In praise of Jesus!

Anybody who knows me well knows that one of the things I take most seriously is the advice to follow one tradition purely without mixing.  The actual instruction is while respecting and appreciating all other traditions, we should follow our own tradition purely without mixing.  This is the middle way between fundamentalism on one hand (only I am right, everyone else is wrong) and inventing your own religion on the other (mixing and matching many different traditions according to your own views).  Both of these are extremes which lead to problems, whereas respecting and appreciating all other traditions while following one’s own tradition purely without mixing leads to harmony and personal spiritual progress.

But sometimes I see Kadampa’s forgetting the first half of this advice to genuinely respect and appreciate other traditions.  Many people who come into Buddhism do so from having been raised in and subsequently rejected Christianity.  Some people come with very hostile views, even, towards Christianity.  Others may have some arrogance thinking that Buddhism is just hipper and smarter because of the teachings on emptiness, so they speak disparagingly and arrogantly towards other religions.  I have done all of these things myself in the past, and all of this is wrong.

Last night I watched a movie on the life of Jesus.  There is an entire DVD collection on the main stories of the bible that won someting like 11 Emmy awards that was really well done, and I watched the one on Jesus.  While I was watching, my daughter came down and was wondering why I, as a Buddhist, was watching something about Jesus.  She thought because I follow one path I am somehow prevented from believing in and appreciating other paths.  She was relieved to know this was not the case because it helps resolve a tension within herself of having lots of Christian family and being raised in Christian cultures, yet I am Buddhist.

So I thought I would write some of the things I really appreciated about the life of Jesus.

  1. He had to do all that he did while being only human.  While being the son of God, he accomplished all of his deeds as a human, with human constraints and limitations.  He had to face the same temptations of lust, power, the opportunity to kick off the Roman oppressors, etc.  He faced the same challenges of people trying to undermine him, dealing with relationships, etc.  He endured all of his sufferings as a man.  This is an inspiring example that if he can do all that he did as a man, then so can we.
  2. He healed through the power of others’ faith.  Very often when he was to perform some miracle, he always asked whether the other person believed.  When they did, then they or their loved ones were healed.  It is not that he had the power from his own side to heal, but the healing occured in dependence upon other’s faith.
  3. At several points in the story, he or others were obliged to expereince some suffering or dificulty to expose their doubts so that others could come to believe.  Examples include him turning water into wine, walking on water to save the disciples on the boat in the storm, Lazarus being raised from the dead, his being crucified to take on the sins of all, and his resurrection to show that he can overcome death.  His power comes primarily from other’s faith in him, so much of what he did was designed to increase others’ faith.  Of course different things work to increase others faith today, but at the time, that was how things were done.
  4. He said “blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the earth.”  It seems the essence of the Christian way is to identify those in greatest need, those who are the most lost, those who are the most outcast, and to bring them into the fold.  He cared for the poor and the sick, he did not judge the prostitutes or the tax collectors, He said, “he is the way”, and I think this is a large part of what he meant.  He was not afraid to take on the rich and powerful (the temple marketplace, the Jewish establishment at the time, etc.).  It is not surprising that Christianity is dying in Europe but being reborn in Africa and Latin America.  It is a theology that liberates the oppressed and downtrodden, and sadly the powerful have a tendency to hijack religion for their own worldly ends, often giving religion a bad name (when in reality, the fault lies not with the religion but by those who misuse it).
  5. At one point, he asked his followers, “what do you want from God?”  And somebody said, “forgiveness.”  So he said, “then forgive others.”  Then somebody said, “love.”  So he said, “then love others.”  Bascially, whatever we would want from God (however defined) we need to give to others.
  6. He was always quite playful with others, not stuck up and tight; yet he always submitted to the will of God, even when that meant the ultimate price, never putting his own preferences first.  This is an extraordinary subtle balance to attain.
  7. Even though he only taught for a very short period of time, his example and teachings have inspired billions for thousands of years.  Who amongst us can say the same?  Even a very short period of pure deeds by one small man from a destitute family can change the world.
  8. He said he lives in the hearts of men and will be with us until the end of the world.  This is extremely profound and reveals his nature.
  9. He spoke of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, the pure land is not somewhere else.

