07 March 2010

A Buddhist thinking about the Bible...and The Dude

As for man, his days are like grass; He flourishes as a flower of the field,
When the wind has passed over it, it is no more.
(Psalms 103:15)
This morning, Sunday morning, I watched that king of Coen brothers movies, The Big Lebowsky. Toward the end, Walter and The Dude briefly sit facing a wall in a funeral parlor on which is inscribed the above quote from Psalms. Thankfully I could rewind the movie (as it were) so that I could read it.

Some parts of the Bible are very beautiful. A lot of this kind of stuff jives with Buddhism--in this case poetically expressing the principle of impermanence--so long as you cherry pick the lines you're quoting. The ones about a being who loves only those who fear him don't fit in so much in a Buddhist context. While the Buddha became deified to some degree over the millenia, what makes Buddhism interesting and relevant is the fact that 1) he was a mortal who used his mind to transform himself into something of ultimate and indescribable beauty, and 2) he taught others how to do the same; this is in distinction from 1) claiming to be God and/or the Son of God, and, 2) pretty much demanding to be worshiped. It's a big difference. Buddhism is entirely practical but does involve elements of ritual and nonmaterial components (because these are also practical.)

Last week I was in Orange County where finding a radio station involves listening to some evangelical tutelage, Bible study, etc. At my dad's 80th birthday party, I was talking to a couple of Mormons who are old friends of my dad's. They asked where I live, thinking I might live so far away as Tustin or Encino. But when I said San Francisco, the wife audibly gasped. It was kind of funny but I thought it best to act like I didn't notice. A close friend when I was growing up there has been long lost to the Evangelicals.

I took a Bible as Literature class in college, which was also my first introduction to the Bible. Much of it, yes, is beautiful. Here is another doozy. This is particularly interesting to me, being a devotee of the female golden Buddha Prajnaparamita (PRAG-nya-PAra-meet-AH), which means something like Perfect Wisdom. She is one of the archetypes of wisdom from Northern Buddhism.
She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared to her.
Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her. (Proverbs 3.13-18)
It seems to me that there are two approaches to Christianity. By way of warning, this may be grossly over-simplified and irrelevant to someone who actually knows something about theology, which I do not. At any rate, God seems to personify either Love or Judgement, a nurturing mother or an angry father. I suppose there is a third option which is a confusing mixture of love and irrational guilt/intolerance. A Christianity that truly conceives of God as Love will focus on living in alignment with that love, working through barriers to that love, and helping people who need help regardless of their beliefs. Even though Buddhism is not a theistic system, it has much more in common with what I would consider to be truly Christian attitude, which is concerned with being loving rather than being right.

1 comment:

gabrielbranbury said...

How is being loving any different from being right? I don't propose that we give an answer to this, but it is a good question to ask.

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