Chapter 10: On being a follower of Christ (1)
In this and following chapters I present a personal exploration of Faith which, I hope, will challenge the reader's perceptions. Although I express views strongly, I would not want anyone to accept them blindly.
I have said that for me, to be a Christian means to be a follower
of Christ; ultimately, this means knowing the reality of the Risen
Christ. Nothing further need be added since from this one may deduce
To follow Jesus means to seek to acquire his insight, his
Enlightenment; to penetrate through the illusion of this world into
God's kingdom. To do this will involve great suffering - suffering
caused by sin - and we will all have our crosses to bear (see e.g.
Matthew (16:24) and Mark (8:34)); but the rewards are incalculably
greater. One day, when we have eliminated sin, suffering will cease.
As I've said already, I believe that we may enter God's kingdom
(Heaven) in this life; thus I believe that we may eliminate sin in this
life - and to do this should be, I'm sure, the central focus for a
Christian. (In fact this is also, when suitably expressed, the central focus for a Buddhist.) The achievement of this aim may be effected by any one of
the three approaches outlined above. In all three approaches,
contemplation, meditation and prayer are most useful tools.
Overview of the Bible
To help us pursue Christianity, there is the Bible. For the moment
I shall leave aside issues of its 'authority', of whether or not it is
completely representative of early Christian thought etc. Whatever
criticisms one may make of it, the Bible is certainly profound.
At a basic level, it encourages a moral conduct in life; but at a
deeper level, when read with the whole mind, just one line
appropriately chosen may be a focus for intoned prayer. This is the Christian
equivalent of a mantra, for which the most famous is perhaps the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner" (or some abbreviation) 1.
For me, the Gospels of the New Testament appear
vastly superior to the Old Testament; Christ transforms the simple
moral stories clothed in mythical language into magical metaphors of
ultimate vision: for instance, the Ten Commandments are affirmed and
refined in the 'Sermon on the Mount' [Matthew 5].
There are, however, dangers: excessive liturgical discussion leads
to spiritual impotence, whilst gross literal interpretation leads to
mistaken fundamentalism. It must be remembered that Christ's message
directs us primarily to the tackling of our current sinfulness, not to
elicit historical details and not to bombard us with rigid dogma.
On Reading the Bible
It is wise to do everything with the whole mind, but especially so
when reading scriptures. Of reading the Bible, the introduction to
Gideon's 'New Testament and Psalms' says, "Come to it with awe, read it
with reverence, frequently, slowly, prayerfully."
What phenomenal commitment this requires! I must confess that I
have yet to fulfil this anywhere near satisfactorily; but I do know
that when I make the appropriate effort, the message becomes
transparent. Further, in this transparency, all the apparent conceptual
conflict between Christianity and Buddhism dissolves; as I witness truth, I am as one both Christian and Buddhist.
Commitment is not enough - extreme fundamentalists are committed.
To channel the commitment in the appropriate direction needs insight
(or wisdom). In relation to the Bible, it needs understanding of the
contemporary setting and of the mentality behind the written language;
in particular, it is crucial that the oneness of God - non-dualistic
reality - is not overlooked in metaphorical dualistic expressions.
Unfortunately, I believe that this is overlooked, and so I echo
what I said in the conclusion of 'Linguistic Expressions of God': there
is a vagueness in interpretation, and the vagueness comes mainly from
false dualistic view and a number of associated delusions. I proceed
now to elaborate by presenting two choices for Christians and thence by
discussing a few examples from scripture.
Two Divergent Paths
I shall take below two largely distinct approaches to Christianity
as regards how one views the Bible. I've condensed them as best as I
can for direct comparison.
- The Bible is viewed as the 'Word of God.' It reports a divino-
historical unfolding ('Revelation') through the specially-chosen Jewish
nation, culminating in the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ,
the 'only Son of God' (the 'Incarnation'), to atone for the sins of the
world. Faith means the complete acceptance of the Word of God as
revealed in the Bible, and in particular the acknowledgement of the
unique episode of Christ's death and resurrection as the salvational
fulcrum of all time.
- The Bible is viewed as divinely inspired (some parts more keen in
insight than others), a body of spiritual expression. It reports a
divino-historical unfolding, analogous to other nations, as an echo of
the collective Higher Evolution; and it culminates in the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ, the 'only Son of God', as a demonstration
of his divine authority. Faith means believing in Him as exemplary of
The Way (in terms of transcendental reality) and in his life as
exemplary of a way (in terms of a transcendental path to The Way).
