Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I have begun reading “The Hidden Gospel,” by Neil Douglas-Klotz. Klotz is a scholar of religious studies and psychology and a spiritual practitioner. One of his interests is probing into the Aramaic Jesus. Jesus was a first century Aramaic speaking Jew from the Middle East, specifically that part that has come to be known as the Holy Land.

Jesus had the mind set and mental processing formed by his Jewish heritage, shaped by the Aramaic language he spoke. Each person’s perspective of the world and the way he sees it is greatly affected by the language he speaks: its vocabulary; its grammar; perhaps, even the sounds themselves. A native Greek speaker in the period in which Jesus lived would perceive reality and formulate it differently than a person born an Aramaic speaker. (Jesus probably knew enough Hebrew to read the scriptures although there is some doubt he was able to read.)

When the words and thoughts of Jesus conceived in Aramaic were translated into Greek---this transposition was a radical one from the intuitional, earth based Aramaic to the intellectual, conceptualizing Greek.

The subtitle of this book is “Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus”.

Klotz uses the Peshita, the Bible of the Eastern Christians which is written in Western Aramaic sometimes known as the Syriac. Even this Bible probably in most cases does not contain the actual Aramaic words of Jesus -- but if there is a more or less unbroken line between the time of Jesus and the Peshita -- the Peshita should have a closer content and feeling to the original words of Jesus than the Greek Bible.

Moving the gospels from the Aramaic world of the first century to the Greek world was about as radical a move as would be possible.

During the first two centuries after Jesus’ death there were many more groups in the Jesus movement than Christian churches and denominations today. Call them Christian Jews or Jewish Christians but there was not a single group among the many that could be labeled “orthodox”. And for the first three centuries there hundreds of “gospels” used by these numerous and varied gatherings of believers.

At first there was just the oral tradition --- the memory of what Jesus said and did. Earlier people seemed to be quite good at preserving their traditions through memory.
However, there were many “Christian” groups each with their traditions. Eventually, some of them began to be put their traditions in writing. This transmission involves selection of materials and the words to be transcribed. The end result is a loss of variety with no assurance that the most faithful or accurate memories were the ones ending up in written form.

Constantine a Roman Emperor converted to some variety of Christianity in the 4th
Century. He “...realized that a stable empire could not be built upon hundred of conflicting interpretations of who Jesus was. In 325 CE he ordered a council of bishops and theologians to gather at Nicaea (in what is now Turkey) to settle once and for all who Jesus was and what he said and did.”

Pressure was upon the various church leaders to come to an agreement acceptable to Constantine. If they did not, he might even rescind his decision to make Christianity the State Religion.

The prelates also drew up the Nicene Creed which uses the methodology and words of the Greeks and their philosophy to encapsulate what these clerics felt needed to be believed and assented to by all persons who wanted to be considered Christians. The Creed makes use of obscure language and concepts from the Greek to express its dogmas ---
for example, that Jesus was “...begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

The doctrine of The Trinity was announced despite many present, perhaps the majority, believing that God was One, a Unity -- a key belief in the Jewish tradition from which Christianity rose.

The author in this book is attempting to re-discover some of the spirit, world view and teachings of the original Jesus -- before he was dwarfed and submerged in the institutionalization of Christianity.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Do Buddhists Believe in God?

Recently a friend posed the above question to me in this way:
"I have always had a problem with the Buddhists because I thought they had no 'god'. True they believe in self development and walking the path, but not focused on a single or multiple 'power greater than themselves', and certainly not a 'creator god' like the Christians. Have I got it all wrong? "

I suppose I could give a quick and simple answer, but as frequently is my case, I found there is more to the answer than simplicity.

First of all not all "Buddhists" are the same. There are either two or three major traditions and within each there are sub sets.

However, in the early Buddhist scriptures written in Pali, we could say that Buddhism appears as "non-Theistic". This does not mean the Buddha was an "atheist," -- one who does not believe in "God". Nor, does it mean he was an agnostic -- one who does not believe that God can be known. He taught a way that was non-theistic --- in which the idea of a God does not appear. Why? Because in the India of his time and for years before---debating about God seemed to take up a terrible amount of time. People were lost in trying to define God and had no time for living a wise and compassionate life.
When I think about it --- this problem has been with Christianity for centuries.

