Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist - Crucifixion and Enlightenment

11.07.2015 10:19


Crucifixion and Enlightenment


WHENEVER I see a crucified figure of Christ, I cannot help thinking of the gap that lies deep between Christianity and Buddhism. This gap is symbolic of the psychological division separating the East from the West.

The individual ego asserts itself strongly in the West. In the East, there is no ego. The ego is non-existent and, therefore, there is no ego to be crucified.

We can distinguish two phases of the ego-idea. The first is relative, psychological, or empirical. The second is the transcendental ego.

The empirical ego is limited. It has no existence of its own. Whatever assertion it makes, it has no absolute value; it is dependent on others. This is no more than the relative ego and a psychologically established one. It is a hypothetical one; it is subject to all kinds of conditions. It has, therefore, no freedom.

What is it, then, that makes it feel free as if it were really so independent and authentic? Whence this delusion?

The delusion comes from the transcendental ego being mistakenly viewed as it works through the empirical ego and

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abides in it. Why does the transcendental ego, thus mistakenly viewed, suffer itself to be taken for the relative ego?

The fact is that the relative ego which corresponds to the manovijñāna of the Yogacara school has two aspects of relationship, outer and inner.

Objectively speaking, the empirical or relative ego is one of many other such egos. It is in the world of plurality; its contact with others is intermittent, mediated, and processional. Inwardly, its contact or relationship with the transcendental ego is constant, immediate, and total. Because of this the inner relationship is not so distinctly cognizable as the outer one--which, however, does not mean that the cognition is altogether obscure and negligible and of no practical worth in our daily life.

On the contrary, the cognition of the transcendental ego at the back of the relative ego sheds light into the source of consciousness. It brings us in direct contact with the unconscious.

It is evident that this inner cognition is not the ordinary kind of knowledge which we generally have about an external thing.

The difference manifests itself in two ways. The object of ordinary knowledge is regarded as posited in space and time and subject to all kinds of scientific measurements. The object of the inner cognition is not an individual object. The transcendental ego cannot be singled out for the relative ego to be inspected by it. It is so constantly and immediately contacted by the relative ego that when it is detached from the relative ego it ceases to be itself. The transcendental ego is the relative ego and the relative ego is the transcendental ego; and yet they are not one but two; they are two and yet not two. They are separable intellectually but not in fact. We cannot

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make one stand as seer and the other as the seen, for the seer is the seen, and the seen is the seer.

When this unique relationship between the transcendental ego and the relative ego is not adequately comprehended or intuited, there is a delusion. The relative ego imagines itself to be a free agent, complete in itself, and tries to act accordingly.

The relative ego by itself has no existence independent of the transcendental ego. The relative ego is nothing. It is when the relative ego is deluded as to its real nature that it assumes itself and usurps the position of the one behind it.

It is true that the transcendental ego requires the relative ego to give itself a form through which the transcendental ego functions. But the transcendental ego is not to be identified with the relative ego to the extent that the disappearance of the relative ego means also the disappearance of the transcendental ego. The transcendental ego is the creative agent and the relative ego is the created. The relative ego is not something that is prior to the transcendental ego standing in opposition to the latter. The relative ego comes out of the transcendental ego and is wholly and dependently related to the transcendental ego. Without the transcendental ego, the relative ego is zero. The transcendental ego is, after all, the mother of all things.

The Oriental mind refers all things to the transcendental ego, though not always consciously and analytically, and sees them finally reduced to it, whereas the West attaches itself to the relative ego and starts from it.

Instead of relating the relative ego to the transcendental ego and making the latter its starting point, the Western mind tenaciously clings to it. But since the relative ego is by nature defective, it is always found unsatisfactory and frustrating and

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leading to a series of disasters, and as the Western mind believes in the reality of this troublemaker, it wants to make short work of it. Here we can also see something characteristically Western, for they have crucified it.

In a way the Oriental mind is not inclined toward the corporeality of things. The relative ego is quietly and without much fuss absorbed into the body of the transcendental ego. That is why we see the Buddha lie serenely in Nirvana under the twin Sala trees, mourned not only by his disciples but by all beings, non-human as well as human, non-sentient as well as sentient. As there is from the first no ego-substance, there is no need for crucifixion.

In Christianity crucifixion is needed, corporeality requires a violent death, and as soon as this is done, resurrection must take place in one form or another, for they go together. As Paul says, "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain and your faith is also vain. . . . Ye are yet in sins." 1 The crucifixion in fact has a double sense: one individualistic and the other humanistic. In the first sense it symbolizes the destruction of the individual ego, while in the second it stands for the doctrine of vicarious atonement whereby all our sins are atoned for by making Christ die for them. In both cases the dead must be resurrected. Without the latter, destruction has no meaning whatever. In Adam we die, in Christ we live-this must be understood in the double sense as above.

