the Christian practice resolving the missing takes a decidedly different direction.  Throughout the Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) is the concept of filling and wholeness.  Being filled and receiving wholeness from God is the solution to sin (missing) and the key  to fulfillment.  The first three commandments of the Bible are, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth (Gen 1:28)."  To be fruitful requires maturity which is a from of wholeness (more on this in another post).  Multiplication (ie reproduction) is required to have filling.  For example you cannot fill a grain elevator unless there is seed to reproduce itself.  This is God's way.  Filling is an ongoing process and not a goal to be achieved.  Filling is continuous action of filling up and overflowing.  

Consider these two perspectives to further draw the contrast between Buddhist and Christian mindfulness.

Zen: A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup."

Christian: "Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure-pressed down, shaken together, and running over-will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." Luke 6:38 (HCSB); Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe [in Him] so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 (HCSB); For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. 2 Cor 1:5 (HCSB)

Another similarity and difference has to do with the role of self.  Both Buddhists and Christians agree that the self (often Soul, Mind or Flesh in new testament teaching) is the barrier to greater spiritual insight and growth.  In Buddhist teaching self is diminished through liturgy (chants, mantras, meditations, and the like) self-transcendence and/or self-denial practices (middle way).    In Christian teaching self is diminished through exercising self-control, Reckon "Old self" dead, Putting off old self and put on new self by renewing the mind.  The contrast then is in Buddhism the goal is transcendence of self (escaping rebirth ie nirvana) and Christian thought is renewal (rebirth) of self (leading to escaping divine wrath). 

You see God desires that we be filled.  Being emptied does not accomplish filling.  The problem with the Zen teaching is it is limited.  I can only receive that which I have the capacity to receive.  For the Christian on the other hand God gives out of His infinite abundance if we are willing to receive it.  No emptiness required just a willing heart to turn from sin (missing), die to self(rebirth), and trust in Him (our fullness). 

I will be going into more detail about Wholeness and fullness in future posts.