While sitting at the foot of the Grand Buddha with my host group, Mr. Peng asked our interpreter, Jacey to explain Buddhism to me in a few short sentences. As she told me his request, she expressed that she wasn't sure she could. I said, "Let me try to tell you what I believe Buddism is about. Buddhists believe in respect for all things and all people. They believe that it is each individuals responsibility to find their path in life and that we should always be seeking to be better in all we do." As Jacey relayed, the group nodded and smiled. Mr. Feng, my local host, said, "You understand Buddhism well." Later that evening over dinner we all had a wonderful discussion about eastern philosophy.
Their written language is steeped in philosophy. It's fascinated me for many years. For example, the Chinese word for crisis is two symbols. Apart the symbols have their own meaning - danger and opportunity. Together, they mean crisis. It's the idea of yin and yang - that two seemingly opposite things are interconnected. It is deeply rooted in Taoist teachings.
In western philosophy, teachings and religion we tend to think black and white, good and bad, right or wrong. Meanwhile, the eastern thought will seek greater context and is not so quick to pass harsh judgement. As in the example above, a crisis is not necessarily bad - there is an opportunity if you seek it. Our job is to seek and learn.
During my time in China, I saw that, just as in the US, not all follow and take these philosophies to heart. But I spent a great deal of time with people who really do. I saw it in their actions and felt it in their spirit. They were humble, kind and gentle always watching for an opportunity to be the best at whatever they were doing at the moment. I saw it in how they were treating the people around them, how they were treating me and how they were approaching their work.
One day Mr. Peng said, "Our Buddha taught much the same as your Jesus Christ." It is true. And as I have thought of Christians I most respect I can say the same of them as I say about my new Chinese friends. They are humble, kind and gentle - always watching for an opportunity to be the best at whatever they are doing at the moment. The biggest difference I see between the two religious philosophies is that Buddhism is centered on self actualization. Buddha won't save you. He teaches you how to reach God. You must learn it. It's inwardly focused and works outward. Christianity is outwardly focused. We are powerless to find God and must be saved. No matter how we act or behave, it's the salvation that is the key. Overcoming the external force of sin is only accomplished by submission. There also tends to be a focus on pointing out and combating other people's sins - many seeing that as their responsibility as Christians.
As my hosts asked my thoughts on philosophy, I told them I am not a typical Christian or a typical American. I wasn't sure they understood. So I said "I think I was Buddhist in a past life and was born into a Christian family so I could try to understand Christians." That - they understood and it brought much laughter.