Thank you for another interesting Sunday in our world religion series. As we explored Buddhism yesterday we shared the Buddhist greeting, “a lotus for you, a Buddha to be,” looked at pictures of different Buddha statues, practiced a little loving-kindness meditation, let the kids “bathe the Buddha,” learned about the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the Five Precepts. All of this is too much to rehash here, but for the entire audio of the sermon portion of the service, click here.
In the religious traditions of Buddhism and Christianity, Buddha and Jesus are honored as being extremely wise teachers, their teachings have been written down for all of us to learn from, and communities have been set up with the purpose of continuing their teachings. But even more than that… both traditions have said to followers that what we really need to strive for is to find the nature of that one within us.
Buddha was a historical figure who was born, married, bore a son, left home, practiced meditation, became enlightened and taught until he was 80 and died. But Buddhists also believe that there is a Buddha within each of us who transcends space and time – the Buddha nature. Buddha said, “All beings, as they are, have the Buddha nature.”
Jesus, too, was a historical figure who was born in Bethlehem, was the son of a carpenter, raised a Jew, began teaching his theology around age 30 and then was crucified a few years later. And then there is the Living Christ who transcends space and time. We’re told that the Christ-light is in each person and that we, in turn, are light for the world. In other words, we all have the Jesus nature within us.
This does not mean we have a little Jewish, bearded guy lounging inside of us waiting for the next dose of bread and wine. Nor do Buddhists have a little fat, bald, jolly guy (or skinny guy with a pointed hat) hanging out meditating inside of them.
What it means is that the divine essence that was part of Jesus and Buddha is also in you and me, and when we are in that place in us where we touch the divine essence, we touch the Living Christ, the Jesus nature, we touch the Buddha nature, we touch our higher self.
Zen master Samu Sunim describes an experience as a young monk, begging for food in Korea in the 1950s. His teacher told him to look for Buddhas, for people who were perfect teachers for him, while he begged. It was harvest time and his duty was to travel to various farming villages to deliver Kondae, donation bags for rice. Later he would go back to collect the bags, which would be full of rice. Sunim secretly looked for Buddhas while he was accepting the rice donations, but he couldn’t find any. When he went back to the abbot to report this, the abbot shouted at him to keep looking, but don’t look for special Buddhas. Aha! Buddhas don’t have to be special. After that Sunim was able to spot many Buddhas, realizing that each of us is a Buddha when we are our best selves. He realized that it was his own sense of self that had been in the way of finding Buddha in everyone. Once he let go of his self he was able to honor all of us as a Buddha. (Stumbling Toward Enlightenment, by Geri Larkin, p. 183)
Now, when Buddhists meditate before a statue of the Buddha, please know that they are not worshipping it. They are using it as a tool to remind them of their own Buddha nature that they are trying to get in touch with.
We Christians, however, usually feel a little safer keeping Jesus at arm’s length. We are told that we are supposed to worship Jesus (even though he never asked or wanted to be worshipped). Traditionally, the cross – whether empty or with a body hanging on it – is supposed to remind us of Jesus’ death and resurrection, his sacrifice, his love. We’re told to accept Jesus into our heart, though scripture says that Jesus is already there. In John 15, Jesus says, “Abide in my as I abide in you.” Perhaps we should spend less time looking for Jesus outside of ourselves and look to abide more deeply in that Jesus nature within us.
When I get to that place in me that is the divine spark, the question will not be “what would Jesus do?” but “what will I do?” As I touch this deep loving energy of the universe, how will that manifest in my life? How will I reach out with love and compassion, non-judgment and peace, and be the Living Christ or the Living Buddha for others.
Zen Master and prolific writer Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “When we understand and practice deeply the life and teachings of Buddha or the life and teachings of Jesus, we penetrate the door and enter the abode of the living Buddha and the living Christ, and life eternal presents itself to us.” (Living Buddha, Living Christ, p. 56)
So, once again we are drawn inside on a spiritual path of self-realization and self-awareness. So be it.