When Buddha and Christ Met for Tea

jesus_buddha1

Jesus said: If those who lead you say to you ‘look, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” (From the Gospel of Thomas)

A world-honoured one whose many names include Shakyamuni Buddha, from the limitless expanse of the deathless realm, with divine tongue (using words beyond sound), did spontaneously converse with the world-honoured one whose many names include Jesus Christ. The two beings of unsurpassable omniscience, simultaneously decided to take human form and walk again in the realm known as earth.

Having taken human form and travelled the earth separately for a one-year period, prior to ejecting their consciousnesses back into the ultimate expanse, the two great beings decided to meet and discuss their experiences over a cup of tea. The Buddha and Christ sat opposite one another in a quiet corner of an independently-run coffee shop. They ordered a pot of hot tea and some freshly baked chocolate brownies. After a few minutes of sitting in quiet whilst observing and being one with the unfolding present moment, they broke the silence and conversed (in audible words) with gentle tone thus:

Buddha: So, please tell me brother, how was your visit?

Christ: Ah, it is most wonderful to see you again. It’s been quite a lonely stay. It saddens me to say so, but I think things are getting worse here, much worse.

Buddha: Was it really that bad?

Christ: Wherever I went, I taught. Sometimes I spoke to them in words, sometimes in actions. Sometimes I spoke directly from my mind to theirs. Sometimes I taught large groups, sometimes individuals. For each and every person I met, I helped them to experience the god-nature within them. I taught them just to stop for a moment, to follow their breath in and out, and to allow the Holy Spirit to bathe their being. But so few wanted to see. Having experienced a taste of unconditional peace, they either became suspicious or else wanted to be spoon-fed without doing any work.

Buddha: Did they see you?

Christ: Some saw a con man, others saw a beggar. Some, I’m sure, saw a teacher of some form or other and perhaps a small number caught a glimpse of my true self. But the truth is, they didn’t want to see. Seeing me fully was an inconvenience for them, a disruption to the soap opera of their lives.

Buddha: Oh dear.

Christ: What about you my dearest, how was your visit?

Buddha: Well, unfortunately, it seems as though my experience was not all that dissimilar to yours. In fact, to tell the truth, it was quite saddening. When I was here some 2,500 years ago, I taught one set of teachings. Those teachings were multi-layered, and were suitable for people with varying degrees of spiritual propensity. In other words, within any given transmission that I gave, people could extract what they needed at that particular point in their spiritual evolution. So whilst it is wonderful that my teachings have spread across the globe, and have been moulded to suit the cultures in which they have found themselves, it is rather upsetting that people insist on dividing my teachings up and then entering into quarrels based on those divisions.

Christ: That is indeed sad to hear.

Buddha: Nowadays, they divide my teachings up into three principal schools which they call the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. It is saddening to observe just how frequently proponents of these respective schools publicise the relative strengths of their particular school or even go as far as to actively deride the other approaches. I didn’t divide up my teachings in this manner, nor did any of my successors who expanded on the Buddhadharma and retransmitted my teachings over subsequent centuries. The essence of the most profound Buddhist teachings is inherently present within the simplest of my instructions. I wish they wouldn’t over-conceptualise and divide the whole into many.

confusion 5

Christ: I hear what you say. Not only were all of the teachings expounded by you full and complete in their own right, but they originated from the same source as all of the teachings I gave. If only people would realise that when they heard you teaching, they heard me teaching too – and vice versa.

Buddha: Yes, that is so. We used different words to convey the same message. Where you spoke of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I spoke of the Dharmakaya, the Sambogakaya, and the Nirmanakaya. The Dharmakaya means the Father, the Sambogakaya means the Holy Spirit, and the Nirmanakaya means the son. In the Gospel of Thomas you are recorded as saying “Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.” This was your skilful way of teaching the people that the way to reach God or Nirvana was to cultivate and abide in the view of emptiness. With the wisdom view of emptiness, when looking at one thing, all things are seen.

Christ: This is truth!

