Sayings of the Buddha and the GospelsPosted: January 30, 2013
So I recently started reading some of the sayings of the Buddha because, really, what else do I have to do?
I was struck by how similar his sayings are to the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels. Take, for example, one of the most troubling parts of the New Testament for many people, Jesus’s warning that we have to hate our family (In Luke 14:25 et seq, for example). There are all kinds of readings of this, one of the most common is that it’s a test of our faith.
That seems a bit odd to me, and especially because that’s a frequent cop-out when someone doesn’t like what all of the evidence suggests Jesus actually meant. For example, when John Locke is forced to reconcile his true religion, invisible hand-style English economics, with Luke 18:22 (Jesus’ command to sell everything and be poor), he comes up with this pretty strained interpretation…
“This I look on to be the meaning of the place; this, of selling all he had, and giving it to the poor, not being a standing law of his kingdom; but a probationary command to this young man; to try whether he truly believed him to be the Messiah, and was ready to obey his commands, and relinquish all to follow him, when he, his prince, required it.”
Anyways, I digress, but I’m skeptical of all “Jesus just meant that as a test of faith” business. So if “hate your family” isn’t a test of faith, what is it? I claim no theological authority here, but recently having read Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order and Crossan’s The Historical Jesus, it seems like the best explanation is that he was warning about the dangers of the clan thinking, chasing honor, and clientelism that were so prevalent in the Meditteranean in the aught’s A.D.
Likewise, Fukuyama points out how ancient (and probably modern) Asian societies were so caught up in clan politics that they resorted to ancestor worship and inter-family strife that significantly weakened several cultures, particularly China.
Thus, it makes sense for the Buddha to have said things like this…
“Men are tied up to their famililes and possessions more helplessly than in a
prison. There is an occassion for the prisoner to be released, but the
housholders entertain no desire to be relieved from the ties of family. Even
into the paws of a tiger, he will jump…”
“I have sons, I have wealth, the fool torments himself.”
Etc. Anyways, like I said , I make no claims the interpretive authority, but these readings make a lot more sense to me than the essentially useless “he is just testing your faith” interpretation.
P.S.-In John Locke’s defense, he also says this…”God, the lord and father of all has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion of the things of this world, but that he has given his needy brother a right to the surplusage of his goods, so that it cannot justly be denied him when his pressing wants call for it, and therefore, no man could ever have a just power over the life of another by right of property in land or possessions, since it would always be a sin in any man of estate to let his brother perish for want of affording him relief out of his plenty.”
For an alternative exigesis on what Jesus meant by hate your family, cf. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bMs04JK0BQ