Last weekend I was interviewed by Drew Marshall, host of ‘Canada’s most listened to spiritual talk show.’ Drew believes in Jesus Christ, but he also describes himself as an “autodidactic iconoclast” who rages against the “bizarre North American Christian sub-culture.”
I liked him. Rather more surprisingly, he liked me.
I really don’t believe in believers. Considering all the scorn I’ve heaped upon Christians (and Buddhists too, for that matter), I don’t expect to be liked. Anyway, Drew had actually read my book – which not all interviewers bother to do. He also asked thoughtful questions. Best of all, he tried to provoke me, describing my encounter with Tibetan Buddhism as a sort of, “counter-culture, esoteric, pseudo-elitist, leave-it-all-behind, throw-out-the-baby-with-the-bathwater and let’s buy into something else” trip. I had to agree; who could resist such a brash string of adjectival phrases?
After the interview, I revisited some of his questions in the privacy of my own head and realised I could have answered all of them in a dozen different ways. That doesn’t mean I was unhappy with the answers I gave, but that his questions reached deep. I appreciated that, and felt that I was in the company of someone of like mind. That’s a rare treat. There’s a link to the interview on this page.
Like my own interest in Buddhism, Drew is deeply concerned that his Christianity be authentic, and not just a show. He employs none of the pat phrases we hear from most public Christians (God-willing, God-bless, etc.), who use words as supernatural incantations. He’s also sensitive to the close relationship between beliefs and hypocrisy, and not afraid to expose his own failings. As the interview drew to an end, he considered my own journey and, after a cautious disclaimer, asked me, “Why not Jesus?”
I might have answered with the counter question, “Well, why not Buddha?” Instead, I described the Buddha’s legacy as substantial and measurable enough to have sustained me through times that Jesus’ words, well … didn’t. Buddha taught, and was recorded in great detail, over a period of forty-five years, whereas a fragmented selection of the words of Jesus were passed down after his death, with considerable disparity, by four evangelists in well under a hundred thousand words. I was never able to figure him out, or understand in any meaningful sense how he might know me.
Radio interviews are time-sensitive. I’d have liked to have answered in more detail; to point out that, first, the accounts of those who knew Jesus are far from transparent; and, second, as memorable and inspirational as Jesus’ parables and teachings are, they’re mostly about the sort of people we should become. The Buddha’s teachings opened doors for me because they’re mostly about how we might become that way. They describe, dispassionately, without guilt or recrimination, why we keep getting ourselves into trouble, and what practices lead to peace and compassion.
To put it in their own words: Jesus was The Way. Buddha taught The Way. Grasping the legacy of either of these great teachers has little to do with what we say — whether about our beliefs or our rationalizations — and is all about what we do in accepting the challenge of living with integrity from day to day. In the case of Jesus, it requires enormous interpretation; with Buddha, great reflection.