It has come to my attention that some people are confused about
the statue of the Good Shepherd on my butsudan. To many it seems to
signify that according to me it is ok to worship Jesus and the
Gohonzon at the same time. Nothing, however, could be further from
the truth. My placement of that statue on my butsudan actually has a
lot to do with my solid affirmation of apostasy – which is the
renunciation of my former belief in the teachings of Christianity
and baptismal vows to uphold the Gospel.
Apparently people have not read my FAQ for Christians, or my essay
on Bodhisattva Universal Virtue, or my essay Kuan Yin is God. So
want to write a little something here to clear things up.
But first let me state that the statue on my butsudan is not going
anywhere. That is nonnegotiable. I bought it in Chinatown in
Philadelphia after I left the Soka Gakkai because it spoke to me. It
had been carved in China and I appreciated the fact that here was
something that symbolized my own Western religious heritage but
which had been made in East Asia, even as I (a Westerner) had
embraced an East Asian religion. I liked the symmetry of that. Also,
it was not just any representation of Jesus, but the Good Shepherd.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus explains that he is the Good Shepherd
and that he has flocks elsewhere that the disciples know nothing
about. At that time in my life, I was really trying to find a way to
reconcile my Christian heritage and values with my Buddhist faith. I
did not want to repudiate my own culture, heritage and values just
because I had adopted an alien faith which made more sense to me.
That would be to betray who I was. So it encouraged me to think that
Jesus himself spoke of appearing in different ways to different
people outside the boundaries of his known disciples. Perhaps this
meant that he had also appeared in Asia in some mysterious manner?
Likewise, the Eternal Buddha in the Lotus Sutra speaks of appearing
in different guises in many times and many places in order to teach
the Dharma using skillful methods appropriate to each situation. The
idea of the Buddha and the the Christ appearing incognito all over
the world to teach and help people in accordance with their own
cultures appealed to me greatly and was symbolized by this statue of
the Good Shepherd – so it went on my butsudan as symbol of a
possible reconciliation of East and West, and everything positive I
had gained from Buddhism and Christianity.
Incidentally, the statue of Kuan Yin on my butsudan comes from the
same period – my undergrad years just after leaving Soka Gakkai. It
was a gift from my mother because she knew that as a Catholic I had
a thing for Mary. Here was a symbol from the East of all the
compassion and nurturing qualities that as a Catholic I had looked
to in the images of Mary. Even better, I found out later that these
portrayals of Kuan Yin had themselves been influenced by statues of
Mary brought into China by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th
century. So here again was an example of East and West, Buddhism and
Christianity, converging.
And yet, Buddhism and Christianity have two very different
worldviews and plans for salvation/liberation. They are indeed
mutually contradictory in many respects. For instance, Christianity
clearly teaches that there is only one lifetime and then an eternity
in heaven or hell, but in Buddhism the heavens and hells and the
other six worlds of transmigration are all impermanent and one has
countless lifetimes in which to suffer and/or “work out one’s
salvation with diligence” as the Buddha said. And there is the other
big difference, in Christianity you can not save yourself, only
through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ can you be saved.
In Buddhism, there is no self to save, and one achieves liberation
from suffering by awakening to the selfless true nature of reality.
Now one can argue that Christianity is teaching the same thing by
using myth and symbol, but the mainstream Christian tradition does
not see it that way (I have been reading the Catholic Catechism for
the third time and they at least state what they believe quite
clearly). In the end, I realized that I could not be both, and that
all along it was the Buddhist view of things that made the most
sense to me. I also discovered that all the key values which
Christianity held for me were also upheld in Buddhism. I just needed
time to work this all out for myself. Thankfully I had good teachers
like Rev. Bokin Kim and Fr. Schepers in Philadelphia and others who
respected me and trusted me enough to provide me with teachings but
also the space to work it out for myself.
So the bottom line is that I no longer subscribe to the Christian
world view – though I share many of its values and I have been
inspired by many of its insights. I have even gone so far as to take
refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (affirming that something
besides Jesus is efficacious for salvation) and even more I have
become a disiple of my sensei, the Ven. Ryusho Matsuda and become a
minister in the Nichiren Shu. So now I teach that it is the Lotus
Sutra which has the most comprehensive view and that (as the
Kaikyoge says): “All beings can expiate misdeeds, perform good, and
attain Buddhahood by the merits of this sutra. It does not matter
whether they are wise or not, or whether they believe the sutra or
reject it.” The Lotus Sutra is the underlying truth behind all the
many truths of Buddhism and even other religions. To turn against it
is to turn against that from which all the other truths derive. And
this assertion makes me and any Nichiren Buddhist, an apostage
againt Christianity which clearly asserts that all truth derives
from the Word of God and not from the Dharma or the Lotus Sutra. So
in the end, I have made a choice in favor of the Dharma.
