19 July 2010

Passion and compassion in Christianity and Buddhism

The cloisters in Cloister Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

The story is told that when the Dalai Lama was in London, staying as a guest of the Dean of Westminster, the dean and his family went to great lengths to prepare vegetarian meals. They were surprised when the Dalai Lama opted for a full English breakfast, including black pudding, each morning.

The story was told on Monday afternoon by Dr Mangla Frost in her paper ‘Passion, Dispassion and Compassion in World Religions.’ Dr Frost was speaking in Sidney Sussex College at the annual summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

In her search for points of meetings and departures for Christians, Dr Frost concentrated on Buddhism. She pointed out that there is a variety of traditions in Buddhism, and there is even a legend that the Buddha’s last meal was pork.

Although, the Buddha declined to speak about God or gods, the different schools of Buddhism developed mythological, cosmic and mystical traditions, so that a religion that first emphasised self-reliance became a religion of ritual and devotion.

Passion is often described as burning in the Buddhist tradition, and she drew comparisons with similar images in the ‘Fire Sermon’ in TS Eliot’s The Waste Land (Section III).

Drawing comparisons between the teaching of the Buddha and the Ladder of Divine Ascent of Saint John Klimakos, she suggested that passion only becomes evil when it is misdirected. It needs to be transformed by the Holy Spirit rather than destroyed.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

1 comment:

Charles Kinnaird said...

When I read about the Dalai Lama (whom I greatly admire) eating black pudding, I thought that he must be making an overture to his host culture. I did the same thing when I taught English at Hong Kong Baptist College back in the 1980’s. I made a commitment to always eat chicken’s feet whenever they were served (and they were a popular delicacy, served up at least once a week). Being an American citizen, I had to google black pudding, thinking maybe I’d get the recipe and try some. Oh my goodness! When I saw what was in black pudding, my admiration for the Dalai Lama greatly increased, and I think I’ll pass on the black pudding.(But I will make a point to read "Ladder of Divine Ascent")