Thursday 5 March 2020

Gautama and Jesus

One of the difficulties I had with Buddhism when I first learnt about it was that the whole process began with what I have to call a wrong action. I tried to ignore this because of the obvious profundities of the religion/philosophy but nevertheless it always nagged away at me. I can't say it makes Buddhism wrong but it somehow detracts from the rightness of it. There is nothing similar in the life of Christ which was without blemish from start to finish unless you count overturning the tables of the money changers at the temple or cursing a fig tree as in some way sinful which I don't. The former was making a point in the best way possible and shows that Christianity does not just turn the other cheek in all circumstances but distinguishes between a personal insult and an insult to God or truth (an important distinction) which sometimes requires firm action. The second was just odd. I suppose it has a symbolic point and demonstrates that if you have a creative gift you must use it, but it's still a strange episode.

The incident I am referring to in the life of the Buddha came right at the beginning of his spiritual journey. He left his wife and son. There is no getting away from this. He had a young wife and a baby boy and he abandoned them. This has been rationalised as either a sacrifice on his part or else a lesson for them. People say he had a mission and they say also that he knew they would be looked after as they were of the royal family. All of which may be true but the fact remains. He abandoned his family, and I do wonder if the knowledge that he had done this encouraged or was used to justify others to do the same. I can't think this is right. Surely your responsibilities come first? If you are wanting to lead a spiritual life, you cannot start by neglecting them.

I know the stories say that the Buddha did not do this easily and I know his wife and child later joined him as disciples. Moreover, two and a half thousand years ago it was a different world but still, and this is the point of my discussing this episode, it is important to make clear that we do not become spiritual by neglecting our worldly duties. Indeed, sometimes it is through fulfilling such mundane duties that we actually progress along the path and grow in the kind of self-sacrifice that the spiritual aspirant all too often forgets is at the heart of the spiritual journey. I know I do, in practice if not in theory.

I don't doubt that the Buddha was a special case. I have enormous love and respect for him and his achievement. I really do. But ultimately he was a man with human limitations and no man is perfect. He was not without sin as Christ was. It is of the greatest importance that we have someone who lived on this earth who really was perfect. It lifts up the whole world and strikes a deadly blow at the heart of evil from which it can never recover.


Moonsphere said...

I agree with your position here, William.

There is a great deal of deep, inspiring wisdom within the Eastern tradition, but I must say though that in my dialogues with Buddhists - I am often left completely spiritually emptied and frustrated.

I am drawn to the esoteric interpretation that sees the "cursing of the fig tree" as Christ's judgement upon the Eastern path. The Buddha found enlightenment under the Bodhi (Fig) tree - but even by the time of Christ that route had become anachronistic and incapable of "bearing fruit".

William Wildblood said...

I hadn't heard of that interpretation but I must say I rather like it!

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I suppose the significance of the imputed event of the Buddha leaving his family is what teachings make of it. My impression is that it is regarded as an example to be emulated.

On the other side; I feel that Christians have often/ usually drifted away from what ought to be the essence of Christianity and towards the positions occupied by other major religions. For example, there is a strong anti-family strand of monasticism to Christianity, which seeks justification in a few New Testament verses about hating and rejecting family.

I think this relates to the systematic down-grading of the Fourth Gospel where Jesus is seen surrounding by a small group of loving persons (several being relatives - mother, brother/s and I would say wife and brother in law) - a kind of mobile family - from the the beginning to the the end of his ministry.

Or, in a different direction, there is a monotheistic tendency which makes Christianity more like Judaism or Islam; where the core idea is that God is incmprehensible and ultimately impersonal, and therefore our relationship is primarily one of uncomprehending worship and obedience (as if Jesus had never been).

William Wildblood said...

All true Bruce (except for Jesus having a wife which I don't believe!), but the point I wanted to make was not so much whether spiritual seekers should be pro- or anti-family as the wrongness of using the search for God as an excuse to shirk existing responsibilities. I think that the monastic strain in Christianity was very important as it preserved a power house of contemplative activity which acted for the great benefit of the whole of society. Besides, monastic communities are regarded as families in a way, what with Father Abbot, Mother Abbess, brothers and sister etc.

Hating family in the way meant by Jesus just means nothing should come before God. If it meant anything more radical than that God wouldn't be the Father or Jesus the Son and Mary wouldn't be exalted as the first being in Creation.

Moonsphere said...

... I must say I rather like it!

I thought you might! ;)

One of the deficits with Buddhism, as I see it - is the lack of a "Fall" narrative. Somehow they're on this wheel of suffering, with the primary goal to break away from repeated Earth lives. But with no apparent notion of how they got there!

William Wildblood said...

Perhaps that's why they don't see that the problem with the self is that it has been corrupted not that its very existence is corruption.

BSRK Aditya said...

Hi William,

I wish to apologize. I have been trying to inveigle you, and it had been tormenting me ever since. In the process, I lost my own ability to see clearly.

I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.

William Wildblood said...

Dear BSRK, please don't apologise and certainty don't torment yourself. All I had registered was a friendly exchange of views. If you have a blog you can't expect everyone always to agree with you which is fine as long as any discussion is cordial which ours was as far as I am concerned.

Howard said...

In the Buddhism that I am slightly familiar with, a married man is not allowed to become a monk for precisely the reasons you give William. Our teacher always emphasised to me being responsible (not engaging in any form of escapism) something which I learn very slowly and painfully. Thank you for all your excellent and thought provoking posts.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for your comment Howard.