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Discussion 9 to Meditation 376
Re: Meditation 376

by: Paul W. Sharkey

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This Meditation has provoked a number of responses, most of which seem to have centered around belief in miracles. Without myself wishing to inter into or add to that particular aspect of this topic, I would nevertheless invite all such interested parties, if they have not already done so, to read and consider David Hume’s essay on miracles from his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, which can be found at:

http://www.soci.niu.edu/~phildept/Dye/HumeOfMiracles.html

Loren Taylor’s response (Discussion 7) seems so thoroughly complete, balanced, and accurate (with the possible exception of his slip in attributing Einstein as being a “Christian”)1 – including his very relevant observations regarding cyclical vs. linear time – that little more needs to be added.

However, among the points I have always found most interesting in comparing Buddhism and Christianity is their respective positions on suffering. While the whole focus of Buddhism is upon the avoidance or overcoming of suffering,2 Christianity seems to revel in it.3 There are both laudable and not so laudable aspects to each.

According to Buddhism, the “secret of suffering” – which is no secret at all except for those who insist upon living in denial – is attachment.4 Consequently, the way to overcome suffering is to overcome attachment.5 Jesus, on the other hand, did not teach his disciples to avoid either suffering or attachment but rather to take responsibility for it.6 Unfortunately, as is the wont of human nature, both “teachings” are subject to perversion: the Buddhist toward solipsistic detachment, the Christian toward masochism or even sadism.

Where the two come together most constructively – and the only hope of avoiding either kinds of the above mentioned perversions – is in the commonly recognized virtue of love or compassion. John 3:16 does not say that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, and whosoever does not believe in him shall burn in hell,” yet all too many who call themselves “Christians” seem to understand it so.7 What I find so discomforting about so much of what is called “Christianity” is how an all good, all loving God could spawn so many followers who are so hateful, vindictive, and judgmental.

Whether Buddhist or Christian, theist, atheist or agnostic,8 let us at least not be the cause of increased suffering in the world – there is all too much of it already without our help.

 

Footnotes:

  1. While Einstein was not a “Christian,” neither was he, religiously, a Jew. Though to all accounts he may have been a cultural Jew, when it came to the nature and existence of “god” he seems to have been a pantheist – a position for which Spinoza was condemned by both Christians and Jews: www.religionandscience.us/_mgxroot/page_10728.html
  2. See the “Four Noble Truths” and “Eightfold Path:” www.thebigview.com/buddhism/fourtruths.htm
  3. On the positive side we have Jesus as the model of the “suffering servant;” on the negative side we have pathological obsession with the crucifixion, doctrines concerning condemnation to hell, mortification, the inquisition(s), and all manner of ongoing mean spirited judgmentalism. It is almost as though the attitude is one of “Jesus suffered and by God you’re going to too” rather than “Jesus triumphed over suffering (the moral meaning of the “resurrection”) and so can you.”
  4. See 2 above
  5. Ibid.
  6. It would seem that even the most zealous and strident “Christian” must concede this, for if Jesus’ “dying for our sins and suffering” isn’t a model of sacrificial acceptance of responsibility for the sake of the love of one’s neighbor, then what is it? “Whatsoever you do to/for the least of these, you do to/for me.”
  7. It has been said that John 3:16 is the most quoted/cited passage of the Bible. It may also be the most misunderstood, at least in its being subject to interpretation by logical fallacy. It does not say that only those who “believe in him” shall have eternal life, but only that those who do will. In other (logical) words, John 3:16 asserts that “belief in him”is a sufficient, though not necessarily a necessary condition for the enjoyment of eternal life. I am well aware that there are those who would try to draw upon other passages of the Bible to try to justify such exclusivity but that issue as well as what “belief in him” and “eternal life” might mean are topics well beyond the scope of this piece.
  8. This is by no means meant to exclude Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs ... Zoroastrians from the same call.