Buddha and Jesus

A friend of mine has a baby. He’s closing in on two years old, I think. He’s been raised around a lot of Buddhists. He’s spent time at San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara. For a while now he’s called any sort of religious figure type item he comes across “Buddha.” He sees a statue of Buddha, he says, “Buddha!” He sees a fat Hotei figure, he says, “Buddha!” (just like most Americans). He sees an African ceremonial mask, he says, “Buddha!”

My friend also has a fundamentalist Christian mom who she’s visiting. Her baby saw a statue of Jesus at the house and pointed at it saying, “Buddha!” So my friend’s mom carries the baby over to my friend and says, “He has to learn the difference between Jesus and Buddha!”

This is especially funny to me because lately I, the world renowned Buddhist teacher (haw!), have been reading almost nothing but books about Jesus. This has been going on for quite a while. I’ve mentioned it here in this blog a number of times. But I find books about Jesus endlessly fascinating these days whereas most books about Buddha are sort of meh.

That being said, I have read a whole buttload of books about Buddha already. So it’s not really that Buddha’s story in and of itself is less interesting to me. It’s just that I steeped myself in it for a very long time and now I’m kinda done. Or at least I need a break.

But Jesus was my first religious inspiration, in the form of the movie Jesus Christ Superstar. That film got me wanting to know who this Jesus fellow was way back when I was ten years old. Recently I’ve gotten pretty deeply into scholarship about the historical Jesus, particularly the works of Bart Ehrman. His latest book, Did Jesus Exist, is really good. Although his interest in the matter of deliberate forgeries in the Christian canon is less fascinating to me. Still, it’s something that ought to be examined.

One of the most intriguing aspects of contemporary Christian scholarship is the application of the historical/critical method to the New Testament. This has been going on amongst scholars for around 200 years now but has only recently become a big topic of interest among non-scholars like me. The historical/critical method looks at the New Testament documents the way historians look at other documents and tries to see what we can learn of the real history behind the legends.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of this kind of stuff out there about Buddhism. There may be scholarship that I’m unaware of. But in terms of popular literature, there really doesn’t seem to be much. Most of what’s written in the Pali canon is taken by scholars in the West at face value. I’m not aware of anyone really digging into it in terms of history. Stephen Batchelor’s new book Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist does to some extent. And so does Hajime Nakammura’s two volume Gotama Buddha series and The Historical Buddha by H.W. Schuman. That’s about it as far as I know.

As for knowing the difference between Buddha and Jesus, this is another intriguing topic. Several authors have speculated that Jesus might have studied Buddhist philosophy. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility. There were Buddhist missionaries active in the Middle East during Jesus’ lifetime. And while India is a long, long way away from Palestine when traveling by foot or camel-back, some people did make that journey and it’s not impossible that Jesus was one of them. There do seem to be a lot of similar teachings in both religions. The similarities between the stories of Jesus’ temptation by Satan and Buddha’s temptation by Mara are particularly striking.

I remain unconvinced, though. I think that the aspects of Buddha’s teachings and Jesus’ teachings that are similar represent things that are just plain similar between human beings no matter where they come from. Jesus didn’t need to have studied Buddhism for him to come up with a lot of  the same stuff.

Jesus’ story is fascinating because there are so many mysteries. The teachings and stories Buddha’s hundreds of followers left behind after he died filled up three big baskets. We have more information on Buddha than most people could ever even get through, let alone closely examine in detail. Jesus had just twelve close followers who left behind only a handful of books that leave out as many important aspects of his teachings and his life’s story as they contain. The biggest mystery concerning Buddha’s death is whether he died from eating spoiled pork or spoiled mushrooms. In the case of Jesus, the circumstances surrounding his death are so weird that plenty of people speculate he may have actually survived the crucifixion. People did survive being crucified. It was rare, but it happened. Then you’ve got the Da Vinci Code and all that nonsense. Buddhism really can’t compete with that kind of thing. Maybe he even traveled to Japan after being crucified! There really are people who believe that.

The big difference between Jesus and Buddha, I often feel, is that Jesus died so young. Buddha made it to age 85. Jesus was probably dead before he was 35. That’s fifty years. And Jesus died violently surrounded by people who reviled him while Buddha died as a popular and well-beloved celebrity. Buddha had it easy. His society was ready for him. Jesus had a very hard time among people who never really understood what he was trying to say to them.

The real person behind the New Testament stories was almost certainly not the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” of Sunday school mythology. He was very probably a troublemaker, a guy who got up the noses of the people in authority. Not even the ancient Romans nailed you to a cross for walking around barefoot cooing about peace and love. Jesus must have felt a sense of burning urgency to get his message through, like a lot of people do when they’re twenty-some years old. If he’d have lived longer he probably would have settled into it a bit and maybe been less inclined to be so forceful. Of course if he’d done that, history would most likely only remember him the way it remembers his contemporaries like Rabbi Hillel, perhaps as an important figure but probably not the founder of a world religion.

You can make a lot of money writing books about how similar Buddha and Jesus were. And they were. But there are also a lot of significant differences. Those are important to remember as well. So maybe my friend’s mom is right.

***

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89 Responses

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  1. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel February 9, 2013 at 12:54 am | |

    I tend to view Jesus as a god, just like Our Lady of Sounds, and a few others. he’s the god of self sacrifice. In this guise, I find him much more interesting than the purported historical figure which looks like it was completely built up for political reasons in the 3d century.

