Buddha was asked, “What have you gained from meditation?”
He replied, “Nothing.”
“However,” Buddha said, “let me tell you what I’ve lost: anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear of old age and death.”
Although Christianity and Buddhism are miles apart when it comes to ultimate truth, Jesus and the Buddha said many things that are compatible. Letting go or detaching, for example. A rich man came up to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus asked him if he had kept the commandments, and he answered yes. Jesus then said, “One thing more. Go, sell all you have, give it to the poor and follow me.” The man went away sorrowful, because he was more attached to his wealth than he was to Jesus.
The Buddha taught that we suffer, because we get attached to things and hold on to them “for dear life.” “Take the Bears, for example,” the Buddha might say.” You’re sitting on the fifty yard line in Soldier Field, it’s a beautiful October day, magnificent athletes are performing on the field, you are with friends, but you are so attached to winning that if they lose, your disappointment overshadows all that other good stuff.”
I’m not sure that’s what the Buddha would say, of course, but letting go of things we grasp for and hold on to tightly is the cause of a lot of suffering.
One time I went canoeing with a friend. After parking the car, I was carrying my 70 lb. aluminum canoe to the river when my friend asked me to carry the pack he had just picked up. “You have to be kidding,” I protested. “I’m already carrying this heavy, cumbersome load and you’re asking me to add another 30 lbs.!”
He laughed and said, “No. I meant I’ll carry the canoe the rest of the way and you carry the pack.”
When we think of religion as asking us to take on even more commitments and responsibilities than we already have, religion can feel like a burden instead of being liberating. Both the Buddha and Jesus would agree, I think, that if you do a spiritual cost/benefit analysis of what they are asking us to do, we are losing a lot more of a load than we are taking on.
That’s why religion at its best is liberating. It asks us, “Why the hell [pun intended] are you carrying all that junk around when you know damn well [pun intended] that you can’t take it with you? Why do you strive so fiercely for trophies which the people who really love you could care less about?”
I’ll be in Thailand in just eight days. When I’m in Chiang Mai I intend to go to a quiet neighborhood Buddhist temple, sit under a Bodhi Tree, and listen to Jesus say, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”