Sunday, 19 September 2021

More on Differences Between Buddhism and Christianity

 The publisher of my new book Earth is a School is in the process of arranging some potential radio interviews on spiritual channels to promote it. To support this I was asked to provide a list of talking points, and some of the programme hosts have queried my belief that Jesus Christ stands above all other spiritual teachers and that both his work and his person are qualitatively different to anything that went before, or has come after for that matter. Now, I think of myself as a Christian but I understand and can sympathise with this position. I have almost (though never completely) shared it myself in the past. It is very reasonable. The spiritual is the spiritual, is it not? Truth is truth. There can only be one truth, especially if we are talking about mystical realisation.

Well, yes and no. There is, of course, only one Truth but more and more of it can be unveiled. This is what infinite and eternal means. I realise that many would say that the Buddha went beyond all veils, penetrated to the unborn, undying absolute behind the world of relativities and I don't argue with that, but did he lose something in the process? Did he lose his human personality? The fact is that before Jesus all the great sages (and note they were sages not saints) taught that God, spirit, whatever it was, could only be attained by complete detachment from phenomenal being. The resulting state of spiritual realisation brought compassion but it did not bring love for it effectively rejected the individual for the universal. Love needs individuals. It is meaningless in terms of Nirvana. Despite what you might have been told, love is not possible for those who seek liberation for what is liberation if not liberation from identification with the self and not just my self but anyone else's self?

Before the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension the serious spiritual goal was Nirvana, to escape matter completely, but Christ healed the split between Heaven and Earth, spirit and matter, being and the phenomenal world, and enabled a loving marriage between them rather than a divorce. He returned  the creation (potentially for we, individual souls, still have  to accept his offer) to what it would have been like before the Fall. The idea of the Fall, by the way, exists in Buddhism too though it is not known by that name. But its effects are what prompted Siddhartha to go on his journey, causing him to abandon his wife and child, an action that rather brings out the difference between the two saviours. It is symbolic of his renunciation of the world but it must also be regarded as wrong from the point of view that sees the personal, and therefore personal responsibility, as real.

People can be confused by the assertion that Christ goes further and reveals something more than any other teacher by the fact that most of his teachings are not really that different to those of other spiritual teachers. But why would they be? He did not come to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfil them. There are, however, some significant differences. For example, the Christian emphasis on the individual and on love. This did not exist, certainly not to the fullest degree, before and it points to the healing of the self rather than its destruction or transcendence or seeing as unreal if you prefer those words though it amounts to the same thing.

But the most important difference was the person of Christ himself. When he says "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" he gives us a teaching that goes far beyond anything that had come before. The Buddha, who I am taking here as the pre-eminent universal spiritual teacher both before and after Christ which he was, could potentially have said this but he would have been speaking in an abstract sense as in 'the I AM'. Christ, however, was speaking quite literally of himself and to know this, really know it, is to be given a spiritual teaching on a much higher level than any other theory or practise for this is a teaching that speaks to the soul rather than the mind or intellect.

Jesus said he did not come to bring peace but a sword. This is a strange thing for a spiritual teacher to say but it should make us consider whether there might not be something valuable in duality, that bugbear of universalistic spiritual teachings. Is it just something to overcome in consciousness or does it actually contain a truth to which we should pay attention? The spiritual path gives us two options and we can take either. Faced with the fact of the self and the world we can turn aside from both as unreal/false/the result of ignorance or we can incorporate both in an understanding that sees them as currently diseased but curable. The cure is in the love that is embodied in Christ. Is the personal the blot on existence or is it the whole point of existence?

I know that people may tell me that other religions contain teachings that incorporate the value of the personal. I would suggest that all these come from after the time of Christ and are due to him operating through those religions, imparting something of a Christian flavour to them, using the word Christian here to refer to Christ himself not the Christian religion specifically. Therefore salvation may be found in all religions that are open to this influence. But it is Christ that works here, his influence, his being. For religion has evolved and the religion that has its centre in the living personal God is of a higher order than one that prioritises impersonal, abstract being. Union with God goes beyond Nirvana, liberation, enlightenment because it includes all there is to that and adds relationship or love.

The last words of the Buddha were along these lines. "All individual things pass away, work out your salvation with diligence." This is profound advice, albeit somewhat remote. The last  recorded words of Jesus according to St Matthew were "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." For me this draws out the difference between the two saviours and please note that I do call the Buddha a saviour for such he was in the context of his time and for centuries after, even for many today. Nevertheless, this does not alter the fact that Jesus goes further for he brought a higher truth to this world, the truth of divine love.

