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  • Christ as the Truth, the Light, the Life, but a Way?
  • Bokin Kim

A conservative Korean Presbyterian pastor asks me what I know about Christ. He asks again what a Buddhist can know about Christ. He claims that Christ cannot be understood from the other aspects of view, but only from the Christian view. Then do I know at all about Christ?

My Buddhist understanding of Christ does not start with how Christ has been understood in the Christian context. My understanding is based on the reading of the Christian scripture. My reading of the scripture is guided by Sot’aesan’s understanding of Christianity. 1

According to my reading, the Bible presents two meanings of Christ: Christ in the transhistorical sense and Christ in the historical sense. The meaning of Christ as the Truth, the Light, and the Life represents a Christ in the transhistorical sense. The meaning of Christ as a way represents a Christ in the historical sense. Because Jesus did not make any distinction or clarification between these two meanings, it is obvious that even the Christian tradition has confusion on the meaning of Christ. As a result, most Christians hold to an exclusive view of Christ that claims his uniqueness.

My attribution of two meanings of Christ is derived from a similar distinction in Buddhism. Buddha in the transhistorical sense represents the universal nature of Buddha, which is identical with Truth. Truth can be replaced by other terms, such as Light or Life. Buddha in the historical sense means the historical nature of Buddha. In this sense, Buddha is unique and should not be depicted as absolute nor as universal. Likewise, Christ can be construed in these two ways.

Christ as the Truth, Light, and Life

When I read the description of Christ as the Truth, Light, and Life in the Gospel according to John, I feel a strong urge to replace Christ with the term Buddha—not Gautama Buddha but Dharmakaya Buddha. Here Christ refers to the source of the historical Christ just as Dharmakaya Buddha is the source of historical Buddha. In this sense, Christ cannot be compared with any beings in the world and thus is being described absolutely. Christ only is the Truth, Light, and Life. Similarly, there is a Zen koan saying, “Buddha alone exists.”

Here the terms Christ and Buddha do not point to historical figures such as Jesus of Nazareth and Siddhartha Gautama. According to a story related to the compilation of Buddha’s teaching, Ananda, who heard Buddha talk the most, was excluded from the committee of compilation. The reason was that Ananda saw the corporal aspect of the Buddha only, but he could not meet the spiritual aspect of the Buddha. [End Page 76] The term awakening in the Buddhist tradition refers to understanding the absolute or universal nature within each transient being.

It seems wrong if one claims that only Christ, not Buddha, is the Truth, Light, or Life. By the same token it is wrong to say that Buddha alone, not Christ, exists in eternity. It is wrong to identify historical figures such as Jesus or Gautama with the Truth, Light, or Life. It is more erroneous to exclusively describe only one historical figure as the Truth, Light, or Life. According to my understanding, the terms Christ and Buddha are not the starting point for arguing the uniqueness of the historical Jesus or Gautama but for awakening our absolute or universal nature. That is, Christ as Truth, Light, and Life is our true nature or true self. In this nature there is no distinction between Christ and Buddha, between Christ and me, or between Buddha and me.

Regardless of how our foundation is named—Christ (or God), Buddha (Dharmakaya Buddha), Tao, or Wu-chi—our foundation is the basis from which religions are originated.

Christ as a Way

Christ is a way to our foundation—in other words, the Truth, Light, and Life. Christ’s way is faith/grace. Jesus taught that the faith in God and grace from God would bring forth salvation to the believers. Similarly, Buddha is a way to the Truth, Light, and Life. Buddha’s way is practice/enlightenment...

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pp. 76-80
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