  2. boubi
    boubi February 9, 2013 at 2:48 am | |

    Something that somehow shocked me when i first got in touch with buddhism were “the buddhas before buddha” (the Gautama one), as if they were “Jesus before Jesus”.

    Then, with time, it dawned on me that buddha was just an adjective appended to a guy (or gal) , and adjective stating the realisation in a certain field of that person, like PhD or other.

    I don’t know if Jesus is god, i don’t care. I believe he can a be a vehicle to channel whatever we call it faith, force, despair, hope …

    Siddharta Gautama for sure was a guy who through an heroic effort discovered (again) whatever you call it. Even more heroic due to the fact that he was just a plain human being, and not some supernatural creature.

    Based on that. I’m not particularly interested in his private life, no more than i could be interested in Lord Newton Of The Middle Way private life.

    What count is what he left to us.

    I was once again rather puzzle when i found out that the Heart Sutra was written well after Siddharta’s death, so what, maybe the best text about newtonian physic has been written the last year.

    You go to a Judo dojo and you find the picture of Jigoro Kano, he is the founder, but Judo evolved beyond him, he was the one who found the way, like Siddharta Gautama.

    Siddharta died of what? I can’t care more than to know what happened to that famous actor’s ex bimbo.

    What is important to me is what Siddharta Gautama left to us, a (the) way to defeat (suffering from) illness, (suffering from) old age, (suffering from) death.

  3. sri_barence
    sri_barence February 9, 2013 at 4:00 am | |

    Zen Master Seung Sahn was also fascinated with Jesus. He had several students who were Christians (some of them Christian monks). Seung Sahn created several Christian Koans and included them in one of his published collections (I think it is “The Compass of Zen,” but I’m not sure). Robert Jinsen Kennedy is a Jesuit and a Zen teacher.
    So there’s a lot of that going on these days. Very cool.

  4. HappyGirl
    HappyGirl February 9, 2013 at 5:10 am | |

    Your article made me smile! I honor Jesus, and I think he ROCKS! Hope thats okay!

  5. Fred
    Fred February 9, 2013 at 5:14 am | |

    When you die into the Void are you a Jesus or a Buddha?

  6. deluded
    deluded February 9, 2013 at 5:39 am | |

    “This blog depends on your donations for its continued existence.”

    “continued existence”: ok, we don’t like impermanence.

  7. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 9, 2013 at 8:32 am | |

    I was looking for a quote in my 14 volumes of Pali Suttas (there a couple that are just verses and stuff I’m not interested in, and an entire Nikaya written well after the rest- not including those).

    Occurred to me that there’s stuff in the 5th volume of Sanyutta Nikaya that Jesus appeared to be familiar with. There’s stuff in there about a man going beyond being a man and a woman going beyond being a woman, stuff about “above and below”, and these are echoed in the Gospel according to Thomas. “An image in the place of an image” is strictly Jesus, as far as I know, but this is the point of turning the lamp around. Entering the kingdom of heaven that is within, no wonder the Gospel of Thomas was burned with the other gnostic stuff.

    Since in the very first days of the Order, monks memorized one of the Sutta volumes to be a monk (or so I’ve read), I am speculated that Jesus encountered such a monk and the volume was SN V, and my guess is he would have had to have spent some time to have heard it.

    Did he end up after crucifixion on a caravan with Thomas headed for India, and live out his life as a carpenter in Kashmir as the folks near his tomb there believe, whilst Thomas went on to teach and be stoned to death among the people who are Thomas Christians there today? Nyah, could be, as Bugs used to say.

  8. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 9, 2013 at 8:34 am | |

    In the south of India, the Thomas Christians, that is…

  9. Mumon
    Mumon February 9, 2013 at 8:46 am | |

    “Jesus had just twelve close followers who left behind only a handful of books that leave out as many important aspects of his teachings and his life’s story as they contain.”

    No serious scholar of Christianity, regardless of religious persuasion, holds this to be true.

    At best it is surmised that those who wrote the Gospels were followers of the original 12 or so.

    Moreover, it’s evident – as some folks commented on your Facebook posts that are related to this – it’s evident that you’re reading into “Jesus” a Brad Warner-like personality.

  10. Mumon
    Mumon February 9, 2013 at 8:50 am | |

    Man, I’m reading deeper and deeper here…I realize we’re Buddhists here, and you probably didn’t have the “advantage” of 12 years of Catholic schooling, but you seem to be woefully misinformed about a lot of Christianity.

    Not to mention Judaism.

    Hillel was a pretty important guy, and one of the guys that was instrumental, IIRC, in the development of post-Temple Judaism, which, in effect, did make him a founder of a “world” religion – albeit one with a lot less followers than Christianity.

    But violence had more than a little to do with that.

  11. acmcarey
    acmcarey February 9, 2013 at 9:28 am | |

    I wonder if Jesus communicated to the people around him in the spiritual language which most if them understand. Many people in Jesus’s world believed in theistic gods which were many times spoke about in the male gender. Hence the reference, “our Father who is in heaven.” And, “the Father and I are one.” But there is one quote that could show that Jesus was a more complex spiritual person. He said, “the kingdom of Heaven is inside of you.” Something that, if Jesus and Buddha sat down and talked together, I think they could both agree upon. One of the stumbling blocks Jesus had with many of the local religious leaders was when he equated himself to God. I think this might have had some kind of connection to Eastern thought with the idea that God is inside of you.