I was born a Christian then went away from ordinary Christianity and explored many other spiritual philosophies. I believe that has given me a better understanding of the truths of Christianity itself. I am not saying everyone has to do this but it has benefitted me. My intuition has always been that Christ is qualitatively different to every other teacher but it has not always been easy to articulate how and why. The essence of this, though, is in the word redemption.

I have a final point to make on this subject and it relates to my experience with the Masters. Given the emphasis on the personal in this analysis that seems appropriate. It's possible that the reason I feel obliged to talk about this matter is that ties in with a mistake I myself made at one time.  This is an extract from a conversation I had with the Masters. It was about the need for humility, a virtue, incidentally, that makes no sense if the self is not real anymore than love does.

The Master Jesus and all the Masters of old had preached humility and demonstrated it too. They knew that they were as nothing and that all they were came from the Creator. 

From the Creator. God exists. He is not something to go beyond, rise above, see through, transcend. At the same time, we ourselves also exist. We are not nothing. We are as nothing but that is not being nothing and is only said to remind us that everything does indeed come from the Creator. Buddhism correctly teaches the ephemeral nature of the phenomenal self. But behind this phenomenal self there is a real individual soul. We must certainly die to the phenomenal self but that is not so we are reabsorbed into the whole. It is so that the risen soul may unite in love with God, and this union has been made possible through Christ, his birth, life on Earth and self-sacrifice. It is open to all.


Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Helpful.

One way I think of these matters is that until Jesus Christ there was no Heaven (or, it was not accessible to Men), and the afterlife of Sheol/ Hades seems to have been one of demented ghosts who had lost memory of their selves. So - unless one believed in a Messiah to come - there was nothing to look forward to after death.

But after Jesus - it seems that the discarnate souls in Sheol were given the chance of resurrection and Heaven.

My assumption is that these were souls who had agreed to incarnation and therefore Sheol, knowing that Jesus would later come and free them. Probably, they were not aware of the passage of time while discarnate ghosts - so it may not have felt like 'waiting'.

I'm not sure how the Buddha and Nirvana fits into this; whether it was an alternative to Sheol, and if so - whether it was intended to be permanent?

But, like you, I feel pretty sure that the alternatives to Heaven or Hell are being closed off by Man's development of consciousness. While they may remain theoretical possibilities even now, in practice - the Men who reject Heaven nowadays seem to want Hell, since they do not discard the self and with it morality - but instead become intensely *but inversely* moralistic.

And the Eastern religions that have systems of 'punitive'/ retributive, karmic reincarnation seem to have retained morality in a way that is incompatible with genuinely wanting to discard the self and re-assimilate to non-personal deity.

If there are genuinely modern Men who want Nirvana, I think they would not speak or write of this - but would quietly 'get on with it'. After all, why proselytize for Nirvana? It makes no sense.

William Wildblood said...

I feel that before Jesus Nirvana was the apex of spiritual endeavour in terms of dealing with the suffering inherent in existence. We forget that for a long time serious Buddhism was a purely monastic religion though it evolved other aspects as it spread across the Eastern world.

However, with Jesus suffering became something else. He turned it away from meaningless pain to a way of healing the fractured self. This is what 'take up thy cross and follow me' means. I'm sure there are quite a few people who do want Nirvana or what they think is Nirvana but many of them have modified the concept in subtle and not so subtle ways, especially people in the West. I have to say that to a proper Buddhist love should be a meaningless idea. It needs an individual self and other individual selves. That is, as it were, non-negotiable!

Chris said...

Hey William,

Your recent posts have been super interesting.
There is something that you said that made me pause and reflect- is it the case that there cannot be love without individuals ?
I'm not so sure. After all, the Trinity is non-composite and yet perfect love.

William Wildblood said...

Who really understands the Trinity, Chris? I couldn't claim to do so but I feel there is a great truth there. A great mystery too. But surely the point is that it is a Trinity of persons? Not just three facets of God like sat-chit-ananda but three actual persons, Father , Son and Holy Spirit.

Nathanael said...

Hi William,

If you watch this video. Could you share some comments on it in light of your post?


William Wildblood said...

Sorry Nathanael I watched a bit but I really can't take this kind of spiritual waffle, delivered in portentous tones, seriously. To me it just seems one spiritual cliche after another, delivered by someone who is acting the role of the enlightened guru. I hope I'm not being offensive in saying that but really, "popped the quantum wave of ego-consciousness as a structure that has disseminated through the morphogenetic field of the planet" Oh dear!

But if you tell me what interests you about it I will try to comment more intelligently.

JMSmith said...

