Tag Archives: language and symbols

Augustine & Buddhism

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

I want to offer you a transparent glimpse of my interfaith perspective gained from my spiritual development as it has unfolded over the years and through my monastic experience both as a Christian and Buddhist monk. It has not always been a clear and concise path and may still remain so. For a true spiritual path has many of the same markers no matter the linage, faith, or set of beliefs.

One of my favorite Christian theologians is Augustine. I still quote him often in my Buddhist discourses and when I wish to authenticate a theological point. While he is one of the old guy’s, his wisdom is as bright today as it was 1700 years ago, at least for me.

With this in mind I want to try to bring Buddhist philosophy and Christian basic theological concepts together by using the philosophical work of Augustine as he writes in “Confessions” & “On Christian Doctrine” compared with “the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha”. I admit this challenge may be more fitting for those educated in the classical method, but I find the similarities between these two bodies of work to fit into what I wish to convey that shows how either the Christian or Buddhist view can be used to confront some of the most often ask questions for those of us on a spiritual path as there is much in common.

My intent is to get others to think and relate to their beliefs from a philosophical point of view for a moment. As Buddhists we have a practice of meditation and contemplative thought. We have explored some very basic Buddhist themes and have encountered Buddhist thought from a Zen perspective. Now I would like to move on to set a foundation for future philosophical dialog between Christian and Buddhist thought and this approach may be adequate to the task. This is not a Buddhist approach, this is not teaching Buddhism either directly or indirectly; it is establishing, however, the framework so we can learn how others beliefs can directly confront the many challenges we face today in a global society and maybe work together to solves some of these unsatisfactory conditions within our own communities, and in the greater world outside our front door.

Let me present Augustine’s reflections on the interpretation of signs in relation to Buddhist perspectives on language and truth. For Augustine, the interpretation of signs was intimately related to his deciphering of signs of god’s love in the narrative of his own life. While in many ways Augustine’s perspectives conflict sharply with Buddhist principles, the play of similarity and difference can be illuminating for both traditions, if we keep an open mind. Continue reading

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