Unrelated to his example, I find it interesting that much of world history of the last 2000 years has been driven by a family fued amongst the sons of Abraham.  Jesus emerged from within the Jewish community, yet revitalized it by exposing how it has become corrupted by power.  The Jewish establishment sought compromise with Rome as the means of preventing the people and the temple from being wiped out.  They were not necessarily wrong or corrupt, but didn’t know what else to do.  The relationship between the Jews and Christians has always been an interesting one, sometimes tragic as in the holocaust, sometimes familial as in Western support for Israel.

It will be interesting to see how things evolve as power in the world shifts, for the first time in a very long time, from the Abrahamic nations to the East. Our job as Kadampas is tied up in this process.  I have lived my whole life in the Western world, dominated by Christianity but evolving into a pluralistic society based on the freedom of religions as the resolution of the last 2000 years of conflict.  Yet, internally, I am 100% Kadampa.  So I must fully learn to undertand and appreciate Christian society if I am to live within it as a Kadampa.  Learning how to do this is part of this larger transition the world is going through.

In any case, I think there is much to appreciate and respect in pure Christianity, and coming to appreciate and respect it, while following my own tradition purely without mixing in my own practice, is part of my path.

Your turn:  Explain what inspires you about Jesus or Christians, and how this has helped you become a better Kadampa.

15 thoughts on “In praise of Jesus!

  1. Thanks so much Ryan…. great insights. I was a Christian for many years and what inspired me most was Christs’ example – his selfless devotion to God (inspiring in me an understanding of the importance of devotion on the spriritual path – putting one’s Spiritual Guide before oneself, understanding their intention is always just to help you); his profound compassion for the needy and his practical assistance towards them; his acceptance and deep love of everyone, especially outcasts; his sacrifice of his life for others – willingness to die for others… willingness to go to hell for others!!…. this is beyond moving…. he exemplifies the actions of a bodhisattva – no concern for himself, just a wish for others to be happy and free from suffering…. and he gave the ultimate gift – his life…. i saw through all the dogma and supposed hypocracy of some Christians, which ex-followers seem so critical of… but, “he who has no sin cast the first stone…”

    but, for me, i experienced the most profound peace when I met Geshe-la that I knew i’d found a living Spiritual Guide, and i knew this is what I needed. I was an armchair Buddhist for years,,,, this path is so practical… the steps are laid out… and it also has quite a bit of magic, which i love,,, emptiness is the key to a magical, creative existence….. anyway, that’s my bit. much love to all, Jima

    • Jima’s comment covers my thoughts! It was only when I found Dharma that I realized that my approach to Christianity when I was younger actually mirrored guru devotion more than any theistic conception of worship or salvation. Jesus set a beautiful example that I still find just as inspiring as any the stories of the many geshes among our lineage gurus. However, as a Lutheran minister once said to me, Jesus gave us great teachings on what to do but didn’t lay out the how in the simple, explicit, step-by-step manner that we get in Buddhist traditions. I was explaining the Lamrim to him when he lamented that he wished Jesus had been as organized as Buddha. I reassured him that Buddha didn’t lay out the 84,000 Sutra teachings in the manner I had just explained – that I was the beneficiary of thousands of years of gurus and masters who had studied, trained, and practiced their entire lives in order to be able to present the Dharma in a way my unruly mind could understand.

