Christ, Buddha, and The New Reformation
Recently I came across a Buddhist parable of the arrow. To make it short, it goes something like this: One day a monk asked Buddha about the nature of cosmos and life after death. Buddha answered, “You are like a soldier on a battlefield who was wounded by an arrow and a doctor tries to save his life. But the soldier insists that the doctor cannot treat his wound before he tells him who was the man who shot him, what bow he used, which tree the arrow was cut from, and so on. Of course the soldier would die before he would get all his answers.”
The morale of the story is pretty straightforward. If you don’t get rid of the arrow of your ignorance, if you don’t liberate yourself first, you will never know the answers to the “metaphysical” questions you ask. You will eventually run out of time and the answers would make no sense to you either.
Well, Buddha was famous for staying silent on topics that would require using a name for what is otherwise unnameable. Buddha was well aware that when one knows one’s true nature, all such questions are either answered or unimportant. But he also knew that putting a label on the unnameable misleads people as it incites them to search for an entity, a form, a concept, simply a perception, while what a person really searches is their own nature (and even that is but name).
Abrahamic tradition, and Judaism specifically, obsesses about the name of the absolute to a similar degree. It’s also worth to notice that exactly as Christ was not a Christian but a Jew, Buddha was not a Buddhist but a Hindu. Now, if you consider that both traditions, Judaic and Vedic, most probably share a common cultural ancestor (*), even though they obsess about those names in slightly different ways (among other regional peculiarities), it should not be surprising that both of them contain the same core.
Buddha and Christ were indubitably the proofs of concept of their respective traditions, consummations of the lore, and also reformers in the sense of pointing out flaws in, and setting straight again, the understanding of the tradition itself. They both also taught that one can transcend suffering by following their example, by knowing the absolute truth and entering a specific mode of existence, because that is the only possible way, valid truth, and actual life. They both held the same keys to the same immortality.
Obviously, because there can be only one such absolute truth.
However, Christianity and Buddhism changed beyond recognition during the millennia and people rightfully ask where’s the problem. Some argue that it might be in the fact that these traditions need a reform because, as with all previous iterations, the understanding became flawed again.
It’s a little bit of a Catch 22 because to reach the destination you need some pointers but all you have are some skewed maps. So you observe, try this and that and observe some more, until it eventually hits you like a ton of bricks and you wonder how you could miss the most obvious, how you could miss the most evident and elegant, how you could miss the perfect. And you know that you’ve arrived.
It may take some time, but you also realize that the maps are essentially in order. They just look as if an ignorant child took hold of them and doodled fancy bullshit all over the place. Some inspired, some not so much. You clearly see all important landmarks buried in centuries of playful drawing. Then you put those maps on top of each other and, as expected, the landmarks on every map match perfectly.
Thus modern rendering of core Christianity, one for a human in Twitter age, would go something like this: Have faith in Jesus when he says that you should keep those two great commandments by which he asks you to put the Ten Words into practice. Believe him when he says that, by doing so, you create conditions in yourself that allow you to enter the Kingdom of God when you are graced with beneficial convergence of events. If you need more help or if you are in doubt, despair, or if you are afraid or otherwise disturbed, meditate on the words of Lord’s prayer. Don’t repeat them like a mantra to push yourself into a trance, carefully contemplate them. Eventually, the truth will hit you like a ton of bricks and you’ll be saved.
And to do the same for Buddhism so it does not feel like an unloved orphan: Trust Buddha when he says that you should acknowledge the Four Noble Truths which implies you following the Noble Eightfold Path of Middle Way between sensual pleasure and self-mortification keeping the Five Precepts. Believe him when he says that, by doing so, you create conditions in yourself that allow you to reach Nirvana when the time is right and you are ready. Be mindful and meditate, but don’t treat it as a sport where achievements matter. Eventually, the truth will hit you like a ton of bricks and you’ll be liberated.
As I said, the landmarks overlap. However.
What the heck is right speech, right action, or right livelihood? Or what does it mean to keep the Shabbat? And, in any case, what do they have in common?
In very simple terms that do not say much — if you keep the Ten Words, you walk the Middle Way. Conversely, if you walk the Middle Way, you keep the Ten Words.
For starters, four of the Ten Words and Five Precepts are identical — no killing, no stealing, no adultery, no falsehood. And although the spark of all such behavior is envy, in other words our attachment to our likes and dislikes, intoxication is definitely not exactly helpful in such context as it can exacerbate our desires and fears. Then again, hallucinogenic plants do wonders exactly because they work as a magnifying glass — we can sit and observe our envy, all our desires in full glory, without actually doing some stupid shit with unpleasant consequences. Though it has to be added, getting lost in depths of one’s mind is pretty common with such helpers, hence an ultra sharp focus is more than necessary.
I must say it again. Even if they slightly differ in shape, the landmarks overlap.
The rest is then pretty straightforward too. First, one must acknowledge that there is such a “thing” as God or Tathata, one must acknowledge the existence of absolute truth. One must also acknowledge the possibility of knowing that truth, that is, the possibility of reaching Kingdom of God or Nirvana respectively. You simply must trust that you can be saved or liberated. And that’s, by the way, the whole leap of faith that’s asked of you.
Next, one acknowledges the dependent origination of phenomena. In Abrahamic parlance, you would say to honor your mother and father. Everything that brought you here. No matter how you view it. This strengthens your acceptance and detachment. Here Lord’s prayer provides a Christian with a lot of wisdom, strength, and guidance. In any case, once the absolute truth is revealed to you, these causal streams, or karma if you will, become clearly visible.
The rest of the instructions simply states that you should be mindful. You should rest in wholeness which is, of course, what keeping Shabbat is all about. You must catch even the faintest of perceptions, even the most subtle idea of what God or Suchness could be. You must accept and see them for what they are — mere images, poor substitutes for the real thing, simply idols of which you should have none. How foolish is then to throw names such as God or Tathata left and right only to impress or even out of habit. That’s, if nothing else, utterly counterproductive.
The best part is then that you can put maps of not only Advaita Vedanta, Judaism, and Islam (for obvious reasons), but also Taoism, and even Shamanism and Animism over maps of Christianity and Buddhism in a similar fashion as I described above and they will match.
And that’s about it.
Now, hurry up and know. Or not. Whichever you prefer.
(*) Another tradition that would share the same cultural ancestor is Zoroastrianism.