Buddha: Another thing that I found upsetting was that there are now countless Buddhist lineages. Each individual lineage claims to have authority to teach in my name because their principal teacher was taught by someone whose ‘teacher ancestry’ can be traced back to someone who was taught by me. But I didn’t authorise them to teach in my name based on these criteria. My authorisation is given freely wherever genuine realization is born in the teacher’s mind. Authentic teachers are those that belong to the living lineage of emptiness and unconditional loving kindness.

Christ: Amen.

Buddha: What about the teachings you gave 2,000 years ago, are they still intact?

Christ: When I was last here, they had already been told that God made man in his image. So I tried to show them that in their purest form, they were already an image of God. At that time, I taught the people that if they cultivated the heart of love and compassion, and disciplined their minds, they would gradually become suitable vessels to be blessed and inspired by the Holy Spirit that is already present within their being. But the essence of my message has been lost. They insist on searching outside of themselves for spiritual liberation. Don’t they realise yet that if it was in my hands to liberate them, I would have done so a long time ago? They have to stop transferring their responsibility to cultivate spiritual awareness into the hands of some divine presence. Just like the coxswain who helps to navigate the rowing boat, I can certainly help to guide them but they have to do the work.

Buddha: Amen.

focus 4

Christ: As far as my “followers” go, I do wish they wouldn’t get so caught up in beliefs and rituals. Whilst such things have their uses, the whole idea was to put my teachings into practise. Spending time squabbling about whether or not I was virgin born and about what day I was born or died on won’t get them anywhere. Such behaviour is just a means of indulging their egos – it causes conflict and unrest. I didn’t teach them this.

Buddha: I think that squabbling and bickering are becoming increasingly prevalent the world over. I visited a number of supposedly “peaceful” countries in the West, but it seems to me that they are at war with themselves. Politicians seem to be as venomous and scathing as ever before – everybody is blaming everybody else. The newspapers appear to be desperate to uncover the next scandal – and where they can’t find one then it seems that they’ll do their best to make one up. All it takes is for a recession or slight financial squeeze to come about and riots break out up and down the country. There seems to be growing amounts of tension and imbalance in the hearts and minds of the people. Governments across the world want sustainable economic and technological growth, but without spiritual growth such things will never come about.

energy 2

Christ: So my dear, what is to be done about this predicament?

Buddha: That is indeed the million-dollar question – but what about a fresh cup of tea before we continue?

Christ: That’s an excellent idea. Would you like another chocolate brownie?

Buddha: You read my mind.

To be continued …

Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon

Do We Really Exist

Do We Really Exist?

dream

A truly fascinating question, don’t you think? In order to investigate this question effectively, we need to plunge into and explore some slightly taxing concepts.

When we want to examine the question of whether or not things truly exist, we can do so from either a relative or an absolute perspective. Answering this question from a relative perspective is a fairly uncomplicated procedure: if we accept that other things exist then in relation to those things we can conclude that we definitely exist. However, when we examine this question from an absolute perspective, things are not quite so straight forward.

When investigating this question in absolute terms, we need to remember that our existence is dependent on many factors, is caused by many factors, and is defined by many factors. According to the Buddhist view of emptiness based on the Madhyamaka system of philosophical reasoning, any given apprehended object relies for its existence on: (i) our mental designation of it, (ii) the conditions that caused it to be produced, and (iii) its attributes and component parts. However, the Madhyamaka treatises go on to explain that objects are neither equivalent to any of these individual causes or components, nor to their sum total, nor do they truly exist apart from these causes and components.

In other words, no matter how hard we try to find an object that inherently exists, we will never be able to do so. The reason why phenomena appear far more “real” and concrete than they actually are is due to the process of mental reification. We tend to make things real – including how we construct and create the ‘self’ or ‘I’.

In our most recent post entitled ‘Suffering Exists’, we used the example of a motor car to explain how people suffer due to constantly wanting to change or better their situation. Let’s now use the example of a motor car in a slightly different way in order to try and understand more about this idea of “non-self”. The example that we have formulated is based on a dialogue between a meditation teacher and their (somewhat haughty) student.

