Archive for October, 2009

PGRDSeveral months ago a friend of mine who is a devout Buddhist got into a good discussion with me about why I felt such a need to study Buddhist scriptures so throughly, literally, and why I searched so much for a very pure practice. You see, I would be practicing Soto and would start reading Dogen and wonder why our current practice was so far off from his teachings. Or I would study the Pali Canon and wonder why so much of it is ignored. I also was looking for a practice that was “pure” from the standpoint of it being very established, traditional, and with a long lineage and history behind it.

He, on the other hand, was very eclectic and had little concern otherwise. He was into really anything that appealed to him at that moment, gathering things from here and there along his path, and forming his own kind of practice that suited him best. There was certainly a kind of freedom there that he was enjoying that I was not, but I questioned if this was right way, or at least if this was the way for me.

I was more of the mindset of researching and finding a tradition/Master that I felt in my heart to be true and sticking to it… even the parts that I didn’t like or that “cramped my style”. Also, as a scholar, I was and still am into the notion that scripture and history must be revered and considered seriously. Now I am not saying that it ALWAYS has to be followed — just that it always has to be considered seriously and if not followed for good and defensible reason.

He proposed two arguments to me which I had no real answer for that I would like to finally answer today. They were as follows:

1. If whatever it is they are doing/believing, is helping them they who really cares if it’s false or true?
2. Even the oldest of scriptures still is most likely impure, so who cares if we adjust them even more?

The first of the two arguments lead into a long discussion on Upaya, and it did open my mind up to a lot of things. There is some truth to this argument, and I must concur that there is time and place for expedient means. However, we must also agree that the purpose of Upaya is to get someone to move from one state to another, so that they may receive a new truth and be freed from the old one. Once this is accomplished the individual now should be able to walk in this new truth and no longer feel the need to cling to the past delusion or the delusion that was presented to them through Upaya to motivate them in the first place. If this is not done, then was progress really made?

Also, what is the definition of something helping? What is the definition of something not harming? Does something help someone if it does not really lead them to liberation? Doesn’t it harm someone if they pick up some teaching or mindset along the way that hinders their long-term progress even though it provides some kind of temporary solution to a problem? This technique of expedient means must be used by a Master out of loving-kindness and tempered with wisdom, for the good of their student to move them along the path. It is not license for us to simply do as we wish and see fit without skill and purpose.

For the second argument, I was already familiar with this topic from my days in Bible Seminary. Not only do we have to take into account when reading ancient text that it may have been, and was most likely altered by people with alteriar motives or agendas, but we also have to take into account the fact that even the most pure, divine revelation is still going to have to be filtered through the eyes and mind of a mortal and even their most direct and accurate account will still be tainted in some way, shape or form. As the Apostle Paul wrote himself, “we see in a mirrordimly“.

Yet, does this give taint us license to further filter scripture as we see fit to adjust it to our own social, political, personal or other preferences?

I think it is a lot like peeing in a pool.

If you were in a large pool of water with a group of people and word got out that someone may have peed in it, does that mean that we all then will just figure it’s ok for the rest of us to take a dump in it?


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3rdjesusBook Review on Deepak Chopra’s The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore

I have seen many reviews of this book online, so I guess the question is: “Why one more?” However, if you look at them carefully you will probably notice that they are either by institutions trying to sell you the book, fans of Deepak Chopra; or, in the opposite vein, person’s of a fundamentalist Christian background who automatically already knew they would disagree with this writing. So in all fairness, none of these commentaries would be fair.

However; I actually read the book (most reviewers only skim). I neither like nor dislike the author or his views. I am a Bible Scholar, Buddhist scholar, and practice daily meditation. Finally, I am currently working on my Masters on the very subject of comparative religion (Eastern and Western).

Let’s start off with what the book is and isn’t. Deepak presents us with his thesis that the Christ of the bible, and of Christian lore, could have possibly been instead another enlightened or awaken being, akin with Gautama Buddha and various other noteworthy religious figures. So what it “is” is a thesis, then followed up with some practical, although sadly not unique, instruction as to how one could meditate and have a very “Eastern” faith experience while still holding onto their familiar Jesus figure, prayers, and bible passages.

