Keith, a high school classmate, liked to say, “Jesus was a Jew.” That sounded shocking to me at the time. Yet it’s true. It’s also true that Jesus wasn’t a Christian. And Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist, Muhammad wasn’t a Muslim, Lao Tzu wasn’t a Taoist, Nanak wasn’t a Sikh.
The people I’ve mentioned were just that: people. As Deepak Chopra observes, they weren’t the dogmas and ideologies that have come to be associated with them. Those religions and organized philosophical systems came later.
Often we hear the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” Well, I’m willing to bet that if he were alive today he wouldn’t wear a custom screen-printed silicone wrist band that says, “What would Jesus do?” He might ask himself, “What should I do?” But since Jesus would be himself, there’d be no gap between his being and his doing.
So a good Christian who wants to emulate Jesus shouldn’t be asking what Jesus would do. He or she should be seeking the answer to the question, “What is Jesus’ being?” Now, I realize this isn’t as snappy a slogan as “What would Jesus do?” However, it’s a much better guide to living a genuine Christian life.
The same goes for Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, Sikhs, and the followers of every other religion or spiritual path that has grown out of the inner realization of an exceptional human being. It’s the being of that person—Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Lao Tzu, Nanak—that is truly exceptional.
From being comes doing. If we don’t possess the consciousness of Jesus, we’ll never be able to really act like Jesus. So no matter what great spiritual personage we wish to emulate, our goal should be to mirror his or her inner being, not the outer doing.
Meister Eckhart was condemned as a heretic by the Catholic Church for saying that everyone can be the Son of God, not just Jesus. Mansur al Hallaj was tortured and killed by Muslim authorities for uttering the words ana'l –Haqq, “I am the Truth.” Buddhists, on the other hand, are urged to attain Buddha-nature.
Generally, though, organized religions actively discourage believers from believing that they can attain the same state of consciousness as the founder of the religion. Doing what the religion says to do is a great virtue, but being what the religion’s founder was is a nasty heresy (Buddhism, Taoism, and similar inwardly directed faiths excepted).
This is because it is assumed that there is an unbridgeable gap between the realization, enlightenment, revelation—whatever you want to call it—of the founder and ordinary people. Jesus may have been able to know the nature of God and the divine will; nobody else can.
Religions thus claim to have a corner on the market of spiritual wisdom. If you don’t get your godly truth from a holy book then you’re not in possession of the real thing. Even more, the only people who know how to interpret the words in those holy books are the priests, mullahs, gurus, and such—who claim that they are the link between a historic revelation and present-day spirituality.
Here at the Church of the Churchless we like to ask, “Who died and made you Pope?” (or whatever). And even if this question could be answered by the actual Pope, the follow-up would be, “Even though you’re Pope, what makes you infallible?” Before you were Pope, you were an ordinary Bishop. An instant after your ordination, supposedly you’re God’s right-hand man. Did your being change so dramatically and quickly, or was it just your power to do that changed?
I’m not much interested in what great souls like Jesus did outwardly. I’m interested in who they were inwardly.
I just went for a walk with our dog. Strolling along the Metolius River in central Oregon, thinking my thoughts, feeling my feelings, sensing my sensations, I wondered what Jesus or Lao Tzu would think, feel, and sense if they were here instead of me. And also I wondered, “What would I think, feel, and sense if I could share their state of consciousness? How would it be different from what I’m experiencing now?”
I’m convinced that the only real Christian is someone who tries to become Jesus, just as the only real Buddhist is someone to tries to become Buddha. It is a lot easier to change what we do than who we are. But genuine spirituality flows from being, not from doing.
Outside an art gallery in Lahaina, Maui I once saw a sign that said something like, “Our goal shouldn’t be to do different things, but to see the same things differently.” Good advice.