What does the implication of finding water on Mars mean for our theology of cosmology? Did Jesus die for Martians?
Answer by Deily member, Reverend Dr. David Zuniga
The word theology derives from words that literally mean “God” and “discourse.” So when we engage in theology we are literally engaging in God or Gods-based talk. I say that because there is no Buddhist theology, at least in the sense of theistic-based religions. One can believe in a God or Gods, or be atheist or agnostic, and still be a devout Zen Buddhist.
There is certainly Buddhist philosophy. But from a Buddhist perspective, philosophy is always secondary at best. Religious philosophy is only helpful if it helps in the transformation of suffering and the cultivation of joy. A good question to ask is: does the philosophical topic at hand relate in a meaningful way to the real challenges of the world?
The idea of Jesus’ death on the cross is central for almost all Christians. In Buddhism there are things like Tonglen and bodhisattva practice, but there is not the same sense that a spiritual savior must die to redeem someone else’s sins.
Your question raises the issue of humanity’s place in the cosmos. Our planet occupies a tiny corner of the universe. Carl Sagan expressed the sentiment in his novel Contact that as vast as the universe is, in a sense it would be a terrible waste of space if there were not other forms of life in the universe.
As a Zen Buddhist I hope that finding water on Mars gives us an experience of humility as a species. I also hope it deepens our respect for the natural world. By realizing and experiencing that there are things bigger in the world than a small, personal sense of “I” we can overcome habitual cognitive and emotional patterns that limit our true potential. By realizing the vastness of the universe we can enter into an experiential state of what Einstein called “the harmonious we.” Both science and religion call us to discover and embrace the truth of reality and in that process we can have an embodied state of compassion, gratitude, and awe.