A friend of mine gave me a book to read this week entitled, The Zen Teachings of Jesus by Kenneth S. Leong. Those who know me know that I'm not afraid to chase the rabbit, even if it means having tea with some unusual characters. This book qualifies. The first two sentences in the Prelude states, "I left Jesus to search for the Tao when I was sixteen. Now I am forty, and I realize that I could have found the Tao in Jesus." From this point on the author attempts to paint a picture of Jesus as a Zen Master. He uses the sayings of Jesus as well as those of well-known Christian writers like C. S. Lewis to draw parallels to the sayings of the Buddha and other Taoist teachers and writers. Although I am only about half way through the book, I must say that for those who are looking for dialog with practitioners of other religions, this does supply fodder for that. He has, so far, provided some compelling observations. I have been told by many people that it is difficult for one to see one's own short comes and liabilities. Having someone on the outside who can offer a different view of one's character can be helpful in bringing about positive change and growth. This book offers a bit of that. One such observation that most Christians miss regards the supernatural events and healings that Jesus performed. We tend to emphasize the act itself and the supernatural character of it. Leong asks, rather, not did these things happen, but "what specific impact" did these deeds have on those who were present? Were they simply a sensation? Or, rather, "did they transform the lives of those who saw them?" That's an excellent question to consider and meditate on.
Now, before my Evangelical friends start to get nervous and think that I've gone quite of the pitch, let me add a few thoughts.
1. The opening statement of the prelude mentioned earlier tells me some things. Leong wrote that he left Jesus to find the Tao. I would ask how could he leave someone that he was actually never with? If he had actually had a living and real relationship with this Messiah Jesus, he would not have left it for anything. I don't want to sound superior about this, but Jesus is as far superior to the Buddha and the Tao as the Creator should be above that which is created.
2. Leong tries to make the argument that Jesus was a Zen master. I don't think that can stand. Jesus was a Jewish prophet and sage in the period of second temple Palestine. He was Semitic through and through. As such, he could not have been 'enlightened' in the way that Sidhartha Gotama, (the Buddha), was. Everything that Jesus thought and did was consistent with Jewish religious thought and practice. Now, there may have been some underlying cultural overlap. Much of second temple Judaism was influenced by their captivity in Babylon in the early to mid 1st millenium B.C.E. Who knows what kind of influence may have also flowed to the east of Babylon toward India? Also, who know what kind of common heritage was shared by some Indo-European influence? These are questions that some young Ph. D candidate can investigate. For me, it's plausible that there may have been something shared that Leong picked up on from the Eastern side of things. This is, of course, a stretch that cannot be verified.
3. Leong makes a point of the fact that Zen has no object of worship. It is a way to find Truth through experience. Jesus, and the communities of faith that surround him, i.e., Judaism and Christianity, have an object of faith. Yahweh is the Creator God who walked among us, and who transcends all other objects. Period. Yahweh is the source and sustainer of all things. This includes the Tao and Chi and any other mediary that humans can find.
There is much in this book that sounds like Leong is attempting to justify his decision to abandon Christianity. By searching for connections that would allow him to say, "See, I'm not so different from you," he can save face and put balm on any wounds that may have been opened through his journey away from the faith of kith and kin. This is only speculation on my part.
I must, however, applaud the attempt. Too many people use differences to mark the divisions between people. We use them to name "them" and to insulate "us." This is antithetical to both Christ and Zen. We should look for points for dialog. We can learn much from one another. If any of us thinks for a nano second that we have the whole take on what's true, we are deceived. Whether it's the Buddha or the Tao or the Great Spirit or nothing at all, we are a creature that inquires and searches for meaning in the Good Creation that Yahweh has provided. We can share these insights and search together as fellow travelers. Does that mean we must become universalists and give up our particularities? No. But, it does mean that we must give up our parochial and sectarian attitudes and embrace our place among the many under the reign of Yahweh.