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Here we go into the common ground and the differences between Buddhist schools and those of Christianity who are conscious of their own spiritual depth. For this purpose, the life and teachings of Buddha (500 BC) will not be described extensively. * Essential points are discussed precisely.
The core of the original teachings of Buddha - which the "Hinayana" Buddhism is still based on – is to liberate oneself more and more from everything that does not belong to one's essence. The desires of the senses and the mind, leading to suffering, shall be recognized as "not belonging to the self" ("anatta"); and shall finally vanish and lead to the state of Nirvana. This can be achieved by an adapted way of life and training, including meditation etc. Especially the later school of "Mahayana" Buddhism - which also made progress, such as the empathy with all beings instead of withdrawal from the world - often misunderstood this concept of "not self". They interpreted it as if no "I" would remain at all after one leaves behind the low, egoistic qualities. So they tend to interpret Nirvana as "nothing" too. Buddha himself, however, even spoke about his highest experiences (ninth step): "And I ... saw (also) through the misery of the area of 'Neither Perception Nor Non-perception'. In the course of time it became fully clear to me and (I) penetrated into the happiness of the abolition of Perception and Feeling. I have had my fill of it... And so since that time I gain - after full elimination of 'Neither Perception nor Non-Perception' - the 'Abolition of Perception and Feeling' and stay in it; and, after I recognized that all wisely, the influences became exhausted" (Suttam of the Anguttara Nikaya 9, No.41 ...).
In so far one can recognize that Jesus Christ also inspires people to purify
their qualities, and to begin with themselves instead of immediately criticising
others (see the main text of ways-of-christ.net). He does not identify
himself and his disciples with the world or any secular activities, but
describes them as not belonging to the world; but - more clearly than in the
original Buddhism - as living and working in the world (John 17),
transforming the world like leaven.
Anyway, sayings of Jesus and Buddha concerning questions of life show such a large number of similarities that for decades some people thought that Jesus was teaching Buddhism. An explanation of these similarities doesn’t have to be passed down by some exterior source, as some researchers imagine – even if it’s possible that there was a point or two of contact. We could just as well say he taught another one of the old religions. In our main text it is explained, e.g., that such similarities ('partial accordances') are caused by spiritual realities, which everyone can perceive who has access to them, without copying each other. After all, it’s inspiration. And if it’s true, then it comes from the eternal source – without which there would be no "something" or "nothing" or "not nothing", etc.; and without which there would be nothing that brought deliverance, since this deliverance itself would be meaningless without it. From that which is behind everything, and is hidden in everything, and yet is also completely outside everything. That which is unmanifested, yet which already contains all things, and which will be even more at the end of creation than at the beginning – something which, in the material sense, is at least as contradictory as a koan (a meditative paradoxical saying, or parable, in Zen Buddhism). Something that cannot be grasped by theoretical means, even if the human mind can gradually be made flexible enough to at least make an indirect approach***** or to process that which has been seen internally. This is a strong point of the religions - if compared with a materialistic and egoistic society - which they don't use enough. But similarities and contacts between the religions do not alter the fact that they all have their own slightly different paths.
Among the Christian mystics, Meister Eckhart’s work is closest to the Eastern impersonalism. Among the Buddhist schools of thought, the teachings of Nichiren could appear as a bridge. Among the other Indian philosophers, the work of Sri Aurobindo – with his partner, "The Mother" – is closest to the European personalism or intrinsicism. He experienced Nirvana and recognized – apparently in a way similar to some Christian mystics – that there is something quite different than "nothing" behind the Nirvana experience. He speaks of the "highest" and wants to bring certain aspects of this "highest" down to earth. There are those for whom Sri Aurobindo could be seen as a bridge leading back to Christianity – but to the true essence of Christianity, encompassing real "Christian discipleship" and even the power that Jesus himself displayed in his resurrection.
The "ultimate reality" and the question of
However, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam the qualities one has to purify are additionally associated with sins in relationship to God. For one thing, this concerns keeping religious ethical rules; to be more exact, it concerns overcoming all qualities, that separate us from God. Usually there is the conviction - probably among most Buddhists themselves too - that in Buddhism there is no God. Therefore mutual ethical declarations of religions only refer to a "Last Reality" beyond the physical life, accepted by all religions, whatever that means in each of the religions. This is, however, not quite correct. Buddha never stated, that there was no God, but in his time he confined himself to speaking about insights concerning the human way. Buddha answered questions of Hindu priests about Brahma, the creative deity of the Hindus: "I know Brahma well and the world of Brahma, and the path leading to the world of Brahma and how Brahma reached that world, I know this too" - (Digha Nikaya, 13th speech - referring to spiritual experiences, not to simply knowing the books of the Hindus.)
The Brahma of the Hindus cannot simply be equated with the Father, taught by Jesus Christ. Brahma is rather one of the personifications of some of God’s qualities, which came up in different cultures in the course of time . In any case, Brahma is not the name of negative forces.
He speaks about the origin of everything, even of the Hindu deities. So, what is he speaking of? (Obviously for Buddha the origin and the goal were unmanifested. However, the unmanifested Nirvana or highest reality is not "nothing". It is simply beyond human imagination. Note: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all know that it is of no use - or even forbidden - to make an image of God.
