Tuesday, June 21, 2011


NOTE. It's not an easy life being a provocateur and controversialist. Since writing and uploading this blog a couple of indignant readers have accused me of religious bigotry (cf my earlier blog on 'Bigoted Buddhists') and have said that I have been too hard on Jesus, and that the New Testament accounts of the incidents regarding his destruction of both the fig tree and the pigs should be taken, not literally, but metaphorically or 'spiritually'. Sorry, folks, I won't buy that. Even if the incidents were so-called 'object lessons' - and I address that point, as well as many others, in the blog - any lessons taught come at too high a price, namely, wanton destruction of living things. Look, I love the man Jesus, and I also love the man Buddha. I do not accept that Jesus was God in any unique or exclusive sense, and I do not believe that he ever claimed to be God in any unique or exclusive sense (at least not in any New Testament passages that can truly be said to be 'authentic' as opposed to editorial interpolations and the like). Further, I do know Biblical Greek, and thus I cannot accept the assertion which has been made by one or two readers that Jesus' supposed words, as translated into English, do not for the most part faithfully represent what is otherwise recorded in the Greek manuscripts as words purportedly having been said by Jesus. No further correspondence will be entered into in respect of this matter. If any Christians are offended by anything I have written, my advice to them is ... get over it, and don't be so precious. Mindfully yours, IEJ.

The Venerable Shravasti Dhammika writes in The Buddha and His Disciples:

So extraordinary was the Buddha, so unerringly kind and wise and so positive was an encounter with him, that is would change people's lives. Even while he was alive legends were told about him. In the centuries after his final Nirvana it sometimes got to the stage that the legends and myths obscured the very real human being behind them and the Buddha came to be looked upon as a god. Actually the Buddha was a human being, not a 'mere human being' as is sometimes said, but a special class of human being called a complete person (mahapurisa). Such complete persons are born no different from others and indeed physically they always remain quite ordinary. But through their own efforts they bring to completion every human potential and their mental purity and understanding develop to the stage where they far exceed those of ordinary human beings. A Buddha, a complete person, is even higher than a god because he or she is even free from the jealousy, anger and favouritism that we are told a god is still capable of feeling.

I very much like the idea that Buddha Shakyamuni was a human being. I have often said and written that we human beings simply cannot follow a god or a demi-god or someone who is supposedly both god and man ... but only a human being. And, yes, gods - even the Judeo-Christian one - can be very jealous, angry and tribal. As the American Baptist preacher and writer Dr Harry Emerson Fosdick once said, 'Better believe in no God than to believe in a cruel God, a tribal God, a sectarian God. Belief in God is one of the most dangerous beliefs a person can cherish.'

Now, accordingly to orthodox Christian belief, Jesus is ‘truly God and truly man’, possessing two whole and perfect natures – the nature of God and the nature of man. A ‘real man’, but without sin. Really? Was Jesus truly perfect and without sin? I have spoken and written elsewhere on that topic area, and some of what follows comes from the copy of that public address.

To talk about any person as being ‘sinless’ or ‘without sin’ is a negative conception. Be that as it may, the Jesus of the Bible, contrary to his own teaching, did not always love his enemies and bless them. Indeed, Jesus would at times call down curses upon the heads of his enemies (see, eg, Lk 11:42-52), subjecting anyone who dared oppose him to abuse, curses of various kinds and threats of divine punishment and retribution. Jesus declared, 'Take my enemies, who would not have me rule over them, bring them here, and kill them before me' (Lk 19:27). Nice stuff.

Christians love to assert that Jesus' anger was 'righteous anger', and that he always kept his anger under control, but I beg to differ. It seems to me that Jesus had some real 'anger management' problems.

Are you familiar with the story of Jesus and the Gadarene swine (see Mt 8:28-34)? Jesus cast some ‘devils’ into a herd of pigs, and the pigs ran off into the sea and drowned. Whichever way you splice it, we here have Jesus being unnecessarily cruel to animals. These animals obviously belonged to someone, and their wanton destruction would have had adverse financial and other consequences for their owner. Now, if Jesus truly was omnipotent and omnibenevolent, he could easily have found a much more humane way to dispense with the devils - like just making them go away. Why be so unkind to the pigs? I am sorry, Jesus, but gratuitous cruelty to and suffering of animals is not a state of affairs that we human beings, of any persuasion, can accept nowadays, if we ever could.