Reading this post, it occurred to me that much of what we now call "spirituality" posits only one great division in the cosmos, the division between spirit and flesh, spiritual and carnal, mind and matter. Most people who add the second great division between good and evil simply map it onto the first division, so that spirit is good and flesh is evil. This tendency exists in Christianity, but I think the correct and main tendency in Christianity is to run the second division orthogonal to the first. Spirit is superior to flesh, but that does not mean that spirit is necessarily good. Spiritual sins are in fact far worse than sins of the flesh, and I presume an evil spirit is far worse than a merely bad man (since the bad man retains a capacity for repentance).

I think it was a great mistake for enlightened Christianity to radically deemphasize the traditional teachings about evil spirits and the humans who traffic with them. I understand the the imagery of witches and demons needed an update, but it was disastrous to lose the underlying insight that the great division between good and evil runs orthogonal to the great division between flesh and spirit. When a person (typically female) has told me "I am spiritual," I have sometimes responded by asking "are you a witch?" Those who answered yes, I believed. When I long ago recklessly dabbled in "spiritual" exercises, I found that I had opened myself to a realm that had as much darkness as light.

William Wildblood said...

I agree with you, JM. You say "Spiritual sins are in fact far worse than sins of the flesh". Yes. Pride has always been regarded as the deadliest of sins and that is a spiritual sin really. The worst being in the universe was at one time one of the best beings, best as in highest. In Tolkein's world Morgoth, Sauron and Saruman were all high spiritual beings before they fell.

Anonymous said...

Whenever good and evil come up as descriptions of phenomenae rather then qualitative things i have problems with that. This is one small step removed from the more extreme forms of non-dualism which state that 'at the highest level there is no separation'. While that might actually be true it also pre-supposes we are at that level, or even capable of reaching it (yet). It also leads to inaction from the weird notion that 'things are already as they should be'. But if we take the fairly abstract idea of God as the multiverses experiencing themselves -through us- or even -as us-, which lead me to interpret interaction with God as us opening up the connection to the more fine-tuned, less dense aspects of everything, and never information uniformly -coming from- (since the source is both one and divided). However since both things must be true at all times, we cannot simply state at any point 'this is how things are' because all states are being examined at the same time and exist at the same time. We can see ourselves as branching points forward within all possibilities, but never exclude ourselves from this infinite network of possibilities. This includes all kinds of organisational systems imaginable, and since the planet did not blow up after a billion people saw 'Star Wars' its safe to assume we are at a level where 'mind over matter' does not work quite that way, therefore a spiritual hierarchy exists. If hierarchy exists, it is not a large stretch to assume that dualism also exists at the current level. I interpret it as creative force versus destructive, and perhaps duality is -inherent- to the level where physicality is dominant or at least important, from a framework of non-infinite resources and physical energy consumption/ conversion and such, again only at the current level. As per the title of your book, this is exactly what we are here to experience, similar to what some of the Veda's mentioned. At certain levels separation and duality must be the case because without opposites there is no distinction between one thing and another. Systems and hierarchies must be present because otherwise everything would fold back into one again, and thus shapes our perennial adventure :)

Anonymous said...

As an important addendum to that, it is quite clear some people on this planet have chosen destruction and the hierarchical promises attached to that(by what or whom?). We have plenty of physicists and astronomers arguing that destruction will occur within the current universe no matter what (pun intended?). So what is the appeal then? Perhaps more control?
We could all choose creation and still face destruction eventually, at least on a personal and identifiable level, within this level. No its not a video game i swear ;)
So what then, is it fear? Is it some odd balancing mechanism that is too vast for us to understand? If the Brahmanic cycle already encompasses destruction as one half, why ever choose it?

William Wildblood said...

Why do people choose destruction, especially, at the present time, so many? It's a hard question but I believe that it comes down to the old "Non serviam.". Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.

Nathanael said...

William, your reply to the video was fantastic, and thank you for that honesty.
I have discovered people like this are hugely narcissistic and form a cult.
In a sense i see them as anti-christs.

See here:

To note; I am interested in following Christ, and helping my brothers n sisters cut through the snares that lead us astray. What you are pointing to with buddhism is exactly the kind of thing I have had many discussions over with people who cannot see implicit and degenerate buddhism in their work or who they follow.

Best to you.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks Nathanael. I was a bit concerned I may have seemed rude but it's usually best to say what you think - as long as you aren't actually being gratuitously rude.

Nathanael said...

No rudeness felt there William, I experienced it as someone who has clarity on a topic speaking their mind. I find clarity and frankness today gets lazily mis-characterised as someone 'being dogmatic'. It's another lesson of how crucial it is to pay attention and be alert to the spirit of Christ ...'awake thou that sleepest'
thanks for your work.

Brief Outlines said...

Many thanks