What is needed in Buddhism is enlightenment, neither crucifixion nor resurrection. A resurrection is dramatic and human enough, but there is still the odor of the body in it. In enlightenment, there are heavenliness and a genuine sense of transcendence. Things of earth go through renovation and a


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refreshing transformation. A new sun rises above the horizon and the whole universe is revealed.

It is through this experience of enlightenment that every being individually and collectively attains Buddhahood. It is not only a certain historically and definitely ascertainable being who is awakened to a state of enlightenment but the whole cosmos with every particle of dust which goes to the composition of it. I lift my finger and it illuminates the three thousand chiliocosms and an asamkheyya of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas greet me, not excluding ordinary human beings.

Crucifixion has no meaning whatsoever unless it is followed by resurrection. But the soil of the earth still clings to it though the resurrected one goes up to heaven. It is different with enlightenment, for it instantly transforms the earth itself into the Pure Land. You do not have to go up to heaven and wait for this transformation to take place here.


Christian symbolism has much to do with the suffering of man. The crucifixion is the climax of all suffering. Buddhists also speak much about suffering and its climax is the Buddha serenely sitting under the Bodhi tree by the river Niranjana. Christ carries his suffering to the end of his earthly life whereas Buddha puts an end to it while living and afterward goes on preaching the gospel of enlightenment until he quietly passes away under the twin Sala trees. The trees are standing upright and the Buddha, in Nirvana, lies horizontally like eternity itself.

Christ hangs helpless, full of sadness on the vertically erected cross. To the Oriental mind, the sight is almost unbearable. Buddhists are accustomed to the sight of Jizo Bosatsu (Kshitigarbha

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[paragraph continues] Bodhisattva) by the roadside. The figure is a symbol of tenderness. He stands upright but what a contrast to the Christian symbol of suffering!

Now let us make a geometric comparison between a statue sitting cross-legged in meditation and a crucified one. First of all, verticality suggests action, motion, and aspiration. Horizontality, as in the case of the lying Buddha, makes us think of peace and satisfaction or contentment. A sitting figure gives us the notion of solidity, firm conviction and immovability. The body sets itself down with the hips and folded legs securely on the ground. The center of gravity is around the loins. This is the securest position a biped can assume while living. This is also the symbol of peace, tranquillity, and self-assurance. A standing position generally suggests a fighting spirit, either defensive or offensive. It also gives one the feeling of personal self-importance born of individuality and power.

When man began to stand on his two legs, this demonstrated that he was now distinct from the rest of the creatures walking on all fours. He is henceforth becoming more independent of the earth because of his freed forepaws and of the consequent growth of his brains. This growth and independence on the part of man are constantly misleading him to think that he now is master of Nature and can put it under his complete control. This, in combination with the Biblical tradition that man dominates all things on earth, has helped the human idea of universal domination to overgrow even beyond its legitimate limitation. The result is that we talk so much about conquering nature, except our own human nature which requires more disciplining and control and perhaps subjugation than anything else.

On the other hand the sitting cross-legged and the posture

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of meditation make a man feel not detached from the earth and yet not so irrevocably involved in it that he has to go on smelling it and wallowing in it. True, he is supported by the earth but he sits on it as if he were the crowning symbol of transcendence. He is neither attached to the soil nor detached from it.

We talk these days very much about detachment as if attachment is so fatal and hateful a thing that we must somehow try to achieve the opposite, non-attachment. But I do not know why we have to move away from things lovable and really conducive to our social and individual welfare. Kanzan and Jittoku enjoyed their freedom and welfare in their own way. Their life can be considered one of utter detachment as we the outsiders look at it. Śākyamuni spent his seventy-nine years by going from one place to another and teaching his gospel of enlightenment to all sorts of people varied in every way, social, intellectual, and economic, and finally passed away quietly by the river Niranjana. Socrates was born and died in Athens and used his energy and wisdom in exercising his office as the midwife of men's thoughts, bringing down philosophy from heaven to earth and finally calmly taking his cup of hemlock surrounded by his disciples and ending his life of seventy years.

What shall we say about these lives when each of them apparently enjoyed his to the utmost of his heart's content? Is it a life of attachment or of detachment? I would say that, as far as my understanding goes, each had his life of freedom unhampered by any ulterior interest and, therefore, instead of using such terms as attachment or detachment in order to evaluate the life of those mentioned above is it not better to call it a life of absolute freedom?