      I get asked about Buddhism and my local center at least three to five times a day. This is most likely because everytime someone gives me a compliment or thanks me for some kind act, I nonchalantly say “well I’m a Buddhist.” It helps me remember the importance of relying on my spiritual guide (who helps me increase my good qualities) without weirding them out by explaining that my guru taught me how to behave that way and helps keep my pride and arrogance in check. However, I never encourage others to become Buddhist nor imply that the answers they need will all be found in my tradition. Instead, I encourage people not to be afraid to find “THEIR” spiritual path by exploring and searching and asking questions. But I also explain that my geshe says “everyone welcome” and so they are always welcome at any Kadampa center. I assure them that if they learn tools there that help them be more patient and kind, we don’t care what they call themselves. I tell Christians that they are welcome to come and if they learn tools that help them deepening their ability to live out Christ’s compassion teachings, we rejoice! In these times, most people aren’t trying to pick between religions much less decide which form of Buddhism is right for them. Most are just trying to keep their head above water and so the real choice they’re facing is whether to devote ANY time to spiritual pursuits generally. When they see someone who seems genuinely happy and calm, they wanna know if its possible for them to feel that way too. My guru tells me to share the Dharma he has given me by loving that person in the way that they most need and that won’t conflict with their current beliefs. I’m amazed at the relief that washes over people’s faces when I tell people, “Don’t worry, Buddhists don’t believe in prostheletyzing. Just check it out. If you find something that helps you rein in the hamster wheel of worries, wonderful. If not, you will keep looking. No big deal.” It reminds me that we live in a world where people aren’t accustomed to someone offering love and kindness without there being a catch.

      In these ways, I feel I am following my tradition and my guru’s guidance purely – loving all living beings with equinimity, cherishing them and their current beliefs, helping them find a happy mind, and focusing on my intention instead of worrying about what others may or may not be thinking. The more I understand others’ beliefs, the better I can do this. Besides, they may be so much more realized than I am that they don’t need all the detailed instructions and practices I need to get there. If so, I rejoice!

      So I don’t see or feel any contradiction between practicing my tradition’s teachings purely AND understanding the traditions and beliefs of others. Everyone needs Dharma. But not from my mouth – from my heart. My guru tells me to train my mind so I can treat everyone with great affection, warmth and skill. This always requires listening to their beliefs and understanding where they’re coming from not so I can convince them to adopt my tradition but so I can give them love. And, maybe, help them feel confident finding a tradition or teaching that helps them find the happy, loving, peaceful mind that Geshe-la has helped me find. Wasn’t it Jesus who said give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime? Or was that Tilopa? Does it matter?

  2. This is a lovely article Kadampa Ryan. I think that the cultural pervasiveness of Christianity (in the UK at any rate) means that it is the default religion for us. To become a Buddhist in this context means that we have a spiritual need and have decided that Christianity, for whatever reason, cannot satisfy that need. That rejection can become overdone, and we reject Christianity as a whole, rather than the parts which mean that it does not meet our needs. I know our local vicar well, and he is a pure servant of the community. He works tirelessly on behalf of others, and sets a good example to everyone – including myself.

  3. When I was a child I always felt protected by Jesus. I don’t know why, I never liked going to church and didn’t really practice the faith despite being raised Catholic.
    I love the story, fable, myth or whatever it is, of Jesus’s birth, and I was always touched by and love seeing manger scenes. When I first started to practice Buddhism, due to my immaturity, this created a conflict for me, I felt I had to give up something even though I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

    Now I see it is like the birth of our Buddha Nature in the dank and smelly stable of our mind. Like a infant seed of the light of compassion that needs to be nurtured. Everything in the manger scene is deeply symbolic to me.
    At Christmas I am always deeply moved to tears while listening to the most religious sounding Christmas carols. I play them and feel so deeply connected to Geshe-la. Like I am singing praises to my own Buddha Nature,
    Oh come all ye faithful, Oh Holy Night, Hark the Herald Angels sing, Joy to the World. They are so beautiful and I feel connected to my Buddha seed of Compassion, to Buddha’s Compassion and to all living beings when I hear them.
    So Geshe-la has been protecting and guiding me in many forms throughout this life and in past lives. There is no conflict in my mind at all. Jesus is a manifestation of compassion for me.
    Thank you for this beautiful article and everyones lovely responses.

  4. Love for Others, Compassion for Others and Taking and Giving are the main teachings I received when “I went to church and Sunday School”.

