Watching the visit of the Pope Benedict XVI to the United States reminds me of the acute difference between Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhism understands that suffering has its direct cause in our strong desire for the corporeal (skandha) which is transitory. Christianity, by comparison, completely believes in the resurrection of the corporeal; that somehow this will suffice to end suffering once and for all.
Nevertheless, on the issue of the corporeal, the Buddha wins the argument hands down because, empirically, there is nothing of the corporeal that is not impermanent, suffering (more at disturbance), and not the self (an-atman: an = not; atma = the self). Indeed, from the perspective of the Buddha, one is on a fool’s errand who expects the corporeal to arise after its death.
If Buddhism has its own resurrection, which in Greek is anastasis, in the sense of waking up and standing having been previously asleep and supine, it has to do with the freeing of mind (citta) from its previous connection with the corporeal, as it were, the waking up of our true nature which is undying.
To continue with the comparative difference between Buddhism and Christianity, a Buddhist understanding of the idea of the resurrection of the dead can also refer to the spirit (sattva) entombed in the corporeal which exists as if it were dead—although it is not actually dead. Accordingly, what Buddhism resurrects or awakens (bodhi) is the undying, animative spirit which gives the body its life. It is the spirit that ordinary people have made dead because of their desire for the corporeal; that only the corporeal is alive! However, with Buddhist resurrection, the adept truly beholds what is eternally alive within them that was previously dead.
What I have just briefly discussed as the difference between Buddhism and Christianity, no doubt, might seem to be a little shocking. But a closer examination of both religions finds that Buddhism and Gnostic Christianity were pretty much on the same page while Nicene Christianity embraced a dogma fundamentally at odds with even the words of the Apostle Paul who beheld Christ on the way to Damascus who was hardly corporeal.
Buddhists might naturally understand Paul’s Christ, which he described as “a light brighter than the sun”, to be Pramudita (the first stage of a Bodhisattva) in which Paul became a Bodhisattva and the “Buddha’s son of the breast” (Paul also says that Christ revealed the “Son in me”).
In Pramudita, for the first time, the medium of mind is known and made manifest (bodhicittotpada) which is very much a kinetic and dynamic experience unlike any other. In Christian parlance, it is the glory (utpada) of the awakened spirit (bodhicitta).
Indeed, of all the stages of a Bodhisattva (some ten), Pramudita is perhaps the most earth shaking because one goes quite beyond the plane of ordinary people for the first time who joins the Tathagata’s family. It is not surprising for a Buddhist, therefore, to take Paul’s account of the brightness of this light that shone all around him as a Buddhist experience, as if Buddha Dipamkara (the light maker) had just anointed Paul opening up the path for him to eventually attain Buddhahood.
While Buddhism sees the end of suffering to depend on our direct comprehension of the incorporeal which thus restores our communion with the undying spirit that animates us, Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus remains a storm-center for Christians who dare not regard Paul’s light as a mystical experience on a par with Buddhism’s Pramudita. Christians are to believe, instead, that Jesus survived both his crucifixion and some thirty hours in a tomb; moreover that he had to remain a fugitive and a vagabond. But such an image of Jesus sneaking around Damascus, watching his followers from a safe distance, has to be regarded as almost puerile.
For any religion, deliverance from suffering cannot be found through a transformation of the corporeal. As long as we pursue this reckless belief we remain corporeal dependents, going from one birth to the next with death waiting for us. Neither the Buddha nor Christ will save mankind if they adhere to the corporeal, expecting it to be somehow ‘resurrected’.