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Non-duality, Paradox and the Parables of Jesus

Last post 03-04-2007, 4:19 AM by camfree. 8 replies.
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  •  01-12-2007, 7:14 AM 18126

    Non-duality, Paradox and the Parables of Jesus

    Hello all,

    Please check out the link below for a paper I recently presented at a Sacred Scriptures conference on the teachings of Christ from a Zen Buddhist perspective.

    Basically, I show that the same deep structure - a language of paradoxical reversals, has arisen independently in both Christian and Mahayana Buddhist traditions... which points to the possibility of ahistorical, trans-cultural or maybe even universal truth!!

    As Ken writes in SES “the realization of the One-in-the-Many and the Many-in-the-One, is, of course, common and definitive of all Non-dual schools.”

    Well, this paper (based on my doctoral dissertation) shows that the Non-dual realization of the East is also common and definitive for the authentic teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a discovery that leads to some astonishing inter-spiritual and post-metaphysical fireworks.

    Here's the link

    Feel free to post any feedback or responses

    Dr. Freeman

    The reverse side also has a reverse side
  •  01-13-2007, 1:33 PM 18174 in reply to 18126

    Re: Non-duality, Paradox and the Parables of Jesus

    Hello Dr. Freeman: I just read your paper and thoroughly enjoyed it. I would benefit greatly from the "sweeping away" of the debris covering over the more radical root teachings of Jesus. Thank you for inspiring me with this article. I have several friends, some of who are local professors, who I hope to introduce to integral spirituality/Christianity over the coming months, but to do that I need to make an intuitive connection to Christianity that has been hard for me to come by (my practice has been more Buddhist). Your paper really helps me in this regard. Would you tell me a bit more about the Jesus Seminar?
    Durwin Foster, M.A.
    Doctoral Student, Counselling Psychology Program
    University of British Columbia
    Vancouver, Canada
  •  01-14-2007, 10:20 PM 18249 in reply to 18174

    Re: Non-duality, Paradox and the Parables of Jesus

    Hey there bigdaddy,

    Thanks for your enthusiastic response, I'm really pleased you enjoyed the paper. I agree, there seems to be so many layers of mythic-literal baggage covering over the authentic teachings of Jesus. For me, this means that one of the best options availble of Christianity is to re-activate the "dangerous memory" of the historical Jesus prior to his inscription in the Christian tradition, and thereby distinguish the Founder of Christianity (Jesus of Nazareth) from what was Founded (the Church).

    And while taking on this task, it just so happens that the "paradoxical reversals" that underpin the original teachings of Jesus correspond perfectly with the Non-dual teachings of the East, which is simply astonishing, as far as I can see...

    About the Jesus Seminar. I'm a big fan their efforts to establish the authentic words of the historical Jesus and distinguish them from post-Easter addititions of the early Church, but if you look at what's left over after they get rid of all the excess baggage, there's very little that's actually transformative or life-giving.

    So while it's vital to dis-mantle layers of traditional Church dogma (e.g. Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God, etc) I think the fellows of the Jesus Seminar go a little too far in deconstructing the Christ of faith and end up with little more than a bunch of enigmatic sayings from a cynic philosopher-sage from Galillee, rather than "the human face of God" or the "Logos made flesh"  - which is the time-honoured standpoint of the Christian faith tradition.

    And so while my own research is based on John Dominic Crossan's early work on the parables, as well as the more recent writings of the late Robert Funk (the founder of the Jesus Seminar), in my doctoral thesis I take the findings of the Jesus Seminar and go a step further by showing that a stable pattern of "paradoxical reversals" actually constitute the deep structure of ALL of Jesus' core teachings on the Kingdom of God.

    In other words, the same paradoxical structure underpins all the teachings of the historical Jesus that have been handed down to us. And as a result, it is now possible to re-construct the original scandal of the historical Jesus, the provocative power of his authentic teachings, and the radical core of truth that had to be repressed in order for the institutional Church to establish itself.

    And since the paradoxical teachings of the historical Jesus are essentially a "skillful means" for turning ones world inside-out - and are marked by the distinctive capacity to break open ones awareness with a direct apprehension of the Kingdom of God, the original teachings of Jesus are actually life-giving and transformative, in that they open up the "conditions of possibility" for the movements of faith (metanoia).

    So where the Jesus Seminar peels back the layers of Church tradition and leaves us with a half-baked wisdom teacher from Galillee, by revealing the paradoxical structure that underpins all of Jesus' core teachings (which is clearly demonstrated in my doctoral dissertation, and the conference paper attached to this thread), we can now join together what the Jesus Seminar set apart - the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. 

