Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dispelling the Nongospel of the Freaky Jesus, P. 4

Christianity has universality, or catholicity, only in recognizing
that Jesus is one particular instance and expression of a wisdom which
was also, if differently, realized in the Buddha, in Lao-Tzu, and in
such modern avatars as Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna, and, perhaps,
Aurobindo and Inayat Khan. (I could make a very long list.) This
wisdom is that none of us are brief island existences, but forms and
expressions of one and the same eternal "I am" waving in different
ways, such that, whenever this is realized to be the case, we wave
more harmoniously with other waves.
--Alan Watts from Was Jesus a Freak?

5 comments:

copithorne said...

I think there may still be a few useful distinctions to be made between Jesus and the people Watts listed.

Namely, the Christian religion is set up as though Jesus is a source of grace. Another way common way of saying this is that Jesus functions as a guru.

Most of the people Watts cites did not function as a guru. Not Buddha, not Lao Tzu, not Ramakrishna, nor Aurobindo. Ramana is something like a guru but in other ways, not.

There is a lot to be said for "be a lamp unto yourself" traditions. There is also a lot to be said for grace traditions. This is a central polarity in all religions. In Japanese Buddhism, the debate between self power and other power. In Hinduism we have the debate between cat grace and monkey grace. In Christianity we have the debate between Catholic and Protestant. You could even see the debate between Sautantrika and Prasangika schools of Nagarjuna's Madhyamika tradition as having the same theme.

Also, we say Jesus rose from the dead. There is not a tradition that these other people rose from the dead.

That's why I've proposed to you that a contemporary model is Neem Karoli Baba who was both a guru and we have a tradition that he appeared in an embodied form after his death.

Now Alan Watt's point is well taken. But if he were to come to me for advice, I would invite him to look more closely into the grace side of things. It would help with the danger of arrogance in his own attainment.

Nagarjuna said...

Copithorne, thank you for your comments.

I'm not sure what you mean when you say that Buddha, Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, and Aurobindo were not gurus. In any case, they are revered as great spiritual sages and teachers, and it seems to me that this makes them very much like a credible Jesus.

As for Jesus allegedly rising from the dead, it seems to me that the real issue is not whether Christianity sets itself apart from other traditions in insisting that such a resurrection occurred, but whether this resurrection--belief in which seems required of all Christians--is credible. If it is not credible, as many of us find to be the case, then Christianity is not credible.

As for your suggestion that Watts was arrogant about his own attainment, I have never heard this alleged of him, it doesn't seem apparent in any of his books or talks, and it does not seem to be in keeping with his philosophy, as I understand it, that the accomplishing ego is illusory and that everything we think, say, and do is, ultimately, a manifestation of the "God" that we, ultimately, all are.

copithorne said...

A guru is a source of grace. A guru is an agent of salvation, not just an example of it. A guru is not a just a saint or a sage. A relationship with a guru is a relationship with God. Being a guru is not a measurement of attainment. Rather, it is a relationship or role that the guru offers to the devotee.

I can see that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not credible to you and perhaps not credible to Alan Watts. You would like to discard this dimension of Christian faith in order to make Christian faith more reasonable. Christian faith is nothing if not unreasonable.

I can only witness that I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and witness that something would be lost in domesticating Christian faith in this way. If you see a pearl of great price, you would sell everything you have to obtain it. Having obtained it, you don't trade it back in for an ordinary treasure.

Perhaps arrogance is the wrong word for Alan Watts. It could just as well be shame or sense of worthlessness. From his biography we know Watts was addicted to alcohol -- bottles of vodka a day -- and serial womanizing even while he was married with many children. He died prematurely from these addictions. He experienced pervasive feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. None of that takes away from his writing or his contribution, but there is something incomplete. I am suggesting this incompletion also appears in his theological writing by observing that the passages you cite do not recognize the role or possibility of grace in the religious life.

The model of working with addiction involves making ourselves available to grace. The first step of twelve: We acknowledge we are powerless and our lives have become unmanageable and we turn to a higher power.

Watt's theological strength is that he brings back the possibility of a spiritual path undertaken as an intentional effort. This had been very weak in Western culture and Watts is a Bodhisattva to bring it to the fore. But that's not everything.

Nagarjuna said...

<< A guru is a source of grace. >>

What do you mean by "grace"?

<< A guru is an agent of salvation >>

What do you mean by "salvation"? Is it different from or greater than enlightenment?

<< Being a guru is not a measurement of attainment. Rather, it is a relationship or role that the guru offers to the devotee. >>

How did the people Watts named not offer this relationship to their devotees?

<< I can only witness that I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and witness that something would be lost in domesticating Christian faith in this way. >>

Watts argued that this might universalize and enhance the Christian faith rather than weaken it, and that it's the doctrine of the "freaky" Jesus that weakens it for many people today.

<< We acknowledge we are powerless and our lives have become unmanageable and we turn to a higher power. >>

A "higher power" different from the Ultimate Reality of which Watts spoke and wrote?

copithorne said...

Your questions will tend to pull the conversation towards philosophy -- as though grace and guru and salvation and higher power are philosophical terms and defining them more precisely will ground the conversation more concretely.

I am not using the terms philosophically. They don't carry that kind of weight. I can try to answer your questions, but it is delicate. Really the answers are the answers in you, rather than the answers in me. If the words I use don't mean anything to you, the meaning they have for me won't matter much.

Grace is a gift from God.

Salvation is not better than enlightenment. Both involve being in the clear in terms of metaphysics. Being redeemed. Being free from the judgment of God.

Higher power is not different from Ultimate Reality. Higher power is higher power as you or Alan understand it.

I'm not sure what to say about how Gautama and Lao Tzu and Ramakrishna and Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi did not offer the guru relationship to their devotees. They are a Buddha, a sage, a saint, a pandit and a sage respectively. Each of them offered practices and teachings. They didn't offer a relationship. In Christianity, it is the relationship with Jesus Christ that is central.

There are all kinds of people who try to make Christianity more popular, more accessable, more reasonable. The sum total of these efforts is that it is arguable that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has all but disappeared from the world.