Wednesday, 21 May 2008
OK, You've Got Me Thinking.
It's not courage to look at what cannot be avoided and decide not to waste time and energy fretting about it - it's just common or garden variety laziness.
In a discussion on Being, we Christians are at a decided disadvantage because of what we believe about our Lord, as compared to the Buddha. Jesus had pretty much nothing to say (at least, directly) about the self, and about Being, and all the things in which I am so interested right at the moment. The teachings he left are slender, fragmentary and concerned more with behaviour than with metaphysics. Furthermore, his sayings were not recorded by himself, but by his followers who may or may not have fully understood what he was on about and who set them down in writing some decades after his death. Some of the most influential commentary on his life and work came from Paul who probably never met him - at least not in the everyday sense.
For Christians our faith is about Jesus - it is CHRISTianity after all, and although his teachings are vitally important who he was and what he was is even more important. We make the improbable claim that in the person of Jesus Bar-Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth in Galilee who lived in the time of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, the "primordial purity, luminosity of consciousness, unimaginable wisdom and infinite love that spontaneously and freely gives expression to the universe" did an absolutely bizarre thing - became incarnate within the confines of the universe created by that infinite love. By this we don't mean the divinity which can be reasonably argued to adhere to all sentient beings (or indeed, to all things). We mean something else - that the transcendent God has taken form with all the limits that form implies. Further, the death and resurrection of Jesus have completed the act of incarnation in that they have wrought some change in the structure of the universe and in the relationship of human beings with Being. Our heritage is not a carefully worked out window into the human soul such as the Dharma. We say that when God chose to reveal the nature of ultimate truth God gave, not teaching or spiritual practice, but a person. We have to work out ourselves, in the light of our experience of that person, what our teaching and spiritual practice is.
We Christians worked at it for 300 years, then got terribly confused when the Church as an institution became integrated with the larger culture of which it was a part and the needs of the institution, the needs of the culture and the need to be a body mediating spiritual truth became horribly intertwined. We still worked on it all, of course, but often with restriction and compromise, not all of which was conscious and/or acknowledged. Now in the early 21st Century the intertwining has become frayed; the institution, at least the bit of it in the vestigial Roman Empire is fading and we are free, free, thank God almighty, free at last to be what we were meant to be. (Admittedly this freedom is a bit worrying to those of us with a stake in the church's pension fund.)
So my Christian task is to explain to others Jesus and what he means for the nature of Being and how we relate to it. Many of the explanations worked out over the last couple of millennia don't mean much to many Christian people these days, let alone those who have left the fold or never been part of it. We need new explanations and of course to explain it all to others I must first be able to explain it to myself. The Buddha's analysis of the nature of humanity is, in my opinion, faultless. He anticipates psychoanalysis and cognitive science (and in many cases, quantum physics) by 2,500 years. His prescription for practice cannot be ignored but how does this analysis and his wisely enunciated path gel with the experienced presence of The Old Wise One taking form in Mary's son? Surely there is a bridge that can be formed between the wisdom of the East and particularly of the Buddha and the experience of the West? Karen Armstrong calls this an Axial Age, a time when such bridges- new explanations and syntheses - are spontaneously arising in many different places. Is she right?
I have the answer in two words: Meister Eckhart. Particularly, what you say about the void resonates with ME's concept of The Ground, and with his conception of God as No-Thing. However, this also gives me a problem. Although I have a good grasp, or so I think, of what Meister Eckhart is saying, finding the words to explain it to others is a personal challenge. As C.S. Lewis said, "any fool can speak learned language. It is the vernacular that is the real test. If you can't put your faith into it then either you don't understand it or you don't believe it."
I hope this gives a couple a leads as to where Buddhism and Christianity can perhaps speak to each other and be mutually informed, speaking from the friendly eye of the Gospel.
Lots of love,