    I am so grateful for a Spiritual Guide that teaches me the methods of practice to realize the same.
    xoxo

  5. “At one point, he asked his followers, “what do you want from God?” And somebody said, “forgiveness.” So he said, “then forgive others.” Then somebody said, “love.” So he said, “then love others.” Bascially, whatever we would want from God (however defined) we need to give to others.” – beautiful

  6. Thanks for the lovely article. Very topical. I was raised as a Catholic in Brazil and by choice went deep in my religious studies at very young age asking my parents to take me to church while my siblings preferred to steer away. I still appreciate every little bit of what I learnt then and see no contraction with my Buddhist learnings now, but simply a different manifestation of the path at an earlier stage, suitable to the environment where I was living, to what I was able to absorb, and importantly, helping me develop essential values especially love and compassion preparing me for what I am experiencing now. Enlightened beings are guiding us all the way, in different shapes and forms, we can’t tell who they are and how they appear. Yet, religion/paths are individual experiences, they are pure only through the purity of the mind of the individual that follows that path. While I am pro of non-mixing, there are good resources that can help reconcile some apparent differences, such as Living Buddha Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh.

  7. When I met Kadam Dharma I still had a lot of respect for the teachings of Jesus. I was raised as a Catholic and was taken to church every Sunday throughout my childhood. Now I can really appreciate the important experiences of that childhood: learning to remain still and quiet for an hour or so each week, training my mind to listen to lenghthy sermons, the joy of singing with a faithful congregation and sharing in ancient rituals and prayer services. I used to enjoy the practise of going to confession, when we would enter a cubicle and disclose our ‘sins’ to the Priest who we could not see but could only hear. I know I was unusual in liking this experience, but I would come away feeling cleaner and lighter, I guess it served as a purification practice.

    As I got older I had lots of questions, it wasn’t easy to find anyone sufficiently qualified or confident to provide the answers I was seeking. This lead me to take a degree in Theology at University. I hoped that I would find all the answers there and that all the doubts that were challenging my faith might be resolved. They weren’t. I studied Hinduism, Judaism, Islam a whole variety of captivating mystical Mystical Traditions…I found so much that resonated with me and so much that I couldn’t make sense of at all. It became tempting to create my own ‘religious cocktail’, taking the bits that I liked from some traditions and rejecting any aspects that didn’t fit with the world view I wanted to hold on too. I ended up with very little faith and no actual path or practice.

    In my third year I studied Buddhism, the Professor who presented Buddhism to me was a self proclaimed ‘Theravadin’, or a ‘Hinayanist’. I was captivated by what he taught, however I didn’t experience any great connection with him as a person and at this stage in my life that ‘coloured’ my view of what he was presenting. I was really wanting to encounter someone who embodied what they taught, someone who was like a living example of the tradition they were representing. I was longing to be like one of the disciples of Jesus, to be a able to hear his words directly, know him personally and follow his path with his living guidance.

    In my quest for such a personal teacher or ‘Guru’, once I had finished my degree, I took off to India. I was pretty young and travelled alone. Most of what I saw there I found quite shocking and quite alien, I had hoped to meet a figure like ‘Gandhi’ but it didn’t happen for me. It was a huge learning experience, what I mostly learned was how much I loved to connect with human beings, how much we had in common, how they were just like me, trying to find answers, trying to get directions and largely feeling lost and confused. I still value all that I was taught by the huge variety of people I met in India.

    When I returned, I lost my spiritual way. I was teaching Philosophy and Religious Studies in Catholic Colleges and was facing students with the same questions that I had still not found satisfactory answers too. I became more interested in their welfare and happiness than their Religious Education and after nine years gave up teaching to re-train as a counsellor.

    Counselling Theory and Practice, particularly the work of Carl Rogers, became my new religion. Here was a philospophy of life and a method for helping others find their own way that I became completely captivated by. It felt like I had all the answers. How to raise my children, how to relate to my husband …I believed I had it all covered by offering, ’empathy, unconditional regard, and congruence’… What I hadn’t fully appreciated was just how hard that was going to be without some very special aspiration, discipline and guidance.