  12. Owen
    Owen February 9, 2013 at 10:37 am | |

    Just want to point out that none of the New Testament gospels were actually written by the disciples of Jesus. The attribution of authorship of the gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John, is purely an invention of the Church Fathers. In fact, as far as can be ascertained, none of the gospel writers ever met Jesus (assuming there was an actual historical person). The earliest NT writings are those of Paul, who likewise never met Jesus. There is also the fact that Jesus’ disciples were more-or-less illiterate, and would have been Aramaic speakers. In any event, they would not have been capable of producing writings in Greek of varying degrees of sophistication such as the gospels.

    The gospels were written years after Jesus’ lifetime. In essence, they were collections of oral legends. The other interesting point is that there are no original copies of any of these writings. All that exists are very inexact copies of copies of copies…of oral legends. All of these works have been heavily edited, interpolated, rewritten, etc. by individuals (or groups of individuals) with a particular theological axe to grind. So who knows what was actually said originally?

  13. Mumon
    Mumon February 9, 2013 at 12:03 pm | |

    More interesting than Buddhist Jesus is the TRUE story of Barlam & Josephat.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barlaam_and_Josaphat

  14. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel February 9, 2013 at 12:21 pm | |

    One has to realise that “books” in the Antiquity and early Middle Ages (4th to 10th Centuries) were NOT what we call books nowadays. They were rolls, generally of papyrus (and more rarely of parchment, much more expensive). A publishing would consist at the most of 500 copies, all copied by hand. A copist would receive one page of the “book” and copy it 500 times. Other copists would do the other pages. Or less copists would do the same only they would copy more pages each.
    A book like “Hardcore Zen” would probably require at least three or four rolls. An editor would have had to check all the copies of the book before publication, to check for missing lines, faulty transcriptions and the like. All was written in capitals, without spaces, making it necessary for reading that one read aloud. Reading in silence is an invention of monks in monasteries: Augustine tells of his surprise when, visiting Ambrose of Milan, he saw him reading in silence.
    You’d read while rolling and unrolling the scrolls. They would get easily damaged? You had to recopy often a well used book. (The sutras often have a phrase that says that if a disciple studies and copies this sutra, he’ll gain a lot of merits: people had to be encouraged into copying books).
    People, copying, would often write a word for another, either through distraction, either through misunderstanding (if the true meaning of a word has gone forgotten, the phrase may end up looking awkward: the copist would then substitute a word he’d understand, and of which he’d think made more sense, thereby altering the sense of the phrase, and so on).
    When you’re putting down in writing what has been transmitted through oral tradition, you are actually fixating the words.
    To make it short, books can never be entirely trusted. Philologists are the experts in finding where and how things get awry.

  15. Mumon
    Mumon February 9, 2013 at 1:01 pm | |

    Proulx Michel-

    And this is a big point of Buddhism v. Christianity: Although Buddhism has boatloads of sutras and other written material, its “truth” or “utility” or “benefits” ultimately does not depend on any written material whatsoever.

    Christianity is different in this respect with or without episcopal authorities. Christianity needs its bible, Didache, and other writings as fixing the whole Jesus notion.

  16. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon February 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm | |

    “Our fathers were our models for God. And, if our fathers bailed, what does that tell us about God?
    You have to consider the possibility that God doesn’t like you, he never wanted you. In all probability, He hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen…
    We don’t need him…
    Fuck damnation. Fuck redemption. We are God’s unwanted children, with no special place and no special attention, and so be it.” – Tyler Durden

  17. Fred
    Fred February 9, 2013 at 5:24 pm | |

    Gregory Wonderwheel on ZFI:

    “I appreciate the conceptual crossovers between Buddhism and Daoism. I do not see this as “Daoism influencing Buddhism” but as “Buddhism finding roots in the Daoist world view.” It was imporant and inevitable for Buddhism to adopt Daoist terms in its transplantation to China. For the same reasons, Buddhism must adopt the easy use of certain Christian terms like “God,” “Godhead”, “Christ consciousness” etc. in its transplantation to the West. But this adoption of indigenous terms is also a repurposing of those terms, or revisioning of those terms to remove the objectification from those terms to show that the veracity of the terms is alive when they are not objectified but seen to point to the source of life in a non-external manner.”

  18. SoF
    SoF February 9, 2013 at 6:56 pm | |

    Jesus IS Buddha (recycled).

    google – “Seleukos II AND Bactria”

    Buddhist and Christian Gospels, 2 Vols: Now First Compared from Originals; Being Gospel Parallels from Pali (1920s???)

    Milanda Panna – The Milanda Panna is a famous work of Buddhist literature, probably compiled in the 1st century B.C. It presents Buddhist doctrine in a dialogue between a Bactrian Greek, Menander I, who plays the ‘Devil’s Advocate’ and a Buddhist sage, Nagasena. The introduction outlines the historical background against which the dialogues took place, indicating the meeting of two great cultures that of ancient Greece and the Buddhism of the Indus valley, which was the legacy of the great Emperor Asoka.

    Since the 1890s, scholars have notices ‘parallels’ between the newer Christian and older Buddhist scriptures. This is NOT new (or news).

  19. SoF
    SoF February 9, 2013 at 6:58 pm | |

    The Milanda Panna link should be
    http://aimwell.org/assets/The Debate of King Milinda.pdf

  20. Khru
    Khru February 9, 2013 at 11:25 pm | |

    Brad,

    Jesus is moving in your heart; you can feel it and know that this is true. Zazen and intellect will only get you so far…it’s like describing what a sunset looks like to someone who’s never had eyesight. There are some “spiritual” truths that are only perceived when you walk towards Christ; and not necessarily the same Christ that they tell you about in Sunday School.

