Chapter 10: On being a follower of Christ (1)

Preface

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.


The Essence

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 everything.

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

Observations

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

Introduction
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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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
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 created.

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.

With some preparation over, I shall now dip into some analysis of scripture.

Example 1

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:
  1. God is implied as a separate entity.
  2. (from (1)... ) Duality is implied very strongly and unhelpfully by: subject ('God') + transitive verb ('loved') + object ('world').
  3. 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!
  4. More emphasis should be placed on Jesus as a channel of God's love.
  5. 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.
  6. '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.
  7. '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 14:6]

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 evolution.

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' at Mass:
     "Lord, by your cross and resurrection,
      You have set us free,
      You are the saviour of the world."
The Message
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?"
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.'
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 Eternal Life.

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.

Linguistic Interpretation
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 merely good."

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.

Footnotes

  1. 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. ^
  2. 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. ^
  3. 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." ^
    1. 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 with .
    2. Even if Jesus did not die on the cross or there were no physical resurrection, Christianity is essentially unaffected!
    ^
  4. [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. ^
  5. 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.
    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. ^

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