Saturday, September 19, 2015

Avalokiteshvara and the Gospel According to Mark

Brad is preaching tomorrow, and, as is our custom, I ask what the gospel is for this Sunday. (They rotate on a yearly basis in the Episcopalian church; this year is the gospel according to Mark.)  Brad said it is Mark’s story of the disciples traveling to Jerusalem with Jesus. He has told them that he is going to be killed.  They are in denial and disbelief because, according to the Jewish tradition at that time, the Messiah will reign supreme – literally, on this earth as a king.  Not metaphorically or metaphysically as the king of heaven. The disciples further argue among themselves who will be first in the new reign of the messiah. (Kind of like, I think, arguing over who will be chief deputy or prime minister.)

To use Buddhist language, Jesus is telling them to accept things as they are, and, in effect, to turn toward his suffering. I asked Brad what would have happened, hypothetically, if the disciples did believe Jesus, did experience the deep pain of his eventual death. 

Brad said, “Jesus would not have been so alone and isolated.”

When Brad said this, I had an insight into the first line of the Heart Sutra:

Avalokiteshvara when deeply practicing prajna paramita clearly saw that all five skandas are empty and thus relieved all suffering.

This teaching, I think, is not something that a mystical bodhitattva has done, that by her perceiving that all five skandas are empty of own-being, has relieved or removed our suffering.

No, we are each Avalokiteshvara practicing seeing that every constituent of individual being – form, feeling, perceptions, thoughts and the container of consciousness – are not fixed and separate from all other beings.  Inter-being is all that there is.

The suffering part is that we see ourselves as separate and alone.  This is, perhaps, the fundamental basis of suffering.  When turning toward our suffering in the light of the reality that we are, in fact, one body of being, we could begin to remove the suffering of isolation.

And when we don’t turn toward our own suffering, we increase the suffering of others, just as Jesus had to face the horror of the destiny of his crucifixion alone.

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