Jesus and Buddha
What is the Difference?



I first wrote this during Lent 2004. You know, that time between pączki and flashing skin at Mardi Gras and when the colored eggs magically appear in all the nooks and crannies around the yard. This version is slightly edited with deepened insights and recent developments. Jokes, too.

In 2004, that year Mr. Mel Gibson’s latest movie The Passion of the Christ kicked off the Lenten season. And almost everyone by now knows that it had created a whole lot of debate. Not to mention a few dollars, too. What was he thinking? A family movie? As David Denby wrote in the New Yorker Magazine, “Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me,’ not ‘Let the little children watch me suffer.’ ” Frank Rich in the NY Times called the movie a "sadomasochistic gorefest".

This is not a movie review. I’d like to give Mel Gibson some credit, however. [Yes. Credit. Even though he has since then moved on up and added public displays of racism and misogyny to his resume. But, this year is now an 2016 Oscar contender. Crowds! Sometimes they love you. Sometimes, not. Ask Jesus about that one.] 

By my lights, and setting aside whether you agree or disagree with his portrayal or his Christology, I appreciate a healthy general debate on religion itself.

My hope is that the conversation opens to a discussion on what’s at the heart of religion, and not just be something to appropriate by someone seeking to win some narrow sectarian argument or co-opting it to gain a political prize. Or, shamelessly burnishing a public image with a reputation of sanctimony and goodness. I am all for goodness; saintliness, even. But, goodness gracious, not as a branding device. An old car sales dog I once knew had this sage advice, “Ya know how to tell if their lying? Their lips are moving.” [Completely unrelated, I am sure, watch Oprah on OWN network.]

It is at their heart that I find a great deal of unity among religions, even though, on the surface, there seems to be a lot of separation.

My take (hope?) is that Mel’s movie has boldly triggered the “dangerous” theme of religion itself into our stridently secular, cultural conversation. Secular, as in “Did you have a good Christmas? Get everything you wanted?” “Are you ready for Easter? Nice decorations at Michaels at the mall. There’s a sale on!” I am interested in living into the holistic worldview for myself and offer my expertise as a professional to those who would also want that for themselves. Religion fits.

Religion (also, read spirituality) is concerned with everything that is, the whole enchilada; as opposed to only those things we can get our hands on (read science/technology). [Then there's Scientology. A complete got-the-world-on-a-string package. Or, Madonna and her Kaballa, and their little red string.] I see it as a plus to be confronted to consider the big life questions: Who am I? What is this? Where did I come from? Where am I going? For what purpose? Don’t look at Reality TV for any of those answers. (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Temptation Island! The Bachelor. Ya, sure.) [A personal aside: I’m working on a TV project with some of my show biz buddies. It’s called “Who’s Got My Divot? It’s about bald celebrities and patches of grass. That’s all I can reveal at this time. And there’ll be a real mind blowing twist at the end of the 20-week run. So far, the pilot is green lights as far as I can see. Even Trump is on board. Tune in.]

Returning: I don’t know if Mr. G had what I’m talking about in his mind for his controversial project, but I can make my own point even if I don’t spend $25 million to produce this article. [For my appreciative and supportive readers, send only checks and money orders. In-kind contributions also accepted. I don't want much. Only, let it have taste and quality.]

Just to clarify a bit more, my hope is to see this conversation shift to a higher level. In the so called culture wars that may be a part of what now seems to be 24/7 political campaigning, the issue of religion could be appropriated only for political advantage to score points with potential voters by hanging that subject on some hot button issues. The real nugget could be overlooked. I am personally interested in making a religious orientation a part of the fabric of my life and support others who choose to do the same. So what is a religious orientation to life, anyway?

If you are a reader of books I highly recommend Why Religion Matters by Huston Smith. This is not about going to church on Sunday or whatever other observance you follow or the set of words and names unique to your religion. It is about the significance of the spiritual side of things; how in the current climate in our society the sphere of religion is marginalized to the sidelines in our mass/mad dash to a promise of a scientific and technological future of more, better, and different; and, as he so eloquently makes the case, why religion matters. Read the book.

Then, of course, there’s Jesus. If Henny Youngman

I am not attempting to author the definitive exegesis. Just my own view.

Here it is: Jesus is a Buddhist.

Whoa, Ho, Whoa! Now before you take the heat off Mr. Mel and put it on me, let me s’plain, Lucy. The Buddha saw deeply into things and handed down teachings about the nature of suffering and the possibility for freedom from suffering. (Thank you, Buddha!) The key to this freedom is the practice of detachment, surrender. In that practice we free ourselves from our unnecessary involvements with the illusory nature of the world; most particularly, suffering. Here’s a mind teaser for you: Do we experience suffering, or do we suffer experience? I believe it was The Buddha who put it as, “All is suffering.” My go-to teacher, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, (in I Am That… the last book you will ever read) asserts the latter; indeed, we suffer experience. Read the book.

