Compassion and Meditation: The Spiritual Dynamic between Buddhism and Christianity, by Jean-Yves Leloup
Inner Traditions, 9781594772771, 165 pp., 2009
A French Orthodox priest teaching meditation in a Zen dojo, this might seem strange but such is the life of Jean-Yves Leloup. A long time practitioner of Hesychast, a Christian form of meditation, Leloup shares his experience in this form as well as his understanding of and connection to Buddhism. He believes that meditation without compassion is lacking something, and in the same thought that compassion without meditation is incomplete.
While it would be an oversimplification to attribute compassion to Christianity, and meditation to Buddhism, and try to combine them; Leloup does think that both systems contain both compassion and meditation, but that their differences and similarities can support each other. He is not alone; he briefly traces an interesting history linking Christian and Buddhist practices and ideologies in religious texts going back to the 1700’s.
Many people might not realize there is a tradition of meditation in Christianity; Leloup illustrates this fact and with some fascinating etymologies and a different translation suggests that Jesus recommended a form of breath focused meditation.1 Leloup describes Hesychast meditation, and gives a lot of great advice for meditation in general. While impressed with the advice on meditation, during a reread I noted his description of meditation and advice seemed to be either missing information, or it was targeted at people who already meditate.
The book does well linking Buddhism and Christianity, as with Leloup’s goal not “to mix the Dhammapada with the Gospels, nor to oppose them to each other.”2 Similarities in practices and doctrine regarding compassion and meditation may be illustrated, but Leloup keeps the two systems clearly defined, a quality to his writing I appreciated. Despite his life as priest he is not afraid to admit that “Buddhists have taught me something about how to practice the teaching of the Gospels” and even goes so far as to say “one of the most authentic Christians I have ever met, a man who truly practices the teachings of the Gospel, is the Dalai Lama.”3
This book was a refreshing read. Too often when a book discusses two religious systems it tries to put one above the other, or tries too hard to erase any differences. Leloup takes the middle path and discusses two faiths without making one out to be superior, and without making them into one practice. Christianity and Buddhism are both revered, and kept distinct, complimenting each other like Mind and Heart; Compassion and Meditation.