  21. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel February 10, 2013 at 12:05 am | |

    As for what Gregory Wonderwheel writes, I think it’s much more interesting to focus on Our Lady of Sounds, which is a much more important deity than Jesus (although, as god of self-sacrifice for the benefit of all beings, he remains important). That she is much more important is something that the Catholic vulgus already recognised a long time ago, and a fact shunned by the Protestant, essentially upon strictly intellectual reasons. Which is probably why Protestants so notoriously lack compassion, in general, being so enthralled by the god of wrath of their Bible…

  22. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon February 10, 2013 at 4:32 am | |

    “Jesus is moving in your heart;”
    No. The muscles in your heart move. Blood and its contents move through your heart. There is no credible evidence that anything else “moves in your heart”.

    “you can feel it and know that this is true.”
    No. You may feel something and interpret it, but this does not mean that your interpretation is accurate. For most people, most of the time, it is very inaccurate, especially regarding so-called ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’ experiences.

    “Zazen and intellect will only get you so far…”
    Half right. Intellect will only get you so far. Zazen, vipassana and other meditation and mindfulness practices can get you as far as you are capable of going.

    “it’s like describing what a sunset looks like to someone who’s never had eyesight.”
    No. Believing that you ‘feel Jesus moving in your heart’ is not the gaining of a new sense, it is the gaining of a new delusion. A better analogy to complete the revised first half of the sentence would be, “Intellect will only get you so far, but reading maps and guidebooks is very different from actually visiting the territory.”

    “There are some ‘spiritual’ truths that are only perceived when you walk towards Christ;”
    No. That is an unsubstantiated claim of exclusivity that is so vague and ill defined as to be meaningless.

    “and not necessarily the same Christ that they tell you about in Sunday School.”
    Yes, but probably not in the way that Khru intended. Every theist creates their own god based on one of the available templates. Every theist’s god is unique and only exists in their own brain.

  23. minkfoot
    minkfoot February 10, 2013 at 6:33 am | |

    Fred quotes:
    Gregory Wonderwheel on ZFI:
    “I appreciate the conceptual crossovers between Buddhism and Daoism. I do not see this as “Daoism influencing Buddhism” but as “Buddhism finding roots in the Daoist world view.” It was imporant and inevitable for Buddhism to adopt Daoist terms in its transplantation to China. For the same reasons, Buddhism must adopt the easy use of certain Christian terms like “God,” “Godhead”, “Christ consciousness” etc. in its transplantation to the West.”

    minkfoot:
    I can’t think of any use of “Christ consciousness” in mainstream Christianity. It’s pretty much just occult/New Age. And “Godhead” isn’t common outside theology.

    Gregory Wonderwheel on ZFI:
    “But this adoption of indigenous terms is also a repurposing of those terms, or revisioning of those terms to remove the objectification from those terms to show that the veracity of the terms is alive when they are not objectified but seen to point to the source of life in a non-external manner.”

    minkfoot:
    Using Christian terms for Buddhist concepts shows as much promise for confusion as for communication.

  24. Bryn
    Bryn February 10, 2013 at 9:14 am | |

    Hi Brad, and I too have read some of Bart Ehrman’s work and also counterbalanced this by reading some of Lee Stobel’s books. Another author that I would recommend is Marcus Borg. He presents a different interpretation of Jesus and the way that his message should be understood. His novel, Putting Away Childish Things, puts many of these ideas into a very readable form.

  25. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel February 10, 2013 at 9:34 am | |

    Anyway, I’m afraid it will prove impossible to incorporate anything from Xtianity as long as the monotheistic point of view is upheld, because such a point of you is automatically exclusive. Jesus and other deities of Xtianity can be recycled only and inasmuch as they are stripped of the monotheistic concept, which, to me is, in the end the worse of idolatry, because it substitutes a human image to something which ought to be left unfathomable.

  26. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel February 10, 2013 at 9:34 am | |

    “point of you” : I meant “point of view”, of course… Slipped

  27. Khru
    Khru February 10, 2013 at 11:41 am | |

    “The Grand Canyon”:

    My post was to Brad, not to you. Brad can read it and consider my comments as they were directed to him and based upon his present experience, not yours as you quoted “Tyler Durden”, a Brad Pitt character in an adolescent movie called “Fight Club”. Is he someone you quote often?

    You my friend…think that you know the answers…but truthfully…you hardly even know the questions. If “having all the answers” helps you make it through life, as a smug, ignorant lad…then good for you, I guess. But you do not know me or my experiences…

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon February 10, 2013 at 3:07 pm | |

      I don’t need to know anything about you or your experiences to deconstruct your unsupportable statements. Your argumentum ad hominem does not refute anything that I wrote.

  28. Brent
    Brent February 10, 2013 at 1:26 pm | |

    What are the questions ?

  29. Khru
    Khru February 10, 2013 at 3:26 pm | |

    “Those who know, do not argue;
    Those who argue, do not know.”

    -not Brad Pitt :0

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon February 11, 2013 at 3:14 am | |

      “Those who know, do not argue;
      Those who argue, do not know.”
      Those who cannot defend their previous statements,
      attack the character of the person who challenges them in a feeble attempt at distraction.

