I’ve been thinking of writing a book about Jesus. So I’m gonna write down these thoughts and post them without really editing it much. It’ll be messy. But maybe something useful will come of it. Here goes…
There must be a hundred “Buddha and Jesus” books out there. But, although it’s a subject I’ve been intrigued by for a very long time, I have never come across a Buddha & Jesus book that interested me enough I ever even considered buying it. I flip through them in the book stores and, at best I might go, “Oh, that’s nice.” But that’s it. It seems like most of them fall into a few categories, which I’ll list along with my reactions to them (like you’re just dying to know).
1) Buddhist Master from a non-Christian country trying to convince to folks from Christian countries that Buddhism is not devil worship. These guys want to demonstrate how Buddha and Jesus really said the same kinds of things and so we should all just get along. Fine. Not interested. The Masters in question usually don’t know enough about Christianity to say a whole lot so they just kinda go on and on and on…
2) Christian convert to Buddhism writes about why Buddhism is a more refined version of what Jesus had to say. Or, again, that Buddha and Jesus really said pretty much the same thing. Sweet. Not interested.
3) New Age True Believer who wants to prove that Jesus really was a Buddhist because maybe he went to India and stayed in a Buddhist monastery before returning to Palestine to start his mission. This is an intriguing idea. But I’ve yet to come across any books about it that seem truly level-headed and present a real historical analysis. There seems to be some evidence this may have happened. But nothing very conclusive.
4) Jesus talks to Buddha imaginary conversation books. OH GOD PLEASE NO!!!!!!!!!
5) Christian (usually Catholic) who’s interested in Buddhism and gives his view of it. Usually, like #1, in an effort to demonstrate how we all should just get along. Slightly more interested, but not really. Again, the Christians involved don’t ever really seem to get what Buddhism is about and rarely have any experience of Buddhist practice.
I’ve been interested in Christianity since I was a little kid. In my teens I wanted to become a Christian. The problem was that when I investigated Christianity, I found I could not make heads or tails of it. For example, when I was a Freshman at Kent State University, I visited a booth run by the Campus Christian Ministries and started talking to them. Their view seemed to be that Jesus did miracles, this proved he was God, therefore what he said must be very important. The problem for me was that the evidence for these miracles is so flimsy I could not accept it at all. And, in any case, why do we need miracles in order to believe what someone said if he said some really kick-ass stuff?
Nevertheless, I pressed on. I visited some churches. They were all either boring as shit or they seemed to be packed full of genuine crazy people who scared me. I prayed to Jesus to come into my heart. Nothing happened. I bought a little silver cross and wore it for a while. No change. I read the New Testament. Nice. But not very moving. After a few years I just gave up. But I’ve maintained an interest in Christianity ever since. In fact, I’m far more inclined to read and study about Jesus’ life than I am to read and study about Buddha’s.
Now before you write in and try to convert me, let me say clearly and unambiguously that I am too far gone to ever be “Saved.” I’m a Buddhist monk and a thoroughly convicted believer in Dogen’s philosophy. I’ve seen the truth in what Dogen wrote about for myself and there is no way I can ever turn my back on that.
Still I remain fascinated by Jesus’ life, mission and teaching. I do not think Buddhism and Christianity are incompatible. I think you could practice Zazen, study Dogen’s outlook and attitude towards life and yet still remain a Christian. But I think you’d emerge from you study a very different kind of Christian. Possibly a Christian that other Christians may not even recognize as a Christian. The same is true, I think, of any religion you mighty come to Zazen practice believing in. But I don’t know enough about Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Zorastranism, Wiccanism or any of those to make any intelligent or useful specific comments on them. But, just maybe, I might be able to do so with Christianity.
Still, I’m not sure this is really my point. I mean, I don’t really get why so many people want to write “why don’t we all just get along” type books about Christianity and Buddhism. It’s not as if Christian/Buddhist clashes have ever been a big problem in the world. Nor does it seem to me likely they ever will be. But we are living in a time when Buddhism is starting to infiltrate what have been up till now Christian cultures. As this interpenetration occurs, a new kind of Buddhism will emerge. In the same way that Inidan Buddhism was influenced by Taoist ideas when it entered China, Euro-American Buddhism is even now being reinterpretted through a Judeo-Christian outlook. What will happen?
A lot of people wonder whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. I’m starting to think more and more that Buddhism is really neither. It’s more of an attitude. Buddha himself made use of certain aspects of the religions he knew, just as later Buddhists used aspects of the religions they knew. So American and European Buddhists today are doing the same. Yet it’s important that in doing so we maintain the core attitude. We can’t just grab stuff willy-nilly because it makes people in the culture we live in comfortable or to gain more followers and converts. Buddhism has nothing to do with gaining converts.
I’m not interested in making Buddhism feel safe to Christians or vice-versa. In fact, to an extent, I’d say Buddhism is slightly dangerous to Christians in a way. Not in the sense that it poses any kind of physical threat, of course. But it may become more and more necessary for Christians to come to terms with the ideas expressed by Buddha and Dogen and other Buddhist teachers. Coversely, though, I do not feel Christianity is any sort of threat to Buddhism. It may be a threat to certain oddball philosophies that call themselves Buddhism. But true Buddhism is just realism. And the realistic attitude can be applied to anything. If what you call “Buddhism” is not 100% realistic and therefore able to withstand anything it encounters, then it isn’t Buddhism and should be discarded immediately.
If Christianity is realistic, it can emerge from its encounter with Buddhism unharmed. I, for one, hope it can. I want it to. But I wonder if that’s possible.