I have more or less been interested in the teachings of the Buddha since I was a teenager. I don’t recall precisely what my introduction to to the tradition was, but when I read the core concepts of Buddhists, I identified with them immediately. Throughout my life I may have gone through phases where I may have considered myself a “Buddhist,” but I usually return to an opinion that it is pointless because identification and self-concept are antethical to the fundamentals of Zen.
People who are aware of my interest in Buddhism often ask how it relates to Christianity. For a Christian, it is wrong to worship false gods, or to find any “way” to the “father” beyond Christ, since he is “the only Truth and the only way to the Father.” Thus, it is common for many Christians to assume that no Christian should follow Buddhism beyond a cursory understanding of it in an academic manner.
This is not necessarily the case. First of all, Buddhism is not an orthodox religion, and perhaps is not even a religion at all by some standards. By that I mean that there is no proper or right way to follow or subscribe to the teachings and traditions of the Buddha.
Furthermore, one could argue that there are no concrete beliefs in core Buddhism about God or what kind of conceptual relationship you should have with Him. Any mythological attributes are usually cultural adaptations and additions by others over the millenia. Therefore the objective of Buddhist practice is not to find or follow God in any manner that is comparable to Christian tradition.
There are Buddhist traditions that have created social norms around these ideas. There are Buddhist traditions that believe in particular interpretations of Karma and reincarnation, etc. However, I would argue that these are particular manifestations of tradition that became reified over time for the sake of tradition. These are most always preserved as culture rites and in my opinion have nothing to do with Siddhartha Gautama and the insight he achieved.
A tradition of non-tradition exists in Zen Buddhist circles around the world, particularly in the west, that adopt or appropriate the core ideas of Buddhist practice without the historical baggage or theology. To simplify matters, lets just say that these people are not “Buddhists,” they are simply engaged in a practice that leads them toward a general “awakening of conciousness,” which gets to the core of what Buddhism is all about. This would be a sufficient description of what I try to do.
This awakening of consciousness, if anything, will only aid a Christian in his or her understanding of Christ’s teachings. From the perspective of an person who has been in Zen practice for some time, the scriptures that have been most tightly attributed to actual sayings of Jesus of Nazareth by top theologians bear an explosive and remarkable similarity to the insights of awakening, and the saying of Siddhartha Gautama.
I personally would not consider the word “prayer” as it is translated from the eastern practices to be equivalent to “prayer” of the Christian Judeo traditions. A buddhist monk does not pray to God, nor do they appeal to Buddha or anybody. A more apt description would be that they “meditate.” Meditiation is not an appeal to a god, or anything or anyone. It is a practice of controlling the mind to lead to awakening, and understanding.
Meditation is also part of very advanced forms of prayer used by Christian monks. Utilizing techniques of meditation, a Christian can open themselves to better channel the Holy Spirit and commune with God. Any Catholic or Russian orthodox monk will tell you that many advanced techniques of prayer utilize the same techniques of mind-honing used in Zen Practice. When introduced to Zen, they are instantly familiar with it.
We must also recall that Jesus’ own ascetic lifestyle was common in his age by those who were seeking to clear the mind and commune with a higher power.
So, I would say that a Christian can’t really be a Buddhist, if you define Buddhism a particular way, IE as a religion. However, if you consider the practice of meditation and core teachings of the Buddha as a technique to better hone your mind and body to the teachings of Christ, I believe it will be very fruitful to you.