“Jesus said: If those who lead you say to you ‘look, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” (From the Gospel of Thomas)
A world-honoured one whose many names include Shakyamuni Buddha, from the limitless expanse of the deathless realm, with divine tongue (using words beyond sound), did spontaneously converse with the world-honoured one whose many names include Jesus Christ. The two beings of unsurpassable omniscience, simultaneously decided to take human form and walk again in the realm known as earth.
Having taken human form and travelled the earth separately for a one-year period, prior to ejecting their consciousnesses back into the ultimate expanse, the two great beings decided to meet and discuss their experiences over a cup of tea. The Buddha and Christ sat opposite one another in a quiet corner of an independently-run coffee shop. They ordered a pot of hot tea and some freshly baked chocolate brownies. After a few minutes of sitting in quiet whilst observing and being one with the unfolding present moment, they broke the silence and conversed (in audible words) with gentle tone thus:
Buddha: So, please tell me brother, how was your visit?
Christ: Ah, it is most wonderful to see you again. It’s been quite a lonely stay. It saddens me to say so, but I think things are getting worse here, much worse.
Buddha: Was it really that bad?
Christ: Wherever I went, I taught. Sometimes I spoke to them in words, sometimes in actions. Sometimes I spoke directly from my mind to theirs. Sometimes I taught large groups, sometimes individuals. For each and every person I met, I helped them to experience the god-nature within them. I taught them just to stop for a moment, to follow their breath in and out, and to allow the Holy Spirit to bathe their being. But so few wanted to see. Having experienced a taste of unconditional peace, they either became suspicious or else wanted to be spoon-fed without doing any work.
Buddha: Did they see you?
Christ: Some saw a con man, others saw a beggar. Some, I’m sure, saw a teacher of some form or other and perhaps a small number caught a glimpse of my true self. But the truth is, they didn’t want to see. Seeing me fully was an inconvenience for them, a disruption to the soap opera of their lives.
Buddha: Oh dear.
Christ: What about you my dearest, how was your visit?
Buddha: Well, unfortunately, it seems as though my experience was not all that dissimilar to yours. In fact, to tell the truth, it was quite saddening. When I was here some 2,500 years ago, I taught one set of teachings. Those teachings were multi-layered, and were suitable for people with varying degrees of spiritual propensity. In other words, within any given transmission that I gave, people could extract what they needed at that particular point in their spiritual evolution. So whilst it is wonderful that my teachings have spread across the globe, and have been moulded to suit the cultures in which they have found themselves, it is rather upsetting that people insist on dividing my teachings up and then entering into quarrels based on those divisions.
Christ: That is indeed sad to hear.
Buddha: Nowadays, they divide my teachings up into three principal schools which they call the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. It is saddening to observe just how frequently proponents of these respective schools publicise the relative strengths of their particular school or even go as far as to actively deride the other approaches. I didn’t divide up my teachings in this manner, nor did any of my successors who expanded on the Buddhadharma and retransmitted my teachings over subsequent centuries. The essence of the most profound Buddhist teachings is inherently present within the simplest of my instructions. I wish they wouldn’t over-conceptualise and divide the whole into many.
Christ: I hear what you say. Not only were all of the teachings expounded by you full and complete in their own right, but they originated from the same source as all of the teachings I gave. If only people would realise that when they heard you teaching, they heard me teaching too – and vice versa.
Buddha: Yes, that is so. We used different words to convey the same message. Where you spoke of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I spoke of the Dharmakaya, the Sambogakaya, and the Nirmanakaya. The Dharmakaya means the Father, the Sambogakaya means the Holy Spirit, and the Nirmanakaya means the son. In the Gospel of Thomas you are recorded as saying “Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.” This was your skilful way of teaching the people that the way to reach God or Nirvana was to cultivate and abide in the view of emptiness. With the wisdom view of emptiness, when looking at one thing, all things are seen.
Christ: This is truth!
Buddha: Another thing that I found upsetting was that there are now countless Buddhist lineages. Each individual lineage claims to have authority to teach in my name because their principal teacher was taught by someone whose ‘teacher ancestry’ can be traced back to someone who was taught by me. But I didn’t authorise them to teach in my name based on these criteria. My authorisation is given freely wherever genuine realization is born in the teacher’s mind. Authentic teachers are those that belong to the living lineage of emptiness and unconditional loving kindness.
Buddha: What about the teachings you gave 2,000 years ago, are they still intact?
Christ: When I was last here, they had already been told that God made man in his image. So I tried to show them that in their purest form, they were already an image of God. At that time, I taught the people that if they cultivated the heart of love and compassion, and disciplined their minds, they would gradually become suitable vessels to be blessed and inspired by the Holy Spirit that is already present within their being. But the essence of my message has been lost. They insist on searching outside of themselves for spiritual liberation. Don’t they realise yet that if it was in my hands to liberate them, I would have done so a long time ago? They have to stop transferring their responsibility to cultivate spiritual awareness into the hands of some divine presence. Just like the coxswain who helps to navigate the rowing boat, I can certainly help to guide them but they have to do the work.
Christ: As far as my “followers” go, I do wish they wouldn’t get so caught up in beliefs and rituals. Whilst such things have their uses, the whole idea was to put my teachings into practise. Spending time squabbling about whether or not I was virgin born and about what day I was born or died on won’t get them anywhere. Such behaviour is just a means of indulging their egos – it causes conflict and unrest. I didn’t teach them this.
Buddha: I think that squabbling and bickering are becoming increasingly prevalent the world over. I visited a number of supposedly “peaceful” countries in the West, but it seems to me that they are at war with themselves. Politicians seem to be as venomous and scathing as ever before – everybody is blaming everybody else. The newspapers appear to be desperate to uncover the next scandal – and where they can’t find one then it seems that they’ll do their best to make one up. All it takes is for a recession or slight financial squeeze to come about and riots break out up and down the country. There seems to be growing amounts of tension and imbalance in the hearts and minds of the people. Governments across the world want sustainable economic and technological growth, but without spiritual growth such things will never come about.
Christ: So my dear, what is to be done about this predicament?
Buddha: That is indeed the million-dollar question – but what about a fresh cup of tea before we continue?
Christ: That’s an excellent idea. Would you like another chocolate brownie?
Buddha: You read my mind.
To be continued …
Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon