Tue. Apr 23rd, 2024

By: Dharmacharya Gurudas Śunyatananda

Throughout the past 5,000 years, there have been more than 25 stories and sacred legends of saviours — all born to a virgin mother, all sons of gods, and almost all crucified and resurrected. It’s an allegorical motif that represents the importance of a particular character in a particular culture, or in the world.

And while anthropologists have demonstrated considerable evidence that much of the story we hear at Christmas time is an adaptation of Egyptian, Persian and Mystery School traditions, I cannot help but feel compelled to interject here something of a “so what?”

Yeah, I recognise that the Fundie McNuggets are willing to take up arms and fight tooth and nail to defend the absurd idea that their bible was written by the mythical Abrahamic god, and is not only without error, but also original. But arguing with the ignorant does nothing to advance wisdom.

If you find an idiot running down the wrong road, you don’t need to argue with him or chase him to speed him up… what you need is to get him to stop, so that you can encourage him to turn around and start running in the right direction.

My point, however, is that the meaning of the story isn’t lost just because it’s been repackaged and superimposed over another character’s life.

You see, just as there are ignorant fundamentalists arguing that the bible is their “god’s” word, there are equally ignorant folks who assume that because the authors of the books we now call the “synoptic gospels” plagiarised an ancient sun-god mythos, and used it as a backdrop for their attempt at communicating the message of the Great Teacher, then we should assume the Great Teacher himself didn’t exist.

And that is simply foolish, in my opinion. We have evidence in Tibet, in India and Kashmir that Rav Yeshua ben Yusef — Jesus the Nazarene — visited there and taught the Dharma of Compassion… and these sources are non-Christian sources. So it’s rather ignorant to pretend he didn’t exist, simply because we know the whole virgin birth and resurrection legend were tales told about dozens of people before him.

Our brother, Zen Master and Jesuit, Fr. Robert Kennedy Roshi recently observed brilliantly, “The virgin is a symbol that a woman gets her dignity, not from her husband or her son, but from herself. Her dignity is non-derivative… she earned it freely.”

That’s the idea of grace… something that is freely given out of unfathomable compassion. And we are told that Mary was “charitoo” full of grace.

Interestingly, the word for grace in Aramaic actually means “loving-kindness”… one of the qualities we strive to cultivate as students of the Dharma.

I am personally a great fan of Fr. Kennedy Roshi, and of his commitment to continuously foster an environment for interspiritual dialogue. His zendo carries out the principles laid out by the mission statement of his religious order, regarding interreligious dialogue, and builds upon his deep appreciation for the tenets of Buddhism, in a way that demands that if we are to truly experience growth in our own spiritual journeys, we must not only become familiar with the thoughts and traditions of others, but actually become immersed with others in a spiritual exchnge and dialogue of life, action and religious experience.

I cannot help, as I see the work of these visionary trailblazers, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Robert Kennedy Roshi, Thomas Merton, my Root Guru Tenzin Yangchen Ma, my refuge guru Swami Abishektananda, and so many others, something that Eric Fromm once observed… Fromm wrote:

The logical consequence of theology is mysticism and the logical consequence of psychology is love.

And that is what this holiday season is all about, folks… it’s about the incarnation of love. As Athanasius put it, “In the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus, we find God becoming human, so that humanity could become Gods.” Remember, that the earliest followers of Rabbi Jesus understood, perhaps more readily and clearly than any of us, that what their tradition had previously called “God”, and imagined to be a fierce, hostile, bitchy and temperamental tyrant, was actually and fully LOVE. More like a “daddy” than a “vindicator”.

The ancient text doesn’t say “God is like love…” it doesn’t say, “One of God’s qualities or characteristics is love.” It says, “God IS Love.”

Love is not a person… It’s a force, or what the ancients referred to as “spirit” or “ruach” — meaning breath or essence.

In the fifth stanza of Dhammapada, Buddha Sakyamuni refers to love as “the Eternal Law” or “Eternal Principle”. In other words, it is not bound by the limitations of the phenomenal world. It is not only part of the numenal reality, but is the principle behind the numenal reality.

Science has proven that this universe is made up of matter, and we know that if it were possible, to see the space between the tiniest subatomic particles in that matter, there would be a void or emptiness… and so we affirm that the ultimate nature of all phenomena is emptiness, because we’re all made up of the same stuff… and behind that emptiness, the essence or eternal law is Love.

Now back to the Christian tradition, we can apply this idea to what Athanasius said (something, by the way, which Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and some less fundamentalist Anglicans still affirm to this day in their liturgies) — that “God became human, so that humanity could become gods”. If God is Love, then what he meant is that LOVE became incarnate… expressed itself in human form… so that humanity could realise its True Nature.” That is the whole purpose for the story, and the message Rabbi Jesus lived, as an example of a life lived fully realised — fully human, fully love.


 Dharmacharya Gurudas Śunyatananda is a return contributor and a friend of Subversify.   He can be reached at:http://dharmadudeunplugged.com

Copyright ©2008, His Eminence Dharmacharya Gurudas Sunyatananda (The Most Reverend Dr. F. Francis-Maria G. Salvato, M.Sc., O.C.). All rights reserved. This material may be reproduced, blogged, quoted or distributed, provided the entire copyright including contact information remain intact. It may NOT be altered in any way, without express written permission.

