I’ve just started reading Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. The introduction is written by Elaine Pagels, whose book about “Revelation” is also on my to read list. In the introduction of Living, she discusses some of the gnostic gospels and their similarities to Buddhist thought. Most striking for me are the words of “The Teaching of Silvanus”
Knock upon yourself as upon a door, and walk upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk on that path, you cannot go astray; and when you knock on that door, what you open for yourself shall open.
Pagels argues that the gnostic gospels point not simply to faith, but also to a “path of solitary searching” for understanding (xxv). For obvious reasons, many early church leaders condemned the gnostic gospels and the alternate salvific paths they taught, but these same books advocate similar theological teachings, such as compassion. Pagels writes that in the “Gospel of Thomas” Jesus says, “Love your brother as the apple of your eye.” Isn’t that the same thing as recognizing the spark of the divine in everyone or loving your neighbor as yourself?
In the first chapter “Be Still and Know,” Nhat Hanh advocates a similar idea to Paul’s in the biblical text. Paul writes in Acts: “‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” We also learn throughout the Christian scriptures that every good thing comes from God. Take the first chapter of James for example: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” St. Thomas Aquinas, in his ginormous text Summa Theologica, even extrapolates the idea that all good is of God. Nhat Hanh agrees with this long line of Christian theological thought, but spins it little when he writes about his own encounters with Jesus: “We have to allow what is good, beautiful, and meaningful in the other’s tradition transform us” (9). Nhat Hanh and early Christian writers of all threads, I think, want us to realize this singular spirit of love, beauty, and grace.
I like the last section of this first chapter quite a bit. Nhat Hanh advocates that we should look deeply, which means that “the distinction between observer and observed disappears” (11). Do you suppose this is what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing”? Are we to look into Jesus so intently that we become indistinguishable from him? Is that how we can learn to change the world?