Nazareth to Bodhgaya…and back

I have another volume of poetry to be published soon. It’s called ‘The Love Within’. The title comes from a lovely poem by the Franciscan martyr, John Bradburne: “God’s love within you is your native land/ So search none other, never more depart/ For you are homeless/Save God keeps your heart.” The poems cover my life as an ordinand and priest in two parts – then and ‘more-or-less now’. So there are two Forewords too, the first by my late dear friend Latchman Kissoon, the second by his son, Satcha, once upon a time my dear pupil. Latchman was a Hindu and so, in my Introduction, I refer to my depth of gratitude that he, though his religion was different from mine, was prepared to write for me, a Christian priest. But then “the love within immeasurably abides…” I’ll come back to this, but let me say now that for me the Hebrew Scriptures simply can’t be the last word on God, however we conceive Him. He simply can’t be just the ‘God of Israel’. He’s just not that small. Nor is He a Moslem, a Hindu, or a Christian – for these are just human systems which help us explore His ineffable mystery. Our faith doesn’t define Him, but it points us to Him, a bit like a signpost.

With this in mind, you’ll understand, perhaps, why, in more recent times, I’ve been reading on ‘Buddhism’ a little. In a later Column, I’ll share some texts with you. For now, let me remark something of what is, I think, the heart of it, and I invite you to compare it with our own faith. Whatever you do, don’t doubt my love for Jesus. He’ll follow me beyond the grave.

Buddhism reminds us that we all suffer sickness, ageing and death, as well as fears, doubts and confusion; and that the main cause of our suffering is grasping and clinging.
But – and this is the heart of it – it also recognises that we all share the possibility of awakening, just as the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, did beneath the Bodhi tree. There he withstood the temptations of the armies of Mara just as Jesus did in the wilderness. For the Buddhist, compassion rests at the centre of every human being. It’s our true nature, and it manifests in an open, true and wise heart which conceives every creature on God’s earth as if it were ourselves. So: there’s the potential for Buddhahood in all of us. We can all become awakened, all exhibit that tenderness and mercy for the confused, the frightened, the erring and shameful. The Buddhist prays that even his enemies will be free and filled with loving kindness; and that we must never fail to love and forgive ourselves, for if we reject and rubbish ourselves, our personhood, those things we find difficult to accept in ourselves we shall ever find it difficult to accept in others. Our prayer is: ‘May you too be held in compassion; may you be safe, well, peaceful and free. May you too awaken.’ Meanwhile, we take refuge in the Buddha and the Dharma, the Way, the truth. Heard of that one before?

Yes, yes, I know. It’s a very superficial account. But tell me. Is there anything there which speaks against our Christian faith as it is in the Gospels? We speak of a Gospel of love. Isn’t that, love, at the heart of Buddhism – a love which, though it acknowledges our weaknesses, speaks of forgiveness, mercy, joy, hospitality, openness, oneness, empathy, compassion, generosity and, above all metta, loving kindness? It’s not judgmental either, unlike the sad Christian endeavours of so many of us. It’s not about pontificating on the failings of others. There’s no room for fear and doubt, or discrimination, or exclusivism, and no God-speak about “miserable offenders”, nothing about sin and punishment. In Buddhism, our Buddhahood, our awareness, our dear enlightened, divine self is ‘home’. With Jesus, wherever I am and He is, is ‘home’. In both, the Kingdom’s within. The Christian asks ‘Are we acting together in a way which demonstrates the embodied love and sacrifice of Christ?’ The Buddhist substitutes ‘Buddhahood’ for ‘Christ’. And why not” Wasn’t our Lord also awakened?

In Buddhism, as with the Gospels, there’s no manipulation, no coercion. Each speaks to our own inherent goodness and unbounded love for every person and for all life. Each of us works for a world of non-violence where no one is homeless or hungry, and where the natural world is revered and protected. Always we reach out to where others are, not to where we’d want them to be. Our call to our neighbour is not Anglican, or black, or British – no, for we’re all one. God is not exclusively MY God or YOURS. He’s ONE for all of us. In Jesus we know Him. Awakened we know Him. Despite all our differences, in our deepest selves we are exactly how we were meant to be. The door behind our mind is always open.

Well, Buddhism predates Jesus by 500 years and some do say that the Lord of Life, mine and yours, visited northern India. Does it really matter?

Go safely, then – until the next time.

Ponderful, from the boundary: “Besides every blade of grass is an angel saying, ‘Grow, grow, grow’” (Kabbalistic saying).

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