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The Lotus and the Cross Jesus Talks with Buddha
By RAVI ZACHARIAS
Multnomah Publishers Copyright © 2001 Ravi Zacharias
All right reserved.
Chapter One Jesus: Sit here next to me, Priya. And what a lovely name you have-Priya, meaning "sweetheart" or "beloved." Yet the stillness of the morning does not silence the scream of your heart, does it?
Priya: I can't resist a smile as I think of my name, even the way you pronounced it, Sir. Strange that you bring it up, though. To those who've known the unlovely side of my life, I've never used my real name. Sometimes I wonder if I knew anybody's real name there. All I know is that if my brothers and sisters saw me now ... I don't know what they would call me.
Jesus: Have you seen your parents lately?
Priya: No. They send me messages. They expect to hear any day now that I have died.
Jesus: I've been thinking of them as I see you struggle in pain here. Names, at least in the minds of parents, are the embodiment of a hope with a destiny in mind. I'm sure this end is not what they envisioned ... a heart full of grief, alone and torn apart, wishing only to die.
Priya: When each heartbeat sends a fresh, searing jolt of pain, why would I want it to keep beating? You know, we have a common saying in my culture when anything goes wrong-it basically means "Never mind" or "It will all work out."I heard it a dozen times a day growing up. But I don't believe that anymore. Life has not "worked out." Every tick of the clock makes me long for the day when I stop hearing it.
Yes, death would be welcome. As a matter of fact, I have tried, but ...
Jesus: Your very face tells your story, Priya. Your whole body is like a gaping wound of the past.
You've hinted at a timeless truth, though, that time isn't just a fleeting thing. It never moves forward without engraving its mark upon the heart-sometimes a stab, sometimes a tender touch, sometimes a vise grip of spikes, sometimes a mortal wound. But always an imprint.
Priya: You don't think of that when you're young and carefree. But it doesn't take long to feel those imprints deep inside you.
Jesus: Which means, Priya, that these few moments we have together are not a meaningless exchange as you near the end of your life, but rather a real possibility as to how your story may end.
Here, have a drink of water. Your mouth is dry, and a ride in a boat on this torrid day will only intensify your thirst.
Priya: My drinking cup is in my bag. Let me get it ... you shouldn't touch it. Oh, thank you, Sir! You're very kind.
Jesus: It didn't take long, did it, to find out that even those you trusted used you and abused you till you were nothing more than a body to them. How typical it is that the scavengers are never around after the flesh is consumed.
Priya: Sometimes I'm filled with anger toward them, Jesus, but frankly, sometimes I'm just too tired to be angry anymore ... too tired to live.
Jesus: I understand. But it's not just the others, Priya. They become the natural target, but you found out some things about yourself, too. And maybe the hardest part to accept is that your parents were quite willing to see you go into this profession. In fact, they encouraged you. The very arms that nurtured you thrust you into the fatal clasp of pleasure seekers; the stranglehold of guilt on them must now be suffocating.
Priya: How could we all have been so foolish, so insane?
Jesus: That's the deceit of the human heart ... and of the evil one. He enticed you, as he entices everyone, in small increments. It happens all too often.
You know, when the imagination is beguiled-which is where it all begins-and the will succumbs, the mind is unwittingly taken prisoner. With each breakdown of the will comes a greater imprisonment of the mind. You end up doing what you don't want to do, and not doing what you should do. How wretched you feel then!
Priya: In defense of my parents, I must say that this is the way it is in our small towns, Sir. Many parents send their daughters into this trade. I'm not excusing them, but I suppose it's all a matter of making a living. I don't know. There's much I don't understand anymore.
Jesus: It's not just your culture and your small towns, Priya. Gaining the world and losing the soul has been a malady of all mankind from the time people first tried to build names for themselves. There was a way that appeared right to you and your parents, as it does to every man and woman, but in the end it has brought you death-yes, even spiritual death.
You now know that you sought fulfillment for your hungers in the wrong places. I've said it many times: Man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Priya: Those are strange words to me.
Jesus: I know they are. But I'd like to help you understand what they mean. I want to give you life and forgiveness, a promise for a better tomorrow, so that even though your body might wither and die, you will still live.
Buddha: I cannot remain silent anymore, Jesus. You've already said more than I can accept without interrupting. I, too, feel compassion for this woman, and I don't want her distracted by the things you're suggesting. Spiritual death, the Word of God, forgiveness-those are crutches for the spiritually weak. They're not realities but illusions!
