A meeting between Jesus, the Christ and Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha. I’d love to be able to sit in a corner and listen in. Maybe even throw in a question or two.
Obviously so would Carrin Dunne, who wrote “Buddha & Jesus: Conversations.” Carrin said that she is a Christian with a growing interest in Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism.
I enjoyed this short (112 page) book, which was loaned to me by Warren, my Taoist marital arts teacher. He said that he felt Gotama gets the better of the arguments. I agree.
Dunne’s book was published in 1975. I note that a 2004 book about the I Ching was co-authored by one Carrin Dunne. I like to think that this is the same person, and that after writing about Jesus and Gotama Dunne continued to migrate toward the East.
For me the most interesting dialogue revolved around the subject of the self. To put it bluntly, I’d say that Gotama kicked Jesus’ ass. Spiritually speaking. Christianity just seems way too personal to be an accurate reflection of ultimate truth.
I can’t believe that the Word which supposedly created the cosmos became flesh and walked among us. Give me a break. The power behind the big bang that over 15 billion years has brought into being 100 billion galaxies, how could this force be encapsulated in a finite human being?
Who, according to Gotama, doesn’t even exist as a separate self. Gotama considers the self to be “the absolute source of illusion, the heart of ignorance and bondage.” Jesus, on the other hand, says that the self “is not only valuable but of infinite, irreplaceable value. Far from being the source of illusion, I see it as the source of truth.”
Gotama tries to set Jesus straight:
Infinite value? The source of truth? Indeed our differences are great if you mean what you say. I hope we can understand one another. I was deeply heartened when I heard you say that men must leave self behind to follow along the way, but I was disturbed when you added that to follow the way was to follow you.
Your way of putting it confuses the issue—which is a question of leaving all self behind, myself, yourself, all selves, the whole notion of self. You would do better to distinguish clearly between your person and your teaching.
Great advice, which applies equally to religions and spiritual paths of both the West and East. For it isn’t only Christianity which brings divinity down to a highly personal level and has a human proclaim that “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.”
This also is the teaching of many Eastern guru-based faiths. The guru is considered to be God in human form, just as Jesus is viewed by Christian believers. Thus Indian mystical philosophies such as Sant Mat (“path of the saints”) bear much resemblance to Christianity in their emphasis upon love and devotion directed toward an earthly person.
Jesus feebly tries to claim that when he asks men to follow him, this “is the most radical form of self-renunciation.” Gotama replies:
Forgive me if I still cannot grasp your language. When I speak of leaving self behind, I mean not only this particular self, but all notion of self, whether particular or universal, human or divine. You seem to be asking men to renounce themselves in order to cleave to another self, your own, which becomes a new world, an all-encompassing self for them—your desires in the place of their desires, your thoughts in place of their thoughts.
Jesus admits that “When you put it that way I can see why they say that I am possessed and raving. It sounds like the ambition of a self-obsessed madman.”
Gotama: “I am sorry to say it, but it does.”
It takes two to Tango, though. There is no guru without a disciple. I’ve seen tens of thousands of disciples staring spellbound at a guru, hanging on his every word, drinking in every manifestation of his personality.
Even when I was highly devoted to Sant Mat, in the guise of the Radha Soami Satsang Beas branch, I couldn’t understand this emphasis upon the person rather than the teaching. Some Western disciples loved to go to talks by the guru where he would speak entirely in an Indian language they couldn’t understand, just to be in his presence.
I found it boring.
I’ve also seen Westerners give their own talks about Sant Mat where they would mimic the gestures and speaking style of the guru. Just as Dunne says, they strove to submerge their own personality in the personality of another. I’d sit there thinking, “This is weird.”
For the person they wanted to become was someone else. They wanted to skip Socrates’ step of “Know thyself.” Buddha advises that this is the first, and likely also the last, step toward enlightenment. Why take on another persona when you are clueless about your own?
So I’m with Gotama in this regard. And most other regards. It makes sense to me to look within for spiritual truth, not without. I can admire another person, but I can never become him or her. My devotion should be to my own higher self, not to someone else’s.
Or, lack of self. Whichever, I’m confident that the self or non-self I discover at the end of my quest won’t belong to some other person.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
How many people are there in Boston? Two hundred thousand. Then there are so many sects. I go for Churches of one…The faith that stands on authority is not faith. The reliance on authority measures the decline of religion, the withdrawal of the soul.
…The soul gives itself, alone, original and pure, to the Lonely, Original and Pure, who, on that condition, gladly inhabits, leads and speaks through it….Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.