An Example: Looking for the Car

bugatti-veyron-super-sports-480

Meditation Teacher: Does this car inherently exist?

Student: Yes, of course.

Meditation Teacher: How does it exist?

Student: It exists because it is comprised of car parts.

Meditation Teacher: Ok, I see. So is this the car?

car chasis 2

Student: No, of course not, that’s just the chassis.

Meditation Teacher: Well what about this?

CAR AXLE-ILLUSTRATION

Student: No, don’t be ridiculous, that’s just the wheels and one of the axles. An individual car component cannot be all of the mutually exclusive parts that make up the car. One thing cannot be another thing.

Meditation Teacher: So the car doesn’t exist in any of its component parts?

Student: Of course not.

Meditation Teacher: Does it exist outside of its component parts?

Student: No, that’s even sillier. The car doesn’t exist in any one of its individual component parts nor does it exist outside of its component parts.

Meditation Teacher: Ok, so how does the car exist?

Student: The car exists as the sum of its component parts.

Meditation teacher: Ah, I see. But you have already said that a component part can’t be two things at once. Are you now saying that the chassis can be both a chassis and a car?

Student: No, that would be illogical.

Meditation Teacher: So you’re saying that when the wheels, chassis, axles, and all the other car components are put together they stop being those components and become a new single entity?

Student: No, that wouldn’t make sense either – the component parts still exist in the car. The word “car” is used to designate the collection of individual components that collectively form a car.

Meditation Teacher: Right, so you are saying that the car is just label?

Student: Well, I guess so.

Meditation Teacher: How can a car be just a label?

Student: I don’t know.

Meditation Teacher: You still haven’t shown me where I can find a car that inherently exists. Where is the car?

Student: I’m not sure, I’m confused.

Meditation Teacher: Enjoy being confused.

Student: I’m going out to get some fresh air.

Meditation teacher: Ok, but don’t take too long. We’re going to test drive a new car later and I’ve been looking forward to it all day.

We can apply the same line of reasoning employed in the above example of the motor car to ourselves as human beings. We are made up of blood, flesh, bone, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. We are made up of molecules, atoms, electrons, and quarks. We are made up of our parents and their parents, and of the wind, water, earth, and sun. Although without any of these things we do not exist, an inherently existing self may not be found within these causes and components whether in singular or in sum. Therefore, when, in Buddhist philosophy, we speak of ‘non-self’ (Pali: anattā), the ‘self’ that we are denying is an independent and intrinsically existing self.

Deconstructing the ‘Self’

mansion

However old we are, we have had that much time since birth in order to create the construct of ‘I’. In fact, we don’t limit ourselves with just one ‘I’, but tend to be a different I for each different aspect of our lives. We have an ‘I’ that we use when we are with the family, another for friends, and yet another when we are at work.  It’s as if we have built a mansion with many rooms where each room comes with the label ‘I’. A useful practice is to take a moment to discover how many rooms make up our mansion and what materials have been used to construct and arrange each of these rooms. What beliefs, motivations, habits, and perceptions have influenced the creation of each of your different ‘I’s’?

Unfortunately, most people live out their entire lives in this mansion – stuck in a boring and cyclic pattern of moving from one room to the next and limiting themselves to being the same cluster of ‘I’s’ that everyone expects them to be. People have a tendency to get stuck in their own identity, and to forget that outside of their mansion there is a whole world to explore. As we discussed in our post entitled “The Practice of Impermanence: Learning How to be Alive”, the problem with getting stuck like this is that we cause ourselves a great deal of suffering because we are not open to change.

self deception

Were you able to witness with clarity and honesty all of the different construction materials that you have used over the course of your lifetime?

prison

What exactly is this mansion that we have constructed? Did the thought cross your mind that instead of a mansion perhaps we have constructed a prison? Is it possible that we have limited and imprisoned ourselves with our concepts, words, judgements, feelings, perceptions, and so forth? Maybe we are our own jailors guarding a prison of our own construction.

