In the epilogue of the Vimalakirti Sutra, a Mahayana text, there is a conversation between a prince named Candracchattra -- the historical Buddha in a previous life -- and a buddha named Bhaisajyaraja, which means "king of medicine." However, the identities of these personages are not so important as what is said.
Candracchattra was told that the supreme worship is dharma-worship, and he sought out Bhaisajyaraja to find out what dharma-worship might be. Bhaisajyaraja's answer drags on a bit, but he sums up by saying "Dharma-worship consists of determining the Dharma according to the Dharma; applying the Dharma, according to the Dharma" (Robert Thurman translation, page 99).
Without getting hung up on the word worship, which I realize raises some red flags for some of us, let us consider what this is saying.
Awhile back I wrote a post asking for more information on the Four Reliances, or Reliables. Dosho Port dropped by to recommend this web page, which is a talk on the Reliances as given in the Vimalakirti Sutra. I'm not sure who the speaker is, but there's a lot of good stuff in the talk, and it brings up the dharma-worship question. What does determining the dharma according to the dharma mean?
"So what does this mean? It means, not determining, or not understanding, the Dharma according to that which is not the Dharma. For us in the West it means, not determining, not understanding the Dharma, according to Christian beliefs, whether conscious, unconscious, or semiconscious. It means not determining or understanding the Dharma in accordance with modern secularist, humanist, rationalist, scientific, modes of thought. It means not determining or understanding the Dharma in accordance with the fanciful ideas of the worthy, but woolly-minded people who organize such things the Festival of body, mind and spirit.
"The Dharma is to be determined in accordance with the Dharma. The Dharma is to be understood in accordance with the Dharma. To determine it or understand it in accordance with anything else, anything other than itself, is to falsify it, is to distort it, is to betray it. In the same way, Dharma worship consists of applying the Dharma according to the Dharma. If one tries for example to break off a bit of the Dharma, so to speak, and apply it according to Christian ideas, it will not work - that is to say it will not work as the Dharma. There's no such thing as 'Christian Zen' for example. The Dharma is to be applied according to the Dharma."
I agree with this, although I suspect some of you will not.
There is a way to view Buddhism through a Christian lens that is quite lovely; there is a way to view Christianity through a Buddhist lens that is also quite lovely. However, the Christianity viewed through a Buddhist lens would be a bit alien to most Christians. And the Christian lens focused on Buddhism tends to filter out the perfection of wisdom that is unique to Buddhism.
There aren't any "shoulds" or "shouldn'ts" here, and I'm not demanding that everyone drop blended traditions. A blended tradition may be just right for some parts of the path. I'm saying that Buddhism can't be blended with another religion or philosophy without distorting the dharma. And notice I'm using "Buddhism" and "dharma" to mean slightly different things (see "dharma").
As the unknown author said, the same thing goes for secularist, humanist, rationalist, and scientific modes of thought. If you engage with Buddhism by demanding that it conform to some per-determined standard, whether cultural, intellectual, or ideological, then you've closed the door to the dharma. What remains may be a perfectly satisfactory philosophy, but it's not the dharma.
This is a difficult thing to explain, and it may make no sense if you haven't engaged in a Buddhist practice tradition for a while. Very simply, Buddhism proposes that there's something you're not seeing, something you don't understand and that can't be grasped intellectually. The practice allows dharma to enter you and reveal itself. If you put conditions on it at the beginning, or keep your mind closed to anything you don't already understand, dharma cannot reveal itself.