Breathe like a Buddhist

A Catholic's Foray into the World of Buddhist Meditation

My body screamed: “I’ve only had four hours of sleep!”

But at 6:30 in the morning, some inner yearning drew me from my flannel sheets into the snowy winter morning. Looking back at last winter, I am surprised that anything could get me out of bed when it was 20 degrees outside, but I am even more surprised that—as a life-long Catholic—I woke up at 6:30 every morning to encounter God at a Buddhist Meditation Center.

Jesus didn’t head to a meditation center to commune with God. But he did take time out of his busy ministry to pray or meditate and draw closer to God. Jesus spent 40 days with God in the desert at the beginning of his ministry when “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12).

Buddhism and Happy Hour

If this seems difficult, you might first try meditating with a tape so that there is someone to lead you. You can also begin meditating with a local Buddhist community or try some meditation techniques on your own with a book written by a Jesuit priest called Sadhana: A Way to God, Christian Exercises in Eastern Form. If you want to learn from other young adults who are practicing Buddhism, check out the Blue Jean Buddha website.

Can I practice Buddhist meditation and still be Catholic?
Totally. Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has encouraged its members to engage in dialogue with other religions. Just last April, the American Bishops met with Buddhist monks to further bridge their relationship (for more info, click here).

The practice of Buddhist Meditation is just one aspect of Buddhism. Following particular Buddhist practices—compatible with having a different faith like Christianity—can be distinguished from taking on Buddhism as an entire way of life. As a way of life it guides your decisions about everything from what to eat at breakfast to how to make moral decisions to what not to drink at Happy Hour (some Buddhists follow a vegetarian diet and abstain from alcohol).
However, you don’t have to buy the next plane ticket to Thailand to learn more about Buddhism as a way of life. You can check out Buddhanet or read about “lay precepts,” the guidelines some laity follow in living out their lives as Buddhists at home, at work…and at Happy Hour.

Get thee to thy wilderness
We all need our “wilderness” moments. We need the Spirit to drive us into some quiet space, whether it is a desert, a city park, a church, a meditation center, or even our kitchen table. We need to take a break from the stress of our busy lives, to get away…and move into the presence of God.

Buddhist Meditation, like the contemplative practice of Christian Centering Prayer, can provide a regular way for us to open ourselves up to an encounter with God by focusing our attention on our breath or the repetition of a word. Instead of the usual verbal chanting or conversational prayer, these methods quiet our chatty minds to allow God’s presence to rest within us. Like prayer, meditation gives us a sense of peace, so that we return renewed to our jobs, schoolwork, and even our faith as Catholics.

How do I sign up?
The great thing about Buddhist meditation is that you don’t have to register with your local St. Buddha Parish to experience Buddhist meditation. In fact, you can practice meditation anywhere.

  • Take a seat
  • Shut your eyes
  • Become aware of your breathing. In and out. In and out.

Yes, your mind may tell you that you forgot to take out the trash or that you need to call your Aunt Rosie. But when thoughts come running into your mind, let them keep running. Don’t chase after them.

In fact, my own experience of meditation has me convinced that Buddhism and Catholicism have a lot to offer one another. Through meditation, I actually find myself deepening my experience of God and my life as a Catholic. Joseph Goldstein, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, recently reminded me that meditation enables you to develop a practice of living out the values of whatever particular religious tradition you follow.

The Spirit chauffeur
After all, it’s essentially about taking time out to pray. Even Jesus knew that meditation, or prayer, was essential to the path he followed. He often felt drawn to walk away from the crowds and connect with God. After Jesus fed five thousand people “he dismissed the crowd…. [and] went up on the mountain to pray” (Mark 6:45-46).

How can you say farewell to your busy life for a few moments? What mountain do you climb to get closer to God? You might just let the Spirit drive you towards Buddhist meditation and find God waiting for you in the space of that quiet wilderness.