Quaker Universalist Conversations

Triangle of Faiths: Quakerism, Buddhism, and Judaism

Anthony Manousos has called our attention to the many ties between Quakers and Jews. No less striking is a three-way linkage among Jews, Quakers, and Buddhists. The essential universalism of the Quaker tradition has led many Friends to explore Buddhism as both a meditative practice and a philosophy. Buddhist precepts closely parallel Quaker testimonies. One of the pioneersin noting this was Teresina Havens, who spent time studying in Japan in the1930s and taught and published at Pendle Hill and at FGC gatherings as lateas the 1980s. Her influence was strengthened during the Viet Nam war by George Lakey and other Friends who worked closely with Buddhist peace groups associated with Thich Nhat Hanh. Quaker-Buddhists of more recent years are Sallie King, Mary Orr, and Valerie Brown. I also count myself one, my principal teacher having been Shinzen Young, who grew up as a member of the Jewish community in Los Angeles.

The tie between Jews and Buddhists is well known. Many prominent Western teachers of Buddhism are Jewish. One thinks immediately of JosephGoldstein, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and a whole host of others. The historical and spiritual affinity was examined in depth by Rodger Kamenetzin THE JEW IN THE LOTUS, published in 1994. Kamenetz accompanied a delegation of Jewish leaders invited by the Dalai Lama to discuss the similar experiences of the Jewish and Tibetan people as exiles scattered across the world, seeking to preserve their own identity as well as their language and religion.

A triangle is a uniquely sturdy structure. Maybe we can hope that this crossover of three faiths will serve as a keystone for interfaith work that will support a united effort to save the planet and its people.

— Rhoda Gilman