A Buddhist Easter
Good Friday marks the day of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, his death by all appearances at the time. And if that were the end of the story, Christianity likely would not have grown to be the religion it is today; for suffering and death do not convey much in the way of Good News. A resurrected Christ, on the other hand, one who is raised up from the dead – now that is a reason for untold joy! Such is Easter, the holiest of holy days for Christians around the world. Jesus died for our sins, that we may live forever. This is the truth for millions of Christians.
The first noble truth of Buddhism is the truth of suffering. Like the passion of the Christ, however, this truth alone does not convey a very hopeful message either. It is the truth of the path, the fourth noble truth that conveys the good news of the Buddha’s teaching. Thus, the Buddha didn’t die for us. He lived such that through his example of heightened awareness we might liberate ourselves. “Watchfulness is the path of immortality,” says the Dhammapada. “Unwatchfulness is the path of death. Those who are watchful never die: those who do not watch are already as dead.” Watchfulness is the path, but no one may watch for us. On this point, it would seem that Buddhism is the antithesis of Christianity. Or is it?
Let’s take a moment to look beyond the substitutional atonement aspect of Jesus dying for our sins. What if, rather than his death, it his example of how to live that points the way to everlasting life? Can any Christian argue against living with the example of the life of Christ in mind? In such a light, we might read the following passage from the Dhammapada and wonder whether it is from the Christian Bible instead:
The man who arises in faith, who ever remembers his high purpose, whose work is pure, and who carefully considers his work, who in self-possession lives the life of perfection, and who ever, for ever, is watchful, that man shall arise in glory.
For a Buddhist, then, each moment of returning to watchfulness, each moment of returning to living the life of the Buddha himself is a resurrection from the dead and a return to the path of immortality. But is the same not so for a Christian who, having fallen this moment, as all of us do from time to time, rises up to live the example of the living Christ in the next?
Wishing everyone a Happy Easter!
Christ image from First Christian Church photographed by the author.
Mascaro, J. (1954). The Dhammapada: the path of perfection (tr. Mascaro, J.). Penguin Books.
Copyright 2018 by Mark Robert Frank