Corollaries and Comments
With some preparation over, I shall now dip into some analysis of
- To 1.
- The death and resurrection of Christ effectively mark the
final chapter of 'God's plan' for the world as far as scripture is
concerned. God has thus in effect already determined the
ultimate course of each life. There is nothing to be added. All subsequent Christian writings can only be of a confirmatory nature, dependent on tallying
with [one's interpretation of] biblical passages, and thereby being
inevitably explanatory rather than significantly original and newly
Thus there appears to be a completed message. With nothing to add,
it only remains to preach this message 'to the ends of the Earth'. This
necessitates unconditionally a collective missionary movement.
- To 2.
- The historical episode of Christ's crucifixion is a kind of
divine catalyst. The onus is on us to find our own forgiveness of sins (and
thus salvation) through our own divinity; it is up to us to take up the challenge of our own 'crosses' for there is nothing in scripture which automatically guarantees anything for spiritual inaction. The Bible is a malleable expression of minds in a contemporary setting and thus can evolve; its
role is to inspire transcendence in an effective manner and thus it can
be added to in complete originality. If truth is expressed, it can be
affirmed, otherwise it will eventually be exposed and chucked out.
Each one must decide for themselves to what extent they wish to
communicate their insight to others. Perhaps some will be missionaries,
but the nature of their work requires constant awareness of prevailing
circumstances. Here there is no rule for appropriate action 2.
The following sentence highlights many pitfalls. It is a widely
proclaimed statement, most of it taken from John 3:16, but 'tidied'
to make it compact.
"God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son - Jesus -
who died for us."
As far as I can judge the typical interpretation of a Western
Christian, I see these faults:
- God is implied as a separate entity.
- (from (1)... ) Duality is implied very strongly and unhelpfully by:
subject ('God') + transitive verb ('loved') + object ('world').
- There is the danger of conceit if in mentioning 'world' (Earth) it becomes implicitly special as some favoured separate identity. God's love is not restricted like this!
- More emphasis should be placed on Jesus as a channel of God's love.
- God is heavily personified in the relationship of father and son
and as such, as I indicated in 'On Personal Relationships with God' in
Chapter 7, this is very dodgy. Although the intention of representing
Jesus's personal closeness to God is expressed here, unfortunately few
people seem to transcend the human side of this personal relationship.
- 'Only begotten son' is, I feel, a metaphorical expression for one
who has realised the unique achievement of being one with God; it
refers to that Enlightened state of existence which has no equal in the
context of human existence; the exclusiveness lies only in this
transcendence. Alas, its meaning has been contorted into a conceited
statement of 'historical revelation' by Christian institutions and history
has been littered with bloody conquests as a result. They have tried to mould the unmouldable, arriving at the 'unique person of Christ, unique in history, ...' What a poor frame of reference (and a typical anthropomorphic tendency)! As far as the unique Enlightenment is concerned, there are, I maintain, other 'begotten sons' of whom the Buddha is one 3. In the next example I indicate again how Christ's own words do not contradict this.
- 'who died for us': These last four words are not actually part of
the sentence in John and represent a big switch in emphasis from the
clause which finishes the sentence in scripture:-
'that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.'
What has been effected in this (manufactured 'historical
revelation') is a change from a statement in organic time to one
implicitly in clock time. What impoverishment! Moreover, as a result,
many orthodox Christians lack a motivation to strive to eradicate their
sinfulness - Jesus has, it may appear, done it for them. The Church has
had 2000 years to prevent such delusion, but failed miserably. I find
nowhere in John 3 any indication that Jesus's actions are redemptive in themselves. What is required is our recognition of the divinity of Christ and consequently the beginnings of Faith, through which in due course we may be redeemed.
Example 2: "No-one comes to the Father except through me." [John
Many Christians have thrust this at me when I suggest that it is
highly possible that there are begotten sons of God other than Jesus
Christ. If to become one with God it is necessary to have anything to
do with the person of Jesus, then it must have nothing to do with his
historical figure - for how can those who have never heard of Jesus
become one with God? Nor, even, does it have essentially anything to do
with his humanness for liberation is achieved beyond the lower
This exclusive relativistic way of thinking is man's thinking: it
is unnecessary and wrong. All references by Jesus to his person refer
directly to superconscious reality. Jesus is one with God. Anyone who
is one with God is automatically one with Jesus. Thus, others may be
one with God through other 'saviours'.