And here we suddenly find a parallel in Christianity, Judaism and Islam that is not so consciously recognized. All of these religions acknowledge that it is of no use, or even forbidden, to make an image of God – even if the reason behind this has been forgotten. In Judaism, it was not even permitted to directly utter the Hebrew name for God. See also our page "Religion as a ‘reconnection’ of man with God", specifically note 2) on archetypes.
Now when we take a look at the oldest-known "monotheistic" religion – with its earliest precursors dating back many centuries further than the Jewish tradition – namely, the Zoroastrian religion in Central Asia, which we call "the religion of Noah before the flood" (http://www.ways-of-christ.net/topics/parsism.htm), then we still find everything clearly distinguished: "Ahu" as the impersonal, unmanifested but very real divinity, and the more well-known "Ahura Mazda" as the God regarded more as a being through a Cosmic Christ. This is not as widely known, even among today’s Zoroastrians; rather, it was explored mere decades ago by representatives of this religion in India.
We’ve applied this to a certain extent in Christian mysticism, when the "Son" or Logos is seen as the first created being, or the mirror in which God sees himself – just a human term, but one that communicates something very important, something that human language cannot clearly express. Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father except by me". This, too, is not usually understood in its fullest sense. (At that time, the God of the Old Testament was experienced more as a "God of the people", in more of a collective sense, and not so much as a personal counterpart of a human individual.)
The Gospels and the Revelation describe the "Father" as both starting creation and as being its final fulfilment (Alpha and Omega). He is said to be above creation and its qualities and it was not possible to reach it before Christ. Christian Mystics like Jakob Boehme, stated, according to their authentic experiences, that this God is not only above the creation of the physical creation, but also above beyond and above the "first, heavenly creation". ** The attempt that most scientific books make to compare religions without including those who have had deep spiritual experiences, will not help anyone much. Without this it is not even possible to find a language that can be understood on both sides. ***
The Buddhist Path leads to entering into "Nirvana", beyond the
beyond - something which is, for most Buddhists, as 'far away' as the Mystical
Union with God is 'far away' for most Christians.**** Nevertheless, Buddhism
also teaches that a "Bodhisattva", one " liberated from
reincarnations " can come down voluntarily to help the rest of mankind.
Christ ascended to the Father ("And the grave was empty..."; & Resurrection & Ascension), with the promise to come again. With Christ and his way, today a permeation from the highest divine realm beyond everything down to the physical level has become possible.
Rudolf Steiner might be worth mentioning at this
point too. He said that Buddha brought teachings about the wisdom of love and
that Christ then brought the power of love.
The power of love ultimately draws everything back – or rather, forward – to divine perfection. "Ask the Father in my name" – meaning, in accordance with him, through him, the Christian way leads to the One. Here the Buddha is seen as some kind of trailblazer.
One who wants to recognize reality, may ask Christ and/or Buddha himself on his/ her way!
Buddha in the "Kalama Sutra": "Let yourself not be led..., not by hearsay, ...traditions, ... opinions of the day, ...the authority of holy scriptures, ...mere reason and logical conclusions, fictitious theories and preferred opinions, ...impressions of personal advantages,...the authority of a master. But if You realize yourself...". (Real faith is more similar to recognition & conviction than to an intellectual concept.)
*) The teachings the Buddha handed down himself can be found in the extensive translations of K.E.Neumann,"Die Reden des Buddha: mittlere Sammlung" (The speeches of the Buddha: medium collection; German; probably also translated into English); in the "längere Sammlung" (long collection) too.
**) For people with theosophical usage it is mentioned that in theosophical terms, to be exact, the Nirvana or Atman is below the "paranirvanic" and "mahaparanirvanic logoic" divine levels.
***) The Christian Mystic Master Ekkehart described his experiences like the Nirvana experience – without using this word -, but the difference was that for him it was connected with meeting God.
****) Returning to God with the essence from the way through the world is on the one hand a return to something, which was already there all the time. On the other hand it is something additional, which was not there before, like two congruent triangles. This paradox can only be understood through deepened mystical experience.
*****) There are also philosophical aspects. In Mahayana Buddhism, Nagarjuna described in his commentary on the Prajnaparamita that something can be looked at as true, or not true, or true and not true, or neither true nor not true – four categories instead of a simple dualistic either/or. Since reason is not capable of understanding this fully, it could lead to a person’s attaining a type of enlightenment beyond this dualistic reasoning, resulting in a view from another level of consciousness. It is similar to the effects of the koans – paradoxical sayings, or parables – of Zen Buddhism (see above). In European philosophy there is another way to expand the mind beyond the old dualistic either/or: Hegel’s dialectics of thesis and antithesis also includes the aspect of synthesis. It enables the mind to be trained to overcome contradictions or apparent contradictions, thus opening itself for the higher truth of God's spirit. Our Christian project has independently developed a similar possibility: different viewpoints may contain parts that are understandable and compatible from the holistic perspective – which fit together (overcoming apparent contradictions [dichotomies]).
Further topics and main text.
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