This is the Real Deal

There are a few times in life, if you’re lucky, that you have a moment of complete authenticity and feel completely at home. It’s like sliding your feet into a new pair of comfortable slippers, only on a much larger scale. What I am talking about is different that an momentary glimpse of enlightenment, or kensho. I have had such experiences, and they are truly beyond words because at their heart they are mystical experiences. A moment of authenticity is a mystical experience as well, but of a different sort.

I had such a moment after deciding to start this blog and the associated website, I knew I had come home, knew that I had, in two places and in two simple words, succeeded in expressing my spirituality in a succinct yet fairly complete manner. My arrival at this point in my journey is in part due to a reconsideration of the Christian Gospels. What I discovered there was a Jesus who, contrary to what the Church has taught for the last seventeen hundred years, said virtually nothing about salvation. He did spend a lot of time talking about what he variously called the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God, which he said was present here and now – or, in the case of his listeners, there and then. He didn’t preach pie in the sky, by and by; he wasn’t selling some sort of life insurance policy that paid off in heaven after we die. Rather, he talked about real life and how to live it properly. He spoke out in favor of the oppressed and marginalized of his day: Tax collectors, prostitutes, notorious sinners, women, bi-racial people (Samaritans), and similar shady characters. He spoke out in steadfast opposition to the corrupt forces of his day: Religious and political leaders, a group that in Jesus day contained many of the same people, and the Roman occupying forces, who would eventually destroy the Jewish Temple in 70 C.E. That same Jesus was silent about the issues that preoccupy today’s “Culture War:” Human sexual orientation, abortion, or anything resembling the so-called holiness code which is so important in segments of Pentecostalism and in the Baptist tradition, beginning in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Around the same time, beginning in 2000 C.E., I found myself an eager student of Buddhism. Beginning with two Thich Nhat Hanh books, Living Buddha, Living Christ and Coming Home, Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, my study of Buddhism began with a study of the similarities between Christ Consciousness, if you will, and Buddha Nature. I rapidly gobbled up every book I could find about Buddhism, not restricting myself to any one tradition. Living in the Midwest, it was difficult to find a Buddhist Teacher in the tradition that I most resonated with, so I used technology to learn from a diverse group of teachers – Pema Chodron, Sharon Salzberg, Gil Fronsdal, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and others. If they had a CD or could be found on Podcast, I listened to them. I read almost every book I could find on Buddhism, having already spent the previous decade doing scholarly work in the Christian tradition. I quickly saw the great common link between the teachings of Jesus and Buddha: Love, or/Lovingkindness, and Compassion.

Were there differences? Certainly there were differences between Buddhism and Christianity, but for a non-theistic Christian like me the differences were relatively small. Much more significant was the way in which, for example, Buddhist meditation instructions finally moved me to understand what in my native Christian tradition is called Contemplative Prayer. Can I wrap my head around Tibetan cosmology? Not really, but I can’t get excited about Christian Eco-spirituality, either. Can I solve a Zen Koan? No, but I never have been a fan of mental auto-eroticism either. If a tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound? I couldn’t care less, but I have never been intrigued by how many angels fit on the head of a pin, either.

My Buddhist self is probably best described as a Theravadan with a Bodhisattva vow. I realize that’s a contradiction, but no more so that being a non-theistic Christian who believes that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father and that the Holy Spirit moved over his conception in a way that made Jesus Divine – and his mother’s virginity had nothing to do with physical virginity. Most Christian Churches would want nothing to do with that kind of theology, but the way I see it most North Americans want nothing to do with most Christian Churches, so we are probably even. What I have to offer is a spiritual path that isn’t afraid to look at truth wherever it is found. It’s a path that is willing to listen to and consider every person’s spiritual journey and every spiritual tradition AND allow each person to explore what works for them. Nowhere did any great spiritual teacher ever claim that there was only one path to the truth. I am aware that in John’s Gospel Jesus is quoted as saying, “no one gets to the Father but through me.” My problem is that is so unlike anything Jesus said in the synoptic gospels, and John’s Gospel is the last written and therefore most theologically processed of the four. I simply don’t believe Jesus said those words.

So on this great Interspiritual journey we travel. With discerning minds and hearts, and in the silence in which the mystery of the universe speaks to us, we all seek to be faithful to our understanding and experience, tried in the crucible of community. Here is my path, I know no other.

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