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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.