Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Deepak Chopra's Buddhist Jesus

In his new book "The Third Jesus: The Christ we Can't Ignore' Deepak Chopra sets up a discussion of Jesus first as a historical figure, then as Christianity's Son of God, a creation of dogma, and finally of the mystical or cosmic Christ accessible to all persons regardless of their religious orientation or affiliation. In this post I am only really interested in the third of these presentations which is the real thrust of Chopra's book, its leading edge. Here is a direct quote from the Amazon description of that third part of this book:

"And finally, there is the third Jesus, the cosmic Christ, the spiritual guide whose teaching embraces all humanity, not just the church built in his name. He speaks to the individual who wants to find God as a personal experience, to attain what some might call grace, or God-consciousness, or enlightenment.

When we take Jesus literally, we are faced with the impossible. How can we truly “love thy neighbor as thyself”? But when we see the exhortations of Jesus as invitations to join him on a higher spiritual plane, his words suddenly make sense.

Ultimately, Chopra argues, Christianity needs to overcome its tendency to be exclusionary and refocus on being a religion of personal insight and spiritual growth. In this way Jesus can be seen for the universal teacher he truly is–someone whose teachings of compassion, tolerance, and understanding can embrace and be embraced by all of us."

This approach of course comports nicely with the more Gnostic and spiritualist tendencies of our culture, not to mention its religious pluralism, and also its anti-institutional religion tendencies as well. The problem of course is that Chopra turns Jesus into an advocate of pantheism, and more specifically into the Buddhist form of pantheism. And for sure, the monotheistic Jew from Nazareth would be vigorously rejecting this caricature were he here to debate Chopra in person.

I have been enjoying reading of late A.J. Jacobs fascinating auto-biographical spiritual chronicle entitled The Year of Living Biblically(I will be reviewing this book in due course), which has a passage in it which will serve quite nicely as a critique of Chopra----

A friend and her husband had come over to the Jacobs for dinner and they were talking about the answer they gave their daughter when she asked about God. The mother had said God is in the wind, the trees, the rocks, the forklift truck the cement mixer, in general in everything-- pantheism or more correctly pan-entheism. Jacobs replied:

"The only thing is, this is not the God of the Israelites. This is not the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. That God is an interactive God. he rewards and punishes them. He argues with them, negotiates with them forgives them, occasionally smites them. The God of the Hebrew Scriptures has human emotions-- love and anger. "

And then in a moment of honesty in his own mostly Jewish spiritual pilgrimage, Jacobs admits that he has not yet fully believed in such a God. He adds

"My God doesn't. My God is impersonal. My God is the God of Spinoza. Or the God of Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian who believed that God was 'the ground of being'. Or the God of the Jedi knights. Its a powerful but vague all-pervasive force; some slightly more sophisticated version of pantheism. I don't even know if my God can be said to have a grand plan, much less mood swings." (p. 153).

The point is that Jacobs is right in his analysis of the God of the Bible, and while we are at it, Jesus is far more like that, than the portrait of Jesus we get in Chopra's book.

Jesus did not, and does not come to take us to a higher spiritual plane, so that we might better get in touch with the little bit of God that is in us all or our own God-consciousness. Indeed, he seeks to lead us to have a relationship with the God he called Abba who is wholly other, and who urges us to recognize the Creator Creature distinction. We are not God, nor is God inherently in us or a part of our being. The end result of navel gazing is that we may well get more in touch with 'our inner child', but we do not get more in touch with the 'outer' God who created the universe and all that is in it. The former sort of spirituality is a form of narcissism, or at its worse, self- worship. The latter form of spirituality reinforces the Creator/creature distinction and leads to worship of the one true God.

Jesus, if you must call him mystical at all, was an apocalyptic seer who had exclusionary visions--- he said things like " All things have been given me by the Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and to whomever the Son wishes to reveal the Father." (Mt. 11.27). In other words, the mysticism of Jesus has nothing to do with pan-spirituality. It has far more to do with his saying "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me." And it is salutary to remember this especially now during Holy Week.


Jeff said...

Let me just say, with love, that Depak Chopra is a nut.

JohnO said...

I'm amazed that people talk about Jesus being tolerant and compassionate as a rule all the time.