      Why are you so obsessed with Brad Pitt?
      Are you Jennifer Aniston?

  30. Brent
    Brent February 10, 2013 at 5:16 pm | |

    Hey Khru, here is a question…

    Try this:
    Stare straight ahead and don’t move your eyes. You can blink. Begin by becoming aware of your full peripheral vision. Then notice something at the left of your peripheral vision. Notice something at the top, then at the right, then at the bottom. Notice something at the left again, top, right and bottom again.

    Your eyeballs are not moving. What is moving?

  31. Fred
    Fred February 10, 2013 at 5:44 pm | |

    Here’s the question.

    Why did the “zen master” own 3 houses and still take donations?

    http://bigmind.org/donation

  32. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 10, 2013 at 6:28 pm | |

    Thanks, Khru, for your straightforward offering; eyes wide open, all the time. I do care about the science of sitting, but there will always be room in my heart for other sources of reliquishment in action.

    And I like logic, such as it is.

    Very interesting to read the sources and mediums that bring us the teachings.

    Happy Year of the Snake, y’all!

    hey, Gregory’s just down the hill from me, frequenting the Rocks and Clouds Zendo here in Sebastopol. Small world!

  33. JBlack
    JBlack February 10, 2013 at 10:06 pm | |

    If you’re interested in a group of guys who are raising a bit of hell with their critical approach to Buddhism, I recommend you visit and read (especially the comments):

    http://speculativenonbuddhism.com/

  34. JBlack
    JBlack February 10, 2013 at 10:13 pm | |

    To whet your taste, as it were, here is an excerpt from a comment made by one of the critics:

    “There are thousands of kinds of social action we could take. There’s no single best project, with so much to be done. My first goal to help teach people to grasp the nature of anatman, because we can’t do anything unless we first realize that we can actually reduce human suffering by changing the social systems that produce subjects. But there are many other activities that would be useful. One example, just to highlight the difference between real social action and attempts to make the system more tolerable: I’ve read a ridiculous number of essays by “engaged” Buddhists about being “mindful” while driving, trying to reduce our angry reaction, to be more calm and kind on the road. But if we understand the nature of anatman, and the dependent origination of the subject, the goal would be, instead, to eliminate the need to have everyone driving around all day in cars—the most wasteful and deadly form of transportation possible, killing about 600 people a week in the U.S. alone, and destroying the planet faster than all other uses of energy combined. A really engaged action, to reduce human suffering, would be to forget about trying to drive calmly, and start getting active promoting truly useful public transportation and changes in lifestyle that make cars less necessary (and not by just giving up your own car, which wouldn’t really help anyway until the public transportation is working). The action is simple: understand dependent arising, locate a cause of human suffering, and then start working to eliminate it. Of course, you will be told by everyone that this is pointless, nothing can be done, capitalism is natural and inevitable and so the destruction of the planet and the suffering of humanity must go on . . . , but then you have to ignore the reactionaries, and keep trying.”

    http://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2013/01/16/non-x-issue-eight/#comment-13093

  35. anon 108
    anon 108 February 11, 2013 at 2:26 am | |

    Khru – any chance of a less dismissive response to TGC’s considered criticisms?

  36. boubi
    boubi February 11, 2013 at 3:38 am | |

    I went to have a look at that site.

    IMO, for me, it’s a proto-intellectual self-aggrandising try at manipulating something with the wrong tools.

    What the guy does is criticizing some concepts, as anatman, with “speculative” tools, staying outside, not trying to “reproduce the experiment” to see what the heck is going to happen.

    Which is something like to try “spooning” soup with a fork, or a knife.

    Beyond the fact that he criticize the “wrong” side of “buddhism” making as if they were the core of the teaching.

    That guy of yore, Siddharta, came to that conclusion through practice, meditating, it’s like someone criticizing biology without a microscope.

    It reminds me somehow of some eager, angry and i think frustrated, young physicist i heard talking who criticized Einstein saying that, in the end, E=mc2 was nothing more than e=mv2, thanks kiddo !
    So how did it take Einstein to find it out if it was so easy?
    Most probably, somehow, he felt good being able to criticize Einstein :) , but his face betrayed something else, mostly frustration.

    I left a reply saying that just to say “fuck the buddha” Lin-chi came first, and he was a buddhist.

    Maybe i got it all wrong, but this is what i think of it.

  37. ryanrabies
    ryanrabies February 11, 2013 at 6:49 am | |

    Two year olds shouldn’t be bothered with getting it straight if its impossible for the adults to.

  38. Andy
    Andy February 11, 2013 at 8:17 am | |

    To The Grand Canyon

    A few thoughts:

    ““Jesus is moving in your heart;”
    No. The muscles in your heart move. Blood and its contents move through your heart. There is no credible evidence that anything else “moves in your heart””.

    What we have here is is not deconstruction. More like satire by means of a straw man. This is a trick often used by opponents of religious types in TV debates. Having shorn it of its expressive context, you have recast what might be called mythopoetic (albeit of the more well-heeled kind) as though it were some kind of supernatural statement about the body. This can then be defeased through a matter-of-fact appeal to scientific empiricism. Yet, for your argument to actually up-hold the virtues of scientific empiricism, never mind deconstruction, you would have to have addressed your linguistic ‘evidence’ for what it was and not what you would like it to be. Ths what you have produced is not a scientifically rational point of view, but one with its rhetorical shape. In this manner, you are close to playing the same game here as those who quote the bible in a literalistic fashion, having yourself chosen to take Khru’s words literally.