In his search for the answer to "suffering" the Buddha came to conclusion reached by his own experience as to the nature of reality and the "antidote" for suffering (not pain). He discovered that ultimately his path led to a state called "nirvana". Nirvana, IMO, may just be another name for the presence of God.

In an earlier blog -- I wrote this:
"The most important thing --- as I see things, is that if you believe in God or Allah or Brahman or Sacred Emptiness ----whatever term you use for the sacred core of things--- you must experience The Sacred. God cannot be described, but this being can be experienced. Knowledge of "God" comes through intuition, through feeling, through sensing this presence---which you know is Reality itself --- but which you cannot encase in a conceptual capsule."

The book "The Good Heart" is based on a conference between Christian (mostly Catholic priests, nuns and lay people) sponsored by the Benedictines and featuring the Dalai Lama as the center of the proceedings. The Dalai Lama had never read The New Testament. He was asked to comment on selected passages each day of the conference which led to interesting and enlightening interchanges.

During these sessions the Dalai Lama said that Buddhists do not believe in a Personal Creator God as Christians do. However, he had no objections to the Christians believing this way since it appeared to provide spiritual growth and the development of compassionate living. In addition, he said that he felt Christians should attempt to plumb the depths and explore the variety within their Christian Faith --- before considering other religions, including Buddhism.

Jim Pym an English layman, who is both a Shin Buddhist and a Quaker, in a book he wrote says that many Western Buddhists believe in God --- simply because it is so much a part of their culture and background. He doesn't believe this hampers their Buddhism. He also points out that many non-Western Buddhists pray. Go to the temples in Thailand and Burma where you will see thousands of lay Buddhists at prayer. From both reading and personal experience, I know that Tibetan Buddhists pray. When I was doing a Tibetan practice there were prayers, e.g. for the long life of the Dalai Lama and other teachers. Then there are prayers to the Medicine Buddha.
Jim also points out that a number of well known Buddhist teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh and Joshu Sazaki Roshi. The latter, now in his eighties once said that all of his life he had been nursing at the breast of God.

Does "God" have to be a Personal Creator God? The Hindus may have the "highest" thought of God: Brahman. Brahman is impersonal, without identity-- and yet nothing like a "rock" --- but full of all life and energy. Brahman's manifestations appearing as creating; nourishing and redeeming; purifying and destroying. Hence, the Hindus have Brahma (God the Father); Visnu (The Redeemer); and Shiva (The Purifier). IMO, the Absolute by whatever name one bestows upon it --- is not like us. God's identity or personality is something we humans provide -- for our own benefit. We, by nature are anthropocentric -- so our God is seen to be like us. We say that we are created in God's image. It may be more true that we have created God -- in our image.
As to the necessity of a Creator. Again, I look at Hinduism a religion I greatly respect. It stems from the very beginnings of human civilization -- when their great seers lived in a time when the Absolute may have been easier to perceive and to find unity with through meditation. Brahman "created" the "world" from Brahman. The world is the "dream" or the "play" of Brahman. Nothing was really created because there was and is nothing but Brahman.

Leaving what some would call the esoteric beliefs of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) --- I, personally, do not believe the world was created, but that reality in some form or the other has always and will always exist. It is said that every effect must have a cause, ergo, the World needs a cause. That cause is "God". The question springs instantly to mind: "Who or what created God?" The answer given by creationists is --"God is the First Cause."
For me, this response is---unsatisfactory. I am content to live in a world without a creator, and I feel that his belief is perfectly plausible.

Mahayana Buddhism speaks of
"sunyata" --- which might be thought of as sacred emptiness. If you probe deeply enough you will experience this underlying reality. In the very early Pali suttas of Buddhism the Buddha spoke of the necessity for the existence of "the Unborn, the Uncreated, the Unconditioned" -- as far as I know he only did this once.

