The similarities of religions is consistent with the obvious insight that behind all religions are people — not gods, Bodhisattvas, Mind or Oneness. For example, unsurprisingly, efforts to acquire worldly prosperity are a common theme among the majority of Christians and Buddhists. This theme struck me as I read about Vajrayana Buddhism today.
Vajrayana is one form of Buddhism but not a sect of Buddhism — it can be found within several types of Buddhism. Click on the diagram to see a larger map. David Chapman has an excellent post which clarifies exactly what Vajrayana Buddhism is, but unless one practices Buddhism or daydreams of practicing Buddhism, this may just more unnecessary religious details to clutter your mind. So for those of you wise enough not to clutter your minds further, I wanted to share one phrase from David’s post– “Worldly Yanas” — and discuss it in relationship to Christian religiosity.
Yanas are paths or practice/goal types within the huge variety of mind tools labeled as “Buddhism”. VajraYANA is just one, and you are probably familiar with the MahaYANA and the HinaYANA paths. David untangles the Yana knot here in another post.
For this post I simply want to say that most of non-Western Buddhism practices “Worldly Yana” much like most Christianity around the world practices some form of the “Prosperity Gospel”. Even broader, I think most religion is very worldly. First, let’s look what David has to tell us about Buddhism’s “Worldly Yana”.
The vast majority of Tibetans, including nearly all monks, practiced the “worldly yanas,” whose aim is better material conditions in this life or future lives. (See Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies.)
In his previous post he explains
Before the Protestant Reformation of Buddhism in the 1800s, it was extremely rare for laypeople to practice Sutrayana. Instead, they practiced the “worldly yana.” That is also called the “yana of gods and men” because its goal is a better rebirth—as a god or man—within the world, rather than to exit the world into nirvana. Its path “accumulates merit” through virtuous action, and does not include meditation. Traditional texts waffle on whether this yana counts as “Buddhism” or not. They say it’s better than nothing, but not really different from being a virtuous non-Buddhist.
On my morning walk I reflected how the Christianity of most my friends, family and acquaintances consists only going to church a few times of month — no Bible study, no significant communion prayer life, no mission work, no evangelizing, no witnessing, and certainly no working of miracles. Their religion is “doing the right thing”, going to church and sending their kids to church, praying for help from God and feeling a bit more sure about the afterlife. All this is a sort of me-me-me prosperity mentality but sanctified to give social signals of being a good person.
I’ve written elsewhere that maybe viewing these sort of believers as Casual vs Doctrinal Christians may be helpful. But “Prosperity Gospel” thinking is a “yana” in Christianity where every Christian has it within his or her religiosity to some degree and I think it is the predominate yana of the planet. Though a person may confess otherwise, worldliness is actually a huge part of most religious mentality even if it may be cloaked in sanctimonious language and buried under theological knots.