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Samsara & Selfhood: A Buddhist Easter Jesus Meditation

Happy Pastel Eggs & Bunnies Day! Although I’ve never considered myself a Christian, growing up in the Bible Belt kind of means you’re Christian by default. Jesus is all around you, especially on days like today. To some extent, this is true throughout the U.S. as American culture is undoubtedly structured by the Judeo-Christian tradition. Its incredibly difficult, maybe impossible, to live in this country and not make contact with at least the cultural aspects of this tradition.

Which, for students of Buddhist, is perfectly fine, perhaps even, just as it should be. Sociologically, Buddhism has this amazing history of mixing and mingling with other traditions, philosophies, and religions in really fascinating ways. A lot has been written about this in general, but more specifically there is a great deal of literature and thought regarding Christianity and Buddhism meeting in the West. For me, beginning my Buddhist practice in the Bible Belt meant working a lot with Jesus. I was culturally situated in such a way that I had to account for Jesus’s place in my life, even though I realized early on that Christianity wasn’t for me.

In a post earlier this week about Passover, Ethan asked, “What holiday’s do you connect with to help build your path of awakening?” This is a fabulous and important question, and it made me think about both my past and current negotiations as a student of Buddhism with the secular and religious Christianity that surrounds me.  When I was first coming out as Buddhist, I bought the book Jesus & Buddha: The Parallel Sayings hoping that it might help me translate my practice into a language my family and rural Missouri community could better understand. It's a beautiful book in many ways, and I imagine no day is better than today to reflect on some of its passages. Here are a few of the quotes that resonated with me as I began my practice at fifteen, and that still resonate with me now:

Jesus: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. From anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. (Luke 6.27-30)

Buddha: Hatreds do not ever cearse in this world by hating, but by love; this is an eternal truth… Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good. Overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth. (Dhammapada 1.5 &17.3)

Jesus: How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Mark 10.23 & 25)

Buddha: Riches make most people greedy, and so are like caravans lurching down the road to perdition. Any possession that increases the sin of selfishness or does nothing to confirm one’s wish to renounce what one has is nothing but a drawback in disguise. (Jatakamala 5.5 & 15)

Jesus: The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tress, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. (Matthew 13.31-32)

Buddha: Do not underestimate good, thinking it will not affect you. Dripping water can fill a pitcher, drop by drop; one who is wise is filled with good, even if one accumulates it little by little. (Dhammapada 9.7)

Jesus: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friend. (John 15.12-13)

Buddha: Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, cultivate a boundless heart toward all beings. Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world. (Sutta Nipata 149-150)

Although many correlations can be drawn between their teachings, I do not mean to present a universal “all religions are one” hypothesis. There are indeed many, real differences between the Buddhist philosophical tradition and practice I study and the Christian theological tradition so deeply rooted in American Midwest/South. My interest stem from Ethan’s question, which was so good I’ll repeat it again…

How do we, as western students of Buddhism, blend the cultural and religious traditions around us into our own practice? How do the traditions we come from shape and influence the practice we are working toward? How do we negotiate our practice, and understanding of the world with that of the larger Judeo-Christian culture around us? What can we gain from this? And how does is help us build our path of awakening?

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I think this is a really important topic, especially for those of us who have come to Buddhism later in life in America.

I grew up as a fairly devout Christian of the Episcopalian brand, and slowly, over the last 15 years have drifted away from that. I see my path & faith journey making complete sense. I started meditating about 5 years ago, but didn't get serious about it until a little over a year ago. I'm doing Refuge Vows next month, and I'm a little nervous.
There's not many people I can tell, because they will not understand.

Another older Buddhist friend and I felt a little winsome earlier this week, knowing we will be left out of the singing, the lighting of the Paschal candle, the ritual-induced joy...

It feels sad, like remembering an x-husband, but I know I can't go back there, and I don't let it hook me much anymore.

I have enjoyed and felt relieved to find so many parallels of the core wisdom of Christianity & Buddhism. I have also appreciated the wisdom of Trungpa Rinpoche, whose lineage I belong to, for trying to Americanize Buddhism the way he did.
What sold me on this lineage was when I walked into the Great Stupa at the Rocky Mtn. Center & saw the Buddha with an American face. Suddenly, I could relate.

I will be interested to see how the path will become even more Americanized in years to come. I think if the core truth of Buddhism remains intact, that's a good thing! We are Americans after all, and it's not all bad! I could never follow the Dharma the way Tibetans do, because they are so completely different from me.

I can follow the dharma in the only way I know how - as an American.
Thanks for the post.

Thank you!

Oh how closely this article struck home as I sit at the Memphis airport flying home from seeing my family in my hometown of Tulsa, Ok. I too began studying Buddhism at the age of 15. Just by affiliating myself with Buddhism it resulted in my mom losing three friends because they couldn't believe how she was allowing me to worship a false God. For me there has never been a conflict between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Buddha. There is only a conflict between the modern day religions which have formed around these teachings. Sadly much of it is because of simple yet prevailing ignorance. My heart and soul smile reading the side by side complimentary teachings of such great and wise enlightened beings. Thank you for this Easter gift. :)

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