Shopping Cart

No products in the cart.

Reply To: The Blessing of Spiritual Poverty,” with Mythologist Norland Téllez, Ph.D.”


    Now allow me to respond now more specifically to your question about the appropriateness of the image of the bloody Christ nailed to the Cross vs the placid visage of the Buddha sitting in profound meditation beneath the beautiful Bo Tree.

    I know, the contrast could not be more striking; it is not a fair comparison. These are not apples and apples but altogether distinctive fruits of the mytho-historic imagination. Each image manifests a level of its own according to its own mytho-logic. They are two different keys and tempos which have so much to do with their respective environs, their territories and landscapes, their particular historic spaces, in their native lands and mythic birthplaces.

    If it were a question of pure aesthetics, we could talk about the contrast between the beautiful and the sublime which Immanuel Kant wrote about. Or we could see it in Nietzschean Greek models of Apollonian and Dionysian forces of creation. In fact, this was Nietzsche’s critique of both Christianity and Budhism, that they were altogether too “Socratic” or had become too Apollonian. At the level of the mythic image, however, there is no doubt that the Crucified Christ is a Dionysian image per excellence; it is even linked historically to the Greek archetype. We could also have a psychoanalytic take, and view the placid image of the Buddha beneath the Bodi Tree as an image of perfect contentment, of divine complacency with the status quo, i.e., in perfect agreement with the program of the pleasure-unpleasure principle, the principle of homeostasis. The “beautiful” is after all equated in aesthetics with that which gives pleasure. So beauty must leave behind or push aside all the “ugliness” and unpleasurable dimension, the dimension of suffering, of actual existence. This is why the primordial image of the sacrificial victim intersected by the cross moves in the order of the sublime, the order of the numinosum proper, as what lies beyond the pleasure principle; it is an immense power which evokes a sense of awe and terror in the face of the transcendent.

    We should be reminded in connection to the experience of the sublime, Rudolf Otto’s little book the Idea of the Holy in order to begin to understand this element of “awefulness” which is implicit in the ‘fear of God’ in the encounter with the mysterium tremendum:

    There are in some languages special expressions which denote, either exclusively or in the first instance, this ‘fear’ that is more than fear proper. The Hebrew hiqdīsh (hallow) is an example. To ‘keep a thing holy in the heart’ means to mark it off by a feeling of peculiar dread, not to be mistaken for any ordinary dread, that is, to appraise it by the category of the numinous. (13)


    So which image is more appropriate for our situation in the West? It depends upon the way we read our present situation and what we conclude is appropriate to it. Do we endorse status quo wisdom, the wisdom of “business as usual,” with complete faith in the market forces of unfettered capitalism, in the midst of ecological—including a pandemic— devastation? In my opinion, this is not a viable option. Those who cling to a notion of realism in which we continue this same route ad infinitum, are clinging to a utopian dream. The realistic option would be to change and transform a man-made system.

    So I prefer the religion that will awaken a revolutionary zeal to change the status quo in the direction of climate justice and economic equity. If you can do that out of Buddhist teaching and practice, forsaking a more “conservative” or rigid ideological encrustation of Christianity—by all means become a Buddhist! I have in mind, of course, personages like Thích Nhất Hạnh who embody a similar political will and orientation as our own Martin Luther King did working out of the Religion of Love and Sacrifice. But there is no doubt that the Christian myth has roots that go down deep in the American—and African American—psyche. I also see the need to include the Native American mythological traditions which extend even deeper into the history of this continent. But even here, we already view these Native traditions from the other side of mytho-history with the sacrificial image of Christ in the watershed of the Christian eon.