If that’s the case, then we need to think about how we can escape from this prison. The good news is that we’re not stuck. If we have the power to create a prison for the mind then we also have the power to dismantle it. With perseverance and hard work, we can definitely dismantle the limited construct of ‘I’ that we have created.  For many people, this can be a somewhat daunting prospect so it is advisable to take things one step at a time. As we become familiar with the fact that we (body, mind, spirit) are not a constant, we begin to feel more comfortable with the idea of allowing things to change. It is then that we can begin to demolish the old ‘I’ and prepare the ground for the new build:

demolition

Everything that we uncover during the demolition process made us what we are today. In fact, some of this ‘stuff’ such as ideas, beliefs, emotions, and thoughts will be useful and can be put to one side for recycling in the new build. However, some of the things that we uncover will be of zero or even negative value and it is therefore advisable to dispose of them completely. When the old mansion is completely demolished and we have a clear and clean plot, we can start to build a new ‘I’ that is dynamic, has a vast and panoramic view, is up-to-date, and in a constant state of flux:

meditation house

As we mature in the practice and become more familiar and comfortable with change, letting go of the old to make way for the new becomes easier and easier. We begin to dynamically flow with impermanence and this new found space and freedom causes the mind to remain in tranquillity. It is here that we can start to enjoy the empty nature of phenomena – allowing the old to dissolve and the new to become.

meditation house 3

In seeing, there is just seeing. No seer and nothing seen. In hearing there is just hearing. No hearer and nothing heard.”

(The Bahiya Sutta)

Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon

Suffering Exists

suffering exists

The Pali word for suffering is Dukkha and is translated as dissatisfactoriness or dissatisfaction. In our most recent post entitled “How to become enlightened in 30 days”, we made reference to the Buddha’s teaching that ‘suffering exists’. We have since received a number of emails asking us to elucidate on this point further. Today’s post is therefore a brief introduction to the Buddhist teachings on suffering.

‘Suffering exists’ represents the first of what are commonly known as the ‘Four Noble Truths’ (Pali: cattāri ariyasaccāni). The Four Noble Truths was the subject of the first discourse given by the Buddha after he attained enlightenment. The teaching was given to the five ascetics (the Buddha’s former companions) whilst the Buddha was residing in the Deer Park in Isipatana (now called Sarnath). The teaching of the Four Noble Truths is that: (i) suffering exists, (ii) there is a cause to suffering, (iii) there is cessation of suffering, and (iv) there is a path that leads to the cessation of suffering.

Although there are (obviously) four components to the Buddha’s teaching on the Four Noble Truths, each of the noble truths contains the ‘truth’ of each of the other three components. For example, if we assert that suffering exists, then because of the law of causality, it is automatically implied that suffering has a cause (i.e., the second truth). The same applies to the third noble truth – if we assert that there is cessation of suffering (or Nirvana if you prefer), then it is likewise implied that Nirvana also has a cause (which is the path that leads to the cessation of suffering – the fourth noble truth).

Similarly, because suffering (and every other mentally designated concept) exists only as a relative notion, when we assert that suffering exists, the notion of non-suffering (i.e., Nirvana) is produced by default. The same applies to examples such as ‘here and there’, ‘this and that’, ‘high and low’, and ‘hot and cold’. ‘Over here’ exists in dependence on ‘over there’. If we take away ‘over here’, then we also take away ‘over there’. If there is suffering, there is also Nirvana. If there is no suffering, there is no Nirvana.

Thus, although we are not suggesting that this should be done, because all noble truths are implicit within each individual noble truth, we could actually condense the Buddha’s teaching on the Four Noble Truths down to just ‘suffering exists’.