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It is enlightenment that brings peace and freedom among us.


When Buddha attained his supreme enlightenment, he was in his sitting posture; he was neither attached to nor detached from the earth. He was one with it, he grew out of it, and yet he was not crushed by it. As a newborn baby free from all sankhāras, he declared, standing, with one hand pointing to the sky and the other to the earth, "Above heaven, below heaven, I alone am the honored one!" Buddhism has three principal figures, symbolizing (1) nativity, (2) enlightenment, and (3) Nirvana, that is standing, sitting, and lying--the three main postures man can assume. From this we see that Buddhism is deeply concerned with human affairs in various forms of peaceful employment and not in any phase of warlike activities.

Christianity, on the other hand, presents a few things which are difficult to comprehend, namely, the symbol of crucifixion. The crucified Christ is a terrible sight and I cannot help associating it with the sadistic impulse of a psychically affected brain.

Christians would say that crucifixion means crucifying the self or the flesh, since without subduing the self we cannot attain moral perfection.

This is where Buddhism differs from Christianity.

Buddhism declares that there is from the very beginning no self to crucify. To think that there is the self is the start of all errors and evils. Ignorance is at the root of all things that go wrong.

As there is no self, no crucifixion is needed, no sadism is to

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be practiced, no shocking sight is to be displayed by the roadside.

According to Buddhism, the world is the network of karmic interrelationships and there is no agent behind the net who holds it for his willful management. To have an insight into the truth of the actuality of things, the first requisite is to dispel the cloud of ignorance. To do this, one must discipline oneself in seeing clearly and penetratingly into the suchness of things.

Christianity tends to emphasize the corporeality of our existence. Hence its crucifixion, and hence also the symbolism of eating the flesh and drinking the blood. To non-Christians, the very thought of drinking the blood is distasteful.

Christians would say: This is the way to realize the idea of oneness with Christ. But non-Christians would answer: Could not the idea of oneness be realized in some other way, that is, more peacefully, more rationally, more humanly, more humanely, less militantly, and less violently?

When we look at the Nirvana picture, we have an entirely different impression. What a contrast between the crucifixion-image of Christ and the picture of Buddha lying on a bed surrounded by his disciples and other beings non-human as well as human! Is it not interesting and inspiring to see all kinds of animals coming together to mourn the death of Buddha?

That Christ died vertically on the cross whereas Buddha passed away horizontally--does this not symbolize the fundamental difference in more than one sense between Buddhism and Christianity?

Verticality means action, combativeness, exclusiveness, while horizontality means peace, tolerance, and broad-mindedness. Being active, Christianity has something in it which stirs,

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agitates, and disturbs. Being combative and exclusive, Christianity tends to wield an autocratic and sometimes domineering power over others, in spite of its claim to democracy and universal brotherhood.

In these respects, Buddhism proves to be just the opposite of Christianity. The horizontality of the Nirvana-Buddha may sometimes suggest indolence, indifference, and inactivity though Buddhism is really the religion of strenuousness and infinite patience. But there is no doubt that Buddhism is a religion of peace, serenity, equanimity, and equilibrium. It refuses to be combative and exclusive. On the contrary, it espouses broad-mindedness, universal tolerance, and aloofness from worldly discriminations.

To stand up means that one is ready for action, for fighting and overpowering. It also implies that someone is standing opposed to you, who may be ready to strike you down if you do not strike him down first. This is "the self" which Christianity wants to crucify. As this enemy always threatens you, you have to be combative. But when you clearly perceive that this deadly enemy who keeps you on the alert is non-existent, when you understand that it is no more than a nightmare, a mere delusion to posit a self as something trying to overpower you, you then will be for the first time at peace with yourself and also with the world at large, you then can afford to lie down and identify yourself with all things.

After all is said there is one thing we all must remember so as to bring antagonistic thoughts together and see how they can be reconciled. I suggest this: When horizontality remains horizontal all the time, the result is death. When verticality keeps up its rigidity, it collapses. In truth, the horizontal is horizontal only when it is conceived as implying the tendency

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to rise, as a phase of becoming something else, as a line to move to tridimensionality. So with verticality. As long as it stays unmoved vertically, it ceases to be itself. It must become flexible, acquire resiliency, it must balance itself with movability.

(The cross [Greek] and the swastika are closely related, probably derived from the same source. The swastika however is dynamic whereas the cross symbolizes static symmetry. The Latin cross is most likely the development of a sign of another nature.)



132:1 I Cor., 15:14-17.