Shin Buddhists -- and I feel I am part of this tradition -- put their enduring trust in Amida -- the Buddha of Infinite Life and Light. We know that as
bombu or foolish and weak beings -- we cannot achieve enlightenment, liberation or salvation through our personal efforts. So, we step aside -- and rely entirely on the compassionate and loving embrace of Amida. Our simple prayer is short: Namo Amida Butsu --- I take refuge in Amida Buddha -- the spiritual being of wisdom and compassion (who is NOT a Creator God).

One final point---There are those who have this attitude: "If you don't believe in a Personal Creator God you are not open to spiritual or supernatural realities. You are also, in all likelihood, an immoral person.

And, you will end up in Hell. Some of these persons say further than you must believe in the Nicene or Apostles' Creed word for word; or you must believe that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins; or that the Bible is the literal words of God. And, depending on the sect or denomination --- there are more and more criteria.

Swami Satchidananda claimed that if all the scriptures of the world would be destroyed -- including the Hindu ones -- the Absolute could be found in Nature.

If there is a Personal Creator God--then I believe he will condemn no one to Hell ---- his grace will grant salvation to all.

As for Buddhists, they all take "refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the teaching) and the Sangha (the fellowship). Some also have special devotions and connection to other spiritual beings: Green Tara, Chenrezig, Amida etc. Buddhists, in general, have at least the faith in the spiritual and the sacred that Christians, in general do.

Buddhists believe in another life to come -- and this, in itself, makes this life more special in many ways.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


(Italics are used for quotes from Marcus Borg's
Reading the Bible Again -- for the First Time --Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally.)

It's probably happened to you that you opened a book and were pleased to find the ideas which had been circulating in your head for many years were not only dealt with, but supported and expanded upon.

For many years, I have not believed that the Bible's words were the "words of God". This would mean that God dictated the actual words to the author of the text much as an executive dictates his next letter to his secretary. Or, it might be argued that God did not dictate -- he inspired the author of the gospel to express God's exact thought or feeling --- but framed in the evangelist's style. This did not seem sensible either.

However, being "sensible" is not the politically correct word to use. Can we judge the ways of God by our own "common sense"? There is some validity to this point. On the other hand, I don't believe that humans can conceptualize God or the Absolute to begin with. Well, we do it, but what hope is there that we hit the mark, we don't catch the fish. Even more to the point: can a concept, a mental form used by humans, encapsulate the Divinity?

If one has the need or the inner sense that The Bible is to some extent a "sacred text," then my position would be Borg's:
"... to see the Bible as a human product --- the product of two ancient communities." It is sacred because these communities deemed it so; they sensed that these writings contained within them their human experience of God.

The Bible, therefore, is the account of a part of mankind's interaction with the Absolute. Let's accept the existence of God (or whatever name you wish to use) and that human beings have had and still do have experience of the divinity, the holy, the sacred, the numinous. The Bible contains examples of the human expression of these experiences and the actions that resulted. Some of the Bible -- how much I don't know -- is not the result of an encounter with the sacred.
As readers -- we must decide on our own.

The fundamentalists who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible have to find some way to justify the parts of the Bible that contradict one another; that no longer apply; that seem incongruous with the main thrust. One way they do this is to state that we cannot comprehend the mind of God who was the source of the word of God. If we had Divine insight or perspective --- everything fits.

This is a general characteristic of fundamentalists: they depend on a kind of faith that postulates: The Bible is the Word of God. Jesus is God. Jesus meant to found a church.
The church guided by the Holy Spirit picked just the right books for the Canon of Scripture, and avoided the false ones. Once a person lays down a list of beliefs, and then lays everything on Faith --- well, there is no room for discussion. It does give fundamentalists a strong sense of security.

I simply don't believe the Absolute acts, behaves this way. In fact, my present position is that -- God is not a Person. God does not have an "identity" as we are supposed to have.
The formulation of God's non-personal nature closest to my thinking is within Hinduism.
The Absolute, Brahmin is called Satchidananda or Being-Consciousness-Bliss. Of course, this is inadequate because human words and concepts are used, but it is a better finger pointing at the moon than the one that points at scripture, the church fathers, and the church councils. That is a human desperately reaching for Security.