And as for the evil one having some part here, I no longer believe these things in my enlightened condition. Only the immature or the uninformed cling to such mistruths. I'm sorry to be so forthright, but we must seek the truth and do away with falsehood.
Jesus: Actually, I was wondering how long you'd remain silent. Your forthrightness is most welcome, Gautama. And your followers well know that debate and disagreement aren't exactly unfamiliar terrain to you. I'm certain you'll have much to say here. But I do have a plea. We've both said that truth must be pursued to wherever it leads-I assume you mean that to include both word and deed.
Buddha: Very much so.
My entire life was shaped by issues such as these. And I certainly debated them roundly with my opponents.
As you know, Jesus, I lived in a palace from my birth. I know that wealth and plenty don't satisfy-on that point I agree with you. Priya should've known this was so since her family is familiar with all of my teachings.
But all these things do not satisfy for a very different reason than the one you are ascribing, Jesus. I saw heartrending sights when I was young, and I was overcome with compassion. I can explain what this woman is going through.
Woman, you don't realize it, but everything you've lived through is the fruit of all that you yourself have sown. You were not free from debt when you were born, and you won't be free from debt when you die. You were born with a cup half full; you have filled it the rest of the way. And your every act, word, and deed has to be paid for.
Jesus: Has to be paid for? Look at the masses alongside these shores-harried, preoccupied, all busy trying to earn a living. Carved into their consciences is this enormous moral debt you speak of. What an unbearable burden you're laying upon humanity, Gautama!
How does one pay? With what does one pay? And to whom does one pay? The creditor haunts but isn't there.
Buddha: But I didn't just arbitrarily make up this philosophy. Years of thought went into it. Where do I begin to explain it?
I'll grant you that this entanglement from past choices isn't an easy grip from which to free oneself. And looking at Priya, here, one groans under the burden.
But I have found a way. And that's the beauty. I've repeated that answer so many times.
Let me explain something to both of you. A moral law of cause and effect exists in the human consciousness. This has nothing to do with God or the evil one. Whether they exist or not is completely immaterial. The collective moral capital with which you were born, Priya, is something you had nothing to do with-that, at least, should bring you comfort.
But your present moral bankruptcy is because of the way you spent your life-that should bring you responsibility. You came into being bearing another's debt. Your choice was to reduce that debt or to pay it.
The word is karma-the karma of lives gone by and your own karma. This combination of what is inherited and what is spent is like a wheel that will either crush you or enable you to break free from its repetition when you've lived a pure life. You won't escape the results of what you've done.
There's hope, though! The sum of your good deeds and bad deeds will reappear in another life. You've made your deposit into an account that will be drawn from in a reborn life.
Priya: So I'll be reincarnated with another chance at payment, right?
Buddha: Not quite as simple as that. You're mistakenly using the term reincarnated. You're not technically incarnated again ... you're reborn because you don't return as yourself. Another life will make its entrance after you're gone. That's the difference between what I call "rebirth" and what the Hindus call "reincarnation." I teach that another consciousness with the moral deposit reaped from your indebtedness will be born.
Priya: This is perplexing. It is at once my greatest hope and my greatest puzzle. My friends and I have often talked about this. Whose karma is being worked out when each life is wrapped around so many? I wonder: Are my parents also paying for past lives through my tragedy? Are my customers paying when I sell my diseased body to them? What about the baby that I gave up? Was that its karma, even before it knew anything about good or bad? I mean, trying to reach for an answer in this karmic cycle is like putting your hand in a bucket of glue and then trying to wipe it clean. Everything you touch becomes sticky and there's nowhere to wash it off.
Buddha: I have a technical term for all this: dependent origination. Your origin is dependent upon innumerable causes, Priya.
But that's far too complex to go into right now, and frankly, you must forget the past. There's nothing you can do to change that. And don't think of the future; it's all speculation. Deal only with the now. Free yourself now from the illusions of God and forgiveness and individual life hereafter. Invest in a life of good deeds that will outweigh the bad ones. That's your only hope. Make your heart pure, and that will offset all of your impure acts and thoughts.
Jesus: Well, Gautama, I can see that this discussion is going to take us far afield. Perhaps since Priya wants nothing more than answers to life itself, she won't mind if you and I talk as she listens in. But let's be sure that we get back at the end to what she personally needs to know. And by the way, Priya, you said it well: glue on the hands with nowhere to wash.
Buddha: Jesus, I must say a couple of things right now. The first is awkward, but it's better said right at the onset.
Excerpted from The Lotus and the Cross by RAVI ZACHARIAS Copyright © 2001 by Ravi Zacharias
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.