Example 3: On the Resurrection of Christ
I pursue the notion that Christ is not the only saviour. The
following quote is taken from the 'Memorial Acclamation of the People'
"Lord, by your cross and resurrection,
You have set us free,
You are the saviour of the world."
I believe in the physical resurrection of Christ; that is, I
believe that Christ restored life to his crucified body which had died
on the cross IN A STATEMENT OF SUPREME LOVING COMPASSION.
For me, Christ's resurrection - the most dramatic display he could
offer of his oneness with God - demonstrated that he had 'conquered
death', that is HE HAD ESCAPED FROM THE CYCLE OF DEATH AND REBIRTH,
REALISED ETERNAL LIFE. 4
This was truly an incredible strategic device, planned well in
advance as reported, for instance, by John (2:18-22) when Jesus was in
a Jewish temple one day:
'Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show
us to prove your authority to do all this?"
Christ has shown mankind that the way to eternal salvation is
through living with the spirit (which is usually contrary to the mores
of society). This is our salvation: if we follow his example, his
totally committed approach to the spiritual life then we may share in
Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it
again in three days."
The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this
temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" But the
temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the
dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed
the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.'
In the annals of the lower evolution of the Western world, Jesus
was the first to gain Enlightenment 5, but I feel that others had
already done so in the East.
l.2 'set us free': This is as in 'free a blockage'; an alternative
phrase is 'woken us up.' 6
Our spiritual journey may be likened to the progress of a twig
from a mountain brook to the sea - its ultimate destination; in
recognising Jesus as (a) Saviour, it is as though a kind hand has
picked up the twig from where it got stuck for some time between
mountain rocks, and placed it in flowing water a bit further downstream
where its journey may begin again.
Thus we cannot be complacent; being a 'good Christian' is not
enough - being helpful to others, dutifully attending church services
or Mass, contributing to the betterment of society etc. are, although
meritorious, insignificant when compared with deep spiritual insight.
Indeed, without the latter, injury will be done unknowingly; and it is
said, "It takes all the wisdom of the wise to undo the harm done by the
To gain such wisdom, wisdom which projects us far beyond the lower
evolution we share with all life, we may turn to contemplation,
meditation and prayer.
A good guide to the Jesus prayer may be found in 'The Power of the Name - the Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality' by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia. ^
Indeed, in Buddhism, the 'missionary issue' is responsible for the greatest difference between the Mahayana and Theravada
Schools: the former believe in liberation en masse, whereas
the latter has a less overt stance. ^
Two quotes which struck me as to the oneness common to Christ and the Buddha: "Remember that whoever tends a sick person, as
if it were [me], tends me." [Mahavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka -
302, Ch. VIII, 26:3] and, Matthew (26:39-40): "When did we see
you sick..?" The King will reply, "I tell you the truth,
whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of
mine, you did for me." ^
[Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13] I wonder about the account of his 40 days and nights in the desert - it seems to have been squeezed into the historical narrative very awkwardly. I think it covers some period during Jesus' 12th and 30th years when he made a crucial effort to 'cut all ties'. Up to this time, I maintain that he had not been completely one with God, otherwise his temptation would have been a pointless exercise.
As another possibility, one could reserve 'set us free' for the moment when someone breaks through to being one with God.
It may be that a few gifted people would be 'set free' on
first receiving the verbal message of the resurrection.
More likely, however, on 'waking up' the recipient has set
foot on the path to salvation, a path which promises salvation
in a countable period, i.e. one is assured of being 'set free'
at some time in the future, but it could be billions of years
hence - which is not tremendously encouraging.
- It is interesting to note the recorded occurrence of an
Earthquake both at the time of Jesus' death and the Buddha's
Enlightenment:- compare Luke 23:45, Mark 15:38, Matthew 27:51
- Even if Jesus did not die on the cross or there were no
physical resurrection, Christianity is essentially unaffected!
Perhaps, before 'waking up', there is no knowing
whether a person can be saved. However, I conjecture that all
beings will be set free eventually.
Next chapter: On being a follower of Christ (2)
- © Paul Trafford 1996,97