Church group goes Buddhist

By Amy Phalon, Sea Coast Online, April 18, 2007

Exploring mindful meditation

YORK, New Hampshire (USA) -- Sometimes "the mind is a tree full of drunken monkeys" said John McDargh, quoting an ancient Buddhist saying. The 30 people gathered at St. George's Episcopal Church Sunday morning to hear Professor McDargh's lecture knew exactly what he was talking about.

Many in the audience were already familiar with the practice of "mindfulness," a fundamental practice for Buddhist meditation. McDargh, a professor in the department of Theology at Boston College, was there to explain the connection between this and other Buddhist practices and the practice of Christianity.

He said that Christians can use the practice of mindfulness in their daily lives and for prayer, adding, "It is about our time to be aware of our connection with God."

McDargh led the group in a trial of mindfulness. After the attempt, the participants discussed their experiences. Some were more skillful and had little trouble focusing exclusively on breathing. Others found little distractions such as a child's voice from another room would take their mind off their breathing.

One person, practicing mindfulness for the first time, said she found her mind scolding her for not making out a shopping list, and reminding her of other chores to be done.

McDargh instructed the group to be gentle with their minds, and to acknowledge the problem if they found their minds wandering, then return to focusing on the breath.

Mindfulness, he said, "it is not a magic cure. It is a work in process."

McDargh's lecture briefly delved into various connections he and other scholars have discovered between Buddhism and Christianity. One that he spoke about was an historical connection. He had four different sets of strung beads spread out on a table. He held upthe first and explained that similar strung beads were used by Buddhists during meditation.

The second, of a slightly different style, were an adaptation of the Buddhist beads used by followers of Islam who encountered Buddhists on the silk trading routes in Asia, he said. The third style was copied by Eastern Orthodox Christians who met the Muslims along the same trade routes. These Christians passed the idea to another group: The fourth set was the familiar Christian Rosary.

"We often think of different religious traditions as impenetrable silos," McDargh said. However, as his lecture demonstrated, there are deep connections between each. Christians can study the practices of others, such as the Buddhists, and use what they learn, such as the practice of mindfulness, to inform their own experience of Christianity.

"Jesus and Buddha," McDargh said, though they never met in history, "are great friends."