As Eastern mysticism enters Western culture, its practitioners have adopted Western marketing techniques. Starting from the proposition that Western seekers of enlightenment have been failed by their institutions, the Daoist or Buddhist teacher seeks a rationale for the failure that will entice victims of “Judeo-Christian” spirituality to sample their methods. The central tenet of the narrative is that Judeo-Christianity imposes a view of human nature as fallen into sin that disempowers its followers. In contrast, the Eastern tenets and practices of “mindfulness” open a doorway to self-knowledge and self-control that leads into joyful exploration of life’s possibilities.
Having respect for Eastern methods, I’m not going to dispute the beneficial consequences of its practices. Rather, I want to emphasize that it’s not an “either-or” proposition.
In the Bible, the confusion arises right at the start, in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. As I explain in The Soul Comes First, this is a parable for a community living in direct relation with the spirit of unconditional love. In Vedantic terms, this is to interact with an occupant of the higher astral realms. The problem was not that Adam and Eve partook of the “Tree of Knowledge”, for they were given great knowledge of the world in that era, as necessary to assuming stewardship of the Earth. Rather, it was because they chose to partake of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” They chose to exercise independent moral judgment. They chose to make mistakes that would cause suffering in others, rather than disciplining themselves to the dictates of love.
The immediate response of the personality described as God is to establish a safe distance. A repeated theme of the Old Testament is the pain caused by the Chosen people to its God, and in the New Testament that culminates in human experience. To love is to give power, and when that power is misused, it causes pain. What is amazing about the devotion of the God of Abraham is the investment made in human maturation in the face of that pain. But to remain in immediate and direct contact with humanity as it went through that process would have been disastrous. Love is an amplifier. It empowers whatever it touches. It needs to keep evil out, lest that destructive force run amok everywhere.
But the devotion to our maturation is clearly visible in the Bible, and follows a logical progression. The story of Abraham and his descendants ends with Joseph, the first man in the book with the strength to be steadfast in danger and to resist his primitive sexual drive. It progresses with Moses, who introduces that Law of Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus to instill the discipline of logic in the Chosen people. In modern psychological terms, God was trying to create a people who were capable of using their cortexes to control the survival instincts of the brain stem and aggressive emotions of the limbic system.
Unfortunately, any fixed system of rules is inevitably corrupted by those responsible for its administration, who find it all too easy to manipulate it to deny rights and even life to those that they wish to control. It was against the corruption of the Judaic system of Law that Jesus set himself, eventually confronting both the Sadducees and Pharisees with this great truth [NIV Matt. 22:34-40]:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In effect, what he is saying to these experts of legal interpretation is “The Law has taught you to think. Now think about love.”
This is evident throughout Acts in the teachings of the Apostles, foremost among them Paul, but not exclusively. The message is that there is nothing that we can do to attain salvation from this corrupt existence except to call love into our presence. Having been born into corruption, which is to say in a spiritual context of Darwinian competition that requires the theft of resources from other living creatures, the fastest way to healing is to call upon love – which is to say “God.”
Judaism and Christianity are therefore two distinct spiritual practices. Because humanity is composed of individuals, both practices have value to individuals struggling with maturity. For those in thrall to aggression, lust and fear, the discipline of a system of rules still gives strength to the cortex. For those that shine hope into that struggle, love grants not only peace and joy, by a powerful transformative capability that is best exemplified by the devotion still awarded to Jesus, the man who died on the cross to prove that death has no sway over those that surrender to love.
So when looking at Eastern methods, what I see is a way to spiritual maturity without wading through the dangerous waters of Law. I see the possibility of “Veda-Christianity” that guides the seeker far more reliably into the healing spring of love.