If Jesus saves, can Buddha save too?

Chris Lemig was one messed up dude. He had gone 23 years without having a single sober day, overindulging in all manners of booze and drugs. He had hurt friends, family, anyone who ever got close to him. Wracked by guilt, confused about his sexual identity and without hope, he hated himself.

And then, just when he had hit rock bottom, Lemig was saved…by the Buddha.

Funny how when you hear stories about people being saved from addiction, it’s often Jesus who does the saving. But Chris, in his most dire moment of need, was called to a different path. He tells the story in his book The Narrow Way—and it is one harrowing tale of a man in a vicious downward spiral who somehow finds his way to a safety net of clarity and inner peace.

How bad was it for Lemig? He reaches the point where he believes his inner demons have won and he gives up. He writes what amount to suicide notes to the people he loves, apologizing “for all my failings and all my broken promises”. He believes his situation is hopeless and tells them he “just can’t bear to live one more day as a failed human being.”

But as he sinks from one moment of depravity and deep despair to the next, something kicks in: He needs to save himself. There is not one single point of enlightenment, no flash of lightening, more a gradual awareness that there is a potential path of survival. It is the way of the Buddha.

Chris Lemig

Lemig doesn’t have a clear understanding of what this path entails so he begins devouring Buddhist texts, reading everything from Robert Thurman to Sommerset Maugham to the life stories of the Buddha and the Dalai Lama.

He also comes to the realization that he must heal his body as well as his soul and declares “war on the enemies of my body”. He changes his diet, cutting out sugar, fast food, dairy products. He begins a daily exercise regime. But not surprisingly, after 23 years of self-inflicted abuse, the doubts creep in. Lemig writes:

I am still scared. I am on new ground that shifts and sometimes even crumbles under my feet. I do not know how to stand, how to walk, how to run. But I put one foot out anyway, hoping it will touch solid earth.

Lemig then takes his new faith practice a step further. He makes a pilgrimage to India to study at a renowned Buddhist retreat center. Once there, the road is rockier than he anticipated. The drastic cultural and societal change of India leaves him “disoriented and bewildered”, at every turn he finds “noise, poverty, pollution, disease”.

While he seems to have conquered his alcohol and drug demons, his self-doubt resurfaces and he again begins to doubt his mission. But per the sage advice of the Buddha he continues to take one step forward. And slowly but surely he begins to sense a change within:

As I embrace all of these shortcomings I begin to feel myself let go. The merciless inner critic who used to slash me down to the bone is silenced and for the first time in my whole life, I feel real compassion for myself. Finally, I see the reality of my own suffering and I am not so afraid of it anymore.

With the help of a local healer, he discovers how to love himself again. He writes himself “love notes”, words of encouragement. He also begins telling himself “I love you” and while he admits to feeling foolish at first, he says that, “slowly, very slowly, I start to believe it”. He comes to realize that he is his own best friend.

So will Lemig live happily ever after? The author admits “there is every possibility that I could start drinking and using again, that I could become selfish and cruel again, that I could steal, betray, throw away a friendship for a drink or a hit. Nothing is certain or guaranteed”. He must take life one day, one step, at a time.

After reading Lemig’s enthralling book, I had one question which I forwarded to the author. Why Buddha? Could he not just as easily followed the teachings of Jesus or the Vedas or the 12 Steps of the Friends of Bill program. He wrote me back the following response:

I guess it doesn’t really matter. Buddhism just resonated for me. The important thing about recovery is that we connect and identify with something larger than the small self.

And after all, isn’t that really what spirituality and personal enlightenment are all about? Identifying with something larger than the self, no matter where that something may come from or what we may call it?

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  • Y. A. Warren

    Yes! Seeking and seeing The Spirit of the Sacred in all of life is not new in humanity. There are many manifestations and paths for experiencing this on earth. The horror of “Christianity” has been the limits put on where we were allowed to admit to experiencing The Sacred. This was not the way of Jesus. “Christianity may be following a christ, but their christ is not Jesus. The Buddha’s path seems more sacred the path that they seem to follow.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wakeupcall/ Tom Rapsas

      Amen, Y.A. and thanks for your comment. I also believe the Jesus we learn about in the Christian church offers just a glimpse of the true teachings we find in some of the Gnostic Gospels (the key message being that God is found within). Best wishes. ~Tom

      • Y. A. Warren

        As long as the Roman Catholic Church is acknowledged as a leader in “Christianity,” I don’t have much faith in Jesus becoming the christ that “Christian” religions follow. Their monopoly on what is truth in mysticism has killed Jesus as the christ of western religions.