    (BTW – there is evidence for a more complex neurological activity within the gut and heart and between those and the brain, than your reductive mechanics suggests.)

    A similar thing might be said for your interpretation of the word ‘feel’. Granted that it is much more reasonable for one to assume this word as indicating physical or emotional impressions, it is a word which is also used to mean things like ‘belief’ or ‘intuition’. It is a word that often calls out for not only contextual interpretation, but also for the person who used the word to explain what they meant by it, such a fuzzy and cross-purpose-inducing word it so often becomes. I have found that it not always the case that when one asks a person to explain what they meant by the word in such contexts as these, that they end up floundering in a sea of sentimentality or appeals to unexamined emotional baggage transferred, precipitated and misinterpreted unmindfully into religious terms.

    ““Zazen and intellect will only get you so far…”
    Half right. Intellect will only get you so far. Zazen, vipassana and other meditation and mindfulness practices can get you .”

    Deconstructor might chuckle at the belief-off here, as well as the exclusivity suggested by “Zazen, vipassana and other meditation and mindfulness practices.” You have no way of producing any proof for claims to the effect of “as far as you are capable of going.” (See your: “That is an unsubstantiated claim of exclusivity that is so vague and ill defined as to be meaningless.” How vague and meaningless is acceptable).

    “No. Believing that you ‘feel Jesus moving in your heart’ is not the gaining of a new sense, it is the gaining of a new delusion.”

    A ‘new sense’? I refer you again to my first para. The Heart Sutra is not a guide to help cardiologists understand the interconnectedness of the cardiovascular system to other organs, systems and process in the human body. ““It’s like describing what a sunset looks like to someone who’s never had eyesight” is a perfectly reasonable and oft-used metaphor for notions of awakening and it’s somewhat willful to pretend what the “it’s like describing…” part of that statement is doing. That would be akin to me using your

    “Intellect will only get you so far, but reading maps and guidebooks is very different from actually visiting the territory.”

    to say: No. Awakening to the ‘truth’ is not a tourist excursion to Nepal.

    “Yes, but probably not in the way that Khru intended. Every theist creates their own god based on one of the available templates. Every theist’s god is unique and only exists in their own brain.”

    I how like the ‘probably’ there give you room to move, given the lack of any constructive interrogation of what ‘Khru intended’. As for ‘Every theist’s god”, apart from the gaping fictionalisation, it also suggests that the ‘god’ in question for such ‘theists’ has merely a reductive ontological status as an epiphenomenon of the ‘brain’, in contrast to understanding such theistically derived images and symbolic complexes in their mythic function, through which such persons activate and actualise (often through rituals and other practices) ‘god’ as might be understood by Buddhists as ‘the unconditoned’ – the status of which is constantly addressed as being neither subjective nor objective, and thus not merely an imaginary object of subjective confusion.

    As an example of how this type of thing might be conceived in Buddhist terms, a passage from Ted Biringer on Dogen comes to mind, from Zen Forum International:

    “According to one online dictionary, an “aggregate” is “a total considered with reference to its constituent parts; a gross amount.”

    Insofar as “we,” as individual human beings, are a totality of “constituent parts” – “we,” as inclusive elements of existence-time (i.e. the universe) are “constituent parts” of the totality that is the universe – In Dogen’s terms, such an “aggregate” (the totality of “constituent parts” constituting the universe, inclusive of “us”) is called, “Shakyamuni.”

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon February 11, 2013 at 10:54 am | |

      Wow. You could have said the exact same thing in one sentence by simply writing “Khru was speaking metaphorically.” Even if we assume that he was, I would still disagree with what he wrote because successful metaphors help to explain, illustrate, and clarify a subject but he did nothing of the sort.

      1. Andy
        Andy February 11, 2013 at 12:37 pm | |

        I could have no more expressed what I meant in one sentence any more than you TGC. And it would be off the mark, and disingenuous, to boil down my understanding of Khru’s words as simply metaphorical, since there is a world of metaphorical difference between, for example, using conventional mythopoetical constructs (such as “open your heart to Jesus” or the “Heart Sutra”, and creative metaphor such as your “visiting the territory”. The latter better fitting (although not exclusively) the “help to explain, illustrate, and clarify” category you mention – when used to explain, illustrate and clarify. Mythopoetical expressions are more often used to represent and affect the entering into certain types of experience (whether they actually succeed or not is beside the point here).

        Moreover, the one obviously conventional metaphor Khru did use of that kind you mention, of describing a sunset to a blind person, was a readily accessible way for Khru to express a belief that the experience he was referring to was of the kind difficult to access and encapsulate through zazen or the intellect alone. It was your chosing to pick-out at aspect of that metaphor in order to put words in Khru’s mouth, I found of interest and critique.

        And what’s that “Even if we assume he was…”? How on earth can “Jesus is moving in your heart” not be metaphorical, unless you have decided to interpret that in the most absurdly literalistic of supernatural ways? Even if Khru’s views involved supernatural explanations, the “Jesus is moving in your heart” would still be a metaphor employed to express this supernatural phenomenon.

        But of course, I was not interested in what Khru did or didn’t mean (otherwise I would have asked him) beyond my main purpose, which was to examine your own statements and claims to have deconstructed Khru’s post.