What the book “isn’t” is apologetics. The author offers little historical, biblical, or intellectual argument to support his thesis. He simply puts it out there, and moves along swiftly into application. His arguments for why he believes his thesis to be true is that it makes sense to him, he likes it, Jesus had similar teachings and experiences to the Buddha, and his main argument is that not only would Jesus’ teachings be impossible for a person to live out without awakening, but they make little sense unless reinterpreted that way. He does a very good job going through various teachings or sayings of Jesus and then showing how it could very well be him referring to an awakening experience that was later misinterpreted; or more likely, deliberately.

The major claim that may ruffle some people’s feathers is that he believes that the Christ did exist, but that through many years of religion, and the passing along of information, and in the hopes to establish a dominant religion, this original Christ has been altered, added to and deleted about so that his real message has become muddled; although still hidden in the text if we look at it through a new perspective. There is more than enough viable, undeniable, and confirmed information out there by noteworthy scholars to back up a claim that certain text in the bible has been purposefully changed by the church, especially during its formative years and it’s rise to power as the State lead religion of the Roman Empire; however, the author takes little-to-no time to delve into the facts, and even if he did it would still not back up his theory that Jesus was a “Buddha”; its reference only serves to cast a shadow of doubt.

This then breaks down then into their three different Christs. The first being the actual, historical person who walked the earth; but, whom we can not say with any clarity that we actually know since all we know of him is from religious, non-historical, text. The second Christ is the Jesus of myth and religion. The one who comes to our minds when we hear the word Jesus; based off the influence of the bible, our society, televisions and homes–the one that was “invented” to fit into a certain religion, culture, and philosophy. Then, Chopra presents us with the third option: Chopra’s own made up, non-historical and mythical Christ — one that fits well into his own philosophy and suites his own philosophy. The hard part to swallow about this train of thought though is that after the author establishes his pretense that nobody can actually say that they really know who the historical Christ was, and that the Christ of the Bible is myth, then how in the world can one offer up a third option with any certainty or conviction? It is not based of the historical, for it was stated that nothing is known of the historical, and it is not based off the mythical; so what source is really left over for this deduction?

From a bible scholar’s perspective the defense of his thesis does not stand up well, and if you are looking for an intellectual argument you will not find one here. From a Buddhist perspective, if you are looking for a book to teach you about Buddhism, meditation or any such thing… then I suggest that there are much better books out there to instruct or inspire you. This books closes out with average instruction to begin a quest for awakening, that is really sub-par, although it may seem appealing to those from a Christian background since he revamped it to use Christian prayers and bible verses.

Was the book worth the read? Yes. Yes it was. But I see it more as a primer education piece for someone who wants to hold onto their title of Christian but is slowly finding themselves to be swayed into and enticed by New Age or Buddhist philosophies. So, if that is you and you want to read something that tells you something that you already know you want to hear… great. If you are looking for something “deep” about the practice of Buddhism… then not so great. Finally, if you are looking for a real thesis that digs into factual information to confront your current perception of Christ… this is not going to cut it. You would be better off reading Pagan Christ or The Jesus Mysteries. I personally was just fascinated to see what Chopra’s own personal “take” on Jesus would be, and I was not disappointed by it.

In closing, it was a good read and I am going to keep the book on my shelf instead of trading it in at the used book store, but it was nothing too surprising, new, and it was full of information that I had already heard before but that was presented to be better the first time.

Personal Note:

In the East many are against how the States had taken meditation and stripped it down into some kind of relaxation or self-help guided therapy. In India most yogis are dismayed at how we are teaching yoga as some fitness package for middle-age ladies and did away with all spiritual aspects and benefits of the practice. So I find it of little surprise that Westerners would prefer that their Jesus be left alone. I don’t want to go to a Christian church to meditate, no more than I want to show up to a Buddhist temple to hear about Christ. Some may call that closed-minded, but as someone who studies and loves religion I disagree. It is because I love it that I think it’s integrity should remain untouched.


