Buddhism, Christianity, and an Experimental Model of Spirituality

I continue to have doubts about any complete disavowal of Christianity. As soon as I discard the institutional or metaphysical trappings of Christianity, I begin to feel drawn to Jesus the human as an awakened being, just as the Buddha was also just an ordinary human being who came to be enlightened. Both were extraordinary models of spiritual life. Indeed, that is the key phrase: “model.” In my view, at their core, beyond any theology or metaphysics, both Christ and Buddha offered an Experimental Model of Spirituality.

Indeed, as I reject Christ as a supernatural force I appreciate him as a model of spiritual life. I see him not as a savior of my soul but as a model human being who showed how to live a spiritual way of life. The point, for me, is not to believe in Jesus. The point is to try to live the same as Jesus did in the same way the Buddha offers a pathway to achieve Buddhahood. Liberation and salvation can be found in his world, as we are alive as humans, conscious and embodied. Buddha did not say, “I am unique.” He said, “Come, experiment, follow my path, and see for yourself if you do not find liberation.” Jesus also was a wisdom teacher in this way, in favor of direct experiential knowledge not just the movements and hollow rituals of a religion emptied of empirical gnosis.

And yet despite my rejections of anything that can be called “Christianity,” I find myself drawn to devotion to Christ, with Jesus Prayer Candles on my altar being sources of spiritual respite. I will meditate on his image. I will offer a little devotion. A little prayer or mantra or expression of gratitude here and there. 

Christ without Christianity. That seems to be a nice path for me. I see him as a “Buddha of the West,” a great spiritual master in whom I can find endless spiritual inspiration. But perhaps the lesson learned is that any formalization of belief in one thing or another leads to stagnation. Saying “I am not a Christian” seems just as limiting as saying “I am a Christian.” So I am both a Christian and not a Christian. 

I guess ultimately I am a seeker. An experimentalist. And a lonely one at that. Just doing my own thing. Seeing what works for me. Learning from many traditions but never finding myself wanting to settle into any particular sect or group. Focused on the pragmatics of experience and what I find to be true in my own life.

And in my own life and experience, I find Christ to be a great awakened master, a model towards whom I offer devotion as an avatar or manifestation of the Infinite God, the Absolute Ground of All Being. And as Richard Rohr says, the lesson from Christ is that his incarnation is an incarnation of divinity in all things, not just Christ as an individual, isolated island of divinity. There is divinity in every entity, every living being, every speck of dust, and we all share in the same ultimate Being.

For Christ said, “The Father and I are one.” This is essentially an insight any Vedantic Hindu would recognize. All is One with Brahman, the Absolute. I believe this is a realization meant to be experienced and realized in one’s own life, not just a Truth amenable only to Jesus himself. Moreover, Christ said the Kingdom of Heaven is within. I take that to mean consciousness. Heaven is consciousness. Bliss is consciousness. Its reality is the bliss of pure existence, pure consciousness.

This is the root of the meditative experience, the fountain of spiritual liberation in which we find groundedness, loosening the grip of our attachment to the world of desire and unsatisfactoriness. Loosening from these attachments, we can let go into the silence of existence-consciousness-bliss. Lacking adequate words, spiritual seekers call this “God” or “The One” or “Brahman” or “The Absolute.” But it points to the same transcendental truth, a truth which is not reducible to any substantial “thing” but is closer to the purity of conscious experience itself, the felt sense of presence, the Grace of the Eternal Now which can only be experienced but never grasped by the conceiving or intellectualizing or linguistic mind.

All the metaphysical questions about Logos, The Soul, The Self, No-Self, etc, etc., are questions of propositional language, questions of the conceptual mind. In the purity of silent contemplation, in the purity of pure experience, these questions drop away and we are left with a form of truth that is beyond the conceptual mind, above it, superior to it, which provides its ground and support but which is yet transcendental to it. In this truth, one does not fret about the metaphysics of Self or Not-self, one does not fret about which school of philosophy or religion got it right, one simply sits in the silent bliss of existence, in the silent bliss of pure awareness, pure consciousness. 

Now, granted, there are many obstacles on the path towards such an appreciation and it is not easy to completely silence the mind. One needs to be trained and all the various schools recommend different practices. And having an understanding of the theoretical landscape is important to ground and situate yourself and to have the proper context for the spiritual life. But as Wittgenstein said, once you have climbed the ladder, you don’t need to keep the ladder with you. You can leave it behind and keep moving up the mountain, the peak where all spiritual paths meet in the universal truth of spirituality. As the Vedas say, The Truth Is One, but sages call it by many names.

All these different names: Buddha, Christ, God, Vishnu, Soul, Self, No-self, permanent, impermanent, absolute, emptiness, etc, etc., all are just names for spiritual “things” or “non-things.” But the Kindom of Heaven is not a “thing” or “place” inside of us or even a “non-thing”, located at a particular place in our experience.

It IS our experience! It is the inside-ness of the inside, it is consciousness itself, which has no need of concepts for its light to shine. It simply shines in its own nature and we rest in that light, rest in that light without having the need to label it or fit it into this or that particular school or sect or belief system.

Wittgenstein said, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” I have this reminder tattooed on my forearm. It indicates the emptiness of all metaphysics compared to the subtle light of inner experience which is beyond propositional thought.

And how beautiful that silence is! It is in this silence that Christ found his Kingdom of Heaven. It is in this silence of direct meditational experience that the Buddha found his liberation. These findings are experiential i.e. experimental. It is not about theoretical or intellectual knowledge. It is like the knowledge about what a rose smells like.

You can read about the chemistry of roses your entire life, you can imagine what roses smell like, and you can hear stories from others about how great they smell, but until you actually smell a rose for yourself you will never know what a rose smells like. The spiritual truth is like that.

There is nothing wrong with chemistry. Or study. Or devotion. Or any of the trappings of ritual. These are all good and beautiful things and many of them are helpful in our journey to find the rose. But at the end of the day, it is about the experience of smelling the rose, and not about our concept of smelling the rose. 

But to smell the rose of Heaven it is good to undergo a kind of training. Hence the importance of meditation and contemplation has been emphasized in the traditional spiritual life since the beginning of religion itself. This is yogic practice. This is meditative practice. This is contemplation and prayer. One has to train the mind to calm itself so that it can stop and smell the roses, otherwise, the mind is likely to blindly stumble and stomp all over the roses without ever slowing down to appreciate the beauty right in front of its face.

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