        “but he did nothing of the sort”: Perhaps if you’d opened a more considered and constructive dialogue based on Khru’s short, expressive post to Brad, rather than treating it solely as some sort of truth-statement manifesto to (a little condescendingly and dismissively) expose, then you might have had more appropriate material to wade into.

        If we belittle what folk come out with without due consideration, and a good deal of unclarified assumptions thrown in, for the type of expressive event we’re taking to task, then we’re not too far away from what makes the ad hominen strategy one to decry. In other words you were rude to him and so he was rude back.

        For my part, my something moved my heart to show my workings out in more than one trite sentence. Your efforts and partially considered critique seemed to be worthy of that.

        1. The Grand Canyon
          The Grand Canyon February 11, 2013 at 3:19 pm | |

          When “mythopoetical expressions” are indiscernible from Evangelical dogma they fail to communicate any useful information.

          1. The Grand Canyon
            The Grand Canyon February 11, 2013 at 5:09 pm |

            I should have said, “When ‘mythopoetical expressions’ are INDISTINGUISHABLE from Evangelical dogma they fail to communicate any useful information.” They are indistinguishable because the difference is indiscernible.
            English is not my first language. I grew up speaking American.

          2. Andy
            Andy February 12, 2013 at 4:52 am |

            That might be true or not. But when we tackle these issues with someone expressing themselves in such a way, we surely have to deal with the fact of what they are expressing, even if we think it is redundant or off the mark.

            I think it’s important also to be open to the idea that it may not matter with mythopoetical (god, I hate the word!) expressions whether they are indistinguishable from dogma or not. As I said earlier, they are expressive in that they refer to and/or enact experiences. It can be a category error to judge such language as though it were meant to “explain, clarify and illustrate” “useful information”, unless of course the writer/speaker were using it to do so. This would be like pointing out to some one at communion that the wine wasn’t blood and that Jesus had been dead for years.

  39. Fred
    Fred February 11, 2013 at 10:46 am | |

    “destroying the planet faster than all other uses of energy combined”

    Cars are not destroying the planet. The use of cars is changing the form of the
    planet, but not destroying the planet. The form of the planet is in a state of flux;
    the current structures are impermanent.

    Even if homo sapien were to die out, other forms of life will go on

  40. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi February 11, 2013 at 11:24 am | |

    “If you use your mind to try and understand reality,
    You will understand neither your mind nor reality.
    If you try and understand reality without using your mind,
    You will understand both your mind and reality.”

    ~Bodhidharma

  41. boubi
    boubi February 11, 2013 at 1:50 pm | |

    to Andy

    You said:
    —- “conventional mythopoetical constructs (such as “open your heart to Jesus” or the “Heart Sutra”, and creative metaphor such as your “visiting the territory”” —

    I don’t get what you intended to mean here.

    Is the title “mythopoetical ” or the content is “mythopoetical “?

    Because the content is rather plain language, could be an engineer’s description, ask any knowledgeable teacher.

    And the title could maybe better be called “core sutra”, which Michel could confirm is cognate with “heart” in latin.

    So were is this “mythopoetical”ity?

    1. Andy
      Andy February 12, 2013 at 4:35 am | |

      Using the title “Heart Sutra” as an example was perhaps a little loose and idiosyncratic, as I was only thinking of the English translation (and scribbling quite fast – a reason for some of my grammatical errors and sloppy sentence making). So it wasn’t the best example to use.

      I suppose that comes from the fact that, for me, the title in English functions in a mythopoetic way. Since I first came across it, I used to read it out loud to myself like a prayer as much as a chant. ‘Heart’ meant for me not just ‘core’, ‘heart of the matter’ or ‘essential wisdom’ etc, but also the act of the opening up of my body and mind, a kind of surrender. In the act of entering into the sutra, I made sure it was very ‘heart-felt’ – both in the literal and emotional sense. I suppose one could say that I wanted to have the sutra ‘moving in my heart’ as well as my head. So in these ways at least it took on a very mythopoetic aspect.

  42. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm | |

    Andy, like your first analysis above, nice set of tools you got! The hard thing, to steer straight into what is not known, and roll with the waves and the wind praying for seagulls. Some of your argument brought to mind the distinction between the ability to feel and what is felt; the ability to feel informs the sense of location and adds weight to the movement of breath, aligns the vertibrae and skull to make the ability to feel dynamic in real time. What is felt becomes a practice of equanimity toward the pleasant, painful, and neutral in the relaxation of breath.

    As Mr. Bruce Lee put it, “feeling- not emotion!”, although it’s all about relinquishment in my book.

    1. Andy
      Andy February 12, 2013 at 5:01 am | |

      “the distinction between the ability to feel and what is felt”

      I very much agree. And I think that it is in this area much cross-pollination and mutual understanding be affected amongst religions and the arts.

      I really like Bob O’Hearns take in this:

      http://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/zen-and-the-emotionalsexual-contraction/

  43. boubi
    boubi February 11, 2013 at 2:49 pm | |

    In another language we have an expression “smoking some carpet” … ask Michel :)

    It’s bad for the environment ;)

  44. SoF
    SoF February 11, 2013 at 7:42 pm | |

    For a long time (well, o.k. the last 120 years or so) scholars have notices the ‘parallels’ between the earlier Buddhist scriptures and later Christian scriptures. Some call it coincidental. But there are MANY examples so others call it ‘cultural borrowing.’ What IS clear is this: “Jesus and Buddha, in their teachings, are not very different.”

