Yesterday as I read a book of essays on Buddhism, I came across an article with a most intriguing title, "The Rebel Buddha." The author of the essay asked:
Who is more radical than the Buddha who overthrows all the conventional ways we see ourselves and our world? The mission of the rebel Buddha: to free ourselves from the illusions we create by ourselves, about ourselves."
The Buddha taught that we deceive ourselves by clinging to the illusion that the individual person is a separated, isolated self, when all beings actually are in a dynamic interrelationship. The true self is a relationship.
The Buddha's teaching indeed was and continues to be radical and revolutionary. In a culture of pronounced individualism and self-centered consumerism, the Buddha's teaching is extremely counter- cultural.
Jesus, like the Buddha, was also radical and revolutionary in what he taught and in what he did. Jesus, like the Buddha, also taught his disciples that to find your "true self," you had to die to your old self; you had to surrender your ego to find your genuine nature.
Jesus saw everything and everyone beautifully interwoven into the one fabric of creation, all reflecting the glory of God. He called this beautiful interrelationship of all creation, "The Kingdom of God."
Jesus' life and teaching was all about living in the "Kingdom of God;" and so he turned the existing cultural norms of his day upside down. He opposed any system that allowed the powerful to crush the weak. He taught that no one was superior to anyone else, the mighty and the lowly all equally valued as noble children of God, no patriarchy, no hierarchy, no class system. Jesus was about as revolutionary and subversive as you could be in those days when the values of the empire dominated, and only the strong and powerful were considered to be of any worth.
In his recently popularized book, Reza Aslan refers to the historical Jesus as a "Zealot" - a social prophet who led a revolutionary movement against Roman oppression and domination and was ultimately crucified for his crime of sedition against the state. While Aslan is hardly the first scholar to suggest this, I think he is probably quite accurate.
Jesus was seditious - a revolutionary. Everything he said and everything he did stood in direct opposition to a culture in which the mighty crushed the lowly; and he was crucified for his sedition.
The thing is, that both the rebel Buddha and the rebel Jesus never taught or expected that the revolutions they begun would end with them. They both expected their followers to continue to walk in their footsteps.
As I sat in my meditation garden on this Sunday morning, I thought of all those many Christians who might be going to church today to spend an hour with Jesus, say some prayers, take a time of comfort and respite from the busy world and then go out the doors and back into everyday reality.
I also thought about those many non-religious, but spiritual people who may be following some sort of Buddhist path - perhaps sitting on a yoga mat, incense burning, quietly meditating to reduce everyday stress.
Whatever happened to the revolution?
Christians as well as Buddhists have made Christ and the Buddha into distant gods to be worshipped from afar but not followed in everyday life. The Buddha and Jesus revolutions have been tamed and defanged.
The truth is that if you follow the path of the Buddha, you necessarily see life through a very counter-cultural lens. It is a path that stands in stark opposition to an ego-centered, "me-first" society. The path of the Buddha is life-changing not merely stress-reducing.
If you follow the path of Jesus, you likewise see the world through very counter-cultural glasses. Christians are called to follow a way of revolt and sedition; promoting human dignity at all costs and standing in radical opposition to any systems of oppression, even if it means getting crucified.
The revolution began with the Buddha. The revolution began with Jesus. The revolution continues with those of us who follow in their way.
Long live the revolution!