Winter Solstice
Easter Sunday: How Buddha Helps Me Understand Jesus
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Easter Sunday: How Buddha Helps Me Understand Jesus (20 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing and Shelly Niebuhr
April 4, 2010 - Dallas, Texas

As we were doing walking meditation, I noticed a beautiful swan down in the lower part of the water amongst some trash. In the past, I have seen the swan with the friends, so there was a pair of swans, but today I just saw just the one swan in the lower part of the water amongst some trash. It was very striking, the contrast and also very beautiful to see that beautiful, white swan, so graceful, so carefree, just being itself in the midst of some dirty water and garbage.

It reminded me of the story of Jesus, in fact, this beautiful person so full of love, so full of sincerity, just being himself in the midst of so much mental and emotional and spiritual garbage—hatred, violence, dogmatism, discrimination, exclusivism—all around him, and yet he could still simply be himself like that swan, just pure love, understanding, compassion, solidarity, sincerity, and patience.

In the Buddhist tradition, we use the symbol of a lotus flower to point to the same reality as the swan points to and as Jesus points to. The lotus flower does not grow in beautiful soil or a beautiful garden. The lotus flower grows in murky water, very muddy water, mucky water. And yet as the lotus grows out of that muddy water, the mud does not sustain it at all. It grows completely pure out of that environment and opens very beautifully. That is why Buddhists use the lotus flower as our main symbol, because even in the midst of ignorance, delusion, compulsion, hatred, all the causes of suffering, yet our true nature, who we really are—the Buddha nature or Christ consciousness, whatever you want to call it—is never stained by any of those delusions, but is pure, always there, deeper than every person, every being, just like Jesus in the midst of a dark world or that swan in the midst of dirty water, trash, and garbage. We are all beautiful lotus flowers of the Buddha. At the core and depth of who we are, we are unstained by any of those things like suffering or delusion or grasping or aversion.

So our practice is to help us to get more in touch with that reality that is at the core of who we are instead of being stuck in the other stuff that we get lost in, and we forget who we really are. We focus on the muddy, trashy water rather than the swan. We focus on the suffering and the hatred and violence rather than on Jesus. We focus on all of those things other than that beautiful lotus flower that we are. That is why we practice together, over and over and over again, to remember who we really are. We are that reality that Jesus points to. We are the reality that that the swan points to. We are that reality that the lotus flower of the Buddha points to. But that is not really my topic for today.

I want to talk about how the Buddha's teachings help me to understand the teachings of Jesus better. Because of Buddhist practice and meditation, I understand Jesus more. And just like in the meditation, the Buddha and Jesus bow to each other, and they are good friends.

So, I've shared with you before an experience that I had a few years ago at a retreat in Plum Village in France with Thich Nhat Hanh. I will share it again briefly. It was about the third or fourth day of the retreat, and we were practicing eating meditation during lunch. And in the middle of lunch, I just put down my fork and swallowed my chewed up food of broccoli, tofu, and rice, and I looked up at the people at my table, and they were so calm and peaceful and so free. I felt very nourished just by their practice. I could literally feel it in my body, the nourishment. I looked outside the window, and the sunlight was streaming through the leaves of the trees so beautifully, and the trees were swaying in the wind, and I could hear the children laughing outside with their parents during lunch.

And in that moment, I had one of my first spiritual breakthroughs from this practice, and I began to feel a warmth well up from within my heart and grow larger and larger, filling my whole being, and I just felt expansive, like the whole universe, and I began to have tears coming down my eyes as I realized deeply this truth that cannot be put into words, but in that moment, if I want to put it into words, I would say that everything in the universe is eating meditation. Of course if I had experienced my breakthrough in another form of practice, I would have said something different. But that is how it felt for me in that moment, how I interpreted it.

And what I mean by that is I realized the insight of interbeing, not just as an intellectual concept, but as a reality in my heart. Just as I was being nourished by this food, later I would be nourishing microorganisms at the bathroom. Just like this food was nourishing me, these people at the table were also nourishing me, and I hope I was nourishing them, too, with my presence. And the trees outside were being nourished by the sun, and the trees were nourishing me with their oxygen, and hopefully I and others were nourishing the trees with our breath as well. The adults were nourishing the children are giving them a safe place to be, and the children were nourishing the adults by reminding us not to take spirituality too, too seriously. Everything in the universe is nourishing everything else. Everything in the universe is giving and receiving. It is interbeing.

And when I finally had that insight of interbeing from the practice, and I read the Scriptures after that, a few months later, I could understand the teachings of Jesus more clearly, and I realized, for example, when he said at the Last Supper on the night before he died, he gave his disciples bread and drink, and he said, "Take. Eat. Drink this. This is my body. This is my blood. Given freely for you." I understood a little bit deeper what he meant. I believe that Jesus was offering his students an eating meditation practice in hopes that they and the generations after might actually understand what he was trying to teach.

