Ask A Buddhist: Christian and Buddhist Beliefs

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By Tenzin Tsepal

I believe in past life, but at the same time I believe that after I die, I will go to heaven. I believe in Buddhist beliefs, but at the same time I believe in Christian beliefs too. What religion do I have? What should I do? I am very confused and lost…

When initially exploring Buddhism, we can be both a practitioner of Christianity and Buddhism. I have known people who studied and practiced Buddhist teachings for a while, but then returned to their own religion with a renewed appreciation for what it offers. How wonderful! No problem. I’ve also known many others who found greater compatibility with Buddhist teachings, and who made a conscious choice to become Buddhist.

All religions have methods for helping us develop positive human qualities like love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. Practitioners from other faiths have found it helpful to include some of the practices and techniques found within the Buddhist tradition—meditating on love, compassion, and altruism; reflecting on death and impermanence; cultivating mindfulness and concentration; reciting mantras, and so forth. For many, these Buddhist practices do not interfere with their deep commitment to their own faith.

When teaching in the West, His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says that he’s not interested in converting people to Buddhism, rather he emphasizes the importance of staying with the religion in which we were raised. If the religion we practice supports us to live a happy and ethical life, then there is no reason to change. Some people, however, have a spiritual longing that is not fulfilled by the religious tradition they grew up with. If that’s the case, then the Buddha advised that we thoroughly investigate and find out firsthand what the actual benefits are of practicing a different tradition, like Buddhism.

It seems that you may not yet have enough information or experience to make a clear choice between the two. I would encourage you to explore the many manifestations of Christianity to see if your spiritual longing can be met in a Christian context. On the other hand, if Buddhism continues to speak to you, I would suggest that you attend teachings with a qualified teacher, read Buddhist books, and think about and practice what the Buddha taught. You may want to attend a short Buddhist retreat to see what that’s like. Check to see what effect Buddhist practices have on your mind, your heart and your daily interactions with others. If you like the effect, then you may wish to engage in Buddhist study and practice more fully.

Have you read “Buddhism for Beginners” and “Open Heart, Clear Mind by my own teacher, Venerable Thubten Chodron? These are two very good books that can help explain and clarify what the Buddhist path is about.

About Ven. Tenzin Tsepal

Venerable Tenzin Tsepal met Venerable Thubten Chodron, founder of Sravasti Abbey, in Seattle and studied Buddhism with her from 1995 to 1999. During that time, Venerable Tsepal attended the Life as a Western Buddhist Nun conference in Bodhgaya, India in 1996 as a lay supporter. An interest in ordination surfaced after she completed a three-month meditation retreat in 1998. She lived in India for two years while continuing to explore monastic life. In 2001, she received sramanerika (novice) ordination from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

While Venerable Tsepal was in India, some Australians friends introduced her to the 5 year Buddhist Studies Program at Chenrezig Institute (CI) north of Brisbane, Queensland, where she subsequently lived and engaged in intensive residential study from 2002-2015. As the Western Teacher at CI, she tutored weekend teachings and retreats, and taught the Discovering Buddhism courses.

Prior to ordaining, Venerable Tsepal completed a degree in Dental Hygiene, and then pursued graduate school in hospital administration at the University of Washington. Not finding happiness in 60 hour work weeks, she was self-employed for 10 years as a Reiki teacher and practitioner.

Now a member of the resident community at Sravasti Abbey, Venerable Tsepal is compiling and editing the many years of Venerable Chodron’s teachings on monastic training as well as leading a review on the Buddhist philosophical tenets for the residents.

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