The story of Jesus created the Christian world. Jesus was born of a virgin mother, Mary. Three wise kings followed the North Star to lay gifts at his cradle in the manger. He was raised as a carpenter by Mary’s husband, Joseph. A young woman from the family of Lazerus fell in love with Jesus, but Jesus could not reciprocate. When Joseph died, Jesus went out into the wilderness to find God. He first came upon John the Baptist, a relative of his. Jesus asked John to Baptize him, and when he did a dove entered into Jesus and God spoke to all those watching that this was his son with whom he is pleased. Jesus then went out into the desert for 40 days where he was tempted by the devil by wealth, power and the like. Jesus then went back to his mother’s villiage where his first two followers were waiting for him. After he healed from his desert wounds, he went of a friend’s wedding party. One of his first two followers developed doubts wondering whether it was right to be at a wedding when Judea was under Roman occupation. Mary encouraged Jesus to perform a miracle to establish faith in that one follower. So Jesus turned water into wine. Then he went to another village and the priests of the village wanted to expose Jesus as a charlatan so they sent to him a case of a woman who was to be stoned for adultry. Jesus said “let he who is without sin throw the first stone,” and everybody went away in wonder. Then Lazarus died and Jesus went to his tomb and raised him from the dead. The High Priest of the Temple then feared that Jesus could spark a rebellion, which Rome would then crush along with the Temple and all of the blood of the direct descendants of the prophets, so he wanted Jesus dead. King Herod, the Jewish king, feared that Jesus was coming to be considered as the King of the Jews so he wanted Jesus dead. The Roman Governor feared that if there were a rebellion, Rome would kill him because it was tired of having to station so many troops to hold an area from an unruly tribe. So the Roman Governor wanted him dead too. Jesus realized that by willingly sacrificing himself as an act of love would pacify all of the conflict, bring peace and unleash a great wave of faith in God that was to become the Christian world. He later said in the garden before being arrested that he would sacrifice himself to show people that you can love until the very end. He then had the Last Supper with his disciples where he offered bread as his body and wine as his blood as his covenant with God’s people. Judas then turns him in for money, Jesus is arrested, taken to the priests who rule that he should be killed, but only the Roman Governor could declare a death sentence, so they sent him to the Governor. The Governor didn’t want to trigger a revolution by being the one who killed him, so he said it was for Herod to decide. Herod did not want to be the one to kill him because then the people would totally hate him and he would lose his crown. So Herod sent him back to the Priests, who then took him again to the Governor. The Governor then flogged him and gave him a thorny crown but said he would not kill him. This forced the Priests to beg so that he could avoid blame but still order the crucifixion. Jesus then had to carry his cross up the hill. He was then hung up on the cross. At one point he said of his killers, “forgive them father for they know not what they do”, then just before the end before Jesus was to die he voiced “Oh God, why have you forsaken me?” He then followed by willingly offering himself in sacrifice to save all beings from their sins and then he dies. When he dies, the Temple of the High Priest cracks. They then bury Jesus, but three days later he rises from the dead. Jesus then went to his disciples, showed them that he was alive, encouraged them to go spread the good news, then promised that he would be with them until the end of time. With this very brief account I have glossed over an extremely profound story, but I have at least tried to lay out the main themes for purposes of this blog post.
So as a Kadampa, how do I view this story, what does it teach me about the Dharma? Really, I could write about 10 posts on this, so I will have to stick with the main points.
- All great beings have a great birth story. Every being, actually, has a birth story. It is actually quite useful to know our birth story. Our birth story will have a big impact on our entire life’s trajectory. Founders of paths always have great birth stories as a means of inspiring deep faith in the society within which the religion is being born. Jesus had the immaculate conception, wise kings, etc. Buddha had being born as a prince, the elephants coming down, etc. Venerable Geshe-la was born on Buddha’s Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day. Buddha is the founder of the Dharma in this world and Venerable Geshe-la is one of his “prophets” who appeared in a certain cultural context of the modern West.
- Miracles depend upon faith in those benefiting from the miracle. Jesus performed all sorts of miracles so that others could generate faith in him. But each time before he did a miracle, he always asked whether the other person believed he could heal them, raise somebody from the dead, etc. After they said yes, then the miracle happened. When we understand the relationship between emptiness, karma and blessings this makes perfect sense. Blessings function to activate certain karmic seeds, such as the seeds of being healed. Faith in holy beings opens the blinds of our mind to let the sunlight of their blessings to enter our mind and activate the seed. The seed itself is just a karmic appearance, as is everything else. So if we have these three, emptiness, karma and blessings, then miracles are perfectly possible.
- Jesus had to endure all that he did as a human would, so even though he was an emanation from the Dharmakaya, he conventionally showed the aspect of enduring all that he did as a human being. The purpose of this is to show that if he can do it as a human, then I can do it as a human too. Otherwise, people can dismiss his deeds as only possible because he was already a holy being.
- Jesus is a Buddha of purification and love. All of the torment that was inflicted upon him was him taking on the negative karma of all living beings. By generating faith in him as somebody who has taken upon himself all of our negative karma, we receive his special blessings which function to cleanse our mind of all negativity. Likewise, he is a Buddha of love. He said in the garden that he is voluntarily allowing himself to be killed so that he could show all beings that you can love all the way to the end. He realized that by giving his life, he could purify completely the collision between Rome, the Jewish rebels and the High Priests. Because he willfully gave his life in this way, this collision was purified, which then later paved the way for Christianity to eventually spread to the Roman empire where it has come to dominate Western civilization.
- Assuming Jesus had a perfect realization of emptiness, there is nothing that would necessarily prevent him from himself rising from the dead. When we die, our consciousness can stay in our body for up to three days. If we have control over our mind and winds, I don’t see any particular reason why he could not reinfuse himself into his subtle body and body. But I think more likely what the explanation is is the disciples had on their minds very powerful karmic seeds of faith in Jesus. Since Jesus’s body is an emanation body of a Buddha, he could bless the minds of the disciples which activates these seeds of faith which then enables them to see his emanation body again. If Je Tsongkhapa and other Buddhas can appear to people after they have passed away through this mechanism, there is no reason why Jesus could not have done the same.
- Jesus helped the people of the time modernize their understanding of God’s law. When holy beings first come, they establish their spiritual path and the people understand it and follow it purely. But over time, people begin to grasp at the letter of the teachings and not their meaning. As the karmic circumstance of the world continues to change, the letter of the teachings no longer perfectly fit with the new karmic conditions of the world, the same words no longer transmit the same meaning. But not understanding practitioners should follow the meaning and not the letter of the words, some can become fundamentalist and sectarian in their interpretation of the teachings – sticking to the literal words dogmatically, even under circumstances where it is not appropriate to do so. This is a danger for any spiritual tradition. This had happened to the High Priests, and Jesus came and explained the meaning of the teachings. Some of the Priests considered that blasphemy and contrary to Moses’ law, and so they therefore wanted him dead since they viewed him as spreading false teachings. Venerable Geshe-la has done the same thing for us by bringing the meaning of the Kadampa teachings into a modern context. We are very fortunate to be born at a time of spiritual rejuvination in this way. In many respects, we are like those fortunate enough to be the direct disciples of Je Tsongkhapa or Jesus.