Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

Beside Still Waters - Foreword

Jews, Christians, and the Way of the Buddha

Foreword

Any religious tradition that over many centuries has attracted followers of widely differing natural temperament and taken root in cultures with different social

mores and even different cuisines and climes will have been required in its passage to grow and adjust like an individual human being who has lived long, traveled far, and developed—under different necessities and provocations—different aspects of his personality. When three such traditions meet, they are like three old, sage, perhaps ever so slightly weary travelers settling in on the same cruise ship to exchange tales.

As the ship leaves port and their conversation begins, each is in turn spellbound by the others. What wonders each has seen! And with what quiet eloquence, or burning passion, or gentle wit, or enviable serenity each shares what each has to share! And yet as each listens, looking out to sea, each suppresses the sentence that will be spoken in due course, at the right moment of pause, perhaps as the sun sets. The sentence, of course, is “That reminds me.”

Is it novelty with which each charms the others? Occasionally, yes. Even the oldest, wisest man or woman can still be surprised by a never-guessed human possibility. But it is not usually novelty. Far more often it is a distinctively different and precious experience—that of embers flickering up in a corner of the hearth whence, for many years, no heat has been known to emanate. Or, to stay with the travel metaphor, it is the dim memory of a place visited just once, long ago, and all too briefly. One could have lingered, but one did not. Something else, somebody else seemed so pressing just then. But now, as I sit here listening to you, it all comes back to me. Yes, you bring it all back, and, to tell the truth, I am glad for the reminder.

Though the religious traditions into which we are born are old when we arrive (three hundred years past the French Enlightenment, even Western atheism is an old tradition), we ourselves always begin young within our separate traditions. The language we use to describe the process by which we then grow into maturity (if we do) varies, but rarely is the claim heard that the run of good men and good women begin at their destination. It is all but universally conceded that for everyone there is always some distance to traverse and that the crossing is likely to be arduous.

And what of the resources for this journey? When the cruise is over for the three who meet on board, their separate journeys will continue. In all likelihood, no one of them will depart with much new baggage. Each will seem to travel on with more or less the original baggage. But inside that baggage, or inside that old treasure chest, if you will, there will have been a rearrangement. Old resources in there will be mysteriously available for new purposes, and new resources for old purposes. If I, as a Christian, may offer a special compliment to Buddhism in this foreword, it would be that, again and again, this is what Buddhism has done. The Buddhist presence in the religious world is far larger than a head-count of Buddhists can reveal.

We live in an era in which the experience of fidelity to native tradition often calls for a kind of conversion, an era in which what is conventionally called conversion often feels to the convert like the very opposite of apostasy. But these are the limit experiences. Short of each extreme, there is more commonly the complex, endlessly rewarding, and deeply fascinating process of selective approach and avoidance, anger and embrace, exploration, acceptance and repudiation within the confines— almost always less confining than they first seem—of a given tradition. This is the process that with intellectual acumen, humor, intelligence, and often with great beauty is on display in this book.

I was going to end this little foreword by writing, “In its quiet way, this book will remain a landmark,” but that sentence in its ponderous conventionality seemed so unlike the sort of sentence one reads here. “Hey, Miles,” I hear one of the contributors object, “Have you ever met a noisy landmark?” Take that as a hint, dear reader. Open anywhere. You will not be disappointed.

Jack Miles
The Getty Center
Winter 2003

 

How to cite this document:
© Harold Kasimow, John P. Keenan, and Linda Klepinger Keenan, Beside Still Waters (Wisdom Publications, 2003)

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Beside Still Waters by Harold Kasimow, John P. Keenan, and Linda Klepinger Keenan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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