It’s not easy to talk about Christianity when it’s wrapped up with centuries of jargon. Most of the time it frightens me to approach even one topic among the myriads in it. Having grown up in a cultural pot heavily influenced by community existence plus animism/fatalism and Roman Catholicism no wonder it came to my mind that should I abandon the family’s religious affiliation I might be condemning myself to a lifetime of ostracism and most probably the fires of hell.
So when I say that Buddhism says “Life is suffering” I am in the position to acknowledge that I certainly have not come to grasp all the nuances that Buddhism offers about this topic. But, to be sure, I know what suffering is. I haven’t gone hungry for a day but I know what suffering is. I haven’t been confined in hospital (thank you, Lord) for a minute but I know what suffering is. I haven’t had a toothache ever (thank you, Lord) but I know what suffering is.
As I was turning into an adult what has gradually become mystifying for me is the figure of the crucified Jesus prominently displayed in churches, even on the altar. (On the aside, where I grew up it was of St. Sebastian’s at the altar, partially disrobed and stuck with arrows, with the accompanying crimson paint for the dripping blood at his sides.) In the church where I tend to go to while I’m here (in a place very far away from home) it’s a painting of the Crucifixion so gloomy, so medieval Europe, right there where you would see it looming large before you as you wait for the minister to administer the bread and the wine to you, and especially when you happen to stand (some kneel) in the middle of the row. (Another aside, not that I’m an expert on paintings, and I still am ignorant on who the respected artist is, but I have it in mind to respectfully ask from an elder in resident as to why the proportion of the figures seem a bit lacking lengthwise, while I assimilate whatever aspect of beauty I could take away with me from such an agony-inducing representation.)
Now, life is suffering, I say this is true. I cannot overemphasize on the billions who go hungry everyday. I could imagine that for those who haven’t had a material lack in life there would still be the agony of not being able to obtain the latest car model the soonest time desired, or the temporary irritation of having lost a million dollars in a business transaction that would be rectified anyway in the hundreds of million dollar profit in other transactions. For girls, probably a run in the stockings, a glitch in the make-up, a boyfriend who seems to wane or simply the lack of one, a brand bag beyond the momentary budget, the bitchiness of another girl. Crazy life. Of course there’s more, and more to it, but I’m just randomly picking up from popular commercial images.
…back to the Cross and back to Buddhism… :
Whatever joy there is in the world
Arises from wishing for others’ happiness.
Whatever suffering there is in the world
Arises from wishing for your own happiness.
Putting it another way: All who are unhappy are so because they looked for their own happiness. All who are happy are so because they looked for the happiness of others. — I ran into this quote earlier in the week and I recalled it as I was reading something on Lohr’s paper**. This was what I read, and I really need to copy the two paragraphs from pages 250-1, with which I need to include the notes, too, emphases and italicizing mine (…and… a beautiful excerpt from the consequent paragraph is in yesterday’s post) :
This concept of suffering is different than a sympathetic affiliation with those less fortunate or the common association of Jesus with those who suffer in society – the downtrodden and overlooked. An image of Jesus in solidarity with the oppressed provides an excellent model for Christians who want to walk in the footsteps of God in Christ. It entails a not-so-glamorous path of self-effacement and humility and leads to a sense of liberation. But, the concept of a suffering God in the theology of the cross goes further than this. It indicates that God intimately knows the depths of human sorrows and pains. It also juxtaposes the violence of execution with the glory of resurrection. “The horror of Golgotha is the only way to the kingdom.” This is a theology of the cross. It has to do with, among other things, atonement, Christology and salvation.
A theology of the cross is also a model of God’s grace. It represents a “reversal” of direction: “God comes to us; we do not mount up to god. Atonement occurs when God succeeds in getting through to us who live under wrath and law. … A ‘happy exchange’ takes place: Jesus takes our sinful nature and gives us his righteous and immortal life.” There is no theology of the cross without the person of Jesus, and in it one finds a model of going out from oneself and partaking in suffering. The theology of the cross teaches self-denial – putting oneself in the place of the other – and sacrificial love – the kind of love that is at the heart of the activity on the cross. This implies that the Godly model is one of active engagement – of assuming the context of the other – a concept that certainly has implications for interfaith relationships.
 For a statement on Jesus’ “solidarity and compassion with others, that is, the deviant, the irrelevant, the marginalized, the oppressed, all in all the lowest of the low” see Paul Chung’s, “The Uniqueness of Christianity in Relation to Buddhism” in Christ the One and Only, Sung Wook Chung (ed.), (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 176.
 Braaten and Jenson eds., Christian Dogmatics vol 2, (Philadelpiha: Fortress Press, 1984), 58.
 Braaten and Jenson (eds.), Christian Dogmatics vol 2, 47.
I’d say that within these two paragraphs a wide range of in themselves ‘wide’, and crucial, topics are encompassed. There’s Liberation theology, asceticism/monasticism, biblical anthropology, pluralism, religious dialogues, as well as the ones explicitly mentioned within, and more. Whoa, that’s all way too much to handle at once…
Anyway, for now, what struck me the most was this: Buddhism and Christianity (respective branches or denominations aside) have the concept of suffering as a basic foundation in their articulations. So I was thinking that if one gets to the root of it all it really is suffering that is the most gripping reality to human existence. I could formulate it this way, too: the best way that God can get across to our consciousness (feeling and thinking combined) is through ‘suffering’. It’s the phenomenon right on the spot of urgency. It has to be on this medium that an effective communication, so to speak, can happen. So, I say to myself, wow, Christianity and Buddhism (sorry, I haven’t reached the stage of exploring the other areas yet) see each other eye to eye in this. Amazing.