Of course, through the centuries, there've been many wars and arguments and debates about what he really meant about the bread and the wine. You know, is it transubstantiation, consubstantiation, all these things. Is it really the body and blood, or is it a metaphor? And people have spilled more blood and killed more bodies over this, which is the opposite of what Jesus intended. But when I read it from that place of interbeing, I understood when Jesus said, "This is my body, and this is my blood, this bread," but what is this bread? What is this juice? Well, this bread is made of wheat, which is made of the sunshine and the soil at the rain and the air, which is made of the evolution of time and space and the whole earth and the moon revolving around the sun being in just the right place and relationship and all of the whole solar system bigger part of the galaxy which evolved out of this whole universe, this whole process.

So when Jesus says, "This bread is my body," well, this bread is the whole universe, and so the whole universe is my body, the whole universe is my blood. And what his body and blood mean? Body is simply another word for substance, and what is simply another word for essence. So the whole universe is the substance and essence of our divine nature. The divine nature is expressed through the substance and essence of the whole universe. Jesus awakened to his Christ nature, which is the universal nature, the divine nature, which is also our nature.

But as I read the Scriptures more and more deeply, I also understood another meaning, and of course there are many meanings in any sacred teaching, many different angles. Another angle and meaning that came to me through meditation was that since everything in reality is not a solid entity, but is a constantly flowing process—I mean even look at your body. It is constantly in process. It is never statically staying exactly the same. Even the atoms and molecules are constantly in motion and in process and in relationship. Because of that reality, there is nothing that can be actually called ultimately a noun. Everything is not a noun, but a verb.

And so when Jesus said, "This is my body. This is my blood," perhaps it was not the noun of the bread and the cup he was referring to, but the sharing, the giving, the action, the verb of sharing and giving, feeding his friends, nourishing his friends. So maybe what Jesus also meant was that it is the very act of giving and sharing and feeding others, nourishing others. That is the body and the blood of the divine. That is the substance and essence of the divine activity in the universe. It is a life of giving, a life of sharing, a life of nourishing, a life of feeding one another. That is the real Christ.

So, in our practice, we practice mindfulness through sitting meditation and walking meditation, eating meditation, and various other forms of meditation. Jesus practiced all of these things, too, and the Scriptures talk about them in many places, but when we read in the Scripture from and unenlightened mind, we get an unenlightened interpretation. But when we can read the Scriptures from a place of enlightenment, even a small enlightenment, we get to really see a deeper meaning of the truth.

For example, if Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." When read through the eyes of an unenlightened mind, that can be interpreted in a very narrow, exclusive way, but when that same Scripture is read from the point of view of a more enlightened consciousness, the meaning comes to be something like this: the I Am is the way and the truth and the life. The I Am that is fully embodied in Jesus expressed through the Buddha and potentially in every person, that I Am true nature is the way and the truth and the life. No one has ever come to understand the fullness of reality except through that I Am nature. So whether you're Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu or whatever, if you have come to a place of enlightenment, you have come through that I Am, which Christians call the Christ, which Buddhists call Buddha nature, which Hindus call Atman or Brahman, by whatever name, it is that same I Am reality. So, read from an enlightened point of view, it is not an exclusive Scripture at all, but universal and inclusive.

And when the Scriptures talk about walking in the light or walking with the Lord, our practice is to make that real, not just a metaphor. So when you walk with mindfulness, that is walking with the Lord. That is walking in the light. It is also said in the Scriptures in the Epistles of Paul that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. Paul did not say, "We will be seated with Christ in the heavenly places after we die and go to heaven." He said, "We are seated with Christ in the heavenly places." And yes. When we sit, solid as a mountain, mindfully like the sky, breathing mindfully here and now, we are sitting with Christ in the heavenly places, right here, right now.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says he will knock on the door of the heart of anyone who will open the door, and when the door is open, he will come in and eat and dine with them. Is that just a metaphor, or can it become a reality to our practice of eating mindfully, eating and drinking mindfully? Whatever your meal is, if you can take even just a few moments to eat and drink mindfully, then yes, Jesus, the I Am, Christ nature, Buddha nature, all enlightened teachers are right there with you, eating with you, and you with them.

And the Scriptures that talk about resting in the spirit, that is also something that is not just a metaphor. That can be a reality, and you can rest, lie down, perhaps do yoga with the pose of just resting, resting in the spirit. We can do it in mindfulness. We really literally are resting in the spirit, literally walking with the Lord, literally eating with Christ, literally sitting in the heavenly places, all through mindfulness. That is why we practice meditation, so that this is not just a myth, but a reality, a concrete intangible, right here, right now. Jesus's story is not about someone 2,000 years ago. It is our story. Buddha's story is not about someone 2,500 years ago. It is our story.

So the new Buddha in me bows to the Christ in you.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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