    Of course, that's just my take on the Jesus Seminar and the quest for the historical Jesus, I'm sure there are many others, so feel free to respond.


    The reverse side also has a reverse side
  •  01-15-2007, 1:21 AM 18252 in reply to 18249

    • maryw is not online. Last active: 12-02-2007, 1:05 AM maryw
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    Re: Non-duality, Paradox and the Parables of Jesus

    Hi Cameron -- I enjoyed your paper too; thanks. I always relish pondering the parallels between the teachings / parables of Jesus and the teachings / koans of Buddhism.

    And this March, I'll be attending a Catholic church-sponsored religious education conference in which Richard Rohr will be presenting workshops on "Jesus as a Non-Dualistic Teacher of the West," and "Paul as the Successor of Jesus in Non-Dual Thinking." So these ideas are starting to find their way into the institutional church . . .



    (ps -- I accidentally clicked one of the rating stars here, which for a while made it look like I had given this thread a bad rating! So to correct the mistake I upgraded it later to keep it at the level that Big Daddy had rated it).

    Let the beauty we love be what we do.
    There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

  •  01-15-2007, 1:04 PM 18267 in reply to 18249

    Re: Non-duality, Paradox and the Parables of Jesus

    Dr. Freeman,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As a long-time theologian, it has taken me years to attempt to relieve the mythical baggage that has been handed down to us by our ancestors, and the Church, especially the Catholic Church. If we see Jesus as a human, like you and I, and cast aside all the other garbage, I believe we would have seen him studying the teachings of Buddha in those years that were unaccounted for. When he spoke to his disciples about "I and the Father are one; like you and I are one, and you will be able to do even greater things than I," I see him taking a nondual approach. I have not completed the read on your paper, but I will do so and get back with you. Jesus and the Christ-Consciousness that is prevalent today, is just as much alive as it was then. Some of us call IT Cosmic Consciousness. I definitely believe that Jesus was drenched in Cosmic Consciousness, but he is only one of many humans to attain  AQAL totality. I do not believe, however, that Jesus meant for a Church to be founded on his teachings. I believe he had a Truth he wanted others to know, and the language of his day was to speak in parables for he spoke to men/women in a down-to-earth language trying to describe what most of us think is indescribable.

    33° 13' N 87° 37' W
  •  01-15-2007, 8:54 PM 18282 in reply to 18249

    Re: Non-duality, Paradox and the Parables of Jesus

    Hi there again: This is very clear -- what you are saying is that the Jesus Seminar, unfortunately, throw out the "trans" baby with the "pre" bathwater...typical problem of an overly rationalistic approach...I'd like to share your paper with some colleagues at some point, and see what they say. I'd also be interested to see a copy of your dissertation at some point, if you are interested in sharing.
    Durwin Foster, M.A.
    Doctoral Student, Counselling Psychology Program
    University of British Columbia
    Vancouver, Canada
  •  01-16-2007, 10:36 AM 18311 in reply to 18249

    Re: Non-duality, Paradox and the Parables of Jesus

     Paul Tillich was the prevalent theologian in the 60's when I was in ministerial school. He brought a new vision to America that gave credence, I believe, in the East meeting the West and visa versa. This is an excerpt from my doctoral dissertation on "The Spirit of the Eternal Now."  Metaphor and symbol are the key ingredients to any religion, Tillich states. Thus parables, metaphors and symbols are a necessary form of communication in any religion

    Tillich's radical departure from traditional Christian theology is his view of Christ. According to Tillich, Christ is the "New Being", who rectifies in himself the alienation between essence and existence. Essence fully shows itself within Christ, but Christ is also a finite man. This indicates, for Tillich, a revolution in the very nature of being. The gap is healed and essence can now be found within existence. Thus for Tillich, Christ is not God per se in himself, but Christ is the revelation of God. Whereas traditional Christianity regards Christ as wholly man and wholly God, Tillich believed that Christ was the emblem of the highest goal of man, what God wants men to become. Thus to be a Christian is to make oneself progressively "Christ-like", a very possible goal in Tillich's eyes. In other words, Christ is not God in the traditional sense, but reveals the essence inherent in all existence, including mine and your own. Thus Christ is not different than you or I except insofar as he fully reveals God within his own finitude, something you and I can also do in principle.

    "God does not exist. He is being itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him."

    This statement of Tillich's summarizes his conception of God. We cannot think of God as a being which exists in time and space, because that constrains Him, and makes Him finite. But all beings are finite, and if God is the Creator of all beings, God cannot logically be finite since a finite thing cannot be the sustainer of an infinite variety of finite things. Thus we must think of God as beyond being, above finitude and limitation, the power or essence of being itself.

