The Meeting of Meditation Traditions


Q: I read of your retreat at Garrison Institute, which I have also visited and it is wonderful. The struggle that I have is, as a Christian, the large statue of Buddha.

I noticed many people bowing during the retreat as they left the hall daily, but as a Christian I did not. Can you share your thoughts of visiting this space as a Christian and the Buddha statue in particular. I feel conflicted about going back because of this. I love the teachings, the community, but I am a believer in Jesus as my savior and worry that there is a conflict.

A: Thank you for sharing your struggle. As a Christian who has meditated with Buddhists and Hindus and has spent a lot of time on retreat at the Garrison institute, I find your question very resonant.

Thomas Keating, following in the tradition of Thomas Merton, was a pioneer in interfaith dialogue, organizing gatherings and conferences for religious leaders of all faiths. In the early days of Centering Prayer, he consulted Zen masters to ask their advice about how to structure Centering Prayer retreats and integrate walking and sitting forms of meditation into the retreat schedule. The picture of him below giving the Dalai Lama a little kiss says a lot about his love and respect for people of other faith traditions. I was once on a retreat at Garrison at which Father Thomas was speaking and he turned and looked at the big Buddha sitting behind him as he spoke and said with a smile, “He’s not bothering me back there!”

There are many Buddhists who come to Garrison on retreat and there have been many Centering Prayer retreats there over the years. To me there is something beautiful about this meeting of meditation traditions in a space blessed for many years by the faithful prayers of the Franciscan monks who lived there, resulting in a tremendous accumulation of spiritual energy. You can respect this confluence of spiritual energies without needing to bow to the Buddha yourself if that does not feel right for you. While other religions can offer opportunities to encounter the one God in forms that touch our hearts and souls in new ways and open us to otherness and transformation, nevertheless, God makes Godself available to other people in ways that may not be for us. There are many ways of being in spiritual community and you can share space with seekers from other faith traditions while honoring your own relationship with Jesus. Jesus may not be the only path to God, but he may be the only path for you.

Have you brought your questions to Jesus in your prayer? I would suggest that you offer him all your discomfort and questions and then listen to how he answers you in your heart. How does he want you to love him? Can you see his face and feel his energy in other spiritual traditions? What does Jesus require from you in terms of faithfulness and loyalty? Would your respectful acknowledgment of other faith traditions detract from your faithfulness or are your experiences at Garrison an invitation to be with Jesus in a new way?

Together with Jesus in prayer you can discern the answers that are right for you as you follow your own unique path. A spiritual director or spiritual companion might be helpful in exploring some of these questions.

Warm regards,

Lindsay Boyer

Thomas Keating and H.H. Dalai Lama XIV