God is a mystery. Anything less than this diminishes God.

The Bible can be a valuable tool in spiritual growth. However, "..
. a close and careful reading of the Bible makes it impossible to think that what it says comes directly or indirectly from God." "...the Bible tells us about how they saw things, not about how God sees things."

The Bible is not sacred because God is its origin. It is sacred because it was deemed this by the ancient communities from whom it originated.

The Bible is the framework or the spiritual landscape that Christians live within. Christians must actively operate within this spiritual story, but must use judgment as to what does not need to be honored because it was relevant to ancient times and peoples, and from their cultural and social environment or
"...because that they were never the will of God."

The Bible can act as a "sacrament," a vehicle that generates within us the divine experience.
"Lectio Divina" is a method of reading passages from the Bible slowly, allowing them to resonate within us so that some kind of experience of the holy ensues. It dates back at least to the Middle Ages and is being rediscovered today.

"...calling the Bible the Word of God refers not to its origin but to its status and function."

Saturday, July 28, 2007


I received this painting on a card my oldest daughter, Suzanne, sent to me recently.

The image mentally triggered a conversation I had about ten years ago with one of the better artists here in Las Cruces. Paintings with closeups of persons, IMO, are tricky. This was her forte. When we talked it was outside her gallery in Mesilla, a small historic town adjacent to Las Cruces.

She mentioned to me that "Mexicans are hard to understand. They seem happy as long as they have food, shelter, their family and times to enjoy simple things like these. We anglos (Caucasians) are always seeking better things: cars, houses, and so on. Anglos have goals. Unlike the Mexicans we always want more. We are ambitious. And, if you travel down inside Mexico --- the people are even stranger there. They want so little from life."

I did not know exactly what to say. I thought, "Mexicans may be on the right track. Happiness, peace, joy, contentment actually do come from the simpler things of life -- and living in the present."

I used to have a small sign on my desk at school: "Happiness is not getting what you want. It's wanting what you have." Getting is endless. Endless desires are one of the three causes of suffering according to the Buddha.

How did Anglos get on this track many seem to be on? There used to be a Nissan car television ad; the slogan was --- "We are driven." Anglos are driven. Is that good especially when it seems to be an obsession? And others who take time to smell the roses are deemed --- strange or shiftless.

While attending a workshop on dealing with violence (I worked for the District Attorney then.)
the Roman Catholic archbishop of southern NM gave a talk. One thing he said has stayed with me. "Three things are important to Hispanics: their church, their family, and respect."

I seem to get along very well with Hispanics. I always offer them respect.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


There was fear and trepidation among religious progressives both Catholic and others following the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger, a German theologian and former head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith for almost twenty five years. In 2005, he was elected Pope to replace the recently deceased John Paul II. He chose the title -- Benedict XVI.

Progressives worried that the new pope might oppose such movements as a married clergy, woman priests, granting more power to the bishops -- and to the laity.

This seems to be happening. One example is Benedict's allowance for the use of the old Latin mass on a somewhat, for now, limited basis.

His most disturbing statement other than irritating Muslims by bringing up the highly critical remarks towards Islam made by a Byzantine ruler a 1000 years ago, was followed by his unfortunate remarks in Brazil when he said that the native people should be grateful for the colonization of their continent by Portugal and Spain.

As alarming or more so is his declaration that the Catholic Church is the only true church as reported in the following news item of July 10th:

Pope Says Catholicism Only True Church

Benedict XVI Approves Document Saying Orthodox Churches Defective
LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy -- Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document that says Orthodox churches are defective and that other Christian denominations are not true churches.

The document, released Tuesday, restates key sections of a 2000 document that set off a firestorm of criticism among Protestant and other Christian denominations. It said they were not true churches but merely ecclesiastical communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation."