Suffering Exists

This first noble truth of suffering exists contains three principal categories of suffering: (a) the suffering of suffering, (b) the suffering of change, and (c) all-pervasive suffering.

a)    The suffering of suffering

The suffering of suffering is the most obvious category of suffering and refers to discomforts such as poverty, hunger, disease, injury, and so forth. This human body is extremely fragile and even a small bump or cut can give rise to unbearable pain. This is suffering in its grossest aspect and even animals recognise this form of suffering. The majority of people have a tangible fear of this type of suffering and experience discomfort even at the thought of it! We are acutely aware of and sensitive to this first category of suffering – suffering definitely exists!

b)    The suffering of change

Unlike the suffering of suffering, people tend to be less aware of the suffering of change. Despite this, the general tendency seems to be that people make a conscious effort to underpin their whole life with this form of suffering. Few people are truly satisfied with their lot – people always desire more, something bigger, something better, or something different. For example, imagine that we start saving our pennies to buy our first little car. We’re young, money is tight, and car insurance is super expensive. However, we really need something to get us from A to B. We frequently comment to ourselves: “if only I had a little car, it would make all the difference”. Eventually we do a good job of convincing ourselves that life cannot function without the car and voila, we do it – our first and very own motor vehicle:

car

However, as we get a little older, we are influenced by our peers and before we know it, our beautiful little car isn’t so beautiful any more. We ‘need’ something better and we make excuses to justify this ‘need’. Then, before we know what’s happening, we’ve done it again – out with the old and in with the new:

car 2

Gosh, this is better, wait till my friends see this” we think to ourselves. However, once again, it doesn’t take too long before our mind starts telling us that we ‘need’ something even more comfortable. After all, we now have an ‘important’ job and must make the ‘right’ impression! Once again, we manage to convince ourselves to visit the car dealership and hey presto, we’ve done it again:

car 3

Wow, I’ve really done it this time – now people will understand who and what I am – this is really going to change my life – people can’t ignore me now”! However before long, the mind gets to work and begins to nag again: “Hey, this isn’t you after all – it’s not the image that suits you best. Perhaps it was at one time, but now people will think that you’re unimaginative and boring”. You resist for as long as you can but eventually the mind gets its own way: “People really are looking at me as though I am dull, stuffy, and boring – I really ‘need’ to change this car”:

car 5

Aaah – this is definitely me! At least for now”!

We play out this scenario with almost every aspect of our lives. Dominated by the conditioned mind, our desires, thoughts, and feelings get the better of us each and every time.

 

a)    All-pervasive suffering

All-pervasive suffering acts as the basis for the previous two types of suffering and is the root of all suffering. In general, people are totally unaware of this form of suffering. All-pervasive suffering comprises two basic elements: attachment and aversion.  Attachment and aversion govern all of our choices and decisions and arise because of a deeply-rooted belief that the ‘self’ or ‘I’ exist autonomously. With obstinate determination, people believe that the ‘self’ is fixed, unchanging, real, and unending. It is the ‘I’ that becomes attached to phenomena and it is the ‘I’ that has aversion toward phenomena. We, as human beings, cling to this ‘I’ and the reality that the ‘I’ creates. The ever present ‘I’ is inevitably followed by ‘me’ and ‘mine’! So we could say that the root of all suffering is the deluded mind – a mind that insists that the ‘self’ is real and independent. We discussed this in our recent post entitled “The Top Ten Mistakes made by Meditation Practitioners” (see the section entitled ‘Ontological Addiction’), and we will visit it again in forthcoming posts.

 

The wisdom of suffering

In order to progress on the spiritual path, we need to become deeply aware of both the existence and nature of suffering. This, in part, is the wisdom that we referred to in our post entitled “Meditation: A Three-fold Approach”. We should aim to see suffering in every aspect of human existence including birth (because birth gives rise to sickness, old age, and death). This is not an extreme attitude whereby a person becomes infatuated with suffering. Rather, it’s the case that if we want to let go of something, we first need to become aware of it. Becoming aware of our suffering means that we can begin to objectify it. We can begin to loosen up and even start to foster an appreciation and sense of humour towards the suffering that we experience. Without suffering (attachment and aversion), we could never attain liberation. Thus, although the spiritual practitioner certainly doesn’t go out of their way to experience suffering, they do their best to take it onto the path and use it to propel them forward.

 

Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon

%d bloggers like this: