Do You Feel Lucky?

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sunday Theology Post: Christianity vs. Buddhism: Comparative Conceptions of the Infinite Pt.1

So here's how I look at it. And I realize, my thinking may be colored by a metaphor from Buddhism (or vice-versa), but I think sometimes perspectives from another tradition can be of help, in conceptualizing the unknowable. And given especially the writings of such firmly-embraced Catholic thinkers as Thomas Merton, I'd say a Buddhist or Zen gloss is not wholly incompatible with the doctrine and perspectives of Catholicism!

Anyway, I was talking to a Buddhist friend of mine, describing how I conceived of Christ: as an instance of the infinite, choosing to experience limitation as we do. God, the infinite consciousness - transcendent and immanent within us all - chooses for God's own inscrutable reasons to put Godself into individuality. Now God of course knows every individual, inside and out, to an infinite degree - but the choice of incarnation goes much farther than this: God's choice here is to become one of those individuals. To become fully human is to take on and experience the limitations involved - human form, human nature. To live within the partitions of personhood and identity that constrain a soul, that constrain us all. Only so could the infinite consciousness, God, truly have experience of Godself as a human being - as a separate, specific, material human being. Only so could God have our experience. Of course, even while this is experience of individual personhood is going on, God remains always and transcendently infinite and immanent everywhere (and we see instances in the bible where God as human interacts with God transcendent)! Easy peasy for an infinite being, to have it both ways - or every way.

Which in a way is how my friend took it. My friend said smilingly (with the infuriating wisdom of the stereotypical Buddhist) that from his standpoint, you could conceive of all individuals that same way: the one light of all consciousness, extruding itself into these discrete packets of individual viewpoint, of sensory constraint and alienation, because that is the only way for the infinite light of consciousness to become conscious of self. And so, to experience self-consciousness. As he explained it, the way of Buddhism is to honor each being around us, learning those lessons that individuality has to teach - but also ultimately to transcend those voluntary, illusory constraints, and attain to the realization that all consciousness is one.

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