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7 thoughts on “The Benefit of Holiday Legends and Stories”
  1. This talk has been going on forever, I am reminded of the words of Mother Teresa, instead of arguing or talking about all this, go out and find a hungry man and feed him. These are thought were no winner can ever be declared … it is not what we say or even what we believe, but what we do that matters. As always, interesting, thanks !!

  2. I wasn’t ever aware that there was a necessity for a “winner” in the matter, Rich. In fact, I was under the impression, as an anthropologist, that it was simply a matter of coming to terms with the facts, and seeing what we can learn from them.

    The trouble with the “winner” mentality is that as long as we choose to delude ourselves by pretending the facts don’t exist, which prove the mythos to be nothing more than that, then we doom ourselves to have to keep facing the same lessons, the same divisions, the same issues that have plagued humanity for 1500 years.

    Only when we are willing to grow up a bit, and recognise that the legends can be recognised as what they are, without losing the value of their messages, can we move forward.

    And until we can do that, there will always be those who, as you so aptly point out, spend all their time defending their superstitions, and not nearly enough time feeding the hungry, helping the poor, or caring for the sick.

    You’re so right, but sadly, those who need to hear your message were probably in church, singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” instead of reading something a little more germane, like this.

    Miss ya, buddy! Happiest of holidays to you and yours!

  3. I can’t disagree with a word of the philosophy within your article, although I do feel a strong urge to debate on the comments; mainly because of the introduction of winner mentality; a particular pet peeve of mine. The goal of a contest, in which there is a declared winner, is to prove yourself better than the other contestants in some way. Perhaps you wish to prove you are smarter, stronger, faster, more adept. But you can’t prove you love more because the nature of love is to not want to make your fellow man feel lesser, less adequate than you. Your desire becomes one of extolling others’ virtues and making them feel their self-worth. If you love the contestant, you feel bad if you are declared the winner, which then makes you feel like the loser. There are no winners, just different types of people with different needs.

    I think it’s a little mean to make a blanket statement about “The Little Town of Bethlehem” crowd, as though they, in particular, are sabotaging the message of love. Having been raised in a very loose religious framework that simply saw heaven (love) as the presence of God, and hell as the absence of this unifying spirit, yet still announced themselves Christians and believers in the philosophy of Jesus, i’ve been in and out of many Christian establishments, and perceived a basic pattern. Whatever the domination; a large percentage attended church for a variety of superficial reasons; sometimes for all of them. These reasons included: a) it made them look good and they wanted to present to the public, lives uninterrupted and flawless. b) a fear that if they did not comply with the dogma of their religion, they will be punished, either in life or in after-life. c) they were not sure if there was a God, but they wanted desperately to believe, so they clung to the ritual, while being tortured with doubts throughout the week. d) The church helped them to advance within the community; through financial assistance, joy opportunities, a home within a “safe” community, or other advantages.

    In every church, i’ve always found at least a few who earnestly believed in the power and benevolence of their god. It had nothing to do with the doctrine or particular religious tie, but a deep abiding faith in a moving spirit, manifested in acts of love. My own belief system stepped away from Christianity and into something far more primitive a long time ago, but i still acknowledge those of Christian faith who abide by the principles of their savior. The message of Jesus was and continues to be, a vital one, although not an exclusive one, just as the history of a Hebrew tribe is not the exclusive history for all humanity. Our religious identities may be many, but they abide by one underlying principle; to go beyond the practices of self-involvement and demonstrate our love for others.

  4. Karlsie:

    Take a moment to re-read what I wrote, and BREATHE! First-off, I rejected the idea of the “winner mentality”, citing that I wasn’t aware of a need for such things.

    Second, I didn’t issue a blanket statement about a particular crowd. I made a succinct observation about biblical literalists. And I stand by that observation.

    Yes, there are always those who find the light in the message, in any religion. But I didn’t comment on or about them.

    Compassion often increases hand-in-hand with our ability to LISTEN and reallr “hear” (or read) what is written before superimposing our issues and judgments over it.


  5. Dharmacharya, with all due respect, it was because i didn’t feel that scientific fact should be the reason why there should be no winner/ loser competition, although it’s a good motivation; but once you separate groups or individuals by a winner-loser mentality, you’ve defeated the purpose of unity. Many of my core beliefs are Native American in origin. One of the outstanding features of it is a refusal to view oneself as a winner (superior) because of abilities, education or social position. Each and every person has a value, which is to say we all are winners in our own right, and nobody is a loser as long as we remove this element of competition. We compete only with ourselves, to bring out our best; no more, no less. I’m not disagreeing with you in this statement of winner/ loser mentality, only saying i found it incomplete.

    In your comment, “You’re so right, but sadly, those who need to hear your message were probably in church, singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” instead of reading something a little more germane, like this.” I felt a sudden pang. On Christmas Eve, my son got stuck in the driveway after a heavy snow fall followed by warm weather had turned it into slush. About ten church goers on their way home from candlelight services, stopped to push him out of the ditch. I’m sure they had been singing “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”. They may have had fundamentalist leanings, i really wouldn’t know, but they acted out of either their Christian teachings or their charitable natures.

    Again, it wasn’t the article itself that provoked me to raise a debate, but the comments. Is that bad? It’s through discussion and debate, we arrive at common understandings. Because you didn’t comment on or about those who find light in the message while still following a fundamental doctrine, i felt i should bring their voices to the front. It just seemed fair to present all sides.

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