Many Traditions, One Message

Many Traditions, One Message March 21, 2019

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As one who grew up in the Christian faith tradition, Jesus has always been a large part of my life. Throughout my childhood and then into my young adult years, I held the belief that Jesus was the exclusive savior of the world. Let me rephrase. Jesus was the exclusive savior of those who accepted him as “lord and savior.” The rest, of course, were no doubt destined to the utter darkness, where the worm dies not, where their thirst could never be quenched, where the flames rise up forever and ever. In a word, they were condemned to hell. Buddhists. Muslims. Sikhs. Atheists. Agnostics. All of ‘em.

I no longer hold to that view, and for a litany of reasons.

But I still gravitate toward Jesus. His teachings. His ethics. His love for humanity. His grace. His mercy. His compassion for all living beings. Everything.

At the same time, I cannot help but notice how the mystics—the enlightened ones, the ones who earnestly seek and see God in all the spaces of the Universe—of the many scores of other faith traditions talk about the same sort of things. Love. Grace. Mercy. Compassion.

One such teacher was the Buddha.

Disclaimer: I am not an authority on Buddhism. I’m no Christian scholar, but I’m even less of a Buddhist one. At the same time, I can’t help but notice that in spite of these seemingly two disparate traditions—Christianity and Buddhism, each ripe with their own cultural assumptions and linguistics—with regards to what it means to be human, they are pointing toward the same thing.

Case in point: take a look at Luke 6:31. In this verse, Jesus tells us to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” We call this the Golden Rule. And while most of us probably fail in applying this ethic in our daily lives, it was a point of emphasis for Jesus. Big time. The same goes for the Buddha. In Dhammapada 10.1, he says: “Consider others as yourself.” In other words, do to them what you would have them do to you. The Golden Rule.

This “golden rule” is fleshed out and even expanded upon in Luke 6, when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us. In Dhammapada 1.5 and 17.3, the Buddha gives following advice, and it should sound strikingly familiar: “Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love; this is an eternal truth . . . Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good. Overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth.”

What is being emphasized is that to live free, to live as a human being should, we do not hold grudges against our enemies or return hate with hate. We turn the other cheek, as both Jesus and the Buddha advised (see Luke 6:29 and Majjhima Nikaya 21.6, respectively).

But mercy and compassion are not just confined to these two faith traditions. No! Open your Qur’an and you will notice the same thing in many places. In fact, out of the 114 chapters of the Islamic Holy Book, 113 of them begin with this hermeneutical lens: “In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.” Mercy. Compassion. Emphasized right there in the beginning of each chapter of the Qur’an.

Sufi mystic Rumi takes this Quranic point of emphasis and turns the overall message into the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known. In the same spirit of Jesus and the Buddha, he writes: “Be like the sun for grace and mercy. Be like the night to cover others’ faults. Be like running water for generosity. Be like death for rage and anger. Be like the Earth for modesty. Appear as you are. Be as you appear.” In other words, stand toe-to-toe with hatred, anger, malice, and violence, and confront it with grace, mercy, and love.

Continuing on: In the Baha’i tradition, Baha’u’llah beautifully describes the mercy and compassion of God as follows: “A drop out of the ocean of thy mercy suffices to quench the flames of hell, and a spark of the fire of thy love is enough to set ablaze a whole world.” One drop of God’s mercy can quench all the flames of hell! And one spark of the love of God can light the whole world on fire!

If only we all applied this to our lives today . . .

Why do I point all this out? Because I’m sick of seeing those of various faith traditions fight with one another over who is right and who is wrong. I’m sick of people proselytizing and then inflicting violence on one another when they don’t convert. We all tend toward describing our own tradition as “the way,” completely missing the point that the true Way transcends our cultural and linguistic presuppositions. When Jesus said that he is the way, the truth, and the life, he didn’t mean “join Team Jesus or perish.” He meant that peace is the way and the way is peace. Nonviolence is the way and the way is nonviolence. Love is the way and the way is love. Mercy is the way and the way is mercy. Compassion is the way and the way is compassion.

The Buddhist mystics say this.

The Muslim mystics say this.

The Sikh mystics say this.

The Baha’i mystics say this.

The Jewish mystics say this.

And, incidentally, the Christian mystics say this.

So, let us keep this in mind and realize that life isn’t about converting others to your religion. Life is about living in such a way that we move humanity from suffering and into the kingdom of heaven.

Shalom. Salaam. Namaste. Peace be with you all.

Matthew J. Distefano is the author of 4 books and a co-host on the Heretic Happy Hour. He lives in Chico, California with his wife and daughter. You can read more about the author here.

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