Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation

A Change in Consciousness

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Buddhism: Week 2

A Change in Consciousness
Sunday, September 6, 2015

Rather than making dogmatic statements about how to get to heaven, Jesus modeled and taught how to live on earth in a loving way, and he said that this was indeed heaven! But Christians have all too often pushed heaven into the future. We’ve made Jesus’ death and resurrection into a reward/punishment system for the next world, which creates tremendously self-absorbed and self-preoccupied people. It doesn’t transform anyone into compassionate, loving individuals. Instead it leads to a kind of morbid self-analysis in which people feel guilty, inferior, and inadequate or superior and self-righteous.

This dualistic approach has corrupted the true meaning of the Gospel. I would go so far as to say that by sending Christians on a path of well disguised but delayed self-interest, we prostituted the entire spiritual journey from the very start. You cannot easily get to love when you begin with threats and appeals to fear. The driving energy is completely wrong. Rather, you come to love by attraction. Change must begin with positive energy or the final result is never positive.

Maybe the Buddha didn’t talk about God because he didn’t want his teaching to be interpreted as a method of earning or losing God’s love. He emphasized awareness and experience more than winning a prize. Words, which are by nature dualistic, tend to get in the way of actual experience. Thomas Merton said, “Buddhist meditation, but above all that of Zen, seeks not to explain but to pay attention, to become aware, to be mindful, in other words to develop a certain kind of consciousness that is above and beyond deception by verbal formulas—or by emotional excitement.” [1]

Both the Buddha and Jesus were constantly telling people to be compassionate, to let go, to detach. The difference is that Buddhists were taught that they could not do any of these things with a dualistic consciousness. If you were raised Christian, on the other hand, you were given the impression that you could be a forgiving person with a dualistic mind. You can’t! In effect, Christians were given commandments about mercy, compassion, loving enemies, and forgiveness without being taught the nondual consciousness necessary for living most of those commandments.

Because the Church usually did not enable any actual change of consciousness, most people had to split. In effect, we became hypocrites (the word first meant “actors”); we had no other choice. We have to pretend that we love our enemies, because Jesus said we should. We have to pretend to be nonviolent, when in reality Americans are all part of a highly militaristic culture. But the real teaching of Jesus is ignored, is innocuous, and is boring to us, because frankly, with the dualistic mind, most of it is unlivable and impossible. You can give people all the pious Christian teaching you want, but without a transformation of consciousness, they don’t have the energy or the capacity to carry it out.

Thankfully, we are now in an age where we can be open to learning from other world religions like Buddhism, which have long been teaching the non-dual consciousness that Christianity stopped teaching in a systematic way for the last five hundred years. [2]

Gateway to Silence:
“The suchness of each moment is the infinite mercy of God.”  —Paul Knitter

[1] Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite (New Directions: 1968), 38.
[2] Richard Rohr, Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), disc 4 (CD, DVD, MP3 download).

Image credit: “The Bodhisattva attains Awakening and becomes the Buddha” (detail), a Lalitavistara (The Life of the Buddha) relief at Borobudur in Java, Indonesia, 9th century.
Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.