Jesus and Buddha Walk into a Bar

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 stujc_angelheadofapindents. 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.

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Guess What I’m Thinking?

This has been a very hard post to write. But beginnings are important things.   I am not sure how much to share with the world my own Journey with the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Each of us must find his own answers, and to dictate my experiences might color your own. Each of us is an amalgam of a thousand thousand causes and effects, and these result in the illusion of an individual that must be tackled and brought to Nirvana in its own way. My path is not yours, should not be yours and can never be yours. Our guide may be the same. But the Guide himself taught us that if, while on the road to Nirvana, we meet him, kill him. We do not share a path with even the Gautama Buddha himself.

Also in a less spiritual vein, I do not want to bore the shit out of you with another interminable blogessay about how great I art and how wonderful Buddha is and isn’t it wonderful that Stacy and I share so much. Though we do, and we love to be insufferably in love with each other, almost to the point of sinning. Almost.

I will work this out, but as a first post I would like to talk about the strength of weakness. The power of distraction, the mountain of the individual that exists within us by that cause and effect thing I talked about earlier, as it led to an interesting conjunction between Stacy’ s prayer life and mine.

In her Ignatian practice, she is led through a narrative which gives her insight into her spiritual life. For me, I am trying to rid my mind of narrative, and to discover the essence of what I am, the irreducible element that cannot be changed or altered. As I meditate, numerous distractions fly at me from numerous directions. As I attempt to clear my mind of nothing but my breath, daily chores distract me, things I have to do distract me, hopes for the future distract me, small sounds around me distract me. But most interesting have been the MindPlays.

I have achieved some success in calming my mind. And when I do, with my eyes closed, these MindPlays start to assert themselves. I am not dreaming, I am not asleep, and yet these scenes take place that are not any of the mundane distractions. They are visceral and carry a strong feeling of reality. An old woman will come to me from her oven and hand me a plate of fresh cookies. A little girl will approach me needing me to pick her up. A old man will need help folding a sheet and hold out one end to me for my assistance. There are other scenarios, but the end desire of these MindPlays is that I physically get up, that I reach out, that I open my eyes: that I break the position of my meditative stance.

I have had a . . . difficult past. I have led a wrong life, and this path is deep and rutted. It fights me as I try to break out of the gouges in the dirt road my actions have made for me. So much so that it will make these word plays whose only purpose are to break me out of my meditative state.

But this manifestation has sown the seeds of its own destruction, for it has made itself known to me, and that means I can kill it. I can see it fighting, I can feel its presence in a way I could not before. It has also shown its fear of meditation, and this revelation has been a joy to witness.

I have a long way to go, but I now have a way.

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Never say never

So a middle-aged divorced mother of two, who also happens to be a priest, despairing of ever finding a partner who isn’t freaked out by one of her modifying adjectives, signs up for OKCupid. She goes on a few dates with some guys who are all good, decent folk, but there’s no spark. One day she gets a message that someone has rated her profile 4 or 5 stars! She goes back to read his profile with more care, nodding as she goes at his interests, his wordplay, his handsome face, only to find, at the very, very end, this sentence: “No theology students.” So, with a little trepidation—she didn’t usually out herself as clergy in the first email—she writes him, saying that yes, she had been a theology student but that she had mastered divinity and had the paper to prove it. Was he still interested? He was. They had coffee. They went to a blues club. They debated theology and culture. They danced. And so began a strange adventure . . .

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