Almost everything in today's culture is telling us that the only thing that is real is what can be seen and measured. The Sutras go in a different direction. That whole attitude is summed up in the phrase "One Spirit."

In the sutra version of Jesus' life, the text didn't actually say Jesus died, though it was implied. And it didn't indicate at all that he rose.

The Sutras do not talk about the resurrection, but they also don't talk about many things that would be considered essential to Christianity. You get fragments of Christianity mixed with fragments of Buddhism and Taoism. You don't get the main teachings of Buddhism or Taoism either. You get pieces of each and the flavor of each. It might be disappointing to Christians to read the Sutras and say "The things that are very important to me aren't there. Does that mean they didn't believe in them?"

I don't think so. What we have here are scrolls, not a book that's supposed to be complete. These are stories and teachings--practical wisdom. We have to take it for what it is and can't expect more from it than what it has to offer. You get a sketch of Jesus' life, but not theology.

It puts the focus on the basic teachings of Jesus, and not the development of theology.

Eastern and Western traditions have a lot in common. But what does Christianity emphasize that Eastern traditions don't, and vice versa? Where have the connections not been fully developed?

That's a huge question. But, for example, Buddhist teachings like the Four Noble Truths include the notion that desire gets us into trouble. You find that teaching summarized in the Jesus Sutras in a simple phrase, "No desire." Right in the same section they have, "No virtue." I don't think you'd find in Christian teachings the phrase "No virtue" or "No truth." You might find questions about desire. So the Buddhist teaching is really quite different from Christian teaching.

Yet when it said "no virtue" it seemed to be saying "no desire to show that you're virtuous." The idea seemed to be that you should be acting virtuously, but not because you want to make a statement about it. It's not like "Let's all have orgies."

But I think it goes deeper than that, because I think within Christianity-certainly in the way it's come down historically-people worry about being virtuous: Am I doing the right thing, am I a good person? In Buddhism as I know it, which is much less than I know Christianity, I would say people would be more interested in what sort of wisdom you have. Do you have some degree of enlightenment, are you in tune with the law of nature and of life? That's a different notion from being virtuous.

In that one area alone, the Buddhist and the Christian are really very different. That doesn't mean they're not compatible. As much as I want to bring the religions together in dialogue and community, I think they're very different from each other, and it's important to maintain those differences.

What are some other differences?

In Taoism, if you read the Tao Te Ching and other sources, you find that one of the great teachings is that we really can't know as much as we'd like to know, and the things we think we know we don't: "He who speaks does not know and he who knows does not speak." "The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao."

Within the Christian mystical tradition, Nicholas of Kucza, a mystical theologian from the early Renaissance, wrote several books about not knowing, about how important it was not to know-very close to the Taoist idea. But his thinking is not in the center of Christian thought at all. It's off on the side, with the mystics.

If you dig deep enough, you'll probably find that these traditions are very close to each other, but the accents are very different. What we have to do with the Jesus Sutras in particular is see how these three religions can come together and make something quite beautiful.


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