So far, we have chosen Christianity as our tentative choice as the recipient of divine revelation. We'll now show how Buddhism validates our choice. To do this, we’ll need to first learn a little bit about Christian doctrine and theology.
Christianity holds that God made the universe out of love; he made each one of us out of love; he suffered crucifixion out of love; and he seeks a radically intimate relationship with each of us out of love. The obvious question arises: “Why is love so important to God.”
The answer is because God IS love. And this relates directly to the Christian revelation of the Trinity.
What is Love?
So what exactly does Christianity mean by love? Is this a mere platitude? Is it a “feel good” idea that sounds nice?
The word “love” is bandied about so much today that it has lost much of its meaning. The ancient Greeks had four words for love: Agape, Eros, Philia, and Storge. Agape is self-giving love, Eros is romantic love, Philia is affectionate love, and Storge is familiar love.
When Christianity refers to love, it’s primarily referring to agape love: self-giving love. This is much different from the contemporary meaning which typically refers to eros and philia and sometimes to agape and storge.
This causes much confusion. Agape is true, universal love. The other forms of love point to agape, but they only become real love when purified by agape. They help motivate us towards agape, but agape is the root.
For example, romantic desire and affection can motivate and encourage a person to give of himself for another. But if this movement doesn't happen, romantic desire simply devolves to the opposite of agape -- self-centeredness and self-absorption. It's not real love, and this is why divorce [which is so destructive] is so popular and spurned lovers sometimes seek revenge.
The Trinity – God Revealed as Love
When Jesus revealed that God is comprised of a Trinity (e.g. three persons in one, divine being), he helped show us that the central dynamic within the Trinity is a perpetual self-giving.
What does this mean?
First, we need to understand that the Trinity is a Mystery. We'll never fully understand it. The problem is that our brains our finite and based in time and space, but we’re about to discuss something that is neither finite nor in time and space – the Infinite Perfection, God. Nevertheless, we can gain considerable insight.
In the beginning before anything was created, there was God. It’s inaccurate, of course, to say “in the beginning” because this infers time. Time didn’t exist because time is a component of matter as we know from Einstein’s Special Theory of Relatively. Therefore, it’s more accurate to refer to God as being in the eternal now. With this knowledge, we'll continue.
The originating element of the Trinity is the Father. From the Father utters a complete expression of everything that he is. This expression is much like a thought from a mind. To know himself, the intellection of the Father produces a likeness of himself in the mind. But because he's perfect, the Father knows himself perfectly and produces a perfect image of himself. Because the Father is a person, this perfect expression of the Father must, by necessity, also be a person. This expression of the Father is the second person of the Trinity, the Son.
The Father and the Son have two internal activities: intellection and will. The generation of the Son occurs through intellection. The procession of the third person, which we're about to describe, occurs through will.
Upon receiving this expression of the Father, the Son expresses back everything that he receives to the Father. This total self-giving that flows between the Father and the Son is a perfect expression of the will and, itself, is also personified. This third person of the Trinity is known as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the personification of the total self-giving that flows between the Father and the Son. This is why love is so important to God.
This total self-giving within God is the origin of agape love. This is why the Christian says that God is love. This is not something that we would have considered by our own natural reason. It’s only through the prodding of divine revelation that we realize this. As we’ll see later, this concept of the Trinity and its corresponding meaning of love explains so much about our fallen world and the meaning of life.
It is Christian dogma that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons but not separate persons. They cannot be separated or pulled apart. God is truly one. Further, this generation didn’t happen once in the past but happens perpetually. This means that there was never a time when the Father existed and the Son and Holy Spirit did not exist. The Trinity is the same now, as it was in the past, and as it will be in the future. God is pure act and does not change.
Lastly, we wish to emphasize that the Son is not created but is generated through intellection. The Holy Spirit is also not created but proceeds from the will.
If you find this difficult to comprehend, you’re not alone. This is a mystery that’s far beyond the confines of our limited minds trapped in time and space. If you wish to see a more comprehensive treatment of the Trinity, please click on the following link. (Note: this link will cause you to navigate away from this website. Please return when finished.)
CATHOLICISM AND EASTERN ORTHODOXY
At this point forward, we need to clarify that every reference to Christianity will now refer chiefly to the original Christian churches, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The reason is that Protestantism is divided on many issues, and our analysis going forward will not apply to many Protestant congregations.