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e1242913021“Christian” is a social phenomena that has permeated every aspect of our Western culture, and I hold little doubt that as adamant as we Westerners tend to be about keeping the term tied to our identities, as best we can, there are similar modes of thought going on in other cultures clinging to their common, comfortable, and socially accepted titles of Buddhist, Islamic, or Jewish; while, in all truth they are walking in clearly different religious, social, or philosophical path.

I have even seen the opposite to be true, intellectuals who have been born and bred in the homes or classrooms of professors and great minds to be atheist, humanist, or at the very least practical agnostics; who, despite their social peer pressure to keep this intellectual title deep-down are very spiritual and have a secret faith in God, gods, or some kind of Universal Mind or consciousness.

I know a professor of computer science who is an adamant atheist, and practices a humanist Zen Buddhism that focuses on ethics, discipline and being at peace mentally in this life, but with no promise of nirvana nor enlightenment. That doesn’t surprise me that much and that holds no great contradiction.  However, what surprised me with him occurred one day while we were talking about our differing practices over some tea after meditation. I casually stated that I wasn’t Christian and I watched as his jaw dropped and an look of shock fell over his face. “What do you mean you are not Christian? I’m a Christian” he said.

Confused I got him to break down certain aspects of his belief system. He is atheist, Buddhist, does not believe in any kind of an afterlife, nor God the Father, and he believes that there was a Jesus but that he was just a man, not the Son of God, and that when he (Jesus) died he simply decayed and decomposed like the rest of us. And where exactly does the title “Christian” come into play?

His defense was that he agreed with the basic principles, ideals, morality, social constructs, and felt akin to the myths and inspirational stories that appeal to the better nature of us all that come from the Bible. And that as a Westerner he identifies with the label of Christian since this is a Christian nation and culture.

As a Bible scholar, though an non-believing one, I tried to explain the biblical criteria for calling yourself Christian, but that didn’t get me too far. Eventually I just dropped the subject, and went on to enjoying his great company and our friendship. I filed the conversation in the back of my brain to ponder upon a later date and went on with life. It wasn’t until the other week, where I was having a conversation with a sociology professor about gay rights that this past conversation was triggered back into play with some kind of clarity.

While discussing the gay rights movement we happened along the tangent of how difficult it is to “come out of the closet” as they say. The professor asserted that it is so counter culture to do so that one risks alienating themselves from everything they consider comforting. They risk losing identity as a straight “normal” person. They risk losing family, friends, their church, their social status… all kinds of things that we, as pack animals, tend to hold dear. It was then that the whole Christian thing made sense to me.

We hold onto the label for the same reasons. We do not want to risk the alienation or the discomfort or being different from the norm and the acceptable. Even mentally we can not escape the guilt and the oppression of feeling bad about ourselves for rejecting a Christ that we do not even really believe in. So instead we practice our New Age, Buddhism, Atheism, or other philosophy or religion and tag onto it the hyphenated “Christian” to form some kind of ease in our minds about the whole ordeal.

Please understand that this is not an attack against Christianity. To the contrary, it is out of a great respect and understanding of the religion that I defend its integrity in stating that I, and many who still cling to the term, are not Christian. Let those who are pure in their faith be free to practice without us others confusing people as to what the religion truly is, and let those who in their hearts want nothing to do with their God be free from the social shackles of thinking that they have to keep identifying with the religion.

Through my own personal studies I came to a very logical conclusion that there was never at any time a historical Christ figure that lived and died and rose again. However, even if you believe there was some kind of a man who was a great leader, sage, reincarnation of the Buddha, or prophet, but was not the Son of God, you still can’t fit your square peg into the clearly defined round hole of the Christian faith. Once I depersonalized my concept of “God” from the old, grey haired king sitting on his throne in heaven surrounded by his worshipping angles; into a broader, more universal concept of “energy” or an interconnectedness of all things… I left the fold. As soon as I opened up to the idea of their being many paths to experiencing and communing with this life force I immediately validated all religions and alienated myself from all of them at the same time – since just about all of them hold true the statement that they are the only path.

So I am nothing and I am everything, and I have to learn to be comfortable with and accept the fact that I just do not fit in quite well with my current society. It is unfamiliar, it is unsettling, disturbing at first… but it is also liberating!


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