He was terribly intolerant of the injustice and abuse of the Temple - so much so he judged it prophetically, and declared that God would destroy it as such. He was right.

He had compassion towards those who were lost and incomplete, fraught with suffering and sin. He had this compassion because he himself was whole, and wanted them to experience this newness of life. To those who thought they were whole, and were not, Jesus was not compassionate to.

Peter Kirk said...

Your comments may be justified if you have actually read Chopra's book. But they are not justified by the passage you quote from the Amazon description. There is nothing here about Buddhism, pantheism or real gnosticism, nor about "the little bit of God that is in us all". If I, from an evangelical perspective, were to write a book about Jesus for an audience of sceptical new-agers, I would summarise it using the same kind of language as this Amazon description, pointing these people not to the institutional church which often tends to exclude them, but to Jesus who indeed wants to be their "spiritual guide", to help them "to find God as a personal experience, to attain what some might call grace, or God-consciousness, or enlightenment" and others would call a relationship with God through Christ. After all, when we strip away unfamiliar language, isn't this the heart of the Christian faith? Maybe the Amazon words are a bit too negative about the corporate aspects of the Christian faith, but not sufficiently so to condemn the book as you do. But you don't even seem to be fair enough to this author to spell his name correctly, or give a link to the words you quote so we can see them in context.

Of course you may have reasons not outlined in this post to say the negative things you say about Deepak Chopra and his beliefs, but if so you should declare them openly and not imply that you found them in the words you quote.

Brigitte said...

Dear Jeff: you are not permitted to call someone a "nut" and do it in "love"! :) Did you not hear the Sermon on the Mount (where Dr. W. keeps sending me to when I disagree with him on the law. :)

Anyhow, I've not read the book, but remember a few things about Buddhism.

All of Dr. W's distinctions are very important, extremely important. The Jesus that "we can't ignore", can't be the Jesus whom we make whatever we want him to be. If you can't ignore Jesus, then you must be listening to him!!! (Those who have ears...) And Dr. W. brings in good references. Thanks for carrying the argument.

On the other hand, I like: "the Jesus we can't ignore" part of the title, because people of all places and religions can't and should not ignore him, and they are not. That's good. They should grapple with him, hear him, discuss him.

I like the part where commandments like: love your neighbor as yourself, are considered impossible to keep without being on a higher spiritual plane. Christians would agree with that, but mean it completely differently. In view of the Gospel, and with the Spirit can such a things are loving your neighbor as yourself happen.

Natural man is corrupt and he has to be put to death (baptism, renewal) for a new thing to rise. Perhaps the Buddhist sees something like that in the extinction of the self, that it is aiming for but has at every turn trouble achieving. In contrast it is only by Christ's death and resurrection that we are dead to sin and reborn.

Christ's death and resurrection (historical and real) are central to everything.

(I have some other thoughts in thinking about the ABBA relationship vs. God's impassibility, but will quit here.) Yours, Brigitte.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Peter:

I have been asked to do a talk show segment with Chopra next week, so of course I have had to watch his presentation on this book, check Amazon, have them send me the book etc. The quote is directly from American Amazon page for this book.

So I must say, I am non-plussed by your comments. And frankly, my comments are bang on target as far as I can see. He knows neither the historical Jesus, nor does he have a proper respect for the church as the people of God, nor does he understand Christian dogma, and frankly he tries to turn Jesus into Mr. Universalist, which he never has been.

And the fact that his language of 'self-improvement' and false spirituality is masked in pseudo-Christian terms does not make it any better. It just makes it more deceptive. Have you seen his book on Buddhism, which is where he gets most of his religious substance from?

Honestly now, do you really like this book? If you do, Lord have mercy....

Ben W.

Peter Kirk said...

Ben, I haven't seen this book, or read more about it than what I saw here. But I got the impression that you hadn't seen the book either, that you were reacting only to the Amazon blurb and your preconceptions about the author. Clearly I was wrong, and I apologise. But I still refuse to be shocked by the blurb, which is only seriously shocking if you are prejudiced against it.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Dr. Witherington,
This is very helpful. I have linked to it at my blog, Naming His Grace

Scott said...

