Friday, March 28, 2014

The Thought not the Thinker

"Buddha under an Olive Tree"
-my meditation garden-

Every morning, after I publish my daily blog post, I normally receive a variety of comments about what I have said. I always look forward to reading these comments throughout the course of a day. They often provide me with rich insights from a variety of perspectives. 

Yesterday someone posted a comment that really struck me as being exceptionally wise and very important. He said: 

We too easily remember the importance of the thinker 
while forgetting the importance of their thought. 

I've been doing a good bit of reflecting on this insight and I believe it is quite true, especially when it comes to faith, religion and the spiritual journey.

When you enter a Christian church, there are statues of Jesus everywhere along with various depictions of great saints- Mary his mother, the apostles. People kneel before the statues, some light candles, and they pray for favors of various sorts, "let me pass the exam, help me get the job, cure my disease." 

When I was in South Korea a few years ago, I was surprised at how some of the prominent Buddhist shrines reminded me of being inside Christian churches. There were buddha statues everywhere in designated little shrines. People were standing in front of the statues (sometimes even kneeling). Different buddhas were designated as being patrons for various causes. One statue was a buddha for "good fortune"- people were petitioning this buddha, "Let me get that job." Anther buddha was designated as a  buddha of "fertility." Women were praying that they might bear a child or praying for protection for their children.

As I see it, neither Jesus nor Siddartha Gautama would be at all happy about what goes on in churches and temples devoted to them. 

Jesus of Nazareth never asked nor did he desire to be worshipped by his disciples.  Instead Jesus taught disciples to listen to his words and follow in his way. He gathered disciples as a master would gather apprentices, teaching them a way of life brimming with unabashed compassion. 

In subsequent generations the official church made Jesus into the Lord Jesus Christ- not someone to follow, but a God to be worshipped - mighty and powerful, able to grant favors and make everything all better. 

Siddartha Gautama taught his disciples in the same way as Jesus did. He gathered apprentices around him and pointed them on a path toward enlightenment, showing them a "way" of leading an "other-centered" life brimming with unabashed compassion.

Siddhartha taught his disciples: "You yourself must strive. The buddhas only point the way."

In subsequent generations Siddhartha Gautama was exalted becoming the supreme Lord Buddha.

As my online friend so wisely said yesterday:  "We too easily remember the importance of the thinker while forgetting the importance of their thought."

In some sense it's much easier to exalt the great religious heroes:  the exalted wise Lord Buddha, the Lord Jesus Christ -King of heaven and earth. It's much easier to praise and honor them, light candles,  place all our cares and woes at the feet of their statues and then forget the importance of what the person depicted in the statue actually taught. 

If I can light a candle then walk out the door and do whatever I please in ordinary everyday life, it "gets  me off the hook." Someone far more powerful than little old me is in charge and he will make everything all better. 

As I see it neither Jesus, who became the Lord Jesus Christ, nor Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Lord Buddha, want us to be "let off the hook."  They came among us to point the "way." Any who would call themselves disciples must walk the path.

As I sit in my garden this morning, I gaze at my Buddha statue under the olive tree. I hear him tell me: "everyone must strive, the buddhas only point the way."

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