Then there’s the story of Jesus cursing, and in the process destroying, a fig tree (see Mk 11:12-14, 20-22). Here we have Jesus causing wanton destruction to a tree. If someone did that in New South Wales today, they could be charged with contravening the local council’s tree preservation order, the maximum penalty being AUS$1,100,000.00. (In addition, where a person is guilty of an offence involving the destruction of or damage to a tree or vegetation, the court dealing with the offence may, in addition to or in substitution for any pecuniary penalty imposed or liable to be imposed, direct that person to plant new trees and vegetation and maintain those trees and vegetation to a mature growth.)

The story of Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree poses problems for Bible-believing Christians who are desperate to believe that Jesus was perfect, that is, ‘without sin’. (Of course, if the story didn't happen, or didn't happen as reported, then maybe the Bible can't be trusted. Shock, horror.) Now, you need to know this. According to the story, it was not the right time of the year for figs, so not surprisingly the tree had no figs ... but it was still leafy. The tree was simply fulfilling its nature. I ask you, what could be more intrinsically wonderful than that? Buddha Shakyamuni would have cherished such a tree. It was, after all, still a living thing that had a right to exist (irrespective of whether or not it was actually 'owned' by some farmer) and the tree might even have afforded some beauty as well as shade in the otherwise barren countryside.

Jesus, noticing that the tree bore no figs, immediately proceeded to pronounce a curse (that is, judgment) upon the tree with the result, we are told, that it simply ‘withered from the roots’. Again, nice stuff. Why blame the tree for not bearing figs? Even the most eminent of Christian Bible commentators have referred to Jesus as being ‘petulant’ and ‘ill-tempered’, 'venting', as he did, his ‘feelings of frustration and despair’ upon the fig tree.

Now, if, once again, Jesus truly was omnipotent and omnibenevolent, and if he really wanted to show his supposed ‘miraculous’ powers, why did he not command the fig tree to bring forth fruit? Instead, he chose to display his vindictiveness ... yes, vindictiveness ... and even childishness. Strong stuff? Maybe, but I am sticking to my guns as regards these two gospel stories  (being only two of many such unflattering stories which I could quote).

If any of my readers are Bible-believing Christians – which is not all that likely – please don’t tell me that this story is simply what Christians refer to as an ‘object lesson’ – in this case, a supposed ‘miracle of judgment’ performed on what one eminent Bible commentator refers to as an ‘inanimate [sic!] object’. Object lesson or not, the supposed moral lesson (presumably the futility of a religion that is all pretence) comes at far too high a price, namely, the destruction of an integral part of nature. And I don't want to hear from anyone what I have otherwise read all too often in many Christian publications, namely that, as the supposed Son of God, Jesus has the right to destroy vegetation ... or anything else for that matter. (Christians love to play that card in an attempt to explain away otherwise unacceptable behaviour on the part of the man Jesus.) As I have written before, if people are rewarded for believing such things, then I wouldn't want to believe in or worship such a god.

In today’s world especially (with global warming and so on), that sort of conduct - wanton destruction of trees and vegetation - is morally unacceptable, in the same way that we have now come to judge severely those in high places who appear to condone various forms of abuse against humans, especially minors. The incident regarding the fig tree is, in my opinion, a serious moral wrong, and I don’t think we should account it as being anything less than that.

I mentioned above that Jesus is recorded, time and time again, as hurling abuse at those who dared to disagree with him. Not so the Buddha. Now, according to Buddhist scriptures there were certainly plenty of people who disagreed with Buddha. What was the Buddha’s response? Well, it is reported, time and time again, that he would remain calm, unflustered and polite ... even to the point of smiling in the face of criticism. Indeed, he urged his disciples to do likewise. On other occasions, when he was rudely abused, the Buddha maintained a dignified silence.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love both Jesus and Buddha Shakyamuni - each is an important Way-Shower for me - and I am firmly of the view that, despite the horrible gross distortions of their respective teachings that have taken place over the centuries, both Jesus and the Buddha taught essentially the same message (namely, that the kingdom of heaven, or buddha nature, is within all of us, acceptance of which frees us from the bondage of self). Also, I am not that silly that I would assert that Buddha was a ‘better’ (whatever that means) person than Jesus.

What I do, however, assert is this – in all-important matters pertaining to the very survival of our planet, and as regards how we should behave toward the plant and animal kingdoms of the world and the natural environment as well as to our fellow human beings (especially when the latter criticise or abuse us), the life and teachings of the Buddha are, in my respectful opinion, much to be preferred to those of Jesus of Nazareth. The Buddha's all-embracing, all-inclusive philosophy of 'Do no harm' - whether to humans, plants, animals or anything else for that matter - is the answer to the problems of today.




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