        • Antonio Pires

          Mr. Warren, you got me more confused now than ever. I was trying to get out of this turbulent river waters, now with the last three coments I end up in the middle of the ocean, and worse yet, I’m looking for a life jacket! I’m devoted Catholic, could you elaborated little more on your last coments! Maybe I can learn something from it. Thanks!

          • Y. A. Warren

            In an effort to stabilize society, the Roman Catholic Church made a deal with “the devil” in the form of Emperor Constantine. Constantine agreed to “convert” people to “Christianity” with threats of death, refusing to be baptized until on his deathbed, presumably because he knew what he did to create these “conversions” was wrong.

            The pope went along with this scheme and even allowed Constantine to be a big voice in the official creed of “Christianity.” This was in the fourth century.

            Consistent with the Roman Catholic Church belief that one can be redeemed of the command to make restitution to those we harm by simply being baptized or receiving absolution from a priest, Constantine was baptized just before he died and is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic church.

            This created a political system that is termed by theologian and author John Shelby Spong “Christendom.”

            Cardinal Ratzinger is quoted as having said that the Christian Church would have to go back to the ways of the early followers of Jesus in order to be saved. This is before he was appointed Pope Benedict, and nothing changed in the hierarchy.

            Pope Francis has said much the same, but until the political state of the Vatican is officially separated from the faith in Jesus as exemplified by his followers, the Roman Catholic Church is neither truly “catholic” nor “Christian.”

            I and my eight siblings were cradle Roman Catholic, and experienced first-hand the abuses of power at the hands and dogmas of the “Holy” See. The abuse continues in the form of rejection by the same body that abused us to the point of creating spiritual orphans of us. “Once a Catholic always a Catholic” has crippled many of us.

          • Antonio Pires

            Thank you Sir for the life jacket! LOL. Now I do total undestand you point. But we can go to hel for others sins, if you my. I struggle my self wit the last change on the Vatican II. I think that the Church are very soft with the Jesus Teachings. They are been too politic correct, efraid of been attacked by the liberals. Thank God the Pope still resisting the idea of acepting gays, women, as priestes. But the Devil are infiltrading our churches with the help of fake leaders. I keep going to it, because it’s the house of God. I will not go to hell for others sins, but just my own. Thank you Sir! Keep the faith going, Jesus needs help more now than ever! Soon He will be back and get all this mess squred way.

            Sent from Samsung tablet

            ——– Original message ——–

          • Y. A. Warren

            I actually believe The Sacred Spirit that Jesus embodied, and we humans also embody, has always been with us. It is up to us to follow in the footsteps and Sacred Spirit of Jesus who was very clear that there was to be no royalty in the true church. He also said that we are not to judge each other, especially not on the rules of the Old Testament.

            It is up to us to see The Sacred Spirit in all we encounter. It is a weak faith that can’t be around those who are doing things that we see as harmful to themselves. We don’t have to do what others are doing simply because they are not following in our footsteps.

            The fake leaders took over no later than 1,600 years ago. I’d like the true followers of Jesus to have the courage to turn back to the ways of Jesus and the apostles and earliest followers of Jesus. Jesus did not call himself a priest, and he did not perform rituals. He lived as a joyful human being with other ordinary, joyful human beings.

            Priests are simply a holdover from religions that believed in ritual blood sacrifice to vengeful gods. The Vatican is a city, not a church. The people are the branches, leaves, and fruit of the vine of Jesus, rooted in The Holy (Sacred) Spirit (Breath).

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

            Hell is a tourist attraction. (And not a smoldering garbage pit as it used to be.)

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

            Right on; you’re saying the same thing as in chapter 7, entitled The Ruler of the Whole World: The Invention of the Totalitarian State by the First Christian Emperor of Rome in Jonathan Kirsch’s text God Against The Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism. (Viking, 2004)

            So that’s why I’m polytheistic, at least in the sense of acceptance of other peoples’ ideas of the divine.

