His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, speaking to a capacity audience in the Albert Hall in 1984 united his listeners instantly with one simple statement: “All beings want to be happy; they want to avoid pain and suffering.” I was impressed at how he was able to touch what we share as human beings. He armed our common humanity, without in any way dismissing the obvious differences.
When invited to look at “Jesus through Buddhist eyes,” I had imagined that I would use a “compare and contrast” approach, rather like a school essay…
Well, I have to say that he [Jesus] comes across as being much more human than I remember. Although there is much said about him being the Son of God, somehow that doesn’t seem nearly as significant to me as the fact that he is a person: a man of great presence, enormous energy and compassion, and significant psychic abilities. He also has a great gift for conveying spiritual truth in the form of images, using the most everyday things to illustrate points he wishes to make: bread, fields, corn, salt, children, trees. People don’t always understand at once, but are left with an image to ponder…
What we hear of his last hours: the trial, the taunting, the agony and humiliation of being stripped naked and nailed to a cross to die is an extraordinary account of patient endurance, willingness to bear the unbearable, without any sense of blame or ill will. It reminds me of a simile used by the Buddha to demonstrate the quality of metta, or kindliness, he expected of his disciples: “Even if robbers were to attack you and saw off your limbs one by one, should you give way to anger, you would not be following my advice.” A tall order, but one that clearly Jesus fulfills to perfection: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
So why did I need to look elsewhere for guidance? Was it simply that Jesus himself was in some way lacking as a spiritual template? Was it dissatisfaction with the Church and its institutional forms—what Christianity has done to Jesus? Or was it simply that another way presented itself that more adequately fulfilled my need at that time?
Well, in Buddhism I found what was lacking in my Christian experience. It could be summed up in one word: confidence. I don’t think I had fully realized how hopeless it had all seemed, until the means and the encouragement were there. There is a story of a Brahmin student called Dhotaka, who implored the Buddha: “Please, Master, free me from confusion!” The Buddha’s perhaps somewhat surprising response was: “It is not in my practice to free anyone from confusion. When you yourself have understood the Dhamma, the Truth, then you will find freedom.”
What an empowerment!
As the Dalai Lama said, “Everyone wants to be happy; no one wants to suffer.” Jesus and the Buddha are extraordinary friends and teachers. They can show us the Way, but we can’t rely on them to make us happy, or to take away our suffering. That is up to us.
This reflection by Ajahn Candasiri is from the book, Friends on the Path, “Jesus Through Buddhist Eyes.”