    A final major point of Tillich's theology is this: since things in existence are corrupt and therefore ambiguous, no finite thing can be (by itself) that which is infinite. All that is possible is for the finite to be a vehicle for revealing the infinite, but the two can never be confused. This leaves religion itself in a place where it cannot be taken as too dogmatic, because of its conceptual and therefore finite and corrupt nature. True religion is that which correctly reveals the infinite, but no religion can ever do so in any way other than through metaphor and symbol. Thus the whole of the Bible must be understood symbolically, and all spiritual and theological knowledge cannot be other than symbol. This is often seized upon by theologians to utilize as an effective counterpoint to religious fundalmentalism."

    33° 13' N 87° 37' W
  •  01-17-2007, 5:24 AM 18353 in reply to 18311

    Re: Non-duality, Paradox and the Parables of Jesus

    I really appreciate the encouraging feedback from everyone who has responded to this thread…


    Mary - It’s great to hear that other Christian theologians (e.g. Richard Rohr) are beginning to see the Non-dual parallels between Christ and the Eastern Enlightenment traditions, and I also hope that this stuff may soon begin to find its way into the institutional Church…


    bigdaddy – I’d be happy to share my doctoral dissertation with you. I’ll soon be in touch on your personal e-mail…


    And, JC – I’ve also studied some Tillich and gathered some insight from his work on Christ as the New Being…


    And I’m also in basic agreement, the finite is only a vehicle for revealing the Infinite, which means that our knowledge of God is always "provisional" and cannot be other than symbolic or metaphorical.


    For me, this actually goes back to a book Ken wrote over 20 years ago called “Eye to Eye”. In contrast to the “thunderous silence” of the Non-dual mystics regarding the Inexpressible nature of Absolute truth, in this book Ken he says that when the Absolute is filtered through the human mind (and expressed in language) it tends to generate paradoxical statements – what he called Mandalic Logic – which is always symbolic or metaphorical.


    So if we are to speak about the Mystery (by whatever name) then we must speak in a symbolic or metaphorical language of paradox, which leads directly into my research on the parables of Jesus (which also correspond with the teachings of the Zen masters, and others)… Or as D. T. Suzuki writes, “all wise and loving souls are said to be embodiments of the Great Paradox of the Universe.”


    This also speaks to Ken’s recent re-working of his long-standing distinction between Absolute truth and Relative truth (see Integral Spirituality – I think??), where he states that Non-dual awareness (Absolute) contributes nothing to the world of Form/Evolution/Time (Relative), and so constitutes only one half of what Enlightenment ultimately means.


    There’s an interesting passage in Tillich, which sees the New Being of Christ as an ultimate resolution of this intractable dualism in Ken’s writing… Here’s the quote,


    “Final revelation… liberates reason from the conflict between absolutism and relativism by appearing in the form of a concrete absolute... the New Being which is manifest in Jesus as the Christ… (which unites) the conflicting poles of existential reason... The paradox is the reality to which the contradicting form points; it is the surprising, miraculous, and ecstatic way in which… the (universal) mystery of being… is manifest in time (and) space…  Final revelation is not logical nonsense; it is a concrete event which on the level of rationality must be expressed in contradictory terms.” (Tillich, vol.1, p.150-51)


    And interestingly, in “Eye to Eye” Ken also says that if a new paradigm is ever to emerge it will have the Transcendent/Immanent paradox of Absolute truth at its foundation… that is - Spirit is both the Goal and Ground of the manifest world, both Source and Summit of the entire temporal display…


    But as an aside, I have my doubts that Jesus of Nazareth was primarily a mystic. Sure he was awake to the Great Unborn (Before Abraham was I Am), but that’s only half the story… We would do well not to forget the unsettling shock delivered to the reigning order by the folly of the Cross, and the “justice to come” - the law of reversals in virtue of which whatever is first is last, whatever is out is in, and whatever is lost is saved…


    To get a better sense of this difference between Jesus of Nazareth and the Cosmic Consciousness of Non-dual mysticism we can turn to the following quote from Jack Caputo,


    The Kiingdom of God is a kingdom of base, ill-born, powerless, despised outsiders who are null and void in the eyes of the world, drop outs measured by the world’s arche… tax collectors and prostitutes, and yet precisely for that reason the ones whom God called (kletos) and set apart, whom God chose, even favoured, singling them out for all their singularity and exceptionality.”


    So rather than being a mystic, for me the vital question is - as Dom Crossan asks, "Does your Risen Jesus have wounds?"


