My friend, Heiwa No Bushi, is a Buddhist-Christian monk, founder and Abbot of the Thomasville Buddhist Center in Thomasville, North Carolina. A former Christian minister, he has degrees in philosophy and theology. He also received classical training in both Mahayana and Zen Buddhism. He holds black belts in three different Japanese martial art forms, making him, as friends often say, an “official badass.” He places his teachings under the moniker “Bodhi Christo” which means “enlightened Christ,” an amalgam of the two rich streams of Buddhism and Christianity. He and I collaborated on Four Truths on a Crosstown Bus, (downloadable for free here.) In this excerpt from The Smile on a Dog: Retrieving a Faith That Matters (downloadable for free here), he shares some reflections on his journey.
This is my story, but I believe it reflects all our stories.
I grew up in south Florida, essentially a preacher’s kid because my grandmother was heavily involved in both the southern and primitive Baptist movements. She was so devoted that when people within her circles wanted to erect a building, she loaned them the money.
By the time I was six years old, my grandmother had become a minister in that church, but she struggled constantly against patriarchy. The congregation was so misogynistic that they wouldn’t allow her to be a regular preacher. However, she was a very clever bird. She decided that every time they gave her an opportunity to fill the pulpit, she would use her grandson to introduce her. It was a way of deflecting all the attention from her, and the result was that I became a phenomenal, entertaining bit of Sunday mornings! People came to hear my grandmother because this young boy really knew how “to lay it out there.”
All that time I worked with my grandmother, I saw the inconsistency between her church life and her home life. At church she was outwardly “righteous,” but at home she would speak in ways normally prohibited. I thought it was hypocritical, but she quoted the Apostle Paul from I Corinthians: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
As grandma’s ministry grew, I began to feel a calling to attend seminary. I received my training and then, in my early 20s, I traveled overseas with the military. It was a time of hands-on experience, what I call “tacit education.” It challenged me to look at the deeper and wider aspects of life on our planet. I encountered many other faiths, not only seeing their beautiful richness, but their many parallels, especially the “golden rule.”
In my experiences as a Christian, I had not encountered a real moral teaching about how to treat our planet, especially “lesser creatures.” As a lover of the earth, I found a much greater connection to creation through other religions, especially Buddhism and its tremendous emphasis on caring for all living things. Jainism also intrigued me. It insisted on not naming “God,” believing there is no particular god outside of ourselves.
These religions lifted up a type of humanity that many circles of Christianity seemed to usurp and ignore. They spoke volumes of higher learning to me, and it seemed to me that Christianity did not stand up in the court of reality. For instance, where in Christian scripture was the insistence on an intimate relationship with all living things that I found so beautiful in Buddhism?
Then I thought of the parable Jesus told of seeking out the one lost lamb. He was saying to the majority, “You hold on tight, I’m going to get the one that matters.” This began to bring out what I call the “more mature” interpretation of Christ that I am trying to live out today.
In my teachings, I emphasize that there are three types of knowledge.
- Explicit knowledge that comes to us from textbooks, manuals, Sunday school lessons taught as literal. This is a form of cultural programming, even indoctrination.
- Codified knowledge which is the design of the society around us—from traffic signs to laws to the licenses we need to practice our professions. All this is meant to make sure that we follow the rules and remain in compliance with the status quo.
- Tacit knowledge which we gain firsthand in the laboratories of our own lives. It can’t just be told to us; we must experience it and adapt it to the reality of our own understandings.
The bottom line is that we must test any truth for ourselves! Examine it in the light of our minds, hearts, consciences, and personal experience. I feel religious institutions, especially the Christian church, should be some of the most unregulated organizations in our society. They should always call us to the high adventure of exploring a fuller spiritual life.
On this adventure, I remain a lifelong learner, carrying on something my grandmother taught me long ago. “Go beyond what educational systems teach you,” she said.
Take on the world. Tacitly hold it, experience it, live it and understand it!
You can connect with Heiwa No Bushi here.