The Shine of Your Japan, the Sparkle in Your China
First of all, this is not in any way to criticize Buddhism. For one thing, I don't yet have any idea what I'm going to say about it. Furthermore, there are certain deep similarities between Buddhism and Christianity, in addition to the differences.
For example, both stand in relation to much older revelations. In the case of Christianity, it is obviously an offshoot of Judaism, while Buddhism was an outgrowth of Hinduism. Moreover, both represent a "universalizing" of the traditions from which they sprang. Just as Judaism has a "tribal" and cultural component, so too does Hinduism. You rarely see a Westerner calling himself "Hindu," because in a certain sense one can't really be Hindu unless one is from India.
Plus, Hinduism has a lot of the ritualistic or "mythological" trappings from which Westerners are usually trying to escape when they embrace Buddhism, which seems to them to be more concrete, experiential and even "scientific." It seems that many Westerners turn toward Buddhism because they see it as a kind of religion purged of superstition. Looking back on it, this is undoubtedly what motivated my interest in it many years ago.
But as I have mentioned before, I didn't make any real progress with it. In my case -- just as implied in Magnus' comment -- I didn't really get anywhere until I gave up "self power" for "other power." Now I rely solely upon grace, although I naturally still do everything in my power to pretend that I am worthy of it. In a way, the slack-path of the Raccoon is very much analogous to "the lazy man's way to riches," being that there are two ways to become wealthy. The first is to go about getting what you want; the second is to cultivate gratitude for what one has. It should go without saying that there are no poor Raccoons.
For me, the turning point occurred in 1995, when I became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, a path which begins and ends with the practice of aspiration, rejection, and surrender. From this stance it was very easy to transition to a more Christian viewpoint, being that it pretty much involves the identical verticalisthenic exercise: aspiration toward the higher, rejection of that which is contrary to God, and surrender to the grace -- which of course has its "severe" and "merciful" and aspects, i.e., purification (both by fire and water) and consolation.
In one sense, God loves us "unconditionally," but in another sense, quite the opposite -- which is our salvation, just as is a father who has expectations of his child. This is a generalization, of course, but mother love tends to be more unconditional, while father love has strings attached -- thank God, I might add, since I can already see in my three year-old that the fine line between civilization and barbarity is rooted in his fear of my being disappointed in him. Wisdom begins with fear of Dad. As above, so below.
Interestingly, although Future Leader is obviously intensely bonded to his mother, the nature of the bond couldn't be more different. For example, he actually gets a kick out of pushing her buttons. He clearly thinks she's cute and even funny when she's angry. Far from being frightened by her reactions, he seems to enjoy provoking them -- like a Hollywood liberal who claims to be living in a fascist state while taking such evident narcissistic pride in being a "courageous" rebel who provokes the fascists of whom he is supposedly so fearful. They pretend to be afraid of President Bush, even while they laugh at him as irrelevant.
This is what happens to a mind -- and culture -- with no father principle. There are never any consequences, and therefore, no standards and no emotional or spiritual growth. This is what is meant by God's "severity," which is clearly a mode of compassion. But new-age idiots tend to be utterly blind to this, which is why they reject Christianity as "judgmental," "narrow-minded," or "patriarchal."
Again, just as Christianity (from its standpoint) transcends (or fulfills) the Mosaic law, Buddhism transcends the Vedas (or, it could be argued that it returns Vedanta to its first principles in their most abstract essence, i.e., that the world is illusion, that Brahman alone is real, and that Atman and Brahman are not-two).
How coonvenient. Magnus just left another comment, expanding upon his previous one: "Jokes aside, there is a big difference between Jesus and Buddha, certainly according to what the two of them claimed. You could say they are complementary, to put a positive angle on it. The Buddha represents the upward movent of the human soul, whereas the Christ represents the Divine coming down... and not in a stately, dignified visit to meet the ascending soul halfway, but a desperate dive from the throne of Heaven to the murky depths of Hades itself, to rescue the black sheep that were beyond any other help. Or that's how I have learned to know it. But there may be 99 others who see it differently."
That is just where I was about to go with this. Using the symbols from my book, you could say that Buddha represents (↑), while Jesus is the quintessence of (↓). Nevertheless, any full-service revelation is going to have both arrows, although it will obviously give priority to one or the other. In a sense, you could say that each doctrine will have its "shadow" side that is simply underemphasized. Sometimes this shadow is seen in a kind of exoteric formulation by the masses, while other times it is seen as an esoteric "extension" understood by spiritual elites.
To cite an obvious example, one of the earliest formulations of Christianity is that God became man so that man might become God (so to speak). This is sort of what I was driving at with the circular structure of my book, which ultimately signifies the downward arrow of God meeting with the upward arrow of man, in an eternally spiroidal circle of creation transcending itself in Oneness.
And in Mahayana Buddhism there is the Bodhisattva principle, through which you might say that a (↑) comes back down for our benefit and becomes a (↓), and will remain so until every last (•) becomes (0).
Schuon points out the truism -- unfortunately lost on our overeducated middlebrow masses -- that a given revelation cannot be like a New York Times editorial, aimed only at a tiny enclave of pompous jackasses. To the contrary, it must be for everyone: the revelation must meet "not only the spiritual needs of an elite but the manifold demands of a total human collectivity, and thus of a society containing the most diverse minds and aptitudes."
As such, in the case of Christianity, it veils the clearly esoteric or "inner" dimension "of its dogmas and sacraments by declaring them to be 'unfathomable' and 'incomprehensible,' and by qualifying them as 'mysteries.'" Again, you can well understand the necessity of this when you see what becomes of spiritual doctrine in the hands of the wrong heads, as in the case of uncomprehending trolls or lizards. They can't help bringing higher knowledge down to their crude level, or (n) to (k). Better to simply draw a fence around it and declare it a "mystery" than to let it be sullied by the barbarous hands of troll or lizard. But of course, for the Raccoon," "mystery" is a mode of knowledge, not some kind of intellectual "deprivation," much less mystification. Thus the paradoxical truism that Petey always speaks "perfect nonsense."
When speaking of the esoteric or inner teaching, one must deal with the ubiquitous problem of the Swine and Dogs, those infrahumans who can take the most sublime wisdom and convert it into a worldly image of themselves. "Swine" might sound harsh, but what else can you call someone who not only doesn't understand, but insists on the superiority of his ignorance? Remember, when Jesus walked the earth, the word "tenured" did not exist.
Schuon notes that Buddhism adopted a different strategy to protect its inner teaching, by giving it a "rational" as opposed to "mystical" cast. Nevertheless, we can see how the intensely mystical Christianity of the early fathers meets with the rationalism of the scholastics, while the rational character of Buddhism later makes room for "the sacramental image of the Blessed One, which Image is derived from the very shadow of the Buddha, and was left by him as a 'remembrance' to his spiritual posterity, hence as a means of grace; in consequence, the bodily appearance of the Buddha is said to be a teaching no less than is his doctrine" (Schuon).
Well, it's work o'clock, so I'd better stop here. If there is sufficient interest, we'll pick up this thread tomorrow.
*Title playgiarized from Bodhisattva by Steely Dan