  45. SoF
    SoF February 11, 2013 at 7:42 pm | |

    For a long time (well, o.k. the last 120 years or so) scholars have noticed the ‘parallels’ between the earlier Buddhist scriptures and later Christian scriptures. Some call it coincidental. But there are MANY examples so others call it ‘cultural borrowing.’ What IS clear is this: “Jesus and Buddha, in their teachings, are not very different.”

  46. Khru
    Khru February 11, 2013 at 9:29 pm | |

    I apologize to you, The Grand Canyon for my rudeness.

    Andy…wow.

    I am perhaps similar to Brad in the sense that I’ve been a Buddhist for a number of years (zazen, koans, sesshins, etc.) and have recently been captivated by the story of Jesus (I was raised Christian). This next part is difficult to discuss; the DETAILS of which I don’t think I could tell any of my loved-ones personally, let alone people on this forum, it’s too intimate and personal. I’ve recently had several what I’d consider…(ahem)…..mystical experiences that I’d describe as “Christian”. Very different from any “experiences” that may have occurred during my Zen training…

    Anyhow.

  47. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon February 12, 2013 at 3:15 am | |

    A brief demonstration of the importance of semantics.

    Example #1, imprecise semantics resulting in an inaccurate, unsupportable statement:

    “I felt kundalini move up my sushumna and open my chakras.”

    Example #2: more precise semantics resulting in a more accurate, more supportable statement:

    “I felt a sensation that seemed similar to what I have read and heard about kundalini moving up the sushumna and opening the chakras.”

    Example #1 assumes that kundalini exists and is capable of movement; that the sushumna exists and is capable of transporting kundalini; that chakras exist and are capable of opening when kundalini enters them; and that the speaker actually experienced what he believed he experienced.

    Example #2 compares one person’s experience to descriptions of other people’s experiences without all of the assumptions of example #1. Even if kundalini, sushumna, and chakras do not exist, example #2 is still accurate and defensible.

    1. Andy
      Andy February 12, 2013 at 6:09 am | |

      TGC,

      Your analysis is flawed in that it presupposes that these two phrases are located in a context which requires the sort of precise semantics you are indicating.

      It also suggest that the speaker of #1 is making some sort of expressive error in comparison to #2, as if #1 speaker lacked the understanding or communication skills of an #2 speaker.

      #1 speaker could be using this form of expression in a particular situation to emphasize the intimacy and directness of an experience, not it’s factual accuracy – a mode which they could easily switch to if interrogated further about it in those terms. The option of expression themselves using #2, in such a situation, might therefore be seen as a wholly inappropriate and pedantic way for the speaker of #1 to communicate.

      Indeed, someone piping up to correct them with a dose of #2 could be seen to be a person a little low on emotional intelligence, and/or someone making incorrect (dismissive/condescending) assumptions about the person they are taking to task.

      #2 reads very much like the sort of language one would use when going to the doctor. If say a Yoga teacher wanted to get to the nub of something to do this a students practice, this mode of talking might be required, and the teacher might find it useful to cut through the vagueness to the point of seeming a little rude to the student.

      I think it’s also worth noting that in phrases of the #1 type the directness and intimacy of expression might be a more honest, if not empirically accurate, way for a person with a deep understanding and experience to convey the enactment of a teaching through it’s symbols, images and rituals.

      On another day, they may use #2 type mode as a more honest way to examine and clarify the teachings themselves – perhaps in a lecture or sermon.

      We need pragmatics and not just semantics when critiquing people expressing themselves in actual situations. And we should also be mindful that the language people use in such contexts draw upon and intersect with different types of discourse. For example, I remember years back, class in which we were given an essay to read which talked of the ‘commodity fetishization’ in relation to cars. A friend sitting next to me was up in arms at the absurd notion that he took sexual gratification from his VW Beetle. After a detailed explanation of what ‘fetishization’ meant via freudian discourse, he still didn’t agree, but was more able to critique the view by means of the terms expressed.

  48. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel February 12, 2013 at 3:50 am | |

    I have long thought that mystical experiences would be almost necessarily translated into terms of how we have been raised, for various psychological reasons I don’t feel it is necessary here to expound upon.

    In other words, mystical experiences happening in the deepest strata of our mind will perforce use a vocabulary that is well ingrained, and therefore dependent upon what mythology we have been raised in.

    I am pretty sure that, if I had such an experience it would translate in Catholic terms, and not Buddhist. But just as our dreams do generally (but not necessarily) unfold into our own language, it means that the images within are usually related to our former experiences in life. That doesn’t mean that our language nor our experiences are that fundamental for the rest of Humanity. It just means that they are basic to our modes of expressing our experiences.

    Therefore, “meeting Jesus” only means meeting the principle which, in our mythologies, is embodied by the god Jesus.

    The problem with Xtianity and other monotheistic religions is their totalitarian aspect. This aspect leads them to try to prove the historical existence of their gods and feats, as if it were necessary for the truth of it. But the god Jesus has nothing whatsoever to do with the eventual character upon which it is based. He’s the god of self sacrifice, period, along so many other deities (the god of War, the god of Wrath, the god of Love, whom we shall celebrate in two days, and so on).

  49. Senjo
    Senjo February 12, 2013 at 5:19 am | |

    Brad’s new book has appeared on the UK Amazon site with a publication date of 11th June 2013.
    Is that date likely to be accurate, Brad? It’s just you posted a while back that you thought the publication date was likely to be the end of this year?

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