    I know this is a little brief, but I just hope it generates some thoughtful discussion… That's all for now



    The reverse side also has a reverse side
  •  03-04-2007, 4:19 AM 20005 in reply to 18126

    Re: Non-duality, Paradox and the Parables of Jesus

    I want to pick up on a previous train of thought in this thread and attempt to add something of to the question of what an Integral Christianity might look like... I want to do this because basically I think there is an "inner dissonance" in Christianity – a kind of strangeness or awkwardness in the Gospels that is not found in the Eastern enlightenment traditions, and this dissonance opens up a gap between the “dangerous memory” of Jesus of Nazareth and some aspects of the Integral AQAL approach...


    For starters, in Christianity, God is Love - and Love is not so much Non-dual Emptiness (Nagarjuna) or the timeless Being of unchanging presence (I AM, Plato/Plotinus)... Rather, Love is an action, something you actually do... whereas Emptiness - as Ken says - simply leaves everything as it is.

    So at this risk of forging a false dichotomy (which I’m told is really bad!!), in my opinion the Christian way of Love is not so much on the side of timeless Being (or what Tillich calls the Ground of Being) but on the side of the “less than” Being – or the "an-archic" and "subversive". That is, instead of primordial awareness that leaves everything as is, it's pretty clear to me that Jesus came to turn the world as it IS upside down... i.e. to actually transform the world.


    So with the words and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, the God of Love is not conceived so much as the Great I AM, the rock solid ground upon  which his unchanging One-ness is erected, but is systematically associated with the  different, the marginal, the outsider, the left out, with the naked ones.


    That is, the Love of God is not to be associated so much with the Greek onto-theologians and long robes in the sanctuary within, but with the least among us, the destitute, the stranger, those who are plundered and ground under (Amos 8:4), so that the Christian sense of “God” is to interrupt and disrupt, to confound, contradict and confront the established human order, the human all too human way of being religious... or spiritual… or even integral!


    My point is - hasn't this always been the subversive and “revolutionary” impulse of Christianity?


    So the key to what is called the Kingdom of God in the synoptics is that God chose not the  "best and the brightest" - which is the noble intent of I-I, but the “outsiders,” the  people deprived of power, wealth, education, high birth, and high culture. 


    As Paul says, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not (ta me onta), to reduce to nothing the things that are (ta onta) (I Cor.1:27-28)


    The Kingdom of God, then, is a “royalty” of outcasts so that, from the point of view of the “aion”, or the present age, the word “kingdom” is being used ironically, almost mockingly, to refer to those pockets of the despised that infect and infest the world.


    So the dissonance or gap between the passion of Christ and the Integral/AQAL framework is that in the Kingdom, things are judged not in terms of the logic of increasing excellence, but by what Paul calls the folly of the Cross which crosses out the logos of the world and in the process gets crucified by the world... whereas the Integral impulse all too often means staying on top of everything that’s going on around you, knowing how to hit the mark and hoping to get lucky (Satori!)


    But Jesus' love for the poor in spirit and Paul’s solidarity with “ta me onta” (1:28) makes a mockery of both:


    a) The central concept of Greek philosophy, the search for “ousia” and true Being and

    b) The Absolute of the Eastern Enlightenment traditions, the sense that what really and truly IS, what is enduringly and permanently Real has "no moving parts", and is prior to all that is fleeting, impermanent and apparent.


    Both of these approaches can be used to support the Absolute (Timeless) vs. Relative (time) distinction that underpins Ken’s entire writings – and they are also rhetorically and conceptually associated with Apollo: sun, light, and gleaming manifestation, where the essence of Greek wisdom is to ascend to the element of Being and to avoid the black holes and dark corners of non-Being or the shifting sands of becoming. 


    But by choosing “what is not” (ta me onta), over what is, with Jesus of Nazareth timeless Being is short circuited and the love of God “crosses out” the distinction the Greeks make between Being and Non-being, between wisdom and foolishness.


    In other words, in the Christ-event God crosses one sort of “Kingdom,” a kingdom of power and privilege in the straightforward sense, with another, paradoxical, irregular even ironical kingdom in which the second-tier logic of ever-increasing excellence has been shot to pieces, for faith in Christ crucified is born in "the night of the real"...


    Jack Caputo put it best in his recent work on the Weakness of God, when he wrote:


    "The kingdom of God is a kingdom of base, ill-born, powerless, despised outsiders who are null and void in the eyes of the world, drop outs measured by the world’s arche and  the present aion, tax collectors and prostitutes, and yet precisely for that reason the  ones whom God called (kletos) and set apart, whom God chose, even favoured, singling them  out for all their singularity and exceptionality."


    And so, if Christians are really honest with themselves they will admit that Jesus is not the messiah that we really want or expect…

    Any comments or criticism are most definitely welcome...



    The reverse side also has a reverse side
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