So let’s be clear – if you are a Buddhist and were formerly a
Christian then you are now an apostate – which is considered a sin
as grave as murder, adultery, idolatry, and other such mortal sins.
Maybe you have not explicitly repudiated your baptismal vows or
confirmation vows or whatever, but in effect you have turned to the
Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha for liberation/salvation and are
repudiating the Bible as the source of truth in your life. Do not
kid yourselves about this.
So where does this leave Jesus and Mary and God the Father and the
Holy Spirit and the rest? Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”
That is a very good question for us Buddhists. In reading the
Gospels I get the impression of a man who constantly brought things
back to this bottom line – love for God and love for neighbor which
are not two seperate loves but somehow are bound up in one another.
Jesus related to God as “Abba” or “Daddy.” He had an intimate
relationship with what he believed was the source of all things and
the source of love and he wanted others to share in that
relationship. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of that sharing. Mary,
the saints, and all the rest are the community which has been
transformed by that love. This is a marvelous thing – and I
certainly don’t repudiate that. I cherish it, I value it, and I must
find a way to reconcile it with my faith in Buddhism.
Buddhists have confronted this before. In India, the Buddha did not
negate but rather affirmed the existence and even the assistance of
the Vedic deities. In China, Korea, and esp. Japan the local deities
were also recruited as protectors of the Dharma. In fact, the
Japanese even came up with a system whereby they taught that the
Shinto kami were the shadows of the buddhas and bodhisattvas cast by
them in order to teach, nurture, and assist the Japanese. But this
was not something the Japanese thought of first. Even in the sutras
which originated in India, it is asserted that the bodhisattvas
become Brahma, Indra, and the other Vedic deities. This is one
reason why the Shinto deities Amaterasu and Hachiman were inscribed
by Nichiren on the Omandala. So Buddhism has long viewed the deities
and spiritual figures of other religions as reflections of the
buddhas and bodhisattvas to some degree or another.
In my own reading of the sutras, I discovered that many of the
archetypal qualities associated with Jesus Christ, particulary the
images of the Suffering Saviour and the Cosmic Christ, were also
associated with Bodhisattva Universal Virtue in the Flower Garland
and other sutras. Thus my essay on Bodhisattva Universal Virtue
alludes to these similarities with what is said about Jesus Christ.
Jesus did not teach the unique insights of Buddhism such as the four
noble truths or interdependent transformation, instead he affirmed
monotheism which Buddhism does not. So I do not think he shares
those qualities which make the Buddha unique, but he does share many
of the qualities attributed to bodhisattvas like Universal Virtue.
Likewise, the East Asian image of Kuan Yin has much in common with
the archetypla image of Mary. So for this reason I associated the
statues on my butsudan with these two bodhisattvas. And there they
reside as Shugojin – or gaurdians of the Dharma. Since becoming a
member of the San Jose temple I have had them eye-opened by my
sensei as those two bodhisattvas.
And so there is a statue of the Good Shepherd on my butsudan, and it
does symbolize my own reconciliation of my heritage and childhood
values with Buddhism. But its placement also represents how this
heritage and these values are now viewed within the context of the
Gohonzon. The statues are off to the side of the Omandala which is
in the center. The Omandala itself contains buddhas, bodhisattvas,
Shinto deities, dragons, demons, and other beings all configured
around the Odaimoku to show that their illumination all depends upon
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. In the same way, Bodhisattva Universal Virtue
and Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries have drawn me to the Omandala
and even before I was introduced to Buddhism they reached me and
taught me the values of love and compassion through Jesus and Mary
and my many teachers in the Catholic Church. So I show my gratitude,
recognition and appreciation by keeping them on my butsudan, and I
show also that I see them as leading me to and supporting my
practice of the Three Great Hidden Dharmas of the Essential Teaching
of the Lotus Sutra.
Some here may agree or disagree. I wrote this not to convince
anyone, but only to show where I myself stand and will remain
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,