Monday, October 22, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 48, “Christ the Beginning”

Dear friend,*

Sometimes, Buddha seems to be winning the battle. I don’t know how it is in the European capital you call home these days, but back here in New England every other person I know seems to be a Buddhist. At least, they seem more partial to Buddha than to Christ.

Back in our school days, and in our first year of college, I would have sympathized. I moved progressively away from Christian worship and took a formal course on Eastern religions. I was smitten with Buddha and Lao Tzu. I read about zen meditation and squatted on the floor of my dorm room. I practiced yoga asanas with one eye fixed on a handbook. It was all so—new.

I think this is a big reason Buddhism is so popular today. It’s new, relatively speaking, to us in the West. Now that I’ve rediscovered Christianity, it’s easy for me to be skeptical about this. And hopeful—that when the new becomes old, others will return home to the faith of their youth.

But here’s the remarkable thing about Romano Guardini, here in this chapter and at several points in his great work on Jesus Christ: He takes Buddha seriously.

“There is only one [man],” he writes, “whom we might be inclined to compare with Jesus: Buddha. This man is a great mystery. He lived in an awful, almost superhuman freedom, yet his kindness was powerful as a cosmic force. Perhaps Buddha will be the last religious genius to be explained by Christianity. As yet no one has really uncovered his Christian significance.”

Here RG adds something even more striking:

“Perhaps Christ had not only one precursor, John, last of the prophets, but three: John the Baptist for the Chosen People, Socrates from the heart of antiquity, and Buddha, who spoke the ultimate word in Eastern religious cognition. Buddha is free . . . ”

I love Guardini’s inclusiveness here. Like the Catholic Church, which folds the Old Testament into “salvation history,” he sees all of world history as pointing to Christ! Without diminishing the uniqueness of Jesus. He continues:

“Buddha is free; but his freedom is not that of Christ. Possibly Buddha’s freedom is only the ultimate and supremely liberating knowledge of the vanity of this fallen world. Christ’s freedom is based not on negative cognition [all is nothingness], but on the love of God; his whole attitude is permeated with God’s earnest will to heal the world.”

There is much more in this short chapter to satisfy both the Buddhist and the Catholic Christian like myself. Buddha may be winning the battle, but as a committed Catholic I believe that Christ is winning the war.


This series of posts continues here with chapter 49.

*This post continues a series of meditations on Romano Guardini’s book The Lord framed as open letters to a very real, treasured friend from my days at boarding school, 1966–1969.

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