All i have to say is Amen! I've disagreed with some of your political stances, but when it comes to the person of God I share your view with great passion and jealousy. Whatever Chopra writes in his book, the Amazon excerpt is sufficiently wrong to demand correction. There's nothing humanistic about the Christ we serve; and the faith He taught us to embrace is no self-help manual, no path to personal enlightenment. Christ was zealous for the glory of the one and only God, and through His obedience and humiliation He taught us to be the same.

José Solano said...

Since I’m running a mild fever and have been in bed most of the day I’ll be a little more blunt. The Chopra “religion” is simply the religion of self-indulgence and self-centeredness. It is the religion in which you imagine you come in contact with God and He gives special messages for you to conduct your life as you please. It is a religion in which there is no sovereign God but a god thoroughly subjected to your personal conceptualizations of right and wrong, which you of course would like believe are God sent. It is the religion that deludes you into believing you are “so enlightened” and not a miserable sinner. It is the religion that is incapable of or refuses to define sin as God defines it and therefore allows you to wallow in your own, generally situational morality.

It is the diabolical religion, pleasant as it superficially appears to be, that shifts your attention from the adoration and worship of the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to something within the “depths” of your psyche that is so filled with complexes. It is that “feel good” religion whose influences are speedily seeping into the Christian churches. It is amazingly seductive because it focuses on the God within which tends to be the god you aspire to become. It is the religion that fails to recognize the redemptive work of God in Jesus Christ who is truly our personal savior. It is therefore an a-historical religion, just like Buddhism and is therefore not a religion at all but merely a philosophical-psychological system of presumed self-development that supposedly leads you to some blissful detached state of satori from which you may periodically come down and visit the lesser mortals. It is not the religion that always confesses “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.” And therefore it can in no way be seen as having anything whatsoever to do with the religion and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Oh, I have not read the book but I have heard Chopra speak many times and I know where he’s coming from. I recommend that no one buy the book as it only helps perpetuate this proliferating anti-Christian perspective even into the Christian churches.

Dr. Witherington, you know exactly where Chopra’s philosophy is at and should be able to easily dismantle his assertion that he is talking about Christianity in any form.

Alvin Grissom II said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Falantedios said...

How is "personal insight and [personal] spiritual growth" any less exclusionary than what Chopra sees of Christianity?

Much of modern Christianity is PRECISELY about personal insight and personal spiritual growth.

Study your own Bible in your own home to gain peace for yourself.

Give your money to your church to gain financial blessing for yourself.

Sit in your pew and privately meditate until your nip of cracker and sip of juice are delivered to you. Then place your tip in the tray delivered to you. Then continue sitting in your pew and apply the words of the minister to your own life.

The God of Israel develops community. Paul preaches communal insight and communal growth; the unity of the Spirit that shames and defeats the powers of the world.

Friar Tuck said...

Well said Doug

Unknown said...

An interesting critical view of Tibetan Buddhism from two former practitioners and supporters of the Dalai Lama here.

tozan said...

isjnxWhen did Buddhism - or Chopra for that matter - become pantheist? Neither is even a theist.

This post sets up a straw man and then attacks it with a chimera. Jesus is the protagonist of a Jewish teaching story. No such person existed in history.

Unknown said...

Jesus said " The Kingdom of Heaven is within you, whoever shall know himself shall find it" ... "Even the least among you can do all that I have done and greater things." ... " I and the father are one, you are within him, and I in you" So he certainly was saying God is omnipresent-pantheistic and accesible through the son, who is in you, just not you're rational, conceptual mind. Try being present and you'll find out yourself. That's all Chopra meant

Alvin Grissom II said...

How does that quotation imply that Jesus was espousing pantheism?

Angela Bolton said...

AMEN!!!! Justin!!! Your comment is by far the best, and I completely agree with you.

"Jesus said " The Kingdom of Heaven is within you, whoever shall know himself shall find it" ... "Even the least among you can do all that I have done and greater things." ... " I and the father are one, you are within him, and I in you" So he certainly was saying God is omnipresent-pantheistic and accesible through the son, who is in you, just not you're rational, conceptual mind. Try being present and you'll find out yourself. That's all Chopra meant"

Could not have said it any better. Remember people.....God is everywhere! If God is everywhere---hmmmmmm-that includes YOU too!!!

Love, Peace and Light, Angela

Alvin Grissom II said...

I'm not certain based on this description, but it sounds to me as though you may be confusing pantheism and panentheism.