I had a lot of hesitation in the last entry concerning the comparison between Christianity and Buddhism. Partially because I don’t want to enter in a debate about which is superior, but I think mostly because I have been hanging around University of Chicago students. These guys will not only debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but what type of material they should have on their feet to provide the best molecular cohesion to the head of the pin and where such shoes can be purchased from Ethical, Free Trade and Organic providers.
Now I do understand that this is the nature of any academic life, and it is necessary to dissect and discuss and dissect again, and that there is a joy in discerning the minute details of minute-er topics. But it drives me up the friggin’ wall. Especially when matters of Faith and Art are concerned. Art is subjective, and it can be whatever you need or want it to be. To debate it is feckless. Is religion and theology subjective? In an academic sense, yes. But in truth, in the purpose of it, in the need of it, no. There is an objective need in the human life that religion fills.
When I think about writing on the differences between Christianity and Buddhism, I hear the students start to debate me. Refuting and clarifying, adjusting and delineating obscure points. I have seen this often done. And when all this is done, the original point has been swept under a huge carpet of rhetoric and ego.
The ego is one of the main enemies of a life without suffering. The idea that we are an individual, and individual that is unchanging and permanent, leads us to wants and desires that bring us suffering. In the intellectual pursuits, the Ego is rewarded and encouraged and fed as much as it is in any other pursuit. You win, you are smart, you are better, you are right. And to be proven wrong is the worst thing ever! Some rise above this, but many get lost in the sea of the need to achieve, a necessary navigation in a world that must be funded by grants and scholarships.
But every idea, every advancement, every new discovery exists on the back of a thousand other discoveries, and that new idea is dependent on them. The link in the chain should never think itself greater than the chain. But we are forced to do just that by the business of academics. Often In the same breath I have seen academic resources praise the eternal selflessness of the Intellectual life while extolling the “singular” gifts of a individual person. Can you have it both ways?
Of course you can. Especially when you realize that you have nothing.
Welcome to Buddhism.
Buddhism acknowledges that we live in a world full of distractions and pain, but it insists that we can rise above it. At no point, however, does the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha) say it is easy. There are many aspects of Buddhism that contradict themselves, as there are in the Christian faith as well. Comparing these contradictions, I have discovered the truth that paradox is necessary for enlightenment. For the ultimate truth for all spiritual matters is that the Whole of the universe is greater than the sum of its parts. This is a paradox that even an atheist must accept. But to get to the truth of it, we must blast away at the “parts” in our minds and lives, to achieve the “sum” we wish.
I used to mock Christianity for what I deemed ridiculous paradoxes (or “hypocrisies,” as my atheist self loved to shout), like the Trinity. Then I found similar ideas in Buddhism. I get it now. You don’t have to understand a thing to achieve an understanding of it, and sometimes the best definitions are those that are undefined. Not because the truth behind it is ultimately unknowable, but because the truth behind it is eternal and infinite, and we will spend a joyous lifetime discovering the knowable unknowable and the undefined definition. Let us not place limits on that joy.