How Does Love Translate in a Fallen World
In a perfect world, love is a free choice which doesn't involve suffering. But in a fallen world such as ours, this self-giving love frequently translates into pain and suffering. It seems that our fallen human nature seeks the easy path. It seeks leisure, money, power, and fame. But it’s the more difficult path of love that leads to happiness, truth, and God.
Pain and suffering is one of the great issue of life, and we’ll devote an entire page to it shortly. For now, it’ll suffice to say that one purpose of suffering is as a teacher that helps to rebuild goodness when we make mistakes or do evil. Another purpose is that love is proven through suffering. In a world where words are cheap and often deceive, the willingness to suffer demonstrates truth.
LOVE AND THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
The great Christian mystics learned that by following the words of Jesus heroically, a monk or nun will eventually enter a state known as the Dark Night of the Soul. The purpose of the Dark Night is to liberate a person from their slavery to sin [and attachment to the world] so that the person may be truly free to choose love (e.g. love of God and love of Man). This occurs primarily through the experience of suffering.
The monk or nun who successfully exits the Dark Night of the Soul is known as a spiritual Perfect. Because suffering no longer has significant control over the mystic, the person no longer experiences an inclination towards doing evil. Instead, they can easily choose between good and evil because suffering no longer influences their choices. They experience a profound sense of peace. The two Christian saints who have written the most about this are St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa d’Avila. To learn more about the Dark Night of the Soul, please click on the following link.
Buddhism – The Validation of Christianity
It's noteworthy that the Christian mystic’s description of the spiritual life is remarkably similar to that of the Buddhist’s. In essence, the Buddhist and Christian mystics appear to be experiencing the same thing, and this is of tremendous significance. Whereas the Buddha stumbled upon Enlightenment largely by mistake and good fortune, the Christian mystic reaches this same point by following the words of Jesus (e.g. divine revelation).
The Buddha didn’t have the benefit of divine revelation, so he described the meaning and purpose of Enlightenment based on his experience and knowledge of Hindu. Jesus, on the other hand, was divine revelation and he spoke of agape love. He rarely talked about pain and suffering: he never spoke of Nirvana. Instead, he said “follow me" (e.g. as in follow me, my words, and my example.)
What this shows, in short, is that Christianity informs Buddhism of the true meaning and purpose of Enlightenment. The true purpose isn’t to eliminate pain and suffering for its own sake or for some vague notion of oneness. Rather, the true purpose of Enlightenment (a.k.a. Dark Night of the Soul) is to be totally free to choose love – totally free to choose God.
The elimination of suffering isn't an end, of itself, but only a means to an end in the service of Love. And, the ultimate reason why love is important is because God is Love.
In addition to this knowledge derived from divine revelation, we also know that the Christian understanding is correct because love is a much grander, all-encompassing concept that incorporates the idea of suffering within it. The Buddhist understanding, on the other hand, is much more limited and far less elegant. If a modern scientist were a philosopher, he would call the Christian understanding the most elegant solution. The Christian meaning is a simpler idea that gives greater intelligibility to the whole meaning of life.
Does God Boast Power or is He Humble?
Many have an anthropomorphic projection of God that considers God to be a shaming Creator/Master who lords power over his creation. But the God of Love is quite the opposite. While it’s true that God is both Creator and Master, he’s also Love and infinitely humble. He intensely seeks a relationship with us, but he does so quietly as a gentleman. Because true love is devoid of manipulation and coercion, God continually finds ways to gently call us to himself. All you need to do is to slow down, quiet your mind, and reach out to him humbly. He will never force you to love him.
But remember, God is radically humble. The proud can never approach him and only fool themselves if they think they do. Threats, manipulation, and guilt do not force God into action.
What is the Meaning of Life?
Since we’ve learned that God is love, how does this love pertain to a world that is as broken as our own? We will now pursue the great questions of life even deeper.
What is the meaning of life? Why is there suffering in the world? How does love translate into ethics and morality? Why did God use a two stage Jewish/Christian approach? Are there many pathways to God? Why did Jesus decide to suffer crucifixion? Does scientific evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus still exist?
We will now gain clarity on these questions in our next section.
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Bridal Veil Falls photo by Casey Horner from Unsplash.com
Sunlit road photo by Casey Horner from Unsplash.com
Red Sunrise Mountain photo by Federico Bottos from Unsplash.com
Matterhorn photo by Fabrice Villard from Unsplash.com