    Eventually, I met Kadam Dharma. I fought with the ‘authority’ that I felt the teacher assumed when he taught, I questionned the source of the teachings, recognizing much that I felt I had heard before in the teachings of Jesus, I put up a lot of resistance and yet at the same time I completely fell in love with it. I saw that the teacher did indeed embody the message. This human being whose eyes lit up when he taught, who seemed to me to be transported to some other world when his eyes were closed and he engaged in meditation. I wanted to be a disciple.

    A point came when I felt I had to put aside all the other ‘interests’ that I had held on to along the way. I even remember feeling the need to address the ‘Jesus’ that I had kept some faith in, express my appreciation to him for having got me so far and requesting permission to follow this new teacher who I now believed could take me as far as I would ever need to go. It felt to me at that time that I had the full support and blessing of Jesus who had been my Sprirtual Guide until then, to follow this new Teacher who would be my Spiritual Guide from there on. I remember experiencing a delightful feeling of inner reconciliation at this time, it was as if everything that had gone before, all that I had learned, all that I had experienced had been completely necessary to get me to this point where I could meet this teacher and complete my spiritual journey. I still smile deeply at the memory of this moment.

    Now I have no wish and no need to mix Kadam Dharma with any other religious tradition, and still I feel completely free to delight in the pure faith of others who follow other spiritual traditions and show my respect for them. I frequently recall a festival teaching where I recall hearing Geshe La express immense respect for those Christians who still have faith in their Spiritual Guide even though they have not been able to see him for thousands of years! His words really touched me, and it is his view that I would now wish to adopt.

    I didn’t really plan to write such a long response and I could write so much more…

    Will leave it there for now,

  8. ma maman avait son père bouddhiste et sa mère catholique; tous les 2 étaient très pratiquants et avaient chacun une pièce de méditation séparé d’un couloir ; ma maman préferait la piece de sa mère qui était claire, pleine de fleurs, alors que la piece de son père était sombre et son père méditait beaucoup et cela n’amusait pas ma maman! ils discutaient souvent entre eux sur leur foi et ils ont enseigné à ma mère : ” quand il y a de l’amour, il n’y a pas de problèmes”

  9. This was lovely and very insightful as always. Being raised Jewish, he was always one of the most revered Rabbis. I find it very easy to view Jesus as an emanation of a Buddha, that was appropriate and needed for the people of that time. You could boil all of the Judaic teachings into one bottom line, which is our sole purpose on earth is to be a “mizvah” (a blessing) in this world. I also find it interesting that one theory is between 12 and 30 he studied with a Jewish sect (and was a monk), the Essenes, who’s scriptures start with “without beginning” and then another theory is :
    “These claim that Jesus went to India or elsewhere in the Near East and studied Buddhism.
    How in the world is this theory supported? Because much of Jesus’ radical teaching, and many of his proverbs and sayings­ including those in the Gospel of Thomas, a non-canonical collection of sayings attributed to Jesus­can be found in Buddhist writings that predate Jesus and his ministry. Indeed, supporters of this theory point out that the underlying philosophy behind Jesus’ teachings is parallel to Buddhism. These parallel issues include the kingdom of God being a present reality and oneness with God. In any case, the theory suggests that following his studies with the Buddhists, Jesus returned to teach his radical philosophy of a self-giving life to Israel.”

    But all of that is just “stuff” – what you said about respecting others’ faith is what I feel is the most important. Any faith that will generate an open heart and kindness towards others is a giant step for mankind and a pure land. I believe through that alone, the ultimate path towards enlightenment will become apparent to all living beings, in their own time. Thanks again for a great read!

  10. Thanks Ryan for this article i was raised as a Catholic ,and have sincere respect for this religion, i love Jesus and i learned so many beautiful things from his teachings.to love my family ,and respect my parents,to care,to share,to enjoy,to believe,to have faith….now i understand even more, thanks to my Spiritual Guide, many of Jesus teachings,trough the eyes of Dharma.i am very happy now,to have a living Guru and to continue the spiritual Path at his side.follow his instructions,purely and no mix.

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