            “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” ~Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

          • Y. A. Warren

            Thanks, Brian. I wish I had time to read the reference you mention, but my stack of “must reads” is already teetering. They include: “Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening” by Kay Lindahl, “The Art of Waging Peace” (A Strategic approach to Improving Our Lives and the World) by Paul K. Chappell, and “Proverbs of Ashes” (Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and The Search for What saves Us) by Rita Nakashima and Rebecca Ann Parker. I recommend all three, as well as the book I recently finished, “Two Great Truths” (A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith) by David Ray Griffin and “No Contest: The Case Against Competition” by Alfie Kohn.

  • $20489688

    And after all, isn’t that really what spirituality and personal enlightenment are all about? Identifying with something larger than the self, no matter where that something may come from or what we may call it?
    No, no, no. Don’t conflate Buddhism with Christianity. Shakyamuni Buddha teachings are not about seeking salvation outside of yourself, it’s about tapping into our own Buddha nature. We all possess the Buddha nature, Shakyamuni did not “die for our sins” and he isn’t revered as a god.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wakeupcall/ Tom Rapsas

      Hi Pit Bull Girl, (yikes, I don’t want to mess with you!), my knowledge of Buddhism is not as extensive as many who may read this column–but I have read about the “greater self” in Buddhism and I do think there are some parallels. See this quote I pulled from the site of a lay Buddhist movement called SGI (Soka Gakkai International):

      “It is precisely through challenging our self-centeredness through committed altruistic action that we can expand and extend the lesser self toward the ideal of the greater self. Our being expands, as does our capacity for joy, to the degree that we take action for the happiness of others. Such an expansion brings forth wisdom from our lives, enabling us to be ever more effective in these compassionate efforts.”

      Please feel free to correct me if you believe I am mistaken.
      Best wishes and thanks for your comment. ~Tom

      • $20489688

        😀 Hi Tom. My name is in regard to my doggie. This is so funny: I am an SGI member. I grew up in the practice. :) Obviously I agree with the above, It sounded you were conflating Shakyamuni Buddha with the Christian concept of God or looking outside of yourself for salvation/ happiness.
        Sorry if I came off snippy! I get defensive when I shouldn’t.
        Btw, SGI is a excellent source for information on Nichiren
        Buddhism.
        Sharon

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wakeupcall/ Tom Rapsas

          Thanks for your follow-up, Sharon! ~Tom

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

        There are parallels. I like how Daniel Quinn addresses them in The Story of B, as follows:

        Adherents tend to concentrate on the differences between these religions, but I concentrate on their agreements, which are as follows: The human condition is what it is, and no amount of effort on your part will change that; it’s not within your power to save your people, your friends, your parents, your children, or your spouse, but there is one person (and only one) you can save, and that’s you. Nobody can save you but you, and there’s nobody you can save but yourself. You can carry the word to others and they can carry the word to you, but it never comes down to anything but this, whether it’s Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, or Islam: Nobody can save you but you, and there’s nobody you can save but yourself. Salvation is of course the most wonderful thing you can achieve in your life — and you not only don’t have to share it, it isn’t even possible to share it.
        ·
        As far as these religions have it worked out, if you fail of salvation, then your failure is complete, whether others succeed or not. On the other hand, if you find salvation, then your success is complete again, whether others succeed or not. Ultimately, as these religions have it, if you’re saved, then literally nothing else in the entire universe matters. Your salvation is what matters. Nothing else not even my salvation (except of course, to me).
        ·
        excerpt from the Story of B by Daniel Quinn
        http://www.oilcrash.com/articles/frog.htm

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

      jesusisbuddha.com

      I think Jesus was introducing Eastern reforms into Judaism as a counter-culture cynical (such as Diogenes) street preacher. Of course, Jesus never imagined he’d be turned into a magical Egyptian sungod savior either, by the apostle imposter Paul.

      “Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Corypheus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” ~Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson’s Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ the Old Adam

    I do believe that Jesus will be our (all of us) judge.

    But the good news there is that the One who will be judging us, is the same one who died for us on the Cross.

    Thanks.