I love Jesus. I also love Buddha. I believe in spirituality that is open and fluid. I generally don't get into trouble for my "free love" stance on religion, at least not where Jesus is concerned. If I do get out of line, Jesus won't hesitate to sing to me in my car. We even have "our songs"; three, to be precise! Buddha doesn't mind.
I come from a Protestant family in a predominantly Christian part of the world. For the most part I was raised on run-of-the-mill Sunday school lessons. I knew a fair number of Reformed Jews as well, and had one Hindu friend. That sums up my religious education until reaching college.
The Eastern Philosophy course I took one summer was a true turning point in my life. I was fascinated by reading some of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and particularly the teachings of one Prince Siddhartha Gautama, more commonly referred to as Buddha.
My earliest remembered experiences of Jesus are saying my bedtime prayers at night, "thank you for my parents, thank you for my toys, thank you for Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny" and singing, "Jesus loves me this I know." When I found out that Santa, the Bunny and Tooth Fairy did not exist, I prayed, "Jesus, I still have you."
In high school, in college, and certainly in adulthood, I learned of the horrible atrocities committed throughout history in the name of Jesus. I learned about evangelicals who smeared his name through public displays of extramarital affairs, drug use, narcissism and many other things most of us would consider vices. I learned about the hatred of many Christians toward homosexuals. I met some homosexual Christians who were able to teach me a lot about unconditional love and the truly radical approach Jesus took to ancient Jewish law and Old Testament beliefs and practices. I met many other Jews and Muslims and heard their perspectives on Jesus and how he was perceived by those from other faiths. I met Buddhists who claimed to respect the teachings of Jesus and viewed him as a brother to Buddha.
With time, and with the pressures of work and then child-rearing, faith took a back seat in my life. I recently experienced a spiritual revival of sorts after a Jewish friend recommended that I explore the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a revered Buddhist teacher. I then remembered that my father had given me the book, "Living Buddha, Living Christ" during my early adult years. Thich Nhat Hanh is a blessed soul who re ignited my faith in the Divine and who re-energized my life. I re-read a Buddhist spiritual classic, "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" by Sogyal Rinpoche. I re-read the Bhagavad Gita and began to study the Bible again. I signed up for daily scripture through e-mail.
I was able to locate meditation classes offered in my area through the Kadampa Buddhist Center, an affiliate of the worldwide New Kadampa Tradition. I read "The Meditation Handbook" written by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. For months, I meditated daily. I saw dramatic changes in my life, and with every new Buddhist teaching, I was able to make a new connection with Jesus. His formerly mysterious parables began to make more sense. So inspired was I by my newfound Buddhist meditation practice that I attended a Buddhist retreat at a temple in Glen Spey, New York.
My visit to that Buddhist temple convinced me that although I do have immense respect for Buddha, Jesus is my true spiritual master. After a day spent in the temple, singing, praying and listening to the teachings of peaceful Buddhist monks, I walked away feeling oddly empty. I am not referring to the blissful emptiness that Buddhists wish to achieve. I felt emotionally flat to the point of slight physical discomfort. Nothing felt right to me. I wandered out of the temple and away from the common dining tent where I was meant to enjoy dinner. I got into my car and experienced slight nausea. I failed to understand these feelings because during my time in the temple, I had been inspired by the beautiful statue of Buddha Shakyamuni and the other Buddhist deities. I had particularly enjoyed the singing and was pleased with myself at having committed many of the prayers to memory.
Leaving the retreat, I started my car and the radio came on. I heard a Phil Collins song, beginning to end: "Don't Let Him Steal Your Heart Away." I listened to each word while driving, as if transfixed. I was touched to the point of tears. For the first time in many years, I felt the presence of the one that I only know to call Jesus Christ. I felt that he was singing directly to me. I went back to my hotel, after picking up a giant cheeseburger and a bottle of wine, and packed up my belongings. I decided to skip the remaining sessions and drove home that night. Now, when I meditate, I try to clear my mind first and then I try to invite Jesus to sit with me for a little while. I also ask him to answer my questions in dreams and I believe that he does.
I had the Jesus pop song experience two other times. The first followed an encounter with some Evangelical Christian Fundamentalists. In spite of my insistence upon grace rather than legalism as a spiritual path, this encounter had left me guilt ridden. The song was the Billy Joel hit, "Just the Way You Are." You know, the one that makes you sing, "Don't go changin'!" I had hailed a cab in NYC on a particularly dreary day, the weight of my oddball Christianity bringing down my joy. As soon as I got into the cab, when the driver turned up Billy Joel it was Jesus' voice that I heard.
Our third song is the Stevie Wonder hit, "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing." I heard this one start to finish during another cab ride, after recovering from an illness and while going through a divorce. As with the Phil Collins and Billy Joel songs, I immediately felt a powerful spiritual presence and the tears flowed freely!
I will continue to read, contemplate and benefit from the teachings of Buddha for the remainder of my life, so long as I retain my mental faculties. From Buddha, I think we can learn to gain mastery over anger, jealousy, obsessions, and many other forms of harmful attachment. Buddha can peacefully guide us to realize our interconnectedness and our collective progression on this Earth as a group of souls.
Jesus will always be the one to whom I say, "Jesus, I still have you." When I die, my wish is for Jesus to lead me into the mystery that lies beyond our physical lives. In that place of divine enlightenment, I hope to meet Buddha and many other spiritual masters. Jesus offers the unique lesson of Grace and of strength perfected through weakness. Like Buddha, Jesus has a unique approach to illness. He said of many an illness that the purpose was not to destroy the body but to glorify God. When the apostle Paul asked Jesus for healing, Jesus did not heal him but answered instead, "My Grace is sufficient for you, for strength is perfected in weakness." Jesus had a prostitute as a close friend and confidante. He spoke to many women in his day and showed love and acceptance to a myriad of "sinners." He was called out by the religious leaders of his day for his disdain of the law. He was said to have healed on the Sabbath. He asked one man to come and follow him, quite controversially on the day that this man was to bury his father saying, "Let the dead bury their own dead." Jesus was reported to have shown anger on several occasions. He once cursed a fig tree because it had no fruit on it at the time. He turned tables upside down in the temple in a fit of anger because he believed that God's sacred place was not an appropriate venue for business transactions. Like Buddha, Jesus was a radical when placed in the historical context of his generation. Perhaps his most radical quote was, "Before Abraham was, I am."
While respecting all spiritual paths, I identify with the voice of that radical, Jesus of Nazareth. I may not go to a church for a while. I do drink. I do swear on occasion, and I have always loved to dance. I don't have much use for religious fundamentalism, Christian or otherwise. What I know that I know is that as Jesus says, "my sheep hear my voice" and I can proudly yell BAAAAA from my rooftop on any given night! I love to hear Jesus on the radio, and maybe one day we'll have enough songs for an entire IPod playlist!