Paul Knitter’s book, Without Buddha I could not be a Christian, takes you on one man’s journey of passing over to Buddhism and passing back into Christianity. He was a Catholic priest who left the priesthood, married a Christian woman who later embraced Buddhism, and he teaches theology at Union Theological Seminary. This is a man deeply connected to following Jesus who found his faith challenged, enlivened, and reformed by Buddhism. One way that his Christian faith was expanded by crossing over to Buddhism is by taking another look at our Christian call to work for justice in the world.
His view of the Christian ideal of justice expanded when he passed over to learn the teachings of Buddhism and then came back to address a problem he felt Christianity struggled with in the practice of justice. Knitter felt a concern in experiencing an attitude or tone of hatred and anger in Christians who worked for peace. He noticed how the language used about the oppressor was standing in opposition towards, labeling the “other” against “us,” and violence in words and sometimes in action in the name of justice. Knitter wrote, “If Christians insist that ‘if you want peace, work for justice,’ the Buddhists would counter-insist, ‘if you want peace, be peace.’”(183)
From Buddhism back to Christianity, he learned that if we set about the work of being peace, then our actions will follow our transformation of heart which will naturally transform society and structure. Let me say this a better way…If we work on cultivating peace in our hearts, then our lives will exude peace. Peace will permeate everything we say and do. Christianity teaches that love is above or a priority over justice.(203) Jesus taught that the whole law could be summed up in 3 priorities: 1-we should love God 2- love our neighbor 3-love ourselves. If Christians desire love for others, then we must be transformed into love ourselves. This is why “be peace” or “be love” is our starting point. It becomes much easier to “be love” when we recognize that God is love and God lives in, through, and beyond me. It becomes much easier to love our neighbor when we see that God lives in, through, and beyond our neighbor (no matter their religion, sexual orientation, race, gender, no matter their difference to us) is a part of me.
Christians will see more clearly what Paul in Galatians meant when he wrote, “it is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.” It is Christ living in me, as me, through me and yet beyond me to include everyone and everything. This love for myself, my neighbor who is not like me, and my God who reveals through all creation will naturally overflow into loving actions that work for peace and justice without resorting to hate or violence in words and action.
“Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) and His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) are suggesting that the internal, personal transformation that constitutes being peace will inevitably become the external, social transformation of making peace.” (185)
Jesus said, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” Let us Be Peace so that we can Make Peace.