By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei
This is Palm Sunday and that means that Easter is almost upon us again. As a Buddhist monk pondering the lessons that can be realized in this Christian day of celebration I once again work to find common ground between what the lives of Siddhartha and Jesus can mean to us living in the 21st century. In the Christian narrative the death and resurrection of Christ should become a more urgent intellectual necessity to all Christians who ponder the challenges of life today if they fully believe that Christianity has yet a message to give to the world. Alongside this Christian imperative is the Buddhist challenge to find vitality and meaning in what the Buddha awakened to over 2500 years ago for us struggling to make sense out of a world in crisis.
When we examine our contemporary Western civilization with a critical eye, it is difficult to call it’s ethical and moral fabric Christian anymore. This is an extraordinary statement perhaps coming from a Buddhist, but it is also admitted by a consensus of opinion of many Christian thinkers as well. Buddhism, however, has yet to significantly influence Western culture in any meaningful manner to place it’s mark on human behavior either. It has been over 2000 years that Jesus left us and it seems that Christian values are still struggling to find fertile ground upon which to nourish the human condition. The reason may be that we have only tried to practice only half of Jesus’ message. While he spoke often about the need for us to connect to our original self as is manifested in the creation process, he also spent most of his time speaking about how we should refine our compassionate actions toward others. I am thinking of the Golden Rule, for example, which states that we should treat our neighbors like ourselves.
The problem seems to be that who or what a neighbor is can still be a vague concept for many of us. There should be no doubt that we need to come to a truer concept of what Jesus means by ‘neighbor’. This is where Buddhist thought can provide a significant contribution in how we can consider the reality of our interdependence and interconnectiveness between self and other. From our Western perspective, we have a curious habit of judging our fellows not from the standpoint of a spiritual life but from a material or capitalistic one. By using this kind of perspective we devalue the poor among us as a kind of social disgrace. Poverty has a tendency to create inhibitors, or walls, between those with social advantages and those without. We find in most Western cultures a conception of the poor which is radically wrong. What lessons of Easter can be discovered that might shed light on how we walk the path that both Jesus and Siddhartha did that can change our own and our cultures’ worldview to promote human flourishing for all, not just the chosen few.
During this time of contemplation of the lesson of Jesus’ transformation, we are called to examine how we practice the spiritual path from the reality of the Jesus-experience. Christians would say “He has arisen”. As a Buddhist I would change that expression to “His has arisen”. His what has arisen you might ask? From a Buddhist point of view the answer is “his karma”. The word ‘arisen’ is to convey something that comes into being, as in effective action, not just the simple act of getting up. The causal-chain of how Jesus lived and taught produced a strong chain of effects that when released by his intentional actions for useful and positive good is projected forward through time. His death did not stop the good that he caused to bring into existence, but his legacy actions resonates throughout time as long as it is encountered and acted on by others. The same is true with the life and death of the Buddha. The dynamic energy of their life and death was so strong that it continues to influence how we can choose to live our life for the nourishment of what is good and pure in all of us, when we use their good works as examples.
There is nothing so adequate in any religion or spiritual practice that can unconditionally drive the reconstruction of a world in crisis alone. It can only be accomplished by individual and community effort. There is nothing in our science, philosophy, or political models to bring about the great change that can equalize the world state of injustice. But with the karmic energy inherent in the legacy teachings and way of life as Jesus and Siddhartha exemplified we can move forward with a renewed sense of purpose when we awaken to the arising wisdom driven forward on the wave of their own karma that is with us still.