The message of the cross is the same in this respect, I believe. Only, if Jesus transcended pain and suffering—saw through it—is he the real deal? You get to decide that for yourself. [I pray for you.] Bear your cross lightly. I see his crucifixion as his highest testament: “YES!” Not defeated and resigned to enduring the worst kind of torture. But, seeing through it. Accepting. Yes!

A long time ago at my EST training (yes, I’m one of those) I learned about how, if you fully experience something, it disappears. See for yourself. Don’t just believe it, do it. You’ll see for yourself. Take heart in seeing Jesus as accepting his karma and sacrificing his own personal sense of self to demonstrate the possibility for all. His realization and sacrifice also earned enough grace/merit for humankind in all the three times—past, present, and future—that all’s you got to do is live into his example, follow his advice: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Forgive.” “Let it go.” Cause when you let it go, isn’t it gone? I’m not much impressed for overlarge professions of faith and histrionic acceptings of Jesus, as such. Looks good on paper perhaps, but in the work place it’s still dog eat dog. On the highway, too. It’s time to walk the talk, pardner.

I recently attended a talk by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who suggested that it is beneficial to develop a loving compassion toward oneself and all others. He further said that in order to open one’s heart you have to also open your mind. Now we’re talking real religion. Would Jesus disagree with that advice?

When I was a boy there was a crucifix with a life-sized figure of Jesus staring down at me every day at Mass. I was sincere lad but not a little goody, goody. We were compelled by the good Sisters to attend services daily before school. In fact (a little confession) I myself was the subject of a Sunday sermon on how a boy should not behave. I’ll leave it to your imagination what could possibly have prompted our pastor to use this kid as an example of a bad attitude and how that affected my psyche. Talk about a guilt trip. Where was PeeWee Herman when I needed him…”I know you are, pastor, but what about me?” [I was guilty of speaking my mind a little too freely in front of my elders; Pastor Alexander, in that most memorable instance.] On top of that I used to imagine whether, if I were in Jesus’ shoes (sandals, really), how would I deal with such torture and pain. In short, no way. More guilt. Seeing my own cowardice and weakness in this fantasy only made me feel all the more unworthy.

Now that I’m a committed meditator and have developed a glimpse at detachment myself, I can appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice in a whole new light. Could I/would I walk in his shoes. Still, no way; please, Lord. But I am not, we are not, asked to live in any shoes other than our own. So no good Christian should go on suffering. Nor Buddhist. Jew. Hindu. Muslim. Nor the rest. As for you atheists out there, you’re gonna get yours. Suffering, pain… give it up! Swami Muktananda’s said as much in his book entitled, Getting Rid of What You Haven’t Got.

I’m not here to tell you more on the spiritual life, as such. There are books and teachers enough. Regard this as encouragement to practice whatever path you are on. Further, if you’re not on a spiritual path, what are you on? Medication? Busy figuring out what to put on your next pizza? Racing to be first at the next red light? Tweeting with that world class “winner” Charlie Sheen?

So, just walk your talk. Get some religion. Practice makes perfect. Saying that pain and suffering are illusions may be true. But when you’re a-hurtin’, words-only may not be useful. The trick is to practice, and practice, and practice. And start ASAP. As they say, “Don’t wait until the house is on fire before you start digging the well.’ Grace is real. Take some. All you want. You don’t have to ask your doctor, I promise.

"Be Here Now" in ordinary conversation seems to have become a piece of toss-out jargon, the kind of thing you might want to put on a bumper sticker. I once recommended Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now) to a young fellow I know, and he brushed the subject aside with a "I have that on my book shelf". As the Church Lady says, "Well, isn't that special". The idea my dear young friend is to get it off the bookshelf and etch it on your bones. (I realize that there is some judgementalness in this recollection. If the shoe fits, you'll wear it. And, for the record, I am not concerned whether he or anyone else takes up this practice. It is enough for me to go there.)

But, the Present Moment is the master key. If you take the trouble to do it. Trouble? Well, at first, it may look like trouble. For to be in that Present Moment you have to let go of past things and future concerns. N'est–ce pas? It takes courage to enter the Present Moment. From the perspective of the past and the future it seems unknown and fearful. Just to stress, where else could you be but the Present Moment? The past is over, the future not yet. Free your mind. Let's meet in the middle.

I'm also thinking about how the Cross figures into this conversation. If you are a fundamental type thinker then, of course, the Cross is the wooden device what our Lord was crucified on. There's symbolism there too. Thing in terms of the vertical upright segment, and the horizontal, level one. In Oriental Qi Gung there is the concepts, pre-natal and post natal. Pre-natal refers to the Source of things. Post-natal, already happened things; that is, the created world. The post-natal orientation is the worldly, the mundane; past and future. The pre-natal refers to the Source of things, the creative, the yet to happen, the possible, the transcendent; you find that in the Present Moment, don't you know. The art of living is to find oneself at the intersection of these two directions. That I would say is the heart, the center of balance.

