On Bodhi Day & Stealing a Buddha Book

Book by Frederick Franck

The Christ = Buddha by Frederick Franck

I lied to myself that it was just somehow ended up ‘by accident’ in my boxes. I was unpacking books after a break-up.  The truth is I stole this Buddha book from from my ex in my 20s.  I’ve carried it from Boston to New York to Belgium to New Mexico.  I never read it cover to cover. I loved the title; it seemed to say it all.  All I needed to do was look at the spine.  Oh, yes, The Christ = Buddha.   A kind of koan, perhaps. Non-dualism, at least.

Will stealing a Buddha/Christ book earn me a double-hell – the inferno of Christian lore AND the endless cycle of birth & death in reincarnation?  Reincarnation theory holds that we return, again and again, until we finish all our karma. Each life has its own kind of hell, with the return of human suffering.  In the traditional Christian deal, you only get one shot – what’ll it be: heaven or hell? I think most of us end up in “purgatory”, which may just be the Christian translation of reincarnation, until we get it right.

Damn, as I write this, I recall another spiritual book I stole, this one  from Boston College – Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton.  I think there’s a theme here, with Thomas Merton’s contemplative nature and interest in Eastern practices.   In that case,  I think I ‘forgot’ that it was a loan, or maybe I never actually checked it out… I had underlined so much of it that when I realized it wasn’t mine, I felt bad returning it.

What’s all this Buddha business doing in an Advent blog?  Well, if you’ve been reading since last Sunday, you may have gathered I’m not doing this as a typical Advent blog. I’m not qualified to do that. What I can do, what I have learned from all my spiritual practices, is to find the Christ, the Buddha, the Divine, the Reality – right where you are. And today, The Christ = Buddha.   And yes, I am a ‘sinner’… I have stolen books.  Full disclaimer.

Plus, December 8th, today, is Bodhi Day – the celebration of Siddhartha’s enlightenment.  I have never been a Buddhist, per se, though I have read a few books (though not Franck’s book).  The Buddhist teacher I have learned the most from has been Thich Nhat Hahn.   Once, about 10 or 11 years ago in Brussels, I attended a discourse by him. It was sweet to see his smile, face-to-face. It was no different from the beautiful smile I had come across in his videos, my favorite being “Peace Is Every Step.”  I learned about walking meditation from him, which may be why I was attracted to this Buddha statue – not the typical sitting posture, with the abundant Buddha belly, but the Buddha in action, Buddha in motion.

Walking Buddha

Walking Buddha

One reason why I have been attracted to Thich Nhat Hahn’s teachings is their grounding in “engaged Buddhism”, Buddhism that underlies social justice.  Social justice – “men and women for others” is what was practiced and preached in my undergraduate education by the Jesuits at Boston College.    As I journeyed through life and found myself later in a yoga meditation community, one of the things I found missing there was a lack of emphasis on social justice.  The argument was a kind of traditional yoga deal, that you really can’t help humanity until you become enlightened, the Guru, or a Bodhisattva, to borrow the Buddhist terminology.  That if one was motivated towards social justice before enlightenment that is was only a kind of ego trip.

While I follow some of the logic in that, my heart did not agree. In order to stay in the practice and be a good disciple of this particular yoga meditation master, I kept trying to tell myself I was wrong, unenlightened. But the nagging inner voice did not go away.  The truth is, I don’t buy that.   There is so much one can do to relieve suffering, to work for social justice, before Enlightenment.  Ask anyone in Alcoholics Anonymous, where there are no gurus, where someone with a week of sobriety can help the person coming into their first meeting.   “Hey, friend, if I can do this, you can, too. I been sober a week now. It’s a miracle.” And that’s how it works. For AA or any 12-step fellowship, maybe why they work so well is because, as it says in the Big Book of AA: “We are not saints.” Instead it is spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.  Just people there for others – step by step. Men and women, both for themselves, and for others.  All this echoes Rabbi Hillel from December 2nd’s post: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am not for others, then what am I?”  

In the end, I put my trust in people who walk the talk. Maybe that’s the other reason I love the walking Buddha.

So, just for today – The Christ = Buddha.  I’m sorry I stole the book(s).   And I do believe in grace, forgiveness. It’s what you do with the mistakes that really matters.  Now I can share The Christ = Buddha with all of you. All three of you who are reading, that is!  :-)

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Love this, Laura! Reminds me of the one and only book I ever stole — a 50 cent calorie counter when I was 12 or 13…already dieting! I had put it in my pocket and forgot about it, remembered it after or during check out and felt so ashamed I threw two quarters in the store from the outside, and hoped that would balance out the deed without admitting my crime to the store manager.

    Happy Monday!

  2. Thanks, Eileen! I love seeing you throw the two coins back inside the store! FYI: I emailed the book owner yesterday and asked for an address to return the book! Willingness!

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