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).