Quaker Universalist Conversations

Welcome to a budding Buddhist Quaker…

By Anthony Manousos

I couldn’t resist this pun (and for those of you who are addicted to punning, I recommend John Pollock’s excellent new book, “The Pun Also Rises”).  Paul Lockey, a Buddhist newcomer to Quakerism, just wrote  about the affinities between Quakerism and Buddhism (see below).  That Quakerism and Buddhism (especially Zen Buddhism) have much in common has become a truism among liberal and Universalist Friends. Sallie King, a longstanding member of QUF and CIRC, describes herself as a Buddhist Quaker, and so, I believe, does Steve Smith, who has written an outstanding Pendle Hill pamphlet on his experiences as a Zen Buddhist Friend. I myself have lived for nine months in a Zen Buddhist center in Providence, RI, when I first became a Friend and was deeply influenced by Joe and Teresina Havens, weighty Friends who were deeply Buddhist in outlook.

So I want to extend a warm welcome to the Paul Lockey, who writes:

As a Buddhist new to Quakers (just four Meetings for Worship under my belt!), I accept that I am coming into a religious organisation that is ‘rooted in Christianity and has always found inspiration in the life and teachings of Jesus.’ [A&Q4] However, my understanding is that ‘Quakerism’ (like ‘Buddhism’) is more a way of living rather than a set of beliefs. Moreover, an important part of the practice is to ‘work gladly with other religious groups in the pursuit of common goals…’ [A&Q6] and to ‘respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern…’ [A&Q17].

Jesus said, ‘The Kingdom of God comes not from observation… the Kingdom of God is within you.’ [Luke 17: 20-21] As a Buddhist I can relate to that. I see no reason why Quakers should abandon their Christian heritage, nor would I ever ask anyone to do so just to make non-Christians like me feel more welcome. However, speaking the language of Christ is one thing – it’s quite another to argue that Christianity is the one true religion, or that Jesus is somehow superior to the other historical figures who are revered by people of different faiths. If the RSoF requires me to believe that then I’ll just slope off quietly and never darken the door of my local Meeting House ever again…

Whatever we imagine our God to be, It almost certainly isn’t. The human experience of divinity is a continuum ranging from the mundane to miraculous and all are of equal importance – it’s only ego that judges these experiences as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘external’ or ‘internal’, ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’, ‘sacred’ or ‘profane’… etc. By walking the Buddha’s ‘Middle Way’ I hope to tread a fine line between asceticism and hedonism while avoiding the pitfalls of holding extreme views (atheist materialism or religious fundamentalism, for example).

So what brings me to Quakers? Basically – a need for silence, to meet others along the spiritual road, to experience in different ways the Ultimate Reality of ‘Oneness’ (or God, if you prefer).


I'll tell what branch of Buddhism seems ever closer to Quakerism: Pure Land. I belong to a Jodo Shinshu or Shin Buddhist Sangha. I have also attended a Quaker meeting for many years. It a nutshell, both traditions are at their essence preaching the Gospel of Universalism. In Shin all are saved through the compassionate workings of Amida Buddha. I believe readers will easily note the obvious Christian parallel.
Thank you for this. I have been making use of Buddhist meditation techniques for several years, although I feel too ignorant and imperfect to label myself a Buddhist. I was raised in a very secular, socialist household; while not spiritual, it was deeply ethical, and my parents transmitted to me their belief in social justice and peace, taking me on marches for equality and disarmament as a child. I started attending my local Quaker Meeting through friends, and have been attending every Sunday for about three months. I am constantly running up against ideas and practices that I was first introduced to in meditation classes or my reading on Buddhism. Last week I went to a workshop for Quakers on deepening the experience of Worship, and was amused to be presented with suggestions such as focusing on the breath as a means of centring down, walking meditation as preparation for Meeting - the workshop was bringing me back round to where I started from! Right now, I'm not sure I can call myself a Buddhist, or a Quaker, or a Buddhist Quaker. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe learning to live through the uncertainty is part of the process/lesson.
I've functioned as one who practices Buddhism within my liberal Quaker meeting for many years and see no conflict. There is a lot of interest in Buddhism in my Quaker meeting, I would say. As a nontheist Buddhist, I have little difficulty drawing inspiration from the Gospel of Thomas, from Bernadette Roberts and other Christian contemplatives, and from Thomas R. Kelly, to cite a few examples.
I grew up in an unprogrammed meeting in a generally non-theistic setting. The emphasis was living the Gospel and a mystical communion with the Light of Christ. Christ was and is a living Guru. But he , I feel, encouraged me to continue to seek truth , to go further, and pursue U;timate Enlightenment/Buddhahood in order to really benefit others...............................so I feel he lead me to Lord Buddha who teaches methods of attaining Buddhahood. Then for me CHrist is my King and Buddha my Teacher.........or I consider them both my Gurus.....with my ultimate authority being the Buddha.
I have had Buddhism, like a piece of grit, in the corner of my eye for about 55 years and since my retirement, about 10 years ago, I have taken it seriously - although I am trying to disentangle the teachings fromn their asian-culture background. I attend the local Quaker meeting (my wife is a Quaker) and consider that, although I follow the Buddha and the Dharma, the Quakers are my Sangha. A piece that I read a couple of years ago had a profound effect on me (it "spoke to my condition" as the Quakers say). A japanese Zen monk was appointed abbot of a monastary in New York state. In 1975, in one of his talks to the monks, he said:- "It is time that we started cooking our own food and not just eating from asian take-aways....We are all Dharma pioneers" To mix religeous metaphores - Go thou and do likewise!
Hi Geoff, thanks for joining in! I am interested in more conversation from Buddhist Quakers/ Quaker Buddhists. I agree with cooking our own (in my case American) food, but I have a slow appoach. I choose to belong and participate in a Buddhist Sangha, and with a Tibetan Guru, all of which as a strong dose of "foreign food". I can tolerate it to a fair degree, as long as I have other affilitaions that serve scumptuous Western fare. I am currently reaching out to Friends via internet to keep some of my Western sensibilities nourished. I am hoping that eventually our Sangha will move toward meeting the West half way..............I suppose the midway point between West and East is the Middle East! Overall I consider myself more of a Quaker Buddhist than a Buddhist Quaker...........Peace ! Yeshe
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