Dual Citizenship by Craig Bergland

Posted: February 26, 2014 in Dual Religious Belonging, Interspirituality
Tags: , , , ,

A dear friend used the term “dual citizenship” in response to someone on Facebook who commented that she didn’t know I was a Buddhist. When that person wrote “I didn’t know Craig was a Buddhist!” she was expressing pleasant surprise, at least as far as I can tell. She has since shared with me some of her Buddhist experiences, and we both are Christian clergy.

The more I reflected on it, the more I came to like the idea of dual citizenship. It doesn’t imply split loyalties or that one has themself only partly submerged in each of two traditions. People who enjoy Jesus-Christ-Jammanuel-Siddhartha-Gautama-Buddhadual citizenship in the US and Canada, for example, aren’t seen as half-citizens of each country, they are full citizens. I don’t believe that when I am practicing Buddhism I am half a Buddhist, some sort of spiritual schizophrenic, and I would say the same thing about the time I spend practicing Christianity – though I would hasten to add that most of the time my practice has cross-pollinated and it would be very difficult to determine how to unpack the two traditions I inhabit in the same way that it would be hard to separate the sugar, water and drink mix I mix together when I make our grandchildren a pitcher of koolaid. The traditions inform one another, have points of commonality and points of divergence, and so create my rather diverse spiritual perspective.

Traditionally, of course, spiritual traditions have been very territorial and insisted that learning about another tradition for any purpose other than to criticize it constituted a kind spiritual interfaith-lotusadultery. Such claims remind me of stories my mother told me in an attempt to get me to comply with her wishes. When I was a child and she found me making a funny face she would tell me that one day “the clock would strike twelve” and my face would be stuck in one of those funny faces. I wondered whether she was telling me the truth or not, and gradually worked up the courage one day at 11:59am to watch the second hand sweep up toward twelve with my funny face in place. Needless to say, I survived unscathed and started to wonder what other fictions had been passed off as truths. Eventually, I went through the same process with my church, wondering what spiritual truths were genuine and which were designed to keep membership lists full.

I have heard the arguments that all religions do not lead to the same place. When it comes to particular expressions of religions, that statement may be partially true. I am not convinced that all expressions of a tradition are at all valid. I am thinking of places like People’s Temple and Jim Jones, Terry Jones and Dove World Outreach, and the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas. However, if we exclude those expressions of religion that have fallen under control of leaders who are seriously mentally ill I believe religions share more in common, at least in terms of what I want to call “gross spiritual skills” than they would like to admit. For example, all religions subscribe to some form of prayer and/or meditation. All religions seek to answer the “why” questions of life, to offer some explanation of why human beings are on this planet, to investigate what constitutes a meaningful life, and what happens when we depart this life. Though the answers may be different from religion to religion, the questions are strikingly similar. They become even more similar when we factor in cultural differences. What’s more, the things that constitute desirable behavior are remarkably similar across traditions. Violence, sexual misconduct, theft, deceit, disrespect, and even bad hygiene are universally rejected across traditions. Peace, non-violence, compassion, love, helping oneURIcooperationCircles2 another, providing comfort to the distressed, and caring for the poor, hungry, and homeless are universally praised. In fact the differences between traditions seem to exist in areas such as theology and doctrine, which are in fact human attempts to explain and replicate the spiritual experiences of religious adherents. As such they are not the experiences themselves and should not be understood to be equivalent, despite the fact that some traditions seem to value human explanations more than actual spiritual experience or practice.

I attended my first Tibetan Buddhist empowerment last Thursday with a friend of mine. It was a powerful (no pun intended) and moving experience on many levels. For those interested, it was a White Tara empowerment from my Buddhist Teacher, Domo Geshe Rinpoche. I first went to a teaching by Rinpoche in 2009. Since then my health and scheduling problems got in the way. If I am honest I also wasn’t quite ready. My brain is more suited to the American expression of Vipassana among the Insight Meditation folks because of their unique blending of Buddhism and Psychology. I have a hard time understanding and accepting Tibetan Buddhist cosmology and some aspects of the tradition inherited from Shamanism because they are foreign to me and can seem a little “woo-woo,” to use an imprecise but apt term. I have also resisted the idea of Guru yoga, most likely because of my own abuse history and some rather transparent attempts to justify abuse by Gurus such as the one in the book The Guru Question by Mariana Caplan. Why did people continue to follow Chogyam Trungpa despite his alcoholism and womanizing, and why did his wife stay with him? I honestly don’t know, and perhaps it isn’t important that I know. Misconduct on the part of Buddhist teachers is not limited to Tibetans, as there have been scandalous teachers in Zen as well. What’s more, no tradition comes close to approaching the Roman Catholic Church of the late twentieth century when it comes to scandal and cover-up.

There are two things I know. The first is that I have learned that one has to be ready to really dedicate oneself to a teacher, and some world-religions3people never are. The second is that last week at that empowerment I was told things about myself nobody could possibly know without having spoken extensively with me. Please understand that I have studied psychology and worked in the field, I am very aware that there are ways one can appear to know things about another that are little more than con games and I have been trained to spot them. What I experienced reflected a depth of spiritual practice and mystical insight that I have never encountered before. Is this the experience of the disciples who responded immediately to Jesus’ call, or of the woman at the well who went back to her town and described him as a man who told her everything about herself? Mind you I am not anointing people Rinpoche as Messiah, I am looking for commonalities across traditions in an attempt to explain the experience. The ability to do that connecting across traditions is one of the great values of Dual Citizenship, by the way.

You may be thinking that this is all well and good, but you don’t have any interest in Dual Citizenship. I’d like to ask you to reassess that idea, because you have read a rather longish blog post on the topic and are still reading. It’s perfectly fine to sit with uncertainty and hold it gently. Over time, in your prayer or meditation practice, you may find some clarity arising. It’s also fine to investigate other traditions, learn more about them, and decide they aren’t for you. Not everyone is going to become what I call a Buddhist Christian. Some may become Hindu Jews, Taoist Muslims, or any of the other possible combinations. After being in a grocery store today that had an aisle labelled “Polish Kosher” I know anything is possible! I encourage you to investigate the possibilities. My experience is that Interspirituality has allowed my spiritual life to become three-dimensional, a quality you have to experience for yourself to understand fully. Why not try? There’s nothing to lose!

This article originally appeared on The Buddhist Christian blog


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