Hahaha on second thoughts I see myself as very naive here because, well, if you really get rough on it why the heck do humans seek this numinous if not to, well, ‘get away’ from angst/emptiness/suffering/whatnot? Hence all the religions and mysticisms et cetera. Even Miyamoto Musashi who depended only on himself was I say a person of a deep sense of the numinous, along with all the samurai who took their swords really seriously. Chincha.
Anyway again, on happiness now… When I was younger I took for granted all these quotes on happiness that I would come across from time to time. I didn’t have the consciousness of ‘wanting to be happy’. I guess it was because I was yet very ignorant (I still am but a little less so, meaning that I’ve just discovered that I really don’t know anything, haha). Moreover there’s family and friends and relatives and neighbors and everyone around in the city in the island in the country and so what’s there to be unhappy about? There’s always something to eat and something to do and something to look forward to, and so what’s there to be unhappy about? I could not appreciate the idea of “wanting to be happy”, seeking/pursuing happiness, because I did not perceive it as something lacking in our lives where I grew up. Moreover, if laughter is a measurement of it we sure have lots of opportunity for it regardless of the situation. Chincha. Sure there was sadness and anger and gloom but at least for myself I did not associate it with being ‘unhappy’ or that happiness has gone and I needed to ‘have’ it again. Hehehe (… there you go… 🙂 … well, whatever… ) and although until now I still have this ‘steady’ disposition (yup, despite everything, and as measured by the amount of aid-less continuous sleep I get every night, at least 7 hours, thank you Lord) it has come to the stage where I’ve begun to sincerely appreciate the wisdom of the simplest of quotes, like Buddha’s:
Joy grows in us not out of possessions or wealth.
True joy of life comes out of a wise and loving heart.
Wow, so simply put, even cheapened by the casual use of it commercially, but I could only imagine the amount of suffering, or the sense of it, that had to be ruminated on before such a realization is reached. Siddhartha Gautama and those who have the kind of heart he had are awesome. What does it take to have a wise heart? What does it take to have a loving heart? Who do have these, and if so then how do they look at life, and how do they deal with their existence, how do they lead their lives? These are really the biggies.
Suffering, the perception of it, the experience of it, is a prerequisite to life’s realizations. It is those who have no sense of ‘suffering‘ — what it is like, how it feels, how it is like — who are not able to appreciate the value of life, of another human, of friendship, of presence, of being…
I don’t know how to wrap up this introspection. Perhaps it’s best if I simply don’t attempt to … or have I already wrapped it up…? …whatever…. Incidentally today is the celebration day for the Reformation. So it’s a holiday and all the shops are closed, all the students have dragged their suitcases across the hall since yesterday already and are now home for the weekend, since tomorrow is Friday and only the nerds go to school on a Friday (haha, you can debate on that). Incidentally, too, there are scholars that argue that the religious affiliation I belong to now cannot be strictly traced back to the Reformation. Whatever. And the Reformation itself was a source of angst for Luther himself. Haha, crazy world. No wonder I find myself deeply appreciating Zen Buddhism many a time.
Again anyway, I’d like to dedicate this composition to the contributions of Martin Luther to humankind. I for myself, granting how I grew up, can understand a bit the pressure that he underwent when he was formulating his 95 theses, and so for now I’d situate myself more on the positive end of the spectrum of like-vs-dislike for him. But, as how life is, shikataganai (for my favorite Korean drama characters it would be otoke? = what can one do? ), Luther couldn’t possibly have expected to be able to control all ‘the particles surrounding him that would naturally move in the Brownian motion way’ — poor Luther, his name has to shoulder much of the responsibility for all events that can be said to have stemmed off from his actions and words. It’s good to know (anyway) that Lutherans do openly acknowledge his faults and are in fact confessing that the institution’s (if it can be spoken of as that) actions do consider this phenomenon as an important part of the ‘background’.
Ah, what a happy day. And the sun is up and strong! Hahaha I sound like I’m a worshipper of the sun, but many times I feel I could understand why this phenomenon, worshipping the sun, has existed across the globe and all throughout history. The sun just being there, so powerful, it’s really wonderful I could feel all my cells rejoicing!
** can be accessed from: https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10036/86921
— this paper is by Mary Christine Lohr entitled Finding a Lutheran Theology of Religions: Ecclesial Traditions and Interfaith Dialogue submitted to the University of Exeter in 2009. I still have a few more pages to read. It’s very good, speaking from a seriously-researching layperson’s point of view, and I’m very happy to have found it. So generous of Exeter to have it available for everyone.
P. S. There’s this 2003 movie Luther that has Joseph Fiennes in it, of course it’s not enough to show about Luther but it’s good. There’s this 55-minute documentary (An Empires Special) Reluctant Revolutionary, it’s also good. Though just take time to research on your own because perspectives and articulations vary and are relative. The nailing of the theses on the castle church door may not have happened and other tidbits like that could be important for a serious student. Nevertheless, for his time Martin Luther was one awesome personality. Miyamoto Musashi lived in the late 16th century Japan and is a respected historical figure by his many accomplishments in swordsmanship, the arts, and philosophy. Zen Buddhism is a major component of Japanese life ever since its practice there (as a separate school it started there about the 12th century). It is said that Musashi had a Zen priest for a teacher — I read up about Musashi from a 5-part novel by Eiji Yoshikawa, but that was many many years ago; recently I got to watch NHK’s 49-episode Musashi drama and it’s said to be faithful to the novel — but more on this next time, and not that I really know much … whew 🙂 [dear different websites, thanks for the lovely pictures, if it’s yours and you don’t want them here just please tell me… thanks again!]