I never imagined that I’d end up at a two-day silent retreat for Buddhist meditation. And I certainly never thought I’d learn how to more deeply worship Jesus there. But things you never thought would happen have a way of happening. And God has a way of showing up in the places where you least expect him. So of course the Prince of Peace would show up as we sought inner-peace.
If you’re like me, Buddhism probably isn’t too familiar. Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past couple days from the monks I met at the retreat:
- Buddhism isn’t a religion, it’s a way of life.
- Buddha is not a god. He was a man born about 2500 years ago, and Buddhism is a way of life that follows his teachings. His over-80,000 teachings can be summed up as 1. Do good. 2. Don’t do bad. 3. Purify your mind.
- Buddhists do not worship or pray to Buddha. When they bow down before a Buddha image, it’s a way of thanking and respecting him. The bow for Buddha is the same way a person bows before a parent, senior, or teacher in this culture.
The short, 2-day Buddhist retreat I joined included a mix of chanting and sitting, standing, walking and lying-down meditation. The name of Jesus was never spoken… and yet, I left more prepared and equipped to worship Jesus.
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant. ~Psalm 1:46-48
Upon hearing that she is pregnant with the Son of God, Mary praises God for being mindful of her. This was always just another verse to me. In my mind, God’s being mindful of Mary meant ‘to think of her.’ But in the Buddhist sense, mindfulness is an extreme intentionality in observing everything down to the ‘left, right, left’ concentration while walking. Mindfulness is being completely focused on the task at hand. And of course it’s true… God knows the number of hairs on our head (Luke 12:7) and knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). But being mindful means that he knows so much more than our anatomy… God is always thinking of us and Jesus is always praying for us.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? ~Psalm 8:3-4
As I mentioned above, a Buddhist bows while chanting. At first, I was pretty against it… you know.. the whole “do not go after other gods to serve and worship them” thing? But the monk who was leading the retreat explained that the bowing is a way of paying respect. And in Thailand, you can see respect being paid as you walk up and down the street… When I enter a shop and purchase something, the shopkeeper bows. When a child greets a parent, they bow. It’s not about worship, it’s about respect. And so as I joined the group in paying respect to Buddha, his teaching, and the noble people by bowing, I realized that God deserves so much more respect. In an increasingly casual culture, it’s “hey, God!” prayers and no dress code church. I’m not saying those things are inherently wrong or evil…. but do we remember that God is God? I know that this retreat has made me rethink how I’m showing Jesus that I’m grateful for who He is and what He’s done.
Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” ~Exodus 3:5
The retreat was a meditation retreat, and the type of meditation we practiced was a form of mindfulness, where we concentrated on our breathing. We tried to train our ‘monkey mind’ to keep it from leaping from thought to thought, and only focused on our breathing. I never knew how many thoughts I had until I tried not to have them. (It also didn’t help that our monk’s favorite phrase was ‘let it go’ because by the time he got to ‘go’ I was in full-on Elsa mode in my mind…. Thank you Frozen.)
In her book, In the Heart of the World, Mother Teresa told about “a very holy priest, who is also one of the best theologians in India right now. I know him very well, and I said to him, ‘Father, you talk all day about God. How close you must be to God!’ And do you know what he said to me? He said, ‘I may be talking much about God, but I may be talking very little to God.’ And then he explained, ‘I may be rattling off so many words and may be saying many good things, but deep down I do not have the time to listen. Because in the silence of the heart, God speaks.'”
How true that can be! I often spend all of my prayer time talking to God, without quieting myself to hear the ‘still, small voice’ of God. As fear and doubts flood our minds, it is good to meditate on who Jesus is and let those qualities and promises be the things that take up space in your mind.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds. ~Psalm 77:12
I’m not sure whether I’ll be joining any more Buddhist retreats in the near future, but I am sure that the lessons I learned there won’t fade anytime soon!