My brother Guhyavajra (Murray) is two years younger than me. He owns a building company in Norwich and is an order member of the Western Buddhist Order. Below is an email he sent me today, as part of the continuing dialogue between Buddhist and Christian thought. I found it illuminating and helpful, and there's one or two points I will respond to later when I gather my thoughts properly.
Come to think of it, I haven't asked his permission to reproduce this, so Murray, if you're reading, sue me why don't you? But remember I'm the one who's got a lawyer for a daughter.
I've read your blog and let me say that I hope I have as much courage as
you when I discover that my intestines are dropping out my backside as
they inevitably must. To cut to the chase you raise a couple of interesting questions in relation to Christianity and Buddhism which to my mind can be resolved with reference to the first verse of the bible.
Good old Genesis. This is the Revised Standard Version and I suspect not a great translation of the meaning of the Hebrew but sufficient to get some philosophical traction nonetheless.
' In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was
without form and void: and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.'
If the earth was without form then the earth didn't exist because the earth, and us, is the world of form. So without form no earth and all the rest. But without an earth there are also no planets and no universe because the whole unimaginably vast system is interconnected and mutually interdependent, so that without the smallest butterfly the greatest planet cannot be; and where does that leave our atmosphere and seas? So at the beginning of Genesis we have the void, and God breathes upon the face of this deep. So what is the void?
The void, it is worth noting, predates form, predates anything conditioned. This void is unconditioned inasmuch as it is not dependent upon form, upon that which is conditioned. But clearly it is not the void of black space that the astronauts experience when walking in space because imbued in the void is the primordial purity, luminosity of consciousness, unimaginable wisdom and infinite love that spontaneously and freely gives expression to the universe. Perhaps God breathes upon the face of the void in a purely poetic sense because God and the void are not two. The unimaginable power and potent intelligence which allows for the fact that anything is here in the first instance, not to speak of the wonder of a consciousness possessing spiritual creativity, points to the fact that the face of the void is imbued with colour, vitality, wonder and spiritual potentiality.
The Buddha's teaching correctly applied is the principal means for seeing directly through to the nature of this unconditioned void here now in the present moment experientially and immediately. Given that God exists beyond time, beyond form, before creation, means that God still exists unconditioned in the present. If something stands beyond time then it is eternally present, and this is immediately visible to the wise. The joke is we seek it in every place and under every stone, but it is right under our noses all the time. How can we ever have been separate from it except in our deluded imaginings?
The Buddha does not deny the existence of self except to say that the self is impermanent, conditioned, subject to change and not master of events. He points out that we reify self in the sense of the Platonic noumena so that our relative self is viewed as being permanent, separate, solid and master of events. (Actually the Buddha himself didn't know about Plato but he did understand the phenomena of reification) This delusion is a refraction of consciousness in much the same way as a stick bends when you put it into a swimming pool. It's a refraction of light but a real refraction all the same. For the initiated kid it seems bent, but for the older brother showing kid brother, he knows it's a refraction. So with our view of self. We are convinced that without self being ceases. In fact the opposite is true, fixed personality view is a parasite on existence holding us to the bottom of an 8000 mile gravity well. In the process of transcending this dynamic, going beyond it one discovers, almost unwittingly, the unconditioned nature which is the true and solid foundation of ones being and crucible of ones true individuality, that stands beyond birth and death. We call it the Buddha nature, Bodhicitta, Prajna. For this there is no preparation, nothing that one can do and nothing that one has done that can deserve it. It is a pure gift. An unbelievable miracle, the basic fact of life. The great tragedy is that most people have both feet up in the trough of life happily munching away oblivious to the fact, which means their happiness has an underlying existential anxiety that makes the process of life a rather fragile business.
I hope this gives a couple a leads as to where Buddhism and Christianity perhaps see eye to eye, speaking from the friendly eye of the Dharma.
Lots of love