In the new document and an accompanying commentary it says "Christ 'established here on earth' only one church." It says the other communities "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because they do not have the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles.

Not exactly an ecumenical statement. And a clear indication that the new Pope may be working on undoing the progressive ideas of Vatican II.

Many in Islam can understand such a statement because Islam, in general, believes that it is the "truly true" religion. And, in the case of the three monotheistic religions of the "West", those faiths sometimes referred to as the religions of the book -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam --- Islam considers itself the ending of revelation and God's final word on true religion.

Perhaps, Muslims believe the Pope is confused or mistaken in his idea of what the truth faith is.

It would seem as though we have returned to the days of the Crusades with each side considering the other --- infidels!

The Church seems to be going ahead by going backwards. With Benedict at the helm of the bark of Peter it won't be long before the Catholic Church sailing in reverse will go back in time past the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) which had attempted to move the Church into modern times without sacrificing the basics.

Pope John XXXIII who convened this council was only Pope from 1958 to 1963. In contrast to Benedict, John was a pastoral type figure, a man of simplicity and foresight. Too bad he did not live longer. However, the College of Cardinals chose him partly -- because of his age. They could not come to an agreement on the well-known figures amongst the College of Cardinals --- so they chose an old man who could not be expected to live long, and would allow them in a few years to come to agreement on a man more to their liking.

You can imagine the chagrin among the conservative princes (cardinals) of The Church, when John quickly moved to make possible some needed reformation within the The Church. Totally unexpected, I feel sure, was his audacity at calling a council of all the bishops of the church.
These councils have the potential of making meaningful changes.

One document that came out of Vatican II was Nostra Aetate. It starts by affirming that "all peoples comprise a single community, and have a single origin...One also is their final goal, God. His providence, his manifestation of goodness, and his saving designs extend to all people."

Also in this same document it states that all religions are struggling with the same mystery as Christians are struggling with. "The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions. She looks with sincere respect upon these ways of conduct and life, these rules and teaching which, though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless often reflect a ray of truth which enlightens all people.."

The statement although not perfect, IMHO, was moving in the right direction: forwards. And certainly not - backwards.

The following statement is much more to my personal liking:

Different People, Different Paths

As the different streams
Having their sources in different places
All mingle their water in the sea,
So, O Lord, the different paths which
people take,
Through various tendencies
Various though they appear
Crooked or straight,
All lead to thee.

-- Sanskrit Hymn

Friday, June 22, 2007

I have concluded that one large difference between the "Eastern Religions" of Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism is that none of them are fixated, or even terribly interested in historicity. Whereas for the three monotheistic "religions of the "book: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam the matter of what happened when, where and whether the "chain" was unbroken are of great importance and often extreme interest; at least to the majority.

For example, the division between Sunni and Shia stems from the succession to the Prophet Mohammed. The bishops and popes of R.C. Christianity claim to have an unbroken succession to Peter. The Protestants are fixated on the words of the Old and New Testament. Many of the fundamentalists among them are very upset with, e.g. the 70+ scholars of the Jesus Seminar, who after much discussion and examination of the actual texts, historical background, linguistic clues, etc. and, I should mention their collective knowledge and wisdom as Christian scriptural scholars---said that they believe only 20% of the words spoken by Jesus in the New Testament were actually spoken by him! This has created OUTRAGE among those who believe that the entire New Testament was inspired directly by God.

This is a tremendous blow to their faith. It is a call to arms and denunciations are hurled at these enemies of the faith.

This is one reason why Hinduism and Buddhism appeal to me, i.e. history is not of great concern. The truth -- not whether it can be pinned down in chronology -- is the focus. The Pure Land Sutra and the Lotus Sutra are both major scriptures in Mahayana. Both are classed (usually) as myths by Buddhist scholars. A myth may contain much greater truth than centuries of apostolic succession or volumes of scriptures that are true because God inspired them and which are destroyed if they can be questioned on a historical and linguistic analysis.

The simple truth is that Truth may be best expressed in a story (myth) that is designed to be a kind of "finger pointing to the moon".