The World is Too Much With Us
by William Wordsworth 

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God!  I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Let's leave it with Meister Eckhart…”What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to His Son if I do not also give birth to Him in my time and my culture?”

To Jesus on His Birthday
By Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

For this your mother sweated in the cold,
For this you bled upon the bitter tree:
A yard of tinsel ribbon bought and sold;
A paper wreath; a day at home for me.
The merry bells ring out, the people kneel;
Up goes the man of God before the crowd;
With voice of honey and with eyes of steel
He drones your humble gospel to the proud.
Nobody listens. Less than the wind that blows
Are all your words to us you died to save.
O Prince of Peace! O Sharon's dewy Rose!
How mute you lie within your vaulted grave.
The stone the angel rolled away with tears
Is back upon your mouth these thousand years


Thank you all. Thank you Mel. Thank you Buddha. Thank you, Jesus. I believe in love. And I believe in forgiveness. I believe in you.

PS What’s this talk about anti-Semitism? (Mel Gibson, and now that most flaming fashionista and j'accused anti-semite, John Galliano) If you said to any half intelligent person that Jesus’ death was instrumental in the redemption of humankind for which we should be deeply grateful, then what should be our logical attitude toward the people who where supposedly also there for that event? [News flash: Pope Benedict the XVI has just recently exonerated the Jews in the matter of Jesus’ death. Finally!] And, to button it up, aren’t we all of us instrumental in crucifying Jesus all over again whenever we fail to love one another?

I am also smilingly remembering Mr. Myron Cohen, a Borsht Belt era entertainer I used to see on the Ed Sullivan show Sunday evenings. He once on network TV confronted his critics who charged him with being anti-Semitic. “Anti-Semitic?” he asked. “Anti-Semitic?” And then, “But, I am Semitic!”

Now that I’m on to the Jews. [Yes, you Jews, I am on to you.] Take the Jews. Please.

No, but really…

What is a Jew, anyway? Isn’t “Yaweh” the name of God in the Hebrew Bible? Let’s break it down… Yaweh… Yaweh-ish… Yaw-ish... Jew-ish. Does anybody else see the connection? I say, that to be a Jew, is to be… god-like. And can’t we all be that? Aren’t we all, that? What’s this about anti-Semitism. So we’re all semitic! Literally, maybe not so much. But, figuratively, quite so. We be all wandering in search of our true home.

Happy trails.

God’s speed.

Try to be a mensch. (And, not a schmuck.)

This old Jewish lady comes back from her doctor check up. She says to her husband, Sammy, who’s engrossed in his newspaper at the kitchen table, “So, Sammy, you vant to know vat the doctor said about my brrreasts?” Sammy, showing the only slightest bit of interest and barely looking away from the paper, says, “Vat!” “The doctor said I have the brrreasts of a sixteen year old!” Now, here was his chance to level his proud bride, “And, vat did he say about your eighty year old ass?” After a small pause (wait for it), this curt come back, “Ve didn’t talk about you!”

Two men drinking together at a bar. One is Chinese, the other Jewish. After a few tilts the Jewish fellow punches the Chinese guy in the jaw, knocking him down. “Hey, what was that for? Huh?” “It was for Pearl Harbor!” “Pearl Harbor? That was the Japanese, not the Chinese!” “Japanese, Chinese… what’s the difference?” That seemed to end it and, after things settled back and a few more tilts, the Chinese man punches his Jewish friend, also knocking him down. “Hey, what the heck was that for?” “That was for the Titanic!” “The Titanic? That was an iceberg!” “Iceberg, Greenberg; what’s the difference.”

A man is walking down the street looking for a shop to have his broken watch repaired. There’s a store with a big clock in the window and he goes in. He says to the proprietor that he is there to have his watch repaired. The proprietor, somewhat perplexed, informs the customer that he is a Mohel, specially trained to officiate at the circumcision rite in the Jewish tradition. The even more perplexed man with the watch says, “But, you have a clock in the window?” The Mohel counters, “What would you put in the window?”

You know how there are things we say to one another that pretty much amount to what’s called “social grease.” How ya doin? What’s Up? How are you? How do you do? [On that last one, Groucho would say, “Well I haven’t had any complaints lately.”] The mot of the moment, Wassup? I am my father’s son and have a thrown urge to see such things as an opening to tell my life story. But, in fact, as you know, it’s just a way to toss something of an acknowledgement out there without any real expectation of a reply any more detailed than the usual fine, thank you. But I like to mix it up a bit. When I am feeling particularly Christian, I respond with that topper of all toppers, I am blessed. If I am feeling really frisky, I’ll add a Praise the Lord and a Thank you, Jesus. Who's the man? When my Jewish gene is dominant, my retort is---think Jackie Mason---Ech, how should I feel?















No comments: