A Response to:
“Living Buddha, Living Christ”
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Copyright 1999-2002 by John WorldPeace
All rights reserved
CHAPTER FOUR: LIVING BUDDHA, LIVING CHRIST
A. His life is His Teaching 100800
There is a science called Buddhology, the study of the life of the Buddha.
As a historical person, the Buddha was born in Kapilavastu, near the
border between India and Nepal, got married, had on child, left home, practiced
many kinds of meditation, became enlightened, and shared the teaching until
he died at the age of eighty. But there is also the Buddha within ourselves
who transcends space and time. This is the living Buddha, the Buddha
of the ultimate reality, the one who transcends all ideas and notions and
is available to us at any time. The living Buddha was not born at
Kapilavastu, nor did he pass away at Kushinagar.
Christology is the study of the life of Christ. When speaking about
Christ, we also have to know whether we mean the historical Jesus or the
living Jesus. The historical Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the son of
a carpenter, traveled far form his homeland, became a teacher, and was crucified
at the age of thirty-three. The living Jesus is the Son of God who
was resurrected and who continues to live. In Christianity, you have
to believe in the resurrection or you are not considered a Christian. I
am afraid this criterion may discourage some people from looking into the
life of Jesus. This is a pity, because we can appreciate Jesus Christ
as both a historical door and an ultimate door.
The fact that Christians believe that Jesus was the only son of God, and
was in fact God as part of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is
what makes Christianity exclusive to all the other religions and prevents
any acknowledgment that the other major religions of the world have any validity.
Christians only comprise one sixth of the world population and yet they
believe that they have the only path to salvation. Christians on every
level listen to what others have to say about their religion but never really
listen because they believe they have the only true son of God.
This elitist viewpoint has been the cause of Christian genocide throughout
the world. When Christianity came into contact with the indigenous
people of America they had no reservations about destroying their civilizations
and their religions because all religions other than Christianity were pagan.
In fact, Christians believed it was their God given mandate to convert
or kill off all other religious ideas on the planet.
For the Christian bureaucracy to acknowledge the validity of any other
religion would have the effect of destroying Christianity. Without
the literal Son of God, Christianity is just another religion among many.
When we look into and touch deeply the life and teaching of Jesus, we can
penetrate the reality of God. Love, understanding, courage and acceptance
are expressions of the life of Jesus.
Well this is what is talked about in Christianity but Love means love
other Christians, understanding means understanding God through Christianity,
and acceptance, true acceptance means the acceptance of other Christians.
Jesus was somewhat of an elitist himself because he uttered such words
as “Do not give dogs what is holy’, and “Do not cast your pearls before swine.”
These are not loving, understanding or accepting statements. They
are statements that reflect an elitist attitude such that if you are not
with us, you are against us. And it is my belief that these statements
have been carried forward in the Christian doctrine and dogma which is not
only not understanding, but unsympathetic and outwardly combative toward
It has always been interesting to me that one of the great Christian hymns
is “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war.” And so it has been.
Christianity marching on other cultures and religions as if going to
And this attitude has not changed even today as evidenced by the Pope
of the Catholic Church’s comments a few years ago that disparaged the Buddhist
religion. Christians talk about love, understanding, forgiveness and
acceptance but if you look carefully you will find that these terms are really
restricted to other Christians and not to all the world.
God made himself known to us through Jesus Christ.
As he also made himself known through the Buddha, Mohammed, Baha’U'llah,
Bodhidarma, Krishna, Joseph Smith and Moses. And in truth, as he makes
himself known through every man woman and child.
With the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God within him, Jesus touched the
people of his time. He talked with prostitutes and tax collectors,
and had the courage to do whatever was needed to heal his society.
Today Christians talk to sinners in order to bring them to Jesus.
Christians believe that all human beings need to be saved and only
by embracing Jesus as the literal Son of God and the savior of the world
can one go to heaven after death. Christians are not accepting of sinners.
They see them as people to be saved. And when it is determined
that a person cannot be saved then the Christians move on to the next potential
Jesus was not really trying to heal Jewish society but was trying to attack
the Jewish religious bureaucracy for its hypocrisy. And this is what
got him killed. The Buddha did the same thing as he rejected the Hindu
bureaucracy and its hypocrisy. It was not a matter of healing society
but was a matter of awakening people to their own inner spirituality which
was being manipulated by the religious bureaucracy.
As the child of Mary and Joseph, Jesus is the Son of Woman and Man.
With all due respect, Brother Hanh, Joseph was Jesus’s father in name
only. One of the foundations of Christianity is that Jesus was the
literal Son of God and the virgin Mary. Mary was a virgin when she became
pregnant with Jesus. This is again why Christians give only polite
lip service to other religions. Christians belief that Jesus is the
only literal Son of God. No other religion can make that claim and
so all other religions are inferior to Christianity; so believe
As someone animated by the energy of the Holy Spirit, he is the Son of God.
No, Brother Hanh, Christians will tell you that he was the literal Son
of God. We are all animated by the Holy Spirit if you believe that
we are all children of God. But according to Christians there has only
been one literal Son of God and that was Jesus.
The fact that Jesus is both the Son of Man and the Son of God is not difficult
for Buddhist to accept.
Brother Hanh, I submit that it is impossible for any Buddhist to accept
that Jesus was the literal Son of God. If a Buddhist were to accept
this, that Buddhist would surely renounce Buddhism and embrace
We can see the nature of nonduality in God the Son and God the Father, because
without God the Father within him, the Son could never be.
Brother Hanh, my truth is that we are all sons and daughters of God as
was Jesus. But from a scientific biological perspective in this earthly
reality, Christians belief that the biological father of Jesus was the literal
anthropomorphic one God himself. Son of God is not a metaphor for
Christians but a literal fact.
But in Christianity, Jesus is usually seen as the only Son of God.
Jesus is not usually seen as the only Son of God but always seen as the
literal Son of God and if you do not believe this, then you cannot be a
I notice Brother Hanh that you skip over this very controversial issue.
You skip over the one obstacle that forever prevents any true common
ground of understanding between Christians and Buddhists or any other religion.
Brother Hanh, your refuse to openly state that Buddhist would never
embrace Jesus as the literal biological Son of God.
I think it is important to look deeply into every act and every teaching
of Jesus during his lifetime, and to use this as a model for our own practice.
Well again Brother Hanh, I do not think you want to make this kind of
statement. You see Jesus when he came to the Temple in Jerusalem became
highly upset at the commerce going on within the Temple. He became
so upset that the made a whip and began to turn over tables and whip the
vendors. I do not think that you advocate such extreme behavior.
Further you can see here the precedent that Jesus set for later Christians
to deal accordingly with non-Christians and their pagan religions.
And you can also see why the Jewish bureaucracy was instrumental in having
Jesus crucified. Jesus was bad for business and if left unchecked would
have overturned the entire Jewish religious establishment. The way
of this world is the way of materialism and money. And when spiritual
philosophy interferes with making money then it is the spiritually that must
be subordinated. This is the reality that you sir do not understand
in your position as a monk.
I truly respect you Brother Hanh, but you are attempting to write about
Christianity which you do not fully understand and you do not bring to your
discussion a personal knowledge of how the vast majority of human beings
make a living in the world.
This is why I feel that I must continue to practice law. If I can
maintain my spirituality while working in the most combative profession on
the planet, then I can be an example to others. They cannot discount
what I have to say because I do live in the real world, in their world.
Jesus lived exactly as he taught, so studying the life of Jesus is crucial
to understanding his teaching.
No Brother Hanh, Jesus did not live exactly as he taught. His admonition
to turn the other cheek did not apply to his actions in the Temple. There
are many such examples in the gospels of the New Testament in the Christian
For more examples go to The Saying of Jesus
For me, the life of Jesus is His most important teaching, more important
that even faith in the resurrection or faith in eternity.
Well now Brother Hanh, I see how you diplomatically get around the issues
of Jesus as the literal Son of God, born of the virgin Mary and dying for
the sins of man, and rising from the dead; in essence the guts of
You sir, avoid this subject and look at Jesus outside this role of the
true Son of God. You avoid saying that you do not believe in Jesus
as the savior of the world. And I expect that you will now in the rest
of your book compare Jesus to Buddha without referring to the guts of the
Christian doctrine and dogma. I commend you the effort.
But in the end, when your book is finished, the question will still be
asked by your Christian audience, “Do you believe in Jesus as the literal
Son of God who died for your sins?” If you answer yes, then you are
a Christian and must remove your Buddhist robes. If you answer no,
you will be thanked for your interesting lecture.
B. Mindfulness is the Buddha
The Buddha was a human being who was awakened and, thereby, no longer bound
by the many afflictions of life. But when some Buddhists say that they
believe in the Buddha, they are expressing their faith in the wonderful,
universal Buddhas, not in the teaching or the life of the historical
Buddha. They believe in the Buddha’s magnificence and feel that is
enough. But the examples of the actual lives of the Buddha and of Jesus
are most important, because as human beings, they lived in ways that we can
When we read, “The heavens opened and the Holy Spirit
descended upon Him like a dove,” we can see that Jesus Christ was already
enlightened. He was in touch with the reality of life, the source of
mindfulness, wisdom, and understanding within Him, and this made Him different
from other human beings. When He was born into a carpenter’s family, He
was the Son of Man. When He opened His heart, the door of Heaven was
opened to Him. The Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and He was
manifested as the Son of God — very holy, very deep, and very great. But
the Holy Spirit is not just for Jesus alone; it is for all of us. From a
Buddhist perspective, who is not the son or daughter of God? Sitting
beneath the Bodhi tree, many wonderful, holy seeds within the Buddha blossomed
forth. He was human, but, at the same time, he became an expression of the
highest spirit of humanity. When we are in touch with the highest
spirit in ourselves, we too are a Buddha, filled with the Holy Spirit, and we
become very tolerant, very open, very deep, and very understanding.
More Doors For Future Generations
Matthew described the Kingdom of God
as being like a tiny mustard seed. It means that the seed of the Kingdom
of God is within us. If we know how to plant that seed in the moist soil
of our daily lives, it will grow and become a large bush on which many birds can
take refuge. We do not have to die to arrive at the gates of Heaven.
In fact, we have to be truly alive. The practice is to touch life deeply
so that the Kingdom of God becomes a reality. This is not a matter of
devotion. It is a matter of practice. The Kingdom of God is
available here and now. Many passages in the Gospels support this
view. We read in The Lord’s Prayer that we do not go to the Kingdom
of God, but the Kingdom of God comes to us: “Thy Kingdom come…”
Jesus said, “I am the door.” He describes Himself as the door of
salvation and everlasting life, the door to the Kingdom of God. Because
God the Son is made of the energy of the Holy Spirit, He is the door for us to
enter the Kingdom of God.
The Buddha is also described as a door, a teacher
who shows us the way in this life. In Buddhism such a special door is
deeply appreciated because that door allows us to enter the realm of
mindfulness, loving-kindness, peace, and joy. But it is said that there
are 84,000 Dharma doors, doors of teaching. If you are lucky enough
to find a door, it would not be very Buddhist to say that yours is the only
door. In fact, we have to open even more doors for future
generations. We should not be afraid of more Dharma doors — if anything,
we should be afraid that no more will be opened. It would be a pity for
our children and their children if we were satisfied with only the 84,000 doors
already available. Each of us, by our practice and our loving-kindness, is
capable of opening new Dharma doors. Society is changing, people are
changing, economic and political conditions are not the same as they were in the
time of the Buddha or Jesus. The Buddha relies on us for the Dharma to
continue to develop as a living organism — not a stale Dharma, but a real Dharmakaya,
a real “body of teaching.”
Mother of All Buddhas
The Buddha said that his Dharma body is more
important than his physical body. He meant that we have to practice the
Dharma in order to make nirvana available here and now. The living Dharma
is not a library of scriptures or tapes of inspiring lectures. The living
Dharma is mindfulness, manifested in the Buddha’s daily life and in your daily
life, also. When I see you walking mindfully, I touch the peace, joy, and
deep presence of your brothers and sisters, I recognize that living Dharma in
you. If you are mindful, the Dharmakaya is easy to touch.
described the seed of the mindfulness that is in each of us as the “womb of
the Buddha” (tathagatagarbha). We are all mothers of the
Buddha because we are all pregnant with the potential for awakening. If we
know how to take care of our baby Buddha by practicing mindfulness in our daily
lives, one day the Enlightened One will reveal himself or herself to us.
Buddhists regard the Buddha as a teacher and a brother, not as a god. We
are all Dharma brothers and sisters of the Buddha. We also say that Prajñaparamita
(Perfection of Wisdom) is the mother of all Buddhas. Historically, in
Protestantism, the feminine side of God has been minimized and God the Father
has been emphasized, but in Catholicism, there is a great deal of devotion to
Mary, the Mother of God. In fact, “father” and
“mother” are two aspects of the same reality. Father is more
expressive of the side of wisdom or understanding, and mother the side of love
or compassion. In Buddhism, understanding (prajña) is essential to
love (maitri). Without understanding there cannot be true love, and
without love there cannot be true understanding.
The Daughter of God
The Buddha is said to have ten names, each
describing an auspicious quality. The first, Tathagata, means
“he who has come to us through the right path,” “he who comes
from the wonderful reality of life and will go back to that wonderful
reality,” and “he who has arrived from suchness, remains in suchness
and will return to suchness.” “Suchness” is a Buddhist term
pointing to the true nature of things, or ultimate reality. It is the
substance or ground of being, just as water is the substance of waves.
Like the Buddha, we too have come from suchness, remain in suchness, and will
return to suchness. We have come from nowhere and have nowhere to go.
Buddhist sutra tells us that when conditions are sufficient, we see forms, and
when conditions are not sufficient, we don’t. When all conditions are
present, phenomena can be perceived by us, and so they are revealed to us as
existing. But when one of these conditions is lacking, we cannot perceive
the same phenomena, so they are not revealed to us, and we say they do not
exist. But that is not true. In April, for example, we cannot see
sunflowers around Plum Village, our community in southwestern France, so you
might say the sunflowers do not exist. But the local farmers have already
planted thousands of seeds, and when they look at the bare hills, they see
sunflowers already. The sunflowers are there. They lack only
the conditions of sun, heat, rain, and July. Just because you cannot see
them does not mean that they do not exist. In the same way we say that the
Tathagatha does not come from anywhere and will not go anywhere. He comes
from ultimate reality and will go back to ultimate reality, unbound by space and
time. If you walk past the fields near Plum Village in April and ask them
to reveal to you the ultimate dimension of reality, the Kingdom of God, the
fields will suddenly be covered with beautiful, golden sunflowers. When
St. Francis looked deeply at an almond tree in winter and asked it to speak to
him about God, the tree was instantly covered with blossoms.
The second name
of the Buddha is Arhat, “one who is worthy of our respect an
support.” The third is Samyaksambuddha, “one who is
perfectly enlightened.” The fourth is Vidyacaranasampana,
“one who is endowed with insight and conduct.” The fifth is Sugata,
“one who has gone happily along the path.” The sixth is Lokavidu,
“one who knows the world well.” The seventh is Anuttarapurusadamyasarathi,
“the unsurpassed leader of those to be trained and taught.” The
eighth is Satadevamanusyanam, “teacher of gods and
humans.” The ninth is Buddha, “enlightened
one.” The tenth is Bhagavat, “blessed one.” Every
time we take refuge in the Buddha, we take refuge in the one who has these ten
attributes, which are at the core of human nature. Siddhartha is not the
only Buddha. All beings in the animal, plant, and mineral worlds are
potential Buddhas. We all contain these ten qualities of a Buddha in the
core of our being. If we can realize these qualities in ourselves, we will
be respected and honored by all people.
I see the rite of Baptism as a way of
recognizing that every human being, when opened to the Holy Spirit, is capable
of manifesting these qualities, which are also the qualities of being a son or
daughter of God. We do not speak about Original Sin in Buddhism, but we do
talk about negative seeds that exist in every person — seeds of hatred, anger,
ignorance, intolerance, and so on — and we say that thee seeds can be
transformed when we touch the qualities of a Buddha, which are also seeds within
us. Original sin can be transformed when one is in touch with the Holy
Spirit. Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man. We are all, at
the same time, the sons and daughters of God and the children of our
parents. This means we are of the same reality of Jesus. This may
sound heretical to many Christians, but I believe that theologians who say we
are not have to reconsider this. Jesus is not only our Lord, but He is
also our Father, our Teacher, our Brother, and our Self. The only place we
can touch Jesus and the Kingdom of God is within us.
We Continue to be Born
When we celebrate Christmas or the birth of the
Buddha, we celebrate the coming into the world of a very special child.
The births of Jesus and the Buddha were pivotal events in human history. A
few days after the Buddha was born, many people in his country of Kapilavastu
came to pay their respects, including an old sage named Asita. After
contemplating the baby Buddha’s father, was alarmed. “Holy man, why
are you crying? Will some misfortune overtake my child?” The
holy many replied, “No, your majesty. The birth of Prince Siddhartha
is a wondrous event. Your child will become an important world
teacher. But I am too old and I will not be there. That is the only
reason I am crying.”
A similar story appears in the Bible. Eight
days after His birth, the baby Jesus was brought to the temple for
circumcision. When a man named Simeon looked at Him, he was able to see
that Jesus would bring about a profound change in the life of humankind:
“When the time came for the purification according to the law of Moses,
they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord … and they offered
a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle
doves, or two young pigeons. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name
was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the
consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been
revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had
seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the spirit, Simeon came into the temple
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary
under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now
you are dismissing your servant in peace according to your word, for my eyes
have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to your people,
Israel.’ And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being
said about him.”
Whenever I read the stories of Asita and Simeon, I have
the wish that every one of us could have been visited by a sage when we were
born. The birth of every child is important, not less than the birth of a
Buddha. We, too, are a Buddha, a Buddha-to-be, and we continue to be born
every minute. We, too, are sons are daughters of God and the children of
our parents. We have to take special care of each birth.
Touching our Ancestors
I am not sure if I am myself or if I am my
brother. Before I came into the world, another boy tried to come before
me, but my mother miscarried him. If he had continued to live, I would
have another brother. Or perhaps I would have been my brother. Many
times as a child, I pondered this.
Expecting parents have to be very careful
because they carry within them a baby, one who might become a Buddha or Lord
Jesus. They have to be mindful of what they eat, what they drink, what
they think, and how they act. The way they take care of their bodies and
their feelings affects the well-being of the child within. Our mothers and
fathers helped us come to be and, even now, they continue to give us life.
Whenever I have difficulties, I ask for their support, and they always respond.
spiritual ancestors have also given birth to us, and they, too, continue to give
birth to us. In my country, we say that an authentic teacher has the power
to give birth to a disciple. If you have enough spiritual strength, you
will give birth to a spiritual child, and through your life and practice, you
continue giving birth, even after you die. We say that sons and daughters
of the Buddha came forth from the mouth of the Buddha, because the Buddha
offered them the Dharma, his teaching. There are many ways to offer the
Dharma for a child to be born in his or her spiritual life, but the most usual
is to share the Dharma through words. I try to practice in a way that
allows me to touch my blood ancestors and my spiritual ancestors every
day. Whenever I feel sad or a little fragile, I invoke their presence for
support, and they never fail to be there.
Suffering and the Way Out
As children, Siddhartha and Jesus both
realized that life is filled with suffering. The Buddha became aware at an
early age that suffering is pervasive. Jesus must have had the same kind
of insight, because they both made every effort to offer a way out. We,
too, must learn to live in ways that reduce the world’s suffering.
Suffering is always there, around us and inside us, and we have to find ways
that alleviate the suffering and transform it into well-being and peace.
and nuns in both their traditions practice prayer, mediation, mindful walking,
silent meals, and many other ways to try to overcome suffering. It is a
kind of luxury to be a monk or a nun, to be able to sit quietly and look deeply
into the nature of suffering and the way out. Sitting and looking deeply
into your body, your consciousness, and your mental states is like being a
mother hen covering her eggs. One day insight will be born like a baby
chick. If monks and nuns do not cherish their time of practice, they will
have nothing to offer to the world.
The Buddha was twenty-nine, quite young,
when he became a monk, and at the age of thirty-five, he was enlightened.
Jesus also spent time alone on the mountain and in the desert. We all need
time to reflect and to refresh ourselves. For those who are not monks or
nuns, it may be difficult to find the time to mediate or pray, but it is
important to do so. During a retreat, we learn how to maintain awareness
of each thing we do, and then we can continue the practice in our daily
lives. If we do this, we will see deeply into the nature of our suffering,
and we will find a way out. That is what the Buddha said in his first
Dharma talk at the Deer Park in Sarnath: “Look deeply into the nature of
suffering to see the causes of suffering and the way out.” Monks and
non-monks can all practice this.
I. I am the Way
Theravada school of Buddhism emphasizes the actual teaching of the historical
Buddha, the Buddha who lived and died. Later, the idea of the living
Buddha was developed in the Buddhism of the Northern schools, the
Mahayana. When the Buddha was about to pass away, many of his disciples
were upset that he would no longer be with them. So he reassured them by
saying, “My physical body will no longer be here, but my teaching body,
Dharmakaya, will always be with you. Take refuge in the Dharma, the
teaching, to make an island for yourselves.” The Buddha’s
instructions are clear. The Dharma is our island of refuge, the torch
lighting our path. If we have the teaching, we needn’t worry. One
monk who was very ill expressed regret at not being able to see the Buddha in
person, but the Buddha sent word to him: “My physical body is not what is
most important. If you have the Dharma body with you, if you have
confidence in the Dharma, if you practice the Dharma, I am always with
you.” Jesus also said, “Whenever two or three are gathered in my
name, I am there.”
J. I am Always There for
After the Buddha passed away, the love and devotion to him became
so great that the idea of Dharmakaya changed from the body of teaching to the
glorious, eternal Buddha, who is always expounding the Dharma. According
to Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha is still alive, continuing to give Dharma
talks. If you are attentive enough, you will be able to hear his teachings
from the voice of a pebble, a leaf, or a cloud in the sky. The enduring
Buddha has become the living Buddha, the Buddha of faith. This is very
much like the Christ of faith, the living Christ. Protestant theologian
Paul Tillich describes God as the ground of being. The Buddha is also
sometimes described as the ground of being.
Seeing the Way is Seeing Me
To encounter a true master is said to be
worth a century of studying his or her teaching, because in such a person we
witness a living example of enlightenment. How can we encounter Jesus or
the Buddha? It depends on us. Many who looked directly into the eyes
of the Buddha or Jesus were not capable of seeing them. One man who wanted
to see the Buddha was in such a hurry that he neglected a woman in dire need
whom he met along the way. When he arrived at the Buddha’s monastery, he
was incapable of seeing him. Whether you can see the Buddha or not depends
on you, on the state of your being.
L. I am the
Understanding, I am Love
Like many great humans, the Buddha had a
hallowed presence. When we see such persons, we feel peace, love, and
strength in them, and also in ourselves. The Chinese say, “When a
sage is born, the river water becomes clearer and the mountain plants and trees
become more verdant.” They are describing the ambience surrounding a
holy man or a woman. When a sage is present and you sit near him or her,
you feel peace and light. If you were to sit close to Jesus and look into
His eyes — even if you didn’t see Him — you would have a much greater chance
to be saved than by reading His words. But when He is not there, His
teaching are second best, especially the teachings of His life.
Freedom from Notions
When I read any scripture, Christian or
Buddhist, I always keep in mind that whatever Jesus or the Buddha said was to a
particular person or group on a particular occasion. I try to understand
deeply the context in which they spoke in order to really understand their
meaning. What they said may be less important than how they said it.
When we understand this, we are close to Jesus or the Buddha. But if we
analyze their words to find the deepest meaning without understanding the
relationships between the speaker and his listeners, we may miss the
point. Theologians sometimes forget this.
When we read the Bible, we see
Jesus’ tremendous courage in trying to transform the life of His society.
When we read the sutras, we see that the Buddha was also a very strong
person. The society of India at the time of the Buddha was less violent
than the society into which Jesus was born, so you may think the Buddha was less
extreme in his reactions, but that is only because another way was possible in
his milieu. His reaction to the corruption among Vedic priests, for
example, was thoroughgoing. The notion of Atman, Self, which was at
the center of Vedic beliefs was the cause of much of the social injustice of the
day — the caste system, the terrible treatment of the untouchables, and the
monopolization of spiritual teachings by those who enjoyed the best material
conditions and yet were hardly spiritual at all. In reaction, the Buddha
emphasized the teachings of non-Atman (non-self). He said, “Things
are empty of a separate, independent self. If you look for the self of a
flower, you will see that it is empty.” But when Buddhists began
worshiping the idea of emptiness, he said, “It is worse if you get caught
in the non-self of a flower than if you believe in the self of a flower.”
Buddha did not present an absolute doctrine. His teaching of non-self was
offered in the context of his time. It was an instrument for
meditation. But many Buddhists since then have gotten caught by the idea
of non-self. They confuse the means and the end, the raft and the shore,
the finger pointing to the moon and the moon. There is something more
important than non-self. It is the freedom from the notions of both self
and non-self. For a Buddhist to be attached to any doctrine, even a
Buddhist one, is to betray the Buddha. It is not words or concepts that
are important. What is important is our insight into the nature of reality
and our way of responding to reality. If the Buddha had been born into the
society in which Jesus was born, I think he, too, would have been crucified.
Seeing the way Taking the Path
When Jesus said, “I am the
way,” He meant that to have a true relationship with God, you must practice
His way. In the Acts of the Apostles, the early Christians always spoke of
their faith as “the Way.” To me, “I am the way” is a
better statement than “I know the way.” The way is not an
asphalt road. But we must distinguish between the “I” spoken by
Jesus and the “I” that people usually think of. The
“I” in His statement is life itself, His life, which is the
way. If you do not really look at His life, you cannot see the way.
If you only satisfy yourself with praising a name, even the name of
Jesus, it is not practicing the life of Jesus. We must practice living
deeply, loving, and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus.
The way is Jesus Himself and not just some idea of Him. A true teaching is
not static. It is not mere words but the reality of life. Many who
have neither the way nor the life try to impose on others what they believe to
be the way. But these are only words that have no connection with real
life or a real way. When we understand and practice deeply the life and
teachings of Buddha or the life and teachings of Jesus, we penetrate the door
and enter the abode of hte living Buddha and the living Christ, and life eternal
presents itself to us.
O. Your Body is the
Body of Christ
When the Protestant minister described me as someone who
is not grateful, he was speaking a language different from Buddhism. To
him, love could only be symbolized by a person. That is why belief in the
resurrection is so important to Christians. If Jesus died and was not
resurrected, who would carry His eternal love for us? But does God have to
be personified? In Judaism and Christianity, the image of a person is
In Buddhism, we also personify traits we aspire toward, such as
mindfulness (Shakyamuni Buddha), understanding (Manjusri Bodhisattva), and love
(Maitreya Buddha), but even if Shakyamuni, Manjusri, and Maitreya are not there,
it is still possible to touch mindfulness, understanding, and love.
Students of the Buddha are themselves a continuation of the Buddha. It is
possible to manifest mindfulness, understanding, and love through people of our
own time, even ourselves. We do not need to believe in the resurrection of
Buddhas and bodhisattvas as much as in producing mindfulness, understanding, and
love in ourselves.
The living Christ is in the Christ of Love who is always
generating love, moment after moment. When the Church manifests
understanding, tolerance, and loving-kindness, Jesus is there. Christians
have to help Jesus Christ be manifested by their way of life, showing those
around them that love, understanding, and tolerance are possible. This
will not be accomplished just by books and sermons. It has to be realized
by the way we live. In Buddhism we also say the living Buddha, the one who
teaches love and compassion, must be manifested by the way we live.
the practice of many generations of Buddhists and Christians, the energy of the
Buddha and the energy of Jesus Christ have come to us. We can touch the
living Buddha and we can touch the living Christ. We know that our body is
the continuation of the Buddha’s body and is a member of the mystical body of
Christ. We have a wonderful opportunity to help the Buddha and Jesus
Christ continue. Thanks to our bodies and our lives, the practice is
possible. If you hate your body and think that it is only a source of
affliction, that it contains only the roots of anger, hatred, and craving, you
do not understand that your body is the body of the Buddha, your body is a
member of the body of Christ.
P. Enjoy Being Alive
breathe and know you are alive is wonderful. Because you are alive,
everything is possible. The Sangha, the community of practice, can
continue. The church can continue. Please don’t waste a single
moment. Every moment is an opportunity to breathe life into the Buddha,
the Dharma, and the Sangha. Every moment is an opportunity to manifest the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“There is a person whose appearance
on earth is for the well-being and happiness of all. Who is that
person?” This is a question from the Anguttara Nikaya. For
Buddhists, that person is the Buddha. For Christians, that person is Jesus
Christ. Through your daily life, you can help that person continue.
You only need to walk in mindfulness, making peaceful, happy steps on our
planet. Breathe deeply, and enjoy your breathing. Be aware that the
sky is blue and the birds’ songs are beautiful. Enjoy being alive and you
will help the living Christ and the living Buddha continue for a long, long
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