Sherpa: I've recently come across Philippians 2:3 which reads: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” This is so closely aligned with the Buddhist teaching on considering others as more important than oneself. From the Buddhist perspective, this is a high practice of humility rooted in actualized bodhichetta (wisdom and compassion). Is there a practice in your church that meditates on this passage in the Bible to actualize the wisdom in these words?
Shepherd: So, my first internal response to "is there a practice... to actualize...." was to say "no". That would have been a very short conversation. But that short answer was not true, upon deeper reflection. I am so grateful that you asked this question, so that I would have to contemplate an answer to it, and profit from it. The clearest connection that occurred to me later, was memorization of this and similar verses. That may sound a mile away from "actualizing". One can certainly memorize without putting it into practice. But memorization can be, often is, a step toward internalizing an idea. Internalized, an idea is much more likely to be put into action.
Sherpa: In my Buddhist practice we chant prayers and intentions. This is a part of actualizing. My teacher instructs to not just chant mindlessly, but to feel the truth of the prayers until tears spring to the eyes. In other words, taking the cognitive processes into the heart. Similar to the Christain tradition you are describing.
Shepherd: Giving or charity is another practice that can help support humility and considering others more important than one's self. Again, you can give out of obligation, you can give out of fear, you can give out of expectation of getting some reward or recognition in return. But with the support of an attitude of humility, and the support of reminders and teachings on humility, giving can be a practice that boosts the recognition of all of us being on the same level in the sight of God.
Sherpa: This is a big topic in my Buddhist lineage. Giving is a deeply spiritual action that aligns us with our true nature, which in our tradition is considered compassion and wisdom. So, again, very similar to the Christian tradition.
Shepherd: A practice among some, which I have participated in, I think only once, is to re-enact an act of service that Jesus performed for his disciples on the night before he died. He, their leader and teacher, took on the duty of a lowly servant and washed their feet (the 'sandals on dirt roads' kind of dirty feet). He instructed them to do this for one another. Most people understand his instructions to be symbolic and I generally have, but participating in a ritual washing of the feet of another christian can have the effect of supporting an attitude of humility and a readiness to consider the other's needs as more important than one's own.
Sherpa: That is really beautiful. To serve another with a spiritual intent naturally relaxes our ego-driven activity and is a way to align our actions with our hearts.
Shepherd: There is a word that is certainly no stranger to the Christian community, but which I have come across so often in the Mindfulness community. That word is "kindness". This word in common use often comes across as a weak, trivial, maybe even childlike word. But the way it is used in the Bible, and the way it is used in the Mindfulness community, makes it clear that there is a depth here, not a triviality. This got me to thinking about the etymology of the word "kindness" and I discovered that it is rooted in the concept of recognition that we are all "of a kind". We are more alike one another than we are different from one another. We are connected with one another though our alikeness and our common origins. So we should treat one another in light of that reality. We are to "love one another as you love yourself" - the “Golden Rule”.
Sherpa: How wondrous to know the root meaning of kindness! I love that. It's really so simple to be kind, yet it seems it is humanities biggest hurdle. What I've discovered through personal experience and observations of others is that our kindness to others is directly in proportion to the level in which we love ourselves. Meditation clears away our fog so that we can see how amazing we are, how amazing others are, and how precious is life. So actualizing loving-kindness, or bodhichetta, doesn't always mean doing something external, but sometimes it means going inward, or discovering our internal landscape.
Shepherd: Another practice, taught to the very young, and sometimes lost as we mature, is to structure prayer around asking God to bless a long list of people. This practice can help develop and maintain a sense of interconnectedness and desire for the well-being of others, moving away from prayer as a time to ask for things for myself.
Sherpa: In my tradition, we embrace the Buddhist path for others, which includes ourselves. It is thought that it is through compassion for others that ultimate enlightenment is made to become aware to the practitioner. I think of all people as having the same nature, so when a Christian prays for another without thought to personal gain, free from pity for the one being prayed for, and a Buddhist prays for another without concern for personal gain and free from pity for the one being prayed for, both are praying with the same nature and are touching the same experience of Ultimate Reality, or God.
Shepherd: Another practice is some versions of the ritual of communion. The communion ritual is very specifically focused on "the body of Christ", and this is often understood to refer to his physical body that he gave in sacrifice for us. But it is also understood to be referring to all the members of the church, together, making up "the body of Christ.". We are often very different from one another, but we fit together as a whole, no one part of the whole being expendable. We are urged to treat one another with this understanding and attitude, that each is valuable is his or her own right
Sherpa: Sangha is the word for the community of Buddhist practitioners. It is important for us to embrace the community as they are fellow brothers and sisters with their eyes resting in the same direction. We also consider all sentient beings as part of our Sangha in a big view, but on a practical view Sangha consists of fellow practitioners that support one another.
I find that Truth will find its way into different spiritual traditions because there is only one Truth. It is not surprising to see how the different traditions are so similar. After all, we are all human beings on this beautiful earth with the same basic experiences of love, pain, loss, birth, and death. Practicing seeing others as just as valuable as yourself, or more important than yourself is essential for a kind and loving society. Otherwise, the ego, the power, and the lust dominate and we descend into a very dark place.
Shepherd: It is always fascinating to hear of such similar values and practices coming from these different sources. Your religion founded on observation and contemplation about how the world works and my religion founded on revelation uncover some very similar attitudes. The revelation I look to even refers to the importance of observing creation and contemplating it to understand the world works and how we fit into it.